Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How To Avoid Creepy Experiences During Your Travels

I love adventure. I don't love creepy situations. Generally speaking, it pays to be open to new experiences except when you're freaked out. I learned the hard way that when your inner voice is telling you to beware, it's best to listen and forget about that great travel experience that you're passing up.

On my last night in Brazil I stayed in a 400-year-old convent. Yes, it has been converted into a hotel but there's very little evidence of this. A huge crucifix carved from what looks like petrified wood looms in the lobby. Christ hangs from it with suffering and pain carefully etched into his face. The hallways and rooms are painted a stark, institution ,white. All of the floors creek. The key chain I was handed for my room looked like it was at least 100 years old. It was heavy brass and displayed the Carmelite symbol. No decorations mar the minimalistic and dark atmosphere except an oil painting of the last supper in the lobby. Compared to the rest of the place, that painting qualifies as a cheery little design detail.

A former Carmelite convent, it's now called Posada do Convento and sits in the center of Cachoeira, a city famous for it's colonial architecture and huge number of candomble terreiros or temples. Candomble mixes Catholicism with African rituals and the religion plays a significant role in Brazilian culture. I was scheduled to visit the oldest terreiro in the morning and I anticipated this. What I didn't anticipate was spending the night in a former convent that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to an insane asylum.

"Oh, I would stay here with you but I see spirits every time I stay here and can't sleep," said Claudia, my lovely and genial host. That was really what I wanted to hear. "Why can't I just stay with you?" I asked, trying to sound nonchalant but panicking inside. "We're staying in a simple guest house, it's not for visitors," she explained. "I don't mind," I countered. She waved away any other talk of leaving, assuring me that this was the best hotel in Cachoeira. This was where I should have insisted but I didn't. I climbed the ancient stairs and walked down an endless, unlit hallway to my room. I manically locked the door, checking it twice. Besides a bed covered with a worn white bedspread, a small nightstand and chair, the only thing in the room was a massive wooden bureau, large enough to stash several bodies.

I was exhausted after touring four cities in two days so I checked my door's lock one more time and went to sleep. Days before, I had been given a candomble necklace by a priestess as a gift. She told me to wear them for protection and prosperity. It's a great honor for a priestess to give someone her beads so I was extremely careful with them. I took them off and laid them on the chair before I went to sleep.

I slept fairly well, considering the circumstances. I don't remember seeing or hearing anything. But when I got up, my door was not locked. Maybe I hadn't locked it correctly but it was eerie to see it slightly open. I turned to put on my necklace and it fell apart in my hands. The coral beads and cowrie shells scattered smoothly on the floor. The sturdy rope that they were strung on, which had been fine when I took the necklace off, was broken. I scooped the beads up, packed my bags and rushed out of that room. When I told Claudia she gave me a guarded look. "What do you feel this means?" she gently asked. It means that I'll never allow myself to stay in a situation where I don't feel comfortable. It's a common lesson but one that I obviously needed to remember.


Anonymous said...

All the hairs on my arms are standing up. I'm so glad that you only had to spend one night there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Suzanne. I am too! I would have definitely refused to stay any longer after that.

Anonymous said...


The site looks a lot better! Nice pictures and I love the layout. Good job!!!


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you like it Derrick, I can't wait to see yours!