AUTHOR: Mike Mandl
PHOTOGRAPHY: Keith Ladzinski
Tudo bem: two Brazilian - Portuguese words for all eventualities.
The phrase is a way of life, a philosophy.
Tudo bem is precisely the attitude you need to get the most out of an intensive bouldering trip to the country that hosts the World Soccer Championships.
BORN: 7 October 1984 in California
WAS: a member of the US Youth
Climbing Team from 2001 to 2002
LIKES: challenging climbs which are psychologically demanding
HAS: done the first ascent of a must-do highball - "Ambrosia"
ATTEMPTS: at the moment one
of the most difficult routes on
El Cap, Yosemite
BORN: 13 May 1986 in Colorado
WAS: an extremely versatile athlete as a child
LIKES: complex climbing moves and exciting cruxes
HAS: a Bachelor in history
ATTEMPTS: to find the right balance betweendevotion and discipline
Tudo Bem means something like "What's up?" If you are in Brazil, then there is only one cool answer to this question: thumbs up and: "Tudo bem!"
That is because tudo bem also means: "Everything is OK!" So it goes like this: Tudo bem? Tudo bem!
Everything is OK, brother. Could not be better. Anytime, anywhere. Brazilians have an easy-going demeanour that seems simply innate. They're always in a good mood. Sunshine radiates from the hearts of all smiling Brazilians.
What if someone rams your car at full speed and totals it? Tudo bem. After all, you are lucky that nothing has happened to you.
What if the whole country, despite, or perhaps, because of its rocketing economic development is still not where it could be on a global scale? Tudo bem.
What if you you leave your backpack stuffed with thousands of dollars of camera equipment on the beach and suddenly a huge wave sweeps over it and carries it out to sea? Tudo bem.
Wait … Tudo bem? Admittedly, there are nuances of tudo bem that tend towards: "It is what it is." In other words, it's not always a happy connotation but it can suggest an acceptance of life's capricious ways. That is not what Murilo was thinking as he realised that thousands of dollars in camera gear and priceless photos might be drowning in salt water and sand. For someone who views everything in life as tudo bem, Murilo considered what sand would do to his camera lenses and seawater to his USB cards and he had a different expression: "Shit!"
4 January, 2010: the up-and-coming Brazilian climbing star Felipe Camargo had just sent his 3rd repeat of what was probably Brazil's toughest boulder at that time: "O dia santo" (8b+) in the São Bento bouldering zone. The send was uploaded to the Internet, and caught the attention of his followers thanks to the video and news updates. The key message was: "O dia santo is the best boulder I have ever climbed! The 16 widely-spaced moves on good holds require a lot of stamina, which is totally my style. We need lots of climbers from other countries to come to Brazil and help us on all these projects! Consider yourselves invited."
The invitation was accepted by Kevin Jorgeson and Ben Rueck, two American climbers. Kevin is definitely one of the most versatile climbers today, who feels at home on massive highball boulders as well as Yosemite big walls. Ben is also a multi-talented climber when it comes to vertical adventures. He is one of those climbing globetrotters who has already put his chalked-up hands all over the place. His first impression of Brazil: "If a country's culture is reflected in their attitude towards climbing, then we are in for an interesting trip." Upon arriving in Brazil, the two dove into the local culture. They met Murilo Vargas - the local aficionado, the guide, the driver, the photographer and the first point of contact for part one of this trip. Kevin and Ben were surprised to discover that, apparently, a prerequisite for obtaining a driver's licence in Brazil appears to be multiple viewings of the film "Fast and Furious". Murilo certainly seemed to be putting it into practice with screeching tires, overtaking cars beside scary precipices, passing oncoming vehicles, carts, people and missing donkeys by mere millimetres.
This guiding principle is also recommended in regard to the national sense of time. It is well-known that time is relative and in Brazil it is perhaps slightly more relative than elsewhere. If an itinerary is supposed to take less than two hours, then you can expect that the journey will take at least six hours. Beware any journey officially in excess of two hours - you can easily multiply the duration that has been given you with a smile by a factor of two or three. Kevin: "How long will we be on the road?" Murilo: "About an hour." Actual journey time: almost three and a half hours.
Tudo bem? Tudo bem! Brazil is simply huge. Perhaps this geographic sizeexplains the laid-back attitude of Brazilians. Stress is not going to get you anywhere. But tudo bem will. If you do not arrive at a climbing area until an hour before sundown, it's better to make the best of the situation. This is something Brazilians do well. It is why this country is rapidly on its way up. As is the climbing scene, as Felipe Camargo demonstrated. Finally the Americans and Murilo arrived in São Bento. Impressive granite boulders were everywhere. Some of them were recognisable from the videos. In honour of the guests, whose tastes for tall boulders is well-known, a highball was served up on their arrival. The block was far too high to comfortably jump down to the ground, although that is often given as a defining feature of bouldering. What can you do in this kind of situation? Gradually get started? Take a break because you have just arrived? Start warming up?
Once again, tudo bem! All is well and everything will be OK … at least until you climb to the shaky top-out point ten metres off the ground. The crew met Felipe Camargo and his brother Bruno and experienced true Brazilian hospitality - welcoming, sociable, relaxed and chilled. The next day, the climbers picked up where they left off in São Bento, a place that Ben described as "the most beautiful place I have ever been climbing". São Bento is special. Green hills, green mountains, in every possible shade of green, and even more bouldering opportunities. "You could spend weeks here," says Ben. But then they moved on to the next spot. Kevin: "Murilo, how long will we be on the road?" Murilo: "Less than two hours." It would actually be over four and a half hours.
Ubatuba is a small city on Brazil's south coast, famous for its ten adjacent islands, 72 beaches and awesome bouldering. The Praia da Fortaleza peninsula stretches into the ocean. Despite the surf, the tides and the coastline, right on this brazen finger of land there are blocks of rock strewn around that are rated as among the best in Brazil. Well over 100 boulder problems are here for the solving. No surprise, then, that a major bouldering festival is held here every year. Nor is it surprising that a bouldering community has developed here either. Kevin, Ben and Murilo stood in Ubatuba on one of the granite blocks, waiting until the water retreated again. No climbing just yet. Were they being tudo bem about it? No! They were tense! No climbing!
After their long car journey it was too late yesterday evening to start climbing. But it was still early enough to catch a glimpse of what awaited them the next day. It looked more than promising. Is that why, in an attack of over motivation, they all set their alarm clocks for 4:30 am? Possibly. What we do know is that although all the alarm clocks went off at that time, the crew did not get up until four hours later. No need to hurry things. The Brazilian way of life seemed to be taking effect. Heavy clouds hung in the sky with rain on the horizon. In these conditions, bouldering comes to a standstill. If it does not work out as planned … tudo bem. The crew got moving. They were lucky. Climbing was fun, the scenery impressive. The boulders on the narrow peninsula were right next to the ocean, and the waves crashed onto the beach. The waves got larger and larger as they were bolstered by the approaching weather until they reached monstrous proportions, forcing the three to run to a high rock for safety, abandoning Murilo's backpack of camera equipment.
As soon as the water had retreated, the pale Murilo rushed to the place he had stashed his stuff. He laughed out loud with relief. "Tudo bem!" Inside the labyrinth of the rocks the waves had miraculously broken up and somehow left the backpack high and dry. The magic of Brazil.
Time stood still.The boulder wasn't really difficult.I climbed slowly and carefully, well aware that I couldn't afford to make a mistake at the top.One last pull and I was on top.
So it was back to business, to climbing. Ben: "The rest of the day was spectacular. Kevin and I managed to crack a couple of classic highballs and a bunch of other boulders. At the end of the day our fingers were tired, but our spirits were running high."
The next morning they got straight back to it. This time in Itatiaia, an area so spectacular that it was declared Brazil's first national park. Of course, Kevin had to ask: "How long will we take to get to Itatiaia?" Bruno: "A bit over two hours." Actual time? Only five hours! Tudo bem. Bruno, the new driver, did make the journey pass more quickly though, with gripping stories about his life in Brazil. They drove through the diverse country. Mountains, valleys, dense jungle: green as far as the eye could see. The long yet interesting journey ended with excellent Brazilian food and the anticipation of this unique climbing area.
Itatiaia is a Brazilian expression that means "rocks with many sharp edges". Kevin and Ben were nervous about driving down the rocky off-road route to reach the area as they were in a normal car, not a specialised 4WD. In this situation only one thing helps: tudo bem. The road got too rough, and they traversed the last section on foot - good for both the nerves and eyes. Suddenly they'd arrived in an oasis for those thirsty for climbing. Boulders were everywhere with "never-ending potential", as Ben described his first impression. Massive granite blocks with some bizarre shapes and interesting lines. The French climber, Enzo Oddo, had been here and established a hard but rewarding route rated 8c/+.
Kevin has the eye. He noticed something: another line, short and direct, on a perfect block with one tiny drawback: the route ended in three final moves with 20 metres of air beneath your feet. Making an error here would result in serious if not fatal consequences. What should they do? Tudo bem! It is exactly this kind of climbing on big, tall, scary lines in which Kevin thrives. Like an excited child he put on his shoes and chalked up. Then he grabbed the boulder: "Time stood still. The boulder wasn't really difficult. I climbed slowly and carefully, well aware that I couldn't afford to make a mistake at the top. One last pull and I was on top. I enjoyed the overwhelming view and the boulder kind of reminded me of a first ascent I did in South Africa and called ‘Welcome to Rocklands'. That is why I wanted to call this climb ‘Welcome to Itatiaia'."
Then it was Ben's turn: "The boulder looked easy, but the mental challenge was immense. That was confirmed by a sudden pressure in my stomach." Ben dropped out on the first attempt, but managed it on the second. However: what goes up, must come down!
Ben: "How the heck did you get back down again?"
Kevin: "You have to jump across to the next boulder."
Ben: "You mean the one from which you would surely die if you screw up?"
Kevin: "That's the one! But don't forget the most important rule!"
Ben: "Which rule?"
Kevin: "Don't die!" Ben jumped. Tudo bem.
The hunger for adrenalin, the appetite for exhilaration, seemed satisfied. It was good that Gustavo Fontes and Caio Salomão AFeto were part of the crew. It was them who had provided Lukas Irmler with excellent support during his slackline mission. They are as multi-talented as they are warm-hearted. Both are exceptional ambassadors of the Brazilian way of life: always motivated, always ready to lend a hand, always on top form.
Kevin and Ben tried out several of their boulder problems, but after the first highball, they wanted to spend the rest of the day having fun. The day ended with a laid-back session over a panoramic view.
Rope climbing was the agenda for the next day. To be precise, the ascent of Enzo Oddo's line was waiting for them. They climbed a route that was fitted with bolts only as far as the first half. On the second half you had to fit protection yourself. Kevin wanted to lead it. Ben reckoned that even without wedges they had enough pro to make it reasonable. However, assuming is not knowing. Tudo bem can be a healthy dose of fatalism, but when the reserves reach the end then fatal wins the day. This important concept didn't sink in for Ben until he was above the last bolt he had to acknowledge that they were not going to get through on his protection. Retreat? No. Go on? OK, tudo bem after all. With Kevin's help, who had already climbed the tricky sections and was able to call out beta, Ben managed to gain headway though he was "mentally fried". Did they have enough reserves for the Oddo route? Or had the supply of tudo bems run out? Dusk was knocking gently on the door and Kevin was almost there. He had the redpoint, the send, in the palm of his hands, but the sun was setting behind the horizon in a haze of red clouds. Shame. It was over. Tudo bem. Enjoy the moment instead. Hang around a bit longer. Look at the stars that gradually crystallised out of the ever-darkening atmosphere. There was now quiet. Nothingness. This, in fact, is something Brazilians seem to have a special relationship with. It was something that will remain in Kevin's and Ben's memories, something that can be taken back home with them. Home? Yes. Tomorrow was time to drive back to Rio. Tudo bem.
In keeping with tradition, the final evening was spent on the beach. Sand, bikinis, surfers and a crowd that happily cheered the setting sun. That is what you do here. Every evening. A shout of jubilation from the Brazilian soul, a celebration of the country‘s beauty, a celebration of the Brazilian way of life, a feeling that lives through the stark contrasts and is still authentic and life-affirming. Ben and Kevin will definitely come back. That is certain. Tudo bem.