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How to Take a Cold Shower: A Primer for Spoiled Americans

Before the trip passes by, I felt compelled to write what I hope will be an instructive guide for American tourists traveling to Brazil.  First, you have to understand that Brazil is hot.  Yes, I know, Arizona is hot.  Florida is unbearable.  And the record for hottest temperature on earth was in Death Valley, CA.  Blah, blah, blah.

IMG_6157Brazil is a different kind of hot.  To illustrate this, I’ve included this photo of my deodorant stick.  This was a perfectly normal and well-balanced deodorant stick until it arrived in Brazil.  Then it began to change.  For those of you who wonder if this photo was staged, the answer is, “No.”  That was not used in the shower (as you will realize later).  Those are SWEAT BEADS forming on my deodorant stick.  Yes, Virginia, it’s so hot in Brazil that even the deodorant sweats.

When the typical American gets sweaty, one of the first places they head is the shower.

Now, to appreciate a Brazilian shower, you have to understand that they spend their lives in heat and humidity.  The last thing a Brazilian wants to do is get into a shower and get hotter.  That seems unnatural and maybe even unrighteous in certain regions.

Plus, electricity and gas are expensive.  No one wants to spend money powering a hot water heater for the purpose of just getting hotter.

So, the showers in Brazil are cold.

“How cold?” you may ask.  I’ll tell you.

The first time I took a shower, I anticipated that things would be different from showering at home.  But, I reasoned, the best thing to do is to just jump right in.  That was when I found out what a jaguar siren sounds like.  In Oklahoma, they have sirens to warn people of tornadoes.  In Brazil, especially in the jungle, when they hear someone scream as if they are in the clutches of a predator and deep in the pangs of death, they start the jaguar siren.

A small party of locals showed up at my room with an antique flintlock rifle, a Beretta handgun, two sharp, pointed garden tools and a soccer ball.  I don’t think the soccer ball was a weapon as much as the teenager holding it had just never been lucky enough to see someone get eaten by a jaguar and couldn’t wait long enough to run put up the ball.

After that incident, I decided a different approach would be necessary.  Not too long after that, I got hot and sweaty enough to make me so miserable that I was willing to put up a mental block to my previous experience, I decided that the best thing would be to stand in the shower stall and splash myself with the water to try and accommodate my skin to the temperature.

That brief interlude left me running for the covers on my bed where I curled up in a fetal position and tried to touch every part of my body both to induce heat and to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind in my haste.  I must have fallen asleep that way, because the next day, I was walking around like some combination between Gollum in the Hobbit and an armadillo.

Days passed.  Sweat poured.  Misery grew.  Finally, I could stand it no more.  I had to conquer this new invention that Brazilians also called a shower.

This time, I convinced myself that singing in the shower would take my mind off the cold, sort of a mind over matter trick.  I pictured myself standing in a steaming stall singing a medley of worship tunes.  I geared up simply enough:  I turned on the water and watched it to make sure it was ok.  After about ten minutes, I concluded that the water was not going to come after me:  I had to go to it.  So I stepped in the shower stall and turned to close the curtain.  At that point, the water hit my bare back.

Immediately a launched into a strong-voiced rendition of “God Bless America” that was so forceful that seven children, two women and one old man with a walker began an impromptu parade march around my house.  Two street vendors rushed to sell bottled water and bananas right about the time that the dying strains finished ringing from my throat.

At this point, I have to say that one particular day, I thought I had cracked the system.  Phil is a man of many talents.  Not only does he drive a motorcycle, but he also is the captain of his own boat.  He prefers to be called skipper.  I think that’s because of the way the boat moves across the water when he’s behind the wheel.

We were invited to go on a boat outing on the Amazon with him and his family.  After waiting all day for the sunshine to pass, he finally determined it was the best time to leave just as the storm clouds began rolling across the river.  To quote a popular tune which I began singing, “The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed.”

I have seen sport watercraft and extreme athletes accomplish some of the things Phil was able to do that day with the boat.  But I never thought I would get to be part of it.  I also never knew that the Amazon was capable of producing swells and troughs which rival the Cape of Good Hope.

phils-boatI’ll have to admit that the boat ride scared me less than the motorcycle — there was less traffic to weave through, and I reasoned to myself that if I were flung from this craft, I would at least go THROUGH the surface of the water rather than impacting INTO the pavement.  But, the residual effect is that we got wet and, from a skin perspective, pretty chilled.  Granted, this was the first real semblance of a shower I had had in days, so I wasn’t complaining too much.  But between the combination of sand, grit and water from the Amazon River, I decided that when I got back, I simply HAD to shower.

Amazingly, the water felt warm.  At least my skin turned a LIGHTER shade of blue when the water hit it this time.  I didn’t really seem to feel the cold water.  Actually, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.  Yes, I had discovered the key to taking a cold shower in Brazil — but I couldn’t imagine getting back into the boat on a river with waves any higher than a rabbit’s ankle.

The next “shower event” as I was beginning to refer to them happened after playing some sand volleyball.  I was hot, sweaty, tired and simply covered in sand from head to toe.  I HAD TO SHOWER.  I even told myself that, “You HAVE to shower.”  Other people around me were adding their own thoughts such as, “You really, REALLY NEED TO SHOWER.”

So, I headed back to the room and thought through the problem.  Part of the problem I had faced before was that after getting hot and sweaty, by the time I would get ready for a shower, my body would already have begun to cool down.  The cold water on a cold body obviously was having a detrimental effect.

What if I continued some type of activity while I was actually taking the shower in order to keep my body temperature UP?  It sound plausible.  So, I decided to make jogging motions while I was in the shower.  “Keep those knees pumping,” I told myself, “and everything will be just fine.”

Then I turned the water on.

If I hadn’t still had on my heart-healthy watch with a pedometer, I would still be wondering.  But with the pedometer, I know for a fact that I sprinted 2.2 miles around the walls of that shower stall.  I broke out in a blinding sweat and finally found the curtain on about the 730th lap, whereupon I dashed for safety.


It’s easy to feel like a failure in circumstances such as these.  But I try to look on the positive side.  My wife and children have told me over Skype that the Robinson Crusoe look is growing on them.  I’ve understood a little bit more about the  unique challenges that Rastafarians face when they try to comb their hair — if they do it.  I’ve even mentally wandered into the realm of thinking I might have some pioneer roots when they would travel over hot, dusty trails for weeks seeking a new life without the benefit of modern conveniences like hot showers.

But, the good news is, I finally discovered the solution to the question, “How does an American take a cold shower in Brazil?”  There is a sacred ritual or maybe just a local festive custom that the Brazilians celebrate.  They call it “Todos Lavar o Porco.” (Click here for more details.)

In this ritual, seven or eight burly men dressed in festive costumes made of rubber gloves, yellow plastic jumpsuits, weird big glasses and a funny nose mask come and grab the first non-native person that they can find and take him (or her) to a large concrete pad.  There, they make dance motions which I took to mean, “Take off your clothes or we will pound you into a pulp.”  Rather than risk offending their culture, I complied.  Then they pointed three fire hoses on me and  cut loose.  The force of the water pretty much blew all the dirt off my body without even the benefit of being a wet liquid.  Because the hoses were evenly spaced around the concrete pad, any attempts to run away from the stinging stream were futile.

During the process, someone threw me a bar of soap.  “Ah,” I said to myself, “this has to be a cleansing ritual or ceremony.  Perhaps tonight they will invite me to dine with their king.”

Night came and went with no feast.  But I was happy.  I got the first real, bonafide shower on my trip.  What’s more, after that experience, I’m no longer terrified of the shower.

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4 Responses to "How to Take a Cold Shower: A Primer for Spoiled Americans"

  1. TimYoung says:

    Wow. In case you are wondering, when I was in Mexico and faced with a similar challenge, I filled a plastic water bottle & left it in the sun. Then, with a hole poked in the top, I could spray myself off. Adding a bar of soap and a wash-cloth to the mix was the final thing. If you want to take a nice, comfortable shower, bring your wife next time. She will think of such things for you.

  2. Mercy says:

    Yes like the above we use sun to help on cold shower in Ethiopia. That’s very common to do, so you need to come to some places in Ethiopia and try it more. For sure you will enjoy the weather 🙂

  3. David says:

    The mental pictures…I laughed. Long and loudly. Congrats on another hilarious article.

  4. Mark P says:

    Loved your story, Craig! I’ve had similar experiences in India and Ethiopia, so I can empathize :-).