“Face! Face!”

I’m on the wall in an awkward position. My climbing shoes are holding most of my body weight by pure friction on slightly less-than-vertical slabs, and my left hand is pinching a thumbtack sized hold, keeping my upper body close to the wall. My right hand is feeling around blindly hoping to find something to grab onto.

I try to lean back slightly so I can get a better view at the rock ahead of me, but the moment I peel my face from the wall I start to lose my balance.

“Pelo sua rosto! Pelo sua rosto!”

My new Brazilian friends below are shouting something in Portuguese. I know they are telling me exactly what I need to know to make this next move, only I can’t quite understand them.

This has been the story of the day. I met these friends a few days ago with the goal of joining them for a climbing session later in the week. Most of them speak little or no English, and I speak only some Portuguese. Between my limited vocabulary and exaggerated hand gestures, we’re able to communicate for the most part. As we speak, I spend a lot of focused attention listening closely for familiar Portuguese words and grasping for context – doing so is almost more exhausting than the climbing.

“Fernando, help!” I shout across the crag to Fernando, the one who knows the most English.

I’ve been holding onto this awkward position for what felt like 2 minutes now, and I know my core will give before much longer.

“It’s right by your face,” he says, in his typical relaxed tone.

Right then, as I feel my strength buckling, my right hand finds a solid crimp right by my face and takes the pressure off the rest of my limbs. I let out a huge breath as I let my muscles relax for a moment. I really didn’t think I was going to be able to hold on. Sometimes I surprise myself.

I make the next obvious move up and to the left, and finish off the fairly straightforward end of the route. As I clip into the chains at the top, I look around and take in the view, knowing this will be my last climb of the day. I snap this photo with my phone.

The crag is called Morro da Cruz, and it’s the most popular climbing spot on the island of Florianópolis on the southern coast of Brazil. The climbing was surprisingly difficult. What this place lacks in impressive multi-pitch towers, it makes up for in technical and challenging bolted routes.

Before I leave for the day, I tell them in broken Portuguese that despite our language barrier, they make me feel at home. In reality I probably said something like, “Thank you, I feel I’m in my house here.” But they understood.

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