LIKE so many young Australians, Tongala’s Sophie Wilson became a traveller in search of a dream. Seven years later she has brought her dreams home — and turned them into reality. JOHN LEWIS spoke to the student nurse about her South American journey and her discovery that when it comes to the language of love — who needs words?
SHE admits it’s a complete cliche straight out of a Mills and Boon romance.
When Sophie Wilson from Tongala saw a dark handsome stranger from Brazil scribbling in a sketchbook — all it took was a glance and the spark was lit, their lives were changed.
Sophie had been travelling ever since she gave up her job as a receptionist in an Echuca medical clinic.
‘‘I decided to take a gap year, which turned into a seven-year gap year,’’ she says.
She wanted to study nursing, but she wasn’t ready to commit to full-time study without scratching the travel itch she had nurtured for years.
‘‘Since I was a child I dreamt of travelling all corners of the world and always had a head full of wonder and curiosity,’’ she says.
She decided the tropical forests and the colours and sounds and energy of the Latino culture in South America was the place to start.
She studied Spanish at home, did an English teaching course, got a night job as a waitress and saved her money.
After a 49-hour flight she landed in Cartagena, Colombia, and got a dose of reality.
‘‘I was jetlagged, hungry and lost and I went out on the street to find a meal and there was salsa music playing everywhere, but I couldn’t find anywhere to eat. So I just got a banana and a lime from a market and went back to my hotel to eat,’’ she says.
The next day she ate in a cafe, but she got diarrhoea.
Undaunted, she spent a month in Colombia before heading to Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina and Peru, where she volunteered for a six-week teaching program after her travels.
Then she arrived in Brazil — and things changed.
‘‘I knew from the very first day why I had been dreaming of Brazil since I was a child,’’ she says.
‘‘Vibrant streets, vibrant music, vibrant culture and nature on steroids.’’
Surrounded by colour and music and murals on the streets and in the cafes, she decided to buy a sketchbook and pencils.
‘‘I never felt I could do art, but I felt in that moment I really needed to pick it up,’’ she says.
Then she found herself in the bar of a travellers’ hostel on the island of Florianopolis in southern Brazil with a fellow female Australian.
‘‘We sat down at this table and there was this guy scribbling in a sketchbook.
‘‘It sounds horrifically corny, but he looked up and we made eye contact and he laughed, and there was a feeling of recognition, and a strong connection,’’ she says.
Aspiring nurse Sophie from Tongala had just met street artist Davidson Lopez from Juiz de Fora.
From then on, their lives became an inseparable blend of beaches, art, travel, food, music and more art.
There was just one slight problem — Davidson spoke no English and Sophie spoke no Portuguese — Davidson’s native tongue.
Sophie said they invented a blend of English, Spanish and Portuguese, which became Spanglishese and they gave Google translator a hammering.
‘‘But it didn’t really matter, because the connection was something beyond spoken communication and we knew it was right,’’ she says.
Nevertheless, Sophie said she spent hours watching American movies dubbed into Portuguese.
‘‘I had no other option. I would pause the scene and go back and forth to get the word,’’ she says.
‘‘Some movies I can never watch again like The Truman Show or The Wolf of Wall Street.
They also found another language — the borderless, universally human language of art.
Sophie began painting mandalas — giant geometrical designs with connections to ancient cultures, life and the universe.
With Davidson’s help she went on to paint mandalas around schools in his home town.
She even featured in the local newspaper, which told the story of this enthusiastic, curious Australian artist brightening up their city streets.
Sophie arrived back in Australia in 2017 to begin her nursing studies through La Trobe University in Shepparton.
They spent four long months apart while she continued to study, paint and wait for Davidson to apply for an Australian visa.
She said dealing with the immigration department was a painful process.
‘‘We had to prove our relationship with day to day details like who does the dishes? What sort of socks does he wear? Show us your Skype records and your text messages,’’ she says.
‘‘It was invasive — but it was all about us being together.’’
Davidson is now working as an apprentice fitter and turner in Echuca, while Sophie continues her nursing studies.
But their life is still filled with art.
Together they have completed murals in Shepparton, Bendigo, Kyabram and Tongala and they have contributed to Benalla’s Wall to Wall Festival.
Davidson is learning English and they talk among themselves in Portuguese.
Their conversations are clearer now than at the start — but there are still a few bumps.
‘‘Davidson came home the other day and said ‘why do people say good onion all the time?’
‘‘I had to explain it was ‘good on ya’,’’ Sophie laughs.
When it comes to communication — it seems the language of love is the simplest of all.