Sometimes, the Brazilian media likes to romanticize poverty under the pretext of "living more simply," which I find irritating, but I couldn't resist the incredibly charming tale of Zé Peixe, known by the gringos as Joe Fish.
Zé Peixe, age 82, was born as José Martins Ribeiro Nunes in Aracaju, Sergipe. He learned how to swim very young, and soon gained the nickname Zé Peixe for his swimming skills. At 17, he became a harbor pilot in his seaside city, helping guide ships in and out of port. He is now one of the most famous harbor pilots in Brazil and even in the world.
At 5'2, 116 pounds, Zé Peixe has stayed fit by never drinking or smoking and swimming every day. He eats very little; just a roll and coffee for breakfast and fruit for the rest of the day. You can't swim well on a full stomach, according to Zé. He rarely drinks water; only a few mouthfuls of salt water when he's swimming now and again. He hasn't taken a shower since he was a kid, and only gets clean by swimming in the river or the ocean (and does so without soap, a fact that probably makes most Brazilians squirm). He rarely wears shoes and usually walks around in a bathing suit, and only gets dressed up with shoes for church and special occasions.
He lives in one of the oldest houses in Aracaju, where he was born and where he and his family have lived for three generations. He's been a widow for two decades and never had children, but has a large extended family. Even though he's been technically retired since the 90s, he has kept working because he enjoys his job so much.
Zé gets on the ship to navigate it safely out of port, and once he's done, he leaps from a height of a five-story building, and sometimes as much as 130 feet high into the water below, and then swims back to shore, which takes between 2 and 4 hours, an average of over 6 miles a day. He learned to swim in a way where he kicks very little, as not to attract sharks. Before diving, he tucks his paperwork and money into a plastic bag that he sticks in his shorts. Back in the day, he used to swim out to the boats on a boogie board, and wait between jobs by floating on a buoy.
He's also known for his heroism. In 1941, bodies of sailors from a ship bombed by the Germans washed up on the shore of Aracaju, and ever since then, no one has drowned when he's been nearby. One of his greatest feats was helping rescue an entire crew from a burning ship on its way back from an oil platform.
For a gorgeous black and white photo archive with English descriptions, see here. Check out the videos below to find out more (Portuguese only) and to watch Zé's trademark breathtaking dive.