This trip occurred in November 2015.
Best day to travel is Thanksgiving Day. Zero traffic (most people are at home or waiting in line at a store) and hardly anyone at the airport either. I learned about this one year when my family went to Bermuda for my mom’s birthday. Sometimes it is hard going without turkey and the usual sides, but that just gives you a reason to make a turkey day spread another time.
I was going on this trip with a work friend who was from Brazil. This was his one trip back home for the year, his parents fly to visit him so they rarely went six months without a week or 2 of family time. Joining him was his girlfriend. This was her first big trip outside the US, as it was my 1st trip to S. America,
My itinerary I soon realized was insanely put together as it involved an airport change in New York City. I had figured out there was a bus twice an hour between these airports, but as I strode outside the door, I saw it pull away. I had maybe an hour before my international flight and this was NYC, a city known for traffic. Facing the reality of the situation, I hailed what would be a $40 cab ride. I arrived about 20 minutes to spare. I am not sure if that was any better than my friends 6 hour layover. Why do airlines do this to their customers? These are not cheap tickets either so where is that money going? I also foolishly called to see if I could use my air miles to upgrade to business class. To upgrade my coach seat cost full fare, same cost as my seat! Business class is more expensive than a five-star hotel room.
I texted my friends after passing security and met up at a bar near the terminal where we spent a few moments talking. I had a beer and then ordered another when they called for boarding. I chugged my beer in several big gulps and walked to the restroom. Best thing I could tell anyone is to use the restroom before you get on a plane, no matter how long the flight. Sliding by people, bumping people walking the aisle, plus that tiny airplane water closet are all the reasons you need to take a trip the loo before you board.
I got a window seat next to 2 brothers in their early 20’s. They introduced themselves to me via handing me a can of Pringle’s. I happily poured a few into my hand and we began talking. They were with a church group, missionaries in a new land spreading the word. They had also taken trips to the Philippines, but this was their firs to Brazil. The family decided to make these mission trips their yearly family vacation. It was a bit cheaper to travel in a group, and they got a place to stay at one of the structures these groups built. They went primarily to rural locations as they were usually a bit safer than in big cities. Of course, being eaten by a bear or something was a very real possibly.
We all settled in and I turned on the TV located in the back headrest in front of me. They have so many movies on planes, it is great, new movies too. I was in the middle of a good one when I realized it was lights out and my two seat neighbors were both fast asleep. What to do? Do I elbow them; try to hop over and between them? I asked this question the entire 9 hour flight as I alternated between naps and movies. I think I watched three on the way down. For sure I saw Ant Man. Finally the sun peaked out and they stirred. I faked yawned and tapped the guy next to me on the shoulder. I have to say this was by far the longest I’ve ever gone without peeing. Next time I am elbowing my neighbor, I was likely harming my body.
We walked down a long hall and were separated by those with Brazil or US passports. The Brazilian line had the most people checking passports so it was faster. Once they finished, they cleared through the US line as there were 15 agents. I joined my friends when I realized it didn’t matter which line so long as you went through and learned how to say thank you in Portuguese, ‘Obrigato.’ I tried this out after a brief interaction with the passport official, a very pretty, dark-haired lady. We were in Brasil!
We walked quite a ways before finding his family near a parking garage. We split up into two cars, his parents and girlfriend in one, his brother and I in another. I soon learned his brother was a very smart guy with several degrees. He was working on a law degree and worked at the Brazilian Mint. He was helpful pointing out different areas and scenic vistas. We snaked around the city en route to our apartment near Ipanema, the famous beach and neighborhood.
We had lucked out and a friend lent us her apartment while she was away visiting her family. I learned that owning multiple apartments was very common here, usually one residence was near a beach and was for the weekend trips. They have their main house in town close to work. My friends family had sevearl residences I would discover, a new place each day. I also learned in Brasil they do not use z, it was spelled Brasil everywhere. I was also able to figure out they typically replaced a z with a j, as in cerveja vs. cerveza.
We arrived to our part of town blocks from the beach where I was told that parking is very hard. We drove around and around before locating a spot. His parents had brought groceries and we packed everything into a fridge. His mom cut up guava for us to eat. It would turn out that every time I saw his parents, they had a new fruit for us. They are great people, fruit bearers!
We walked out to a mall to do a bit of shopping but mainly eat. Just about everywhere we would eat would be buffet style. Everything was weighed and you paid by the ounce each time, a lady would take your check and add the new weights each food trip. These buffets are a great way to try a lot of different foods. Many types of rice and beans, meats, chicken, salads and lots of fruit were at each spot. It all tasted great, but I had no idea what each thing was until I sat down. My friends would fill me in on each item. They all spoke rapidly in Portuguese, catching up, occasionally pointing out someone passing by or the next activity planned. I couldn’t keep up with how fast they talked but it was in a halting, cadence. Very fast clipped words, pause, a word or two, pause, ciao.
We walked around the mall for a bit. It was pretty much like any US mall I’d been to. Clothing stores, shoe stores, food court, music shop. We walked back to the apartment, through a narrow bridge, cars and buses flew by, a bit too close. It was a hot day in the city. I found I usually broke a sweat if I was outdoors. Back at the apartment my friends’ dad showed me a piece of paper and explained the conversion ratio for currencies. He picked the high and low and agreed to give me the middle rate between the two so I wouldn’t have to go to a money changer. I readily agreed and we exchanged dollars for Brasilian reals. The money was very ornate and featured animals found in Brasil’s rainforest such as a sea turtle, monkey and bird. We again had a favorable exchange rate, but not like when we were in Mexico, here 1 real equaled, 25¢. 4-1 conversion in our favor, always a good thing.
My friends’ family left after eating some more fruit at our apartment. We decided to walk the beach, see how the area would look at night. It was about three blocks to the beach; this apartment was close to the action! I spied a large bar that I thought about checking out later that night. The night beach scene was always the same: buskers singing songs, people playing futbol or volleyball, couples making out or holding hands as they walked. Nearly everyone was in a bikini or speedo, no matter their fitness level. Brave people, they let literally everything hang out and it didn’t seem to matter.
We returned from our walk and my friends decided to retire early. The apartment wasn’t large, only one room with a bed and big window. I slept on the pullout sofa in the receiving/living room. In-between the master bedroom was a shelf with a TV that we only occasionally turned on. I didn’t hear anything from my friends the entire trip; I hope I didn’t bother them with my late night comings and goings.
On our way back to the apartment I’d saw a small bar that previously wasn’t there. On the ground floor of our apartment building, directly below our window was a tire changing place. The spot next to this was closed during the day with metal doors, opened at around ten every night as a bar. A very small bar, maybe six seats at the inside bar, out front were four tables. If you indicated you wanted to sit, a lady brought out a chair. This place was run totally by one pretty lady with long black hair. She retrieved liter bottles of beer, Antarctica, and served them with a small glass cup, holding maybe eight ounces. The tall bottles of beer were nestled within a chilled vessel that perspired leaving a small pool on the table. Drink pour drink pour until you finished your liter.
There were several couples out front, laughing, smoking, and dancing with each other, by themselves or passersby’s. The music was provided by a nearby video on demand TV. You gave the lady a few real, scrolled through a sizable list of videos and she would play whatever you wanted. I was tired but it was the too tired to sleep excited tired. I wanted, needed to sleep but I knew I would just lay there, thinking about what had just happened, what I was going to do for the week. I had to totally unplug and best way to do that was to sit and have a beer. When you purchased something here they told you the total in Portuguese and showed you a calculator so you always knew how much everything cost.
I returned to my seat and ordered another liter of Antarctica beer. I watched the ladies dance while I drank, pouring cup after cup. I caught the moon in-between buildings and smiled. I’d wanted to visit Rio since seeing Fletch with prime Chevy Chase, specifically the end scene of him walking with his new lady on the very same beach I was now mere blocks from. I finished my liter and paid my tab. I was immediately stopped by one of the pretty ladies who asked me if I spoke American. I did and she took me into her arms.
‘I have a place nearby, with marijuana and good times, let’s go!’ she purred.
Well damnation I was hanging out at a prostitute bar! The ladies had rooms in the building as they needed a place to take their clients after meeting them at bar downstairs. I smiled at her and thanked her for her offer but I had to decline. I would be back I told her, maybe later that week. She hugged me and I walked away. Just about as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was fast asleep.