I was going to skip Aracaju but it was a logical stop along the coast, the best way to avoid spending 12 hours on an overnight bus—or worst, on a bus scheduled at 5 p.m. that arrives in the middle of the night—to reach the next big city.
Finding a place to stay had been the first challenge. The city seemed very spread out and I didn’t know which bairro to pick or how easy it was to get around. Hotels on Expedia were expensive and not that great while Airbnb mostly offered large houses for rent—”three bedrooms, sleeps 40!” (I’m not sure how Brazilians sleep, apparently not in beds.)
“Party place,” Feng noted.
I went with the least-worst option, a room with a private shower in a large family home. It was close to the main beach, the neighbourhood should be okay.
I spent the last night in Maceió doing laundry, French homework with Mark over Skype and completing a few assignments. The next morning, the trip started smoothly—taxi to the terminal, 12:30 p.m. bus arriving at 4:45 p.m. in Aracaju, the chance to catch up on sleep or finish reading a couple of books on my Kindle.
I did fall asleep in the bus but I dreamed I was in Quebec and that Mark was nagging me—Sergipe state’s roads are very bumpy and my seatmate, a stylish woman, had a different notion of personal space than me.
Once in Aracaju’s bus terminal, I decided to book my onward bus ticket right away to avoid another trip to the rodoviária. It was a practical move… or maybe a premonition.
By the time I was done, it was sunset. Remember, sunset is early in the Nordeste.
The taxi couldn’t find the address and no one seemed to know the street. When he eventually did find it, it was pitch dark.
I rang the bell and waited.
A young guy opened the door, gave me a set of keys, showed me the room and walked away. I wondered who he was and where the “host” was, i.e. the woman I talked to on Airbnb.
I dropped off my backpack and ran after him.
“Eh… sorry. Do you know where I can go to… buy stuff? Like food? Water?”
“Okay. Where is it?”
“Like, this way.”
Dear stranger, you pointing to the left doesn’t really help when it’s pitch dark outside, the person asking doesn’t know the city, and we’re standing in your backyard.
“What’s the name of the mall?”
Gotcha. The taxi drove past it on the way from the rodoviária. It was pretty far but easy to find, at the end of a main avenue. Dilemma—should I wander around the neighbourhood hoping for a convenience store, a supermarket or restaurants or should I walk to the mall?
I had no idea how to find the main avenue from the maze of residential streets, so I asked around. I spotted the big “RioMar” building 45 minutes later. I bought some food and water at the supermarket then I hauled it back to the Airbnb.
Once at the end of the main road, I realized I had no idea how to find the house again. There were no street names and they all looked the same—one- or two-storey buildings, no landmarks. I couldn’t even tell which way the beach was.
Against, the few people I met and asked for directions had no idea where the street was or whether it actually existed. I was saved by a nice pharmacy employee who checked Google Maps (remember, my phone doesn’t work in Brazil).
I let myself in, crossed the yard and opened the door to my “room,” basically an annex a couple of metres from the house. I looked at it for the first time. Four beds, a fan, tiled floor and…
Fuck. Ants. And mosquitoes. Unidentified bugs.
I opened the “bathroom” door—just a room with a showerhead and a toilet—and starting counting ants.
At twenty, I called Feng.
“How are you doing?”
“It’s pretty shitty,” I admitted. “Oh you MOTHERFUCKER! Not you! Just a big ant. It reminds me of some of the crappy hotels we stayed in Central America.”
“Regular ants or—”
“Brazilian ants. Big, red, angry.”
“It’s 10 p.m., you’re kind of stuck there for the night…”
“Yeah, I’ll survive. But the house is weird. I haven’t seen my Airbnb contact yet, I have no idea who is living here and I feel I’m intruding. Plus bugs.”
Feng checked Expedia, I did too.
“Did you see any other hotel around?”
“Can’t see shit, it’s pitch dark. The one neon sign down the street says ’SEX SHOP.’”
“Okay, found one nearby. Single room available tomorrow.”
I booked it, spend some more time with Feng on the phone and hung up.
I activated survival mode. OFF! spray instead of Nivea lotion. Wash top under the shower to avoid unpacking. Use backup crackers and cookies.
I did try communicate with the family but they weren’t friendly at all. Later on at night, I used the microwave in the house’s shared kitchen and realized we just… didn’t have the same cleanliness standards.
Yes, it’s Brazil and yes, there are bugs. I wasn’t overreacting—trust me, there were a lot of bugs in the damn room.
I showered, turned the fan on, eat a couple of sandwiches, worked and set up my alarm.
Then I did what I always do when I have a shitty day—I opened a book and read stories of people having a worst day than me.