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Maceió to São Paulo – Leaving Brazil Step 1, COVID Test and Full Lockdown

Wrapping up this three-month trip and leaving Brazil is a multistep process… and I’m not even going to end up in Canada yet.

The first step was to find my way back to a major international airport—remember, I spent the past two months hiding in the Nordeste, 3,000 kilometres north of São Paulo.

“So, I’m taking the 11:40 a.m. Maceió-São Paulo flight landing at 2:30 p.m. in GRU. I’m going to go straight to Terminal 3 to take the COVID test. I’ll get the result four hours later—hopefully negative—and I’m leaving the next day at 4:35 p.m. I mean, if I can board the plane, you never know these days.”

“Take it easy,” Feng advised. “Everything may take a while. Oh, and it’s gonna be cooler in São Paulo. Enjoy your tropical paradise this weekend!”

Except I wasn’t really enjoying it anymore. I was stressed out because I was once again jumping into the unknown and so were locals because of the weekend lockdown, the latest COVID measure implemented in Maceió.

“What did you do today?” my mom asked.

“I went to the beach. Then I cried on the beach,” I admitted before starting to cry again.

I wasn’t crying because I was leaving but rather because everything is so fucked up and complicated.

“I should have been flying back to you, guys,” I told Feng later on the phone. “I’m so sick of all this… it makes no sense. I can’t leave in a world where we’re supposed to just stay put for who knows how long. I feel trapped.”

In case you were wondering, I don’t regret a thing, though. I saw Mark smile and laugh when we were together, and I felt so alive many, many times during this trip. Just for that it was worth it. But like pretty much everyone on earth right now, the pandemic is a roller coaster ride of emotions—how many times did I have a great day just to check the news and learn about new restrictions, vaccine delays and more?

I did a last load of laundry on Sunday night, chatted with Mark and Feng, then I packed and tried to sleep.

I was at Maceió’s airport on Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. It was very, very quiet and I was pretty much the only one at the LATAM check-in counter.

The airport looked like a mix between Congonhas Airport in São Paulo—old and stuffy—and Florianópolis for the tropical setting.

Everything went smoothly and we boarded a very, very old plane on time. It wasn’t full, I had the row to myself. For some mysterious reason blinds and lights were shut off right after taking off as if it was a red-eye flight and passengers were dying to sleep. It worked, though, most of us actually slept.

“GRU,” i.e. São Paulo’s international airport, was dead quiet. It took five minutes to get my backpack and I headed straight to Terminal 3 where the COVID centre is located. This is where Feng and Mark were sent after their first COVID test wasn’t accepted by Air Canada.

I had to fill out a form on my phone and dig around for info I didn’t have on hand—flight booking number, flight number, address in São Paulo, etc. I was given a number and instructed to go wait in a makeshift waiting room behind a (closed) restaurant.

“Can’t I just wait here?”

“No, your number will be called.”

So I walked to the waiting room only to realize my number had been called while I was on my way. Ah ah.

I had to show my passport and confirm name, date of birth and more. The woman was annoyed with my apparent inability to understand some of her question—you’d think people working in an international airport where presumably plenty of foreigners need to take a COVID test would be more patient, not to mention it’s quite difficult to hear questions behind Plexiglas in a crowded room.

“I need three phone numbers.”

“I… only have one.”

Actually, none in Brazil but whatever.

“Friends?”

“No.”

I’m not starting a social network here, just trying to get a COVID test—why on earth would I need to provide three phone numbers? “Type one to learn if your friend tested negative, play the COVID game!”

Finally, I was directed to another booth where the test was performed and yes, it’s very unpleasant. Then I was given a unique ID and passport to check results four hours later. Looking at you, Canada—why can’t we have a COVID testing centre at the airport that provides results in a timely manner instead of locking up people for three and making them pay $2000 for that? My COVID test was expensive by Brazilian standard, 350 reais (about $65) but the process was efficient.

At 4:30 p.m. I was in a taxi to downtown São Paulo, bracing for the rest of the day.

See, I managed to land in São Paulo on day one of the extra super mega red stage, which means full lockdown and 8 p.m. curfew.

“I’ll get takeout, no worries, it’s just for a night,” I told my Brazilian contact.

“Nope,” he replied. “From segunda, no more takeout, everything is delivery only.”

And I wasn’t sure how to handle this since I don’t do delivery—I don’t have the apps not to mention a foreign card is likely to be declined and I’m guessing there’s a line for CPF.

I checked in at the hotel in Bela Cintra where we had stayed a couple of times before. I kept on seeing Mark and Feng everywhere and I felt like crying. “Oh, the layout of the room… Mark and I danced here before New Year’s Eve, and Mark used to run to the door here…”

I blinked a few times to chase away the tear. Not the moment to be sentimental.

São Paulo was a ghost town on tudo fechado mode. I rushed to Bella Paulista, my favourite 24/7 bakery/restaurant and best choice when pretty much everything is closed. They weren’t supposed to let me get takeout but they did and most places where I stopped by were flexible as well. Restrictions aren’t exactly popular…

“It feels like São Paulo in 2002, first time we were here. Kind of creepy, choppers circling around, you wouldn’t recognize the city. It’s not cold, though. It feels like early fall in France, can’t explain why,” I told Feng at night.

“The hotel okay?”

I shrugged. “Bathroom and kitchen sink both leaking, feels kind of old and empty. I don’t care, it’s just for one night. It’s so weird to see São Paulo on lockdown though… it felt so lively in December. Things are supposed to get better, not worse.”

“Get some sleep. Call me tomorrow from the airport or when you arrive.”

“Okay. Wish me luck…”

I tested negative, by the way.

Maceió/Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport
Maceió/Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport
Maceió/Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport  (forget about COVID, Maceió is still fighting the Zika virus...)
Maceió/Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport (forget about COVID, Maceió is still fighting the Zika virus…)
Maceió/Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport
Maceió/Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport
Landing in São Paulo
Landing in São Paulo
Landing in São Paulo
Landing in São Paulo
Landing in São Paulo
Landing in São Paulo
Landing in São Paulo
Landing in São Paulo
COVID test at CR Diagnósticos at GRU, Terminal 3
COVID test at CR Diagnósticos at GRU, Terminal 3
COVID test at CR Diagnósticos at GRU, Terminal 3
COVID test at CR Diagnósticos at GRU, Terminal 3
COVID test at CR Diagnósticos at GRU, Terminal 3
COVID test at CR Diagnósticos at GRU, Terminal 3
COVID test at CR Diagnósticos at GRU, Terminal 3
COVID test at CR Diagnósticos at GRU, Terminal 3
São Paulo/Guarulhos – Governador André Franco Montoro International Airport
São Paulo/Guarulhos – Governador André Franco Montoro International Airport
Waiting for COVID test results
Waiting for COVID test results
Waiting for COVID test results
Waiting for COVID test results

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