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One of These Nights in Rio

I’m getting antsy because it’s 6:30 p.m. and I haven’t accomplished anything yet today.

Well, technically, I did—we packed, checked out of the hotel in Florianópolis, took a taxi to the airport, queued at the GOL check-in counter to get boarding passes, weighted our checked baggage at the self-service kiosk and pay for them (it’s 60 reais if you do it yourself but 120 reais if you do it at the counter) then queued again to drop off the two backpacks now properly tagged. We waited at the very crowded gate, boarded the full plane, picked one of the two snacks offered during the 90-minute flight (cacao cookies or nuts) and landed at Galeão—Rio’s international airport.

So maybe that was my accomplishment of the day, travelling from Florianópolis to Rio de Janeiro. Yes, we’re back in Rio de Janeiro. It was the best option after Florianópolis—Feng found a very cheap flight ($60!) and hotels were less expensive than around New Year’s Eve. There was no point in hanging out in an overpriced beach town close to Floripa when we could enjoy Rio.

In the airport bathroom, a woman managed to plug her flat iron and she is straightening her long hair in front of the mirror. That’s a level of dedication to my appearance I’ll never have—am I supposed to use a public bathroom for something other than peeing and washing my hands? I must have missed the memo, I don’t even have makeup to put on.

“It feels cooler than in Floripa…”

“It does, but it’s still 38⁰C!”

The taxi driver takes us through the favelas—I hate this word, “favela,” it sounds so judgmental, but I can’t find a better way to describe these huge neighbourhoods with houses that aren’t houses but shacks. I mean, there are guys on the street are sitting besides signs that say “duchas, 5 reais”—presumably most of these “houses” don’t have running water.

Are we even supposed to drive through this neighbourhood? Does the taxi driver want to make a point, show us around? I glance at him. He’s one of these fair-skinned, blue-eyed Brazilians of German descent. He even has a German name, written on his taxi licence. He’s young, a bit pudgy, slightly nerdy with big glasses. He entered our destination in a fancy smartphone GPS mounted on the dashboard.

He doesn’t look like favela material to me, so it must be okay to drive through the neighbourhood. I mean, he probably has as much to lose as we do.

I hate myself for thinking that. We’re in a fucking taxi, favelas residents aren’t going to jump on it, it’s not a safari, they’re not animals but people busy living their life in a city within the city. Most of these neighbourhoods aren’t hives of violence and criminal activity.

We finally make it to the hotel just before 6 p.m.

More paperwork to fill in—name, address, phone number, etc.—at check in. As usual, the receptionist makes a copy of our passport. I always wonder what’s the point but I’m not going to ask because he’s not the friendly kind.

We’re totally confused by the layout of the building. First, you have to take an elevator to the second floor. We step into a courtyard, there are actually two different towers. We’re in tower one, third floor, so we take another elevator—I’ll find a shortcut through the emergency exit stairs soon enough.

We have a small apartment and it clearly wasn’t designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the famous Brazilian architect. The bedroom door doesn’t close because the bed is too long and the bathroom door hits the toilet. I think the message is “don’t close doors here, live freely.”

Rio de Janeiro always stresses me out a bit. I feel bad just mentioning it. It’s okay to bitch about Paris when you’re French, it’s perfectly acceptable to hate Toronto when you’re Canadian, but complaining about Rio de Janeiro makes me sound like a snotty, ungrateful traveller. I mean, it’s Rio! People dream of going to Rio!

And there are many things I like in Rio. The juice bar at every street corner, for instance. I’m not that into fruits but I like to see strangers eating snacks and drinking exotic juices at the counter together, it makes the city look friendly. The beach walks in Copacabana and Ipanema are great. Rio de Janeiro is a pretty place, can’t argue with that.

“Are we in Japanese town?”

“Huh? Oh, Little Tokyo? No, that was in São Paulo, Mark. We’re in Rio.”

“Looks like Japanese Town, though.”

“I guess… without Japanese people and Japanese restaurants.”

“Rio and São Paulo are almost the same, right?”

“Well, minus the beach, the Sugarloaf, the Jesus on the mountain… I suppose they are.”

Meanwhile, it’s 6:30 p.m. and I need food.

Every stay in Rio is very different depending on what’s going on in the city and on where the hotel is. This time, we’re in Botafogo in a neighbourhood I don’t know. I’m too tired to explore it, I’m just going to walk to Copacabana where I know where to buy dinner.

An hour and a half later, I cross the “tunnel of death” back into Botafogo empty-handed. “My” shops and bakeries were closing, nothing left. I’m really tired now. Everyone is busy drinking, it’s Friday night. I’m busy looking for food that doesn’t look like bar food and I’m not even hungry because it’s so freaking hot.

10:30 p.m. I buy a bifum at a Japanese restaurant, then I realize I don’t particularly crave vermicelli noodles with chicken. Feng will eat it, I guess.

I can’t make decisions when I’m tired.

I wander around Botafogo, the smell of beer is giving me a headache.

I’ll eat what I bought, even if I can’t remember what it was.

It always takes some time—a few hours, a few days—to make the transition from one place to another.

Everything will make more sense tomorrow.

“Listen to your intuition”, Florianópolis
Aeroporto Internacional de Florianópolis – Hercílio Luz
Cinelândia, Rio de Janeiro
Largo do Machado, Catete, Rio de Janeiro
Rua da Passagem, Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro
Rua da Passagem, Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro
Túnel Novo on the Copacabana side, crossing from Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro
R. Sorocaba, Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro

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