It’s 1:30 a.m. and I’m walking around in Barra, Salvador de Bahia, looking for a bottle of water and possibly some food. What do you think my chances are? Not of getting killed, of finding a convenience store open, I mean.
And what the hell am I doing here?
We figured out our next destination one night in Porto Alegre, powered by Coke Zero (me), Fanta (it doesn’t count as “orange juice,” Mark…) and açaí ice cream (Feng). Tickets were bought. We were taking the plunge, we were going to Salvador de Bahia.
Why didn’t we go before? Mostly because the região Nordeste is about 3,300 kilometres from the Sul where we usually enter Brazil and from the Sudeste where Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo kept us busy. If you’re visiting New York, you’re not going to fly to Los Angeles for the weekend, right?
But to be honest, we were also a bit scared of Salvador de Bahia. Go ahead, Google it. It’s famous for its carnival but it’s also known for being Brazil’s most violent major city.
This is our fifth trip to Brazil. I find Porto Alegre charming. Feng understands basic Portuguese. I think we’re ready for Salvador de Bahia.
Since busing to Salvador from Porto Alegre would take approximately two days straight, we unanimously decided to fly. Azul, a Brazilian budget airline offered the cheapest fares but there was a connection in Rio de Janeiro and then a red-eye flight to Salvador.
This is where we paused and wondered if landing in Salvador at midnight was a good idea.
“No worries, we can do it. We’ll be fine.”
“So we check out in Porto Alegre at 12 p.m., store the bags for a few hours…”
“… I’ll walk around!”
“Yeah, I won’t. Don’t want to be drenched in sweat. I’ll go to the mall with Mark or catch a movie. Then we should leave around 3:30 p.m. because the flight to Rio de Janeiro is at 6:40 p.m.”
“Domestic, the downtown one. Then we have a 90-minute layover and the flight to Salvador is at 10:05 p.m. This means we’ll get there at midnight but since there’s a time change, it’ll be 11 p.m.”
“Gotcha. I’ll bring food, no way anything will be open. Are we good?”
“Yep. Well, I hope so.”
Two days later, we check out and the guys went to the mall while I walked around Porto Alegre Centro one last time. We all met at the hotel at 3:30 p.m.
The taxi ride was straightforward and cheaper than expected.
‘Okay, Mark, we’re looking for Azul. Can you find the airline counter?
What was supposed to be a rhetorical search turned into a real mystery. Gol, Avianca, Lantam… Azul was nowhere to be found. Eventually, we learned it operated from Terminal 2, the old airport located a long and sweaty walk outside Terminal 1.
“This is gonna be one of the planes we board from the tarmac, isn’t it…”
Yes. But it was on time and there was free Wi-Fi at the airport, so that was cool.
We were sitting in row 27, the last one, the row nobody wants because it’s at the back of the aircraft and you can’t recline your seat. This is what you get when you buy cheap tickets at the last minute and don’t pay to choose your seat.
The steward apologized because the entertainment system didn’t work.
Budget airlines don’t usually feed passengers for free and I had brought my own drink so that I wouldn’t have to pay $5 for a can of whatever.
But we’re in Brazil and things are different in Brazil.
“MOMMY! I SEE CHIPS! BAGS OF THEM!”
Mark was right. Chips were being handed out.
Eventually, the steward reached the back of the plane with a giant tray full of colourful bags of different sizes. “Please, take some food.”
I must have looked hesitant because he insisted. “This, bolo de laranja. Candies. You want candies, right? And have some chips. We have regular chips and cheese-flavour chips. Here are four bags, do you need more? Oh, I was forgetting… chocolate chip cookies. And these ones, filled with guava paste.”
He dumped a dozen of bags on my lap and moved on to Mark. “We’ll share,” I assured. Across the aisle, Feng was getting showered with indústria brasileira snacks as well.
“Here’s dinner!” he laughed. “Too bad I don’t have a bag…”
“I do!” I pulled out my Panda reusable bag out from my carry-on. “Okay, I’ll take them if you promise me you guys won’t buy any more chips for at least a week.”
All the passengers were still munching on chips, occasionally flagging own the steward for more bags, when the seat belt sign went on.
Landing at Santo Dumont, Rio de Janeiro’s downtown airport, offers one of the most scenic approaches but it’s a bumpy ride as you fly by Copacabana and the Pão de Açúcar, and it feels like the plane is going to miss the runway.
There had been a downpour in Rio and it was only 23ºC outside, which would have been just fine but we were stuck inside the airport for 90 minutes and it was approximately—10ºC with the air con.
Right, I’m exaggerating slightly but it was freezing cold—not “gee, Juliette is cold again” cold, but actually cold. Feng was cold, Mark was cold and passengers waiting for their flight were trying to cover their shoulders with sarongs or scarves.
I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Damn, Rio, turn off the air con!
We finally boarded at 10:05 p.m. and landed in Salvador two hours later with more chips, cookies and cake. It took another 40-minute taxi ride to the hotel in Barra and here I am, looking for water while the guys are taking a shower.
The streets are empty but for three lanches. I saw the beach, it looks nice.
But I need water. Chips make you thirsty, right?