“… and you’re alone?”
“Like, right now, yes, but technically not.”
The Metrô employee sighed. “Good luck, then.”
“Good luck?” Wait, what? I’m just about to take Recife’s rapid transit system to go buy a freaking ticket at the bus terminal! That’s a pretty normal thing to do! Plus, coming from a guy who lives in a city with shark-infested waters, that’s rich. I should be safe if I stay away from the beach, right?
On my second day in Recife, before starting to explore the city, I want to complete a small travel chore—booking a bus ticket to my next destination. I did try to it online, but apparently you need a CPF, a Brazilian phone number, address, and probably the name of three Brazilian ancestors to complete the transaction.
Never mind, I’d do it the old-fashioned way, in person, at the Terminal Rodoviário.
Recife International Airport is at the south end of Boa Viagem, two kilometres inland—when the taxi driver does find the address and street numbers make sense, it’s a cheap 15-minute ride. I assumed the bus terminal was also located in a strategic place and, out of curiosity, I asked a taxi how much the ride was. Ouch, 50 reais ($12). Later that evening I checked Google Maps—ah, yes, fair enough, it’s a 20-kilometre trip.
No need to splurge on a taxi, I could take the Metrô. I planned my trip for the next day. The closest station was Estação Shopping, located right behind the huge shopping mall—and I mean “huge,” I discover a new food court every time I go there. Okay, so four stations from Estação Shopping to Estação Joana Bezerra, a transfer to Linha Centro, and 11 stations to Estação Rodoviária.
“I’ll go first thing in the day, should take an hour max,” I told myself.
And so the next day I walked towards the shopping centre, looking for Estação Shopping.
Shopping Recife is a posh mall. However, right behind the centre, it’s a different story. The more I was walking towards what I hoped was the station, the more I was wondering whether I was supposed to be here.
Eventually, I found the station and bought my ticket.
Not that many foreigners take the Metrô, I suppose. An employee came up to me before I even had the chance to look at the network map on the wall—the “good luck” moment.
The station was empty.
The train that arrived twenty minutes later was packed.
Again, for a few seconds, I wondered if I was supposed to be here and I immediately felt terrible about thinking that. This is hard to explain. It’s not the people, it’s you. There are places where you just shouldn’t be unless you know what you’re doing. I wouldn’t walk through a favela for instance—most residents are families trying to survive but the potential of something going wrong is high enough.
Okay, the three girls in front of me had knives (badly) hidden in their shoes and I spotted quite a few ankle monitors so there was a reason why I felt a bit uneasy.
I was also super uncomfortable because not only the train was jam-packed, but it was packed with passengers and vendors, the latter making their way through the crowd pushing ice coolers on wheels filled with ice cream and water or dragging large garbage bags filled with small snacks.
By the time the train arrived at the transfer station, I was convinced there were more vendors than actual passengers and the few of them weren’t actually going anywhere, they were just enjoying a place with air con.
I transferred to Linha Centro and waited for the train. Again, the platform was packed with vendors. I noticed 21 of the 22 Metrô rules being broken—I can’t claim I’ve seen anywhere carrying firearms without authorization (for all I know, they had a licence, right?). I had plenty of time to read because the damn train wasn’t coming. I was pacing the platform, other passengers were eating 0.50-real picolé—cheap ice-cream bars—and throwing the stick on the tracks, literally covered with hundreds of sticks.
I guess trains don’t really come on time or that often.
It did show up eventually. Same story, packed, plenty of vendors.
I was standing by the broken window and noticed we were crossing favelas, more favelas, more favelas…
I started to worry about the bus terminal—where on earth was it and how bad was the neighborhood?
But Brazil is a surprising country and most passengers got off before the bus terminal. The scenery changed as well—it was green all around me.
I finally got off and realized I was in the middle of the wild. And by “in the middle of the wild,” I mean if you felt like having a banana all you had to do was grab it from the tree. Same with coconuts.
The bus terminal was surprisingly empty. I bought my ticket and stop by the taxi stand.
“How much to Recife?”
I sighed. Oh well, only 12 stations to downtown…
But the train wasn’t coming. The digital clock above the train track was 20 minutes ahead. For a moment, I thought it was showing the next scheduled train but no, it just wasn’t on time.
I asked a woman with two young kids whether the train was running on schedule and what the schedule was.
“I’m not sure yet,” she replied, a worried look on her face. “I’ve only been there for five months. I moved here with my husband, he got a job and…”
And clearly she wasn’t happy with Recife’s transit system.
I made it to downtown Recife, which looked completely safe and normal by comparison.
Lessons of the day—Recife is huge, Recife is green, and few people get the chance to live in a modern apartment tower.