I double-checked date and time on my bus ticket, put it in my passport, set up my alarm clock and found out where the nearest ponto de táxi was.
I was nervous. Moving from place to place is what backpackers do but it’s always a bit stressful. There’s the practical aspect of getting from point A to point B—you want to make sure you don’t leave anything behind, show up the bus terminal or airport on time and have a relatively comfortable trip with all your belongings. Then there’s the psychological aspect of leaving a place that, in a matter of days, became strangely familiar and cozy.
This time, it was also a jump into the unknown. I was about to travel to Maceió, a city we have never been to. The idea of going somewhere brand new was just uncomfortable enough, just exciting enough.
But before leaving Recife, I had to tackle a chore I was dreading—doing laundry.
Normally, I love doing the laundry or even better, bring a bag of dirty clothes to the nearest lavandaria and pick up my clean load a few hours later. But as Feng and I discovered a few years ago, doing the laundry in Recife… ahem, challenging.
“You know what, that laundry place… it still exists!” I announced the first day. “I walked past it today!”
We had a good laugh. “Man, people must be desperate!”
Five days later, I wasn’t laughing anymore because I was seriously considering bring them my clothes again.
There aren’t many laundry-per-kilo or self-service laundromat in Recife. Why? No idea. It’s surprising for such a big city and we never have this problem anywhere else in Brazil.
In theory, there was a dryer/washing machine in my building, as specified on the Airbnb listing. I asked about it on day one, and existence of a washing machine was confirmed, but I was told to come back the following day because the person in charge of it was off. I didn’t quite get it—if there was a laundry room for all residents, why would I need to talk to someone?—but I accepted it as Brazilian logic.
On day two, I still didn’t get to meet the laundry expert, but I was told that laundry slots are booked by residents on Monday only and well, it was Tuesday. But someone not actually working right now may help if I asked again the following day.
On day three, I chatted with someone who understood it would have been tricky for me to book a laundry day when I didn’t know you were supposed to book your laundry day, but I also learned that there was only a washing machine available, no dryer.
I gave up on doing the laundry in my building—no way my stuff would air dry properly considering the humidity. I can’t even air dry myself after a shower…
“Carrefour,” a resident informed me when I asked about laundry options during a particularly long elevator ride (the elevators were so slow I often took the stairs up to the 13th floor).
In France, Carrefour doesn’t do your laundry, but I followed Brazilian logic and went to Carrefour anyway, where I spotted a place called Dryclean USA. I stood there for a second, wondering why Brazilian trust the American flag for clean clothes, and stepped in. It turned out to be a dry cleaner charging per piece. “It’s about 11 reais for a short, but it depends on how short they are, 5 reais for s shirt, but it depends on the shirt…”
Exactly what I wanted to avoid because I don’t have thong panties and would probably be overcharged for regular, butt-covering panties.
Feng tried to help and recommended Prima Clean after a quick Google search. “It’s a chain, I’ve seen it in São Paulo. Is it close to your place?”
“Let see… about 2 kilometres. Not bad.”
I was getting desperate because I didn’t want to pack five days of sweaty clothes and hope for better lavandaria options in Maceió. At this stage, I would have travelled all the way to Olinda with my dirty laundry, except I hadn’t seen any lavandaria over there.
The next day, I walked to Prima Clean with a Carrefour bag full of dirty laundry.
“How much for a load?”
“Oh, but you don’t have much… a load is a basket that big,” the employee explained, showing me a large green basket that I couldn’t have filled with the entire content of my backpack.
“It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”
“Let me see if it’s cheaper if I charge you per piece…”
I sighed. There’s a reason why the expression “airing your dirty laundry in public” was invented—it’s fairly uncomfortable to have a perfect stranger empty your laundry bag and count each (dirty) item.
“So six panties…”
Yes, I change underwear every day.
Same idea, minus one I washed under the shower.
“Two… is this a pair of shorts?”
… is a pair of not-as-short shorts.
She picked up a calculator.
“Meh, not much cheaper.”
Great, all that for nothing.
“Can I pick it up later today?”
“Sure! We close at 6:30 p.m.”
I made it at 6:30 p.m. exactly.
The next day, my backpack full of clean laundry and I had a hard time finding a taxi in Boa Viagem, and the one I got couldn’t believe I was from Canada, travelling in Brazil. “Why are you doing that to yourself?” he moaned. “This is not even a third-world country, it’s a… a…”
He couldn’t find a rank low enough for Brazil. I shrugged. “All countries have issues.”
I was early and the terminal was as quiet as when I bought my ticket. Strange. The bus wasn’t full either.
One of the passengers, a very stylish old lady, was wearing an old-fashioned “Maceió” Panama hat, the kind you buy as a souvenir. But we were going to Maceió, so I wondered what prompted her to put it on. Was she from Maceió and proudly making her way back home? Had she worn it all around Recife?
I took a few pictures as we were leaving the city and fell asleep only to wake up in Maceió.