I had charged my Bluetooth earbuds to watch a movie during the 90-minute flight between Rio and Florianópolis because I didn’t think it was long enough to sleep, yet I dozed off as soon as we took off. The French comedy I had downloaded wasn’t funny, my earbuds were blocking the usual airplane background noise almost better than earplugs, plus I was tired after our stay in crowded, exciting, rainy, sunny and surprising Rio de Janeiro.
“Throw,” I muttered right before closing my eyes. We were wearing shorts and sleeveless tops, like everybody else around here. I’m not taking my pair of jeans and hoodie out of my backpack for a flight but it does get chilly with the air con.
Feng obliged and passed me the throw we bought at Walmart the night before a trip a few years ago. We were going to leave it in the plane, it was just to cover Mark during the flight, but we never actually threw the throw and still use it in buses, planes and trains.
I woke up shortly before landing as if programmed to take pictures.
I opened one eye. Ocean. The coast.
I opened the other one.
The plane flew right into a large black cloud.
For a second, I was annoyed because it was blocking the view and I may be raining in Florianópolis.
Annoyance quickly turned into alarm. Engulfed in the storm cloud, the plane dropped and everything started shaking. Feng grabbed Mark’s hand and mine, I grabbed their hands as well. The fasten seat belt sign kept on blinking and I couldn’t see anything outside. It didn’t last long but it felt like forever.
I couldn’t see how close we were to the ground and it was a hard landing.
We all sighed with relief when the plane finally stopped.
It wasn’t raining here, the tarmac was dry.
“Hey, Floripa has a jet bridge now?” Feng noted. “We usually walk from the aircraft to the airport!”
I shrugged. “Plenty of kids and older people on board, maybe they thought it’d be easier this way?”
We stepped into the building and immediately noticed something had changed. Shiny new floor, new lounge at the gate…
“Wow, major upgrade here! This airport used to be a dump!”
Okay, maybe not a dump, but Hercílio Luz International Airport is kind of a military airport—it was built on the site of an old Air Naval Base and it shares some facilities with the Florianópolis Air Force Base of the Brazilian Air Force. The main theme is “concrete” and “practical,” not “let’s impress international travellers.”
“New gate, I guess…”
The doors opened automatically as we approached. The baggage carrousel area was also shiny and much, much bigger than I remembered.
“Okay, we were here a year ago, there’s no way the airport was upgraded that fast! It’s not just new flooring and a fresh coat of paint, it feels like a new building.”
“We must be in a new wing.”
We picked up our backpacked and stepped into the arrival hall. It was huge, with a Starbuck, a supermarket, shops… I didn’t even remember seeing a vending machine in the old terminal.
“This is just super weird. I don’t even recognize the airport. If we are in a new terminal, where the hell is the old terminal?”
“And we were here just a year ago, there’s no way everything was torn down and rebuilt that fast!”
“Are you sure we’re in Floripa? Did we board the wrong plane?”
“I’m pretty sure we’re still in Brazil and definitely on the coast… But where the hell are we?”
We were completely confused. We know Florianópolis very well and we had realistic expectations—old airport, step out, walk to the rent-a-car office across the airport, drive to centro with said rented car.
And now we were standing in the middle of a very fancy new airport—or new terminal, new wing, whatever—which looked awesome but we had no idea where we were.
“Any chance that the car rental office is still across the road?”
Feng shook his head.
“Nope. We’re definitely in a different spot.”
This is when the black cloud the plane had flown into burst. It started to pour.
Okay, definitely not walking around looking for a car rental agency that’s probably not here anyway.
“Go inside the airport and see if you can find it here!”
Feng and Mark took shelter, I ran back into the airport and found a car rental counter with all the major companies.
“Wait for the shuttle!”
I ran back to Mark and Feng with the good news. We were indeed in Florianópolis and a shuttle would take us to the main office, presumably the one in the old spot.
It was a long, long drive to the old airport. Because that’s what happened—Florianópolis has a brand-new airport, it opened last October. Obviously, we had no idea. I mean, would you Google “is the usual airport still here?”
Maybe now we should.