It’s pointless to try to get a good night’s sleep when you have to get up before 6 a.m. to catch a 9:50 a.m. flight. Well, it is if you’re me, anyway. Despite my best efforts to go to bed early, I was still air drying my last load of laundry at 10 p.m. (the Airbnb had a washing machine!) and completing an assignment at 11 p.m.—and I hadn’t eaten dinner yet.
I lay down half-awake for what seemed hours, suddenly wondering what the hell was I doing with my life. Yeah, instead of sleeping—nice move, brain.
I opened the window to breeze in the hot and humid tropical air.
Travelling makes me feel alive, it inspires me, it makes me feel better about the world. Strange. It could have the opposite effect — after all, I see poverty, pollution and all the stuff CNN talks about when “Breaking News,” and I’ve discovered quite a few places where I would not like to live. But I also see a colourful world, amazing spots, normal people living normal lives, a kind of universality that comforts me. No matter where around the world, we work, create, rest, party, eat, share, love.
That’s why I’m here, that’s why being on the road is always so appealing. It gets scary and uncomfortable at times but it makes me use my brain, my body, teaches me about the world and make me believe in us, humans.
My alarm rang and I woke up even though I didn’t think I was sleeping, my hair wet and my back sweaty. Not even air con can cool off Salvador.
The day started smoothly. The taxi I chatted with the night before showed up right on time at my doorstep and charged me 90 reais exactly as planned—Brazilians are very reliable. I managed to talk my way out of paying the checked luggage fee with Lantam (yeah, 75 reais saved, my Portuguese must have gotten better!) and since I was early, I also completed and sent an assignment thanks to the free airport Wi-Fi.
Everything was great, especially after two cups of overpriced airport coffee. I wasn’t even that sad to leave Salvador because the week before Carnival is complete madness as the city gets ready for the crazy week-long party. And I wasn’t sad about not staying for Carnival either—too expensive, too crowded in Barra.
About ten days ago, I realized I was “stuck” in Salvador. Originally, I wanted to keep on going south along the coast, but the next big city was a ten-hour bus ride away and it didn’t look that great. Then it was another ten-hour bus ride to yet another meh city. I checked plane ticket prices—most flights were going through São Paulo and were expensive.
With Carnival madness at the end of the month, I had to make a decision—the most practical and cheapest one was to fly back to good old “GRU,” São Paulo’s international airport. After that… well, I would figure it out.
On the plane, I was sandwiched between a very tall black guy and a very tall white guy in row 4. I think I dozed off but I didn’t sleep as deeply as the white guy who was snoring and as the Black guy who didn’t wake up when we landed (… I hope someone woke him up eventually?).
My luggage showed up fast enough on the carrousel and I negotiated the taxi fare to Bella Vista.
When it dropped me off in front of my Airbnb building, I realized it was cold.
Okay, not “cold” as in “Canada cold,” but barely 20⁰C which is a bit of a shock after sweating 24/7 in the Nordeste. The sky was grey and everybody was talking about some diluvian rain the day before— São Paulo has been flooding on and off for the past few weeks.
I checked in. The Airbnb was weird, it turned out to be one of these long-stay hotels and it looked like a halfway house. The front desk staff wasn’t friendly. I felt like an inmate—picture, passport, keys.
Apartment 309 was dirty and there was no microwave. I sighed. I weighed the pros and cons of arguing in Portuguese. Okay, it was really dirty and I needed a damn microwave. I went back to the front desk and switched to 308—this one was slightly cleaner but still old and still no microwave—“we’ll bring one.” Oh, and the Wi-Fi didn’t work. “Try all the networks, here’s a page of passwords.”
I didn’t feel like unpacking to grab a pair of jeans so I went out wearing my usual pair of shorts despite the “chilly” weather.
People seemed to be in a bad mood—I get it, I’d be too if I was stuck in São Paulo without a beach and with bad weather.
I know São Paulo pretty well, which means I master about 1/100 of the city given its size. In a way, finding my way through familiar neighbourhoods was comforting but it was also completely confusing because the last time I was there, three weeks ago, Mark and Feng were here too. Oh, here is Bella Cintra where we said goodbye, here is the restaurant where Mark ate some fish he loved, here is me almost crying…
It was too cold to enjoy being outside but the Airbnb was depressing so I still walked around as if I was discovering São Paulo. I tried to get some Chinese food in Libertade to cheer me up but the restaurants were closed—on holidays, I hoped, not sick with the virus or in quarantine…
Nothing made sense. I had travelled from north to south but “south” was colder than “north,” which goes against logic (i.e. Northern hemisphere logic…). It felt like winter in Brazil. And was I still in Brazil? I had left the tropics in the morning and here I was, hoping for a hot shower.
But São Paulo was just a one-night pit stop this time, anyway.