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São Paulo to Recife – Alone for a New Adventure

The three of us checked out together at noon but Feng asked the front desk to store his luggage and Mark’s for a few hours while I was adjusting the straps of my backpack.

We stepped out and crossed the street to the taxi stand.

“Onde vai?”

“Congonhas.”

Congonhas, São Paulo’s “small” airport with the scary runway, not GRU, the international airport.

The driver opened the door for Mark.

“No, it’s just me,” I said.

Feng hugged me despite my cold. “Have a good trip!”

I quickly sat in the back of the car and closed the door to avoid an emotional goodbye. I hoped Mark was okay. This year, he actually said he would miss me—he rarely voices his feelings this way.

The driver glanced at me in the rearview mirror. I must have looked like a strange passenger, going to the domestic airport, leaving a man and a child behind.

He shrugged and started the car. Stranger things happen all the time in Brazil and elsewhere.

I heard Mark’s voice. The guys were on the sidewalk, in front of the taxi, waving goodbye.

They looked okay.

We will all be okay. We’re travellers. We leave people and places behind all the time.

Okay, this sounds awfully dramatic. I mean, I’m not “leaving” leaving, I’m just not coming back right away. It’s not like I had just decided to not board the São Paulo-Toronto Air Canada flight Mark and Feng will take in the evening. We booked tickets with different return dates—Feng and Mark on January 19, mine later.

This was the plan all along and we were all fine with it, including Mark.

It’s not that I want to travel alone, it’s just that I want to travel longer, period—a travel version of “it’s not you, it’s me, but we’re okay.”

Yet, I’m scared. I like it better when we’re a team, and we were a great team this year. Mark is all grown up, he is responsible, smart, and funny. He understands the concept of time, distance and money and he can entertain himself so Feng and I were able to enjoy each other’s company.

Shit. I miss them already.

Focus, Juliette, focus. Yes, despite the fever. Pay the taxi driver. Get boarding pass and drop off backpack. Go through security. Find door. Board flight. Sleep. Wake up three hours later and 2,100 kilometres further in Brazil’s “Nordeste. Ta-da! All done.

I’m going to Recife. Yes, I’m staying in Brazil.

I drafted my travel plans on the back of a padaria receipt around New Year’s Day, when we were in São Paulo. I learned from last year’s solo trip that it’s best to settle on an itinerary—or at least pick a direction—to avoid late-night dilemmas. “Going with the flow” sounds cool but it isn’t when you have to backtrack, rush to get somewhere or when you suddenly realize you’re stuck.

The more I travel in Brazil the more I like it. It’s a unique, puzzling, fascinating and surprising country. I want to see more of it. Still, the padaria receipt wasn’t that big… I only wrote down part of the plan. Not sure about the rest yet…

I completed the usual airport steps and paced the departure hall until it was time to board. I kept on checking the gate and it kept on changing. I was hoping gate agents would actually look at my ticket before letting me board the aircraft because all announcement were in Portuguese only—probably wouldn’t be so fun to land in a mysterious Brazilian city instead of Recife, a… mysterious Brazilian city.

Okay, maybe it would be fun.

But eventually, I did board the right GOL flight and fell asleep only to wake up when my name was called during the flight. Turned out that according to Brazilian logic, my ticket didn’t include a free checked bag (I paid for it separately) but did include the overpriced ham-and-cheese sandwich. Go figure.

I’ve taken enough domestic flights in Brazil by now to expect to see the usual mix of lush tropical forest and an impressive skyline right before landing. The world should care more about Brazil. It’s huge, populous, with dozens of very big cities few foreigners can name.

The plane stopped on the tarmac and I noticed it was almost dark already. Shit. The entire western park of the country is on the same time zone, so sunset in Recife is much earlier than in São Paulo.

And clearly, I underestimated the challenge of arriving in Recife at 6 p.m. on a Sunday. The taxi driver couldn’t find the right building so he just dumped me in the middle of the “right”—he insisted on that—street. I started walking up and down the street, looking for #408, fully aware that it’s never a good idea to be outside in the dark with all your stuff. Eventually, I did find the right tower—Brazilian logic again, it’s in front of #303 and absolutely not between #406 and #410. Everybody gets confused, it’s not just me. Residents wait for food delivery drivers in the street because of that…

Finding food was also a challenge since I didn’t know what was still open and where to go. I ended up at Carrefour for the basics and I made it to the shopping mall minutes before it closed.

First step accomplished. I made it to Recife.

It’s amazingly quiet in the studio without São Paulo’s Rua Augusta party noise in the background, without two TVs on and without Mark’s incessant chatter. All I can hear is the quiet, soothing noise of the air-con unit—trust me, I need it, it’s hot and humid in this part of the country.

The adventure starts tomorrow. I need to sleep first.

Congonhas Airport, São Paulo
Congonhas Airport, São Paulo
Congonhas Airport, São Paulo
Congonhas Airport, São Paulo
Congonhas Airport, São Paulo
Congonhas Airport, São Paulo
Congonhas Airport, São Paulo
Congonhas Airport, São Paulo
Landing in Recife
Landing in Recife
Landing in Recife
Landing in Recife
Landing in Recife
Landing in Recife
Recife/Guararapes–Gilberto Freyre International Airport
Recife/Guararapes–Gilberto Freyre International Airport
Recife/Guararapes–Gilberto Freyre International Airport
Recife/Guararapes–Gilberto Freyre International Airport
Recife, at the Airbnb
Recife, at the Airbnb
Recife, at the Airbnb
Recife, at the Airbnb

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