São Paulo woke up with a hangover, pouring rain and the first cases of coronavirus in the country. Instead of the usual samba & Carnival news, headlines were all about the virus and floods—most rainy month of February in 77 years, apparently.
Meanwhile, I woke up long after my alarm rang, mostly because I spent the night completing an assignment.
Given the weather and post-Carnival mood, I didn’t feel like crossing new places off my São Paulo list, so I did my usual last-day tour—Libertade, Paulista, Augusta. I headed to Centro to buy a t-shirt at the Galeria do Rock, a 450-store mall (Rua 24 de Maio, 62 and Largo do Paissandu) dedicated to hip hop (ground floor), rock music (second floor) and counter-culture in general (third floor)—hey, it is listed as a “culturally relevant site.”
It was hot but it rained all day. I came back to the Airbnb in the evening and got ready to leave again. The challenge? Packing a week’s worth of dirty laundry for the next day’s flight—with Carnival, I haven’t been able to find a lavanderia working regular business hours and it was too humid to air dry laundry done in the shower.
Next stop, Rio de Janeiro.
Yes, Rio. The city I had sworn I wouldn’t go to alone, the city I’m not totally in love with. Very logical choice, I know.
The thing is, the trip will end soon-ish. I still have some time but not enough to start exploring the Amazonas or check out these lovely and completely out of the way place Brazilians recommend. Rio de Janeiro was an opportunity—I found a cheap and lovely Airbnb and it’s easy to get there from São Paulo.
Originally, I was going to take the bus, a 6.5-hour ride. Then I realized flying was amazingly cheap—CAD40.44 one way with GOL, from Congonhas to Santo Dumont, both downtown airports.
So I booked the flight and the Airbnb and added Rio to my itinerary.
I called Mark Feng as usual after packing.
“By the way, there’s something you can bring me back from Brazil… hand sanitizer.”
“All sold out in Canada, I can’t find it anywhere,” Feng explained.
The next day, I had some time before my 4 p.m. flight, so I checked out and went for a walk around Avenida Paulista, the perfect opportunity to grab hand sanitizer.
Now, there are two… no, three things you should know about Brazilians. First, they are hygiene freaks. Second, they are probably a bit hypochondriac. Third, there are pharmacies everywhere, and most are 24/7—no kidding, I think Brazilians stop by the pharmacy at least once a day, they are always busy.
Well, none of the seven pharmacies I went to had any hand sanitizer left. The shelves were empty and pharmacies were busier than usual. I also started spotting people wearing face masks. Damn. Virus 1, humans, 0.
Congonhas was very quiet. I talked my way out of paying the checked luggage fee once again and I was even offered a window seat. I love GOL.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board,” the pilot announced as soon as all passengers were seated. “We need volunteers to move to the empty rows at the back of the plane.”
“Why?” a passenger asked.
“Well, take off is particularly dangerous in Congonhas and landing in Rio today will be dangerous too, so we need to balance the place.”
Takeoff was brutal as usual from Congonhas. To distract us—or as a last meal??—we were offered coffee, soft drinks and snacks. But it wasn’t just the usual tiny pack of free Mãe Terra snack crackers or cookies. Each one of us also got a giant 85-gram Lacta chocolate bar.
We landed much earlier than planned—the 60-minute flight had turned into a 35-minute flight, not enough time to even eat half of the chocolate. Next thing you know, we were bouncing on Santos Dumont’s runway.
The Airbnb was as nice as in the picture and typical Rio—looks awesome, somewhat flawed. For instance, I couldn’t get the washing machine to work. It also comes with extra, mega security like a digital keypad and a lock that closes on its own.
“The apartment is super nice,” I explained Feng. “Remodeled and all, very modern. But the building? It reminds me of your childhood Shenyang apartment building! Long, narrow hallway, peeling paint, no light… The contrast with the apartment is weird.”
I found two bottles of hand sanitizer in Rio, by the way… and damn, it’s raining here too.