Saturday, October 24, 2009

In Which My Weaknesses For Sugar and Small Children Are Tested

So, my trip. I’ve been promising this post for almost a week, and I’ve been writing it for three days, so I figure I owe you guys something by now. However, I’ve decided to split the trip up into three parts. This first one is over a thousand words so if you’d prefer to just look at the pictures, go ahead! (But obviously you would be missing out on my sparkling wit and unparalleled wisdom, so choose carefully.)

(Also – is this title too creepy? Probably, but I'm also not planning on running for public office so I'll let it stand. I just want a Brazilian child to speak Portuguese with!)

Like I wrote earlier, we set off without knowing anything but our flight times (and even those we were a little iffy, as you’ll see later). Our plan was to fly to Recife Friday night, go to the hostel where we had first tried to make reservations, and then go to the hostel where they were going to send us because the first hostel was full (obviously we couldn’t go directly to the second hostel – this is Brazil, and I’ve learned the most efficient possibility is always automatically out of the question).

So, Friday afternoon I headed off in the pouring rain to Sarah’s apartment, bags in hand. We had originally planned to go bathing-suit shopping before leaving, but neither of us wanted to venture back outside – you can see why we were desperate to leave Rio! We settled for watching the latest episode of The Office while finishing up some leftover food that needed to get eaten: ice cream, a mango, and some orange glaze.

By the time we made it back outside and down the block to the beach, where the airport bus runs, the rain had mostly stopped. We were still shivering in our sweatshirts, though. And we shivered for almost an hour before the bus finally came. (The thing about buses in Rio: they don’t have schedules. And even if they did, it would be useless to try to follow them.) Once on the bus we shivered some more, as the air conditioning was quite unnecessarily on full blast.

We were a little taken aback by the amount of people who got on the bus at Rio’s smaller airport, Santos Dumont, where many domestic flights arrive. Why were they taking the bus to another airport? Also – we thought as we finally arrived at the airport about 30 minutes before our flight was supposed to leave – why are there so many people traveling at 9:30 on a Friday night?

Well, it turned out that almost every flight was delayed. We later learned that Santos Dumont had been closed, which answered the rest of our questions. However, we still didn’t know when our flight was going to leave, or, perhaps more importantly, which gate it was going to leave from.

After three different gates, three more hours, and almost an accidental trip to Belém, we handed our ticket to the gate agent. Wow, I thought – if they do this quickly, we might be able to leave just three hours after our original take-off time! Alas, when we got to the end of the tunnel we didn’t find the vehicle I was expecting. Instead of an airplane we got onto a bus!

So by the time we finally took off it was past 1:30 in the morning and I was half-asleep. Apparently when I am half-asleep, I think that every bout of turbulence is a sign that my death is imminent, so it wasn’t the most pleasant flight. I did manage to get myself fully conscious when the flight attendants came around with sandwiches and juice, however.

4:30 in the morning and we are standing at baggage claim in the Recife airport, mulling our options. Do we try to get a taxi and do the whole hostel charade in the dark in a city we’ve never been to? Or do we just lie down right here next to the baggage carts and take a little nap. We decided on the latter, obviously. For about five minutes until a security guard came to tell us that sleeping there is prohibited. BUT! he said, there’s better sleeping up in the food court anyway. And what do you know, up in the food court there was a whole colony of people sleeping on benches! We joined them and took a nice three-hour nap.

We finally made it to hostel number 1, where they were a little confused about our situation, and as they had told us earlier, had no space. It was cute and colorful, though, and the people were nice (and the breakfast they were eating looked delicious) so when they offered to clean out the laundry room for us and put down some mattresses there we accepted. And then we were finally off to explore Recife.

Recife is known for two things: for having lots of bridges and canals (it’s known as the Brazilian Venice) and for having lots of sharks. So we decided we’d skip the beach while in Recife and take advantage of the rest that it had to offer.

Recife was colonized soon after the Portuguese arrived in Brazil in the 1500s, and quickly became an important city in the sugar trade (a fact I definitely took advantage of – I have become quite addicted to sugar over the past three months or so). There are a lot of colorful colonial buildings, especially in the neighborhood known as Recife Antigo, which is actually an island connected to the rest of Recife by bridges.

We spent Saturday and Sunday checking out the sites and trying to figure out how the bus system worked (being in a new city made me realize exactly how well I know Rio now). On our second failed attempt to get to the Museum of the Man of the Northeast, we instead stumbled upon a children’s festival and small zoo and enjoyed some amazingly cheap food (one real for a hot dog, or a stick of meat, or a cup of ice cream, etc.). There was also a monkey eating a heart-shaped lollipop, which was pretty cute. (Not to mention the hundreds of adorable Portuguese-speaking Brazilian kids – it was a tempting place for a potential Brazilian child-stealer like me.)

We went to a market in Recife Antigo and had even more to eat (a common theme of this trip), this time some tapioca. While I had had tapioca in Rio before, they are especially obsessed with it in the Northeast. They pretty much make a tortilla-like thing by cooking little tapioca balls and often coconut, and then fill it with either something sweet like doce de leite, or something savory like meat and cheese. While I wasn’t a huge fan at first, since the tapioca itself has pretty much no taste, it is definitely growing on me.

We had signed up for two nights on the laundry-room floor at the hostel, so by Sunday night we were planning to get out of Recife the next morning. We had with us about six printed-out pages from a Brazil travel guide (budget travelers we are), but fortunately the hostel had a 1998 version of the same book, so we could fill in some of the information we were lacking. After much confusion over the names of towns and distances between them, we decided on one thing: we would go south.

To be continued…


  1. great photos! i like that you guys slept on the floor of the laundry room. and i think that no trip is complete without some sleeping in the airport.

  2. look what i found:

    it's a documentary about rio