I have arrived in Brazil!
My journey here was only mildly arduous. The flight from Charlotte to Miami was mercifully short, as my seat neighbor was not the most pleasant company. I’ve never seen someone answer their cell phone, loudly, 30 seconds after the plane took off – the entire plane was staring at him as he shouted to his mother (in Spanish) that he couldn’t hear her very well. Fortunately he lost service before the flight crew had to intervene. I’m quite sure he didn’t speak a word of english, was constantly elbowing me, trying to curl himself up into most awkward, personal bubble-violating sleeping positions, sniffling, coughing and snorting. I was thrilled to exit the plane.
I quickly discovered that “Party in the city where the heat is on” is false advertising, and I shudder to think how high the Miami airport’s monthly air conditioning bill must be – they were keeping the temperature at about 55 degrees. I had the foresight to have worn shorts & a t-shirt for my travels, anticipating steamy weather in Brazil, and with a 5-hour layover in Miami I was soon shivering, and seeking any way to keep warm. I arrived at the airport at midnight, so it was like a ghost town, apart from janitorial staff and security.
First I tried walking from terminal to terminal, but the TSA agents started eying me suspiciously, so I returned to my gate, and kept my temperature up by doing pushups and situps for a while. The cleaning ladies looked confused, but didn’t bother me. I was then fortunate to discover a pile of 7 airline blankets. I wrapped myself with 5 of them, and folded the rest into a makeshift pillow.
I succeeding in sleeping a total of 45 minutes before I awoke with a very stiff neck to the sounds of voices – It was about 4:00 in the morning, and the airport was beginning to come back to life. I could smell coffee brewing at the Starbucks 100 feet down the terminal, but was disappointed to discover the didn’t open until 5:00, and boarding for my flight began at 4:40.
The flight to Manaus was uneventful – boarding went smoothly, and the plane was only about half full, so I had two seats to myself. I watched from the window until I saw the craggy southern mountains of Cuba drop abruptly into to the sea, and then slept for a few more hours. When I awake, we were flying over the jungle, and I could see a huge river snaking across the landscape below. The plane began to descend, and as we neared the ground I started to wonder if we were landing on a dirt landing strip, but seconds before we touched down pavement appeared below us. We hit the ground hard, and you could feel the plane shudder as the pilot applied a heavy hand to the brakes. “Bem-vindos a Manaus!” said the captain’s voice over the intercom.
The flight had arrived right on time, and I made it through customs quickly – they barely even looked at my papers, stamped them and sent me on my way. I figured this was probably not a common occurrence, and so I was prepared to wait a bit for my ride. I stepped outside the airport and was hit with a wave of light, heat and humidity. I sat down on a bench and waited, watching cars with heavily tinted window pass by. Given the brightness of the sun in spite of an overcast sky, I wasn’t surprised.
45 minutes later I heard a familiar voice call my name, and saw my sister Marnie running towards me. She, my parents, and her Brazilian fiancé Yan greeted me, very distressed to hear how long I’d had to wait. I assured them it hadn’t been a problem. We loaded my luggage in the trunk, crammed into Yan’s Fiat, and were soon weaving through the insanity that is Manaus traffic. Yan handled it deftly, with ease of one who’s been driving under these conditions his whole life, weaving through the narrow streets, dodging oncoming cars on the wrong side of the road, and instinctively braking right before being cut off by multiple motorcycle taxis. Marnie informed me that the fact they were all wearing helmets was a new thing, due to a recent governmental crackdown. Until recently, it had been commonplace to see riders carrying their helmets over their arms. A frequently told joke was, “A man died today in a tragic motorcycle accident. Miraculously, his left elbow as unharmed.”
We ate lunch – the big meal of the day for Brazilians – at an open-air restaurant. We ate a traditional meal of baked fish (Tambaqui and Marinxã, served head & all), farofa (a toasted manioc flour mixture), vinagrete (a vinegar-based pepper & onion salad), and caipirinhas (the national cocktail of brazil, made with sugar cane rum called Caçhaca, sugar, and lime).
Afterwards we headed to Marnie & Yan’s apartment, in the neighborhood of Educandos. On the drive there, I started to get a sense of how large the city is. It didn’t look like much from the air, but apparently Manaus has a population of two million. It’s located in the northern part of Brazil, in the Amazonas region, where the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimões meet to form the Amazon, their dark and light streams running side by side for four miles before the colors blend. Educandos is located on the eastern side of town, on the north bank of the Rio Negro. We pulled up in front of a two-story green building on a narrow street, through an iron gate to a narrow alley, and across cracked, slippery tile to the apartment.
We were greeted at the door by Marnie’s dogs, Laslo (a chihuahua) & Captain Jack (some sort of chihuahua mix who is decidedly NOT named after a certain character from a certain series of movies). The apartment is a small, two-story affair, with a tile-floor kitchen/living room with a bathroom in the corner downstairs, and a bedroom/office upstairs. As I’d slept all of about 3 uncomfortable hours, I unpacked my mattress, inflated it, and lay down for a nap.
I woke up a few hours later, mostly refreshed and still very full from lunch. We spent the evening relaxing, chatting, making plans for what needed to be accomplished tomorrow, drinking Brahma beer.
Time to sleep… There’s lots to be done tomorrow!