“Perdere tutta la speranza. Lose all hope. That should be our motto for the rest of this trip.”
Leave it to Jason to pull out this obscure Italian phrase just when I was at the lowest point of my travelling career. It described my mood so accurately that I couldn’t help laughing.
What is it with me and arriving in new cities? No matter how much planning I do ahead of time, there’s always a string of events that goes wrong and I’m left stressed and scrambling, trying to sort it all out at the last minute.
We arrived at the Rio airport way ahead of time on Wednesday night, dropped off our rental car, and spent a leisurely hour hanging out in a swanky café because in Brazil you’re not allowed to check in for domestic flights until one hour before departure time. So, right on schedule, we lined up to check in. Of course, at that moment the line ceased to move.
Ten minutes before our flight was due to depart, we were moved to the front of the line. They couldn’t check us in then because the system was closed for that particular flight. They called a computer guy to unlock the system. Then I had to sign pregnancy waiver forms.
Then we ran – bags flopping, children yelling, flip-flops slapping, my pregnant belly jiggling – all the way to our gate. It must have been quite a sight, especially in a country where gestantes – pregnant women – are expected not to do any physical activity for fear of harming the baby. I must have horrified more than a few individuals on my wild careering dash through the terminal, wailing three-year-old on my hip. We caught the plane, and it took off almost as soon as we sat down.
That was just the beginning of our 60-hour nightmare.
The contact person for accommodations in Recife seemed to fall through the cracks. She’s a former work colleague from when I lived here, but she had stopped answering all messages for the past week. It took me hours to track down a phone number, made harder by the fact that the hotel’s WiFi connection only worked in the lobby.
Then came the horrible ordeal of trying to get some money. Two hours, 6 ATM machines, and 2 taxi rides later, complete with exhausted children and one wild, sweaty dash through Recife’s fanciest mall with all our luggage in tow, we managed to withdraw the much-needed cash.
The kids, who were sensing our general stress, were doing everything in their power to irritate us – you know, the usual little boy tendencies like fake-puking, gagging, roaring, snorting, smacking each other, whining, and making gross snot references.
Finally, ensconced in our new rental car, we set out for the house – just in time for rush hour. I quickly made several discoveries: (a) that almost no streets in Recife have road signs of any kinds, which renders maps useless; (b) that I don’t remember nearly as much of Recife’s streets as I thought I would, or else much has changed; and (c) Afogados is one scary-looking neighbourhood after dark.
After nearly losing our car in a gigantic marshy, muddy sinkhole while trying to avoid another gigantic mud sinkhole, we pulled up in front of the house. It’s a place I know well and used to stay at every weekend. I have many fond memories of it, and had been thrilled to hear it was empty and available for us to use. Thrilled, that is, until I walked through the door…
The house has been empty for several years now, and has fallen into a state of disrepair that horrified me. We wheeled in our suitcases, chatted with the housekeeper who had come to let us in, and went through the motions of settling in for the night, while an oppressive and growing sense of dread settled over us.
It looked like something out of a horror movie. The walls were disintegrating, tiles missing from the floor, the metal grates on the doors and windows rusted. A cockroach skittered past and met Jason’s shoe. The pot-hole-filled dirt street on which we’d almost lost our car was deserted, although the housekeeper assured us that the vigilância stayed till 10 p.m. It didn’t help that I’d once been robbed on this very road, years earlier.
We had a very uneasy sleep in a sticky, hot bedroom with a loud air conditioner that rattled and banged incessantly. The boys slept in a single bed together, and L. kept falling onto the floor with a crash and scream. At least every hour I bolted upright to make sure they were still there, because the disturbing advice of my friend’s father kept echoing in my mind: “Roubam crianças aqui. They steal children here. Keep your hands on them at all times.”
The next morning, I lost it. What started as hysterical laughter turned into uncontrollable sobbing. It was the first time in my life that I’ve ever felt a panicky need to get out of a situation that fast. We packed up our bags, called the contact person to say it wasn’t going to work out, and checked into a hotel by 9 a.m.
I got on the Internet, emailing every ad I could locate for a furnished apartment and coming up with reasons for why we shouldn’t pull the plug right away and go back to Rio, where life felt more predictable.
Then a miracle happened. Within half an hour, I got a response from a woman with an apartment available the next day for a good price in a fabulous area. We went to see it, and it was gorgeous. That’s where we are now, and will be till the end of January.
We moved in on Sunday morning. While unloading the car, Jason made friends with a lady in the elevator who invited us over for a barbecue, and within a couple hours, we were sitting in someone’s living room, eating picanha and feijoada, while motherly Brazilian women fed our boys cake and Jason did shots of cachaça with guys.
Life has a funny way of turning around in unexpected directions. Although I still shiver when I think about the stress of the last few days, I’m now able to at least crack a smile at the thought of where it’s led us – to a place far nicer than I ever expected to get and with some pretty great neighbours.