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Surprise encounter

Day 19: Itecare

I stopped in my tracks when someone yelled out my name.  I turned towards the direction I thought the sound had come from.  To my left was an outdoor bar, complete with tall palm trees, soft mood lighting, and gentle music playing.  There were dozens of people crowded around the numerous wooden tables under the cosy night sky, but I couldn't spot anyone recognisable.

They called out my name again.  This time I saw them.  A group of three guys and three girls sitting at a small table next to the live band.  I had no idea who they were, or how they knew my name, but I walked over to them.

'Do you remember me?'

I looked at the guy.  Although he was seated, I could tell he was probably my height.  Dark hair, olive complexion, with an accent that I couldn't completely place.  Definitely not North American or British sounding, it could have been Middle Eastern possibly.

I glanced at the others at the table.  I still had no idea who they were.

'Er,' I began.

'We stayed in the same hostel together!  In Rio!' he interrupted excitedly.

Apparently I had even stayed in the same dorm room with them while there.  I left to come directly to Salvador, while this group of Israelis spent a few more days in places of interest surrounding Rio, before coming up north.

The truth is, I still couldn't remember them, and only vaguely remembered one or two of the people in the group.  And that was probably because I was willing myself to remember.

I had been walking down the high street and back to my hostel when they had spotted me.  Earlier that day, I graduated from surf school, and so spent most of the evening downing a few beers with some surf and hostel buddies at a bar just further up the street.

The plan was to call it a quiet night and get up early the next day to do some more surfing.  But after this surprise encounter, I decided to sit down and have a couple more drinks with them.

Plus it would be rude not to, after they had made the effort to yell out my name when they saw me.

I soon discovered the Israelis were loud, animated and gulped down booze like water.  A few casual drinks turned into rounds, the solid wood table before me started to sway, and the gentle, soothing tunes of the live band contorted into a cacophony of noise pollution.

Realising that I'd downed one drink too many and was way past the point of no return, I stumbled to my feet, staggered back to my hostel, and swayed onto my bed in a drunken daze.

Caipirinhas.  So sweet tasting, yet so lethal.


It's a blur

Day 18: Itecare

My Portuguese speaking skills are slowly coming along.  I've mastered a few key phrases like 'uma ovo mishido por favor' ('scrambled eggs, please') which gets me by.  

'Is today Wednesday?'

'No... it's Tuesday I think.  No wait a sec, I remember it being Monday just a day or two ago.'

'Are you sure?'



I listened to Camila and Sam's conversation with amusement.  I had lost all awareness of time or date so couldn't help them.  It was mostly unintentional.  Life just seemed to blur into one carefree day after another.  The last time I saw them was in my Salvador hostel barely a week ago, as I was packing my bags on the way out to Itecare.  I had jokingly invited them to come to Itecare, and less than a few days later, walked into my dorm room after a shower, only to find them unpacking their bags onto the remaining two beds.

'Salvador was cool, but it was so quiet it was a little depressing.  So we thought we'd come and join you guys!' Camila explained, a little shyly, as if worried she and Sam had come across as stalkers.

I was happy they turned up, as personally, the more people in my travelling crew, the better.

'Do you want to head to the beach?' is the first question we'd ask each other in the morning.  And from there, we then spontaneously decide what we want to do.  Nowadays the most important decision in my life is deciding whether I want to go to the beach first, or have breakfast before the beach, or if I want to lie in a hammock before breakfast, or....

As Cam, Sam and I lazed on the beach, coconut juice in hand and nothing but the sound of palm trees swaying and the waves breaking to disturb us, I thought back to how much my life had changed in just the space of a year.

Barely over a year ago, I graduated from the comfortable bubble of university life and into the uncertain world of the worst recession in decades.  'Class of 2009 is the lost generation', one newspaper would scream.

'Job prospects at all time low' mourned another woefully, dampening my spirits as I frantically searched for a graduate job.

In order to give myself something to fill up both my free time and the CV,  I did some bartending in Canary Wharf - London's financial district.  While the country's bankers and financial types were widely berated for bringing the British economy to its knees, ballooning the national debt and crippling graduate job prospects, here it was surreal to see these same people recklessly pissing away thousands of pounds at a time on expensive wines and champagnes, seemingly without a care in the world.  And there I was, serving them as they wined and dined, and firing off job apps once home with fevered desperation.

Most couldn't even be bothered to tip.  It was demoralising.

The time I spent going through the painstakingly drawn out dance that is the corporate recruitment process felt endless. Completing psychometric tests, wooing interviewers with my work experience, and articulating with passion my desire to dedicate the next few decades of my life to client meetings, deadlines and PowerPoint presentations.

There were one or two moments where I despaired over how brutally selective graduate recruitent had become.  At the final stage of one well-known company's recruitment process, the assessor sat us candidates down in a room and handed out multiple-choice answer sheets, along with an abstract reasoning question booklet.  For this psychometric test, I was supposed to analyse the sequences of five shapes and predict what the sixth shape should be.  Although I followed - but didn't personally agree with - the rationale behind these psychometric tests, I knew that essentially, it was just another hurdle employed by these firms to whittle down their pool of candidates further.

A few days later, the company phoned me up to tell me the outcome of my performance.  My feedback was outstanding ('we've never had a candidate perform so well across all key areas') in all eight parts of the assessment process apart from one.

The abstract reasoning test.

And that - informed the HR lady with barely concealed glee - was enough to cost me an offer.

A bunch of squares, triangles and circles on a sheet of paper.

A test that - for numerous very suspicious reasons - I was sure I hadn't failed.

But how could I prove this without looking like just another disgruntled, unsuccessful candidate?

'Of course, you are welcome to reapply to us in six months' time,' she cattily purred down the phone.

I felt fury.

Two months later, I finally saw light at the end of the tunnel when I was made a few job offers.  After signing the preferred contract, I quit my bartending job, flopped onto my bed and literally slept for two days straight.  My body practically collapsed from the stress of the past few months and suddenly developed a cold, headache and a lot of lethargy.  I was physically and mentally shattered. 

Looking back, that period of my life was plagued with uncertainty.  For the first time that I could ever remember, I couldn't reasonably see where I would be in the future.  I didn't know if I would ever find a graduate job, or how long I would spend bartending to fill up the time.  I didn't know if I would do a postgrad, or just fritter away aimlessly in a jobless limbo.

With a year left to go before my grad job started, I inadvertently had the gap year I had always secretly wanted.  And so once I recovered my mental energy from the gruelling recruitment process, I set about planning my travels for my final year of unrestricted freedom...


Hidden talents

Day 17:  Itecare

The weather finally cleared up yesterday morning and so I decided to take advantage of this and booked my first ever surfing lesson.  This coastal town is largely popular because of its ideal location with numerous palm tree lined beaches, with waves of varying strengths.

My instructor is called Wolf.  He was born here in Itecare, moved to Rio de Janeiro for four years and returned back, with a new appreciation for his home town and all that it offers.

'Rio drove me crazy.  Expensive expensive, and it took me two hours on the bus just to get to the beach.  F*ck that!' Wolf enthusiastically exclaimed.

I took to the waves in the late afternoon my first two hour session.  I mastered the technique of climbing onto the surf board, paddling, sitting up and turning around in the water.  Wolf was amazed at the speed with which I picked up all these methods.  Apparently I am a natural at surfing.  I'm sure his hefty hourly rates for lessons went some way in him dishing out these compliments so freely.

However, last night I was literally persecuted by mosquitos as a tossed and turned, trying to use my paper thin blanket to shield myself away from their bites.  No doubt they were in a jealous rage at my new found surfing ability.

This morning I wake up, eagerly looking forward to my second lesson at surf school, but also feeling extremely sore.  It is a good feeling though, like the first few days of exercise after a long period of absence, and I am sure with more regular surfing, the body soreness will slowly ebb away.


Toilet humour

Day 16:  Itecare

There are many things I love about Brazil.  For instance, the diversity, both of people and places.  The uninhibited, loud nature of its citizens being another.  I would fall over in shock if I saw a granny flap, bounce and sag her way along London's busy Oxford Street for her daily exercise ritual in a crack-caressing bikini.  Yet in Rio, it seemed like the city's nursing homes were playing 'shock the tourist' day as all shapes, sizes and colours paraded down the beach road in nothing more than a thong.

However, there are one or two things that I wouldn't go as far as to lightly dismiss as an 'exotic' quirk of this place.

Take the toilet situation for example.  Decades ago, when the plumbing works were being laid down all over the South American continent, the engineers of those days - in their ingenuity - installed pipes that were too small and narrow to accommodate toilet paper.

So as a workaround, every toilet here has a large dustbin placed next to it.  You wipe, floor the foot pedal, and dump your toilet paper inside.

Coming from a place where you wouldn't even think of throwing your stained toilet paper into a dustbin, rather than the actual toilet, this came as a small shock.

I remember once - at a time when I hadn't been told about the Brazilian toilet situation - opening the bin, curious to know why they had placed such a ridiculously huge dustbin next to a toilet.  I immediately shut it hastily as soon as I took in the mass of white paper, tinged in various shades and consistencies of brown.  Let's just say you don't want to peek in there, unless you want to know what Manuel's digestive system made of his hot chili con carne the night before.

'Yeah, it's revolting,' said one backpacker in disgust as we all discussed it, one night at the hostel bar.
'I always keep forgetting and absent mindedly drop paper into the toilet before realising what I'm doing and thinking, "oh shit!  What have I done?!"' another traveller exclaimed.

All I can say is I genuinely feel for the person whose job it is to clean out those bins.


The lone wanderer

Day 15: Itecare

The rain was beating down heavily as the five of us checked into our new hostel in Itecare.  Yes.  Five, not four.  The previous night, as we queued up to board our long distance bus from Salvador, a short, glasses-wearing guy from Switzerland who appeared to be around the age of twenty five overheard us chatting loudly in English and jumped from his seat to introduce himself.

He too, was making his way to Itecare, after spending a few weeks in Salvador learning how to speak the local lingo and how to perfect his surfing skills.  Bernard asked if he could join us and we had another addition to our crew.

Although I had spent less than an hour in Itecare - and with it being only eight in the morning, everything was shut - I could tell I already liked the place.  It was a tiny village by the Atlantic coast, with a single high street that could be covered on foot in less than five minutes.  The road was mainly roughly covered with brickwork, and partially sandy in some stretches.  It was definitely a tourist town, with shops selling all sorts of novelty items, from arts and crafts to massages and zip lining sessions.

I looked through my travel guide, only to discover that Itecare hadn't even been worthy of a mention.  Other guides like the Lonely Planet barely made a passing reference to this town.  Evidently we were well off the beaten track.

As we hauled our backpacks up the stairs and into the dorm room, the ruckus woke up someone sleeping on one of the bunk beds.  He introduced himself as Neil.  We all quickly filled him in on our previous destinations and journey so far.  While Odette, Ivan and Walter were desperate for some shut-eye, I on the other hand, was desperate for something to eat.  Neil and Bernard decided to accompany me for breakfast.

The three of us walked a few steps down the high street and into a small cafe for breakfast.  While we ate, I probed Neil's adventures even further.  He had been in Brazil for eight months already and told his mother back home he did not have any plans to return to New Zealand.

I wondered what it was like living in Brazil as supposed to being just a short-term tourist.

'The novelty wears off after a while,' he said as he fingered the slice of toast on his plate.  'People always try and take advantage of you because they think you have loads of money.'

'So what's the plan after Itecare?' I asked.

'Just take my car and keep on driving!' he replied with a small laugh.

He was referring to the second-hand banger he bought for dirt cheap upon arrival in Brazil.  Apparently he filled it with petrol every day, got in the car and just kept on driving and driving, only stopping when he had run out of fuel.  His tank of empty petrol had landed him in Itecare.

'So you want to live here full-time?' I asked, still confused about his plans and trying to work out why he had left New Zealand so suddenly.

'Well, my visa runs out in a month, but I don't want to go back home ever again.  I might just stay and hope they never catch me.'

'My father passed away suddenly,' he added, as if reading my thoughts.  'I just wanted to get away from New Zealand.'

As we finished up breakfast and settled the bill, the weather outside was still wet, so the three of us jumped in Neil's car and went for a leisurely cruise around the village.  We drove to the various beaches, the zip lining trails and other tourist attractions before returning through the high street to our hostel.

Neil was thinking of driving to some waterfalls and natural pools a couple hours away.

'Are you sure you don't want to come?  I could do with the company.  You guys seem pretty cool and it's nice to be able to talk to people without a language barrier,' he almost pleaded.

But neither Bernard nor I were up for it.  Having spent the previous nine hours cooped up on an uncomfortable overnight bus trip, the idea of bundling ourselves into a car for yet another journey didn't appeal.

'Oh well,' Neil shrugged, his nonchalance failing to hide the disappointment in his voice.  'I might be coming back to the hostel afterwards, so maybe I'll see you guys later today.'

We watched as Neil hauled his battered suitcase into the boot, slid into the car and slowly drove off.

We never saw him again.


An unforseen diversion

Day 14: Salvador

My eyes involuntarily flicked away from the computer screen, as two objects moved into the background.

I instantly recognised them.  They were the couple that I had seen checking in in the late hours of the previous night, while the small group of us hostel guests made idle chatter in the dimly lit lounge adjacent to the hostel's reception room.

'Hi,' I automatically spoke up.  They returned the greeting.  We exchange the usual traveller pleasantries.  Namely, where are you from, where have you been, and where are you heading.

She was Dutch.  He was an Argentine.  Both in their mid twenties.  They had flown up to Salvador from Buenos Aires the night before, and were due to spend a very loosely planned month up here in the northern Brazilian state of Bahia.

I filled them in on my week in Rio, and joked about wishing I was still back there and not here, in the manner of a person who is trying to make light of what they feel is a very serious situation.

'So what are you doing now?' Odette, the Dutch girl asked curiously.

'Oh, just trying to figure out where to go next.  Salvador is just too quiet for me.  Maybe somewhere up north?'

'You must go up to Recife and Olinda, it is beautiful up there,' she enthused.

'Anyway,' her boyfriend spoke up.  'We are just going outside to buy something, we'll be back in a second.'  And with that I said good bye, and returned to my web browsing.

Less than two minutes later, the silence was broken by the hostel door bell ringing, and in stepped the same couple once again.  They made a beeline for my direction and stopped in front of the computer.

'Would you like to come to Itecare with us?' they asked suddenly.

'To where?' I asked in surprise.  Evidently my Brazilian geography skills were lacking.

'Itecare,' Odette explained.  'Me and Ivan were about to go buy tickets to get there and just thought of asking if you would want to travel with us!'

The incredulity and astonishment must have registered all over my face, because she hastily added, 'only if you want to of course.  It's nine hours away by bus.'

'Err...' my mouth gaped open as I searched for words and also rapidly mentally scanned my options.

Let's see.  I had already spent several days in Salvador.  The hostel was as lively as a funeral parlour and the other guests had personalities to match one.  While I had told Odette I was on the internet, looking at ways of venturing up to the north, this was in fact, a lie.  Instead, the real reason was I was quite seriously close to plonking down several hundred reals on an air ticket so I could fly down to Buenos Aires and join my friends from Rio.  But what if I just teamed up with these guys instead?  They were practically offering me a lifeline out of this solitary travel!

'Err...' I continued to stammer uncharacteristically.

But jeez.  I barely knew these two.  I had only spoken to them for less than ten minutes at best.  What if they were complete maniacs?  I'm sure they weren't, but then again, I don't think serial murderers go around sweetly introducing themselves as axe murderers when trying to ramp up their kill score.


I really needed to make a decision.  Their looks were expectant, yet my mouth was still unable to form any coherent words.

What if Itecare was worse than Salvador?  What if, somehow, we didn't get along on the way?  Would it just result in awkward silences and forced, polite conversation?  Should I just not bother?  Was it worth taking the risk?

'I'm coming!'  I announced, almost shouting it, before my mind could force me to choose logic over impulse.

'Yay!' the Dutch girl clapped.  I could already see she was the more energetic of the two.  'Let's go buy these tickets.'

'If you don't mind, I might wanna join you guys too,' a hesitant, drawling voice spoke, seemingly out of nowhere.

I swivelled round in my chair and my face came within inches from a pair of white socked feet in old, heavily used trainers standing on the staircase.

It was Walter, the older American guy in my dorm room.  The rest of him came into view as he walked down and came to a stop at the foot of the staircase.

'Oh. Er,' Odette faltered slightly, before picking up again.  'Yes, sure you can come with us too!'

As the four of us walked out of the hostel, up and down several hilly cobblestone streets and towards a travel agent, I wondered how Itecare was going to pan out.  A quick, conversational chat while sitting on the hostel PC had let to an invite to some small surfing town a full overnight bus journey away, and an eavesdropping backpacker had secured himself a place in this impromptu travelling crew.

While coughing up the 100 Reals for the one way ticket, I wondered if the combo of Brazilian sun, sand and sea had caused a damaging effect on my regard for personal safety.  I barely knew these people, and had never even heard of the place I was now destined to go to.  Perhaps it was better not to think about it. 

Later that evening, as we packed our backpacks, a new couple strolled into our dorm room.  Much younger, they were around my age and I introduced myself instantly.  They had just come through Colombia, entered Brazil through the Amazon, several river boats and buses later, arrived in Salvador.

'How is it here?'  the girl asked.  She was born in Brazil, and moved to the US before she could even crawl.  A Californian through and through, later on Camila would go on to pepper her sentences with 'like' and 'oh my God'.

'It hasn't been very lively,' I carefully phrased.

She picked up my subtle disappointment with Salvador.  'Oh?  Where are you guys going then?'

'Itecare.  Join us!' I half-seriously joked.  More out of concern that I was bundling into a bus with perfect strangers, and so this was my effort of recruiting more people into our crew as a safety mechanism.

After a late dinner at a nearby restaurant, the Dutch girl, her Argentine boyfriend, the American traveller and I shoved ourselves and our belongings into a taxi and made our way to the Salvador Bus Terminal for our 11:30pm departure.

I had no idea what to expect, and had no idea of what was to happen in Itecare.  But that is the nature of backpacking.  And with that in mind, I settled back into my seat in the taxi, and watched the world go past as we sped along to the bus station.

The Motley Crew to Itecare


Sleepy Salvador

Day 13: Salvador

I was startled to discover the meaning of the word Pelourinho.

My hostel is in the historical district of the city, or Pelourinho, as it is locally known. 

Which is Portuguese for 'whipping post'.  Several hundred years ago, during a more brutal part of Brazil's past, millions of Africans were transported to this country against their will.  When the ships docked, the pelourinho was used to cruelly lash each new arrival, before they were dispatched to labour in fields all over parts of the new country.

It felt odd how such an innocent-sounding word masked such a vicious reminder of Brazil's brutal beginnings as a nation.

Despite the colourful houses, musicians merrily playing tunes on every corner, and the ambient feel of a tourist village, there is a heaviness to the whole area that can literally be felt on your back.  You look around and the place is steeped in history.  Every building tells a story.  Every building had a function in the olden days.  Such a contrast to Copacobana and Ipanema of Rio, which are largely modern creations sprung up from the last fifty years or so.

I went into two shops that sell paintings.  They looked so ridiculously good it was unbelievable.  Authentic.  They tell a story.  Now I get why some people go crazy over artwork.  I found the craftsmanship almost addictive as I stared in fascination, seemingly mesmerised.

My hostel is quiet. Almost too quiet. It's almost a bit eerie in this strange way.  These are my sins for travelling in low season.  On my very first night, I was the only guest at the place.  I hit an all-time low on the second night, when I realised I only had the hostel owner's two dogs to make conversation with.  To make matters worse, both were revoltingly hideous.  Each time I reached over to pat the big dog, I would hastily retrieve my hand when its startlingly red eyes rolled over to my direction.

The thing resembled a demon.

The hostel owner is polite, helpful, and has a strange habit of staring at people, as if scrutinising them, before responding to their question.  Case in point:

Me:  Do you know what time it is?
He stares at me unblinkingly for a few seconds.
Him (without looking at his watch): I believe it is 3:47pm.

A curious mix of part English, part Danish parents who immigrated to Mozambique, where he was born, he then had a recent spell in England before selling up and setting up shop in Brazil permanently.

I wanted to ask what brought him to Brazil but didn't feel like subjecting myself to the stare.

On day three in Salvador, I could have practically jumped for joy and ran to hug the three new people I saw checking in.  But I stopped myself just in time as that would have been bizarre.

One was an American solo traveller, and the other two, a Welsh/Scottish couple. The couple seemed nice enough but much older than me and we didn't really click I suppose. Not that they weren't friendly.   They were, but I probably wouldn't be facebooking them any time soon.

The American guy was put into my room.  He had been on the road for eight months so far and had a month or two left.  I asked him about the most interesting places he had been to.  He reeled them off with the enthusiasm of a five year old reading out their list of chores.  Walter lacked the energy and excitement that other backpackers I met possessed.  I wondered to myself whether he was really enjoying his trip, or if he was just going through the motions and working through a ticklist of sights and attractions that were supposed to be seen.

He sat down on his bed, rummaged through his backpack and pulled out a large laptop and several heavy duty speakers.  It was though Walter had come to this hostel to settle indefinitely, rather than someone who was on the go.  I half expected him to extract and unfold a large desk and chair from his bag, with which to put his laptop on top.

I found myself wistfully wondering if I should have written off the money wasted from not using the Rio-Salvador bus ticket and gone to Florianopolis with my friends.  Salvador is nice, the hostel is nice, but what use is having a swimming pool if there weren't people to chill out with?  Should I just fly down and reunite with them?  Is that ridiculous?  Surely I need to give this place a bit more time?  I just couldn't get over how quiet everything was.

These are my sins for travelling in low season.



Day 10: Salvador

I made it to Salvador.


When booking the bus tickets the day before the journey, by my crude estimations, I thought it would 'only' take seventeen or so hours to make it up from Rio.

How wrong I was.

It took thirty hours.  When we reached the twenty hour mark, and seemed to be nowhere near a city that I could maybe identify as being Salvador, I began to despair and genuinely thought I had accidentally clambered on board a bus destined for Mexico.

To make it worse, in an act of monumental stupidity, I had packed my trusty pocket-sized English/Portuguese translation guide in my backpack, which was in the luggage hold underneath us.  So I couldn't even tap a fellow passenger on the shoulder to ask how long we had left (and also, to check that I was on the right bus to begin with).

We finally arrived at around three in the afternoon, and I was full of relief that I had made it to the correct destination.  My next mission was working out how to transport myself from the city's main bus station to area my hostel was situated.

Grasping my translation guide as if it were the Holy Bible, I purposefully strode up to the information desk where, in slow yet determined Portuguese, I enquired how to make my way to the Historical Centre.

The lady behind the counter stared at me in silence, absolutely bewildered.

"Historical Centre?" I asked again in Portuguese.  I repeated the words several times, each time with more and more uncertainty, hoping she might clue in to what I was asking for.

She still looked completely mystified.  Spotting a pen on the counter top, I grabbed it and jotted down the name of the area I was after on a piece of scrap paper.  Comprehension suddenly dawned on her, and a torrent of words flew out of her mouth as she began describing the directions in rapid fire Portuguese.

Pausing mid sentence, no doubt when registering the blank look on my face, she then grabbed the pen from my hand and wrote down a number on the slip of paper.  From what I could gather, I was to take the bus bearing this number to where I wanted to go, and my hostel (hopefully) wouldn't be too far from the stop.

I got on the bus, which rumbled along the road towards the central area of the city.  Yet I had absolutely no idea where I was going, and no idea what I was supposed to be looking for.  So I hopped off and jumped into a taxi, giving the driver the street address of my hostel.  The sun would be setting in another hour and I wasn't keen on wandering around Salvador in the dead of night, hopelessly lost and confused.

The taxi dropped me outside a busy road, and I couldn't spot anything that looked remotely like a hostel.  The driver vaguely pointed to a narrow, dirty pathway in between two shops leading upwards to a hill.  It looked deserted and pretty unappealing, but seeing as I had no clue where I was anyway, I decided to just go for it, and prayed this wasn't a setup where hapless backpackers are set upon all at once.

At the top of this narrow pathway, I emerged into a scene that completely took me by surprise.  Cobblestone streets, small houses and buildings painted in an array of colours, and tourists milling about, taking photos and exploring the area.

I made it to the Historical Centre after all, and found my hostel shortly after.

Rio feels like another world away and I miss the buzz. This small, well-thought out hostel, voted best in the world in 2008 (apparently) comes with free Internet, a noticeboard updated daily highlighting interesting events in the area, and a small swimming pool.  It is deadly quiet and I have only seen one or two people who I am assuming are guests. Apart from my backpack lying across the floor, my dorm room was completely empty.  A huge contrast to the five-floor, fully booked party hostel in Rio that was essentially my home for a week.

After dinner in a restaurant nearby, I called it an early night and collapsed onto my bed with exhaustion.


The day after favela fun

Day 9: Rio de Janeiro

The morning after the night at the favela party, we had breakfast while recollecting and laughing over the antics of the night before.  Afterwards, I went round the corner and down the street to a travel agent to arrange a way of journeying up to the city of Salvador on the north east Brazilian coast.  The travel agents were English speaking, which was just as well, as I did not want to accidentally book myself a one way ticket to El Salvador due to an inability to get people to understand my basic Portuguese.

Ten minutes later, I strolled back to the hostel and settled once again at the breakfast table occupied by the rest of my friends.

"Mate," began Carl.  "Come travelling with us to Florianopolis and Argentina?"

I couldn't have looked more crestfallen if I tried.  "But," I stammered.  "I literally just bought my ticket to Salvador!"

Salvador was in the complete opposite direction to Florianopolis in the south, which ruled out the idea of maybe going to Salvador first, and then onwards to Floripa to rejoin them.  At nearly 260 Brazilian Reals (£110/$150) for the ticket, it wasn't the kind of money I could just forfeit and forget about either.  Would they even still be in Argentina by the time I planned to arrive there, or would they have made their way up to somewhere far off like Columbia by then?

"Argh!" I practically wailed in frustration.  "Why didn't you guys ask me this ten minutes ago?!"

Oh well.  We put it down to 'one of those things that's just not meant to be', which I personally didn't buy into, but there was nothing that could be done about it.  The non-refundable tickets in my hands had me departing from Rio the very next morning, and my friends were leaving for Florianopolis the day after, so we made the most of the time we had before we set off on our different itineraries.

With breakfast out of the way, it was a toss up between bussing over to either Cristo Redentor (The Christ Statue) or Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf mountain) for some sightseeing.  All things equal, I would have favoured the seeing the statue, but seeing as it was surrounded by unattractive scaffolding for some routine maintenance, we opted for Sugar Loaf instead.

Sugar Loaf
We rode two cable cars up to the top of the mountain, where there was an outdoor cafe, restaurant, and most bizarrely, a full-fledged high-end boutique jewellery shop selling pretty pricey diamonds.  How many people venture all the way up here for the scenic views of the city, and then spontaneously plop down several thousand grand for some gems on an impulse purchase?  I mean, really?

You can only really appreciate how beautiful Rio is when looking down on the city from a good vantage point.  It's actually quite weird how a sprawling metropolis as large as this managed to flourish in such an awkward, cramped strip of coastline, trapped by numerous mountains on one side, and flanked by the Southern Atlantic Ocean on the other.  It definitely lends to its natural beauty.
Looking down towards Rio

The Statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooks the city (in the background, to the left on top of the mountain)

Later that day, in the evening, we headed over to an English pub close to our hostel, not out of a yearning for the familiar, but for a two for one offer on drinks we'd heard about on the hostel rumourville.

It's funny.  Just a few days ago, after saying farewell to my Sao Paulo friends, one of my top worries was travelling in alone and not meeting people on my own wavelength.  It didn't help that virtually all of my travel buddies from my first week had been on the tail end of their journeys and had left to head back home, one by one.

I could never have foreseen randomly striking up a friendship with perfect strangers in a hostel common room while I was reading a book on a rainy Sunday evening, being asked to join them to a party in the favelas, and then touring the sights together the whole of the next day. 

It showed me that there really wasn't any point in worrying about the future - especially when travelling - as so much is out of my control.  I've had an indescribably amazing time in Rio, but now it is time to move on.

Honestly speaking?  My only hope is to meet even more chilled out people in Salvador and beyond.

All of us on top of Sugar Loaf