Oh Rio. They told me it would happen, and I’m not quite sure I believed them, but it did.
I’m in love with your multicolored animal print money and your wobbly crowded metro. I love your rainy smells, and your dry smells, and your melodic language. Your people, your warm, warm, water (only God and my fellow VSP interns understand how badly I needed that warm ocean water). I’m so head over heels that I can’t even feel the twenty plus mosquito bites I have all over my body.
Hopefully some of the abundant love and heat I’ve experienced here will soak into my bones and wind its way over the Andes to my skinny home in Valpo. But even if it doesn’t, tonight I am so happy.
They tell you that you know love right away when it happens, and I did. Brazil and I don’t always communicate well, but he speaks some English, and I try very hard in Portuguese. He also has some rough edges, but these are polished away by white sand, and new friends with hands open to pull me into samba dancing, up and down mountains. Through gardens, and art exhibits, and patterned streets.
Anyone who has asked me what my travel plans were for Brazil was probably answered with, “well, I’m landing in Rio and leaving from Rio, so… That’s about all I know.” My friend suggested I look up a girl and her family that he had met in Rio a couple years back. I pulled up her Facebook. Nathalia. Star Wars banner photo, and she likes the Beatles? Sold.
Now, I don’t necessarily recommend my method of travel. I’m of the opinion that the universe seems to either like me a lot, or I have a big storm of bad luck coming my way and it’s trying to say sorry in advance, because it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I arrived in Rio de Janeiro at GIG international airport and quickly realized I had no idea what I was doing. What if they never came to pick me up? Why didn’t I ask her for her phone number? What if they didn’t like me? How was I supposed to travel around alone? Also, should I have looked this up before, but how the actual hell does one convert a real to a dollar? And if one does that, how does one convert that into Chilean pesos, because one has not used the dollar very often over these past 8 months.
Fortunately for me, they did arrive, they did like me, and one found out that converting reais wasn’t as hard as one thought. I still probably should have asked for her number before I arrived, that was kind of idiotic on my part.
As for finding my way around the city… A small army of highly trained Carioca natives assembled, with their metro cards in hand and varying levels of English on their tongues. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, was to help this extremely unprepared gringa navigate her way around the cidade maravilhosa. And navigate we did.
We wound our way through gardens full of palm trees and waterfalls, up to giant deities, and mountains named after bread. We bowled, and ate burgers until we couldn’t even think about burgers anymore (or maybe that was just me). I got to give lovely informal English lessons in buses, on trains, and beaches, over pineapple juice and pão de queijo. And when our respective languages failed us we mixed together what I like to call Portuñolish. Emphasis on the ish.
Being honest, I am very good at Spanish. I damn well better be as I’ve been studying it for almost 10 years of my life and been living in Spanish speaking countries for a combined total of almost 2.
Brazil however, is a whole different being, Portuguese is a beautiful language, but it’s kind of a jerk. It is strange in its ability to come up to me in a very friendly way and almost –almost- be Spanish…. then run in the complete opposite direction while laughing hysterically as I fall flat on my face.
I stretched out my rusty speaking muscles with daily lessons in the kitchen about fruits, soap operas, and foods and customs from around the world taught by Penha, Nathalia’s mom.
I was often surprised when my Spanish mouth took over with very little consent from my Portuguese or English brain. Without my notice my r’s rolled all on their own and words invented themselves out of thin air.
The weird thing was that towards the third day I was rendered completely incapable of speech in Spanish. I was stuck, either by lack of experience in Portuguese or a short circuit in the part of my brain that was responsible for any Spanish words.
English it was for now.
Luckily Nathalia’s brother, Bruno, was quickly handed the position of my partner-in-crime/translator and went on adventures with me pretty much every other day. Which floored me.
It’s amazing to me that complete strangers stopped their lives to make sure I made it to places safely, quickly, and relatively non-squished by Rio’s very crowded metro system (although if you know me you won’t be shocked learn that I enjoyed every second of my cramped ride, even though everyone around me was probably contemplating mass transit murder).
I am unable to find the words to say how grateful I am, and I am stunned by the amount of wholehearted generosity I felt in Rio. I received detailed personal tours of old libraries, Picasso exhibits, beautiful book stores, and got to surf on a beautiful beach without a wetsuit. I even somehow found people wonderful enough to lay on the ground to take fifty pictures of me and giant Jesus.
I’m going to be emotional here for a change and quote Perks of Being a Wallflower; “we accept the love we think we deserve.” Usually I subscribe to that philosophy, but these past ten days I have accepted love that I not only didn’t deserve, but had absolutely no logical reason to imagine I would receive. I simply let myself be. Let myself be a tourist, let myself take selfies with monuments, let myself make silly mistakes without self-deprecation and speak in English when I needed to. I let myself be loved, and fed, and helped, which is something I struggle with on a consistent basis.
If this trip has taught me anything it is that I need to start accepting love I don’t think I deserve, to stop being so hard on myself, to keep up with my “faint fantasies” as Bruno likes to call daydreams. I can start being okay being an extranjera gringa loca
every now and then. Because being strange is often exactly where the fun is. But, if you can’t find it there, you can always try Rio.
Thank you Raphaela, Juliana, Little Felipe, Big Felipe, Jonatas, Gabriel, Penha, Luis, Nathalia, and Bruno for making this experience unforgettable, I love you guys, até pronto.