Semester at Sea,  South America,  Travel

Lulu Meets Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

What does it mean to have faith?

My time in Rio de Janeiro has allowed me to rediscover what “faith” means to me. Faith in the universe. Faith in human kindness. Faith in my own abilities.

Passport panic: Faith in the universe

The political instability in Brazil causes problems not only for locals, but for travellers as well. Brenda and I had booked our flights from Salvador, where the Odyssey was docked, to Rio de Janeiro, home of the beloved Christ the Redeemer statue. On the evening of our flight, we were informed that the Brazilian immigration officials had gone on strike, and that we wouldn’t receive our passports for the next few hours. The latest we could leave the ship to go to the airport was 6:30 p.m. for our 8:00 p.m. flight. It was 6:20 p.m. and Brenda was scrambling to cancel her flight while I went to my room … and packed. I had faith that the universe – a higher being, a god, energies, whatever it is that is looking after me – would ensure I set foot on Corcovado mountain. Seeing the statue was on my bucket list, and I wasn’t sure when I would be in Brazil again. Precisely at 6:30 p.m., our passports were ready. I grabbed my bags and passport, and booked it off the ship, grinning at the thought of some form of universal energy looking after me and my wishes.

Rooftop chillin’ at Green Culture

Marcello: Faith in human kindness

Because Brenda had cancelled her flight, I didn’t have anyone to share a cab to the airport with. Ship faculty had always warned us about the dangers of travelling alone, especially when you’re a girl. Finding a cab to take to the airport was challenging, never mind creating a new sign language altogether in an attempt to speak to a cab driver who only spoke Portuguese! My cab driver’s name was Marcello, and he is the kindest soul I’ve ever met. He sped down the highway, navigating through heavy traffic and speeding cameras, just to get me to the airport on time for my flight. He used his broken English to comfort me during dim, never-ending stretches of pavement, when I was unsure whether he was really taking me to the airport, or if I was going to meet my end that night.

Hopping off the plane in Rio de Janeiro, I met up with another group of SASers, and we did not have a place to call home that night. We ended up in a bar to use the Wi-Fi service, and chatted with the bartender, whose name was also Marcello, who offered us cake and Coke. He offered to take us to a hostel, and we happily agreed – anything was better than a park bench that night! To my surprise, he took us to a hostel in the favelas called Green Culture. There were 3 bunk beds squeezed together in a tiny room. If you stepped into the bathroom, you would be standing in the shower. There was no air conditioning. Hell, there weren’t even glass sheets on the windows to prevent the bugs from eating your flesh while you slept. You were able to climb a rickety old ladder up to the rooftop of the favela, where you were able to capture Sugarloaf Mountain, the Christ the Redeemer statue, and Copacabana beach all in one shot! It was the most memorable place I had stayed in during the entire voyage. I never would’ve been able to experience poverty in Brazil had if not been for the Marcellos I collided with during my stay.

View of Copacabana beach from our AirBNB

Alone: Faith in my own abilities

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my exchange, it’s how to be alone knowing you have the ability to take care of yourself. I was looking to pick up some toiletries on our third day in Rio and had somehow lost my friends. I spent that entire day by myself, exploring a city not meant to be tackled on your own with no knowledge of Portuguese. I didn’t have any Wi-Fi, cellular service, or any other technological means of finding my way around if I got lost. I knew I had to be resourceful and trust my instincts if I wandered too far from our AirBNB. I was terribly homesick, and ate at a local McDonald’s location, found a retro nail salon and got pampered, and listened to my music. Anything to make me feel more at home. When I travel, I tend to avoid experiences that I can have at home, but that day was different. That day was about me, my mental and emotional health, and self-care. (I was also able to conduct my research on beauty trends in Brazil while at the salon!)

I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventure! Goodbye for now! Remember to

Keep it Rio!

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