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Published: September 13th 2016
The next morning we had some time to kill before our 24-hour magic carpet ride, known for its fold down seats and high-stakes theft. We decided we wanted to soak up one last part of the jungle before we entered into bustling Rio. Trip Advisor pointed us to Parque de Avery. From the reviews, it sounded like a bird sanctuary. When we got there, it was really more a bird zoo. Caged birds as far as the eye can see. Very pretty, a little depressing. Never been much of a “caged-animal observer myself” but hey, I got to hold a toucan…so I guess there’s a win in there somewhere.
When it was time to catch the bus, we stocked up on beer and snacks for the long haul. Normally a 24-hour ride anywhere would be miserable, but the seats folded down into beds, so it was actually quite luxurious. Plus, when your with the man you’re falling in love with, it makes anything fun. Jon tied up all our bags together, “so if anyone gets grabby they’ll have to tussle with four connected bags rather than one.” Upon the first cracked beer and cheers, we made
a pact not to fall asleep the whole night in order to watch our belongings. And thus began one of the best sleepless nights I’ll ever had.
Together, we kept ourselves awake with drinking games, intimate personal stories and laughter, so much laughter. The kind of belly laughs that have you in tears. The kind of belly laughs that have your sleeping neighbors fantasize about stabbing you. Either way, it was great.
Around two in the morning, many, if not all, the passengers were asleep. Our bus took an abrupt exit off the highway and into a neighborhood. The backroads the driver was taking seemed confusing to me, like we were going in circles on roads too small for our wide-ended bus. Suddenly that girl’s 24-hour Bus-to-Rio horror story came to mind. I didn’t even have to say anything. Jon knew my mind was somewhere bad. “Darling, it is okay. Even if the worst will happen there is nothing we can do about it.” I pulled out my pepper spray and cocked the trigger, “Speak for yourself,” I whispered, hoping my bite would be bigger than my bark.
I began to
feel my heart beating in my throat when the bus turned into a dirt back alley and pulled into an unmarked garage. This is it, I thought, this is where I die. The bus driver turned off the bus and casually walked off. The rest of the bus had eyes closed and heavy breaths. Me? Well, the combination of lack of sleep and adrenaline probably made me look like I just took a sweet hit off the crack pipe. Eyes darting every which way, trying with all my might to retain every possible escape route there was. What seemed like the longest 15 minutes of my life the bus driver got back on the bus, turned the key and drove away. Turns out the bus was in need of gas. And I, once again, felt like an idiot.
Once we saw the glimmer of light along the horizon, the sleepiness began to hit us and we passed out until three that afternoon. Even when we awoke, we still had four more hours to go.
It was nice to be able to see just what we were passing thanks to the
daylight. Beautiful farm land, lush green pastures with cows and horses roaming free. It looked more like middle America let alone Brazil! Blue skies that went on for days. The last hour of the bus ride we could tell we were approaching the destination. The scenery changed drastically. The house-to-farm ratio teetered in the houses’ direction. We were Dorothy and Scarecrow, about to enter the Emerald city.
Houses were stacked up on top of each other. No building left un-graffitied. Worn orange brick decorated each shanty. Lines of laundry hung on each rising level. People with dirty skin and stained clothes that walked with purpose.
Jon and I made the plan that he was to be the first one to hop off the bus to then be the first one to collect our bags from below while I was in charge of collecting the lighter ones we brought on with us, a little tidbit we heard from the locals to avoid other passengers running away with our bags.
The bus terminal was full of merchants selling goods and services to the newly arrivals. One man in a white button-up and blue
slacks bee-lined for Jon and I and asked, “Taxi?” We nodded and followed him outside. He looked confused when he read the address of the hostel we were staying at. The man went up to a Police officer standing nearby to ask. That’s when I felt the all-to-familiar gut-tickle of fear. The Taxi Man that we followed was the only taxi man without a brand or logo on this clothes. But he is talking to a police officer, he must be legit, I thought. The cop gave me a wink, probably after seeing me staring at the taxi man with probably zero poker face. The wink left me feeling uncomfortable as Jon and I continued following this man out to the parking lot.
During the guided walk, I began to realize that we were the only two tourists not waiting in line for a taxi. When the man showed us to his car, I realized that his “taxi” also had no markings on it either. Where all the other taxis had a paper license taped to the window, the car the man was telling us to get into was just a
plain Honda Civic with black tinted windows. It took me back to a conversation I had with Fer and Mikela when we were on Isla del Sol. “…And never get into any unmarked cars,” Fer told us, “You just can’t trust it. They can say they will take you one place and the next thing you know, you’re in some abandoned house, watching your things get stolen forever.”
And just like that, my gut-buzzer went off.
“Nope.” I said in a huff. Jon looked back,
“What? What’s wrong?”
“We are not getting into that car.” I pointed at the taxi next to the Civic, “Look, they have a license on the window. So do they, and them, and them. But not our car. Every car but ours.”
Jon looked around and came to the same conclusion. He marched up to the man, who had already been placing one of our bags in the trunk, and snatched the bag’s handle right from the Taxi Man’s grip. “No thank you. We changed our minds. Have a great day!” He shouted, as we sprinted
away as fast as we could.
Jeez…haven’t even been there thirty minutes and we just cheated death. Well, possibly anyway.
Our hostel was located in the Historic Arts District in Rio. It felt very safe, thanks to all the security roaming around. It got huge points for the view and the location…but lost all points for lack of A/C and shitty advice. (Directed us to restaurants/events that were closed/not there, etc.) The city of Rio was amazing. The lush green trees blended beautifully with the brightly graffiti walls of the buildings. It was if the people didn’t know colors of black and white. Everything that they wore down to their shoes was dyed in bright colors.
There was a certain buzz in the air, and I don’t just mean the Zika mosquitos. I mean Carnival! The anticipation on everyone’s mind sent the singing, dancing spirit into me and everyone around. I knew the next few days were going to be ones I will never forget.
Our hostel was a two story house, quaint with tiny winding rooms and rainbow tiled floors. It is known for its amazing view
of the city. And it was! When we finished our short hike uphill and entered the small lobby, we immediately dropped our bags and bee-lined for the backyard balcony. Gazing upon the bustling sunset-lit city, we took what felt like the first deep breath we have had in the last 36 hours.
After a cold shower, I walked outside and found Jon in deep conversation with our newest friend, Andy.
“I mean, but that’s Rio,” she laughed to herself.
“That’s bloody terrible,” Jon spoke softly.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I was held at gunpoint today.” Andy said, oddly serene about the whole thing.
“Oh my God,” I sat down in the chair next to Jon and listened.
“In Copacabana, I was coming straight from the airport about the check into the hotel and a man with a gun stopped me. It was daylight. People were around.”
“Didn’t they help you?”
“Of course no! They would’ve shot whoever came close,” she shrugged, “They don’t care. They want something, they will take it. If not, they shoot.”
“What did they take?”
“Everything,” Jon answered for her. Apparently
this was the part of the conversation I had missed.
“My bag, my passport, my wallet, my everything. I am from here so it’s okay, I know where to get everything. Just happy to be alive. But that’s the thing: Rio is a gorgeous city, one of the best. Just be careful.”
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