Monday, August 14, 2017

Rio de Janeiro

In 1986 my son-in-law's company sent him  to Rio de Janeiro  on assignment  and  because  he would be gone for at least a year,  my daughter and  their eight month old baby accompanied  him.   Shortly before they returned home,  they suggested it would be an opportunity for me to see Brazil and  encouraged me to visit  I had some unused holidays  so no problem, but my husband couldn't  get away and I would have to travel  on my own.

Everything was set up and soon  I was  on my way.  First a flight to Toronto, connecting flight to Miami and finally another plane change to Rio, what could possibly go wrong?   It all went smoothly until I reached Miami where I was informed that my Argentine Airlines flight had mechanical problems and would not be heading out  to Rio until the next morning.  However, the airline would provide me with a hotel room and meal voucher for the night and  assured me we would be on our way by dawn.  How to inform my family of the delay and what if they were not at home or already waiting at the airport when I called.  Finally I decided to call my husband  and have him phone and bring them up to date  as I had no idea when I would be arriving in Brazil.  Their apartment was almost an hour drive from the airport and phone calls to the airport about flights would be answered in Portuguese.  I was quite concerned about them getting the correct flight information as I thought it would be  evening when I arrived.  I really did not know what I would do if they had not received the message and I was stranded overnight in a foreign airport.

I have always been a nervous flyer and knowing my plane was having problems  did not make the evening any better for me.  A party was going on in the hotel room adjoining  mine (I made sure the door was locked between the rooms) so getting some rest after a challenging day was not easy but eventually I drifted off.  The next morning I was in the departure lounge bright and early but there was still no word on when the plane would be ready.  One hour, two hours, finally after more than four  hours we were told that we could start boarding.  The plane was full and as soon as I sat down, it was obvious to me that English was not the first language of my fellow passengers.  Everyone would be quiet when the attendants made an announcement in Portuguese  but would start chatting loudly again when the message was repeated in English.  I couldn't hear a word of what they were saying. However, we were soon  flying off to Rio and just the thought of it was exciting.  At one point I looked down and in the bright cloudless sky, was able to see a long curved line through the South American forest, it was the Amazon River.  The day long flight continued  and I  was treated to  a  great lunch and supper along with free beverages.   The meals  provided by the airline were impressive as this was back in the days when airline food was tasty and would be served on china dishes with real cutlery,  Finally, darkness was falling and with it the buildup of thunder clouds and rain.  It  reminded me of an old song, "What do they do on a rainy night in Rio?"  Then the pilot announced that we would be arriving in Rio in 30 minutes and we should have our seats upright and seat belts on.  As we approached  Rio, I heard a click and a groan from underneath the plane and nothing else, a few minutes later the same click and groan and nothing. This pattern of click and groan continued.   Everyone grew silent as the passengers realized the wheels were not coming down.  We started circling over Rio, the attendants were strapped in their seats and every few minutes, we heard the  ominous sound of the click and groan again.  When I saw one of the stewardesses crossing herself I knew we were in trouble.  This high tension drama continued as we circled  through storm clouds and watched the flashes of lightning.  I was already imagining the news headlines, "Canadian among those lost in Brazil crash" - ooh, think of something else.  It was now after 10 p.m. and this ordeal had lasted for over half  an hour, the silence in the plane was deafening.  Suddenly we heard, click, plunk!  The wheels were down, everyone applauded and cheered,  we were safe!   The plane landed and soon I was back on the terra firma.  As I left the plane, in single file the passengers were slowly walking through a long grey passageway and I noticed there were  armed guards standing  along the way.  I felt like I could disappear into  one of the side rooms and no one would notice.  Travelling alone, I was quite uneasy so spotting my family when I emerged at the other end was a big relief.   A customs agent who examined my passport must have thought I looked nervous so gave me a big smile and said, "Bon jour!"  I felt much better.  My luggage was not on the carousel so that was the next challenge.  Evidently it had arrived on an earlier flight and was placed in the airport manager's office for safekeeping along with the luggage of another passenger who had also been delayed in Miami. Years later when I once again visited Rio, the airport had been upgraded and the scary grey passageway was gone.

Almost 24 hours  after leaving home,  I was relieved to be safe and sound in Rio.  After a long drive we finally reached the  apartment compound and  were confronted by an armed guard at the entrance.  He  was checking out everyone entering the large  fenced enclosure  which was home to some  five thousand people.  He didn't just have a revolver, he had an assault rifle so no one was going to argue with him. I soon found this type of security and very high walls were  commonplace in Rio.  Life in the apartment presented challenges and one of  the biggest was dealing with local water.  The water was not safe to drink or even to brush one's teeth. When my daughter  bathed the baby she would fill  a small inflatable children's pool with bottled water and place it in the bathtub.   The toilet was an odd experience, when it was flushed, the water from the tank which was high up on the wall, ran down and bubbled up with a great flurry into  the toilet before finally draining down.  One tended to flush, then step back as far as possible to avoid being splashed by the contents of the toilet.

Ten days flew by quickly with much sightseeing and visits to the famous beaches noteworthy for their  curvaceous women in skimpy bikinis.  At a local bargain store a soft drink brand was being featured and  free samples of the soft drink  mixed with rum were being handed out.   In other stores coffee and chocolate were the big attractions. 

Finally it was time to return home  after a memorable visit.