After an insufferable 20+ hours of flying, plane swapping, no bathing and furious prayers that I would not up-chuck my guts, my plane disembarked in Rio de Janeiro (Aerolineas Argentinas is an airline in need of major revamping, and the flight attendants need training in how not to be rude).
As I hobbled off the plane I no longer paid much attention to the inferiority of the airport; I had a chance to observe this in Argentina where to my spoilt eye most things appeared deteriorated.
I was grateful that I had endured the torture of flying (at each landing I felt my head would explode and therefore I would have to have a closed casket funeral) and reached my destination. In a few moments I would be reunited with one of my bestfriends whom I had not seen in 8 years. Though I did not know what to expect to discover in Brazil, the one thing I was certain of was our friendship. The space and time of those 8 years disappeared immediately when she greeted me.
We then walked out into the sweltering night, and Melissa, her husband Douglas and I hopped on a bus. Amid our frantic conversation I began my acquaintance with the city of Rio de Janeiro. For a Westerner the most salient aspect was the poverty, most things were old and dilapidated; the city also seemed to serve as an old grimy canvas for the art of graffiti. I glimpsed the destitution I was well aware existed but for the first time without the filter of the television glass. It doesn't matter how great your knowledge of the indigence of the world, it is never tantamount to experiencing life in a 3rd world country.
The bus let us off at Largo do Machado, one of the many inner city suburbs of Rio, and we went to a local supermarket to stock up on soy milk and other vegan things for me to eat. It was about 11 at night by then but the city never sleeps, it only dozes during weeknights.
We then hailed a cab which took us up the mountain in the region of Santa Teresa where my friends live. The road snakes upwards and there are secluded mansions on both sides, further shrouded by trees and climbing plants. It's also a bouncy ride, as the streets are full of pot holes and stretches of cobble-like stones, and of course everyone drives like a maniac.
Another aspect of life in Rio that was immediately conspicuous to me was the way in which people communicated. Though I do not speak Portuguese, I was still able to perceive that people communicate with each other in a very casual manner, as if they are long-time acquaintances.
Finally we arrived at the favela, which means a shanty town or ghetto, where Melissa and Douglas reside. It looks like a mini-city, with narrow, concrete pathways, many of which are a challenge to navigate. We dragged my luggage to their tiny two-bedroom apartment, where I found Douglas's very cute brother sleeping on the couch; a nice sight indeed.
The bathroom looked like something out of a horror movie but it had running water and a toilet that flushed, which by now I felt to be a luxury.
Exhausted I pulled the curtain to my room shut (no, no door) and hit the sack, being horizontal never felt so great.