Traveling is not all Pina Coladas and Chocolate

October 16, 2013 – travel diary in Brazil.

My hosts in Brasilia had to work on the day I was to fly out so they left me on my own in their apartment. It was very kind of them and they were really nice hosts, however, I soon realized that I was on my own to get to the airport that night. And as any English-speaking person knows, nothing even slightly complex is easy to do in a non-English speaking world.

Fortunately, I did have Internet and I quickly call upon a local friend on Facebook to call a taxi for me. She tells me that they are coming, but as the time approaches to my leaving to make the flight, the anxiety begins to churn in my stomach. That is a strange thing about flying; no matter how early you plan to be at the airport you still get the dreaded churn. I try to relax myself and just wait. No one is coming and all taxis seem to be just passing by. None are looking for an Australian tourist. Finally it is getting too close to the cut-off point, so when I see the next taxi I wave my hand, half-hoping that he is the one that has been called for me. Well, he also drives on, but then a taxi appears from the other side. I am not sure now if this is the guy that was called for me, or is the same guy I waved at and who has now circled the block the come to me.  I get into the taxi, a bit apprehensively. I say, “International Airport” in the best Spanish accent I can do. He understands with a “Sem” and we are off. But then all the way to the airport I am still wondering if he is the guy that was called for me and who had agreed to the set price of $50 Reias (US$25). I am anxious and wonder if I am going to have a fight with him at the end of the ride over the fare. The broken conversation and arguments continue inside my head. They don’t stop until we finally arrive at the airport. I then wonder, “Is this the International airport?” In Sao Paulo there are three airports, but fortunately for me there is only one in Brasilia.
He hands me a bill for $60, I tell him, “No, I telephone, they tell me 50” (drawing the number in the air). He looks bewildered and makes some sound. I repeat the same and he finally gets it and agrees! “Sem.” I then hand him a $100 note but he has no change. He takes my bags out of the car and puts them on the curb. I then have this fear scenario running through my head that he will just take off with my $100 bill, calling out “Gringo”. But he finds another taxi driver and gets change. He hands me my change and we part ways. I made it! The first stage complete; now for the plane.
I walk through the huge terminal looking for my airlines. Hang on a minute, what is my airline? I have no idea. Someone else booked my ticket. All I know is that the flight is GE 1693. I ask a man, he calls over a friend who then explains to me that it is GOL airlines and then directs me to the right ticket counter.
I approach the counter with two overloaded bags. The one that always goes underneath is always maxed at 25kg, but so too is my “carry-on roller bag.” I sneakily push that to the side and then thrust the big silver one on the scale, all the while smiling. The ticket lady understands a little English. Yeah! With a “help-me” face, I tell her, “Can you please upgrade me to business class. I am very tired. I work for charity.” I keep smiling and she says, “in the first plane there is no business class.” I tell her that her English is good. She appreciates that and smiles back. We have some rapport going on here. It appears that she feels good about me and gives me a seat up the front. I assume that they are business class seats. I am really happy and boast about it on facebook. The reality is far different. We are flying on a 737 to Sao Paolo and then again on a 737 to Santo Domingo. The so-called business class is actually just 1 inch more leg-room and a curtain dividing you from the riff-raff.
I am told that my boarding gate is H. “Just go down the stairs after security,” she says. We part ways. I have some free wifi upstairs but it doesn’t seem to work downstairs. I stay upstairs for my most of my wait. I am like 2 hours before the flight, after check-in. I have no idea why I worry so much before flights. Anyway, I am chatting with my fiancé and others on Facebook, while the clock ticks away. I think, “I better go downstairs to see on my gate and the status of the plane. I am sacrificing Internet, but a man has to do what a man has to do!” On my way down I notice a place where I can actually eat! Hallelujah, there is a place that sells baked potatoes. Everything else I have seen thus far has been pastries and candy.
Travel note: Do not expect to get any decent food at the Brasilia airport if you are vegan.
I approach the counter and try to explain to the lady that I want a baked potato with olive oil and salt. I am vegan, so I don’t want all the butter and cream and extras on my spud. She is like, “blah, blah, blah”. I don’t have a clue what she just said to me, and of course she can’t understand me. Another lady hands me a menu and points at something with mignon or fillet. I don’t know much, but that seems fish or meat. “No Obrigado,” I tell her. (yes, I learned how to say thank you in Portuguese!). I look frustratingly, as others make their order and move happily on their way. I try to text my fiancé, who speaks Spanish, but the Internet is bad down here. I have to now lug my bags upstairs to get Internet and then ask her to write in the chat window, “I want a potato with olive oil and salt.” She does and I race downstairs to show the lady. She understands! She gives me my baked potato with a small container of olive oil and 6 small bags of salt. I am like, “lady, I wanted some salt, but I don’t want to have a heart attack!” I then ask, “Do you have pepper?” They look at me confused. “Pepper, you know, salt, I mean sol and pepper.” They are still bewildered. I am waving my hands to indicate that salt and pepper are like bread and butter. They still have no idea what the hell I am talking about. Then a customer chimes in, “I think he means, pimento”. “Sim, Pimento. Ok!” The lady then hands me a bottle of hot sauce. I am like, “Erm, do you know the powdery stuff?” She says, “what?” “Ok forget it, hot sauce it is. I sprinkle hot sauce all over my potato, pay for it and am soon on my way with dinner!
I sit down to eat at Gate H but then notice it is getting rather close to boarding time. It is now 9:05 and the plan is scheduled to fly at 9:32. I am eating as fast as I can, considering this spud just came out of a 250 degree oven and has hot sauce all over it. This is killing me. I am so hungry, but the sauce is so darn hot, and I am now worried about missing my plane. But I am at Gate H and people are still waiting around and the sign on the board is for another flight, so surely we are the next one. I just need to relax and enjoy this potato. My intuition now chimes in, “No, something is wrong. Grab that potato and go over and ask the guy at the counter if this really is the correct gate.” My tickets says Gate H, the lady at the ticket counter said it was Gate H, but then he says, “No, it is Gate 9 upstairs.” What!!!! I race upstairs and across the terminal. Gate 9 is on the other side of the terminal. I am tired, hungry, anxious and now possibly going to miss my flight. I look at the flight board, and my flight is boarding now! I finally find Gate 9, there are people around, but they too are waiting for another flight. Everyone else on flight GE1693 are sitting in their seats. I approach the counter; the lady waves me in. I am the last to board. And you all thought traveling around the world is so damn easy.
I settle in with my potato in hand and eat dinner while the plane prepares for take-off. Our flight to Sao Paolo will take 1.5 hours. Every time before take-off and landing I say a prayer to Lord Nrsimhadeva, the Lion God to protect everyone on the plane. I try to sleep to no avail and finally, we land safely in Sao Paolo at 11pm.
I now have to wait for my next flight leaving at 2.20am. I am already exhausted. I try my best to whittle away the time at the magazine shop where I spot a whole section of English magazines. I find a Popular Science and am intrigued to read an article on the quest for finding a particle of dark matter. Billions upon billions are being spent on this search, but just like the so-called noble quest to cure cancer by pharmaceutical companies, this too has the smell of scam, because the reality is that dark matter is an energy form that is beyond measurement; totally invisible to mundane instruments. The only reason that scientist know it exists, is because, this strange “nothingness” is influencing things that they can measure. In other words, just like we cannot see our intelligence or mind, but know that they exists by the symptoms they produce and the influence they have on the world around us. For decades scientists have been boggled by the problem of what is filling all the space in the universe? Conveniently they now refer to it as dark matter and dark energy. Translation: We don’t have a clue what it is, but we know there is something out there. Of course, from the Vedic perspective, it is spiritual energy, a higher frequency of energy beyond mundane sensual perception.
Ok, back to the airport.
Another hallelujah moment awaits me, Starbucks! They have Internet and they also have soy milk. I order a Venti hot chocolate with soy milk. I am really happy now. I catch up with friends online and confirm that someone will be there to pick me up at the airport in Santo Domingo tomorrow morning. My time finally runs out and I must board the flight. I again have a window seat because on any sort of long flight, the window is better for resting your head. Unless you have one of those stupid looking neck pillows, which I did travel with once, but then gave up on because they are so impractical.
We take off on time and I immediately try to go into sleep mode. I mean it is like close to 3am now and I have not slept a wink. Despite my attempts to twist the tiny airline pillow into places to support my neck and head, nothing seems to work. The plane is packed so there is no question of finding three empty seats. Although, on my way to the bathroom I did notice one lucky guy scored an entire exit row to himself. Now that is just not fair! I begrudgingly return to my seat.
I try and try to sleep to no avail. Then in a half conscious stage I hear the lady announce that we are descending, but right then my body decides to go into deep sleep mode. I am like dreaming and having a great old time, but then I hear her voice, “Sir, Sir,” as she wiggles my arm. I don’t move. I am gone, but I can hear her voice. My body is totally resisting any disturbance. It has had enough of this bullshit. She continues, “Sir, Sir, we are landing,” this time grabbing my arm. My body is like, “No way, sister, we are staying down for the count.” At this stage I am now aware of what is going on and I try to will my body back to full consciousness, but it is so disconnected at this point, it is like moving a dead body. I am actually now half in an astral state. It is not easy. Finally, after more tugs of my arm and my urging, my body complies and awakens. I lift my seat up and with eyes still closed and prepare for the landing. At this point, I don’t want to see or talk to anyone. I don’t give a shit what my hair looks like or if my face is all contorted from the sleep state. I grab my bags and leave the plane following everyone one else.
Unbeknown to me, most people on this flight are catching a flight to Miami, and only a few of the passengers head for the baggage claim area. I get my bags and proceed towards customs. The lady waves a paper, expecting me to produce the same kind of form filled out. I know I filled one out on the plane, but I have no idea where it is now. She can see I am half asleep and mentally fried and says, “Ok just go.” Can you imagine that ever happening in the USA? No custom form and just waved through! Welcome to Santo Domingo, bitches.
Ok, so with bags in hand I exit to the meeting area, praying that someone there has a sign with my name on it. There is no one. I move slowly scanning the area, but there is no one. I absolutely hate that experience. Frustrated, tired and so over this sort of thing I leave the terminal to wait outside. But again after 5 minutes there is still no one. I then return to the terminal and look for wifi. I find a place, but unless you buy a drink you don’t get wifi. I give the lady a puppy dog face and she begrudgingly agrees to put the password in my phone. She does, but it doesn’t work. I now wonder if she is still bent on selling me something for the actual password. I did not have any local money, so I gave up and went back outside.
As I leave, a hoard of taxi guys talk to me, but I have no idea what they are saying and move on. They look at me like, “We are talking and you are ignoring us.” And I am like, “Why are you making sounds with your mouth? I am busy waiting for my ride, so leave me alone.” I begin to wait and wait, and wait. 20 minutes, then 30, then 40, then 1 hour goes by. It is clear now that no one is coming for me. I am so tired of this experience. It is not the first time and I hate it even more every time it happens. In fact, I would actually prefer not to take 1 million dollars in exchange for someone picking me up on time at the airport. It is that important to me. I am musing this is not Sao Paolo where traffic is hell and you can just use that as your excuse for being late. This is Santo Domingo, an island where people ride bikes. There are no traffic jams here. Where are you!?
I grab my bags and try the café that has wifi again. This time I go the cash machine and get $100 (peso) out. I return to the café and without even saying anything the lady says, “The problem is with your phone. It was the right password,” as if to intuit what my motive was in returning with cash. This time I use my laptop and the password works. Hallelujah!. I sit down and immediately text a message to one of the FFL coordinators in Haiti, “No one is here. What is wrong?,” I write. He texts back, “I will call now.” He then tells me that some people left hours ago to get you. I say, “BS I have been waiting for over 1 hour. Finally, after another 20 minutes I see a sign shoved in my face, “PAUL TURNER”. I am relieved but still very pissed at why they are so late. I ask them, “What happened? “Oh we were not told of your 8:30 arrival and we had some other things to do.” “What? Other things to do?” I want to scream, but I keep a relaxed look on my face and thank them for coming. I then hear from the person that organized my pick up that they had assumed that I would take 1 hour to get through immigration, so he had not stressed my arrival time.
Rule #1 when welcoming a guest to your country: Be on time to get them at the airport. No excuses. Just be there waiting at the time the plane actually arrives. You can never judge how much time customs or immigration will take, because there are too many variables. So just be there at landing.
Rule # 2: Always have a bottle of water to give your guest. Planes dehydrate you like a potato chip, and your body needs water badly. Make sure the water is room temperature.
Rule #3: Assume that your guest is tired and is not interested in complex conversations or hearing about your problems. Just play some relaxing music have small talk and get them to a place where they can wash and settle down.
I finally arrive at the humble temple of the ISKCON society in Santo Domingo. It is now 10:30am and I am still super tired, spaced out, thirsty and hungry. In other words, I feel horrible so just close the door and leave me alone for a bit.
My guests brings me 2 delicious coconuts to drink and I then lay down to try and rest on an old mattress with no sheets. All I am thinking now is, “bed bugs.” I surrender to sleep and lay down, but within minutes a tiny dog nextdoor starts barking, and barking and barking. “Please give me a shot gun!” No, I didn’t think that, but seriously, “Shut up. I want to sleep!”
My guests then brings me breakfast — a strange combination of watermelon with the rind still in tact, strips of cheese and boiled plantains. I’m like, “Seriously?” I eat the few pieces of watermelon and try to sleep again. But that little asshole dog just won’t stop. I finally give up and go to sit in the temple room. At least it is quite, but really I just want to sleep. I try to use the toilet but it doesn’t flush. I learn later that you have to use a bucket of water. Oh and ladies, you can forget about the tissue paper. It ain’t happening. Here you just man up and shake it off.
I decide to take a shower, but the plumbing here must be like 100 years old. I first wash my face but then worry that I may catch something. The shower is a rusty pipe hanging from the wall. There is no showerhead and it is of course cold water. I get in and soap up as the huge plastic bucket collects the water from the pipe. I then look at the plastic container I am supposed to use to scoop the water to bathe myself, and notice it is covered in mold. In fact, there is mold everywhere. Now I am really freaking out. I throw the entire bucket of water over myself, dry off and get the hell out of that germ-infested room.
No one speaks English here so I can’t ask for anything. I try to explain to my guests about the dog and the fact that I just want to sleep, but he just keeps talking in Spanish. Even after I politely explained to him that I don’t understand, he keeps talking. Of course, he can’t understand what I just said either. It is hopeless. I smile and walk away.
And this, my dear reader, is what a typical travel adventure looks like in between all the nice beaches and waterfalls that I sometimes come across. It is not all so easy, and frankly, I am really tired of it. I just want to be in my own bed.

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