It was completely pitch black outside, the blackest I've ever seen. Not one light for a mile around. Texas summer nights are loud with crickets, but it was indescribable the cacophony of sounds that emanated from the Amazonian Rainforest. It was as if there was a full symphony of a million bugs, all playing just for me. It was the last two days of my week long trek in the Amazon and the 10 other travelers in the group left early, I was the only one left. Our main camp was all outdoors, even the bathroom, so at night we just had hammocks strung up under a wooden frame that resembled a picnic covering. It was very intimidating and alarming to know that when my group left I would be sleeping alone for two nights in wide open, pitch black space; just nature and me. The tour crew had a bungalow about 100 feet away, but I still felt so alone and so vulnerable. I kept imagining that movie “The Ghosts of Africa," thinking a jaguar would come surprise attack me in my hammock; but those fears soon turned as I found peace in the forest sounds and cool breeze. This was the first moment on my trip I was completely comfortable being alone and more than that, happy with it. It gave me confidence, and a confidence I would need for my next stop Rio de Janeiro.
I learned my lesson of planning too early. I tried to keep my trip flexible enough to prepare for surprise excursions, but didn't realize my plane tickets would get in the way. It's not that I had all that many plane tickets, but I didn't know backpackers in South America traveled by river!!!! So when it came time to fly to Rio, my new friends coincidentally had all booked tickets down the Amazon River on their way to Peru. Peru was after Rio for me, so I said my goodbyes!
I wish I could go back and see myself sitting out front of the Rio airport. I arrived at 9am and had informed my Couchsurfer I would be there around 11am. I remember giving myself an extra 30 min leeway on my arrival to account for delays, but I had no idea it would take me 5 hours for what was technically, according to google maps, only an hour bus ride. It started in the airport, when I instantly felt overwhelmed as soon as I departed. So many people trying to get my attention and transportation arrangements and advertisements and I felt pushed all at once by everyone. One thing Monique had taught me was to find a place to sit when you're lost or need to regroup. I took a seat on a bus bench right outside the airport. I was hoping to hear English so I could ask someone what bus I needed. I sat there as each group came and left on their public bus, not knowing if it was the one I needed or not. Finally, after what felt like an hour had gone by, I began asking people around me what bus I needed. I got some contradicting responses at first, but it soon became clear I needed bus number XYZ. I hesitantly entered because I knew once I got into town, things would get more hectic if lost. So I hopped on the bus and started my journey to my Couchsurfers apartment.
My main struggle right off the bat was not knowing Portuguese. I can get by with my Spanish, so I was very happy to hear folks in Dallas reassure me before my trip that my Spanish would suffice during my travels in Brazil; but good god this was so not my experience! I didn't understand one lick of Portuguese and more frighteningly they didn't understand a lick of my Spanish. Even more upsetting was their response to my speaking a completely different language to them!!! I got off on the wrong foot so to speak, so I had people giving me wrong directions half the way and me not understanding them the other half. Pretty good laugh to my Couchsurfer when I arrive at his gate 5 hours past my ETA!!! He said he was worried, I stayed positive!!
Let's just say I got lucky! My couchsurfer was already hosting 5 other French girls so adding me was definitely a tight squeeze! His flat was small and quaint and very simple. When I arrived, all these ladies were cleaning his apartment!! I giggled inside because it looked so funny! And of course I start rambling on as I entered only to realize not one of them spoke English!!!! We spoke Spanish and acted out the rest; I look back and wonder how I made it!
Anyway, my Couchsurfer lived in a very nice neighborhood in the South Zone called Jardim Botanico, the same neighborhood as the Corvacado Mountain which houses the world famous Christ the redeemer statue! I was next to all the major hotspots, Ipanema, Copacabana, the Botanical Gardens and so many cute restaurants and pubs! I did so much in Rio!
I immediately connected with the local Couchsurfing community (which was the biggest I have ever seen), and began attending their weekly group meetings. My network of friends grew bigger and I started meeting travelers from all over the world. My world grew even larger. They mostly got together in the same restaurant or Pub hang outs. There was always something going on in Rio and the events and sightseeing were endless. I saw the local Rio, the actual middle class Rio, which is small, but I hung out with people that lived there and had jobs there and taught me their traditions and sang me their songs and showed me the real Rio, past Copacabana, past Ipanema. I remember dancing in the streets until 5am, I took crazy excursions to small islands that hardly had electricity bunking on people's porches because the only hostel was booked! I climbed Corvacado Mountain up to Christo, I visited 5 other beaches outside of Rio and swam in the sea alone with not one person for miles. I Partied at the hottest and most dangerous Samba School in Rio and perused a back alley Festa where I had the best okra soup I'll ever taste! I got separated from my group at Ipanema beach because there were so many people and they had the fire department searching for me for hours!! I went to the most lively Futbol game to see two local teams and it was as crazy as World Cup!
The stories were abound and by the end of my three weeks in Rio I had a few things going for me... I had survived my trip without getting robbed or stolen, I had made many upon many of friends, two of which I would be traveling with to Peru, the destination after Brazil (you’ll learn about them next!) I became comfortable with not knowing languages, I became comfortable with being lost and more importantly I was completely comfortable being alone at this point in my trip. I got through a lot and trusted myself even more because of my triumphs and lessons!!
By the end of Rio I had stayed with three Couchsurfers; a single, middle aged man from the garden district, a single young woman in the business area, and a single man in a multi-generational family living in a middle class neighborhood. They were all different and interesting in their own way, and they all showed me a different side of Rio! I did the extravagant things with the first, partied like crazy with the second, and did very normal and relaxed things with the third. It was cute because the grandparents were mad at me for not reporting in, so I stopped staying out after dark with them! It worried them too much!
I was beginning to see that Couchsurfing wasn't just for young backpackers, and I started noticing the diversity among the Couchsurfing crowds! Of course the whole point of the Org is to bridge gaps between cultures and allow some discourse among people of the world. So it would make sense it would be dynamic! I was thrilled and inspired by all those I was meeting! At my first Couchsurfing meeting in Rio I came across two girls from Austin Texas who were a little younger and just getting into the backpacking scene as well. They were fun, adventurous and brave and I knew we would all get along. We hung out in Rio a lot and I was so excited to hear that their trip was flexible enough that they wanted to tag along with me in Peru, my next stop! I was thrilled and knew it would be crazy!!
We planned our exit from Brazil, they bought their tickets and we coordinated arrivals into Lima where we would meet up at a hostel on the same day. We were already notorious for miscommunication, so when my connecting flight in São Paulo left without me, it sent us on a goose chase that would be a hilarious beginning to our time in Peru!!
To read more stay tuned for more adventures into how in the world I became an innkeeper!!!