Saturday, June 28, 2014

-- Beaches & Glaciers: Brazil --

I walk through the empty streets of a sleepy Portobello. The quietness of the fresh spring Saturday morning is only broken by a few rather drunk party animals ending another night of pub-crawling. Opposite reality to Dublin Airport, bubbling with people taking the batch of early morning departures.

I waste no time and check in for my flight , trying to ensure a seat at the front of the plane with the idea of sprinting through Charles de Gaulle airport in order to make it to my connecting flight. In the end, I have only been given over an hour to make it.

The flight is full and the little Avro rockets off the Dublin coast and flies over Britain. We are told the flight will be delayed by twenty minutes and my anxiety grows, particularly due to my history of bad connections in the massive Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport.
However, shortly after landing in a sunny Paris and going through a couple of queues, a shiny Boeing 777 awaits for a bunch of passengers to board. In time. Sao Paulo bound.

Another full house, the nearly 12-hour journey happens uneventfully flying over the French Pyrenees,  the arid Moroccan coastline, to crossing over the almost endless Atlantic Ocean and onto Northern Brazil.
Three movies, five sitcoms and a little nap later, we start our descent surrounded by the Cantareira Mountains and into the concrete jungle of the largest city in Brazil.

As every arrival in Brazil, I am first stricken by the humidity and warm weather, despite being autumn. Warmth that is only accentuated by the busy airport, which I quickly walk across, and by the best hug I could ask for: I had flown my mother and stepdad to Brazil in order to meet me. The time had finally arrived and the three of us were reunited again for a short holiday.

The journey isn't finished for the day, and the pleasant air conditioning of a modern bus disguises the busy surroundings whilst we cut across the busy avenues of the city towards the South and the Baixada Santista, a combination of winding yet modern roads to the coastline and the city of Santos, one of Brazil's main ports.

A bus, a taxi, a ferry crossing, a bus and another taxi later and with the darkness of the warm evening playing a trick on our orientation skills, we finally make it to the hotel in the town of Guaruja, ready for a night of sleep and a weekend of relaxing by the beach and the beginning of a trip of contrasts and mixed emotions.

In the morning, we adventure to the beach with the first rays of sunshine. A fresh breeze blows from the Atlantic and the morning runners mesh with fishermen and bar owners ready for yet another weekend of visitors.
It is low-season, despite temperatures reaching 27 degrees, which means that throughout the day, the beach remains relatively empty, ideal for relaxing in between 'beach vendors' selling anything you could imagine in colourful and somehow artistic arrangements (sales pitch included), dips in the blue Atlantic Ocean, refreshing 'caipirinhas' and some fresh seafood.

The day ends in a dramatic sunset over the Santos Bay and a walk through the beach, in preparation for the next morning and a combination of bus, another bus and the busy Sao Paulo Metro. It is time to face the concrete jungle and start working.

Shortly after checking into the hotel, we walk down a busy street to the Ibirapuera Park, an oasis in the middle of the city and my favourite place in Sao Paulo.
It was here where the idea of flying was sparked, probably fuelled by the low-flying aircraft departing the nearby Congonhas Airport and the somehow suffocating routine of the metropolis. It was my hideaway and my bit of fresh air when the days looked extremely long with work, training and college.

I give my parents the basic instructions and a pocket subway map and head to the modern Paulista Avenue, a symbol of the city and the setting for my business meetings at the shiny Intercontinental Hotel, only to meet around 50 agents from all over Latin America in 5-minute short meetings in both Spanish and Portuguese.

The next day unfolds in the form of meetings throughout the city, surprisingly remembering combinations of metro lines and buses and showing my parents the city I called home for nearly five years.
We visit the iconic and somehow derelict city centre and its Viaduto do Cha contrasting with the rich neighbourhoods of Itaim and Jardins with its luxury cars and tinted glass buildings.

The start of the toughest time in Sao Paulo starts the next day with an early good-bye. I take my parents to the main bus terminal so they catch the service to the International Airport.

I will never be able to handle this properly.

I catch the metro back, wiping tears away and preparing for a new challenge in my life: my first ever sales fair, held in the Bienal do Ibirapuera, a convention centre designed by the famous architect Oscar Niemayer. I even have my own stand.

For the remaining three days in the city, I meet around 150 agents from all over the continent in 15-minute meetings, under a strong air conditioning which takes away my voice and a strong competitive environment. Scary at the beginning and exciting in the end.

Free time is used to battle the tiredness and meet old friends, colleagues and teachers in brand-new shopping centres, restaurants full of memories, and dinners with a view of the Anhangabau Valley. Those that refused to leave my life, those who remember everything despite distance and time, those that made Sao Paulo feel like home at the time.

Friday evening comes. The fair is finally over, time for dinner with my friends and an adventure across the city in white flip-flops and backpack to the International Airport, where I find a nice corner to sleep and organise the next leg of the race.

My flight is finally called and we board the small aircraft with the first rays of morning sunshine.

Without any sleep , I find myself thinking whilst I rest my head on my airplane seat. In the end, it was the Brazilian experience I used to have when I lived here half a decade ago: a busy working schedule, a battle through the Sao Paulo public transport and a relaxing time at the beach. A deja-vu , enhanced by the presence of the people that represent the most in my life.

The flight starts descending some three hours later, through the thick clouds I can see some houses and a brown wide river, we are preparing to land at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery and my next stop: Argentina.