01 December 2014

Rough Road Back to Rio

11 January 2014

The road back to Rio de Janeiro was long and exhausting. It might have gone smoother if we had simply hitched a ride. No, that's not something we considered. But it seriously might have been quicker.

The issue was that our friends from Ihla Grande were back in Rio. We had a loose plan to have dinner with them that night. The dinner wasn't promised and wasn't even scheduled. But it was the first time we had a reason to be somewhere. Sure, we met John for New Year's Eve, but we happened to all be going to the same place anyway. And even though he was a new friend, he was an American friend who I knew I would be able to see again. Meeting the Argentinians was different. We were excited to get going, which made every delay that much more painful.

The shuttle picked us up earlier than anticipated, which we took as a portend of good things. It didn't take as long for us to navigate the city and pick up the other passengers. We ended up back at the now familiar transfer station. There, we where we were told to basically stand in a parking spot until the shuttle going to Rio appeared.

On our first trip, we had a coordinator. She worked with the tour company and was on her way to Ihla Grande anyway. She spoke Portuguese, accepted the vouchers and provided some sense of order. (Once we got to Ihla Grande, she ended up sleeping on the couch of some hostel because she hadn't booked anything.) The return trip did not have a coordinator. Instead, there was a driver with an empty shuttle. He did not speak English. Only one of the would be passengers spoke Portuguese. He mumbled something about Rio and for us passengers, it was "game on."

I stayed and waited for the order to resume. It should be noted that I'm that person who doesn't mind being the last to board an airplane, because I know I've paid for my seat. Knowing Ang had booked our seats gave me a calm that I should not have had when trying to coordinate passage from a parking lot to a hostel in a country where I did not speak the language. Fortunately, Ang was on top of things. As soon as the driver said "Rio," she started loading our luggage. We were seated and buckled while people were still trying to figure out what was happening.

Eventually, we were on our way with luggage crammed into the aisle of the bus. It was cozy, but got the job done. Just as I was about to start my road-nap, there were people yelling to stop the bus. Someone who had boarded was meant to go to Paraty, which was in the opposite direction. Though it was annoying, it was great validation that we were in fact on the proper bus. I slept soundly.

We stopped at the gas station with the pristine potty and it was just as clean the second time around. On the first trip, the coordinator used the pitstop to verify the addresses of our hotels and map the most efficient route. Without the coordinator, we all just assumed it would work itself out. That logic was stupid and I promise not to use it again.

Just as we were about to reenter the city, the driver started yelling at us passengers. He was definitely angry, but in Portuguese. If a man yells at you in a language you do not understand, have you really offended him? The answer is "yes."

The driver was supposed to stop at the airport. Just as we were getting to the city, dispatch asked him if he had dropped off the airport passengers. As he had no coordinator, and had not talked to any of us passengers, he did not know he was supposed to stop at the airport. At this point, we had already passed the airport. The van threatened to erupt in chaos. Ang & I were on opposite sides of the "go back to the airport or drop us all off first" debate. On one hand, they hadn't spoken up as we very obviously passed the airport. And they had several hours before their flight departed. On the other hand, hadn't we all silently left our fates up to the driver? Also Ang and I did have those dinner plans AND people staying in hostels risked having their spaces given away if they didn't arrive on time.

While passengers debated, the driver stopped to buy a sandwich from a roadside vendor. Eating did not improve his mood. He did turn around to go back to the airport. After that, everyone was a lot more vocal, naming neighborhoods and giving addresses. Ang and I were the last to be dropped off. (I think we were his favorites.) He told me (and gestured) that he had been stressed because of traffic and that extra trip to the airport had used a lot of gas. By the time he brought us back to our hotel, the gas light was on. Still, I got of a smile out of him, when he'd previously been an ogre. That - plus arriving safely at our destination - was a win for me.

We never got to meet our Argentine friends, because a plan abroad is only as good as the WiFi available to both parties. But we were back in civilization, and we still had two days to find them. Plus, we were in Rio, where the beaches on a Saturday afternoon were pretty and mostly empty.