Such a hard day it was, the day we said goodbye to Rio. It had been a completely unexpected experience, and that was exactly what made it so special. All three of us felt we’ve grown so much in those 6 weeks, learned so much and changed so much. Discovered parts of ourselves we were not aware of before. Did things we didn’t think we would or could. The time spent in Rio shed a new light on parts of ourselves that used to be dormant. We could not be more thankful to this city for facilitating our “evolution” this way.
We left Rio with the words of one of our friends still ringing in our ears:
“From the moment I saw you I could tell you guys were different. I have traveled to 30 countries and worked in hospitality for many years, I have seen thousands of tourists… and i can immediately tell you are different, special. The way you carry yourselves, the way you talk, the way you interact with others, the things you are looking at experiencing…. you are not tourists at all, you are real world travelers!”
Indeed that was how we felt. And we were prepared to carry on globe trotting.
The plan to get to Peru
The plan was to make it to Cusco by the 31st of August, when our 10 day Vipassana silent meditation course was supposed to begin. From mid August we kept searching for ways to get there and we could not believe how expensive the flights were. After many an hour spent on the internet, we took a radical decision: we were going to cover the 5000km by bus, in less than 5 days. We found a bus going straight from Rio de Janeior to Cusco, but unfortunately it was only going twice a month and the next one was on the 31st, so didn’t really match our plans. We then found another one going from Sao Paolo to Rio Branco, a city close to the border with Peru, so that meant we’d be crossing Brazil from East to West in 60 hours straight. We got ourselves a ticket for that and got some basic info from Vitor, one of Vanessa’s friends, about the way from Rio Branco to Cusco (passing through Assis and Puerto Maldonado). It seemed doable, so we went ahead with it.
We didn’t know it at the time, but it would take us 5 buses, 2 cars, 1 minivan and 2 ferries to get to our destination. Four out of the five nights were spent sleeping on the bus, and one of them in a very dodgy hostel in Puerto Maldonado, a town in the selva (jungle) that could never complain of lack of heat and humidity. The last 10 hours of the trip were the most horrific hours we had ever spent on a bus, but overall the experience was much less painful, tiring and frustrating than we had expected it to be. So much so that when we got to Calca on the day of the meditation we were fresh, energized and looked like we had spent the past week in a luxury resort rather than on the road. Well, almost. In any event, those who met us then were shocked and impressed that after such a week, we looked the way we did.
Leaving Rio de Janeiro after a rough night
We started from Rio on the 26th in the morning with the first bus, the one that would take us to Sao Paolo. Since that was our last night in Rio we had to make the best of it, so we got home around 5.30am. We thought a short sleep would render us refreshed and ready to start packing at 7am, then leave for the terminal at 9. What a joke! We thanked God for Felippe’s mom that day, who shook us awake at 8am worried as she was that we’ll be missing our bus. We have no idea how we managed to switch off the alarm clock repeatedly between 7 and 8 and then not have any recollection of it either.
We packed hurriedly and got to the terminal in time. The 6 hours ride passed quickly as we were mainly catching up with last night’s sleep. In Sao Paolo we had a 2 hour layover, so off we went hunting for some feijao, not knowing if we’d have the chance to have it again before exiting Brazil. In the spirit of “it’s just down there”, we ended up walking for 20 minutes to find a place that served it. We took it away and ended up eating it in the bus terminal, sitting on the floor and watching people pass by. Some of them must have never seen 3 gringo backpackers eating take away feijao on the bus terminal floor, because they simply could not stop staring.
The theft attempt
Boca and I were sitting with our backs against the wall and Silviu was about 2 meters in front, facing us. Our backpacks were behind us and I hadn’t realised my back was touching my big backpack, but not the small one. As we were slowly eating our food and having the fun conversations we usually have, we saw some strange movement happening behind Silviu. Some guy had dropped his glasses and was leaning to pick them up; it had caught my attention because it was all happening so close to Silviu’s backpacks. As we all stopped to stare at the man, a voice appeared in my head out of nowhere: “Turn around, your backpacks”. The moment I turned I was shocked to actually see a guy there, so close to me I could touch him. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t sensed him before. He was facing the wall and was slowly moving away. I immediately saw he had a black backpack in his hand, and on the other side, glued to it was… my pink small backpack! Incredible! I was so surprised at the sight that all I could muster was an “Oi!”, the kind that rather said “Oi, excuse me sir, are you actually stealing my backpack?”. He looked at me with a “busted” look on his face and said (in English): “Oh… sorry, sorry, sorry” as he handed the backpack back to me. He then stepped away slowly, still apologising on his way away.
We were flabbergasted! First, that none of us had felt or seen him. Second, that he was this well dressed good looking man who you’d never imagine would go around stealing gringos bags. He was so well educated too, not only that he apologised for trying to steal my bag, but he even did it in English! Third, that we were all so slow in reacting. Fourth, that he reacted that way when caught red handed, as opposed to just taking the bag and running. Upon analysing we realised that was the smartest thing to do on his side, as the bus terminal was studded with policemen who had their hand on their guns at all times. Had he run he would have attracted too much attention and would have surely gotten caught. Fifth, that we, and especially I, could continue to be so careless even after the theft episode on Ipanema beach in Rio. Sixth, that my reaction was so calm and composed, as if I were tranquilised. It was the strangest experience and we were so grateful once more that it did not turn out much worse (having your passport stolen two days before you’re about to exit the country is anything but fun).
The 60 hour bus ride to the West
Soon after, we boarded what was going to be our home for the next 60 hours. We could not believe it! It was one of the most basic buses we had been on for an overnight ride – not only that the TV was not working, but the chairs didn’t even have leg rests! Plus, it was packed. We wondered how we’d survive the 2 days and 3 nights trip to the other side of the country.
It was 7pm when we started the trip, and the first night passed uneventfully. The second day came and it became fascinating to observe the changes every time we stopped on the way. The more we moved East, the cheaper things became, and also the less luxurious the facilities were. We went from squeeky clean bathrooms with hot showers the first day (3 Reais for using the showers and 1.5 for the toilet) to free yet dodgy toilets that not only didn’t have showers, soap or toilet paper, but barely had enough water to be cleaned themselves.
The eating places changed a lot as well, from fancy buffes at 40 Reais/kg to basic restaurants where the buffes were 25Reais/kg. We were elated to be able to eat feijao every dinner, as we wanted to have as much of our favorite food as possible before leaving Brazil.
The bus never stopped being crowded, as even when people got off, others would get on and take their places. We spent 3 nights and 2 days on that bus and the only night we each had 2 seats to sleep on was the last one. Better than none, we thought. Even though this was supposed to be a direct bus, we ended up being woken up twice in the middle of the night to change buses. It was great fun being shaken awake by the bus driver at 4am and sent to wait outside for the other bus that would be there “in just a few minutes”. Fifty minutes and 2 carrots later we’d get our sleepy selves back on the new bus, thankful for another good night sleep.
Or we’d be awakened at 7am by an excited passenger: “Take your camera! We’re crossing the river”. So we’d get out of the bus and drag our feet to the ferry that would take us across the bridgeless river. Not that we ever understood what was so exciting that would require a foto camera, but anyway…
That was how we made it to Rio Branco on the morning of the 29th, 5 hours later than we were supposed to and hence one hour too late for the bus that was to take us to Puerto Maldonado. We’d now have to find another way to get there…
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