Learn from Experience: Life in transit and why I’ll never understand domestic flights in Brazil

So right now I’m sitting on a plane headed back to São Paulo from Salvador.  In the past three weeks I completed a somewhat exhausting series of travels on regional buses, Duke Energy vans, and airplanes.  It went something like this:  São Paulo -> Chavantes -> São Paulo -> Resende -> Rio -> and now back to São Paulo for my last week in Brazil!  Wow, the time goes.

Anyways, with all of this traveling, I came across some interesting tips, shocking observations, and funny experiences.

Domestic flights in Brazil

The first one I’ll tackle is the one that just occurred—domestic flights in Brazil.  For anyone who has flown in the United States, they will be shocked at how simple it is to board the plane.  It’s almost like getting on a bus, except you have to take a couple minutes to print out your ticket and walk through a metal detector (after three flights now, I have yet to encounter a line).  Passengers for flights in the U.S. are subject to much stricter travel regulations (for obvious reasons), and my memories of domestic U.S. flights invoke images of waiting in long lines and in each long line there is always that guy who didn’t shower and an ornery baby.  No one has discovered the true cause as to why ornery babies and a singular unbathed man gravitate to ticket and security lines, but they do.

The ease of boarding played much to my advantage today, because another surprising incident that occurred today.  In Salvador, there was recently an hour time change to account for the summer time.  I was well aware of this, however it never occurred to me that this would affect the departure time of my flight.  There is something terribly, terribly wrong with having a flight confirmation physically printed out in your hand with a departure time of “10:33” listed, and then to find out that due to the summertime change, the flight actually departs at 9:33, and will be boarding in two minutes.  Fortunately, it only takes two minutes to walk through the metal detector.

Another observation that occurred to me was the hidden advantage of the automated check-in process versus talking to someone at the desk.  Maybe I have just been lucky, but it seems to me that nobody seems to care about luggage requirements except for the person at the desk (who can easily be avoided via the automated check-in process).  Unfortunately, because of my accidental late arrival to the airport, I ended up dealing with this guy anyway.

Why buses are terrifying

During my time here, I’ve had the opportunity to ride a wide variety of buses: regional buses, city buses, airport buses, tourist buses, etc.  The problem I have with buses, is that they are not trains.  By this, I mean that there is no friendly female voice saying “Next stop ____.  Mind the gap between platform and train.”  Next to Siri, this might be the most helpful robotic voice ever.  In fact, buses don’t really have much of anything to inform you as to where you are going.  When riding a bus, you have several choices:  Look at the sign on the front of the bus displaying the end destination.  Sometimes stops in between are written on the side of the bus, but this isn’t a given.  Go online to a transportation route or google maps and find the bus number and route.  This is useful to an extent, but still leaves you dependent upon asking others for help, because you cannot rely on counting bus stops (sometimes the bus driver will let passengers off at request).  In fact, the only real way to manage a bus in the city is to either know you are going to the end station (which rarely happens), or to ask someone for help.  Fortunately, the bus driver is generally incredibly helpful, and I implore any future bus travelers to utilize their helpfulness.  Requesting help can range anywhere from a grammatically perfect question in Portuguese to grunting and pointing at a sheet of paper—whatever works!

*I would also say that Curitiba stands as an exception in that the bus system was very well organized and intuitive (with most stops marked clearly).  Rio was also a bit easier to navigate, but mainly because the city has so many distinct features, it is much easier to get one’s bearings as opposed to a giant metropolis like São Paulo.

I had to utilize a combination of grunting and Portuguese this morning while catching the bus to the airport.  I had just said farewell to my friend Marcela (who was nice enough to host me in Salvador), and was waiting for a red bus with “aeroporto” written across the top, when a white bus with aeroporto came by.  Frantic and nervous about passing up this opportunity, I asked the guy if the bus went to the airport (it says aeroporto, of course it does).  With a sigh of relief I sat down, and for R$3,00 (or about $1.50) I began a one hour bus ride along the coast and back to the airport.  However, if you are OCD like me, you will never be quite satisfied by buses (once again, because they aren’t trains).  The bus was weaving its way into the heart of city and back along the coast.  After about 45 minutes of this, I began to have shades of doubt.  The bus was, after all, white and not red.  And why did the bus ignore the main highway to travel along a gravel road lined by a favela?  I tried to reassure myself by looking at the highway signs for “aeroporto” that periodically showed up—confirming my belief that we were headed in the right direction.  This fear and anxiety continued as we darted on and off the highway, sometimes abiding by the aeroporto highway signs and sometimes ignoring them completely.  Fortunately, all of this worry was for naught, and I ended up safely at the airport.

After all of these hectic travels, however, I think it is important to try and learn from the Brazilian way of traveling, which must be something along the lines of this: Relax.  There will always be another bus, train, or airplane.  One more week(!), and starting to regret booking that 6 am flight out of Guarulhos (São Paulo’s international airport/furthest away airport) to Buenos Aires.

Até mais,

P.S.  I promise to upload photos once I’m finally settled into my new home (hostel) for the week!

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