So much has happened in the past couple months that I would like to commit to writing that I’ve been putting it off, feeling overwhelmed by all of the emotions and events and decisions. But, I have a fresh, American-sized cup of coffee by my side and I’m sitting in a public-yet-comfortable chair, so I guess now is as good a time as any to try.
After two months short of two school years in Brazil, I have left for good. Three days ago I said an exasperated and overripe goodbye to Rio and all things Brazilian, and I’ve been basking in an American glow ever since. I got off the plane in Miami, ate a bagel and drank an unsweetened peach iced tea, and let out a figurative sigh. It’s refreshing to be home, as ultimately unsatisfying as this place is, for the brief time I have here before I head out again.
In a week, I will be flying to Madrid, Spain to work as an English teacher in a high school [insert cringe]. I think my students will be more like junior high age, rather than mature, heading to college age, which is intimidating, to say the least, and immensely stressful, to say the most. This is the price I pay to live abroad. However, it will be refreshing to knock about Europe again, especially with one of my oldest friends, who will be living with me there.
For the moment, I’m hardly thinking about what my life will consist of starting a week from now. I’m still too overwhelmed and content with all things home. A place where IHOP and Panera exist in abundance, where I can see my parents and sister whenever I want, where the desolate farmers’ fields and small-town, cheap shops just seem charming and familiar.
Onto the end of my time in Brazil, so I can close this bulging and expired chapter of my life. The month of August was a month of highs and lows. I went to a work conference in Sao Paulo that worked me in the art of caring less and letting go. It’s unfortunate to have to be calloused when naturally inclined to be anything but, but it’s a necessary skill to have, a muscle I flexed liberally that week.
The following week I went to Iguacu Falls for another conference, and my mood was immediately lifted. I spent it with a few good friends I’ve made this year. We made the most of our time there, sightseeing in a rushed and planned way I normally don’t like to do. We visited both the Brazilian and Argentine side of the falls, the movie Up in my head. The falls were grand, obviously, but also jungle-y, unlike oft-compared Niagara Falls. Coatis descended upon us, grabbing at our granola bars and bags. I got 11 chigger bites, a fiery, intense brand of itch I’ve never felt before and hope to never feel again.
We also visited Paraguay for a day, the India-like Ciudad del Este. I was struck by how different each country was that we visited during that trip, though they all share a border. Ciudad del Este reminded me of the movie Elysium. It was the dusty, crumbly, dangerous L.A. of that movie, the mall there being the celestial Elysium where only the rich lived. We walked around the mall for a while, ate overpriced hamburgers, sprayed French perfume on ourselves, and bought Jack and Goldschlager. Outside, it looked like a place you might have been able to buy organs on the black market, alongside chickens and knockoff Nike socks.
After returning from Iguacu Falls, I made a mental list of the things I wanted to do before leaving Brazil for good. I don’t plan on going back soon, if ever, so I had to make it count. I had been wanting to do stand up paddle boarding for the entire year, always envious of those carefree enough to paddle far into the ocean with only a board to support them, the water lapping over their feet. I have this irrational fear of the ocean. I want to be one of those people, but it’s just not in me. I will never not worry enough about sharks or jellyfish or barracuda or dolphins (yes, they can maim you too) or big fish to swim freely into the unknown. But, my last full day in Rio, I pulled up my big girl pants and did it. It was liberating and terrifying, and after a half an hour I started to think I was crazy, so I went back in, but I was proud anyway.
I had been wanting to climb one of the many climbable mountains in Rio, so a friend of mine and I finally did. We took a bus to the start of Vidigal, the favela at the base of the mountains Dois Irmaos, which overlook Ipanema beach. We took mototaxis up to the start of the trail at the top of the favela. We climbed through a person’s backyard and scrambled over a cement balance beam in order to reach the trail proper. I stopped on the balance beam for a breath and noticed a girl staring at me from the roof of her house. I waved, and she stared back, frozen and mean. The trail was embarrassingly tiring for someone as out of shape as me, but even with plentiful breaks, it only took about an hour and a half to reach the summit. The view of the Lagoa, Ipanema, and the Atlantic was stunning. We laid on the rocks, sweating and dehydrated, enjoying the view. The hikers next to us were eating pineapple that I had an animal craving for. On the way down, we had to slide on our hands and feet down parts of the trail that were slickest and steepest. We laughed nervously, feeling childish, like we were just caught playing in the mud. We jumped in the ocean afterward, and with our remaining funds split a beer on the beach.
I also visited a Salvador Dali exhibit at a cultural center in downtown Rio. Dali is one of my favorite artists, so it was a pleasure to spend some time with his work before my flight home. The center was full of public high schoolers on field trips, and I vacillated between hating them for being loud and irreverent, and being happy they were there at all to be exposed to such beautiful things. My favorite pieces there were Surrealist Composition with Invisible Figures and Memory of the Child-Woman, both dream-like and scary.
I ran into my building’s doorman as I headed out on my way to the airport. I had one enormous, broken suitcase, another smaller suitcase, and a backpack weighed down with textbooks. So, I was struggling. My doorman is this tiny person with a terrible attention span from the northeast of Brazil. He’s very friendly, and may also have an inappropriate crush on my French roommate, but that’s beside the point. I told him I was leaving, looking for a taxi, and without hesitation he grabbed my heaviest bag, the one he could easily fit into, and started rolling it down the street to a bigger street with more taxis passing. I followed him, yet again surprised by the generosity and friendliness I encountered every time I was starting to hate Brazil the most. Hauling those bags around in 95 degree weather had caused me to have a hate flare-up. I waved down a taxi, and he talked to the driver for me, something I’m still grateful for, even though I speak Portuguese. We loaded my bags into the car, and I was off, too tired to even look around one last time.