Paradise Revisited

The heat sucker punched me from behind when the flight attendant opened the door. After a minute of heavy breathing I realized how much I loved it. A day ago I had been in Oregon where it had been cold for three months — three months! — and rainy through the winter. Building a town in such Siberian conditions is a testament to man’s arrogance. When people picture hell they picture sitting on hot coals while the devil pokes them with a pitchfork for all of time and eternity, but I’ve had visions and now know that in hell — hell in the literal, biblical sense — it’s 33 degrees and raining and you have to walk a long way because the devil took all the good parking spots.

Here in Fortaleza, Brasil, it was 85 degrees and humid. Passengers in the next row fanned their faces as I soaked in paradise. The intercom blared with an unintelligible language which sounded like Portuguese and I remembered that life in a second language isn’t as easy as I had imagined when I fantasized about escaping winter.

Now I was here. Paradise. A range of mindsets hit me as I left the shopping area of the airport where everybody looked like supermodels and went to the baggage claim area, where people look like tanner versions of friends back home and speak too fast to understand. First came the excitement: I’m free!; I’m in paradise. Next came the reality: I don’t have work lined up; Portuguese isn’t English or even Spanish. Finally came the justifications: I have money saved up; I hate winter; I’m more prepared than last time.

The exchange shop offered me peanuts for the $40.00 I brought to trade, so I went upstairs to a collection of ATMs. The first two, from major banks, declined my card. I was quickly remembering the quirks of travel. The third had all the rattiness and flashy adds on the side that you would find on an ATM in front of a 7-11, but it worked. It also wanted a $7.00 withdrawal fee. With no other options, I gritted my teeth and paid the fee.

I sat in the airport, safe and air-conditioned, and thought about what came next. I remembered the hustle of Salvador, the excitement of never knowing who you would meet or how they would try to rip you off. My old instincts came back to me: Keep my phone and passport in different pockets; keep money stashed in multiple places; start haggling at half of the stated price; when a young man approaches me randomly, beware of his pickpocketing friend hovering nearby; keep both hands over my pockets.

When I got to the airport exit I stopped to think if I was forgetting something— I wasn’t — and if there was anything else I should do before leaving the safety of police officers and security cameras. There wasn’t.

Then I walked through the glass doors into a den of vipers masquerading as taxi drivers.


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