Somewhere over a storm-ravaged Curitiba in the south of Brazil…
We were a couple hours out of São Paulo when the pilot alerted us of the trouble straight ahead. Apparently he hadn’t factored in the weather when he filed his flight plan and now there was a mass of furious rage and hail in front of us and it wasn’t about to step aside for us to make our layover in Curitiba.
It’s very late, and it’s very dark. We have piles of hours behind us and we still have many left to go. It was going to be an epic night of obstacle dodging but I think we’d known that from the beginning. We were already more than thirty-six hours on the run and our bodies had not seen or felt comfort in any form over the last week. From São Paulo to San Francisco, then a drive to San Luis Obispo, Lafayette, and a flight back to São Paulo and now off to Curitiba and then Buenos Aires. By the time we were done we would have traveled roughly 25,000 kilometers, which is a little over 8 times the length of the United States, more than half way around the world. And we did it in about a week. With lay overs and a lot of driving.
This is insane.
We had left Brazil the previous Thursday for the United States, arriving early on Friday morning and driving the 4-hour suckfest down to San Luis Obispo for my brother’s graduation from Cal Poly. Say what you will about Pismo Beach and the surrounding economies fueled by former Hell’s Angels with thoughts of retirement and surfer junkies who’ve finally found their calling. Say what you will about Cal Poly as a school or San Luis Obispo as a town — putting two boys through the damn thing is an accomplishment for the parents of said boys as much as it is for the boys themselves.
So there was much to celebrate and I was damned if I was going to miss it.
The ceremony itself was a worthwhile event, better than mine in every respect. The Computer Engineering Department seems to care what people think about their school after graduation and my brother’s professors were all there, many of whom I recognized from my days. The Computer Science guys? Not so much. Still, I’m glad we went. It was nice to be in San Luis again though I felt removed from it. I guess college towns have the power to do that to you once you leave.
But shit, Sunday was another trek back north, just in time to pay the bills, feed the fish and celebrate some more. Monday morning was coming fast.
And when it did we caught the flight back to Brazil, arriving just in time for the Croatia game of the World Cup on Tuesday morning, which in another country half a world away, Brazil won, 1-0. Still got it.
But now, the darkness outside, the late hour, the many hours behind us and the others still ahead are not helping matters. Struck with fatigue, my partner-in-crime perseveres in her attempts at staying awake, still reading up on our destination at this last minute. Her attention is interrupted by the captain’s intercom, which is coming on as I type this to deliver more bad news.
When the fuel started giving way to time, the pilot soiled himself and the plane turned to the east, headed for Florianópolis and then continuing on to our layover in Asunción, Paraguay. There we were told that the layover would be longer than expected. Buenos Aires was covered in a fog so thick that people weren’t even driving on the streets.
“Nevermind landing,” said an bald mand with a briefcase and an American accent, “where can we get some food?”
The next few hours were clearly going to be long ones. We strolled around the dark terminal. It was lined with little bodegas that sold futbol jerseys, cheap jewelry and other souveniers but at 2 in the morning they were all closed, covered in thick canvas with tweed ropes tied around the bottoms.
Our stroll around that eerie place showed us that the ‘terminal’ was really just a tiny room about fifty feet by fifty feet, made larger by the labyrinthine look of the place in the dark, between all of the souvenir stands.
In any case, we saw no signs of help.
Hours passed; we waited, still in Paraguay. We alternated napping in short, unrestful bursts. Eventually we found some coffee that another airline was serving its stranded passengers. Not our airline of course, because Gol sucks a huge wang, but at least we got to partake. But still, in Paraguay, we waited. Hours passed.
A bald man with a brown leather briefcase, slacks, a short-sleeved shirt and about fifty pounds of weight he didn’t need started complaining to no one in particular that the airline should put us in a hotel. Guess where he was from? It starts with an ‘A’ and rhymes with ‘Captain America’. Yeah.
I wished he’d shut up or else spontaneously combust. Either one would have done the trick. Unfortunately, neither happened. He went to call a lawyer at one point only to find that the phone systems in the terminal at that hour don’t work. That’s a 3rd world country’s way of politely saying fuck you to loud-mouthed foreigners who can’t handle a little diversity.
Mind you, I’m not one to turn the other cheek but if I wanted a high-quality airline, I wouldn’t have flown Gol for fifty Reais. And just who would I complain to anyway? There was no one with the airline in the terminal and he was starting to sound more and more like a schizophrenic with every yelp. So we waited some more.
Let me say this, though: Fuck you, Gol, and Fuck you hard.
That’s about all I can do, short of not buying tickets from them. Fortunately TAM also had gates in that terminal and they are a little bit more humane to their customers, or as Gol prefers to call us, livestock. They must’ve done some research that found that harp music is a cheap way of calming down terminally-waiting passengers. They’d gone to the trouble of waking up their go-to harp-guy and brought in a bartender to hand out soft-drinks and coffee to anyone in the terminal. Lucky thing for Gol.
At some hour when the light was starting to come up over the horizon, they announced that we were going to give Buenos Aires another shot. In between losses of consciousness I boarded the plane, trusting it was the right one. I didn’t see a damn thing until we landed in BA.
Asunción, Paraguay – June, 2006
to be continued…