Welcome to the jungle...
As I look out across the familiar vista, my view muddied by mist and drizzle, a faint sadness washes over me. After spending nearly two weeks at Villa Leonor, soaking in this majestic view of Rio day after day, it is likely I shall never again experience this panorama. After all the interviews and filming, the friends met and departed, the futbol viewed and the nightlife consumed, I am leaving Rio. It is strange to think that I have spent more time in this city than I have ever spent abroad in a single, cumulative trip; I have come to know Rio de Janeiro better than any foreign city to which I have traveled. The pace of exploration is more relaxed when given this sort of time; your knowledge of the city somehow more justly earned. Living in a neighborhood, frequenting restaurants and bars claimed only by locals, you start to feel the true soul of a city as vibrant and rich as Rio. There are natural beauties to behold and wonders of the world to witness, but the magic and allure of Rio is truly its people.
Despite its maddening insistence on inefficiency and tendency toward flakiness, the Carioca way of life lends perspective on priorities and pace to a traveling American. Rarely have I been to a city inundated with such happy and friendly people, consumed by a carefree attitude that becomes increasingly intoxicating. For all the social, political and infrastructural problems facing Brazil, its people have a zest for life I rarely see in America. There are times when that carefree attitude makes it difficult to accomplish things that you want to accomplish, but in my estimation, that’s a small price to pay for the overall quality of life I encountered in my time here. I’m reminded of an American commercial for Cadillac in which the narrator lauds Americans for not taking a month off every summer, linking such dogged devotion to work to the ability to eventually own a Cadillac. Working hard in a career you love is beyond commendable, but as Americans I think we forget what life is really about; it’s about people, and it’s about experiences. It’s about your current friends and the ones you haven’t yet met; it’s about the times you have together at home and the unforgettable moments you experience while visiting someplace new. It is most certainly not about owning a fucking car. The Brazilians I’ve met seem to instinctually understand this. As Americans, it’s something that we have to continually fight to remember throughout our daily lives.
That, I think, will be my most lasting memory of Rio — not Christ the Redeemer or Sugar Loaf Mountain, not the Tijuca Rainforest or Copacabana Beach — it will be the people. David, Axel, Roland, Nadia, Susanna, Tom, Christian, Jerome, Spud, Julio, Sergio, Veronica, Jade, the Berkley Bunch, Tito, Isadora, Gaby, Bernardo, Felipe, Carioca, Gian… they will be my most lasting memories of this scintillating city because they’re the people that give it such heart.
Don’t get me wrong, I will cherish my memories of the picturesque views of the city and the all-night parties in Lapa; I will revel in the experiences of witnessing the World Cup live in the most football-crazed country on Earth as I drink beers on a world-famous beach. But, none of those would hold the same meaning without having experienced them with my friends.
Just today I made a new group of friends — I came across them in the airport ordering food at the same café as me. I met a couple of guys who were brothers; it turned out they were 2 of 15 people traveling together throughout Brazil for the World Cup. The Smith family et al are going to Fortaleza then moving on to Recife where I hope we’ll meet up for the USA v Germany game. We ate lunch together, played soccer together in the airport, then watched the Italy v Costa Rica game before they took off for their flight. I got to meet most of their family and pass the time together before we went our separate ways. These are the type of passing moments you learn to cherish when going on a trip like this. I might never see them again, but I got to spend a couple of awesome hours killing time in an airport halfway across the world from our homes. How cool is that?
On the plane to Manaus right now, there is a large contingency of Americans traveling for the USA v Portugal game in two days. As a group was getting on the plane, they had a portable boom box that was cranking out “Eye of the Tiger” to which almost every American in my section started singing. As silly a couple of minutes that was, it was so fun to be a part of something like this. I’ll probably never have a summer like this again: I got to work on a story that matters to me and travel to a place I’ve dreamed of going for more than half a decade. It’s likely I won’t make it to a World Cup again until my forties, if ever.
Despite my tendency to wax poetic in this post, I do believe trips like this allow me to reset my priorities and focus on parts of my life that often go neglected in the daily grind of work and school and work. It has been an amazing experience already, and I’m sure Manaus will provide adventure and camaraderie galore.