Friday 24 March 2023

Blumeanu to Amsterdam

Flying back home day. I’ve a long journey ahead of me. Which starts with packing and breakfast. Mostly in that order.

I eat the usual fat, egg, fruit combination I’ve had every other morning. That’s heathy, surely?

I realise that I’ve eaten exactly the same breakfast every day (but one). The only variables have been the number of cups of coffee and the exact composition of the fruit course. Always melon and watermelon, sometimes mango, sometimes guava. Usually three types. Does that make me a boring old git? I hope so.

My uber to Navegantes is booked for 8:15. I rise at six, just to be on the safe side. Waiting outside as the minutes count down. At just before 8, my phone tells me “No driver found.” That’s slightly annoying, given that I ordered the fucker yesterday.

Luckily, a driver is found before the appointed time. As you’d expect for a long, but quite simple, journey. Mostly on a sort of motorway.

On the last half of the journey, in a flat valley, almost all of the land seems to be on offer for development. Or already hosts a warehouse. In the empty sections, billboards distorted by the wind, kneel into the red earth.

That’s the view of the West. To the East, the hills almost brush the road with their extended fingers. And the trees bristle, flowing down towards the valley.

But I’m sitting on the passenger side and can only see easily to the West. I’ll have to make do with the light industry. And the occasional cattle farms which must have once dominated the landscape. Now pushed into corners.

It takes a little more than an hour to reach Navegantes airport. Which is delightfully small. Dumping a bag takes a few minutes, and after just a couple more I’m airside. Without even needing a pushy-in oldie person queue.

I remember the downside of the airport’s dinky size: no bloody bar. Just a snack bar that sells draught beer. The other downside is that the beer is Brahma.

It’s cold enough for me not to care. I notice there’s free wifi. I sign my phone in and start fiddling. I’ve been building up to this for years. Fiddling with my phone in public. This is how modern people live! The pure adrenaline rush of connecting to your email account, in an airport terminal. I pity those who have experienced nothing more powerful than a speedball.

Not a long flight. Scheduled at 80 minutes, but. In reality, just about an hour. As on the flight out, there’s a tiny packet of tiny cheesy puffs. And a glass of a soft drink. Barely enough to stave off dehydration.

Never been to Congonhas airport before. Coming in, it looks like it’s built on a mound inside a residential district. Right inside a residential district. The pilot jams on the brakes so hard that I have to use my hands to stop me bashing into the seat in front. Short runway, I guess.

Bag thankfully collected, I look for a taxi stand. There appear to be several.

I randomly choose one. Soon realising that only the taxis with red flanks stop here. The rest speed past to another rank 50 metres down the way. Private cars park next to a row of cones sectioning off the taxi space. And blocking taxi access, briefly. Until a uniformed bloke comes and tells them off.

The red taxis dry up. Should I move to another queue? I can’t be arsed and I have loads of time. Seven hours until my Amsterdam flight departs.

Red taxis reappear and soon mine rolls up. “Do you have a voucher?” I think the driver asks. “No.” He flicks on the taximeter. Damn. I should have got a voucher. I couldn’t see any of their stalls in the arrivals hall. Would have been better, as I could have paid by card. This looks like it’ll be cash. Of which I have exactly 205 reals (around 40 euros). Should be enough.

As we speed towards Guarulhos International . . . well, we don’t. We pull out of the airport into near-stationary traffic. Spluttering and splattering along, sometimes getting up to a decent run, often no more than a stumbling walk. Except for the mopeds that snake speedily between the lanes, beeping their horns in warning.

It’s looking very dark over Bill’s Mother’s, as my Mum used to say. Threatening grey topped by menacing black, singed silver by strikes of lightning.

We pick up speed as we cross a half-crumbled industrial neighbourhood. As the rain hits, like a full bucket thrown directly into your face. That sort of impact. Except it doesn’t stop. Whipping in capes around the lorries, spraying curtains of mist from the road, furious in its malevolent energy.

Are we safe at this speed? We’re up around 100 kph and visibility can’t be more than 50 metres. At most. With relief, I notice the rain slackening a little. Wide lakes the driver needs to dodge are more of a worry now. And the taximeter.

It already reads 140 reals. And the last signpost I spotted said 9 km to the airport. Should be OK. Though, now we’ve hit a decent lick, the reals are racking up.

I spend anxious moments searching for another signpost. When I spot the weird artificial lake with a tiny island and a single tree. I know we’re close. 170 reals on the clock. I’ll make it easily. Had I come up short, I’m not sure what I’ve had done. Because I’ve fuck all euros on me.

Bag dumping doesn’t take much time. It was a pain in the arse getting across town. But at least I didn’t have set foot in the claustrophobic mess that are the older terminals here.

There’s a bit of a queue for security. And no oldie-person cheat queue, like there was last time. I notice a woman behind me in the queue crying. Afraid she’ll miss her flight. Her boyfriend tries to get her to the head of the queue. It seems to work.

I spot Ben and another judge behind me in the queue.

“How long have you got before your flight?”

“It should have started boarding 5 minutes ago. I’ve plenty of time.”

I wouldn’t be so casual. As I have stuff to do airside. Important stuff.

Past passport control, I head immediately for the cachaca shop. This is my important stuff. I pick up a couple of bottles. Nothing crazy expensive. Just $15 and $20.

I asked about the lounge when ditching my bag. W lounge, by gate 327. Next to my flight’s gate. Which is handy.

Assuming it’s close to the other lounges, I head upstairs. It isn’t there. Then again, this is nowhere near to gate 327.

It’s quite a trek. At least it’s right by my final destination.

The lounge is tiny. Sandwiched between a couple of gates. But there’s space for me to park my arse and laptop. And the whisky measures are very generous.

The last three times I’ve been in this airport, the lounge has been a different one. What’s going on?

On my sparked-up flip-flop I light up Spirited. Will I have time to finish of series 2 before I board? Maybe. It depends on how long I spend grazing the food. And the bar.

With my phone I’m messaging the family. Making Andrew jealous and Dolores nervous with photos of whiskies and caipirinhas. While watching Spirited on my laptop. I’ve finally become what I despise most: a phone fiddler.

Dolores replies with images of snow falling. Great. I’m wearing shorts.

I tease Andrew: “Maybe I should have gone to the duty free.”

“Oh well, it doesn't matter too much.” He answers, unconvincingly. Or he doesn’t believe me.

The food is OK. Cheese, olives and some little pastry things. The warm stuff isn’t so appetising. There’s enough to occupy me for the hours I’ll be here. And fill me up. I’m not counting on eating anything much on the plane. I’m so done with KLM food.

When I get my final whisky, I notice the bottle is about half empty. It was full when I started. I haven’t noticed anyone else drinking it.

I finish with a couple of caipirinhas. A fitting way to exit Brazil. I ask the young lady to use just a little amount of sugar. “Pocinho azucar.” My Portuguese is getting so good. I can ask for the toilets, too. Important when you’re my age.

The bastards have changed the gate to 305. Right at the start of the hall. And the bloody moving walkways only run in one direction. I could do without this.

My timing is a little out and it’s 5 minutes or so before my pushy-in boarding starts.

The plane is very full. Totally full. No luxury of an empty seat next to me, as on the way out.

I watch a decent film, The Lost King, while I’m waiting to the fed. Once the horror of a half-picked meal has been taken away again, I doze off watching something or other.

Before I know it, we’re over halfway. I must have slept for at least 4 hours. Properly slept. I doze for most of the rest of the flight.

Until breakfast, some bits of which I eat. But not many.

There’s a long queue at passport control. But only for non-EU citizens. My shiny new Dutch passport whisks me through the electronic gates.

Home, and a nice cup of tea, is just a cab ride away.

24 hours from start to finish. I feel remarkably chipper, considering.

Enough to slip down to Ton Overmars for some Abt. But not enough to slip out of my shorts. I’m rather underdressed downstairs. Especially as I’m wearing my winter coat. No-one remarks on it in the shop. That’s another one of the great things about being old. You’re expected to be weird.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Some great descriptive writing there Ron about the landscape and weather on your taxi journeys to the airport, almost Steinbeckian.