The original plan had been for Elaine, my beautiful Brazilian wife, to travel to our home in NJ to celebrate my birthday. We had hoped that she would be able to clear up her business in Rio before coming to the United States. However, man plans and god laughs. The apartment she owned and wanted to rent had issues. It had to be painted. A leak repaired. So it was decided that I would come to Rio to celebrate another trip around the sun.
I was not overwhelming happy about this turn of events. I would have preferred to stay at our home with our dog and not have to travel for 10 hours by plane with the Covid 19 being spit at me by random strangers. While not exactly a terrifying prospect it was certainly enough to give me pause. But if were not me, Elaine would had to run the gauntlet. And, I am, a more experienced traveler. So I went.
The trip down was relatively easy. I washed my hands every fifteen minutes and used hand sanitizer in between. A slight exaggeration but it certainly felt that way. My sense of panic was also held in check by the fact that the airports I traversed (Newark, Miami) were relatively empty, about 1/3 of normal, and that I was also bumped to business class. I was greatly relieved on my first flight when my seat mate broke out a wipe and cleaned her area just as I had done myself a few minutes previously. The second flight from Rio to Miami I was in my only little pod and as on the first flight nary a cough was heard. But there was a large amount of hand washing and sanitizing.
Rio was gorgeous, as usual, and hot, as befits the summer and it felt good to feel the heat and the sun. However driving home we past a number of favelas (institutional slums) that are scattered throughout Rio. They are densely populated with the working poor and I couldn’t help but think and express to Elaine that if Covid 19 happen to take root there it would be all over for the city. Frankly the thought of it made me shiver. Especially considering the sorry state of public health in Brazil and the institutional corruption that seems to take place in Brazil
We didn’t stay in Rio long. Just the night. Then we packed our car and drove south to the Costa Verde and Paraty our ultimate destination. It is a stunning drive through verdant mountains of tropical forests and amazing vistas of an azure ocean. It was easy to forget the world we had come from where the only news was of pandemic, global panic and markets falling to pieces.
And even though Paraty is a tourist destination it was relatively easy to avoid crowds as many were staying away. We could eat at restaurants and maintain social distancing. We could go on a boat tour by ourselves. We washed our hands and sanitized and felt relatively safe even when we went to the beach as very few ventured there. Any edge that was left on our worry was rounded off by cold beer and the local specialty of Cachaça.
Just before we left Elaine learned from one of her Whatsap groups that American Airlines had suspended all flights from the US and Brazil. I checked on my AA app and told her friend must have heard it wrong as it was telling me we were leaving on time. Famous last words. At a rest stop where the rest rooms had no soap and hand sanitizer was employed instead my phone beeped letting me know that I needed to rebook my flight home as mine had been cancelled.
We finished our drive in comfortable silence. Both of us lost in the ramifications of my flight cancellation. What it meant globally regarding the pandemic. What it meant locally for Rio. Ultimately what it meant to us. At home in New Jersey I had been a stickler about preparedness since 9.11. We could literally go weeks without ever having to leave the house. But here in Rio, where shopping is far more likely to be a daily thing, we were not prepared.
I told Elaine that we did not need to decide right now but my vote was to abandon Brazil and fly back to US. She told me that she preferred to stay . She had things to do and bills to pay. I wanted to say to her that if she was sick or dead none of that would matter. But I held my tongue. There would be time, I thought wrongly, for that conversation.
When I arrived at our home in Barra de Tijuca I called American Airlines in the fervent hope that I could reschedule my flight and get Elaine booked as well. The very kind woman from American Airlines regretted to tell me the next flight I could book with them was May 7.