“Greatness is a road leading towards the unknown” - Charles de Gaulle
This morning I woke up and didn’t take a shower. I wolfed down a breakfast of papaya and toast and put a bathing suit and disposable camera in a backpack. At 9:27, I walked down the driveway for the 9:30 bus. It was time to find the beach!
Living in New York I adapted the attitude that any town can be a beach town when free transfer is available by using your metro card, and after 2 weeks in the close but faraway city of Petropolis, it was time to discover my truth.
I have been developing a warm familiarity with Petropolis, the bus stops, the book store, the cathedral, the little middle-eastern food store where you can buy tumeric by the bucket. But Rio looms still. Outside one very small island in Barra, the entire city is squarely in the realm of the unfamiliar.
Then again, this is a wonderful attitude to take towards any place. Do you ever really know all its secrets?
Practically speaking though, I don’t even know the bus schedules to Rio, so I had to learn. I waited 30 minutes at the wrong stop in Petropolis before asking for help. I could barely be understood with the few words of portiguese I have learned and the heavy, clumsy accent I use them with, but one woman understood enough that I was in the wrong place. She wasn’t going in the same direction but translated my own word ask to an entire explanation to her friend, who took me wrist to the correct bus station, found the driver, and told him to make sure I got off at the bus station.
I had been to the bus station once before and had enough of an idea of my station in Rio to buy the ticket. I tried to map the directions to where I wanted to go from there, but it felt unclear. A business type with a laptop was seated next to my on the bus. So I asked for advice in English! And it turns out, all I had to do was stay on the bus for one more stop (which was permissible).
The barrio this redirected me to was much less intimidating than the northern station that I knew of. I saw someone pass with a Starbucks cup and I treated myself to the slice of home everyone thinks Coca-Cola or McDonald’s is to the American abroad. I even was given my Brazilian name - “Um Sara” - “Marcela :)”
I asked the armed guard helping empty the money from the ticket machine the train to take to I-panema, and his confused look caused me to adjust my pronunciation to E-panema until I got it right. It was just one Subway train, from the station around the corner, I needed to take the beach. Pas mal!
Just one more question to the ticket sellers and I was on my way. Because I’m coming from New York, and internationally all metros are based on the OG New York system, it’s hard for me to mess up this part unless I’m not paying attention (which could happen anywhere).
At the subway station, signs with little surfers on single fin boards pointed to the Ipanema Beach exit. All kinds of other things happened to be attacking my brain that morning, but when I saw these little signs, I smiled and relaxed. You have to be happy, you found the beach!
And when I ascended, the horizon guided the short walk from the city to the sea.
And what a beautiful beach it was! Misty blue skies, pillars of rock and otherworldly islands in the distance, the soft mountains that Rio’s most famous views- Sugar Loaf and Cristo- are made of, enclosing a beach of soft white sand.
My eyes scanned to the end of the beach. A rock jetty with waves breaking left and an an overcrowded line up. Something inside me, shaped from 1,000 hours at Rockaway beach, felt so at home.
I popped up to a tent to rent a board and a lesson. Even though, when I learned to catch my own waves and made my own friends surfing I stopped taking lessons a long time ago, I always take a lesson surfing at a new beach. I’m not that advanced! I think it’s a nice bridge into a new line up, and very practically, you need to know where the rips are and what to look out for in the water.
But anyway, back to the point that I’m not so advanced. The surf school didn’t want to take me out until the waves were smaller, so even though I felt like I could make it, I accepted this and asked them to watch my stuff while I played in the waves, no board or lesson, just me.
(Film Photos forthcoming)