Rio+20 – Day 1: Getting Here

Olá!

Hello, from Rio de Janeiro, or more specifically, hello from a hotel room in Rio de Janeiro! While it hasn’t been my first full day here in the city, so much has already happened, from the moment I got onto my plane in Chicago to right now, where I am sitting on a comfy bed, typing on my laptop. I am in fact safe and sound, all limbs accounted for and a mixture of nervousness and excitement for the days to come.

This is the first time I’ve traveled by myself to somewhere so far from my home. I didn’t really know what to expect, but one thing was for certain, it would be a new experience for me. So when I typed in my booking code at the kiosk in the airport and received a “Your Itinerary has changed” message on the screen, I didn’t think much of it. But I should have started questioning things when I realized that A) I only had 35 min. to get off my Chicago->Sao Paolo flight, pass through customs, and get to my Sao Paolo->Rio de Janeiro flight and B) when the lady who handed me my boarding passes said “It doesn’t seem like anything has changed on your itinerary.” Well, after a pleasant 10 hour plane ride to Sao Paolo (which consisted of me sleeping through most of the flight) I got off the plane knowing that I would miss my flight, seeing as my first flight had left 20 min. later than intended. It didn’t seem to matter though, as we soon learned that our flight to Rio had actually been canceled. The middle-aged woman sitting next to me on the Chicago flight was in the same boat as me, so we decided to stick together and hit it off quite nicely. Her name was Nettie, and she was from Saskatchewan, Canada. It turns out that she was here not only for the official UN summit, but also something called the People’s Summit, which turns out to be a parallel event much like the UN summit. But unlike the UN Summit which consists of politicians, the People’s Summit consists of farm workers, social organizers and the like. Nettie was there to give a talk on Food Sovereignty, it even turns out that she had given a speech at Cornell once, and now works with someone from there. I later learned that Nettie was actually staying in a school, with mattresses being placed in the gymnasium. I was quite surprised and gained even more respect for my new-found travel friend, considering the fact that she was wearing a sling on her left arm.

After Nettie got her check-in luggage and I exchanged a bit of my US dollars for Brazilians Reales, we went off in search of the United Airlines counter so we could get our boarding passes exchanged for the next available flight. With a little help from a Portuguese-speaker, we were able to locate the United Airlines Office in the airport, followed by the large line of people waiting to be serviced. After a period of time that felt like hours, we were finally called. It appeared that the flight agents were considering sending all the people who were going to Rio on an hour-long bus ride to a ‘nearby’ airport and taking a plane from there, but thankfully they realized it would not be practical. So they gave Nettie and I our ticket vouchers for the next available flight to Rio, along with a meal voucher so we could enjoy a nice lunch, courtesy of United.

But our troubles were not over yet. After we finished our lunch and received our new tickets for our flight to Rio, we noticed that our tickets said ‘Gate 15’ while the large electronic board on the walls listed our flight as ‘Gate 21A’. Well, we trusted the tickets and sat by Gate 15 waiting to be boarded, I even asked the lady behind the counter if this was the correct gate, and she reassured me. But by the time the boarding time came, nothing happened. Another man going to Rio suggested we head to Gate 21A to check, which we did and found many more people waiting for the plane to Rio. After even more talking and deliberating with the Airport folks, we discovered that the plane leaving for Rio was not at Gate 15, OR Gate 21A, it was in fact, at Gate 17A. One can pretty much envision what happened then, a mass exodus of travelers going to Gate 17A and forming a huge line. We were put onto busses and sent to the plane, where, after 4.5 hours (but it seemed much longer) we found ourselves on the right plane to Rio.

Passed by this neat looking bridge as well.

Finally, I reached Rio. I said my goodbyes to Nettie and I took a taxi to my hotel. I even caught a brief glimpse of the silhouette of Corcovado, or as many know it, “The large Jesus statue.” One thing I did notice was that Rio is a lot…bigger than I expected. Sure it’s the second largest city in Brazil, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so sprawling. Buildings cover so much of the hills in between the large mountain ranges and the sea. It was nice to finally reach my destination, and I started settling in, unpacking my clothes and reviewing my schedule for the next four days. It turns out I am the first Future Influencer to arrive in Rio, as Kali – who was supposed to arrive before me – experienced a canceled flight due to weather and Rashiq would not arrive until later that night.

So I found myself as the only person who would be attending the dinner with Christian, our contact from Siemens for the first two days of my trip. I met Christian in the lobby of the hotel, where he handed me the three iPads that the Future Influencers would be using to blog on-location. I’ve barely touched mine, mostly because I’m completely illiterate when it comes to working Apple products (it took me a good 10 minutes before I figured out how to turn the iPad off). The restaurant we went to was a Churrascaria. Bascially a Churrascaria is a Brazilian Steakhouse, but instead of ordering your meals, you sit at the table and the servers come to you, carrying a wide variety of prepared meats on long metal rods, ready to cut you a hardy slice and place it on your plate. I have to say I have never seen so many different kinds of meat in one place, and the waiters would not stop slicing pieces for me. It took some effort before the waiters realized that I was indeed turning down some meats in favor of finishing the ones still on my plate. I can’t tell you all the different kinds we ate, but they were all tasty. Additionally, the restaurant had a salad bar and even a sushi bar, but I only managed to get myself some salad, just so I could somewhat balance out the vast amount of protein I was consuming.

While enjoying our variety of meats, Christian and I talked about many subjects. Although he lives in Germany now, he spent a few years in the US and we discussed a lot about how other countries view the US which certainly an interesting topic, especially since I had never heard how people outside the US viewed the US and it’s ideas. We also discussed the things you’d expect to talk about at Rio+20, such as sustainability and the city. It turns out that Christian also visited Cornell once for a job interview; it’s funny how the two people I’ve met so far have connections what Cornell. Turns out Christian works as a Speech-writer, an occupation that I had briefly considered myself (judging by my writing, I’m sure you are just as glad as I am that I did not pursue that). He mostly writes speeches for the CEO of Siemens, which must be interesting, crafting the words that come out of someone’s mouth.

After about an hour and half, we called for the check, and I am now here, in my hotel room, typing away, finishing my very first blog post in Rio. I can hear the sound of a shower running that’s coming from my bathroom, but every time I look I see no water leaking. It turns out it’s not ghosts, just the sound of some neighbor using his/her shower. I know it doesn’t seem like much has happened (and really, not much has in terms of our schedule as Future Influencers) but I can definitely say I’ve been exposed to a lot of new things, a new culture, language (I know some Spanish, which helps, but the main Portuguese word I’ve been using is Obrigado), city, ideas, everything I hoped of experiencing and a lot more. It’s safe to say that I’m definitely out of my comfort zone (ah ha, play on words), but in a good way, a way that I expected to be as one who has thrown himself into a new country. Sorry I don’t have any pictures (the ones used are from Wikipedia), I didn’t manage to take out my camera during the hectic traveling, but hopefully I’ll take some pictures in the coming days. I don’t know how busy we’ll be these next few days, but if I do have a enough time, I may venture down the street during the day and visit Copacabana beach. But for now, I’ll finish off this first blog post and look forward to writing more about my experiences.

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