“Don’t worry about anything babe… Imma do it all. You just have to show up with your bags. That’s my gift.”
I couldn’t afford a real gift.
So I was organising our honeymoon in Brazil, and wanted a huge adventure, with plans to visit Sao Paulo, Rio, Salvador, Recife, and the Amazon. We were gonna strap on rucksacks, and put up tents, and dance in market squares and sleep on mountain tops, and get lost on purpose. Guidebooks were purchased. Maps marked. Highlights researched. Routes planned. Transport options explored.
Then I remembered. I suck at geography.
And calculated that my plan would have taken approximately 3 months, a Sherpa, and me selling an important organ to finance the entire escapade. (#fyi ....Brazil is seriously massive you guys.)
So… mission duly aborted, I went online to Responsible Travel instead, a travel company that connects you to ethical ways of exploring the globe. They organize volunteering holidays, but if you decide that slinging elephant dung at a sanctuary in Thailand does not exactly scream romantic escape, you can also use their site to create an Earth-conscious vacation. You’ll get booked at small locally-owned properties, restaurants, and tour companies instead of huge mega international chains to make up for all the pollution you spent getting to your remote destination. #ecoguilt
I found a company called Anteater Travel that had a set tour of Brazil’s Bahia region, with private transport between the three unique areas we’d visit – the bustling and cultural city of Salvador; Lencois, a small town in the middle of Chapada Diamantina National Park; and Boipeba, a remote island off the eastern coast of Brazil. In each area we’d have an English-speaking local guide and charming accommodation. Done.
Using a travel outfit versus going it alone is more expensive, so instead of three weeks of schlepping through Brazilian cities with less than basic Portuguese and a high chance of being robbed and left for dead… we’d have two weeks of something less likely to lead to the end of our new marriage.
We flew from Bermuda to Miami to Sao Paulo to Salvador. 18 hours. I must have been asleep, drunk, horrified or a combination of all three because I don’t recall one single thing from that journey.
In Salvador, we walked out into the arrival terminal and I looked for a man wearing a polo shirt with the Anteater logo and carrying a sign with our name on it.
But there was nary a soul fitting such a description.
We walked around the airport, and didn’t see a tour desk, chauffeur, errant flyer. Nothing. Right then, my heart started pounding. Dueane asks, ‘Where did they say they would be?’
‘Right here I guess…’
We wait. And wait. Finally Dueane, forcing gentleness into his voice, suggests I call them, and I mumble quietly that I don’t have the number.
‘I don’t have a number. I didn’t print anything off. I assumed they’d just be here.’
Dueane’s face looks pained. I feel extraordinarily small and stupid. Who flies around the world and doesn’t bring any paperwork?
‘Oh! But they emailed me so I can just call my office and ask Danielle to look in my computer.’ Thanks to magic miracles of gravity, planetary science and longitude, Bermuda and Salvador are at the exact same time zone. Dueane gives me his cell phone.
“Good Morning, Centre on Philanthropy.”
“Hi Danielle, it’s Kristin.”
“Hi! Wait. I thought you flew out yesterday.”
“Yeah, I’m in Brazil. Listen, I’m an idiot and I forgot to bring the number for the tour company that’s picking us up and they’re not here, so I’m freaking out a bit. Can you look into my computer and check my email? My password is philanthropy, capital P, and then the number 1. The email would be from Anteater Travel.”
Danielle is chuckling and I can imagine her shaking her head. “Girl you are something else. Hold on.”
After a few long minutes of keyboard clacking, Danielle finds the email and gives me the number. I thank her, hang up, and dial. It rings. Keeps ringing. Then goes to voicemail where a long recording gives us detailed instructions…in Portuguese. We make out a couple of words…and by ‘a couple’ I mean ‘hello’ and that’s all. (Damn you unopened box of Rosetta Stone.) I hand Dueane back his phone silently and we sit down.
In the airport, there is a beautiful girl sitting behind a counter with a sign above declaring “Informação/Information”. After a few minutes I say to Dueane, “I think we can ask her for information.”
He stares at me.
“Right, okay, so I’ll go and ask her to dial and she can tell us what the voicemail is saying.”
He sighs but grabs our rucksacks and accompanies me to Informação.
“Hello there. Hi. Bom Dia. We thought our tour company would meet us here, Anteater Travel, do you know it? No? Okay, well this is their number but when I dial it, it goes to voicemail and the lady is speaking Portuguese and we don’t speak Portuguese. Clearly. So could you listen to it and tell us what she's saying?”
“Sure. I can do that,” she responds in a heavily accented English.
“Oh brilliant, thank you so much.”
She takes the scrap of paper where I’ve scribbled down the number and dials it from her desk phone. I can hear the ringing and then the muffled voice when it clicks over to voicemail. She listens, then hangs up, and hands me back the paper, saying, “It’s not real.”
“I’m sorry what?”
She repeats herself, “It’s not real.”
A few years before, my friends from college and I made plans to meet up in New York. We were going to have a fun weekend reconnecting and exploring the city. Masha is from New York and had moved back after university. Tracy and I had also gone home, she to Toronto, and me to Bermuda. Mike is from Newfoundland, but randomly was living in Costa Rica. It was going to be his first time in New York and so was super excited to make all the plans. I suggested using the Vacation Rentals website to find a place to stay – I’d already used it several times - but Mike said he’d found some great deals on Craig’s List. #youknowwhatscoming
Cut to us arriving in NYC, having paid money to someone who exists but whose apartment does not. We ended up squeezing into Masha’s little studio she shared with her agoraphobic and unfriendly boyfriend, until we found a place on Vacation Rentals that we could afford with what we were able to scrape together.
All of this flashed through my head while I’m staring at this beautiful woman whose arm is still outstretched, waiting for me to take the scrap of paper with a fake number out of her hand. Waiting for me to take this paper and then have no choice but turn to my husband of three days and say that I’d spent thousands of dollars on a fake honeymoon and we were stranded.
The blood is draining from my face and I feel lightheaded. “It’s not real?”
She briefly shakes her head, “No it’s not real.”
Dueane is nodding along with her, ridiculously calm considering we’ve just been told the earth is on fire and zombies are about to attack us all.
I get tears in my eyes, and can’t even look at him. “Babe, I… I don’t know what to say… I don’t know… I used that website, and I emailed with these people like a hundred times, like every day. I don’t understand how it can’t be real. This is insane. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what we are going to do. I don’t know… ”
Dueane starts giggling and hugging me. “What?? No. She’s saying ‘It’s not Rio’. De Janeiro.”
Beautiful lady chimes in, “Yes. Their office is not in Rio. It is in Salvador. Offices open later there, at say 10. We will try again in another 15 minutes.”
“I… oh…. Umm… but did it say Anteater Travel on the message?”
Fifteen minutes later we call the number and speak to a rep that is completely confused by my confusion.
“But Ms. White, we sent all of the itinerary information and instructions to your email. Did you not get it?”
Sigh. “I don’t have it.”
He directs us to a shuttle bus at the end of the terminal, which takes us to the tiniest plane in the world, which flies us to a large goat farm, where we get on a horse drawn cart that crosses a field to a boat, which trundles over to a small remote island where there are no cars at all so a muscly young man comes and loads our rucksacks into a wheelbarrow and we follow him as he pushes it down a long white sandy beach to our private cabana with a thatched roof, outdoor stone shower, a view of the sunset and bowl of fresh local fruit.
I look at Dueane who has the same disbelieving smile on his face as me and say, “It’s not real.”