Back From Brazil

Jen in Brazil

A week ago I was at home in LA writing an article on Expanding Your Comfort Zone, and today, I’m writing you on my way back from a last minute trip to Brazil.

Yes, it was for my mileage run (the final 12k miles to re-qualify for my Executive Platinum status on American Airlines) – well worth the effort I must say!  Traveling 100,000 miles a year for conferences, meetings, and speaking engagements can certainly be exhausting, but as I’m being reminded, it is up to us to enjoy the journey.  I could have easily crossed the US twice to rack up my final miles, but my wanderlust got the best of me again and I realized I was wasting a big opportunity if I didn’t take the chance to experience something new.  Brazil it was!

Over the past four days, I stole away for a long weekend in South America, a continent I’d never seen, but had always yearned to see.  I know four days sounds crazy for a trip like this, but as my aunt Joan used to tell me “at least you’ve seen it and if you like it, you can always go back.”  Not only did I see it, but I fell in love with it.

Let me paint a picture for you.  The first two days in Sao Paulo were interesting for sure.  A city of 20 million people, the population density is staggering, but not claustrophobic, as you might think.  The famed business capital of Brazil, and high-rise buildings are everywhere.  The best way I can describe it is from the most spectacular view of the city from the ultra chic Skye Bar stop of the aptly named Unique Hotel.  I’d never seen anything like it.  Once your eyes finished feasting on the striking decor of this rooftop restaurant and patio (like the sprawling lap pool lined with ruby colored venetian tiles that glowed fiery red under the lights), your eyes were drawn to the glass walls.  Looking out through this completely unobstructed view of the city, you quickly understood what made Sao Paulo so special.  Trees and greenery surrounded us in every direction, coving the most beautifully architected buildings to the scrappiest looking “favellas” (slums) in a blanket of foliage.  What really took me by surprise was the skyline – because it never ended.  In even the biggest of cosmopolitan cities, those with awe inspiring skylines – New York, Hong Kong, Sydney – the towering buildings are always clustered.  But here, they just went on and on and on.  A huge wall of densely packed structures completely circled us.  So, that’s where the 20 million people live!  Now it made sense…and felt so tangible.

With the weekend over and one day left before I had to head home and back to reality, I heard the words of friends and family ringing in my ear “you have to see Rio.”  I had no idea how I’d get there, where I’d go, or what I’d do, but at midnight the night before my last day I made up my mind.  I had to go, even if only for a few hours.  Getting the plane ticket from one of the local airlines (most of who’s staff, at best spoke broken English, and kind-of-sort-of understood my broken Spanish…thankfully close enough to Portuguese to be vaguely useful), were far more complicated than I’d ever imagined.  After hours frustrated and fumbling through the foreign airport, I managed to find a flight plan that would give me 8 hours in Rio.  A lot of hassle for a tiny window of time, but something wouldn’t let me pass up the opportunity.  Thank god I didn’t give up, because I ended up discovering my favorite place on earth.

I must first though thank my amazing tour guide Joao and my old friend Fabrizio (who happened to be in Sao Paulo) for recommending him to make the most of my precious few hours.  Also, another great friend from college, my long lost Italian buddy who checked out of the high paced NY life and disappeared to South American many years ago, for racing me around the city, and filling me in on all the salacious details to get the sweetest possible first taste of this mecca.

Rio de Janeiro is breathtaking.  It’s like a cross between Tahiti, Miami, Honolulu, Hong Kong, the south of Spain, and what I’d imagine Kauala Lampur to be like, all in one, and dripping with that relaxed yet spicy Latin culture.  Flying in, around the iconic mountain top statue of Christo (Christ) hovering high above the Brazilian people was nothing compared to seeing it up close.  I’m not sure if it’s one of the 7 wonders of the world, but it should be.

Copacabana, Ipanema and LeBland beaches were everything the stories, songs and movies always said they’d be, and more.  But the pinnacle of the trip, and the most breathtaking view I’ve ever seen in my life was from the top of Sugarloaf mountain.  After two cable cars way way up, my Italian friend and I spent hours staring mesmerized at the city, the numerous beaches carved out of the land into little nooks, and all the cafes and restaurants and hotels that lined the ocean.  The topography was like nothing you’ve ever seen, dotting the ocean with plush green islands whose towering jagged hills, crashed into the gentle waves.  Every few minutes, a powerful brightly lit jet plane would appear out in the distance through the mountain range and curve around the bend gliding into it’s final approach, then skillfully nestle into the tiny airstrip which is the Santos airport in downtown Rio.  It was like watching a strapping professional dancer gracefully make an approach from off stage to his partner, and in one swift move, snatch her up into his arms as if there was no where else she belonged.

As the sun set and the clock was ticking before I had to race to the airport for my long trip home, you couldn’t have torn me away from the view for anything in the world.  I just kept thinking, this is the last thing I want to see before I die.  I didn’t want to leave.  I couldn’t imagine leaving.  It was like having to wake up to reality from the most wonderful of dreams.  I don’t know if anything will ever compete with sunset in Rio de Janeiro.

So, here I am, back on my computer, tucked into my plane seat in the most familiar of places in the world for me yet again, and I just have to pinch myself.  Another 100,000 miles flown, another year almost gone, another mileage run adventure logged in my passport and emblazoned in my head with the precious of memories, and I’m still amazed I flew all the way to Brazil for the weekend!  But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.  My comfort zone was definitely stretched a bit on this one, but as in so many cases, it reminded me just how much what lies beyond our own world can be so staggeringly wonderful and life changing…if we give it a chance.