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Sidetracked in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with a friend from his past, Will misses Colombia, blissful ignorance and the blessings of magical realism. He also reads a passage from a book and doesn't find it particularly interesting. Text POD to (332) 877-9540 for friendship. Do you have a question for Will to answer on the intermission episode? Click here to submit.

Weird trivia and stuff Will wants to say

  • I made this announcement on the show but I'll reiterate it here: in what was supposed to be the week of the sixteenth episode, we're going to do an intermission week. There will still be a show, but it'll be a behind-the-scenes Q&A. If you have a question you want to be read on the show, click here to submit.
  • The book I referenced throughout this episode is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Colombian legend and definer of magical realism Gabriel García Márquez. That text will feature prominently in future episodes.
  • I wrote, recorded, produced and edited this entire episode beginning at 6pm on the Monday before its Tuesday launch. That's a new record. I hope never to break it. I decided I hated the episode that was supposed to launch in this slot. This episode is a pretty important one - it ties together the first act of the story. Couldn't have that slot not actually achieve what I needed it to.
  • You have no idea how many recordings of people snoring exist on the internet. I'm pretty sure I listened to at least one hundred before I settled on a handful.

I hear with my little ear

Show transcript

[People snoring. Then, Will's voice far away, sleepy and groggy: “Ah, shit. He forgot it.”]

I’m still in the fog of dream state, before the world is neat and tidy and logical but after that fantastical hue has diminished and fallen away. There isn’t much to that moment except the memory of dreams fading beyond grasp and leaving behind only feelings. Sensations and color palettes. But no visual aesthetic. No story. There's nothing to latch onto and so they fade into nothing.

People are snoring in something of a rhythm in this hostel dorm. Every bed is occupied and the hostel is crowded with heavyset men in brown pajamas, but the bed adjacent to mine is bare and empty, stripped down to the mattress. It seems like a lonely soul there, untouched and unwanted and surrounded by the relaxed love a man can really only ever show his mattress.

This hostel dorm is messy, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not a prime culprit. My thirty-liter black and gray Deuter backpack is cracked open on the ground, a mess of monochrome laundry spilling from its mouth on the dusty linoleum floor. And, there, right on top, is a book, its jacket bright yellows and greens but its uneven pages losing their luster.

I’m a little annoyed, honestly.  He was supposed to take it home with him.

It’s been chewing up space in my pack all these months. And my bag? It’s not a big one. And that book? It's huge.

It’s 417 pages, to be exact. I know that because I have this habit of reading the last line of a book before I read anything else. And then I was curious to know exactly how many pages of drivel my friends convinced me to take in a bag so small I found myself discarding extra t shirts and towels to conserve space. So yeah, 417 pages that could be reserved for, I dunno, three extra pairs of socks? I don’t know what the words say on the first 416 pages. But I know how it ends.

“Because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”

I sit up and drop my feet to the linoleum floor. Rub the sleep from my eyes.

And I stare past the vacant bed, silent and somber, through a window on the far side of the room. Over the powerlines where a pair of marmosets flirt and screech and chase each other, over the hill that descends from Santa Teresa and into Lapa. And I stare into the muddle of slate gray buildings sprawled out to the Atlantic though I can’t see that far on this cloudy morning.

And I watch as Rio de Janeiro shakes off its own slumber, rubs the sleep from its eyes and yawns awake.

[Theme Music Begins]

This is Baggage Claim: travel stories no one tells.

I'm Will Conway.

And hey, I have an announcement to make so at the end of the show, stick around for the closing outro. I have something to say there that's a little more important than the ordinary credits and signoff.

If you want to make friends, text POD to (332) 877-9540. That number is in the notes below.

Okay, let's get to it.

[Theme Music Ends]

[Club music, crowded bar]

It’s a busy night on the streets of Lapa. But honestly, every night is a busy night on the streets of Lapa. And shit, it’s not even night anymore. 3am hardly counts as the evening.

I step out of that club and peel the fake smile off my face and let my shoulders slouch as I rummage through my pocket for a cigarette. We’re not going anywhere. Steve’s still inside dancing like a lunatic in that way he always does, with his shoulders slumped and his chin vaulted toward the ceiling and pursed lips hinting at a sly little smile. 

He arrived here the day after I did. I flew in from Colombia last week and he showed up the next morning with a six-pack of Brahma beer under his arm.

“Been a while man,” he said. He pulled a beer from the case and handed it to me.

“Gonna be that kind of week, huh?” I said.

And it was. For eight days and eight nights we ate every coxinha and drank every Caipirinha in the whole city. We partied in Lapa and we partied in Ipanema and we partied in Copacabana and Rio partied in us both until it gave up on Wednesday, breathless and sweating.

But we didn't slow down. We just kept going.

I could see in Steve’s eyes that he didn’t really want to party. Not quite like this anyway. And he could see in mine that I was exhausted and destroyed and I didn’t really want to party either. And we’d have these long moments of silence and both of us would consider speaking until Steve remembered that this week, he was the sort of friend who was more about actions than words, more about nonverbal support and love and just being present, because the silhouette of a real friend was really all I needed after the solitude of the desert. And so whenever he sensed me about ready to speak, he’d give that sly grin in the way he does and hand me another beer and ask if we were going to the beach or to Lapa. And each night, I would smile and dance and laugh but each night, I would step outside for a cigarette and let my face droop and my shoulders slump and I would miss Colombia.

I would miss those days of blissful ignorance, of falling in love with Yudis who'd fallen in love with the world long ago of riding mopeds through pastel countryside, of six-hour park bench conversations about high-minded relationships to privilege and responsibility, of exploring the world and the inside of my own mind because neither felt like a terrifying project. And I would wish that Steve could have flown into Cartagena and seen me sweat through my first few weeks, or flown into Medellin and watched me grow a beard and grow the sort of presence of mind that only comes from months and months and months of believing in yourself.

But he flew into Rio, just hours after I shaved my beard and where I was just the crumbling remnant of the man I had been not so long ago. Where I was no different from the man I had been when he saw me last, in McGoldrick Park in Brooklyn with a cup of coffee and a plane ticket. And so he did what he knew to do and what was what I needed, which is that he flew down to Rio and packed New York City in his carry-on, and we partied until we watched the sunrise from some rooftop in Brooklyn and watched the sky transform from black to slate gray and the lights kick on in One World Trade, each night allowing us to forget our station and each early morning forcing us to remember, just for a moment.

And so now, on Steve’s last night with me, I stand outside this club with a lighter in my hand and I light that cigarette and turn back to the bar, where Steve has his hand on the shoulder of an Argentinian guy we befriended. And I realize that just a few weeks ago I could see that the world had forgotten that gift love, that Matthew 22:39 love thy neighbor, mettā loving-kindness, nirvana, enlightenment kind of love and now I couldn’t see anything of the sort because I forgot what love was altogether.

And I take a drag and decide my night is over and I leave that club. I walk down the street and pass that gas station where street vendors sling Caipirinhas and chewing gum, and I walk to where the world goes quiet and I climb that hill out of Lapa and into Santa Teresa by myself.

I climb the switchback stairs to our hostel and plunk down at a table and light another cigarette.

And then a fairly mundane thing happens in a place such as this: two travelers walk into a hostel. They wander right past me, into the foyer where Steve handed me a beer just a few days ago. And then they return and sit at a table a few yards from mine. 

They speak in French, though I’m not sure it's French at all because one looks vaguely Scandinavian and the other looks unplaceably exotic, like she’s from some combination of lands with moss-covered bricks and vines growing up the side of a Swiss Family Robinson homestead. I picture her with a bow and arrow and leather satchels and boots and maybe a bear-skin shawl. But she wears none of that. Just a black shirt and black leggings, because she’s a woman from my century from a place in my world and this isn’t a JRR Tolkien novel.

I passively watch and smoke my cigarette as Vaguely Scandinavian says something in French and nudges Unplaceably Exotic. And then Unplaceably Exotic stands and I realize she's standing to walk over to me. We make eye contact and I find myself getting lost in her eyes a little bit.

And she approaches me and asks me for a cigarette, with nothing more than a gentle accent. It’s not a particularly profound moment of any kind, except that it proves that she speaks English and it proves that she’s from this world and not Middle Earth.

[Snoring begins again]

I stare out that window over Rio and watch the sunrise from the right direction for the first time in weeks. Eventually, as the clouds burn off and the gray sky gives way to the full, bright palette of morning in South America, I sniffle and stand and shove my laundry back in my pack. And then I look at Steve’s book, the one he left behind and dressed in vibrant yellows and greens. And I turn to the last page and read again.

“Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”

“Could be a good read,” I say to no one. And I shrug.

And I leave those brown, pajama-clad snoring giants to their mattresses and that vacant lonely mattress to find a new lover and I leave that room I walk downstairs and I see that woman, still unplaceably exotic and still refusing to wear a bear-skin shawl, much to my dismay.

“Good morning,” I say.

"Good morning," she says with a smile.

[Theme Music Begins]

That was Baggage Claim: travel stories no one tells.

I'm Will Conway and I love you guys so much.

Alright one little announcement here. First of all, that episode was the end of Act 1. That might have been obvious, it might not have.

This was the thirteenth episode of Baggage Claim. After episode fifteen - so the sixteenth week - I'm going to do an intermission week. There will still be an episode that week, but it'll be a little different. I'm going to answer a few questions and explain what I'm up to. This is where you come in.

If you have any questions or you're curious about the show or just want to ask something and get my feedback, text QUESTION to (332) 877-9540 and I'll send you the link to a feedback form where you can submit that (NOTE: you're reading this on the website, so skip the text and just click here).

Anyway, I'm so excited to hear from you. This show is a blast and keeping in touch with listeners is becoming one of my favorite parts of it.

Alright friends, see you next Tuesday.

[Theme Music Ends]

Will Conway

About

Former political software guy. Now a traveler and adventurer, which isn't a job, and host of the @heybaggageclaim podcast, which really isn't either. Travel stories no one tells.