Move Over, Stella: I Went to Rio and Fell In Love for 24 Hours
Brazil had always been on my bucket list. It has the largest population of Black people outside of the continent, and like most folk of Afro-Caribbean descent I know, I wanted to go. I’d traveled through Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America, and always teetered around the idea of visiting South America then would never commit—until I did. And once I did, I knew I didn’t want to embark on that journey alone. I needed my girls. I lived in three countries all by myself, traveled solo for work and play but Brazil was on a whole different stratosphere. From Sao Paulo’s pulsing art scene and Rio’s infamous Copacabana beach, to Bahia, the birthplace of Samba and the country’s epicenter of Afro-Brazilian culture, Brazil is a globetrotter’s dream. The ladies agreed.
In 2015, getting to the country was expensive. A roundtrip ticket during high season would run you upwards of $1,000 plus the $160 visa fee and a few visits to the Consulate Generals’ headquarters on 41st Street in NYC. Today, Americans interested in traveling to Brazil can apply online for an e-visa for a measly $40. Although Bahia’s vibrant culture was appealing, we settled on Rio with a possible stop in Salvador at the tail end of our trip. We never made it because I instantly fell in love.
Now, before I reveal the details of my 24-hour love story, let’s clear the air. First, I did not travel to Rio looking for love. I had actually just started dating the guy that I now have a beautiful baby boy with, but we weren’t exclusive so the impossible was actually possible. Next, I don’t speak Portuguese, and even when I tried (y’all, I really tried), I failed. Finally, I’m a cryptic Scorpio. Falling in love is way too complex of an emotion to happen in 24 hours. Scorpios invest time in penetrating below the surface. It takes 72 hours minimum to determine if we really even like you. Love at first sight, eh, that’s a stretch.
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We were stepping through Rio like we owned the city. We took obligatory photos in front of Christ The Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, brunched in the affluent Jardim Botanico, connected with locals through Visit.org to tour Santa Marta Favela and Tijuca Forest, rocked Brazilian Bikinis on Copacabana and Impanema beach, and after dark, we hit the streets. Dance culture is huge in Brazil and me and my girls love to twirl. We observed the way the locals moved the first few nights on the scene. Line dances similar in choreography to the Cupid Shuffle and the Electric Slide were popular in the clubs in Rio. We studied the footwork and learned the moves, so when we showed up to the Pedro do Sal, Monday night, roda de samba street party, we were ready. And that’s where I met him.
“Met, that man keeps staring at you,” my homegirl said as we were moving through the crowd. “What man?” I said. The indigenous brown boys were the only flavor I was interested in. “That cutie right there,” she gestured with her entire face. We both laughed. She was so obvious. He was watching us. He had a beautiful smile. My hair was neatly braided in cornrows. I was wearing oversized, high-waist khakis with a crotchet crop top, chandelier earrings and a bold lip. I looked good. He had on a dark, short-sleeved collar shirt, fitted jeans and black leather sandals. His goatee was groomed, baldhead freshly shaved, and as he made his way over to where my girl and I were standing, surprisingly, I got nervous. He was gorgeous. “Ola, bonita,” he said with a thick accent. “Ola,” I replied. “Posso comprar uma cerveja,” he asked, never taking his eyes off of my eyes. “ He wants to buy you a beer,” my girl interjected. I was holding an empty Bohemi bottle. She was my translator. She spoke and understood enough Portuguese to get us by. “Voce fala Portuguese?” he asked. “No,” I said. “Tudo bem,” he replied. He gestured for me to stay put, walked away and came back with three beers. He spoke to me in a distinctive dialect — the sound was different from what my ear had grown used to. I managed to ask, “de onde voce e?” “Para o norte,” he replied. “Bahia.” “Ahh, Bahia!” I said. Our connection was kismet.
We danced on the streets of a former slave market, struggling to communicate verbally—the unspoken language we shared was part of the magic. I learned that he was a musician. He played guitar for a popular band that traveled through Brazil, which means he probably met and fell in love with beautiful women every other night. I didn’t care. This was my moment. I whispered to my homegirl, “I’ll be back in a few. Don’t leave me,” and rode off on his motorcycle into the night. I listened to my gut. If I didn’t, I would probably never know what it feels like to be in love for 24 hours.