IM Brazil: The Adventure Hasn’t Ended Yet

I have found that international Ironmans often don’t end after the race. Sometimes, it is an Ironman quality effort to get home afterwards, and Brazil was no exception. I think the whole country’s national pasttime is waiting in lines. Unfortunately, it means that all your 21st century sensibilities on how much time you need to do something are thrown off completely.
I get up on Tuesday morning and see Keish and Scott off. They are on an earlier flight out of Floripa to Sao Paolo and will catch different flights back to their homes.
I take a nap and bum around the hotel all afternoon until my shuttle at 6pm to Floripa airport. My flight is at 810p; I tried to get on the earlier flight out but could not. Apparently another flight was cancelled and everyone was piled onto the afternoon flight and my flight. Thus began my troubles in getting back to SF.
We boarded the 6pm bus to Floripa airport. Somehow planning doesn’t work too well in Brazil at all. It starts with the fact that a whole bunch of Ironman athletes are traveling with our bikes and have extra big bike boxes. They find another van and load it to the brim with bike boxes and suitcases. Then, we’re off and hit traffic. When we slowed to a crawl, I knew we were in trouble. Back at the EST desk, they insist that there is enough time to get on the plane if we leave at 6pm. I should have known better.

Bike boxes in the aisle on our bus

Packed in like sardines

First we hit traffic which just made us late to the airport. We had about an hour to get our luggage and ourselves checked in and knowing TAM counter lines, this would be impossible. As we pull up to the lines, we see they are long and see how slow they are moving. They have an assigned line for our flight but only one person working the counter, and that person is moving in slow motion and the line isn’t moving at all. As the time nears for the plane to depart, they assign 2 more people to help us get moving. But hey guys, it’s a bit late to be trying to move the line a little faster. So what do they do? They basically hold the plane up until the line for the flight has emptied out at the counter. What a system. They also knew we weren’t going to make our Sao Paolo connection to Miami that night, so they booked us on another flight the next morning and we’re sunk, knowing we’ll have to spend the night in Sao Paolo. The damn line caused us to leave an hour later than normal and we get into Sao Paolo just as the plane for Miami was leaving.

Waiting, waiting, waiting

Just long lines and a big mess at TAM

A TAM person who barely spoke english held us all there and directed us to go upstairs to the check-in counter and get our hotel vouchers. Another guy had actually gotten to the airport early just so he could get through the check-in line and get on the plane faster still could not make that connection to Miami.
It’s close to 11pm now and there are about 10 of us all trying to get to Miami, and we all walk upstairs to get our vouchers. While we’re up there, we complain and they help us book new flights in the US as we’ve missed all those connections as well. This takes forever. It seems that the computer systems barely work at all. We sit there at the counter and wait.
I call Abby at EST and try to get her help. Good thing my mobile works there so she suggests emailing their travel service in Rio to help out. I tell her we’ll try if/when we get an internet connection.
But waiting wasn’t so bad in some respects. We are there with Hillary Biscay and Nina Kraft and I introduced myself to both of them and chatted with them while we sat there waiting for them to finish up. This is the cool thing about Ironman; so many of the pros are such great people and they are very easy going and will talk to you. We chat about where we live, how the race went, etc. I also find out more about how they train and race, and their training and recovery strategies. I find the more experienced, fast Ironman athletes I talk to, the more I learn about the different ways people approach racing Ironman and how to get fast.
Somehow, they manage to find our luggage. They sent someone down and pulled our bike boxes and suitcases and brought them up to us so that we had to take them with us to the hotel they provided with vouchers. A few people who were ending up in Miami got their details straightened out and left for the hotel. Soon it was me, Glen from Alabama, and Hillary Biscay just sitting there waiting for them to deal with our US connections and get us on new flights home. Crud, we’ve lost a day and both Glen and Hillary need to stay an EXTRA night in Miami before they get home. What a pain.
It’s about 1am by the time we get out of there and we go down to find some taxis to go to the Monaco Hotel. We get into two taxis and they proceed to drive us down some really seedy looking streets of Sao Paolo. We are twisting and turning and pretty soon I have no idea where we are, except that outside it looks kind of slummy. I ride with Hillary and we look at each other and wonder if this taxi guy is going drive us somewhere and rob us. But, I see signs to the Hotel Monaco and am relieved that it seems like we’re on the right path, even if the neighborhood looks like a ghetto.
The hotel itself isn’t bad. We check-in and get settled in. We sign up for a shuttle and the guy tells us that we could leave at 9am to make our 1030a flight no problem. I look at Glen and Hillary and say no f**ken way I believe this guy. I am discovering that Brazilians have the worst time sense ever. We book a shuttle for 7am instead and we pray it’s enough time.
Glen and I go to the cafeteria and eat as all this standing around makes us hungry. So far, it seems as though we’ve just been hiking around and standing in line for hours upon hours. I think that next time I come race Ironman Brazil, I will introduce the quadruple brick workout: swim, bike, run, stand. All of us who raced have somewhat stiff legs and standing around isn’t allowing them to recover very much at all.
At least the food is good. We eat a bit and then we hit the sack. By now it’s 2am and I set a wakeup call at 530a. How nice. 3 hours of sleep and ready to roll!
The morning comes all too soon. I get up and shower and go down to eat. After eating, I go up and repack my luggage and come down and check out. The shuttle for us comes at 7am and this mini-bus can barely even take our luggage. They find another smaller van which load up to the brim with bike boxes and suitcases. But that is not even enough. We slide 3 more bike boxes down the aisle in the mini-bus between us just to get everything on board and on its way.
We all get back to Sao Paolo airport by about 730a and jump in line once again. What a pain. We all look at our watches and wonder if 3 hours is enough time to get checked-in and on board for a 1030a departure. Thankfully it is enough time as we get our stuff checked-in and manage to get through what passes for their security, with even time to spare for a bit of shopping.
By this time, I am supposed to arrive SFO at 11am on Wednesday. Instead, I am arriving 12 hours later around midnite. For a while, I was worried that I might have to stay with Glen and Hillary in Miami for a night to catch the first flight to SFO in the morning. In fact, it almost was like that. I get to Miami airport after a super long 8 hour flight of being wedged into coach class. I quickly drink some wine and try to sleep as I have barely slept at all.

View out the window across the wing

A laughable tagline!

But we arrive and I kiss the ground and am ecstatic to be back in civilization in the US! We all make it down to baggage claim. I manage to grab my stuff first and say goodbye to my new found Ironman friends and move through customs. I rush upstairs and try to get checked-in ASAP. It is about 630p when I get to Miami and I have to leave at 815p! By 730p I finally make it to the counter and time is running out. I somehow jump into a shorter line which leads me through the explosive detecting puffer gizmo thing. At this point, I am running to the gate and find out that I’m on the oversold list. But then, a flight from Bogota that had a whole bunch of people who wanted to connect to SFO arrived too late, and I manage to grab a seat at that time. Whew!
Getting on the plane to SFO was the biggest relief. I have not been in this type of situation in decades where connecting flights and airlines were so poorly managed. Maybe I’m spoiled by flying direct flights mostly where I go, but man it’s such a huge process to get to Floripa for this race, and yet another one getting back. It’s doubly worse when we don’t speak Portuguese either. It’s something to remember if I come back to do this race again someday, that my connections need more time between them and plus I have learned to not trust any Brazilian’s recommendation on shuttle times. Totally screwy time sense!
I finally hit the tarmac at SFO at 1105p and could kiss the ground under my feet. I am ecstatic, finally knowing that I am home although I have lost a day. Tomorrow morning I have a 830a coffee meeting. Oh well. I live on little sleep anyways so what’s the big deal…?

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