On Thursday night, I get some news that changes the trajectory of my whole trip. My 95 year old grandmother, who had a fall 3 days ago, is not doing well. Her doctor has urged family to come and say their goodbyes. It is with a very heavy heart that I book a flight home for the next evening and start packing. My grandma and I are close; my grandparents lived in the same town as me and she took care of us after school. We spent a lot of time together. She is the quintessential Grandma - baking cookies, making gigantic, delicious meals and forcing seconds on us. To this day, all of my friends still call her Grandma - that's how loved she is. I am destroyed and it’s hard to be alone at a time like this.
My flight doesn't leave until 9 p.m., so I get up and head out to say my goodbyes to Rio. I wander down the Selaron Steps, but my feet don't take me any farther. I sit and people watch, soak in the sun, and wipe away the sweat that runs down my face with love, because I know that soon I will be back in the snow. Even though it’s only 11:30, I have my final caipirinha - a mere 5 reals from a street vendor at the bottom of the steps, and it’s magnificent. I sit and cry on the steps, the cold caipirinha providing comfort in more than one way. I force a smile for a selfie and marvel at how happy I look. Taking photos always helps take my mind off things, and I spend a good hour capturing the area and the people here today before I move on.
When I’m finished, I go into one of my favourite tourist shops and try to get rid of some of the Brazilian reals I have left. It’s not hard and I end up carrying around a bottle of passionfruit cachaca with me all day. My only plan for the day is to visit the RioStar, a giant wheel like the London Eye that was recently constructed here. There are very few people waiting, and I get a whole compartment to myself. I sit alone and cry again; taking in my final view of Rio is breaking my heart, which is already broken for my Grandma. It’s a nice view; a favela climbs the hill on my left and on my right, Guanabara Bay stretches out into the bright sun. I have fallen even more deeply in love with Rio, and I had so many great plans for the next month. I was supposed to start volunteering with underpriveleged children on Monday, and several weeks later I was meant to be heading south to do more volunteering as a photographer at a bioreserve in the Atlantic Rainforest. I’m sad for all the things I won’t get to do, but I know where I need to be. I’m grateful for the time I spent here; I got to really know Rio and I was lucky enough to go beyond being a tourist and immerse myself in the day to day life of the most marvelous city on the planet. I will be back. I’m not done with Rio.
*Sadly, my grandmother passed away before I made it home. I was devastated, but relieved to know that she didn’t suffer and is at peace and with my grandfather once again. I truly believe that getting me home when she did was my grandma’s last gift to me; I landed in Calgary right before Coronavirus started getting really scary and travellers were called home and asked to self isolate. She kept me safe, and I only hope she knows that I am grateful that she prevented me from getting stuck in another country, alone, during a global crisis. I came home to a different world, in more ways than one.