It is time for RoboCup 2013! This year it is being held in Joao Pessoa, Brazil.
After packing the robots on Tuesday evening, Katie spent Wednesday morning packing and preparing before her Wednesday afternoon flight. JT came home to drive her to the airport at 2:30 pm, and we even got to see the British Airlines Dreamliner land in Austin around 4pm before temporarily parting ways for 3 days. Katie’s first US Airways flight was on a regional CRJ to Charlotte. Katie’s 8F seat had no useful window, though rows 7 and 9 did not seem any better. The windows seemed to just be terribly aligned in most of the plane.
Something got the bottom of Katie’s backpack pretty wet while it was under the seat during the first flight. It seemed to just be water, and dried reasonably well in 3 hours, but it was still concerning considering Katie’s laptop was the main item subjected to the water.
Katie had dinner in the Charlotte main concourse at a Mexican place next to Burger King. The nachos were pretty good, and Katie figured she would not be getting any more Tex-Mex or Mexican food for a while so it seemed like a good option.
Then it was off to gate D13 for the flight to Rio. Boarding began at 10:30pm and the plane left the gate around 11pm. Katie was literally the only non-Portuguese speaker in coach – and it seemed there were some massive family groups. The coach cabin was slightly less than half full. We were next to take-off when the winds changed and we waited for 10 minutes before taxiing somewhere else. We finally lifted off at 11:36pm. Drinks and dinner were served shortly after, and concluded by 12:50am. Dinner was a salad, roll, peas, mashed potatoes, beef, and an apple dessert bar. Not to the caliber of Turkish Airlines food, but not bad either. The red box wine is not recommended – but this might be due to having to drink most of a large cup rather quickly due to rough turbulence shortly after Katie received it.
After dinner, Katie curled up in her two-seat row and fell asleep. Katie shifted a lot overnight and slept pretty poorly. Her little inflatable neck pillow failed too, as it was almost completely deflated by morning. Breakfast was a turkey and bacon sandwich with a cup of peaches and a shortbread cookie. Shortly after breakfast, we approached Rio from the north. As the plane approached Rio, Katie looked at the increasingly populated areas and wondered ‘ how do you define a favela’? I guess the best way is a crowded housing area lacking proper roads for emergency assistance, clean water, power and sewage. But if this is the definition, much of the world is a favela, right? I think what really stands out in Brazil is the stark contrasts – there are a decent number of very well off people and a really large number of extremely poor people, all living very close to each other.
Shortly after landing, Katie caught a view of both Sugarloaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue. Sadly, her first thought when seeing Christ the Redeemer was ‘that’s it?’. Hopefully it will be more impressive up close. While disembarking, Katie realized that everyone on the plane was Brazilian and seemed to know each other because they were returning from a package trip to Disney. This made the large group, matching bag tags, and mouse ears make sense. Katie made the mistake of following the Brazilians to passport control, which was apparently in a different room for non-Brazilians. The complete emptiness of the non-Brazilian room should not have come as a surprise. It was just me and a guy coming to visit his son. Katie got her stamp, collected her luggage (after having to walk through the duty free area), and then was not stopped while walking through customs. If you do not have anything to declare, you just walk past this guy that decides whether to examine your luggage further.
Upon exiting customs, Katie noticed that there are signs to the various bus options on the first floor (we may take one of these buses when we return to Rio). Baggage check-in claimed to not open for TAM and Gol domestic flights until 2 hours before departure. Hence, Katie sat by the transfer check-in and waited for a while, but eventually went upstairs to the commercial plaza as there were power outlets and ATMs up on that level. On the commercial level there is an entire cluster of banks, which makes it very easy to find an ATM that works for your card (the second ATM worked for me, although they called it a ‘cash advance’, which doesn’t seem possible on a debit card). Katie headed to check-in her bags (after adding the snorkels and some other items to the checked bags to get her carry-on under 11 lbs – which did not end up mattering) around 1pm. The line was surprisingly long, but did not take too long. For reference, the left luggage lockers are outside by domestic check-in.
After dropping the checked bags, Katie went through a pretty light but stringently coordinated security check. The air side terminal had various gates with plenty of seating and places to charge electronics. The TAM plane quickly loaded using three clusters of rows and loading from back to front. Katie ended up with a window seat next to a Brazilian couple with the woman (who was likely 4-8 years younger than Katie) holding a 1-2 year old child on her lap. The child was generally well behaved, and the parents were very considerate of how their son was affecting those around them. It was cloudy at the start of the flight, but after snack service (soda, cheese + crackers, and a chocolate fig newton) the clouds disappeared. It was cool to look at the coast and small cities, some with dirt runways. Katie was surprised by the absolute lack of development along much of the coast. But then the plane veered to fly over the water – which was indeed pretty and clear. We did some sharp turns as we were landing in Joao Pessoa. Joao Pessoa is a really small airport with just one runway and no taxi way. It did have 2-3 baggage belts and some ATMs though. Katie found the Luck transportation option that RoboCup had recommended (but was super annoying and excessively complicated to book), as well as six RoboCup people from two different universities in England (small size league and kid size league). We shared a large bus from the airport.
Katie was dropped off first at my hotel for the night: Xenius Hotel (R$177 per night for a double). She is mainly staying here because it is close to the vacation rental that we will move into on Friday. No one at check-in spoke English, but she filled out a form and got a key – she guesses that she will pay when she checks out? The room she received was nice in that it has windows on two sides (including one looking out at the beach), but the street noise was pretty loud, there was a window with no glass pane in the bathroom, the bathroom door is really beat up, the air conditioning does not do much so the room is pretty warm, and there are some other beat up parts of the room. But on the positive side, it is clean and it is just for a night.
After settling in for a while, Katie decided to go walk on the side walk along Cabo Branco beach. Just taking R$60 and her room key, she felt like she fit in with all the locals walking and jogging after dark on the side walk. It was actually a really cool atmosphere. This may be the most fun RoboCup yet if teams hang out near the beach at night. After walking up and down the beach (and getting stuck in a big rainstorm), Katie attempted to buy some food. She stopped at a cart with meat and cheese filled pastries and fruit. Attempting to order by pointing was not working, so the friendly woman called over a high school boy to attempt to translate. Between his limited English and Katie’s limited Spanish, we worked things out. It was a really nice meal for R$7. Then Katie grabbed a large water for R$4 and headed back to the hotel.
Even less than a day into the trip, Katie really regrets was not learning some Portuguese before coming. It’s really hard to have no shared language with many people, and seems irresponsible and inconsiderate.