‘Bilhete,’ unhelpfully barks the ticket inspector for the third time.
I am frantically going through the chaotic, but embarrassingly familiar, process of trying to find the baggage reclaim receipt handed to me just a few hours earlier when we boarded the bus from Ouro Preto.
As always I am staggered by my own incompetence.
My pain lasts for several long minutes until, with a crushing shake of the head and some articulate under-the-breath mumbles, the rucksack gatekeeper decides to give me the benefit of the doubt and yanks my dirty red backpack from the hold.
It’s 5am and still dark. As yet Sophie and I don’t have a place to stay in Vitória, our home for the next couple of days.
Into this scene of disorganised carnage steps a svelte hippy with dreadlocks and a t-shirt emblazoned with an image of Hare Krishna.
‘Are you guys ok?’ he gently inquires in passive, disarming English, with only the slightest hint of a Portuguese accent.
‘Sure,’ I reply; pathetically putting my ticketless outturned pockets back into my shorts.
It emerges that this friendly hippy’s name is José, a yoga instructor waiting for his ‘yoga master’s’ bus to arrive.
After the briefest of conversations we accept the kind offer of a ride from our generous new acquaintance to what we are told is one of the cheapest digs in town.
Sophie and I bounce along the streets of Vitória, squidged into the back of a distinctive silver Beetle.
Two days later we find ourselves at the top of a mountain.
The sun is setting behind hundreds of flat-roofed, dirty-looking apartment blocks. In the other direction a green carpet of thick Atlantic Rainforest covers the hills and valleys that stretch to the horizon.
Our new friend José is trying to execute an impossibly stretchy yoga position. A few metres away two men, sitting cross-legged are zealously chanting a request to be ‘touched’ by God.
Further down the steep mountain edge a loud, angry-sounding, man is holding a copy of the bible and leading a circle of people requesting the love of the Lord.
To the left, a plump, leather sandal-clad man is playing the guitar and singing in much gentler tones about his devotion to Jesus.
The scene is as beautiful as it is bizarre and an appropriately memorable end to our experience in Vitória. A stay shaped by our chance meeting, in the midst of a mini-crisis, with an unusual-looking man.
Had we not met José there is lots about this picturesque, modern city that we would have remained oblivious to.
We wouldn’t know that in Vitória there are a fair share of transexual prostitutes and that apparently it’s dangerous to talk to them (not that that was on my to-do list).
We certainly wouldn’t know that if we are approached by them our tactic should be to pretend we are disabled – our mentor tells us that acting in such a way avoids hassle.
We wouldn’t have been introduced to my new favourite food, açaí, a cold slush of yoghurty consistency made from an Amazonian berry and eaten with granola, honey and fruit.
The brilliant free show at the university planetarium would have passed us by and we wouldn’t have got close to finding the best beach in the city. We certainly wouldn’t have clambered up a mountain on our hands and knees to see happy-clappies at sunset.
José drops us back off at the bus station and we bid him farewell.
As we board the overnight bus to Porto Seguro I decide to hold on to our baggage reclaim receipts again, with the superstitious logic that it may lead to another chance meeting with a friendly, hospitable stranger.
Sure enough, as I take my allocated seat behind Sophie on the bus, an English-speaking voice sounds in the darkness.
‘Hi there, my name’s Ely. I’m a missionary. I free people of bad spirits,’ he informs me with a disturbingly enthusiastic smile…
I prepare for a long night and, perverse logic disproved, reach over the head rest and reluctantly pass the baggage claim receipts into Sophie’s safe hands.