As we took off from Newark, the moon was just rising, huge and red above the ocean. When the aircraft banked, the lights of New Jersey reflected on the wing.
Descending towards Sao Paulo, nine hours later, I saw long mountain ridges rising through the clouds. Only when I looked down through a break in the cloud and saw the city still thousands of feet below did I realize how tall the mountains were.
At Rio de Janeiro, a pair of hawks circled over the parked jets by the gates. The lagoons near the airport were home to flocks of graceful swallow-tailed birds that looked like skuas or perhaps some kind of large tern. On the motorway bridges, human fishermen perched on the railings, perilously close to the fast-moving traffic, dangling their handlines down to the water fifty feet below.
The road entered the city through a port district filled with crumbling colonial-era warehouses, their utilitarian design offset by quaint architectural flourishes. They seemed quaintly ornate in comparison with the hotels that followed, sheer-sided white slabs of concrete and glass towering over the beachfront.