The chanting started just after dessert.
We left our apple creme brûlées to join the wait staff at the windows. Less than 100 feet away from the restaurant, a growing crowd of people chanted, shook tambourines and sang.
The explosions and fires were still a few minutes away.
Looking back on our second day in Rio de Janeiro, there were signs the city was preparing for something.
Arco do Teles, a downtown area reportedly hopping at happy hour, was shuttered at 3:30 pm.
Minutes later there was a mass exodus from the city’s skyscrapers as employees who wanted to escape the upcoming protests left work early.
Each time we passed Rio’s state legislative assembly building the number of visibly armed police officers outside grew.
We asked at least five of them for directions to Restaurant Hachiko.
Restaurant Hachiko is the fifth highest rated Rio restaurant on Tripadvisor. We read that on Mondays Hachiko served an all-you-can-eat sushi dinner.
The address we copied from the internet was wrong and we spent Monday, June 17 trying to find Hachiko. Nearly 100,000 others spent it tweeting and posting plans for a protest at the assembly building across the street.
At 6pm, we finally spotted bamboo on the second floor terrace of a building off R. Sao Jose. Inside we were the only diners enjoying rounds of sashimi, stingray served with pineapple and mushroom, and salmon with passion fruit. The restaurant played smooth jazz remixes of U2 and Justin Bieber.
The explosions started just before 8 pm.
At the window, we watched people throw firecrackers and coconuts. They tossed aside metal barricades. Glass shattered below and someone yelled “Diablo!”
When a line of at least 15 officers in full riot gear marched by the restaurant, our waiter turned to us.
“Where are you staying tonight?” he asked.
Protests spread throughout Brazil during our visit after the government upped the price of the bus by BRL $0.20, or about USD $0.09. Reports say the fare increase was the final straw after long-brewing discontent over education, health care and government corruption.
Some residents cried foul about the $14 billion invested in preparations for the World Cup, which will be hosted in Rio de Janeiro in 2014.
“The government spent a lot of money on this, but not for hospitals or education,” said Michael, a guide we spent a day with later during the trip. “Everyone here is pissed off.”
At the restaurant the explosions grew louder. The staff locked the windows and suggested we move to the middle of the building. Around us, they continued the ritual break down of the dining room; collecting wine glasses, place mats and silverware while the windows rattled and helicopters droned overhead.
We could see the kitchen staff watching the protest from a small window in the back room. There was a loud hissing noise outside. The window turned orange and the men spilled into the dining room.
There is a car on fire outside, they told us. “It’s upside down.”
Greg and I covered our ears, fearing an explosion. Would the windows’ shutters hold up? Should we get under the table? Thirty minutes earlier we were sleepy and stuffed from the sushi smorgasbord. Now our hearts raced.
Someone offered us coffee when the hissing stopped.
When the dining room and kitchen were satisfactorily clean, our waiter emerged from the back room. He had changed from his black, double-buttoned uniform to a striped blue polo shirt. We were on the same team now.
He pointed at us.
“We will go now,” he said.
Seven of us lined up on the stairway that linked the dining room to the street. We were put in the middle. Someone turned off the lights and Greg grabbed my hand.
A flashlight clicked on behind us and we watched the burly man at the front of the line peel off his shirt. He opened the door.
Outside it was shockingly still. Our group moved to the right, away from the street where earlier people had fled the burning car and the cops with rubber bullets and tear gas. Two women walked by holding white roses. A stand served the protesters food wrapped in aluminum foil.
“Look,” one of the waiters said.
He pointed to Antonio Carlos Avenue where an estimated 100,000 people filled the street. They waved Brazilian flags and held signs I could not read.
We passed lines of police officers before the waiters found a cab. Our hands shook as we searched our pockets for the address of our apartment.
The goodbye with the Hachiko staff was quick. We slapped each other on the backs and gave one-armed hugs. “Obrigada,” I said. They gave us a thumbs up.
As we left downtown the protests disappeared. Joggers slogged through the sands of Copacabana. Children scrambled up a volleyball net on Impanema beach. People drank weak beer at roadside kiosks.
After 20 minutes we arrived at our apartment. The doorman was glued to something on the small TV on his desk.
It appeared to be the Brazilian equivalent to American Idol.