We Go to RioNovember 4, 2017 in Brazil
“When my baby, when my baby smiles at me, I go to Rio, de Janiero”. From the moment that we left Italy, we couldn't stop singing the Peter Allen song “I go to Rio”. And the Barry Manilow song “Copacabana” was also added to the playlist, which was on constant repeat. Considering we had a brief stop-over in Frankfurt before an 11 hour journey to Rio, this was a long time for two songs to be stuck in our heads.
The pit-stop in Frankfurt allowed us to feed our currywurst addiction one last time. Boarding at Frankfurt, we also got to experience self-boarding, which is kind of like self-service checkouts at supermarkets but less orderly. Imagine a plane full of people trying to go through three checkouts all at once. According to Lufthansa's slogan it's quick, simple and convenient – maybe for the airline! The ironic part is that ground staff are still required at the self-boarding checkouts. Maybe its about work-related injuries and the prevention of RSIs (repetitive strain injuries).
At check-in, Jason assigned himself the window seat and Ricky the aisle seating, hoping that no-one else would be assigned in between. We sat praying that the middle seat would be allocated to a skinny person. Fat chance when the majority of people in the world are overweight. Fear grew as a slightly overweight Brazilian giant walked towards our row. No lady luck for us. Throughout the long-haul flight, the giant was wedged between us. We woke up and found him manspreading across both of us. Luckily, we slept through most of the flight because the plane bounced its way across the Atlantic from Frankfurt to Rio. If we thought we were in a washing machine on the Neapolitan trains, the plane trip was not much different. At times, it felt like the washing-machine-cum-plane was on a delicate cycle and we were gently rocking. Then, turbulence set in and the washing-machine went into heavy-duty mode, shaking and bouncing almost out of control. Landing wasn't too smooth either but we were glad to be on the ground.
When the Brazilian giant awoke, we found out that he was actually an Argentinian who had been living in Brazil most of his life. He had lots of advice about pick-pockets and thieves in South America. We were already a bit apprehensive about Rio from all of the media reports. If the Pet Shop Boys could be robbed by a member of the LGBTIQ+ community, what hope did we have? So we decided to try and blend in, by dressing down and giving up the razor. Unshaven and dishevelled, we could have passed for itinerant vagrants. One out of two ain't bad. If we had our McDonalds/Burger King free refill soft-drink cups, we're sure people would have dropped a few coins into it to help out the needy.
We've been warned everywhere we have travelled to watch out for thieves. The other thing to watch out for is money exchange places. Often they don't advertise their commission and in Brazil there is a monopoly, so you don't have a choice. Having just landed after 11 hours on a plane, we didn't think about the conversion rate and it was only later we realised the commission was more than 40%. Highway robbery and that was before we even stepped out onto the streets.
It's expected that where there are tourists, there are pick-pockets or someone trying to squeeze as much money out of you. But express kidnappings was a new phenomena for us. It's where you are kidnapped, taken to an ATM and forced to withdraw money and then you are released. So at the ATM, one of us would be the look-out and the other would do the transaction. Jason would continually ask for an update as he input his pin number. “Is the coast clear?” Jason would say. The only threat was a toddler straying from her mother from off the streets. The sounds of cars back-firing, though, didn't do anything to calm our nerves. Nor the policemen with machine guns hanging out of choppers, which flew just above sea level along Copacabana beach. We're sure that the police and army presence was to provide some feeling of safety but it tended to have the opposite effect for us.
Apart from the many hawkers selling their goods, and blowing annoying whistles, groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) were scattered along Copacabana beach. This was not an uncommon sight in Europe either. It seemed every city we have visited had their own posse of JWs. And as many know, JWs aren't very accepting or tolerant of the LGBTIQ+ community. So throughout Europe, and now in Rio, Jason has been stopping and grabbing Ricky, planting a big kiss on his lips. Ricky hasn't been kissed so much in his life! Jason would then turn to the JWs and say “Out and about, spreading your hate across the World”. This time in Rio, two police officers were positioned beside a group of JWs and saw our antics. One of the police officers roared with laughter. We just continued to walk on our way, leaving the JWs to discuss our sins.
The landscape surrounding Copacabana and Ipanema is stunning. The beaches, particularly on the weekends, are crowded with people of all shapes and sizes. Many people appear to live very active lives, playing volleyball, running or walking, and are very body conscious. Strangely, most people didn't actually swim in the ocean. Maybe they were too afraid that their possessions would be stolen. For every guy, or girl, with six-pack abs there was a skinny-fat (you know, skinny but with a slight belly) or a four-pack-fat person (someone who doesn't quite have a six-pack and has a bit of a belly). We know how they feel! Each new city brings with it a new addiction as we continue to gain weight. We now resemble a pregnant woman in her first trimester. Before we know it, we’ll be stuck with the baby bulge for life or at least for 18 years and it will be a bugger to budge. But it tastes so good!
The new addiction in Rio was the national Brazilian drink, Caipriniha. Each day was spent with at least a wander along Copacabana beach and a stop at one of the bars for happy hour. Life is hard sipping on a cocktail and watching the eye-candy, clad in nothing but a thin sliver of lycra that leaves very little to the imagination. The stumble home was much more difficult than the walk to the bar that is for sure. The carrot dangling at the end was the treats we discovered along the way home: caramel-filled desserts, lemon condensed milk tarts or something we found at the supermarket.
The supermarket at the bottom of our apartment was a tourist trap with prices being heavily inflated. So at our first opportunity, we headed to the supermarket where all the locals shop. Entering the store felt like an episode of Supermarket Sweeps or the Price is Right. C'mon down! Everywhere you looked, there were people and their trolleys weaving in and out of the aisles, knocking anyone down to get that bargain. One of the casualties was a Brazilian man, who Jason accidentally ran into with our trolley, clipping the back of his Achilles heel. To counter the accident, Jason's good deed was to help an elderly woman. Little old ladies in supermarkets seem to be attracted to Jason more than moths balls and crochet. This lady stood pointing at the frozen pizza in our trolley and rambled something in Portuguese. Jason figured she wanted one too so went and got it for her. It was easier than trying to explain it to her.
Later on, the good deed was returned when we were searching for a post office. An elderly woman, again, stopped in the middle of the footpath and asked if we needed any assistance. She was unsure about the language that we were speaking but when we made it clear that we spoke English, she said “Speak slowly. I'm unfamiliar with your English”. Speaking very slowly, and in unison, she understood and then gave us precise instructions on how to get there. At the post office, we were warned once again about our safety by the lady who helped us work-out the system inside the post office.
But what we really needed assistance with was to navigate the Rio bus system. It was much easier to catch an Über than try and figure which bus you had to catch and where you needed to change. It seemed that to get anywhere it would take at least an hour. Although public transport was apparently improved for the 2016 Olympic Games, the system is still not integrated well and the metro is limited. It did mean our step-count increased over the week.
Once the overcast weather disappeared, we set out to see Christ the Redeemer, the most iconic symbol of Rio. The train trip up the mountain was half the adventure, as it chugged its way up the mountain, giving glimpses of Rio from above. There's actually only a couple of ways to get up the mountain: train or bus. The walking trail was recently closed because of the high incidents of robberies and stabbings. But lets gloss over that. The view alone was worth the trip. With a 360° view of Rio, you get to admire the beauty of the entire city. Christ the Redeemer doesn't seem that magnificent from afar but up-close the statue is much more impressive. It is an imposing statue, looming over you from 38 metres above. People lie down on the ground to get their perfect instagram photo, trying to emulate the iconic pose.
While Rio is known for its beaches and beach culture, and we spent a lot of time walking along Copacabana, we were able to tear ourselves away from the eye-candy to explore other parts of the city, such as the Fort of Copacabana, Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, Botofoga, Santa Teresa and Escadaria Selarón. After being dropped off in Santa Teresa by our Über driver, we were on the look-out for street art. We were unsure exactly where we needed to go, but immediately we knew that we were in the wrong area. We saw posters plastered along the streets warning people that there had been a high number of assaults and robberies in the area. Exit stage left.
Retreating down the Selarón Steps, Escadaria Selarón, we came across an Austrian woman selling Caiprinihas on the streets. To feed our new addiction, we jumped at the chance. Our conversation with Anja the Austrian started with us disclosing that we didn't understand Portuguese in Portuguese. The conversation then proceeded through the European continent into French, Spanish, German and English. We got to know Anja a little more. But Jason and Ricky couldn’t agree on some of the content of the conversation. Did she say that she had lived and travelled around South America for three or thirteen years before settling in Rio? It was such a hot day that it called for a second Caipriniha, and was an excuse to chat with Anja the Austrian again. Apparently the world also confuses Austrians for Australians. Anja is constantly being mistaken as an Australian along her travels. We've been mistaken for many different nationalities. Add Italian to the latest list. Perhaps the Über driver could still smell the cannoli from Naples on our breathe.
Next stop: São Paulo
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