Rio de Janeiro (Hee-oh) was a great chance for us to settle into the country, try and learn a few words in Portuguese, discover all about the Angolan slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries but to mainly do bugger all and lie on Copacabana beach for two days sipping cerveza and caipirinhas.
We actually didn’t do any of the above.
We spent a day in taxis and cable cars ascending the hill on which the big Christ the Redeemer statue (Corcovado) stands and also the Sugar loaf mountain.
The latter we tried to get there for sunset but spent that in a steamy traffic jam and didn’t get up there until the sun had well and truly dropped below the horizon. It was actually spectacular. The whole city was lit up, the many beaches bathed in floodlights and the full moon shone brilliantly lighting up the city’s bays.
Wanna buy a hat?
The Corcovado (Hunchback) has been redeveloped recently and although the views from up there are superb, there are literally hundreds of other tourists, taxi drivers, souvenir shop vendors, photographers and other locals out to make a quick buck. All the tourists are trying to get that elusive photo of themselves in front of the Christ statue, arms cross shaped with no one else in the background. We spent 20 minutes jostling for position, getting angry with Israelis monopolising the best spot and generally not really knowing why I’d persuaded Gen to make the pricey trip up to the top when she didn’t really want to go and I’d been before!
After the city at night from Pão de Azucar we walked the length of Copacabana beach back to our hostel in Ipanema.
Whilst taking a photo I heard Gen shouting “Adam, watch out!”. We were constantly on edge when walking around at night – the Lonely Planet had managed to fill two pages on the dangers and annoyances of Rio. They were probably justified in saying to look out for the street kids along Copacabana beach. A couple of kids – no more than 8 or 9 years old, tried to grab the camera from my hands. Gen´s warning was enough for me to turn, and make sure I had a firm grip. They didn’t grab it but after backing off a few yards, one of them came back to try again when I was looking him straight in the face. By now a few locals had gathered and a few of them shoved the kids on the floor and shouted at them fairly aggressively. I think that the adults all understand the importance of tourism and they genuinely want to improve the image of the city.
Sugar Loaf Mountain
We spent the next two hours in the back of a tourist police car, driving round trying to find the two kids
We´d described (in Porto-Spanglish) a nine year old boy wearing a red t-shirt.
Policeman ran into the crowd and returned triumphantly with a 25 year old man wearing a blue t-shirt. `No!´ we say, and the policeman ran back into the crowd, only to bring back a 15 year old. At least this one was younger than the first and his t-shirt did have some red on it. We couldn´t help but wonder if this could be complete incompetence or maybe that the tourist police were there to make the tourist feel safer, not to catch criminals. Or maybe he felt some pity for this poor kid, on the streets of Rio, with no future at 9 years old..
Gen and some bloke
– but mainly because we didn’t want to walk the rest of the journey home and hoped they could drop us off. We would have been better walking – the police car was a clapped out, 20 year old piece of junk that could hardly get out of first gear, and the policeman driving the thing got completely lost and ended up driving us miles away from our hostel! Still, he completely abused his siren to get through every red light and traffic jam so it was a bit of fun.
Rio at night from Sugar Loaf
We only spent one full day and two nights in Rio – not really wanting to spend too much time in the big cities – and we booked a bus to a small gold mining town a few hours north. We managed to sneak a couple of hours “relaxing” on the beach just before the bus left. Us pasty white foreigners stand out an absolute mile on that beach – I don’t think we had more than ten or twenty seconds without a local beach seller trying to persuade us to buy some of their wares – hats, towels, sarongs, donkey rides, jewelry, sun screen, water, beer, ice cream, paintings, mobile phone accessories, taxi rides, sunglasses, t-shirts and literally anything else they could manage to carry round with them on the beach. And “no” doesn’t mean no to them either. Neither does a polite “No, thank you very much”. Most of them persisted in pushing their goods into our hands even though we showed them absolutely no interest whatsoever. We realised that we were safe in the sea and spent the rest of our time in the sea, watching our towels and bag with paranoia in case the kids from the night before made another appearance. Fun fun fun!
So we left Rio thinking that the setting in which the city sits is truly spectacular – incredible beaches and bays nestled between green hills and blue lakes. It’s just a shame that they’ve obscured it all with ugly high rise concrete buildings and filled it with grid lock traffic jams.
As we left the centre of Rio we passed through miles and miles of sprawling shanty towns (favellas) in the outskirts where the people clearly live in absolute squalor and poverty. Amazing contrast that highlights to huge wealth gap in the whole country.
I’m sure the city was an incredible place in the first half of the last century. But in March 2006 we were actually very happy to be leaving it behind on the bus for São Jao del Rei.