Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Touching Down

I'm in Rio!

My plane landed two nights ago. The sun was setting, tinting the country a deep red, and the city of Rio de Janeiro was laid out below me, the buildings hugging the contours of the land like the jungle from which they emerge. As I stepped off the plane, I got that first whiff of a country that you never quite get again. Brazil smells of coffee, with a tint of lime. I disembarked with a spring in my step!

Getting out of the airport proved trickier than expected. I make it a rule to take buses, rather than taxis wherever I can - It's a really good way to pull yourself off the tourist track. Unfortunately, the collected taxi drivers had different plans! Before I managed to make it all the way out of the arrivals terminal, I'd been informed that take the bus and I'd be shot, stabbed and robbed before I could so much as blink! Not as bad as Thailand though - no actual physical violence required to escape em!

I'd booked into a hostel for my first couple of nights, so I'd have somewhere to sleep off the jet lag. The hostel did not smell of coffee beans and lime. The hostel smelt of beer and diarrhoea. This is probably a hint I should have taken, but I was really tired.

I grabbed a plate off of the barbecue the hostel had going and plonked myself down next to some friendly looking people. They were as friendly as they looked and I managed to slip right into the conversation. Only thing was, the entire focus of the conversation (and most other conversations at that place) was how and where to fuck local women. As I sat down, the big guy to my right was explaining that the women on Copacabana beach were 'crap' because they spoke English and were therefore 'too educated' to convince to come back for a casual shag. Already I was not enjoying the vibe, and I wasn't even aware of the insidious little pests the barbecue food was carrying into my system, ready to give me the worst runs since Laos, land of the screaming shits.

Long story short, the hostel was a crappy tourist trap of the worst sort. The only people staying there were English and Americans who had no interest in meeting or interacting with anyone who wasn't English or American (well, almost no interest). It quickly started to bum me out - I was thinking that I'd made a huge mistake in coming to Brazil if this was what the local traveller crowd was like. Fortunately, I had a backup plan! My mum had, by chance, met a young Brazilian couple who lived in Rio while working at her Alexander college. The next morning I jumped on the internet and fired Michel off an email.

I spent the rest of that day on a tour of one of the shanty towns (favellas) that surround Rio, hanging precariously off the mountain sides. The tour was to promote local awareness of the favellas and dispel the local belief that they were the source of all the worlds ills. (When asked what to do about them, most residents of central Rio wanted them, and all the people living in them, bombed to the ground!) It was an excellent experience - we raced up the mountain at breakneck speed on the back of suicidal motorbikes, then made our slow way down again via all the back streets. Rio is a city of striking inequality. You can walk through the favella, surrounded by crumbling buildings made of whatever materials came to hand, and built precariously up, sometimes as much as five stories, because out just wasn't an option any more. But walk for mere seconds out of the bottom of the shanty town and you'll be surrounded by sleek skyscrapers, oozing wealth.

The favella are actually nothing like as dangerous as people believe. The majority are controlled by various drug dealing gangs who make all their money off of tourists and affluent locals. It is, therefore, in their best interests to ensure that nothing scares this skittish demographic off, and so order is strictly enforced. In fact, the gangs do a much better job than the police manage in central Rio. The only real danger comes from the regular police raids, which invariably end in deadly shoot offs.

Michel emailed back. I was welcome to crash at his. The next morning, I packed my bag, grabbed my deposit and got the hell out of there.

I love this house! It's so full of art that it's overflowing! Even the kitchen has a cave painting on the far wall and is lit by gently strobing christmas lights. Everything has been turned into a little work - old paint tubes have been cut in half and turned into flowers to line the shelves. Michel lives here with his wife Gabriella, friend Miguel and an army of cats. They're all artists of various sorts. The huge, crumbling, messy house is tucked away in Copacabana and is almost buried in the most amazingly dense tropical front garden (the prim and proper neighbours most definitely do not approve).

All three of them are these fantastically warm and friendly people. Michel took me around Rio on errands with him today and I saw a completely different side to the city. When I saw the statue of Christ the Redeemer, driving with Miguel to pick up Gabriella at the beautiful art collage she attends, he no longer seemed like the cheesy tourist trap the hostel had been advertising as "CHRIST STATUE TRIP" and I started looking forward to making my way up to see him myself.

My mood has totally changed. Instead of crushing disappointment, I'm feeling really relaxed, excited and at home here. I'm looking forward to exploring the city properly (Rio is truly beautiful), and meeting all the people these guys have decided I need to meet!

It's good to be back on the road.

Me, obscuring the best view in Rio!

The residents were really freindly towards the small group
of gringos trapsing past their homes. This dingy alley was
actually one of the main streets!

The favella we explored was actually the same one Ed
Norton starts off in at the beginning of the new Hulk
movie. They filmed in only the cleanest and most open
streets though.

I quite liked this night shot of the iconic Christ the
Redeemer statue. I may head up to see it tomorrow.


Viv said...

Hi ya, that was such a good read. So glad that you got to Michel, I knew you'd like them. Send them my love would you. Did the Arsenicum come in use I wonder. It all sounds great. Sending thoughts and love. Milo back, and in really good form.

Ben (step bro) said...

man you are ridiculously good and writing, sounds like bloody good fun if you ask me! is the rich part of rio just a big tourist trap all together then?