Rohit Chandra

Brazil – Rio de Janeiro

Oi!
(Hello in Portuguese – the national language of Brazil)

After having spent 3 weeks traveling in Brazil, I have been plagued with demands from friends on a travelogue along the lines of my Africalogue. So here are my favorite:

MOMENTS FROM RIO (de Janeiro)

  • Looking down at Rio de Janeiro (the story behind its name one day), it is undoubtedly THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY in the world – with mountains and beaches – everywhere!
  • The city itself is connected by a network of tunnels bored through the mountains – some of these tunnels are several miles long – adding to the splendor of what is Rio!
  • The stunning vistas made it surprisingly easy for me to actually jump off the face of a cliff about 1700-feet from ground – oh Rio from the air – yes, I went hang-gliding! (Remember the days when sex was safe & hang-gliding dangerous?)
  • The sand sculptures ON the beaches (of Copacabana, Ipanema, etc.) truly leave one staring with awe & admiration for the local talent: the street urchin! On one occasion a tourist reached out to touch a (sand) cow to determine if it was real or made from sand…
  • Sexxxy, sexy, sexy, skimpy, skimpy, skimpy, swim wear er, bikinis! Just one string πŸ˜€ The local word, for them is ‘fio dental’ which literally translated means: dental floss. Go figure!
  • It seems everyone wears a string bikini – young or old, rich or poor (even the urchins collecting aluminum cans for recycling), not to forget the abundant and plentiful pregnant women!
  • There are people walking all over town in JUST those, or at times, in a bikini top with HOT shorts. Er, even men in just a ‘speedo’
  • …and they are all very fit: excellent bodies (albeit the women have tiny titties ;)). BUT most have sexy butts (I wonder if Samba has anything to do with that?) πŸ˜‰
  • I can see people of all color – from bbblack… through ALL shades of brown …all the way to white. Even dark skinned people with (dyed?) blond hair…
  • There are people with wet hair all over town – on buses, in shops, just walking around town – all from going to the beach!
  • There’s a sea of umbrellas on the beach with near naked people everywhere (it’s not just in my mind, its RioΒ  with all its hot bodies and beautiful people!), playing paddle-ball; vendors selling everything from beer, juices, and coconut milk to the usual trinkets, sarongs, skewers of meat, roasted cashews, big stuffed toys, even string bikinis! (for about $5)
  • Watching a soccer game at MARACANA Stadium – THE TEMPLE OF SOCCER. I was lucky to be able to see the semifinal game of The National Cup. The highlights:
    • The fans of the two teams DO NOT MIX.
    • I went in a group of about 10 people (all locals): after arriving at the stadium, they very cordially split up to sit in their own stands. (Why are they called stands if people are supposed to sit there? ;))Β – It is NOT SAFE for supporters of one team to even inadvertently end up in the wrong stands :O
    • The bleachers are bolted fast into concrete
    • The stands in turn are physically separated from the playing field by a MOAT – no less – with bridges placed STRATEGICALLY across it! A young Brazilian woman from my group – 30-year-old is young, right? πŸ˜‰ was physically “scared!”
    • Crazed soccer fans waving HUGE flags of their teams – all over town – in
      fact “my team” won! πŸ˜€ I was supporting the Fluminense – one of (many) Rio’s home teams. Later that same night, (1:00AM) I saw some young men and women waving a 20-foot high flag in the middle of a busy traffic intersection. (Only in Rio have I seen a “city come to life” at night! The city is actually throbbing with energy till at least 2 or 3 in the morning – one can actually see city buses packed to capacity – not to mention the cars tearing through the city, or even the late night jogger along the beach. Rio is a city that comes alive like none other – across the planet! It is vibrant and energy incarnate, something that words cannot explain. It can only be experienced.) I digress…
    • Watching the-great-world-cup-famous Romario in action was a joy – even at this age! Of course he scored for Fluminense! πŸ™‚
    • The temperature that afternoon: during the game – a measly 47 degrees Celsius, which for the benefit of my fellow Americans is about 117 degrees Fahrenheit!!!
  • Visiting the infamous shantytowns of Brazil called Favelas! I went deep inside these slums…
    • For someone that grew up in India, it was like being deep in the heart of some of the old cities (Old Delhi?) with the open sewage & garbage heaps πŸ˜‰
    • Rocinho is the BIGGEST slum in South America with close to half a million people living there.
    • Pele, Ronaldo, Rinaldi were all born & raised in favelas.
    • The cornucopia of wiring at the electrical poles was a sight to behold with THOUSANDS of wires running from A SINGLE electricity pole providing power to as many homes.
    • Favela is where the entire drug trade is controlled & conducted from
    • The Favela in turn is COMPLETELY controlled & governed by the Drug Lords – where the police does not step foot!
    • There are “eyes” watching moves of all outsiders in the favela: the arrival of (suicidal?) cops is greeted with open exchange of gunfire & setting off of firecrackers to let the dealers put a temporary lid on it!
    • Firecrackers are interestingly enough; also set off to indicate the arrival of a fresh batch of “supplies” πŸ˜‰
    • However I missed seeing anyone with a gun (automatic or not): it is apparently a common place sighting in the favela πŸ™
    • …but why do they have sooooo many satellite dishes – virtually on every rooftop
  • Despite the reputation that Rio has acquired as a crime center of the world – it didn’t seem so bad to me… (I wonder if my opinion has been tempered by visits to bad-ass cities in East Africa of the likes of Nairobi?)
  • But then with that said, on the late night trip to Lapa (a neighborhood in Rio) even I FELT unsafe!
  • It seemed no matter where I went in Rio, I had to go past ‘The Lagoa,’ with its beautiful 100-feet(?) tall metal Christmas tree (in the middle of lake): brilliantly lit with it’s changing patterns and colored lights telling the story of a traditional Christmas…
  • I must admit though, it was quite odd to see Santa Claus, with scenes of snow and the conventional red, white & green in 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The lighting of the tree every year on December 1 marks the beginning of the holiday season & the 13th month earnings for the taxi driver (which is another story for another day).
  • Rio is famous for its juice bars – it seems there’s one at every street corner, and two in between πŸ™‚ The Cariocas (inhabitants of Rio) however rarely drink juice – it’s always Cerveza (beer!)
  • They drink beer from these tiny glasses while the bottle itself sits on the table in an insulated container, specially designed to keep it cold. It almost seems like they consider it uncouth to be drinking anything, straight out of a can or bottle – even when I bought bottled water from a general merchant: I was ALWAYS handed disposable cups to drink out of – tiny of course! πŸ˜‰
  • More than one traveler has been known to wonder aloud about how the Cariocas manage to spend so much time drinking beer at the beach – weekday or otherwise!
  • Going to the beach seems like the national past time. There’s even a separate lane by the beach for bicyclists, joggers, and skaters, which in turn is separated from both the sidewalk and the road by a median.
  • The sidewalks by the beach are really wide (20-feet?) with open-air cafes/juice-bars, people milling around, vendors, and of course performers such as Capoeira (more about Capoeira when I write about Salvador).
  • While you are waiting at a traffic intersection on a red light don’t be surprised to see panhandlers that are painted up as clowns: performing & juggling for tips!
  • People riding the city bus did not seem scraggly, poor, or uneducated – quite decent in fact. (Now don’t go accusing me of class-ism!)
  • Just saw a handful of homeless people at the street corners of
    Copacabana – late at night, which is also when the Ladies-of-the-night were out in droves: selling their wares to the tourists! πŸ™
  • Talking about city blocks, it is common to see cartoon-caricature frescoes on the walls: in lieu of the vandal-graffiti found everywhere else in the world.
  • The Cariocas love to eat, drink, dance, and make merry – almost every city block has a buffet restaurant where COOKED food is sold by weight.
  • The samba party at Salgueiro – the best samba school in all of Rio – on a Saturday night was one such memorable evening!
  • Drinking Cachasa: a high-proof sugarcane alcohol produced & drunk throughout Brazil – some have even called it the national drink. Amongst the hundreds of variations of Cachasa, and thousands of brands THE most popular and relished – “Cocktail of The Gods” is the Caipirinha!
  • The cog train-ride up Corcovado to Cristo Redemptor with its stunning views of Rio:Β  from the eyes of a 200-feet (?) high statue of Christ with his arms spread out as if saying to the Cariocas “Enjoy, my beautiful children! I’m watching over you.” This spectacular sight is very well lit up at night and visible from ANYWHERE in the city.
  • And then there was the cable car-ride up to Pao de Asucar with its breathtaking vistas – a sight that WILL remain engraved in my mind for a long time to come…
  • …looking down at the sun go down over Rio – the famous curve of Copacabana, the marvelous sand beach of Ipanema; the views of twinkling lights coming up over Rio…

Oh Rio I can’t wait to go back!!!

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