Carnaval madness in Rio

Trip Start Feb 21, 2006
Trip End Sep 11, 2006

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Sorry for the delay in updating this, all I can say is that our time in the cidade maravillosa has been absolute madness so far and we just haven´t had time (or have been too hungover). Firstly I´d just like to say to anyone in NZ who saw me being interviewed on the news the other night that yes we´re fine - more details below, but first a brief summary of what we´ve been up to since we arrived...

We got here Wednesday morning, jumped off the bus from the airport all loaded up with our packs and nearly expired right there on the spot - it is HOT here! Mid-30s during the day with sun almost as fierce as NZ and high humidity which is all a bit of a shock to our poor bodies acclimatised to the English winter. We spent our first couple of days checking out the beaches at Copacabana (where we´re staying) and Ipanema from the safety of a beach umbrella, checking out the beautiful people and enjoying our first swim for months. The great thing about the beaches here is you actually don´t ever need to get up except perhaps to stumble into the water as there is a constant stream of people walking by selling everything you could ever need - coconuts, beer, food, jewellery, sarongs - it doesn´t make for the quietest day on the beach but very convenient all the same.

Slightly sunburnt and feeling ourselves relaxing further into travel mode by the minute, on Friday we decided to check out the city. We wandered around the central area for a bit until we actually thought we might pass out from the heat, then headed up to Santa Teresa which is a lovely hilltop suburb with old colonial style buildings and views of the city. We had a nice lunch in a restaurant with some live music, wandered around the streets watching the locals prepare for the Carnaval, then found ourselves at a tucked-away private art gallery and decided to have a look. We were looking at the paintings, enjoying the breeze coming through the wide open doors when our day suddenly became a bit more exciting than we´d bargained for. A kid - maybe 14 years old - came into the room with a butter knife and started saying something to me in an agitated way, which of course I didn´t understand. Now I know Rio is a pretty dangerous city and perhaps I should have been a bit more concerned, but it´s not easy to take a kid with cutlery too seriously. It wasn´t until he jumped up on a table and cut a Picasso off the wall that we started to realise that something serious was going on. We waited there fully expecting the security guards to burst in at any second when another man came into the room with a gun and the two of them cut down another painting, letting it crash to the floor, before relieving us tourists of our possessions. We were all led downstairs to an office, passing the 3 unarmed security guards on the way (apparently they had been threatened with a grenade), and we had to wait there until the men had left. Along with the Picasso they managed to make off with a Matisse, a Monet and a Dali before vanishing into the Carnaval crowds which were growing in the streets around us.

Luckily we had heeded all the advice to carry with you only what you are prepared to lose, so we didn´t have anything taken that we can´t replace with the help of our friendly insurance company, apart from a ring they pulled from my finger that had sentimental value. Most importantly though we´re safe and sound, and have one of the best robbery stories in the whole of South America!

Almost worse than the robbery itself was the 8 hour ordeal afterwards waiting for the police to take our statements. We had to talk to the tourist police - the other police didn´t speak English so we spent hours without having a clue what was going on - but they had trouble getting to us through the ever-growing crowds of people in the surrounding streets. Finally the police had to escort us through the streets in a taxi - quite a stressful experience as the whole suburb was absolutely packed by this stage with drunk and exuberant people banging on the car, spraying us with foam and trying to open the doors. We eventually got back to our hostel at midnight, 8 hours after the robbery, tired, hungry and in desperate need of a shot of tequila. Thankfully some London mates, Richard and Suraiya, were on hand to drink with us til the early hours of the morning - it is Carnival after all and we seriously needed to get our body clocks into party mode.

You´ll all be pleased to know that we´ve managed to have ourselves a bit of fun since then. We´ve been to a football match at Maracana stadium which had an amazing atmosphere with all the Brazilians chanting, dancing and waving flags; we´ve been to street parties in Lapa where we were sold the strongest vodkas I have ever tasted in my life; we´ve been for a sunrise swim on Copacabana beach; and last night was the biggest highlight of all - the Samba parade! I can honestly say I´ve never seen anything like it. Seven of the best samba schools in Rio parade each night down the 800m purpose-built Sambadrome, each with over 200 drummers, floats and literally thousands of people in amazingly flamboyant costumes while the crowd dances and cheers. Words can´t really do it justice but we did manage to take some photos so we´ll try to upload them soon.

So all in all it´s been an eventful week. We have a couple more days of madness to go then I think we´re both looking forward to a change of pace as we travel down the Brazilian coast. Hope you´re all well, and keep those comments coming,

Emma :-)
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