It's teeny weeny time again ...

Trip Start May 01, 2005
Trip End Mar 25, 2006

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Flag of Brazil  ,
Monday, August 29, 2005

Have you seen that film 'City of God' about life in one of Rio's infamous favelas? Well, someone should make a film called 'City of ... God, did you see that bloke??'. Rio de Janeiro is the only place where an elderly man can amble up the centre of Ipanema in the midday heat dressed solely in his teeny-weenies and no-one will turn a hair. It's an amazing, wonderful city, noisy and chaotic, where enormous wealth and desperate poverty live uneasily on top of each other. Beautiful art-deco buildings are swamped by ugly, towering apartment blocks, and a bus journey of two miles can take over an hour along the city streets.

Julia and I found a lovely hostel in Ipanema, the Hostel Harmonia, a five-minute walk to the beach where people-watching is all part of the fun. From the over-sculpted rich women proudly sporting strips of plaster on the bridges of their noses, to the grandmothers tottering in hip-replacement-inducing wedge sandals the height of a small dog, and the buffed-up and glistening volleyball players vying with each other in the 'my teeny-weenies are teenier than yours' stakes. We dragged ourselves away long enough to visit the imposing art-deco Christ the Redeemer, marvelling at how the architects managed to roll his head all 710 meters up the Corcovado mountain. Sunset is the best time to visit Jesus, when the city lights flicker on like fireflies and the views are stunning. You suddenly realise why being a tourist is pretty cool.

Back to the hostel for some serious footy chat with the other inhabitants, including an Italian Man City fan, an American Man U fan (poor boy) and an Israeli with a bizarre west country accent, explained by his being a steward at Bristol Rovers for six years. The national obsession with football here has to be seen to be believed, and so we went to see one of Rio's teams, Vasco da Gama (currently 16th in the league) play Brasiliense from the country's capital city and one place below Vasco. The Sao Januario stadium (capacity 40,000) is in one of the city's poorer neighbourhoods, where you stop at red lights only if you want a ten year old boy with a gun to request a contribution to his upkeep. Intimidating isn't the word for it. But once we got into the stadium, past the rows of tooled-up police, we felt less apprehensive. Standing on the terraces with the hard-core supporters to our left, the game was unlike any other match I've seen. There were high metal fences surrounding the pitch, no stewards, no television screens, no clock, no mascots, and no stadium announcements. Oh yes, and no away fans - Brasilia is over 700 miles away and they don't run football specials here. But that didn't stop the home fans. For the entire match, the stadium boomed with singing and drums, flags and scarves were waved, flares lit on the terraces, and abusive chants were aimed at the referee. We learnt how to yell 'the ref is a w*nker' and 'we know where you live' in Portuguese. Football is truly the universal language. The match itself was a 'get down the goal mouth as quick as you can' without a huge amount of skill (so i'm told). A penalty decision was greeted by a beer shower (note: do not wear a white shirt to any Brazilian footy match) and finally Vasco won 1:0 which is a blessing as, I am told, had they lost we would have been treated to an exhibition of in-house fighting.

We spent the remainder of our time in Rio shopping, visiting museums including a wonderful Henry Moore retrospective at the Paco Imperial, dancing in samba clubs and being laughed at by the locals for our inept efforts, and soaking up the atmosphere of a city that absolutely loves itself. I wish weŽd had more time in Rio, but Julia left for London on Saturday, and I am now in Foz do Iguasu, ready to see the waterfalls and explore Argentina for the next couple of months. Julia and I had a fantastic five weeks travelling together and I wish she was still here. She even treated me to a night in one of Brazil's best hotels, the Solar do Ponte in Tiradentes, where you can have afternoon tea and cake and sit in front of a roaring fire drinking cocktails. But I've got loads yet to come and I'm not sick of living out of a rucksack just yet. I`ve even discovered a cool game you can play if you're really bored and can find empty cigarette packets - the back of the packs here are illustrated with hideous photographs of what can happen to you if you smoke. The game is based on football cards - "I`ll swap you my double amputee for one pair of blackened and rotting lungs". Hours of fun.

And so after two months in this country, it's adios Brazil and hola Argentina. If it's as good as Brazil has been, I`ll be a very lucky girl. I'm looking forward to all the meat and red wine. My aim is to eat so much steak, it will still be in my colon this time next year.
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