Rainy de Janeiro

Trip Start Oct 09, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The first time I visited Rio it changed my life. I hadn't traveled anywhere but Europe and this trip was a real eye-opener to all of the unexplored possibilities that still remained for me out in the world. I'm happy to report that Rio hasn't changed much; it is just as wonderful now as it was six years ago. The only differences this time around were that the prices have gone way up (a combination of the Brazilian economy improving while the U.S. dollar has clearly weakened) and that I was here on a backpacker budget rather than a who-cares-what-I-spend holiday budget.

In 2002, Jeffrey and I couldn't manage to spend more than US$13 for a night out no matter how hard we tried. These days it's easy to spend six or seven times that amount if you're not careful. We got a quick lesson on our first night in Ipanema, when my Brazilian friend Erika took us out to an "industry" party for those employed in showbiz and the modeling industry. You'd be hard pressed to find a room full of such beautiful people anywhere else in the world on a random Tuesday night. We were surrounded on all sides by girls that made you want to rush off to a chapel and marry them immediately. One friend of Erika's, a somewhat-known model/actress named Natasha, was scheduled to do a beach photo shoot for a friend's bikini line the following morning. When I told her about Mikeo's aspirations to be a professional photographer (and his heavy suitcase full of camera equipment), it somehow resulted in an invitation for he and I to come along so he could take photos for his portfolio and so the bikini company's website could use any photos they liked. I'm not sure I've ever seen Mikeo more excited than the moment when I told him this news. And keep in mind I've seen him in the red light district in Amsterdam after a visit to several coffee shops. Unfortunately it would rain hard the next morning and the shoot ended up being rescheduled for a day the following week when we'd be out of town. Later that night, Harry ended up at a love motel; a place where rooms are rented out by the hour; that Brazilian society (much like Japanese) deems perfectly normal and acceptable. Next day he was thrilled to tell us about the mirrored ceilings, the Barry White tunes pumping through the speakers, and the tuxedoed employee that would come to the room bringing requested items on a silver platter.

It continued to rain for much of the next few days. I took this as an opportunity to do some sightseeing in the grittier parts of Rio that I was as-yet-unfamiliar with. Last time here I hadn't strayed far outside of the fairy tale sections of town. One afternoon we took a tram up to Santa Teresa, a bohemian neighborhood full of art galleries and old Portuguese architecture. At the top of the mountain we got an outstanding view of downtown Rio, as well as several nearby favelas. We went to a down-and-dirty street party in Lapa neighborhood on Friday night, with street vendors and live music in every direction (as well as the constant threat of theft). We went to an old-fashioned Samba club called the Rio Scenarium. There was the unique "favela funk" party inside Rocinha (Rio's biggest favela) where there were live rap performances and no other gringos to be seen. And we caught a high-scoring Flamengo soccer game at the famous Maracana stadium.

We finally got some nice weather and a perfectly clear afternoon to visit the Cristo statue and then take in a magnificent sunset on Sugarloaf Mountain. And we ended up getting plenty of beach time in Ipanema east of famous lifeguard tower #9.

A few things I learned about Rio: the police are still as corrupt as ever. The cops supply favela gangs with cars and guns; supposedly better equipment than what the cops themselves have. If a cop refuses to be corrupted he becomes a target. Erika's stepdad was a policeman killed in the line of duty. Her mother was a cop, too, but she quit after her husband's death. Everyone in Rio insists they'd rather be mugged than pulled over by a police car at night. After 10pm, drivers only have to slow down--not stop--at red lights to avoid attempts at carjacking. And you're told to never drive with your windows down near a favela.

In terms of politics, most educated Brazilians feel the current system is hopeless. All Brazilians over the age of eighteen are required by law to vote in presidential elections. The surprisingly large percentage of people that can't read or write are reportedly either bribed, tricked or easily influenced into voting for any candidate who is best able to speak to the lowest common denominator or who goes into the favelas and pays off the right people. Because so many voters can't read, voting booths include a color system and photos of each candidate next to the buttons. The current president of Brazil is considered to be the worst in recent memory. He never finished high school, speaks with poor grammar, and can't write properly. And because of the current electoral system, Brazilian intellectuals feel the country is trapped in a vicious cycle that will just continue to repeat itself until drastic steps are taken. I started to wonder whether the fact that 40% of eligible Americans choose not to vote in our Presidential election--a fact which I've always found terribly embarrassing--might actually be a good thing. Maybe it's better those people don't vote after all. Am I crazy to think that?

On a related note, the government of Brazil apparently declared that beginning in January 2009 they are going to change the spelling of between fifteen and thirty Portuguese words. Erika had no idea why, but thought it was "stupid" and that older people would really have trouble adapting to it.

Other amusing things that happened in Rio:
--We stayed in four different hostels, one of them cost only US$6.50 per night. That got us a bed in a dorm room with 27 other beds. At any given time of the day there were always at least five people asleep in that room.
--When we were checking into our last hostel, we heard someone shout "Whalebone!" It was two Aussies and a Brit that we'd met in Punta del Diablo, who evidently had not forgotten Mikeo's wonderful new nickname.
--One night in Ipanema, Harry was being relentlessly harassed by a transvestite prostitute. Mikeo stepped in and in no uncertain terms told him/her Harry wasn't interested. The hooker flew into a rage and said, "When you leave here tonight me and my whole favela will be waiting for you!" Mikeo waited a beat, then calmly replied, "I'll be ready."

I'm happy to report that Rio is still my favorite city in the world, warts and all. And I could still see myself being very happy living here. I'd definitely have to learn Portuguese, though. In Spanish-speaking countries I come off like a nine-year-old with a speech impediment. Here I am like a deaf three-year-old who can only communicate through hand gestures and facial expressions. If I even attempt to speak Portuguese, people grimace then beg me to speak English, even if they don't speak English.

Reading: Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

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i22s on

Você lindo desse jeito, aqui no Rio...hum
Pode continuar com seu inglês,se comunicando através de gestos...uHUU!

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