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Chapter 1

Spectating in Brazil

Mon, 10 Mar 2003

Arriving in Brazil with my only concession to Portuguese being a BBC course called ¨Talk Spanish¨ safely tucked away (and largely unread) in my luggage already destined me to being more of an observer than a participant in this vociferous country. Everyone talks to you, even after the most obvious protests of non-comprehension. In fact this makes it easy to make early steps in learning the language - quite refreshing after being in universally English-speaking Norway! One is forced to attempt to speak even on the first day!

Another factor pushing me towards observation was my arrival in Rio de Janeiro on the second night of Carnival. This is not Brazil on an average day and the scale and overall craziness is quite bewildering. On my second night, one of the receptionists at my hotel acquired (as some kind of tertiary supplier - which seems to be par for the course) for me a ticket to the Sambadrome. A dozen or so large schools compete for the ammual prize by choosing a (usually big) theme and proceding to Samba it & otherwise express it through the purpose-built arena - basically a 1km street surrounded by stands. The overwhelming impression one gets is of the thousands of people all singing and dancing together. The energy is like that you might imagine would be generated by an epic tribal religious ceremony. Indeed, the most memorable (perhaps because they stuck to their theme very well!) was a representation of the Exodus leading to the foundation of Judaism, Islam & Christianity! Ambitious you would think... not here! There was even a depiction of the parting of the Red Sea in dance involving several hundred assorted Israelites, Egyptian charioteers and waves - and of course one Moses with big stick!

On the last night of the Carnival, I decided to get more involved and went down to Copacobana´s notorious Help Club to experience a Rio party. I was, however, again reduced to the status of spectator after a very short but ill-advised stroll on the beach; I watched as a local ner-do-well kid who was trying to mug me was verbally repulsed by a tirade of words from a local girl! To whom I felt somewhat indebted afterwards. Again the callow Gringo feeling overwhelmed by the velocity & ferocity of Rio in Carnival. I had had the Copacobana experience!

The sights of Rio are well documented elsewhere - suffice to say that it is a very beautiful city squeezed into every possible space between the sea and the sheer rocks which stand behind it! My last day in Rio gave me time to reflect and to take in the American-feeling grid of street-canyons of the downtown area from the 20th floor pool of my (rather atypically posh) hotel. I was indebted to my friend Paddy´s Brazilian travel agent girlfriend that I was not left homeless in Rio over Carnival but it was with some relief and anticipation of more influence in my own destiny that I headed towards Paddy & Wanice´s home in a seaside resort town called Paraty a few hours bus-ride west of Rio.

Paraty was mericfully slower and more relaxing. A night out culminating in a beach party at which an unholy mix of Techno, MPB (Music Populaire de Brazil), Drum & Bass and Club Tropicana-style pop finished off the job of collapsing me into a deep sleep which had been started earlier by the quarter-litre of Cachaca in each of the Caiparinhas I had drunk. You notice after some time that the locals are somewhat wary of the Caiparinhas!

But of course the main event was the beach - although somewhat drowned in the Brazilian penchant for pre- & post- prandial beer, followed by a light refreshing drink or two mid-afternoon, followed by one before tea-time... you get the picture.

Paddy´s girlfriend runs a travel agency / internet cafe / bike hire / activities centre in Paraty, so Paddy & I took the opportunity to sample the local spots of interest on Saturday. To start with is a trip to the beach, including a secluded sea-water pool supposedly teeming with fish - in fact teeming with roughly 200 tourists of all sorts, being amply supplied with beer by the local entrepreneurs and being ferried into & out of the pool by a constant stream of 20 boats with outboard motors. Needless to say I didn´t spot too much fish-life, just the occasional one who was no doubt in there on a dare from his friends!

The trip culminated in a visit to a local waterfall at which the locals practice ¨tobogganing¨- basically sliding down the smooth water-covered rocks. The locals do it standing up! :-) Of course disaster loomed for the tourists! One Brazilian girl attempted the toboggan without a thought for the fact that the plunge pool at the end would required elementary water safety techniques - such as the ability to swim. Our able guide resued her of course... after she went under for the third time. But the Schadenfeude prix de honor of the day goes to the accident prone Japanese tourist who predictable fell over whilst trying to get a good shot from a rock down-stream. As he hit the rock in the prone position, he was writhing around like a contestant from one of those Japanese reality/disaster TV shows but he soon realised his fate was sealed and gave up the fight as he started to gain speed into the first drop of the toboggan run. Somehow he managed to preserve his footage for posterity by desperately, but expertly flung his camera to a willing bystander. A masterful reaction! Luckily (& adding to the comedy value) he was wearing nothing but speedos and sandles but nothing was going to save his glasses from a watery end. He took the course rather well in the end and I had to conclude that he must have been a scout in his youth because not ten minutes later I saw him sporting an unabashed expression and another pair of glasses - this time a pair of the bottle-glass type. I can only imagine that he anticipates such events as unfortunate by inevitable wherever he goes.

Well, that´s it for now. Off to the less steamy climes tomorrow via Sao Paulo & the Igassu Falls. Perhaps I will see the Japanese guy again there - if only disappearing once again over the edge...

Love, hugs & cheers as appropriate,

Rob