2. Oct, 2015
Rio de Janeiro
We arrive at RDJ via Iguassu airport. Both Argentina and Brazil have airports which serve Iguazu and so because it is cheaper to fly internally we opt to fly out of Brazil. Again no immigration procedure for entering Brazil. With the need to go through immigration properly when I arrived at Rio De Janeiro I headed for the passport office and policia de federal to explain my situation. I was passed on to another group - for foreigners - who said that in order to come into Brazil I would have to immediately return to Iguazu and get my passport stamped there. You can probably imagine my thoughts - yes, what's the point! We hot-footed it out of the airport and headed for the bright lights of Rio like any good illegal immigrant before they could stop us.
If there is one place where you will see a diverse country which is building itself up literally from the bottom and has so much energy it will pick you up whatever your mood, it is Brazil, starting in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
A city divided by the streets and the ocean; a pretty and rare combination. Malaga is the only other major city that we had been to which combined a beautiful beach and an enticing city ripe for exploring. It was the best time of year to visit - no queues, warm climate and blue skies.
We took a long taxi ride from the airport to Lapa, the downtown area of RDJ, and then walked around RDJ as we waited for our room to be ready. We opted to eat at a small popular restaurant in the main district. Fed and watered I wait for the bill and I watched one of the playful waiters giving the waitress a Chinese burn. She winced and at first the other men who were standing nearby laughed and joined in with the perpetrator's laughter, that is until they saw my shocked face and the manager then told him to stop.
There is a significant difference in RDJ as to how men behave around women. Women are a definite object, something to be admired or an asset, whistled at and their bottoms and boobs abused, stared at and compared! Often RDJ women's self esteem is either high as they strut around flaunting all they've got with nothing left to the imagination or low as they stare to the ground embarrassed to catch the boggling eyes of the grouped men on the bustling pavements.
I am not sure what to think of this stance, but it is a tangible difference compared to all the countries we have visited thus far. If men behaved like that in the UK they would get slapped - hard.
Into our room and another tour of Lapa; we felt dazed by a humid but busy city. A calming evening of jazz revived us and we slept like logs ready for a whole day of touring this beautiful city. A lesson on living in Brazil awaited us, excited us and shocked us in equal measures.
Families sought solace and shelter from the sun under the trees on Copacabana Beach, women of all ages, shapes and sizes in thongs paraded up and down with their beach bags or friends in tow. The waves crashed playfully upon the golden shore. We hadn't seen sand this golden since Cancun. Comatosed lads lay in the sun, sand in their hair and tales in their head they would prefer to forget. Men were setting up their posts for the day and each post had a generator. I later realised that these generators were used to pump water to fuel the showers that they hired to tanned tourists. Ingenious. In Cusco many local people made their necessary dollars by washing the tourists' clothes and in Copacabana Beach they hired out parasols, chairs and allowed access to a generator fuelled shower! This is why I loved Brazil and the like, full of enterprising people that you just had to marvel at.
We met our guide for the day, Carlos, after a swift visit to Copacabana Beach where boys, girls, men and women set up their stalls inviting the dollars in to enable food to go on the table. I instantly loved the rawness of the place.
We were due to take in the Tijuca Forest, Christ the Redeemer, the tiled steps in Lapa, aka Selaron Steps and Sugar Loaf Mountain. RDJ is easy to orientate yourself around. There is much to see all around with Sugar Loaf at one end and Christ the Redeemer at the other and all around the remains of the forests and of course the 600+ favelas - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favela
The day was an educational lesson. Whatever I had thought about RDJ I could throw out of the window and start to rebuild. Travellers eyes and ears were open. I may not learn the same lessons others would, but this was my experience through my eyes.
Carlos, our guide, was a street man, who claimed to live in the favelas. He swore profusely, talked about hair ex wife's in a derogatory manner but gave you the low down of his beautifully vibrant and raw city.
We walked to the Selaron Steps and saw a film crew there; a common occurrence I am sure. It is such a picturesque and unique part of the city, not many other cities can claim to have. A colourful part of the city tiled to demonstrate its love of and for others. A place where both Snoop Dogg and Pharell Williams shot their music video for Beautiful'. We enjoyed posing for the photos on the steps and met some fun French and Americans there.
Favelas are everywhere in the barras (Brazil had barras and Argentina had Barros) of Brazil and apparently controlled more by mayors and the police than by gang and drug lords. Corruption seemed rife, with many people being bribed to stay quiet if laws were broken by the powerful ones, quite common behaviour in a country rapidly changing. We were keen to find out more about the politics and the mechanics of this changing machine and so asked Carlos to take us to his home favela in Rocinha in a couple of days' time- he agreed.
The lake, which will host the Olympic Games boat races, was believed to be heavily polluted as it comes from the river and the ocean where raw sewage is emptied into daily.
The journey to Christ the Redeemer was interesting as we passed many people walking to the top of the . I asked our guide why would people do that in the 33+ degree heat. He explained that people take the journey as a pilgrimage with some even doing it on their knees. I have seen this before - people going on a pilgrimage on their knees or prostrating - such a testimony of their faith coupled with a belief that they will be saved. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QrU5pZ9gs0o&autoplay=1
Regardless of my religious stance give me a lift in a Mazda van and an elevator to see Christ any day. My knees are not bleeding for anyone. My forefathers did that so I didn't have to. Enough said.
Christ The Redeemer was everything I had hoped it would be. There were no queues and comfortably busy. Again, like standing in front of the mighty Iguazu Falls or beholding the sights of Machu Picchu, it was an incredibly uplifting and unforgettable experience. For me I have to just stand there and stare and remind myself of the beauty of man and our beautiful world. The design of Christ has made it easy for any visitor to marvel at this statue. For me it means much more than a statue - it brings together the energy of people who engineered this to in praise of our redeemer. I couldn't help but be moved. I walked around the site with a huge smile on my face always looking up - bumping into people too - but always looking up. I was in heaven, truly in heaven. Thank you dear Lord. I went into the chapel, which is just below the statue itself and sat down, reminisced, gave thanks and prayed. It was just a perfect moment.
Lapa, where we stayed for the first two nights, was an entertaining hub. A place we had to crack open the doors despite being quite tired after a day of sightseeing. The streets were full and the pubs were empty. We truly loved the spirit of the people there and the streets were alive with music and chatter. Snuca (snooker) halls and samba classes were many and samba sessions went on openly in the streets and free clubs and bars. The air buzzed as the cicadas were drowned out by Rio's nightly musical cacophony.
Lapa was a hive of entertainment and a real treat for the senses. A lovely barra where people could exercise their bodies and showcase how to be Brazilian - many say this is not a Brazilian but a Rion - I would never know. The Brazilians were unlike any other group of people we had met on our travels - open, happy, generous and most importantly they were in the main high spirited and desperate to share their story and their country.
The fun continued into the next night and days as we enjoyed sun, sand and music. People were friendly, passionate and happy to help. Our choice of music the next day was a jazz singer or a typical Brazilian singer named Fernanda Santanna. A beautiful young lady not worthy of X factor fame, so much better, again a truly magical evening.
Music was everywhere - literally everywhere. Whist there Rio Rocks was on; Rio's infamous annual 5 day concert on the beach - Sam Smith and Rihanna headlined on Saturday, we didn't go but we enjoyed our Saturday night by sipping coconut milk from fresh coconuts on Copacabana Beach, watching the waves and the girls and boys play football, visiting the night market and generally soaking up the Copa ambience. We were due to leave the next day and had a busy day ahead so we headed back to hotel about 11.
I am sure the heritage of the Mayans and Inca's had a lot to do with the ambience of Central and South America - they worked so hard to pay back what they were taking, they are the original sustainability officers! They seem to be community spirited and ready to dance at all times.
Brazil's poor are really poor. Throughout the day and night people sell China's produce. Poverty doesn't discriminate, but people who have often do. A couple of women who were used to getting their own way haggle all day for things they probably have already with mums, dads, young boys and girls from the favelas who are trying to feed themselves and their families.
Nerja, Spain seems to have eradicated the sellers from their beaches, although some do still try to sell their goods. Stealth like they would meander through the crowds avoiding the municipal police, but in Rio there were hundreds, probably thousands, selling anything from prawns, sarongs, hats, empanadas, candy floss, footballs, kites to tours, jewellery and showers. Entrepreneurialism is something we have seen many times on our travels. When you have to be self sufficient without a welfare system people are very enterprising. If you have the enterprising gene it will never leave you and I have many friends who are extremely resourceful and enterprising at home, but often in the UK it is more likely that you when you leave education that you will not become self employed. Does this trend mean that Brits are less enterprising? I don't think so, I think Brits have many pastimes and nurture their entrepreneurialism through their roles, whatever they are. In Central and South America it is the opposite, it is highly likely you will become self employed, otherwise you will not survive. People keep themselves from the brink of death for many years by being self sufficient and enterprising. I know of too many people in the UK who have lay dormant for many years and know everything about welfare payments and now rely upon it as one of their many sources of income. I am not referring to the sick, infirm, disabled or elderly, but people who are fit enough to contribute positively towards their community, but spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to beat the system for decades or more. Are these people enterprising and keeping themselves from the brink of death and therefore deserving of this money that they have worked so hard for?
Rio buzzes 24 hrs a day. It has a pride I have never seen before, it spins you around, makes you dizzy and it leaves you wanting more. I loved it and I defy anyone not to. If there was ever a city that was deserving of the word incredible it is this one. The Olympic Games will be a triumph and if you know anyone going tell them to go and enjoy the games and to not visit the city's landmarks unless they are with a private guide who knows how to overcome the queues etc. I would suggest this because we felt energised by the city because it was easily accessible to us, the queues were non existent and it was winter, yet the temperature was still 35+. It's transport infrastructure is complicated and showing no signs of improving in time for the games and it only has 4 main landmarks and a couple of museums worthy of a visit. This means that they become overwhelmed with tourists in high season very quickly and people literally have to queue for miles - the permanent barriers around the sights suggest that this is so, equally on Sundays the Brazilians visit Corcavodo (Christ the Redeemer) in droves. My suggestion would be go and enjoy the games and the city culture, it is unique and will not be replicated anywhere else. The sights will be there in 100 years time! Lecture over.
There was a clear response to global warming and sustainability. Much was being to address the imbalance inflicted on the country over the last 80+ years to reverse the damage. Recycling, education, incentives to behave responsibly including teaching about the use of gas, electricity and deforestation via a huge advertising campaign; it seemed to be working very slowly. People talked openly about the need to be responsible and it seemed people were aware of the need to not waste precious resources like water. Deforestation, whilst it was still a political and Eco football, was slowly being addressed. http://www.newsweek.com/2015/04/03/brazils-deforestation-rates-are-rise-again-315648.html.
Social Policy and History and Paula's philosophy and simple understanding of this world
WWII and the aftermath was hideous, there will never be any disputing that, but the rebuilding of Britain since then has been heralded internationally as a success on all levels. Slums were bulldozed and people were displaced yes, but there was a new generation coming through who had hope and the ambitious consciousness of the nation continued and flourished.
My father would have entered the country along with many other Caribbean families in the 1950s and 60s again bringing different talents and flavours to the mix. Although immigrants at first were not welcomed by all the governments had the foresight to change a mindset through social policy and laws. This has meant as a consequence that I and millions of others now live freely in a country which in the main practices equality. If people don't think it does then please show me a place that does it better. I have visited Finland, Canada, Italy, India, Greece, North Africa and travelled all over the Americas and lived in the Far East and no one Country I have visited even comes close to offering what Britain does to all people - I dont have to biased,many would diasgree with me, but this is my firm belief.
Inequality exists across the globe, but hopefully when we know better we should do better and the way to know if we are doing better is to live a life through many pairs of eyes and then you can compare and appreciate. Many may think that Brazil is a poor country and therefore you might expect a certain amount of impoverished people, but why are the people so poor? hundreds of thousands of people lived in favelas or on the streets. Why? A country with such rich resources and much investment from across the globe. A country which has never been ravaged by war but just by poverty. It is at this point that my lack of historical knowledge I can trust means that I have no answers. But what I saw with my eyes disgusts me. There is greed and then there is greed. Ecuador, whilst again rich on resources, seemed to really practice equality. Many people were poor, as in Peru, but in Cusco and in Quito they do not live in slums. Why? One reason I believe is because the country has invested in all of its people, sharing out its wealth like a nurturing foster parent. This is what every leader should do. You have to be responsible for ensuring that the rich share their wealth like we do in the UK.
Long working hours is something that across the globe all countries do. I don't think we can call it suffering because it is something we choose to do to ensure a certain lifestyle for ourselves and those around us and that includes the people we serve. Whether you work on the streets of Brazil as a nut seller or work as a nurse in Bath it is likely that you will put in a minimum of a 60 her wk, that includes travelling to and preparing for your job. Then we top this with looking after ourselves and our family or friends shopping, cooking, washing etc. Life is going to be busy, whichever way we look at it, so we might as well enjoy working and living. Brazilians I felt epitomised this. Regardless of what they did they seemed to enjoy it, whether they lived amongst the alleged hopelessness of the favelas or in the alleged opulence of a beachside apartment, life was there for living and they were going to enjoy it.
We enjoyed living the life in Rio because the people were so exceptional.