Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sheepishly mumbling the word rabbit three times over as I awoke (for luck), I looked out of the window and discovered the sun shining down upon the city through a cloudless blue sky. A day for smiles. A day for the beach.
Instead of walking the 4km to Ipanema, I jumped on one of the many buses running past my hostel, bound for the neighboring burro. Working my way back to the hostel along the shoreline of Ipanema and Copacabana, I picked up on the different groups of people who had segregated themselves into specific parts of the beach. There was the section for young teenagers; the elderly with grandchildren; the surfers; the dog owners; the fishermen; the bodybuilders; the families with children; the homosexual men; the dark, black Brazilians, and my personal favorite: Rio's beautiful, affluent, and sexy.
It's hard not to walk around this city without prior expectations and stereotypes coming to mind. Before arriving in country, Rio de Janeiro was Brazil to me. Rio was the land of…
- Booty—Brazilian girls with so much junk in the trunk the country must look like a Sir Mix-a-Lot video
- Waxing—it's called the Brazilian Wax for a reason, right?
- Promiscuity—kissing is like a handshake, sex like a hello
- Crime—everywhere, at all times of the day, in every part of the city
- Kid gangs—a bullet from a seven year old with a pistol can kill just the same as one from a grown man
- Favelas—shanty towns of poverty to the extreme, seen only by those foreigners who don't value their possessions (or lives)
- Cosmetic surgry—ass not big enough, get an implant
- Drugs—name your pleasure
- Prostitution—name your pleasure
- Skimpy swimwear—men in short-shorts and women wearing little more than dental floss
- Big Jesus—a colossal statue as large as a Titan overlooking Rio
- Carnival—something that makes the American knock-off in New Orleans look like a junior-high school dance
I still haven't had much exposure to Rio, but going off of what I've seen and heard I've been revising my misconceptions.
- Booty—Far less than expected. Darker girls have more curves, but nothing you can't find in Los Angeles
- Waxing—what you don't hear about is the masses of the female population that only shave their legs up to the point of their skirts… smooth up to mid-thigh, then fur!
- Promiscuity—I'm told most girls loose their virginity around 13, and think boys with 100 sexual partners is fairly typical (including pay-to-play sessions). Like Costa Rica, fathers might buy a boy a hooker for his 14th birthday
- Crime—everywhere, at all times of the day
- Kid gangs—a reality, but more knives than guns
- Favelas—Poverty is everywhere, but in varying degrees. Tours are given to the shanty towns, but you still won't find my ass in one. I've seen lots poverty, and feel no need to throw my camera in an impoverished person's face
- Cosmetic surgery—far less than what was seen in Colombia
- Drugs—I hear lots of stories about fake sales to the tourists
- Prostitution—easier to buy than drugs, with one traveler calling Copacabana "a whorehouse"
- Skimpy swimwear—men in spandex shorts are more common than women in tiny bikinis
- Big Jesus—tiny little fellow on a hill
- Carnival—I'll find out in two weeks
The Beach Scene
The most amazing thing to see on the beaches of Brazil is the Brazilians. I believe there's only a handful of countries in the world where the local population actually enjoys going to the beach as much as the tourists, and Brazil is definitely one of them.
There are all body types on these beaches, and seems to be a decent representative of the larger population. I walk down the beaches and am far from wowed, but find the scene to be rather average—the exception being that it's so rare (and enjoyable) to see people with dark, black skin out enjoying the sun, surf, and sand.
Speaking of the surf, the water is cold enough for a Killer Whale to feel comfortable—burrrr!
The Empanada Equation
This is something I'll probably talk more about as I'm leaving the continent, but I think there's a broad stereotypical formula that I can use to create most any Latin American town. I'm calling this the Empanada Equation.
A big statue of Christ or a massive cross on the tallest hill in the town's vicinity is part of the formula. As the Swedes and I drove into Rio we saw the Jesus, and I immediately knew I wasn't going to visit it—a Titan this was not, but a tourist trap. Little Jesus up on the hill, looking down, wondering what happened to the town over the years…
I've seen my share of big Jesus', and Rio's looks like just any other on a long list. I'm sure the vista is nice, but even if I wanted to check out the viewpoint, the weather has been far from corporative. The statue has been in a cloud for the majority of my time here (and I'm not going to trade free beach time for the view when the clouds part).
There's a problem here in the hostel, and it's making me uncomfortable. The guy sleeping in the bunk below mine told me yesterday that he thought the latch screws on the rolling locker under our bunk had been tampered with (like someone was trying to unscrew them to gain entry). His locker is right next to mine, which was a little unsettling.
Then, today, the fellow bunking across from me said there was damage to his latch that wasn't there when he left that morning. The wood was damaged, and it looked like someone had tried to pry the lock off.
The problem is the design of the lockers. They rely on the bottom of the lower bunk to act as the lid, when they should have one independent of the bed frame. Even locked, I can pry the box away from the frame enough to squeeze my large hand into the goodie bin. Sadly, only better latch design will help keep people from prying them off the wood.
I suggested improvements to the staff, who let slip they've had problems with people tampering and stealing the contents of the bins in the past. This was not something new for Stone of a Beach, yet I don't think they've done anything to mitigate the situation.
This type of thing makes me very unhappy. I expect bandits on the streets, but in my home is a different story. I find it hard to believe a tourist would go through so much trouble to steal (most of it seems to be opportunistic in nature), and instinctively point the blame elsewhere. I've heard construction in the building recently, and think locals are more likely to go to such lengths.
If I lost my backpack… it's not a good to think about. Something akin to loosing my home to a fire, with a bunch of money stuffed into the bedroom mattress.
I carry around more cash than the average backpacker, and this has been bothering me since I entered Brazil. If my backpack is nabbed or aggressively liberated from me, I'd not only loose all my belongings, but a substantial amount of money. With this in mind, I've been spending dollars (often for my housing) at every opportunity since Uruguay.
Spending the bulk of my dollars isn't a problem for me, as I'll be making a layover in the United States on the way to SE Asia, probably in about two months time. So replenishing the reserve of hard currency I keep on hand won't be a problem.
I'm trying to decide what to do with the rest of my time before Carnival (on the 15th). I have the room I'm in reserved until the 3rd, and find myself trying to figure out if I want to spend any more time in Rio. My first reaction—no.
I'm looking at the guidebooks and in online resources about destinations between Rio and Salvador that I can bus to. Some sound interesting, but the cost of bus travel is prohibitive. The cost of taking "small" (8–12 hour) jumps between towns will result in bus expenses that are at least double that of a direct 27-hour trip to Salvador. The guys setting the asinine bus prices here should be stoned.
Instead I find myself looking at airfare again, and think I've found a flight in a few day's time that will actually get me to Salvador for less than the cost of a direct bus ticket (if you can believe that silliness). The airline Web site I need is broken (sigh), so I'll have to wait until morning, when I can speak with a travel agent.
There are some new developments in event accommodations, and I just might have a place for the festivities. Keep your fingers crossed for me.