Rio de Janeiro, May 2008

If it is possible to have a perfect day while travelling then this has to have been the one. I had no choice but to listen to my friends’ concerns about the safety of a trip to Rio de Janeiro and for a while thought I wouldn’t make it there at all. But persistent enquiries (well actually, me going on and on about it) eventually produced a friend of a friend in the Cidade Maravilhosa who would be prepared to meet me there and show me around.

Brazil has no railways to speak of (in that single statement hangs the economic hamstringing of half a continent) and so I took the overnight Cometa, to be met by Claudia at the bus station just after dawn. She is a university lecturer and was kind enough to give up one of her days off to show a complete stranger around her beloved city, the only explanation that I can think of for which is that, being a true Carioca, hospitality runs in her veins.

The photographs tell the story of that day better than I ever could, especially as I was so lucky with the visibility. If Venice is the city with the most beautiful architecture in the world then Rio is the one with the most beautiful aspect so I prey that I have been able to do it justice. For me, finally reaching the Corcovado was something of a pilgrimage and so I was less than impressed by the behaviour of some of the visitors, particularly those with more money than sense who hired a noisy helicopter to hang in front of the face of the Cristo and get their pictures.

The amazing sugar loaf formations constrain expansion and divide the districts, they are also the reason for those feared road tunnels without the use of which there is no getting around the city. We had to time our journeys accordingly and I had been given instructions to dress down for the occasion. It felt a little strange to go into the smartest jewellery shop in town wearing a T-shirt slightly stained with the remnants of a delicious beach-side lunch but apparently this is nothing out of the ordinary. It meant that I could happily play with some of the finest gemstones I have ever handled in my life without any of the smart vendeuses realising that I couldn’t even afford one of their carrier bags.

When it came time to return to the garage for the night bus I was quite taken aback by Claudia’s safety precautions. She ordered a hire car from the university pool and left her own car at her home address. What I had thought of as an innocuous mid-town destination was considered not only unsafe for her to drive to after dark but not even safe enough for her to take a regular taxi. And she lives there. We hadn’t had much of a discussion about how it had become so bad because I really wanted to spend the day enjoying the best that Rio could offer. However, even if I was left a little puzzled by how someone could have such a great love a place that was so very dangerous, it is not an exaggeration to say that I will always be grateful for such a wonderful day.

Categories: Latin America

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