We had a mixed time in Rio, only there for a couple of nights with one full day in between. First evening we went to a football game which was great fun, mingling with the local fans, sharing some beer and enjoying the insane atmosphere complete with competing drum bands (for the same side). It was a pre-season “friendly” between local teams and so stadium was not full but the noise generated would put any sell out premiership game to shame.
The pre-match atmosphere was building and when both team buses passed us at a local bar under police escort one got cheered and one jeered of course. Then when the hard core fans of the home team, Botto Fogga, also marched up the road under escort – led by a policeman with sub machine gun – you get the idea they take football seriously here! Comment of the evening from Karen, seems quite friendly between the fans. Only because you don’t speak Portuguese, so cannot understand the abuse, was the response!
Next day we had a busy schedule of back to back tours. Firstly a favela tour and then a sunset tour of the city to catch the major sights. We had a bit of a debate over the favela tour as it could be a bit of a freak show – “rich tourists” turning up to gawk at the poor – however we were assured that the tours help the favela so we went.
Glad we did as it was both informative and thought provoking. We went to Hioscina where some 200,000 people live cheek by jowl. There are only a couple of main roads and an absolute maze of alleys. There is, or at least was, no planning control so one of the features of a favela is the total haphazard construction – windows facing walls, houses half built on top of each other. Many of the inhabitants work as labourers in construction so the claim was they know how to build but not the technical parts such as soil movement, structural engineering and so forth.
In recent years huge efforts have been made to improve the safety and environment of the favela. Improving sanitation, medical provision and a hard line crack down on drug dealing. It still exists but nothing like to the extent it was, much more effort to try and make a decent living. There seems an obvious police presence on the streets, we were told there were 700 police in the favela which had caused some resentment but people now appreciated the improved safety. Apparently the intention is to increase this to 4,000 – one for every 50 residents which seems to be perilously close to big brother – perhaps too much of a good thing.
The government has put in limited hospital facilities and some structural engineering to prevent the worst of the deadly landslides that have occurred in the past and limited where houses can be rebuilt. We wondered about taking gifts for the children but were told it’s not a good habit to encourage them to expect free stuff and much better to support the local community by spending money in the favela, which we duly did by buying some handmade jewellery, food and a donation to the day care centre.
It is simple things that take you back like the fact that there are no roads means there is no refuse collection, access for an ambulance or fire service or delivery of post other than by the local post system which runs in parallel with the national service that runs unsurprisingly out of knowledge when it comes to the impenetrable maze in front of them.
There are clearly problems with sanitation as there are open sewers at every turn, Hioscina overlooks a district of high rise flats which were described to us as occupied by “millionaires” as the cost of an apartment could run to $10m plus however the beach they are situated on not useable because of the limited sewerage treatment of the waste pouring out of Hioscina…………..no irony there then.
The other thing was the incredible wiring, it’s amazing how there is not a daily all consuming conflagration as the amount of illegal wiring is simply gobsmacking. The guide told us many people don’t pay for electricity or waste disposal, the government pays for the medical facilities, with an average income of around $1200 per month and rents around $500 there is little money for anything but daily survival. A couple of years ago the local TV company distributed free satellite boxes as they saw a captive audience, this has resulted in improved post coding and post service even if only to deliver the monthly bills. Thats free enterprise for you.
So whilst life is undoubtedly incredibly tough in this environment it does seems to be improving compared to the past, however not for one second does it fail to remind you how lucky you are to be born in the first world and not the third.
One other oddity was that we were told it was alright to photograph the children, but to ask to photograph teenagers or adults, completely the reverse to home.
The afternoon city tour was the reason for our mixed feelings; the weather was cloudy and so meant the two highlights of the tour, the visit to the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf were a complete waste of time as views were none existent. Generally the tour felt somewhat hurried, no opportunity to eat or use the toilets on a 6 hour tour and here is an interesting bohemian area but given no time to browse the shops, and the guide not the best although we were amused by three Argentinean girls on holiday in Rio for 2 weeks and determined to have a good time regardless. They had us in stitches and called everyone by the country they originated from i.e. hey English, Columbia etc.
Particularly the visit to sugarloaf was frustrating as it was clear it was going to be a non event from the bottom but the guide insisted it was part of the tour so might as well go. We found out later that the rest of the group with a different guide were offered the option of a $50 Real refund (the tour cost $150) instead. Quite irritating to pay $100 between us to watch rain drip off an awning and adding a good hour and half to an afternoon we should just have written off as one of those things. The trip up the opposite mountain to photograph Sugarloaf at sunset was cancelled……………..
The main cathedral is a hideous concrete pyramid from the outside a more interesting space inside, I swear inspired by Paddy’s Wigwam (Catholic Cathedral) in Liverpool which opened 10 years earlier.
The highlight of the day was to the Selaron steps, a flight of steps decorated in ceramic mosaics and tiles by a Chilean artist, Jorge Selaron, over many years. Actually the artist had been murdered the previous week following a dispute with a partner (over money) killer stabbed him and then doused him with petrol on his sofa. Still at large……
Still to put things in perspective the tour of Rio is the first significant disappointment in 2 months so I guess you just have to take the rough with the smooth. We will just have to come back for the World Cup and/or Olympics!
Next day we left for Ouro Preto, a stunning colonial town and the source of the movement that led to independence from Portugal. Enroute we stopped in Petrópolis to visit the Imperial Museum in the former summer palace of Don Pedro II another example of how the other half lived and a fascinating insight into life for the privileged at that time. One quirk of Brazilian museums is that you aren’t allowed to take any photographs so don’t have any to show you of interiors. Sorry.
Originally a gold town the Portuguese crown squeezed the taxes from Ouro Preto to the point of revolution believing that the poor returns were the result of conspiracy to defraud the crown rather than the depleted reserves.
An inspired decision in the 1930’s to preserve Ouro Preto has made it the world heritage site it is today with a fine collection of buildings including 23 churches with stunning carvings and painted decoration. Whatever your views on religion you have to admire the art.:-)
Did I mention the poor weather followed us from Rio and we spent the day in a complete deluge (2007 Gloucester floods deluge), the only advantage it was warm rain. We spent the morning having a brief look around the town and gaining disapproving looks from the staff in the coffee shop we dripped all over. Then we spent a fascinating two hours in the “Museum of Conspiracy” learning all about the heroes of the independence movement and their battle with the Portuguese crown.
We then spent a couple of hours looking at the finest of the church buildings, stunned at the carvings and decoration. A damp night in the tent and everyone desperate to dry out washing as dry clothes now at a premium, particularly for those who had a wet time at Paraty.
We then had a long two day haul north to Porto Seguro, for some beach time, ahead of the madness that is Carnival in Salvador. Nothing but sunshine greeted us and the rain and clouds of Rio rapidly forgotten.
Camp site at Porto Seguro was awesome with a pool, outside sofa’s and a beautiful sandy beach across the road. We spent an interesting couple of hours at lunch in a beach bar enjoying the banter of the beach sellers and just people watching (including bikini quality control for Steve). We bought toasted cheese on sticks, toasted to order on a portable bbq, which were delicious. Shared a lunch with some of the group and then headed back to camp for a swim in the pool, poolside relaxing and a truck barbeque that evening.
Change of plan for Mon / Tues as Odyssey need to access bank to pay for carnival tickets so have moved to another beach campsite at Olivencia just outside Ilheus instead of planned Intunas. Got up early to see the sunrise at 5am and won the tripod competition with Tony. A leisurely couple of hours in town to do a few errands and then back for lunch and an afternoon stroll watching the beach fishermen. Beach BBQ planned for tonight.
Francois made up our own fruit and rum punch which went down a treat at the post bbq beach bonfire, even the 10 minute downpour didn’t dampen spirits, another great day.
Next blog post will be regarding Carnival…….timing will be connectivity dependent!.
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