Monday, July 27, 2009

Rio ramblings

As Aerolineas kept postponing my departure date from Rio, I wondered if I might become like a character in a Somerset Maugham novel, a permanent resident of the Hotel Martinque in Rio de Janeiro, never quite managing to leave as I worked my way through the minibar.

The conference had been good, catching up with old friends in the Portuguese colonial ambience of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. I could start the morning with a swim, though this involved crossing 6 lanes of traffic (three of which usually reversed direction during my swim).

One evening I saw the sunset from the Sugarloaf, the pillar of rock dominating Rio's harbour entrance, and on a Saturday joined the crowds on the cog railway to the Corcavado, the figure of Christ with arms outstretched - where roving priests conferred traditional blessings, and the less devout had their photos taken in the traditional arms outstretched pose.

Rio does however have an edginess to it: I never felt unsafe, but was constantly being warned of the dangers. You can glance up through the gaps between the apartment blocks and hotels lining Copacabana beach and see the favellas, the poor hillside housing reputed to be drug gang territory. Apartment entrances are surrounded by steel cages where the middle class inhabitants can wait for a taxi without fear of being mugged.

The flight delay gave me a couple of days inland at Petropolis, which has a small town feel despite the presence of old imperial summer palace, where families scoot around the elegantly furnished in felt snowshoes issued to protect the mahogany floors (and possibly aid the polishing!). After walking to the Véu da Noiva waterfall in the Serra dos Órgãos National Park - like the Pararaha with bromeliads - I was walking down the road wondering when a bus would appear. A 4WD drew up beside and the driver offered a lift. This was good - I'd get to the town at least, and two or three bus connections would see me back in Rio. But as it turned out my benefactor was on his way to a meeting in Rio, so after an hour or so I was at a metro station in central Rio.

On the last day, I hired a bike and cruised the beaches on the excellent cycle path path, passing the ornate sand sculpture memorial to Michael Jackson, various escolas of volleyball, and the dedicated surfers on the Ipanema break. Then it was off to BA, and yet another hotel stay at Aerolineas' expense...

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