Saturday, March 29, 2008
Girl from Ipanema
Like so many things, rock-climbing on Pao do Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was a good idea - viewing the sunset from the top, and the city light up underneath was stunning. It's just that the dramatic set of bruises and scrapes down my left leg so nicely match my skinned right leg - the result of tripping on the sidewalk in Santa Teresa. What can I say... they match my snazzy new red Brazilian bikini (my rather demure one-piece at Ipanema beach left me feeling like I'd turned up to a cocktail party in jeans and a t-shirt). They also have been amazing conversation pieces, resulting in some very nice interactions with Cariocas (people from Rio) - not too mention the acquisition of several phone numbers of some sympathetic guys.
The most distinctive feature of Rio - other than the stunning location between beautiful ocean and bumpy hills - is the people. Cariocas are extremely friendly and helpful - when I fell in Santa Teresa, I was surrounded by about fifteen people in seconds, all helping me up and checking to see if I was alright. Waiters at restaurants aren't in the least bit taken back by a female eating alone, and are happy to chat - despite my dreadful Portuguese. The only people I dislike are a certain brand of obnoxious Western tourist - the ones who loudly complain that no one in Rio speaks English (what? people in Brazil speaking only Portuguese? the gall!); who think that talking louder will make people understand them better; who told me off for giving the streetkids a few reais for opening the door for me (apparently it encourages them); and who were shocked that I was going to catch the public bus to the beach (they seem to feel they're in danger of being shot the moment they step out of their air-conditioned luxury bus). But aside from a few irritable moments, they haven't taken away from my enjoyment of this city.
And what a city: Rio has its share of sights (like the giant statue of Cristo Redentor - and, more amusingly, the tourists getting photos taken in front of the
statue, attempting to mimic the outstretched hands - and, even more amusingly, the sardonic British couple, whose only comment was how tiring it must have been for whoever modeled for the sculptor to hold the pose for a long time). There's Maracana Stadium, where I had a chance to cheer on the favourite team of our cook in the Amazon - filled with true sports fans play samba during the game, wave giant flags and sing songs. But, really, Rio is all about the beaches. I was never a beach person until I saw the culture here. The entire city is out - from favela kids to posh Cariocas in designer beachware. Beautiful men and women are playing volleyball - or futvolei, which is like volleyball but with a soccer-ball and no hands. You can get a massage, have your fortune told, or your hair braided. People are selling agua de coco and cervejas. There are the surfing spots and the fishing spots, the live music spots and the hang-glider spots, the swimming spots and the lying on the beach spots.
On my last day in Rio, I walked around the Lago (lake) behind Ipanema to the Jardim Botanical. The Jardim is relaxed and empty - filled with amazing plants, long walks edged with of tall palm trees, an orchid house and, surprisingly for the humid tropical climate, a cactus garden. And, oddly enough, I was most fascinated by the cacti - from all over South America, they came in every shape and size - including tree-like cacti that spiralled around each other in a living Escher drawing.
I spent my last few hours in South America lying on Ipanema Beach and chasing crashing waves. Normally I'm excited about traveling - or going home after a long trip; but I have never wanted to get on a plane less than on Thursday night. A day and a half later, I am now sitting in a coffee shop in Boulder feeling a mixture of culture shock and, well, cold.
Brazil is a unique mixture of scarlet macaws (paradoxically squawking quite obnoxiously) and leaf-like insects, of art galleries and museums, of beautiful tanned people playing beach volleyball next to favela kids selling underpriced sucos (juice).
I am looking forward to analyzing my data from this field campaign - I hope to find something complex and interesting. Something that will require a speedy - but lengthy - return...