Moments from Rio
Mar 4th, 2006
Seven-eighths of the way up Sugarloaf Pao de Azucar -- the
famous basalt monolith that peers over Rio de Janeiro -- has won this round.
Good tourists take the tram up to wander around the top and drink Brazilian
caipirinhas at sunset. Or, adventurous ones hire a climbing guide and ascend
with proper gear. Being neither, I am free climbing up a route that may or
may not require ropes. Sadly, just 100 feet from the top, I have to turn back.
The slick runoff and a 200 foot cliff are a knockout combo. Otherwise,
I could spider my way across a 6 foot gap using the climbing anchors.
But today it's the slip-n-slide of doom. Sort of early in the
trip to die, so I just took in the view instead.
Your costumes are too big when two of them will barely fit into a station-wagon
cab. We had 4. Really, they looked much smaller when we ordered them. In order to join
in Rio's big Samba Parade, one must buy a costume from one of the schools. Now, we had
to find a way to transport them from a Northern suburb to the city. A helpful cabby who couldn't fit
them into his car made several calls on his cell phone to find a combi minibus, and then
waited to help us negotiate the fare for 20 minutes. Without a kickback, without more
than a handshake and a thumbs-up. Wonderful, wonderful people..
Motel Rio 3am, far to the north of Rio's center, my friend Enio and I have
just finished a frenetic night at a samba "rehearsal" for the Carnival parade.
Instead of backtracking 2 hours, we opt for a by-the-hour motel until daylight.
It's as if we've been trapped in a 70s porn flick: wall mirrors glazed golden with
an embracing couple flanked by deer and butterflies. A king-sized vinyl bed covered by a thin
cotton sheet and the 12-foot mirror on the ceiling overhead. At 4:30am, we hear gunshots
and screaming, but are greeted in the morning by a curiously nice cup of espresso when
we check out.
Samba Parade Detritus Just finished with Rio's samba parade, our group files
through the clearing area for participants. Surrounding us are other participants
in-costume: Amazon warriors, walking bananas, llamas. We are "Indian Fishermen",
with rainbow feather hats and breastplates. A wicker fish hangs from each shoulder;
they constantly attack other participants, requiring interventions. We thread our
way through the wreckage of costumes discarded -- stray flower skirts and sugarcane
spears. Amidst the wreckage of the fantasias, it seems all the butterflies prefer to
be caterpillars. One of our group, Patrick, had both his sandals disintegrate during the parade.
Scouring these piles in the pre-dawn darkness, we find him replacements: a golden
Greek sandal and a Mickey-Mouse foam clog.
Pregnant Ladies in Bikinis are everywhere. Riding the bus, in the
supermarket, ordering midnight barbecue at roadside tents that sprout like
mushrooms at dusk. Often, they wear shorts that could be painted on.
And always, they dance to the music in the air.
Standing in a light drizzle at 1:30am in the one of Rio's suburbs,
Claudia and I are waiting for a combi minibus to take us back over the hill
where we will take a cab to get back to her place. Her car is broken, so to
avoid the $30 cab fare, we wait along with three cute Carioca girls (Rio Natives).
We watch not one, not two, but *seven* combis pass to Rio das Pedras, the incorrect
destination. Collectively we decided that all of Rio has moved to Rio das Pedras.
Wetter by the minute, we let out a simultaneous cheer as the correct combi finally
pulls up to deliver us from the dance club.
It is 3am, and the bar next door won't stop They have been pumping out
samba music for the last 72 hours, without so much as an ebb in volume.
Amazingly, we are so exhausted that we can sleep through this for a few hours
each night, enough to scamper off in the morning to neighborhood drum parades
and 200,000 person block parties. Finally, at 12:01 am sharp on Mardis
Gras Wednesday, silence.