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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.

(All Brazil)
Sunset, oh yeah.
Dog Day Afternoon
Wanted: Postman for cool ride
Groovy beach vendors
Guess which way is up
. .