Saturday, 12 July 2014

Rio, Rio, Rio!

A city I have wanted to visit for so long has not disappointed me. It feels like we've been here for ages and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do justice to the things we've seen and done, but I'll give it a go.
We've been staying in a gated community for Brazilians, which despite being noisy has allowed us the opportunity to speak to the local kids. On arrival we were pleasantly surprised at being given the only room with a private bathroom.
The football has gone by in a haze of beer and shouting at a big screen; a blur of excitement and being whipped up with the crowds, and the inevitable desperate disappointment. I can't say 7-1 wasn't a bit of a kick in the teeth. We were at the Fan Fest on the beach at the time, and everyone just started leaving. Bloody Germany! (Although now I'm rooting for them in the face of the alternative- I don't think the Brazilian population will cope well if Argentina win the world cup). I've finally plucked up the courage to wear my England shirt and even joined in with some boys one evening in a rendition of "I'm England till I die..."
We travelled in a van up the tiny winding road to Christ the Redeemer, and had a perfectly clear sky for the view. The next day we took cable cars up to Sugar Loaf Mountain, which to me was even more impressive. We sat for ages on a bench (and made friends with a little monkey) entranced by the view. There's something truly beautiful about this city; the mix of trees and mountains with skyscrapers, the shiny buildings interspersed with grotty.
Without realising it, we managed to rent a place right in the popular area of Lapa, famous for its white arches that run across the main street, and its serious night life. The place gets so busy that people can't even get into the bars, instead drinking in crowds on the street, drinking caiprinhas from vendors. We've met so many people, listened to so much live samba and drums, the only downside being that the place often stinks of p*ss.
As with Sao Paulo, in Rio it's impossible to ignore the massive problem of homelessness, and the scariness of many people's complete lack of acknowledgement for the desperate circumstances others are in. One situation that stands out in my head is when a group of heavily armed police laughed at and mimicked a man walking past, dirty and barefoot. The sad thing is that it can be scary and sometimes threatening to be approached by someone asking for money, and often helping one person leads to having ten more come your way. I did get a bit unnerved one day when Lee gave money to a boy, to which many more then came running, grabbing at the notes Lee held out, fighting with each other over it, or crying desperately because they didn't get any. I hope that this holiday has taught me to be kinder and not to ignore the suffering of others with some justification that it's not my problem. 
I've seen more police here than ever before in one place. They are mostly military police, armed to the absolute teeth with body armor, batons and guns. We even saw a man jogging up to Christ the Redeemer holding a machine gun! To which the driver said, "He's a policeman" as if that would reassure us.
We've discovered so many gems in this city. It's easy to walk past the ugly as hell cone building in the centre of town that resembles an industrial chimney, missing the beautiful cathedral it is on the inside. We discovered the Escadaria Selaron steps which are brightly tiled with pictures representing countries from around the world, from the ground all the way up to the monastery at the top. We walked across the disused railway line that runs across the white arches of Lapa. We visited three different beaches and discovered hidden roads, restaurants and random markets. We've gone swimming in our underwear and even jumped the waves next to David James!
As I said, it's hard to do it justice in writing. Hopefully the pictures will do a better job.


Friday, 4 July 2014

Sao Paulo and Football Mania

So what's been going on? My week in Sao Paulo was one of more football than I ever thought I could stomach. We spent a lot of time at the Fan Fest area in the centre of the city with a huge screen and masses of dressed up and face painted fans from all over the world. Seriously, I might not find such a mix of people during the haj in Mecca. Funny how religion and football can be so easily compared- there are definitely a fair few people here at the world cup who worship their team and bow down to their players. 
For the first time ever I got to experience what it’s like to win a penalty shoot out- as an honourary Brazilian. I was even mistaken for a Brazilian girl so I was pretty happy with that! I’ve also fallen in love with the entire Costa Rican team (Greece- Costa Rica, amazing game), comiserated crying Mexicans and had my head squished between two crazy celebrating Argentinians.

Melting into the crowd??

Lees new Brazilian buddy

But enough about football, what of Sao Paulo? 
It’s been an exciting and sometimes scary place to explore, which I think would be made much easier by knowing someone in the city to show you around. We arrived in the evening and got a taxi to our slightly out of town 'love hotel' (it was cheap, OK?!), feeling a bit too edgy to venture out into the surrounding quiet streets that night. 
It soon became clear that we've been become so accustomed to visiting countries that speak English well that we forgot that perhaps learning some of the native language might be useful. Hence the overuse of the word obrigado! in answer to everything. Oh the ignorant English, *shudders of embarrassment*.
On our first day we went to one of south Americas largest city parks, Ibirapuera, where you can see the skyline of Sao Paulo in all its glory in the background. At the park we drank coconut water and cycled around the lake, admiring the vast variety of big trees. 

In between the many football games, we've trekked the good, the bad and the downright ugly (or should I say scary) streets, taking in the sights and visiting a random selection of bars and restaurants. We've uncovered the joy of the 'weigh your plate' buffet dinner, which I think should have the tag line- "A balancing act between piling your plate as high as you truthfully want to and facing the shame of taking it to the lady to weigh it." 
After reading bad reviews about the hotel we've booked for our last night in Brazil, we decided to go and check the area out in advance. I'm so glad we did, as even in broad daylight I've never felt so uneasy! It was a street lined with motorbikes in various levels of disrepair and cluster after cluster of men just hanging around, with a spattering of police vans and prostitutes. Needless to say we're not gonna bother staying there. 
We walked around the large business district of Paulista, where people in suits bustle around importantly. We had wine at the Skye Bar, a luxurious rooftop bar on top of a boat shaped building, with amazing views of the city. The menu was actually reasonably priced, except for a bottle of Rockafella white wine which was over a thousand quid, for goodness sake! 
Both Lee and I felt that the rich side of Sao Paulo was a little hard to enjoy, when there is so much poverty in the city. At night, homeless people line the doorways of the city centre and huddle in sleeping groups outside the cathedral. This city is certainly the worst place we've been to in terms of the gap between rich and poor. It saddens me to know that I live in a world like this, where people- including me- enjoy nice wine and nice food while other people starve. It's madness. 

The cathedral of Sao Paulo
The luxurious Skye bar.  Unfortunately we're still working out how to use our camera so the pictures from the top weren't very good.

Then, after a rather terrifying six hour bus ride with a mad driver intent on bullying every other vehicle on the road and overtaking everything in sight, we've arrived in Rio. But more about that later!  
What would a blog about Brazil be without a little graffiti?