Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 1: Downpours, Diapers and Christ the Redeemer Under Repair

The rainy view from our hostel, located in the neighborhood of Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

"Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking"...check that.

"Short and pale and middle-aged and soaking, the girl from Buenos Aires goes sloshing"...note to self: before next trip, check

We arrived in sunny Rio de Janeiro in a downpour of biblical proportions, following 24 hours of non-stop torrential rain. After standing in the pouring rain for 30 minutes and soaked to the skin, we were making no progress determining which airport bus traveled to the neighborhood where our hotel was located, so we decided to splurge and take a taxi. We stayed at a lovely hostel called Bellas Artes Guest House, located in a very charming area called Santa Teresa, about 20 mins from the center of Rio. Unfortunately, the hostel sits halfway down a steep flight of stone stairs, which was like trying to make our way down Iguazu Falls with full backpacks during the storm. On top of that, the power had gone out due to damage to the above-ground electrical cables, so the doorbell wasn´t working and we had to stand in the rain yelling through the window until the door was opened. To avoid attracting thieves who might target tourists, many of the hotels in Rio don´t have signs outside, so we weren´t even sure that we were at the right place! We dried off and set off to forage for food, but the power blackout had affected the entire area and all the restaurants were either closed or had stopped serving food. We were starving, and finally, Marco, the owner of  the local jazz spot and bistro, Bar do Marco, took pity on us and grilled some fish and potatoes for us, which we ate gratefully in the dark by the romantic light of our flashlight (along with two very large caipirinhas).

 Our romantic flashlight dinner, Bar do Marco, Santa Teresa  

Luckily, the weather cleared a bit the next day and we were able to visit Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar), which was incredible. We first tried to visit the famous statue and symbol of Rio, Christ the Redeemer, on Corcovado Mountain, a site that normally draws 300,000 visitors a year, but it was closed due to dangerous conditions brought on by flooding and landslides (the statue was also under repair and completely covered in scaffolding, so there wasn't much to see anyway). At the entrance to the statue, Luis noticed that people kept handing over plastic bags filled with baby formula, food, diapers, etc so he asked what was happening and found out that they were local people bringing donations for the flood victims, most of whom were babies and children from the favelas (the extensive hillside slums of Brazil). Next thing I knew, Luis was making a beeline to the nearest pharmacy, I thought, to buy a bottle of water which he mentioned wanting to buy earlier. I waited outside while first one, then two, then five of the store employees appeared behind the counter, all (including Luis) gesticulating wildly and apparently trying to understand each other. Luis speaks Spanish and Brazilians speak Portuguese, but they can usually understand each other, or at least get the drift. Soon Luis was waving frantically at me to come and help. What can be so hard about explaining that you want to buy a bottle of water, I wondered?

Christ the Redeemer under repair, Corcovado Mountain

Luis: No, no, I want to buy diapers and formula!
Sim: Um, what?
Luis: For the babies...
Sim: What babies?
Luis: In the favelas!
Sim: Ooooh! (the light slowly dawning...ya gotta love him!)
Luis: Try English, they don´t understand Spanish.
Sim: "Hello. Do you have diapers and baby formula?"
Employees: blank stares.
Sim: Do you have (miming bottle feeding a baby) and (miming wrapping a diaper around first myself then Luis)?
Employees: rat poison? garden hose? incontinence aids?
Sim: No, no! "Baby", you know "baby" (miming the international symbol for "baby": arms folded in front of body and rocking back and forth). "Wah, wah,!"
Employees: Mother of God. Perhaps we should call the police or at very least, social services...crazy gringos.
Luis: This is not helping.
Sim: Ya think?
Sim and Luis together: Okay, let´s try teamwork: (me miming baby, Luis miming feeding a diapering said fantasy baby, both making "Wah!" sounds).
Employees: Seriously. Does anyone remember if we have the police on speed-dial?
Sim and Luis: (frantically pointing to a mother with a diapered baby)
Emplyees: Aha! Diapers! And Formula!

At least I think that´s what they said as they were speaking Portuguese and diapers and formula appeared on the counter. Success!!!!
Simone in sunny Santa Teresa, Rio (photo by Luis Bastardo) 

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