Welcoming The World…

In my last post, I took you on an armchair tour around my pre-work weekend in Rio de Janeiro, where I climbed mountains, strolled along the beach, ambled around the lagoon and sauntered through markets and gardens. And I must say that throughout the trip, I kept thinking to myself ‘I am in Rio. Who gets to live this kind of ridiculous (in a good way) and surreal life?’ Apparently that would be me.

Standing on Arpoador with Ipanema beach stretching away behind me.

But for all its easy amiability, there’s another side to Rio: More than a million of the city’s poor live in favelas, or shanty towns. Over 900 favelas perch on the hills around Rio, hundreds of delapidated shacks clustered amongst the green slopes rising from alongside Rio’s most affluent communities.

This is a view of Copacabana from the Arpoador Fort – you can see the favela lights stretching up into the hills to the left of the lamp post.

There has been significant investment to improve conditions and reduce violence and general crime since 1994 and I am told this continues in earnest as next month’s FIFA World Cup and more particularly, the 2016 Olympic Games will focus the world’s eye on the city. A police presence has been installed in a number of favelas and construction projects like the cable car system for the Complexo do Alemeao are being designed to facilitate workers’ ability to earn a living. The cable car has also made the favela itself something of a tourist attraction (although reports of occasional outbreaks of violence and drug trafficking was enough to deter me).

The favelas have attracted many artists. The towns themselves are well known for their brightly painted shacks and are popular subjects for local painters with dozens of colourful canvasses on display in local markets.

One of a myriad of favela art collections on sale at the Feira de Artes de Ipanema 

While I didn’t visit any favelas, they were easy enough to see, one of the largest climbing the hills behind Ipanema and Copacabana whilst the Complexo do Alemao and its cable car were clearly visible from the main road leading from Barra de Tijuca to the airport. I found myself bemused by this glamorous portrayal of Rio’s slums and I wondered how many tourists pay eagerly for their ‘authentic’ souvenir, oblivious to the abject poverty and danger that these people live with every day. I felt like the proceeds should somehow go towards further improving conditions in these communities.

In any case, most of the colleagues I spoke to would never dream of venturing into one of these areas yet were complimentary of programmes to improve conditions and safety. What was also interesting was their surprise at my catching a local bus service from Cosmo Velho (near the station whose train takes you up to Christ the Redeemer) back down to Ipanema on Saturday afternoon – surprised that I actually worked out how to manage this and pleased that I felt safe enough to do it. 

That’s the thing – I felt safe. Shoulder to shoulder with locals, the bus whizzed through suburb after suburb and I felt like I saw more of the ‘real’ Rio in that 40 minute trip. And despite the lack of English speaking amongst local storekeepers and waiters, everyone was friendly and willing to help – so with the aid of a very limited ‘Lonely Planet’ vocabulary and some pretty impressive (if I do say so myself) charades, I managed to feed, water and generally navigate myself around this great city…

…walking along Ipanema Beach, I watched the cariocas (residents of Rio) play, at one with the sand and the sea…

Top left is Praia de Diabo (Devil’s Beach); the rest were taken on Ipanema Beach

…admiring the easy yet watchful opportunism of the local traders, whether on the beach, in the market or simply capitalising on a captive audience…

Clockwise from top left: opportunistic selling on the ride up Corcovado to Christ the Redeemer; bikinis for sale on Ipanema beach; one of the most popular drinks in Rio is coconut juice; a bit of carnival spirit at the Hippie Fair; local art on display; sarongs for sale.

…and ambling along tree-lined streets with their colourful apartment blocks, wondering who might live there.

Top row; Ipanema
Bottom row L to R: Leblon, Ipanema, Laranjeiras

Rio is a city tucked cosily around its mountainous surrounds and retains the easy intimacy of a cluster of villages rather than the hustle and bustle of a metropolis of more than 6 million people. It is surrounded by extraordinary natural beauty and spectacular scenery and the natives – or cariocas – are outdoorsy, easy-going and hugely welcoming. You might argue that I’ve only scratched the surface but I think the world will enjoy its first Olympic soujourn in South America.

Let’s hope that Rio will be able to put its best foot forward.

I Go To Rio…

Actually, I’ve been and come back – to Rio, that is. But these are the words, from the fabulous Peter Allen song, that played in my head over and over again during my visit so it seemed an appropriate title (versus the more mellow and perhaps obvious The Girl from Ipanema) for this first cursory brag about squiz at my week in Rio de Janeiro.

Yes peeps, that’s where I’ve been.

I went for work – to visit our team there (sigh…I love my job) – and I took some time last weekend to have a wander around and explore a little. I had planned to post in situ but the wifi wasn’t great for photo uploading and having only arrived back yesterday evening, I’ve only just managed to do the necessary chores and sort my photos so this post is a ‘best bits in pics’ and I will follow it up with a little more detail on a couple of specific things in posts to come. So here we go…

On Saturday morning, I got on one of these…

…to see what the man on the mountain…

Christ the Redeemer – or Cristo Redentor in the local lingo – sits atop Corcovado (the hunchback)

 …was looking at.

Windswept selfie!

 It was pretty bloody good if you ask me.

The view from the top. That’s Ipanema on the other side of the lagoon, where my weekend digs – the Ipanema Inn – were located.

I came down the mountain and explored some more…

The largo do boticario, an oasis of colour off the main road in Cosmo Velho

 …before meeting someone for a local ‘brew with a view’ in the evening.

View of Copacabana beach from the Arpoador Fort

The next day (that’s Sunday – are you keeping track?), I wandered a block from my hotel to Ipanema Beach…

…before hitting the back streets to find a little musical history…

Previously Bar Veloso, the bar Garota de Ipanema at 49 Vinicius de Moraes, is where Moraes and Tom Jobim were inspired by the 17-year-old Helo Pinheiro, the original Girl from Ipanema, to pen one of the world’s most ubiquitous tunes. 

…and local expression. 

The Hippie Fair in Ipanema (or Feira de Artes de Ipanema if you are practising your Portuguese) has a whole gamut of arts and crafts for sale as well as some local vittels if you get a bit peckish. It’s also a mecca of artistic expression for local painters – this was one of my favourites.

 Heading back towards the beach, I walked out onto Porto do Arpoador

…and then back to the hotel for a short rest before setting off for the Botanic Gardens.

I passed a pleasant couple of hours here before heading back towards the hotel, my path taking me around the lagoon.

And then it was time to enjoy a glass of wine overlooking the lights of Ipanema before packing my suitcase to move to my ‘work hotel’ in Barra de Tijuca on Monday…

View from my room on the 10th floor of the Sheraton Barra (pronounced Ba-ha)

 …and while that was the end of my personal meanderings, a very early flight to Sao Paulo Tuesday morning meant I got to see this from the taxi… 

Ipanema dawn

…as well as this…

Copacabana sunrise

…before taking this photo from the plane.

That’s Ipanema beach on the left and Copacabana beach on the right.

So if that hasn’t inspired you to google travel deals to the carnival city, I’ll leave you with the original shoulder-shimmying boy from Oz…

If that doesn’t do it, nothing will!

A Fetish For Cowboy Boots

In the last two weeks, I have become completely addicted to Ashes to Ashes.

There.  I’ve said it.

It started out as casual viewing over Saturday night pizzas with J and the kids (movie choices always seem to degenerate into an argument so we went with this) and has ended this weekend with me ‘n’ J watching all eight episodes of season two.

Not in one sitting mind – but it was two episodes Friday night, two episodes Saturday lunchtime, three episodes with dinner last night and the season finale over breakfast this morning! 

Plot twists flew thick and fast and combined with great 80s tunes (a particular fave is Gene revving the Audi Quattro to the intro of Duran Duran’s Rio) and great characters, this heady mix had us rivetted/riveted to our seats! (Riveted…is it one ‘t’ or two…hmmm I can’t decide.)

Season 3 started filming last November and will hit TV screens in the UK in Spring 2010. I cannot wait. What will Alex do? Who is Gene Hunt? Can Chris’ dress sense get any worse?  What is the wipe-clean wonder fabric that Alex’s white jacket (entirely unsuitable for police work I would have thought but hey, this is the 80s) is made from? Will Shaz do more than make tea? And will Raymondo get himself a girl?

Seriously, for me this is just the best mix of 80’s nostalgia trip and police drama and I love the whole slightly off-centre supernatural-ness of Alex’s dual life. If you are like me – fascinated by a puzzle and tempted by a little voice in the back of your head saying ‘what’s it all about?’ – go on and get your cowboy boots on.  It’s Ashes to Ashes time…