Days 215 to 216: Been Around The World And Iye, Iye, Iye…… I Can’t Find My Baby!

Day 215. I planned on going up the big Jesus hill today or whatever they call it but the clouds were hanging low over the mountain top and the figure was hidden in the clouds for most of the day. So instead I headed out on a bus to the famous beaches of Rio, Botafago, Copacabana and Ipanima. I don’t know what the size of the engine was in the bus but the driver would have kept up with any Formula One car in a grand prix, I was being bashed around like a fly trying to get out of a glass box. Rio is quite a dull place to be on your own as there doesn’t seem much to do and see, more of a romantic kind of place, but on occasion there can be some truly horrific sights. As I was sat relaxing on Ipanima beach a very wrinkly old dark orange tanned lady wearing a white gown walked into my view and then for no reason whatsoever stood facing me, stretched upwards, and then let the wind blow open her gown. This revealed a tiny gold coloured string bikini and a truly horrific wrinkly body, the best way to describe it is that she looked like an over cooked greasy old foil wrapped turkey which someone has tried to open but thought better off it. While she turned her back I thought I’d leg it and made my way to Copacabana beach instead. I do hope she wasn’t the girl from Ipanima, she’s let herself go if she is.
As I dosed on the white sands of Copacabana in my sun bleached shorts, tattered sandals with dishevelled hair I was woken by two beautiful girls who asked……. “Should we call the police?” They thought I’d been mugged. I think the months of travelling must have made me look worse for wear and it probably is time to go home. I headed to an internet cafe and sent my last e-mail to all of my friends. It started, “I’ve been around the world and Iye, Iye, Iye can’t find my baby either, I think I’ll start a self help group with Lisa Stansfield.”

Day 216. It’s been a beautiful day today and the only day it’s been sunny since I’ve been here, well it would be as I was about to leave. I had one last look around town before heading off to the airport. The guy at the hotel got me a taxi which was really cheap and really showed how much the taxi drivers were ripping tourists off in this city. As usual there was just one more piece of hassle. I was told that I needed to pay a very expensive airport tax, so I went to the bank in the airport and queued for over forty five minutes only to be told that the $10us I needed to change to add to the money I already had was too small to change! So I ended up getting more out of a cash machine however, at check-in I was told that I didn’t need to pay at all as tax was included in my ticket Arrrggggg. I had to go back to the bank and queue all over again to get the cash changed back again! I figure that this will be one thing I will not miss about South America, the speed of service. Never put off today what you can put off tomorrow. I managed to find the CD I’ve been hearing all around South America and particularly reminds me of my time in Peru, it’s Manu Chao, Proxima Estacion Esperanza, good album. Sat in departures I couldn’t help thinking how small the world really is, I’ve just been around it, it does feel quite bizarre. After boarding the plane I found my last bed for the night on this trip. It’s the ninety eighth place I’ll have slept in over a mere two hundred and seventeen days, now that’s what I call travelling!

Day 214: It’s The ‘The Best Brazilian Crotch’ Show!

Day 214. Had a nice late lazy day today and eventually headed out to the tram station near the cathedral to go up the hillside to Santa Teresa. I was advised not to take anything as “everything would get stolen.” However, I did take my camera but made sure that is was securely hidden away, only to see the light of day when no one was looking not that the guidebook had made me paranoid at all! What didn’t help with the fear factor created by the guidebooks and hotel manager was the security guard stood at the back of the tram. He stood there with a pump action shotgun which had the opposite effect to making me feel more safe because surely it now means that if anyone wants to attack the tram they will also have to use a gun!

As we set off the tram went over an old whitewashed aqueduct and stopped halfway along where everyone started whispering while looking over the side. Below us on the floor was a large black fella laid on his back, unconscious. I asked what had happened and was told that this was quite a regular occurrence, the bloke had been knocked out and his shoes stolen. Lucky for me that my shoes are in a bit of a state, worn out and smelly, so I can’t imagine anyone wanting to nick them. The trip was nice though, passing through cobbled streets and past nice old houses. Street kids would run alongside the tram and jump onto the running board playing a kind of tram surfing game. If you’re from Lisbon this place really is a home from home as the little trams of Lisbon travel through similar looking cobbled streets. At the furthest and highest part of the trip you get a clear view of Cristo Redentor on top of Corcovado Mountain.

Back in town I headed to the new cathedral, I don’t know what the best way to describe this place is other than a street cone with the top cut off. Inside is a huge open space completely surrounded by a cone of stained glass but to be honest, as monumental as this is I’ve never been one for these modern churches and cathedrals. I went for a wander through the old centre passing Praça Floriano, Largo da Carioca, the Covento de Santo Antonio and the old royal palace (Paço Imperial) where the Portuguese monarchs once reigned. I thought I’d try and get the ferry to Niteroi but it wasn’t running today due to ferry port repairs, typical.

Back in the hotel I immersed myself in a Saturday early evening TV show. I don’t know what it was called but I can guess that the name was something like “The ‘Who has the best Brazilian crotch’ Show”! From what I could see the programme worked like this, ten women lined up in yellow lycra g-strings while the cameraman zoomed in on their crotches and the audience voted on the best. What criteria they were using to make their votes I shudder to think. Either way I was unsurprisingly transfixed, who says travelling doesn’t broaden the mind. I’m clearly up to date with the cultural diversity of the Brazilian people, and more importantly the one I liked won, how’s that for empathy. As a bonus for winning they even showed her face!

To recover my energy I popped out to a shop to buy some cake and bought a packet which had a picture of a lovely cake on it, however on returning to the hotel it suddenly became apparent that the picture was not of what’s actually in the packet, it was a bleedin’ small stick of margarine. Not anywhere on the packet does it say margarine in any language I just states ‘bolo’ which according to my phrase book is cake! It probably says “can be used to make cake!” The buggers! Not a lot you can do with a small stick of margarine so I’ve fixed my squeaky door with a bit, bought some bread and threw the rest away.

I thought I’d just get my travel documents together and have noticed that my travel insurance ran out today, I’d extended my time in South America but completely forgot about my insurance! Great, I’m in Rio without insurance!!

Day 213: The Hand Of God!

Day 213. I must have fallen asleep for a bit as when I woke we were in a well lit bus station and the German guy was getting off. He looked quite shocked as a can of coke in his carry-on luggage had somehow opened and leaked everywhere and the large bag he had placed in the isle, which was there as he’d argued with the bus driver that he was not going to put it in the hold, had a broken handle and zip which meant half his stuff had fallen out on the floor. God works in mysterious ways you know, but as my dad would say, man invented god so was this the hand of God or the hand of man? Well, I know the answer and I also know that I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the middle of dodgy bus station in Sao Paulo in the early hours of the morning with a broken bag!

Even though I was a little happier with these events I woke up again as the sun rose but still really pissed off about the stolen money. What wasn’t helping was the fact that the bus was now running six hours late due to Christmas toy overload and I had no where to stay in Rio, which according to my guidebook is the most dangerous place on the planet and you should have accommodation booked before arriving. Shortly before arriving we stopped on the main road because of some sort of road rage incident where a car driver jumped out and started smashing the coach door, quickly driving off and twenty seven hours after leaving Foz Do Iguacu we eventually arrived in Rio a mere six hours late. I quickly found a cash machine but to my horror the visa network was down, what else was going to go wrong, I was desperate for cash as mine had been stolen. Luckily after about thirty minutes of running about the bus station I managed to find one which took MasterCard. Getting money was still not easy as cash machines here are put in little cubicles for your safety and I had to try and fit all of my bags in as there was no way I was leaving them outside. I’ve heard and read some horrible scare stories about this bus station. I managed to find a tourist office who kindly booked the hotel I wanted, wow, things were starting to go right!

I jumped into a taxi and as predicted, as Rio taxis are renowned, the meter had just broken so he set a price according to the kilometre reading. I was not happy with this as he did set a high price per km but I just wanted to get out of the station as quickly as possible as I realised that people had started to notice me and were taking too much interest for my liking. At the hotel he calculated the wrong price so I re-calculated and gave him that amount, without a tip. I worked out that I’d paid between 50% and double what I should have paid but it was worth it just to walk through the doors of the hotel.

Walking in I realised that this was it, no more running around for hotels, no more painful overnight journeys, no more hostels with backpackers stealing my things, no more stress of figuring out whether I was going to get to my next destination in time. I collapsed on the bed and switched on the TV, not a bad place at £10 a night and en-suite. With the advice from my guidebook I headed out for a quick look around town but with everything locked up safe in my room as the book said that everything I had would be stolen within seconds of heading out. The old town of Rio is quite nice but I’m exhausted after the hassles of the last week and a half so I came straight back. I find it hard to believe that it’s been nine days and well over two and a half thousand miles overland since I left La Paz with a sizable chuck of that on dirt tracks.