Monday, June 2, 2014

Brilliant Day in Rio (Day 2 continued)

What a fantastic day I have just had! My hosts here, Ana and Luis, started it off in the most pleasant way: one of the top 5 breakfasts ever, I reckon, and then an ex school friend, who I have not seen in over 30 years, who's lived here for 25 years, gave me the ultimate insider tour of Corcovado.

This is the view from the window of the breakfast room. You wouldn't think I was in the middle of a city of 6 million people.

Ana and Luis are great hosts. Ana runs a bakery business and uses her spectacular dinning area as a café on Sunday mornings. Just me here this week, so I received the most fantastic breakfast with the hosts for company. A lovely crunchy, nutty cereal served with yoghurt in halved open papaya fruits.

Then, a bewildering variety of types of bread, with ham and cheese. Some sweeter ones with raisins and apricot I had her home made jams and marmalade. The later was the best I've ever had. All washed down with cups of Brazilian coffee and the most amazing local fruit juice. (Can't remember what it is called though.)

The garden at Ana's place, Santa Teresa

Ana let me use her phone to call Simon, to make arrangements for the day. It was weird hearing his voice for the first time in so long. I didn't recognize him at all. He "sounded Kirkby" (Notts ex-mining village) like me, but this wasn't the Simon I thought I had remembered. Not to worry, Simon suggested a convenient meeting place and Ana told me how to get there. A simple bus journey (No 507) from outside her house to where the line ends. Even I couldn't screw that up!
Me waiting for Simon at Largo do Marchado
I got there very quickly and had over an hour to kill. The bus came straight away and took about ten minutes to career down the windy cobbled streets of Santa Teresa to sea level. The bus drivers are scary. They hurtle round the cobbled street bends as fast as they can as if to test the bus' mechanical competencies!

The windy route of No 507

My first task was to get a local SIM card for my phone which proved not as easy as I'd hoped. First of all I went into a likely-looking shop and asked in my suddenly almost non-existent Portugues.

Con Licence, quero comprar chip por cellular.

It's all well and good trying to learn such phrases, but when you're met with a vacant expression, probably because my pronunciation was so bad, the only thing to say is...

Fala Ingles?

Luckily, a woman standing to my left took the initiative and told me she spoke English and proceeded to ask all the right questions to all the right people to get me to the right shop. She told me she was Brazilian but had lived for ten years in the USA. Thanks lady!

However, to get a SIM in Brazil you either need a CPF or your passport. If its the former you can buy one anywhere, if its the later you have to go to a store big enough to be able to manage it. To cut a long story short, I didn't have me passport with me, and even going on line in an internet café to look at the photo of it I'd posted to the cloud to get the number wasn't good enough.

So, I was getting into a bit of a panic when 11 am came and went and still no sign of Simon at what I was sure was the exact arranged meeting place. I couldn't call him and he couldn't call me. A reminder how much we rely on mobiles these days.

My mind started playing tricks on me. "That guy looks a bit like Simon. Maybe it is him. No, can't be. Maybe he said 11:30. Is there another station entrance that goes down to the metro and I just mixed it up?" Simon arrived soon enough, in true Brazilian style, a bit late, but cheery and fully of positivity. And so started another great adventure.

I thought I'd not seen this man since the sixth form, 38 years ago, but Simon reminded me that we had met once or twice in the Waggon & Horses, in Kirkby, more recently than that, so maybe 34 years ago, then.

It's funny how little people basically change. Within seconds I remembered the Simon I knew. Very intelligent, witty, incredibly knowledgeable and supremely confident. A real man's man. Bloody hero! And I don't mean that in a sneering way.

He quickly filled in all the major gaps in my memory about him. The reason he'd only come to Ashfield Comp in the 6th form wasn't because he'd only just arrived in Kirkby. He was as much a Kirkby lad as me - he even went to the same junior school, Kingsaw, as I did - but, being smarter, he'd passed his 11+ and gone to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School (QEGS) in Mansfield.

Mr Maverick man, though, didn't want to be educationally processed the way they wanted and so ended up leaving and joining out miniscule 6th form (16 out of 2,000+ pupils) at Ashfield. I'd forgotten how independent minded he was. Someone for me to admire, certainly.

Simon told me his amazing potted personal history. He'd gone to Bangor to uni, where he learned to speak Welsh and then Britanny in France for a few years, where he learned to speak Breton. Then back to London where he got into Samba music and then, through a romantic link, ended up coming to Rio where he has remained for 25 years. I thought it was only ten.

So, Simon, a bloody good linguist with a natural flair at picking up languages began teaching English in schools and started picking up translation work. Clearly very smart, he has carved out a reputation for translating the most technical Portuguese legal lingo (which he says reads just like French) whilst at the same time being in the centre of Samba world, another of his passions.
I had the whole afternoon with the very best, personal, tour guide. Simon had a definite plan of where we were going and what we were going to do. "Keep the water bottle" he said. "We'll need that."

Within seconds we'd got on the bus that most tourists take to get to the train line to take them up to Corcavado. Not us, we were going to walk - the direct route.

First stop was a watering hole, guarded by the sweetest kittens. I thought of my daughter Roz and how she'd swoon at them! Some of the river is polluted but there are a few public springs that are clean and fit to drink.

Then, it was back to the track and Simon had a surprise for me: we were going to walk up. You're not really supposed to do it ("kinda forbidden" Simon says) but some local police guys saw us start up and were cool.

Some parts (e.g. rather narrow bridges over deep valleys) were knee-wobblingly scary, for sure, but wow. You can hear the trains coming from a long way off so you have plenty time to get off the track and they're going very slowly anyway,  so I never felt any danger from that aspect.
How fantastic. At almost 55 (Simon's one year older) I felt my heart thumping inside my chest a few times but we made it. Here are some of the views...

Panorama from just behind the Jesus dude


A massive chunk of the forest was washed away recently during heavy rains. This is one of the trees that was carved out to make into something positive.

In the middle of a city of 6 million. You'd think you were in the sticks.
At one point we stopped to rest by sitting on the roof of a little concrete hut thing perched on the side of the mountain. Now that was scary, but again, what a view - down on Ipanema and Lagoa Rodrigues de Freitas.

Cappuchin Evil

Close to the edge


A view from the top

Boa lugar trabhalar 

How good was this? Meeting an old school friend for the first time in 30+ years in a tropical paradise where he was taking me to all the coolest places, free, that 25 years of being a Carioca had taught him!

Oh and I also got a million Portuguese language tips each of which I forgot almost before he'd finished telling me them. So here's one I had to record for posterity! 

On the way back down, Simon took me through a favela. "It's very safe" he reassured me. "I know everyone here. Some of them play in my samba band".

Again. Priceless!

A very friendly favela

Simon, mate, y're a blady legend!!! (in Aussie drawl)

We walked back down into the city and Simon went back to his place and left me on my own again.

At the feet of um homem sabio

I was bloody starving so went to one of those Brazilian Buffet "pay by the kilo" places that I remembered from last time.

R$50 for a customised meal that was both delicious and healthy.

Washed down with a very nice big cold beer.

Then, I caught the 507 back to Santa Teresa. The bus was there  just about to go when I got out of the restaurant, just as it started to rain, and by the time the bus had pulled up outside Ana's place, it had stopped again.

Perfect! Although I did nearly get ran over crossing the road after getting off the bus, I was so excited by it all!

Back in my room, I was going to do this blog straight away but then I just crashed until a couple of hours ago. I don't feel sleepy at all now but I really do need to get into the swing and get some more shut eye before day three.

Wooo!! So far, so fantastic.

(Simon says, it's a cool and plausible enough Brazilian-sounding name, but that I've been pronouncing it wrong... so from now on think of it .... Al - zheer - doo) 

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