My two days off in Rio – bullet point and run-on sentence style:
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- A hungover taxi ride up a mountainside to Santa Teresa – my tender stomach will not recover from this for hours. We go shopping for souvenirs and generally wander. It is the most delightful little quiet hilltop neighborhood. Beautiful murals, weathered and peeling, painted on buildings and along the concrete retaining walls that hold back the encroaching mountain from the winding streets.
- Sweeping views of Rio below – myriad repeats of the “tiny tucked-away cove” variety: taffy-colored blue-green water, a strip of glittering sand, huddled high rise buildings, white sailboats anchored just offshore, occasionally a bird’s eye view of an inviting swimming pool in a backyard. The hillside was rife with lush greenery, fragrant and dripping. At one point we explored a crumbling patio, tucked off a side street, with some sort of shrine with melted candles and a pile of candy.
- Drinks in a fabulous bar, felt like being in a spa. The couches were cozy, the walls open-air, the view unparalleled. Many drinkers draped themselves across several four-poster beds, feeding each other tapas, lounging Roman-style. We stuck with the couches. After lingering over a restorative orange juice and sparkling water, we hiked back up to the main street through a little garden of green tropics and riotous red flowers, the black and white tiled steps inspiring several blurred and unsuccessful photographs.
- That evening, when I finally begin to feel well, I walk with two other friends to a sidewalk bistro called The Koni Store for dinner. It is a very local place, everyone young, and we feel very hip when we sidle up to the bar and order konis and sushi. (Konis are like a sushi soft taco, except the taco is a dried piece of seaweed. Truly delicious.)
- We walked home, air conditioners dripping condensation on our heads, hanging precipitously out of every window. Each day going home I have passed the same woman walking a dog with all four feet wrapped in tiny little red booties.
- Next day I am on my own. One of the group has to go to the consulate to arrange for a replacement passport, hers having been stolen by a pickpocket on Ipanema Beach. Two of the group want to check out Centro, the central business district of Rio. I am less interested in museums and architecture, and decide to strike out on my own, to see the Pao de Acucar: Sugar Loaf Mountain.
- After trekking to the ATM (a mile away) TWICE in order to withdraw enough cash to pay my cash-only hotel bill, I collect instructions on how to take the bus to Sugar Loaf. The desk attendant writes it down for me – select any Bus Stop marked with a #2 on the Avenida Ns. de Copacabana, and catch bus 511. To return, take bus 512 and get off at the cross section of Rua Barata Ribeiro and Rua Figueiredo Maghalaes. I feel that this is missing a number of steps (how will I know where my stop is? How will I know where to catch a bus going the other way when I want to come back?), but she doesn’t speak much English, so I decide to be brave and dutifully clutch my written instructions and march down to the Avenida Ns. de Copacabana before I lose my nerve.
- I meet Clara in a souvenir shop on the way. She is a stunningly beautiful and stylish young shopkeeper. She speaks to me in Portuguese, and I give her the standard “Nao falo Portuguese” line, and she switches to English. This is the first time I have encountered this outside of the university – a fluent English speaker. She tells me all about Gilson Martins, the artist who creates luxury goods with stylized depictions of Rio sights on them. She was a delight, as was hearing my familiar language.
- I buy a frozen acai smoothie with banana, feeling bold now, ready to communicate with non-English speakers. I stride to the bus stop with my delicious treat, and manage to flag down the correct bus without getting squashed (when it finally arrives). They go so fast. It is unbelievable to me how fast they go, huge and hurtling through the tight and winding streets. The bus stops at one point and a blind woman tries to get on. Everyone gets up to help her, including the woman next to me. I decide she must be nice, and I ask her “Sugar Loaf?” We fumble for a while before she manages to tell me that she is getting off at Sugar Loaf “I going Sugar Loaf -eh – stoppa?” We come to what is basically the end of the line, and I follow her off.
- I ride the cable car, to the first smaller peak, and then the next line to the taller peak of Sugar Loaf. Many of the employees of this attraction speak English. Most of the visitors do not speak English or Portuguese – it is a Tower of Babel. I hear the lazy drawl of a pair of southerners, but do not reveal myself as a fellow English speaker. I kind of like my anonymity.
- After checking out the first little mountain, I catch the second cable car to the peak. There is a cafe up here selling the ever-present ham and cheese popovers (fast food there seems to consist largely of melted ham and cheese in some kind of bread product), and also a really quite disgusting hot dog that I will eventually purchase and consume, in the name of Anything But Damn Ham and Cheese. There are several viewing platform areas, and also – unexpected – miles and miles of hiking trails.
- I see dozens of tiny monkeys, the size of squirrels, chittering away in the trees.
- After I’ve seen my fill, I take the car back down and buy myself an ice cream on the way to wander around and find a bus station. I see several 512s go screaming by, so follow one to a stop, and then catch the next one. It is too easy. I am confident in myself at this point.
- I spend the remainder of the afternoon on Copacabana, where I rent a chair (cadera) and umbrella (gardasol) for the price of five reais and a lesson in how to say chair and umbrella in Portuguese. (They are really funny about this – making you say Portuguese words.) Feeling able to conquer the world, or at least Rio, I flag down one of the merchants on the beach and buy a water, and later a dress from another. I’m on fire. And I’m also about to leave.
- I happen meet my friends back at the hostel and we all go try to spend down all of our cash at the grocery. We take a hire car to the airport, and arrive in plenty of time. For my flight home I am sitting next to one half of a couple – a dude whose girlfriend comes over while I am sleeping and literally straddles him, fully making out, while I try really hard to pretend to sleep. It is . . . a bad flight home.
- When I arrive in Miami, I am briefly thrilled to be back on American soil, before I realize that nobody there speaks English either.
- I squeeze my boys tight when I finally get to see them. It was a great trip, but it ended just at the right time.