Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Rio: The Christ

Cristo Redentor. Basically, the ultimate symbol of Rio. And also, something I have always inexplicably linked with Romeo and Juliet. Or rather, Baz Luhrmann's rather amazing 1996 film version of it, with the Capulets and Montagues warring gang families in a place which was either meant to be Miami beach, or in my opinion more likely, Rio. Watch the opening prologue, which is not only a pretty epic bit of editing but shows the fictional city's own version of the Christ. "Shoot forth thunder."

Rio's Christ could not be in a more epic location. Certainly you won't forget the first time you see it, up on a high mountaintop, most likely with clouds accumulating around and below it. It is on the Corcovado mountain: a central point in Rio de Janeiro city, and one which also often neatly separates weather systems: one side will be blanketed in low cloud, while the other side will be clear.

Getting there usually means heading to a the square where tourist buses take people up. It seems you can either opt to be taken to the entrance for the railway, or all the way to the gates just below the statue. Or, you can do what I do, which is ride your scooter up the steep cobbled roads (steep roads...), park up at the railway building, and then walk the final 1.5km up the hill.

There were no other people doing the walk. In fact, I was almost expecting the Christ to be deserted when I got there, late in the afternoon. Getting to the gates however I found I still had to pay to get in, despite having walked there. And once in I found the place anything but deserted: nobody else walks it. In fact, nobody else walks anything if they can help it: they get ferried to and from the gates, and then there is an elevator and escalators to take them to the statue, just in case people might suffer from having to walk a few steps. (And on the way back down I was told I could have a free ride down in a minibus to the rail building, but after spending five minutes in the queue I realised it would be quicker and easier to walk back down - or rather, do a bit of Rio de Janeiro fell running through the jungle...).

It is impressive, no doubt. Sadly, one of those places which would be even more impressive if you could stand in a position for more than four seconds without somebody asking you to move because you are in the way of their selfie. No really. I really mean this: you will be asked to move, all the time, because somebody has an urgent need to thrust out their arms and be so original in their selfie taking endeavours.

Still. The view is good. As an experience though, I preferred the walk through the jungle to get to it, seeing it suddenly looming above me.

And, afterwards, my ride back through the mountains to the west, in the gathering darkness, with a rapidly diminishing tank of gasolina comune.

Also, the Christ was a final sight on my departure from the city: craning my neck around in my seat on the plane late at night I could just pick out the brightly lit statue from a distance of perhaps 20km, high up above everything else.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Rio: Dawn at the beach

Dawn at the beach. Surfers already out. A few swimmers. A group of military police out practising Brazilian jujitsu, on the sand, guarded by three colleagues armed with M4 carbines and a PSG1 sniper rifle: they weren't messing around, and who can blame them? There were a LOT of vultures circling overhead, and that rifle would have been just perfect for picking them off.

And then there was the man on the rock. Bear in mind I saw him for the first time the same morning as I saw a woman get shot, so I was perhaps slightly expecting the worst when I saw a man wrapped up in a blanket like a shroud, head to toe, tightly. The cushion under his head didn't give me a whole lot of confidence: perhaps his killers wanted his corpse to be comfy? But fortunately, getting closer to him, some shallow breathing could be discerned.

He was there more than one morning, in the same place. Quite a place to sleep each night, with the fine damp spray in the air from the waves. Perhaps it was better than the alternatives, and he had quite a view once he emerged each morning from his shroud.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Rio: Downtown

Central Rio has certainly changed a lot in the last few hundred years - I mean, it was a swamp back then. Now look at it. Bustling metropolis. It's definitely one of those places where it is interesting to look at even fairly recent (20-30 years) photos of it and see just how it has become so much denser and urbanised. In the centre itself there is only one park - the rest is hard and grey.

Rio's centre is a mix of fairly interesting colonial era architecture and soulless new stuff, with a few pieces of inspired modern Brazilian architecture thrown in. Possibly the most inspiring of these is the metropolitan cathedral, which is quite a sight to behold. Looking at it without knowing what it is, some people might assume it is some sort of massive industrial venting facility. It's only when you get right up close that you see in fact that it's a church, with seating for thousands, and with four stained glass windows that rise up the full 75m height of the building. Quite a sight. Modern and brutalistic and quite unique. Even the bell tower is external: the odd little structure by its side, with a bell on each level.

And a lot of central Rio is pretty run down. Even derelict in some spots. And homeless people. Lots of them, many of them with a wide eyed, animalistic, opioid derived stare. They are everywhere. Little rows of improvised cardboard tents alongside buildings with rough wool rugs on the ground. One man I saw had a duffel bag on his head. Perhaps to give a little bit of dark and quiet (headspace?) so he could sleep during the day.

Still. I didn't feel unsafe in the centre. I probably wouldn't have tried starting a conversation with the wide eyed addicts, but neither did I feel the need to hide anything and everything valuable as everybody recommended, and I felt perfectly safe wandering around after dark.

Also. Parking. One of the reasons I decided to use a scooter to get around is because I thought, like most cities, parking a scooter would be easy pretty much anywhere. I was wrong: there seem to be only a handful of dedicated bike parking bays in the city centre and if you don't know where they are, good luck finding them, and just randomly parking it does not seem to be encouraged. So, each time I visited the centre I parked up round the back of the main military headquarters a little way out of the centre - my scooter had an armed guard. How comforting.

One thing nobody can fail to notice in Rio is the graffiti: a lot of it is really very impressive. I'm not talking about the Olympic wall mural (which I neglected to go and see), instead I mean the everyday artwork which seems to cover every available flat surface - even inside many of the road tunnels. Lots of the graffiti is the same old artless tagging found everywhere, but much of it is artistic and interesting. I could have happily done a specific tour of Rio based around the graffiti, and anybody with an interest in street art has to visit.