Archive for May, 2008
On Sunday, I went to see a football match. I wanted to go to the Maracaná to see Flamengo v Santos but, due to something or other, they were being penalised by having to play the game behind closed doors. So, it had to be Botafogo against the rather vaguely-named Sport (from Recife) at the Engenhão stadium. Like the favela tour I took on Saturday, the trip to the stadium was organised by Be A Local.
The mini bus was full of other backpackers. When I got in, they were already in full backpacker flow, telling each other where they’d been, where they were going, how they’d had an amaaaaaaaaaaaaaazing experience in Blah de Blah; all one-upping each other with tales of better, more “real” experiences, longer bus journeys, etc. You get the feeling none of them are interested in what the others are saying, they just wanna tell others how their trip has been more awesome. I kept my mouth shut and just listened. But, I think I’ve got one of those faces that says “don’t talk to me,” anyway, so it was never a problem.
There was one American woman in purple trousers who was particularly annoying. And she, back home, is a teacher. Poor kids. Anyway, I’d seen her on the favela tour, and on the way to the stadium, I heard he saying that it was too expensive, and that it wasn’t “vibrant enough.” If this was a Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, I’d be boring a hole in the back of her head, pushing a horse’s leg through the hole, and climbing on the horse and going for a nice long ride across some fields with her body flapping along behind.
But, a short while later, when we arrived at the stadium and we were handed our tickets, I did begin to wonder if she was right about the price of the favela tour; well not so much the price, just about how much money was trickling down because, for the football trip, we each paid R$70, and the face value of the ticket was R$20. Hmmmm, that’s quite a chunk of money they’re taking for ferrying us to the stadium. Still, it didn’t stop me loathing Purple Trousers Woman (more of which later).
The stadium itself seemed fairly average. Pretty new, and, err, virtually empty. I thought it was the other game that was behind closed doors, not this one…? Where the heck are Botafogo’s fans? The stadium was probably 10% full tops.
So, the Rio de Janeiro football experience was kind of a let down. The game itself was fairly run-of-the-mill, but it was good to see how comfortable Brazilian players are with the ball. The home side won 2-0, but only after we’d had a 20 minute floodlight failure.
The lack of atmosphere, the pedestrian game, the mind-numbing idiots sat around me, and I was kinda just ready to get out of there and get something to eat. I wasn’t really tempted by the hot dogs in plastic bags on sale in the stadium, but it was fun to hear the Brazilian way that “hot dog” is pronounced, like “hotchy doggy.”
The mini bus drooped off a bunch of people at one hostel, and then Purple Trousers Woman commandeered the vehicle as her own personal taxi, asking, rather impolitely and in Spanish, that the driver take her and her drippy boyfriend to a specific part of town. It wasn’t too far away, but the driver didn’t know where they wanted to go, and neither did they. They just wanted to find “some restaurants.” After 10 minutes of to-ing and fro-ing, she deigned to offer an apology to the six of us sat in the back of the bus: “Sorry, you guys!” None of us replied. but the girls who were left in the bus did spend the rest of the journey being nice and bitchy about her once she’d got out.
There are a few strange things I’ve noticed about backpackers. Firstly, they are almost exclusively white. I’ve not seen a single black backpacker on my travels. A handful of British Indians, but that’s about it. And as for the other Brits one encounters, they are almost exclusively southern, with a high proportion of plummy accents. So, okay, you’re in your late teens, it’s probably a lot easier to do this kind of thing if you’ve got rich parents; but it’s odd to me that one hears very few northern, Welsh, Scottish, or Northern Irish accents.
I did manage to talk to one dude, though, on the journey back. A friendly Australian from Sydney who turned to me and said, “Not really that good a game was it?” I agreed. And that was that.
In that English, middle-class way (not that I really consider myself middle-class; I was brought up in a working-class family, but I guess my poncey job drawing for a living kinda makes me more middle than working these days), it didn’t feel entirely right to be doing what I did earlier today. But I’ve done worse things on this trip; like going to a bullfight, or eating veal and foie gras. Yes, I’m trying to justify the slightly morally-dodgy tourist experience of visiting a favela.
I wouldn’t have even known about this type of tourist trip had I not bumped into Brendan and Mel in Buenos Aires. They gave me the URL of a company called Be A Local that organised tours of Rocinha; a favela that is home to 200,000 people. This, it should be noted, is not the tour operator who did silly stuff.
The guide, Marcio, picked me and a bunch of other young, white Europeans up and we trundled off in the minibus. We were told the plan, and that we shouldn’t take photographs if we saw men with walkie-talkies, machine guns, or hand grenades. Errr, hand grenades!? These people would be drug dealers.
We parked up at the bottom of the hill, where Rocinha begins, then Marcio gave a bunch of moto taxi dudes two reais apiece, and we were off, each of us helmetlessly clinging onto the back of a motorbike going up, up, up, weaving in-between buses and other motorbikes. The road, as you may well be able to imagine, wasn’t in the best condition; so it was the kind of ride where, being a man riding pillion, you occasionally feel your nuts being squished a bit when you hit a pothole or something. It was five minutes or so to the top, and we were there, right in the middle of a bloody favela. And, well, it wasn’t scary in the slightest. Like a dog that can smell fear, the relaxedness of Marcio really rubbed off, and I felt totally at ease there.
That main road into the favela seemed fairly developed. There was a Bob’s fast food place, a post office, banks. A lot of the local people greeted Marcio like seeing a friend, so that kind of eased my worries a touch that we weren’t welcome. But, the 65 reais (about 25 euros) we each paid to take the trip helped fund a daycare centre for children, so we were at least contributing, not just walking around a human zoo. Along the route that we took, we called in at an artist’s studio, stopped to listen to kids playing drums, paused in a shop to buy some food, and were offered bracelets and necklaces along the way.
Virtually all the children along the way smiled or said hello. One lad even high-fived us all as we walked along the narrow alley one-by-one. Now and again, you’d see an adult who seemed less than impressed that we were there, but I’d be pissed off if I had a crate of water on my shoulder and I was having to weave in and out a bunch of Westerners like us.
The alley we walked down had a fair amount of open sewers. There was the odd dude with a walkie-talkie, and blokes here and there smoking marijuana. Plenty of scavenging dogs, hundreds of electricity cables coming from each pylon, and hillsides where it’s impossible to tell if it’s trash covering a hillside or just a hillside of trash. We were told that this was an alley where there are often shootouts between drug dealers and the police.
It would come back now and again: why am I here, taking photographs of how people far less fortunate than me live? Then I’d make eye contact with someone, they’d mime taking a photograph, and then pose. And then it hits you. These people living their lives here have to cope with gun battles on their street all the time. Fuck.
I’m really glad I went on the tour of Rocinha, though. It’s fucked-up that this is tourism, and I’ve criticised myself in my head after writing every one of these sentences, but, sincerely, it’s good for “favela” to not just be a word now. I will never know what it is like to live here, I’m not sure that I want to either, but it was good to see some faces.
Large version of the last photo here.
So, despite the paranoid person that lives inside my head doing everything he could to stop me coming here, I’m in Rio de Janeiro. A city that has one of the most lazy names ever.
“What’s that blue watery thing?”
“What month is it?”
“Shall we make a town here?”
“Yeh, I guess.”
“What shall we call it?”
“Dunno… River of January?”
I know that deep down I was procrastinating in Curitiba. I could’ve travelled here directly from Foz do Iguaçu, but it was convenient to stop there and convinced myself that I was just doing it to avoid a nigh-on 24-hour bus journey. But really, I know that I was just avoiding coming here for another day or two. And on Thursday night, when I began the 13-hour journey from Curitiba, I was weirdly happy ever time I looked at my watch to see it was earlier than I thought it was. Stupid, really. If I didn’t want to come here, I shouldn’t have bothered. But, fuck, it’s Rio; I couldn’t not visit Rio while I’m down here, could I?
I got a cab from the bus station, through the outskirts of the city in the morning rush hour (or, if this is like other big South American cities, the constantly busy roads), and, well, it doesn’t look like Rio. But then we went through a long tunnel, and suddenly, things seemed a bit nicer. A decent-sized lagoon with people jogging around it, and oh! there’s Jesus on top of a hill.
A good amount of sleep at the hotel later, and it’s late afternoon, and I’m ready for my first steps on the pavements of Rio. Wallet, camera, and watch all safely back at the hotel, I walked the two blocks to Ipanema beach. It was cloudy, so, not much to see down there, really. I bought some Havaianas to replace my on-their-last-legs Muji flip flops. Very comfy they are too.
Anyway. Tomorrow I’ll do something more interesting hopefully, and in lieu of any interesting words in this blog post, I’ll leave you with this wonderful song by Michael Nesmith.
Aaah, it’s lovely to be back in Brasil. Nothing against Uruguay or Argentina, but there’s something in the air here that makes me happy. It’s great to be eating pão de queijo and drinking guaraná again, too.
Another thing I’ve enjoyed is knowing my way around somewhere. This isn’t the first time I’ve been back to a place on my trip, but São Paulo is a headfuck of a city, and I never quite got my bearings in Buenos Aires. Here, though, it felt great to get in a cab at the bus station and know that I was being taken the shortest route. It was great to know where to go for stamps or to get my laundry done. And it was great to meet up with Ozorio again, too, and have another night of alcohol-fuelled fun.
Today, after a dream that I had a massive goiter on my head – about the size of Mr. Topsy-Turvy‘s hat – and a bit of loafing around, I went to visit the Museu Oscar Niemeyer again. The website indicated there were some new exhibits, so, la la la, I went. And nice stuff there was too. Some Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, and Henry Moore prints; some nice big sculptures by Eduardo Frota, and a whole bunch of work by Cildo Meireles, which I enjoyed a lot. and I got a couple of snaps of the J.Borges stuff I was talking about last time.
But, to my surprise, there was an even better retrospective of Niemeyer’s work than when I was here last time. Loads more info, drawings, and models. Me a happy bunny.
On my way to the museum, I didn’t notice an extra step on a bit of pavement and managed to not fall over, but I did hurt my hip a little bit, thus the slightly jerky, limpy walk down this tunnel at the museum. I love this tunnel, cos it makes me feel like I’m on a spaceship.
My hip’s fine now, by the way.
Nine weeks ago, when I was last in Curitiba, this guy was painting this wall…
It’s nice to see the finished result:
No Internet for a few days, so one big post about the weekend. Pop the kettle on, grab a cushion, we might be here for a while.
Friday morning, Posadas bus terminal. Window seat, headphones on, guide book out, and an empty seat next to me. ¡Qué bueno! The bus started filling up, and a young woman who kinda looked like dark-haired, Latina version of Chloe Sevigny asked if the seat was free. That’s what I assumed she asked anyway; I half removed my headphones and told her “yes.” She had, though, it seems, asked if the seat was occupied and she began to look for another seat. I searched for the Spanish words, but they wouldn’t come, so I just said, “no, no, no; it’s free.” I put my headphones back on, cracked open the book, and settled back down. She sat down and sat there with her bag on her lap for a couple of minutes, then said something.
I’m amazed sometimes that people can be so free and open and friendly. I wish I had it in me to do that sort of thing. I wouldn’t really make too much effort to talk to the person next to me if they were sat there without headphones on, let alone with them, but that’s what she did. She asked if I was going to Iguazú, and that was it, we got chatting. With the aid of my little English/Spanish dictionary, Yamila and I managed to muddle through all sorts of topics. I’m not sure how it came up, but at some point I had to try and explain what “cunt” meant. I sheepishly pointed to “vagina” in the dictionary. After a couple of hours, she got off the bus at a small town called Puerto Rico where her father ran a disco where she worked at weekends to help pay for her psychology studies. We hugged goodbye as she got her bag and I had a quick smoke at the station, and I returned to my seat to soon find myself sat next to an old battleaxe with insistent elbows.
With nowhere to stay in Puerto Iguazú, I spoke to a tour operator at the bus station. He told me about a few tours they do, then recommended a hotel that was super cheap. That’ll do, thanks. The whole time he never looked at me once. His gaze was always off somewhere else in the room. Quite unnerving.
The hotel room I was given had three single beds in it. I stayed in Puerto Iguazú for three nights. Can you guess what I did? Yep, I slept in a different one each night. For some reason, it gave me a stupendous amount of silly pleasure to do this.
One of the tours that Diverted Gaze Guy had mentioned was one where you go to Paraguay in the morning and see the Brazilian side of Iguazú Falls in the afternoon. Because it set off from the Argentina side, it was touted as “three countries in one day.” Once I’d checked in, I asked the guy at the hotel to make a reservation for me to go the next day. “Sí, no problem.” Splendid. I went out, got a steak, a few beers, and had an early night.
Saturday morning, I was up early, ready for the 8.00am tour start. Except, err, it didn’t happen. After standing and waiting in the hotel car park for twenty minutes, I told the guy in the reception that his colleague last night had booked me on the tour. He made a couple of phone calls and it turns out he hadn’t done it. Thanks, dude. Not a big hassle, really, I just had to switch my days around and go to the see the waterfalls from the Argentinian side instead.
It costs AR$40 to get in if you’re a foreigner. They give you money to go if you’re from Argentina. Not really; that was one of my slightly bitter jokes. I know I should just shrug it off that Argentinians, Paraguayans and Brazilians pay less than half, but I can’t. Anyway, the map showed many many places to walk and view the waterfalls from. And, rather systematically, I went through all of them. Nicely done, they were, too. There’s no good viewing angle that they missed with the series of walkways.
Just so you can see the wacky poses properly, here’s a bigger version of what was in the bottom right corner of the last photo:
I went on a speedboat that takes you whizzing around all fast and stuff. You get pretty close to a couple of the waterfalls, too; so, unsurprisingly, one gets rather wet.
After having a good walk around looking, I then got on the little train that takes you right around to the the bit of Iguazú called the Devil’s Throat. You will notice that there’s a woman in disguise on the train, too.
Once the train stops, there’s a good old walk across this footbridge which crosses the big flat top bit of the river before it goes tumbling down. (Notice my stunning knowledge of the correct terms.) It will never fail to amuse me at how a decent-sized proportion of human beings have no idea how to behave in public. The signs say “keep right” in Spanish and English. Do people keep right? You know the answer to that, don’t you? I’m sorry to generalise about this, Argentina, but this is something I’ve noticed a lot here: old women do not give a shit about holding up a queue of people. Yes, I appreciate that you’re not as nimble as you once were, but if you actually look behind you and notice that there’s quite a build-up of people who have slowed down because you are walking three abreast, it’s not a sign that we think you are all queens, and that we are loyal, loving procession behind you. It’s a sign that you might wanna move aside for a moment or two.
Be that as it may, the couple in this photo are walking on the right, and the guy seemed to enjoy that he’d be in my photo; he gave me a thumbs-up as he passed me. Not that you can see it in the photo, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
It was really magic up there looking down over the edge of the Devil’s Throat. Thunderously loud, with spray blowing all over the place. Fantastic.
This guy was a tit. As you can probably tell from his combination of silver satin and camouflage shorts.
But let’s not dwell on him, just look at how cool this waterfall is.
On the way back out to the car park to get the bus back to town, there was a little group of (what I’m assuming were) Guaraní people b
usking. This little clip is kinda like the music I listened to the other day at San Ignacio Miní. There’s something very lovely about it, I think, not least that the guy playing the guitar isn’t playing any chords with his left hand. That rules. What doesn’t rule, I’m afraid, is the fact that my little movie also recorded some brat whining to his parents in the background.
Brilliant: that’s what it was. Just a really great day. Sunday was ace, too. I got myself on the “three countries” tour, and after forcing down the hotel’s dismal coffee, I was in a minibus with a couple of Italian chaps (Massimo and Andrea), and a couple of Brits (Simon and Cleo), and we were on our way to Paraguay. We get our passports stamped as we leave Argentina. A couple of minutes later, we get entry stamps in Brazil, then we cross over into Paraguay, and, err, just drive straight in.
First stop was some museum which wasn’t very good. Then we went to see Itaipu dam, which, could I be bothered to root through my backpack and find the little booklet thingy, I could tell you was X amount of times bigger than every other dam you’ve ever seen. It was built by Paraguay and Brazil, the video told us, and was a shining example of two countries working together. “Shall we build a dam, Brazil?” “Yeh, alright then, Paraguay.”
It was pretty damn (wahey!) impressive. The tour itself was a bit cruddy, though. We got out the bus once to have a look at it from one side, then just kinda whizzed around the rest of it in the bus.
It makes a massive proportion of Paraguay’s electricity, and a shed-load of southern Brazil’s too. Here’s proof:
And here’s the reservoir formed by the dam.
After the dam, we went across the road to the little zoo. Quite a pathetic zoo, really, but, y’know, a fine place to take some melancholy pictures of animals.
Here’s some turtles or terrapins dry-humping.
Oh, how fortunate I was that the blue parrot was next to the blue metal thingy.
This toucan was ace. Very inquisitive.
In the background here, you can see two bunnies. If you look in the bottom left corner, you’ll see a big big big snake. Can you guess what he’ll be having for lunch?
(Sorry, I’m not writing very well today. But at least there’s a bunch of pictures to distract you, right?)
Next stop, Ciudad del Este. A town right on the border inside Paraguay, famous (in my life, anyway) for being the place where a scene was filmed in the Miami Vice film, which – I know you’ll disagree – I think is quite good. Mainly, though, because I find it tough to dislike anything related to the TV series. Mainly, it’s a place to buy cheap stuff. Between us we bought some jeans, an iPod, and a memory stick for lots less than they cost in the real world.
These were the kids who the tour driver paid to look after the minibus. I like how the lad on the left is trying to get out of the way of my photo, oblivious to the fact that I was actually trying to take a photo of him and his chums.
We left Paraguay, and went to an all-you-can-eat buffet thingy in Foz do Iguaçu, the town on the Brazilian side. As did these nuns.
The last stop of the day was at Cataratas do Iguaçu, the Brazilian side of the waterfalls. Not as much fun as yesterday, but there was a nicer, more panoramic view. And one good bit where you can get up close to some falls. First, though, a picture of the lovely logo they have.
Here’s a photo of Simon…
…doing what I am doing here. Note how ecstatic I am.
All around the cafe areas on both side of the falls there are lots of these creatures (above). Not sure what they are called. Not sure what that thing on the table is either. Wahey! Thank you, I’ll be here all week at the Chuckle Palace.
Back at the hotel, I had dinner with Massimo and Andrea, then we went to a casino. First time I’ve ever been in one. Not sure that I’ve ever seen so many CCTV camera in one place in my life. I played some roulette. First go, number 11: get in! I won! Started off with 20 pesos worth of chips; got as high as 35; ended up with 20 pesos and 75 centavos. I won! I beat the system! Seventy five centavos! Woo hoo!
A bit drunk, I fell into bed. This is how I spent my day in the three countries in the form of a pie chart.
on Monday morning, I packed my bag, and bid farewell to Argentina.
I’m back in Brazil. Back in Curitiba, in fact. I spent ten hours on a bus getting here, and very very little of interest occurred. After this mammoth post, I’m sure you’ll be feeling quite relieved about that, though.
This morning I went on a little tour. Organised by the hotel, not too expensive; so, sí Señor, I’ll go on your tour. So I go down to the lobby at 9.00 a.m. as instructed, and there’s the guy, and… err, no-one else. And we go out to… his little Peugeot. It’s just me and him in his car. Hmmm, how weird? This isn’t a tour as such, is it? It’s just one of the employees ferrying me to a couple of ruins. I forget his name, let’s call him Julio. We set off, and we muddled through with my vague understanding of Spanish. He put a Coldplay CD on, and we were on the road. Oh yeh, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, that’s us; heading off to see what was left of the little Jesuit villages about 60 kilometres away.
Jesuits (the word is a portmanteau of Jesus and biscuits, two things these dudes loved a lot) came here in the 17th century and set up a load of little villages in this part of the world, spread over what is now a small part of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. They converted some of the local chaps with their crucifix-shaped chocolate chip cookies. Or something.
First stop, Santa Ana. Julio sat in the car while I went off. A very friendly fellow offered to show me around. He spoke no English, but took great pains in making sure that I was following what he said. Really nice of him, that, I thought; thinking of different ways to phrase things so I could grab hold of a few of the words that I do know and kinda form an idea of what he was on about. That’s where the folks lived, that’s the workshop area, this is the cemetery, etc. The site at Santa Ana hasn’t been restored, so it’s quite crumbly, but in a way, I prefer seeing that kinda stuff.
Back in the car, Coldplay back on, and we’re rocking our way to San Ignacio Miní. Apparently, this is the best example of what the Jesuits got up to down here. It has been restored and it does look pretty good. As with other things in Argentina, entry prices vary (Argentinians AR$10, Latin Americans AR$12, Fancy-pants tourists from elsewhere AR$15). Bit of a rainy day by this point. I didn’t have a coat, either. I had a good look around though. Yep, it’s nice there. There was a little museum next to it, and they had some music on headphones. I really enjoyed some the Guaraní songs (the indigenous people from these parts), but there was, sadly, no CDs or anything. No gift shop at all, in fact. Sod’s Law, really. The first time I’ve wanted a gift shop on my whole trip, and there isn’t one.
Back in the car, and we’re listening to “A Rush Of Blood To The Head” again and bombing along heading back to Posadas, which, being 1° de Mayo, is virtually entirely close for the day. Rain and nothing open. Well, looks like today will be a holiday for me too, so, I plumped up the pillows, and watched some telly. I didn’t take my dirty shoes off while I was on the bed. How’s that for rebellion!?
Now, the 14-year-old Craig’s version of the day:
The 37-year-old Craig dragged me along with this boring guy who listened to bloody Coldplay ALL the time. Went to some ruined rubbish. Boring. Had to stand around in the rain while this fat guy talked to the 37-year-old Craig about where the drainage from the workshops went. Jesus Christ! How bloody boring? THEN we had to go to another place that looked virtually the same. God, I hate the 37-year-old Craig. Then we came home and had to listen to Coldplay again. When we got back to the hotel, we watched an episode of “24” on TV. It was so ace, there was a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles and Jack Bauer was released from a Chinese prison and he’s got a big beard and everything! It was skill! Then I drank some Coke, and ate some chocolate.
Some day I’d love to see a border that lived up to the childish fantasy I have. Not that I don’t get a frisson whenever I see the borders of countries, but there’s still a tiny bit of me that is slightly disappointed that the other country doesn’t look completely different and awesome.
Until that day occurs, though, I’ll have to keep on inventing how countries might look. Like how Paraguay looks when I look over from the Argentinian bank of the Paraná river…