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Archive for May, 2010

Iguazu Falls

I am typing quietly from the overnight sleeper bus traveling from Buenos Aires to Porte Iguazu, a rustic and sleepy forest town sitting at the base of the beautiful Iguazu Falls that serve as partial border between northern Argentina and southwest Brazil. By way of foreshadowing, the streaky gray early morning sky is dumping rain torrentially outside, which, bouncing back skyward off of the glistening concrete of the road passing violently under the bus, is muddying even my windows 15 feet from the ground. The earthen rain spray, together with the lingering internal condensation from a night of a dozen exhaling sleeping passengers, is obscuring my views of the lush Argentine forested countryside, as poplars and cockspur coral trees are beginning to blur and give way into evergreens and bamboo clusters as we press deeper into the rainforest. Roadside campesinos, merely trying to go about their work day, are doubtless shrugging exhausted shoulders of mild annoyance at the colossal bright green garish presumptuousness of our double-decker tourist bus, trudging gawking panama-jack-hatted morons, like myself, through the arboreal thicket, our over-excited and intrusive fingers OMG-ishly pointing towards clearly visible sights that everyone else is already looking at. Arual the Destructor of Wooded Purity and Truth is lying next to me in Seat 2 of the upper deck of our giant bus, her saliva-bubbly mouth morbidly agape and a half-dozen crumbs from last night’s meal peppering the bosom of her blouse, as she apneatically writhes periodically in some holy grail quest for a position of elusive comfort that she will never find. A strange American backpacker is backpacking regrettable cheeses and reading a shitty novel in the counter aisle.

A first-class bus is a bit of an anachronism from the jump, but it’s really not bad travel in these parts. The seats are large and do in fact recline all the way (or close to it) with some mechanical eccentricities that you learn through a little frustrate-grunting trial and error. There are also individual TVs with movies running periodically (I watched a very good bootleg of Clash of the Titans, which I wouldn’t have even known was a bootleg if a random dude hadn’t popped up into the movie about 45 minutes in, presumably to use the bathroom, refill his monstrous vat of popcorn, or both), and an attendant that serves dinner, breakfast (should be any minute now), and cocktails, all included with the tickets. Our attendant, Chachmo, as I presume he likes to be called, even poured me four fingers of some tasty scotch last night that put me directly to sleep. The food is, to be sure, terrible, but it would be hard to imagine it otherwise. Really (and this goes for planes too), these companies should stop trying to fancy up the meals they serve during short-term travel. Cordon bleu or duck confit is never going to serve well out of a microwaved cellophane-wrapped plastic tray, even after delicately negotiating the tiny little pouches of salt and pepper or cream sauce that threaten explosion if your tensile tearing strength is just a milli-fraction above what’s required. It’s made worse by the natural turbulence of bus travel and dining from an unstable and untrained lap. You undergo a significant amount of sway and jostle on the top deck, particularly when the speeding bus careens around a slow-moving truck or tractor, the overtaxed hydraulics in the wheelbase heave and sigh under the top-heavy centrifugal weight of the top part of the bus that should, rightfully, spill over.

In any case, bus travel, in this form, really doesn’t exist in the United States. We have buses, obviously, but they are overrun by a bus culture that scares the living shit out of the average person. Not fear for safety or property really, but more some pervasive life-altering taint that may attach to your existence should you even set foot in a modern American bus terminal. I remember taking buses from Jacksonville to Tampa occasionally when I was an adorable prepubescent – when my mother would send me on a busted-ass Greyhound to see my dad for the weekend – the awkward meeting at the halfway point in Ocala being, for whatever temporal reason, too much to deal with at the time. Essentially, it was the same thing that other kids with loving parents did with respect to planes. It was pretty basic, my Mom dropped off an optimistic young nine year-old boy at a terminal on the margins of social normativism, I got on the bus, and when I got to the station in Tampa, Dad picked up a tear-stained quivering future deviant (a strapping boyish equivalent of Alice freshly returned from the rabbit hole, but written by a suicidal and epileptic Lewis Carroll on a terrible crack binge). The American bus system lives in an entirely other dimension from modern reality. There is no scotch, and no vino tinto, not even a sad half-hearted attempt at lukewarm cordon bleu, just creepiness for hours of bumpy relentless highway: a strange strandy-haired man sniffing you, an old lady pulling raw unbunned hotdogs from her purse, a charming schizophrenic blurting random obscenities, occasionally a nine-year old with divorced parents and preternaturally huge genitalia masturbating. It was like a Bukowski novel.

Subtle

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We finally reached the falls after the 18-hour bus ride. I slept a large portion of the way, and otherwise got a good amount of reading done, so it wasn’t so bad. We are staying at the Sheraton in the national park, overlooking the Argentine side of the falls. It’s the only hotel actually in the falls park and, allegedly, the best place if you are only staying a couple of days and want to jam through all there is to do. I don’t feel like they have built a new Sheraton anywhere in the last 30 years or so, but this one was relatively well-kept. We checked in, and despite the perpetual overcast (it’s rainy season in May and June), you can tell from the lobby of the hotel how beautiful the falls are/will be. We headed straight for a vista on the northern point of the park, Garganta del Diablo, or Devil’s Throat, an adorable and subtle little name for the largest conglomeration of falls in the area accessible by tram ride. It was quite breathtaking once we actually got out there. I don’t want to get too technical on this blog, but let’s just say that there is a great deal of water run off, falling precipitously. Apparently, these falls pour about five times the amount of water that Niagara does and, all together, are second only to Victoria Falls in southern Africa in scope.

View from the hotel lobby

The only problem, as ever, were the goddamn tourists, other tourists that is (I am actually a pleasure to be around). I really don’t much like human beings as a rule, they are vile, indecent creatures, but big-scale tourism seemingly crystallizes those attributes of mankind that I despise the most. The modern tourist combines a dangerous mix of the most childish and intellectually superficial curiosity, a sense of disproportionate propriety borne out from the heavy expense of time, money and energy to be wherever they are, an utter lack of humanity that comes somewhat naturally from the ability (mentally) to abdicate personal responsibility to the crowd, and some obscure feeling that the natural karmic consequences of being a douche will fall through the cracks of international translation, like a rounding error in the exchange rates, creating the rude elbowy middle-aged adult equivalent of the otherwise demure college girl that hooks up with like 12 dudes in Cancun. Most of them have no respect for themselves and certainly none for my personal space, their hot collective breath, their jerky and unpredictable movements and jutting limbs, and their monster cameras and enough assorted unnecessary equipment to put Ansel Adams to shame, invade and soak up every inch of otherwise available space on the trails and viewing spots.  Children and old people seem to be the worst, indicating some inverted lifespan parabola of awareness of the existence of other sentient entities. Relatively new mothers are also terrible, partly by absorbing the indiscretion of their devil children (which like the wrathful flailing in Dante’s River Styx grope and rend at my lower regions) and partly because of a strange neurological disorder that makes them believe that some majestic purity of their child-rearing gives them existential priority over the infecund and provides them mandate to snowplow their strollers through crowds, battering and bouncing off of the unswollen ankles and feet of those meaningless people outside of their nuclear family/army daring to be in their path. It’s low season this time of year, but the crowds were huge and rambunctious nonetheless, ironically fearful of marginal amounts of water spray and stopping every couple of inches to take pictures virtually identical to the last picture they just took. It was very difficult in these circumstances not to agree with Mark Twain that it was “such a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.”

I spent a great deal of time sidling up to (slightly nudging) hapless women and children perched precariously on railings over the falls, not with any design to harm them, of course, but to create the perfect situation for my Superman II-esque rescue attempt. I always wanted to save some poor schmoe from his untimely demise at a public attraction, not for the sake of heroism really, but for anecdotal story dominance years later, and so I could perhaps parlay it into a string of paid appearances and Oprah interviews like that one elderly pilot gentleman that somehow became famous for crashing his plane into the Hudson River. Of course, it’s quite possible that once they fell in, I would lose nerve and stand idly by with everyone else, but that was a risk they were probably willing to take. Unfortunately, no one fell, and Arual the Party-Pooper, all self-obsessed with her inability to swim and unnatural fear of sharp jutting rocks, refused to take one for the team. Typical, it’s always about her.

We also got a chance to go on a wild boat ride under the falls, and do a little ecological tourism. I should be clear about something, I am not a wildlife guy. Nabokov was creepily into zoology and, in fact, a noted and talented lepidopterist. Each of Rousseau and Voltaire felt deep affection for plant-life and gardening. I fancy myself a retarded modern disciple, ideologically speaking, of these people, and I know it makes me a philistine in some sense, but I honestly just don’t care that much for animals, plant-life or really nature in the broader sense. I don’t have anything against it/them per se, it’s just not my thing and, like God in Laplace’s solar system, we do perfectly fine without each other. In terms of places that I never ever want to go, I rank zoos just below the rapiest parts of a maximum-security prison and just above an in-person Dan Brown literary seminar. I have little or no desire really to see a zebra eat branches from a tree, either in captivity or the wild, I don’t get worked up by how much an elephant can defecate (it makes intuitive sense to me that it would be a lot), and I don’t care much whether a particular rare bird has an allegedly rare colorful tail, that’s nice for the bird. It’s just the way I am built (a city girl I suppose), and unless some tree monkey is shaking up tasty dry martinis for everyone, I sure as hell do not want to stomach shimmy my way into a crowd of binoculared idiots to catch a distant glimpse of one. Still, being the good sport that I am, we wandered around through the rainforests and took note of a few of the egomaniacal little beasts (the wildlife I mean). We saw large beaked toucans, other birds that might as well have been macaws, weird giant rodents that seemed marsupial in some way (not in any factual way, but in the sense that I have a very vague and detached notion of roughly what a marsupial is, stored in a back cranny of my mind where I toss irrelevant information like baseball stats, animal and plant names, Arual’s birthday, etc.), some German teenagers, etc. We even took a few pictures.

A potential marsupial of some kind

Birds that fancy themselves special

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Off to Iguazu

Headed to Iguazu Falls on the long overnight train. The key in Iguazu will somehow be to enjoy these:

And avoid these:

Will blog from the road.

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The rains came after our first few days in Rio, and though we would miss the sun and the beach, it gave us a chance to check out some museums and historical sites, and do some hiking in the Tijuca rainforest. I am not a big hiker of mountains, let’s make that clear, it’s jejune and antiquated, what with the advent of motor vehicles, stairs, escalators, trams, funiculars, pulleys, trolleys, helicopters, and dozens of other ways to more efficiently ascend heights – all done without trouncing around muddy trails in cargo pants (pockets slopped excessively on by some modern fashion equivalent of Jackson Pollock), sporting a deeply delusional and solipsistic sense of oneness with nature/Yahweh/universe seemingly inherent to being slightly out of breath in the woods, taking an overwrought and showy gulp of water from a cargo pant-holstered canteen, forearm-wiping sweat from a scrunching brow, and exhaling a giant and self-indulgent sigh that conveys something roughly to that effect of “aahhh, yep, all part of the natural cycle of the world, just atoms and swirling dust.” But, I will say, it was a pretty great hike, what with the rain mist slowly trickling through the lush tree cover as we passed gushing waterfalls, gentle brooks babbling back and forth with Arual (it’s nice for her to have a friend), on our way to the highest peak in the city…….it was like I was just a small cog in the slow, perpetual spin of a moist and hairy-backed mother earth, or something like that.

Our tour was led by a man-child incompetent named Alex with a strong propensity to stumble during medium-grade inclines and to make essentially no sense at all. Alex was billed as bilingual in the brochure, which is true in the most cursory sense, but hardly at a level that would qualify him as a story-telling tour guide. Brazilian Portuguese is a difficult language. It sounds a bit like a drunk Russian (excuse the redundancy) trying to speak Spanish. The root words are somewhat similar, but more slavic, and the syllables sound like they are being dragged through a thick Baltic mud. I can only assume that Alex was indeed well versed in Portuguese, but his English was rudimentary at best. I also think he just made shit up most of the time, relying heavily on my palpable indifference. “Ah, si, sooo, zis tree, aqui…….OhKay, in eighteenz hundredz, all za peeoples in za vworld, all za peeople, zey wanted za wood cuz its sztrongezt wood in za whole vworld………….eh, szoo now, only zvree or zvour of zees trees left, cause of all za peeoples.” ………..Yeah, Alex, that’s what happened with the trees.

I have this tendency to visit places when such place’s most identifiable attraction is for whatever reason temporarily inaccessible. The Eiffel Tower closed for a structural defect, the Sistine Chapel closed for fresco renewal, Munch’s Scream (the most significant painting in Oslo, Norway) being on tour through the other cities of Europe through which I had just passed, or the middle school boys in Thailand away on spring break. You get the idea. Rio was no different. Its most significant tourist attraction and one of the recently anointed New Seven Wonders of the World, O Cristo Redentor, or Christ the Redeemer, the giant spread-armed Christ statue at the peak of Corcovado that watches the city all creepily over its sinful shoulder, like the freaky guy behind you in line at the stadium urinals that’s a little too close and paying a little too much attention to the duration and intensity of your stream, or an elderly priest watching you masturbate (that’s normal, right?), was of course under refurbishment and covered by large scaffolding the entire trip, and was unapproachable as a result of recent mudslides on its host mountain. The views were supposed to be amazing, but we saw plenty of those at Sugarloaf and elsewhere, so I wasn’t too put out. Plus, old Cristo really needed some refurbishing. The egomaniacal statue was vandalized just a week before we arrived by a brave young graffiti artist, now doubtless running for his life from Old Testament-y Catholics thirsting for blood sacrifice and the hefty reward offered by the mayor. Also, in a wondrous display of the tastiest irony, it was actually struck by lightning (graven images and what not) a couple of years ago and lost some divine fingers and a judgmental eyebrow that have since been reattached. Jesus and I have never really seen eye to eye on things in any case, what with his whole messiah complex, vague threats to send me to hell for not requiting his presumptuous handsy love and feigned sacrifice for my innate sins (is it really martyrdom when you by design return, almost immediately, as everlasting God?), an issue he really should have taken up with his dad/self. I will say, we have some hyper-religiosity in certain sectors of the U.S., but it would be pretty strange to have a ridiculously giant Jesus as our most identifiable symbol/monument, maintained by an ostensibly secular government. I dare say that might not go over so well in the modern Gomorrah that is San Francisco.

Cristo Redentor all Stalkery

Religion aside, it’s not like I was exactly pining to elbow my way through a mass of tourist families with giant crinklingly-unfurled city maps splayed before their big-eyed dimwitted faces as they trample around in floppy meatloafy feet wrapped too tightly in tevas or reef sandals, scrapping, banging and writhing like clumsy scrappy cherubs in a scrappy chubby cherub race for the perfect picture of their entire extended family in front of whatever sight their Lonely Planet Rio tells them they absolutely must have a picture of themselves in front of. So we weren’t able to make it up to see Christ Refurbisher, that’s fine, if my imagination of it is any indication, I probably would have bitched and moaned the entire time in any case.

Instead, Alex then took us on a tour through Santa Teresa and Lapa, two loosely connected neighborhoods in Rio that have, so far, somehow maintained their respective cultural distinctiveness and largely avoided the gauche touristification that defines Zona Sul and the beaches. We ate lunch at a little hill-side restaurant in Santa Teresa, a small historical district lining the edge of the mountain that separates Corcovado and downtown, snuggled between warring shanty-slums on each side, and with great views of almost all of central Rio. Santa Teresa manages to be a quaint, despite its relative proximity to the rest of the city, and is earmarked by a rickety little tram that rickety-clinks up and down the mountain from the famous Convent of Santa Teresa on the cusp of Lapa. We ordered some traditional pork-based Santa Teresan fare and cold tall beers from a very sweaty and annoyed waiter/owner, whose apron testified colorfully to the slaughter of both a reluctant animal and a good bit of modern food service etiquette. A kindly elderly English couple ate lunch with us and told us of their extensive travels throughout the world, mentioning weirdly how the restaurants they loved best in the United States were Arby’s and The Sizzler. I would have been insulted if they weren’t so damn cute with their over-enunciated diphthongs, glottalized consonants, toothy-mouthed colonial wonder and Hugh Granty hair, somehow both floppy and foppish at once. I just wanted to hug them, kiss their fair-skinned foreheads and ask what it was like to be so adorable and say ridiculous things all the time, but Arual convinced me against it.

Patio from Lunch

View from Santa Teresa

Adorable tram

After lunch, we headed down to the mountain to Lapa, easily the most interesting and eclectic part of Rio. Lapa was bohemian, soulful, and self-satisfied, but also rundown and frenetic, and possessed of an indefatigable seediness in a way that feels well-earned, rather than through neglect or inactivity. This is the primary destination for intellectuals, dancers, artists, gypsies and party-seekers in Rio. It’s not much to look at during the day, as the roads and sidewalks are a mess, pedestrian traffic is dense and chaotic, the buildings are coated with a ubiquitous yellowish grunge slopped up from generations of well-tread street parties, and historical relevance takes a back seat to the more esoteric vibe of the area, which is better visited for the Samba, caipirinhas and all-night debauchery than its famous 400-year old Arcos da Lapa aqueduct, which at the end of the day (or really any time of the day) is still just an unused aqueduct. But, after the sun drops, the broken cobblestone streets fill with dancing cariochas, old men in cabbie hats playing inexplicable card games on inverted paint tubs, cheap art (both created and sold), musicians with tiny guitars playing samba riffs, annoying Australian hostel-ites searching relentlessly for weed, ad-hoc kiosks selling canned beer, working girls and guys and pretty much anything else a young super-sexy man with an ostensible girlfriend passed out in a distant hotel room could possibly want. All in all, a pretty nice little day in Rio.

Lapa Art

More Lapa Art

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Rio Beaches

Flying back from Rio to Buenos Aires, via a short stop in Montevideo, I caught myself already regretting that I didn’t see more of Rio, and Brazil more generally. A full week in one place seems like a reasonably long time, but it isn’t really, particularly when trying to squeeze in a number of experiences each so uniquely Brazilian. It was over before I looked up. Rio was truly a marvelous city, or The Cidade Maravihosa, as it is called by its local inhabitants – the Cariocas. Bright, beautiful, musical, diverse, eclectic, and something more singular and ephemeral that I can’t put my finger on. Buenos Aires, for all its sophistication and grandeur, feels a lot like Paris, or London, or parts of New York. Rio doesn’t feel like anywhere else, at least that I have been.

We stayed at the Rio Othon Palace on Copacabana Beach, the largest hotel of the three main beaches in Zona Sul, the touristy beach section of Rio. There is no way around it, the Othon Palace is a shit hole by American or European standards, but those must be disregarded in lieu of Rio standards (where the Rio Othon somehow warrants a 4-star rating), standards beaten down, made pulpy and unappealing, by the colluding blows of an unstable economy, violently jumpy exchange rates, the natural ebb of high-end travel destinationship, and a high concentration and segregation of wealth. You can see glimpses of what Rio used to be, in its 1950s and 1960s bossa nova heyday, particularly in the glittering ivory of the Copacabana Palace, peaking out through the clouded dank of dilapidated post mid-century architecture. This only reminds you of what is now missing, high culture urbane charm, replaced by other, more diluted, inelegant charms. The Othon Palace is well located and is fronted by a gloriously long and wide white-sand beach, bookended by lush rainforesty mountains, breathtaking from almost every angle. Our nondescript (other than the view) hotel room ran an absurd 1920,00 Brazilian Reals a night, which amounts to just over a thousand U.S. dollars a day. Fortunately, we were staying there free as a result of a timeshare condo I traded in Florida, and didn’t have to suffer the obscenity of those rates, but even knowing them was difficult to reconcile mentally.

View from the Hotel

On our first full day, Arual and I decided that our number one priority had to be to do something about our awkward pastiness, a sign of extreme shame, and an invitation to public derision, gulpy throated hand-covering-mouth look-away disgust and a powerful amount of sexual apathy, the likes of which I haven’t experienced since high-school, and Arual hasn’t felt since our last Tuesday date night, or really any date night (I just want to be clear that I don’t have some recurrent libido drop on Tuesdays, which are like one of my big days otherwise). In any case, we needed a little color, lest we be mistaken for that untalented pasty white British guy from Twilight and that even less talented pasty white girl that he wants to kill/date, or worse, Canadians. Luckily, the sun was doing its part, kicking at a solid 95 degrees and sidling all up in my grill like a creepy close talker with hot buttery breath. We headed over to Ipanema Beach, a short jaunt from our seaside location, where we were told the crowds were a little younger and hipper, a residual image-illusion of ourselves we still desperately cling to. We found a nice little spot in the Farme Gay stretch of Ipanema, creatively titled that because it is well frequented by Rio’s gay and lesbian community, the male members of which, called Barbies, you might not be surprised to learn enjoy basking in the sun with nothing but thin tautly pulled lycra chorizo hammocks, providing more textural detail than one could conceivably want outside of the context of a very thorough pudendal-flesh sifting prostate exam. In any case, we like sunbathing with our gay friends, who appreciate deeply the finer points of undercarriage groomery, and provide cognitive coverage for our fears of being sexually irrelevant to those we would otherwise like to impress. Just because the lesbians, or the body-obsessed gay men, aren’t super digging on male torsos shaped, colored and textured like a spooned out clump of creamy mashed potatoes, suntan oil glistening like two dollops of melting butter in the hairless vortex of a concave chest and its hilltop omphalic neighbor to the south, freckles (a friendlier, less carcinogenically suggestive word substitute for moles) sprinkled sloppily like pepper bits by a drooling idiot chef-God, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t play back home with the hetero ladies.

A double-edged sword of the Rio beaches is its perpetual state of cheap vendorism, a predictable result of the extreme wealth gap I suppose. Wandering endlessly on the beach, selling their goods and homespun wares, are vendors of every sort, shape and annoyance. This means that you can, for just a few Reals, sitting in your cheaply rented beach chairs, under rented umbrella staked by some strange man into the sand of your proprietary clump of earth for the day, purchase almost anything your heart desires – cocktails, food of every kind, sunglasses, clothing, jewelry, obscure crafts, poetry, whatever. It also means, of course, that you could theoretically buy, and will certainly be offered, significantly more than any heart in the history of the world has ever desired. Just when the smile on your face grows all idiot huge, a cold coconut-ed cocktail in one hand and tasty presunto e queijo in the other, the pages of your new book (in my case: Harry Potter and The Perfectly Natural Body Changes of Hermione) fluttering gently on your lap, some giant-toed local salesman, bumbles up flicking sand from the pulpy tips of eponymous toes, eclipses the glorious sun and offers you a sarong or t-shirt or fedora or license plate, or fill in random unwanted inanimate object here, that, naturally, says “Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro” on it, as if for some reason that only grandmothers in the late 80s understand you desperately want to, at some point in the future, commemorate your visitation to a far off land by wearing an ill-fitting tank-top (made of a fabric with the substantive elusiveness of cotton candy) that says exactly where you overpaid for it, an enduring unequivocal (at least until the first wash) written testament to your shamelessness. You can just imagine your horribly idiotic child asking a decade later: “hey dad, where did you get that cool faded pink tank-top?” “Well, I am really glad you asked, mildly retarded child of mine, but if you look right here on the front, just below the windsurfer, or on the back (not on the sleeves cause it doesn’t have any, fucking a!!), you will see that I got this fine article of clothing on travel with my first wife, Betty, you know the woman who drops off your significantly more loved older brother every other week, in Rio de Janeiro. Copacabana Beach if you really want to be specific………The shirt does.”

Beach vendors (stock photos)

Perhaps because we were in the gay section or because Arual was drinking a white-wine spritzer and was justifiably confusable with a beach hooker (she isn’t one ……. to my knowledge), we were also offered several times to purchase cocaine. I said no, but they assumed I merely protested too much perhaps, because that was followed by a more sincere, crouched and winking, offers. Eventually, after several hours of only getting through the same two or three sentences in my book (and anxious, naturally, to see what happens with that oh-so lovable Harry, who is like in his mid-twenties and in his 14th year at a wizard school for children), and politely shooing away vendors with “noa, abrigado”, you learn to simply ignore them completely. Responses of any sort, only encourage them for further haggling salesmanship, adjusting prices and technique. It’s better to pretend they aren’t even talking to you and look right past them, a skill I have long practiced when Arual the Saying Something Long-winded and Irrelevant wants to have a “serious conversation” or talk about her “feelings” after a family member’s funeral.

One of the other great anachronisms of Rio, so seemingly remote from the sun-drenched beauty and white-façade edificios that serve as pillars to the gentle smoky striated clouds above the beach, is the casual frequency of theft and violence, lurking as it were behind every corner, or in the shadows under every flickering street lamp, or right there under your nose in the meaty blind spot of human complacency ready to convert from pre-kinetic potentiality to painful irrevocability in an instant, just when the thin first coat of absent-mindedness glosses over the natural tendency for defense of self and property. Our Rio guide-book reads like two books woven together, one trumpeting the charms and eccentricities of a veritable coastal and cultural paradise, the other like a self-defense manual for virgin atheist American women living in Mosul. Every encouragement to visit the gorgeous beaches comes with a friendly reminder never to step away from your belongings or even fall asleep with goods unclenched, and certainly not to walk the beaches at night, where violent muggings and “quicknappings” are somehow quotidian. You shouldn’t miss the nightlife in Lapa or Leblon, but you should cab directly to the restaurant or bar, and back to your hotel, or risk violence and robbery if you turn down the wrong street denoted with street signs you certainly can’t read. Seeing a Favela (one of the poor shantytowns) is one of the best experiences you can have, but never go without a tour guide, and make sure he gives money back to the residents, and never, ever, ever go at night, lest you want several City of God gang children to tear the clammy skin from your trembling bones, laughing Samba-maniacally at the adorable futility of your horror. But, all of that pales in comparison to the greatest danger posed in Rio, at least according to our guide-book, and our hotel concierge, and one of our tour guides – the prostitutes and, particularly, the transvestite prostitutes. This was truly disappointing to me, particularly since I have always been a huge fan of both, and the rare celestial combination of the two, but even I don’t want to be stabbed to death (or stabbed really at all), or potentially raped, by violent hooker transvestites that roam the streets near Lapa once the sun recedes, picking out drunken tourist men seemingly sporting a heavy wallet and light stumbley defenses. All of this creates a low-grade sense of unease in almost any activity you do in Rio, particularly when you are traveling with a notoriously terrible fighter like Arual, who, from what I have seen domestically, can barely even finish washing dishes (which better be clean this time) after being punched. I also feared that they will want to dance fight in the style of the capoeira, for which Brazil is renown, and my go-to Robot moves or the Sprinkler won’t provide for adequate defense, unless they only attack the sides and/or front middle of my torso, where I may actually have some dominant robot arm blocks. Arual really only knows how to do The Worm, which is a very weak fighting position historically.

Scary City of God Kids (Good movie)

Copacabana Beach at Night

Very Rough Approximation of Arual Being Beaten Up by Capoeira

That said, we really didn’t experience any tangible threat of violence or crime against us while in Rio, begging the question of whether the warnings had just done their job, or were far overstated in the first place. I think it was the latter, frankly, as those books are written to confirm the presuppositions of many travelers with a natural tendency to distrust unknowns, and see every petty crime as something more sinister. Either way, the people were extraordinary welcoming, kind, gracious and joyful on every street, dark or lit, that we walked down and the hookers were complete professionals.

Random from Sugar Loaf

Random street art from Lapa

Random pic of building

Random city pic

[to be continued]

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