Favela Guide (Anthony Goto via Flickr)
Blog Words : Blog of the week | 15 April

Getting burned in Rio

Our Blogger of the Week, Kate Gibbons, discovers that it's easier to get sunburned than money out of a bank in Brazil's party city

My sunglasses have been sacrificed to the Gods of Rio. I don’t know if they were stolen or if I left them on a table but they are no longer in my possession. Bummed yes, but it has given me the opportunity to sport a pair of "Ray-bons" that I bought near the beach.

Portuguese is surprisingly tough. It's harder to communicate here than in Asia. English is vacant from signs, ATMs, menus, etc. An R is pronounces “hee” and a Ç is “psy” like the Korean rapper. Therefore I flew into Hee-ho de Janeiro and I have been drinking a-psy-ee (açai). It is sort of like when I went to Russia a few years ago, you think you are going to be able to understand since you recognise most of the letters, but no. It might as well be Arabic or Thai, at least then you don’t have the false hope of communication. I think those who speak Spanish have it the worst. Other than a few words the languages aren’t similar.

I knew the World Cup and the Olympics were coming to Rio but I didn’t realise that Rio hosts a driving race everyday. I’ll call it the Rio 500 but unlike Indy or Daytona only public buses compete. Driven by maniacs, to put it nicely, it is best to have a seat as the stick shift buses scream through the rues. Getting on is a debacle. Once you hail the bus; you get on, pay the fare-attendant and pass through the turnstile and make a B-line for a seat. Of course the bus has taken off again well before getting through the turnstile leaving you bouncing around like a pinball. The fare-attendant is something new. I can only assume that it is so the Danica Patrick-wannabe-drivers don’t get out of their zone by making change.

I went to a favela the other day. I had mixed feelings about going but my intention was to interview my guide on why he does it. The only stories written have been the debate whether a slum tour is tourism or exploitation. I was convinced the guide would talk to me about why he does it, but within 30 seconds of meeting he mentioned that he hates journalists because they “spread lies” after their tour. Award-winning travel article dreams crushed but I was still convinced that it would be an interesting experience.

Starting at the top and walking down to the bottom passing from the “nice” part to the darker, dirtier part. There are three gangs that control the favela in addition to the landlord. Infamous for crime, filth and drug problems, I didn’t think it was that bad. I’d been in worse. Then I rounded a corner and met the Policia, or rather their machine guns aimed through me and toward the building behind me. My guide grabbed me by my backpack picking me up like a cat by the nape of its neck and shoved me behind a wall. Tour over. We went straight down and I was told “No more photos.”

There is something wrong with me. I am in paradise and I am bummed I miss a powder day back in CO. I should get my head checked.

The sidewalks in Rio are made of Portuguese pavement. A better description is black and white mosaic rock. Different beaches/neighbourhoods have different designs. I think my favorite is Copacabana. It’s a black and white wave designed by award-winning landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.

If you bank with Chase, bring cash from the US. Brazilian banks and Chase don’t get along. This means that when you go to the ATM to get cash out your card gets spat back out. An explanation flashes across the screen but it’s in Portuguese, which might lead you to frantically flip through the money section of the language guide of your travel book to translate. At the first bank you probably won’t do this but by the time you get to bank number three, panic has set in since you only have 14 real, about seven bucks in your pocket. The message says something about a chip and card invalid.

Do not panic. Find an HSBC, someone always speaks English at HSBC. Where, if the teller is as nice as the one the other day was, will explain to you that you do have money in your account but that your bank only has agreements with HSBC and Citi in Brazil and can only access funds through their ATMs. Really Chase? You didn’t give me a problem in India or Egypt but Brazil is where you decide to hassle me.

I am what we call in America, sunburned. It was overcast the first few days I was here so yesterday when the clouds broke and the South American sun showed its brilliant face, I raced to the beach with the excitement a child on Christmas morning. SPF 50 is no defence. Even my toes are burned and I have a perfect bow outline on my back from the bikini tie. It is as well defined as a tattoo.

Kate GibbonsHello World | Kate Gibbons

"I started my blog  two years ago when I travelled around the world. It contains my observations, thoughts and headlines from around the world… and maybe a good story or two. Now I am a working stiff again and update it when I embark on new adventures, most recently the intoxicating Brazil."

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