MARCH 31 – APRIL 2, AT SEA
APRIL 3 (Good Friday) – RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
After bidding farewell to the bucolic tranquility of St. Helena… we were subjected to fiery sermons on Rio, and the barbaric viciousness of the murderous thugs that skulk on every street corner. It was a record sales day for Cunard Shore Excursions, where even the most independent travelers (like ourselves) decided not to “play the odds”.
The most lucrative criminals don’t need a knife. They are the masterful “Pickers of Pockets”. Here’s a coveted scheme. Pass it on…
A congenial looking teenager steps in front of his Hawaiian Shirted target and picks up a dollar up from the sidewalk.
“Sir, you dropped this”, he says with a magnanimous smile.
“Why, thank you, young man”, the target exclaims, suitably surprised by this virtuous act.
Hawaiian Shirt questions why Rio has such a bad rap, as he slips the wayward bill into his left front pocket, reuniting it with numerous siblings.
15 minutes later, he reaches for the cash his wife needs to pay for the cheesy replica of “Christ The Redeemer”, she simply cannot live without, and discovers that the entire extended family of currency and credit cards has been liberated.
6.5 million people live in the city and 5 million in the suburbs. 85% of the wealth is controlled by 5% of the residents. 70% of the people live below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is 37%. There are over 600 shanty towns that cling to the hillsides where thousands live in squalor. They are controlled by gangs. The muted report of gunshots echo through the sultry air.
The ship’s “Daily Programme” describes the Rio lifestyle as “a mixture of hedonism and irreverence. They appear to respect nothing and no one, and are constantly on the look out for something to provide them with a new diversion or pleasure. They see themselves as individuals of immense resourcefulness, of keen wit, of engaging conversation, of stunning beauty, and of worldly knowledge”.
Is this a twisted sales pitch or satire?
We took an excursion that covered two places we were keenly interested in visiting. First, was the float construction and costume making facility of a Samba School that participates in the annual Rio Carnival. This annual event is the most ostentatious spectacle your mind can envision. It makes the Thanksgiving Macy’s Day Parade look like a kindergarten production. Over 5,000 dancers train at each of the 12 schools every year. Once the theme is decided on by a committee, it takes almost the full year to orchestrate. Thousands are employed during the process, most of which live in the slums. It is promoted as the festival where the “rich mingle with the poor”. Call me a skeptic, but I doubt that. Wear an expensive camera around your neck, and come visit in February to see it firsthand. You will be most welcomed.
We saw the remnants of an elaborate float that focused on futuristic technology and scientific advancement. Larger then life (but now deceased) Michael Jackson, festooned in a swanky space suit, and surrounded by silver dolphins, was chosen to represent these achievements. Is it me, or could there have been a more suitable choice? It was great fun to nibble on a slice of Rio’s cultural heritage.
Next, we headed to Sugar Loaf Mountain. A 1,300 foot high solid granite pillar with a gondola terminus bolted on top. It was first constructed in the late 1800‘s. From the crest, the views were spine tingling. In the valleys below, every inch of usable space is covered in concrete. We came here, instead of the loftier Corcovado Mountain, because it’s summit is habitually swathed in clouds. And, the legendary statue of Christ The Redeemer is undergoing maintenance and totally concealed. I thought this was awfully disrespectful, considering it was Good Friday and “The Queen’s” visit was scheduled more then 3 years in advance.
An unexpected wildlife sighting of tiny Marmoset monkeys was the zenith of my day. They lounged on scaffolding used for the unceasing repairs to the steep retaining walls holding up the platform we stood on. See the photo below of a baby fastened to Mama’s belly. Pretty cool, huh?
Back on board, we scanned the dilapidated buildings nearby through binoculars. We were disheartened to see so many people living in disintegrating structures, not fit for human life.
On our way to Barbados next.