Friday, 22 June 2012

Dark day in Rio

It all turned to custard. The plan was for a group of us from the UVSQ to go up to Christ the Redeemer, the famous statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro. We hopped aboard a bone-shaker bus to take us to the bottom where we would catch a special little train to take us to the top. This train is not cheap but the view is said to be priceless.

As we joined the small queue for the train we noticed a video screen showing... nothing really, inside a cloud? It was the view near the top. Umm. Not worth paying money for that. It was raining from time to time and the clouds had descended enough to cover the tops of all hills. Darn! The others who all spoke Portugese organised a group tour aroundabout and maybe a walk in the forest. OK, I thought, sounds like a good idea.

Then I remembered I had received an open invitation forwarded to me via email, to meet the NZ Minister for the Environment Amy Adams. Since the National government had robbed me of my environmental job in Auckland and disbanded anything with 'sustainability' in its name I was curious to find out if sustainability was now genuinely on the Minister's agenda - being at Rio and all that. All Kiwis who wanted to come were welcome.

I trawled the internet but couldn't find anything that fit the location indicated. I emailed a member of the NZ delegation saying that the event seemed A LONG WAY AWAY. Oh no, very central, he replied. Riocentro wasn't central. I thought maybe it was in Centro suburb but really doubted that. Oh well, I had the adddress, I'd get a taxi.

So I had to decline to join my colleagues on their tour because I had to be back to change and go meet the minister. In the meantime I could squeeze in Ipanema Beach. Disappointed not to see the statue and then disappointed not to be accompanying my colleagues who understood Portugese, I was left to my own resources. I found myself a bus to my Metro station, bought a ticket for Ipanema and hopped aboard what is the most efficient way to get around Rio, The Metro.

Arriving at my destination I had no idea in which direction lay the beach but this didn't phase me. I just set off walking. I couldn't understand any road signs but followed the crowds. There lay the beach, along with spots of rain. The sand was beige coloured and not polished round by the waves, Instead each grain was sharp and edgy though very fine. It seemed to have an annoying way of sticking to everything and not brushing off. The beach was almost deserted. I am told that in winter the ocean current that flows along this coast is quite cold. Too cold for the Brazilians even though the air temperatures are balmy. No foreigners were braving it either. The sand showed only the turmoil of passing people and the delicate footprints of pigeons. This beach has no shells, or driftwood or seaweed or even seabirds.

What to do in the rain on the beach? Get crazy! so I pulled up my raincoat hood over my head and lay down on the damp sand to soak in the vibes. Ah Ipanema- where was your soul? if it was saying anything I couldn't hear it over the din of traffic and people and emergency vehicles. The waves drowned in the artificial ocean of humanity's progress.And this was Winter! Sterile Ipanema- no vibes at all. So the girl on Ipanema beach got up and looked for some lunch.

I munched a tasty Falafel kebab and headed back to the metro and home to change. Looking business smart I set off from Rua Santo Amaro to hail a taxi. There are many taxis in Rio, you can usually find one when you want. The rest of the evening became a complicated nightmare so let's look at it in chronological notes...

1. Taxi driver has no idea where to go, even though I give him the address and some notes
2. Taxi driver starts yelling at passing cabs for directions- they laugh and drive off
3. Taxi driver spots a group of elderly taxi drivers having a meeting and pulls over for assistance
4. They debate, ignoring me.
5. I am told to get out of the taxi and go sit in another one.
6. I have no idea where I am going and what will happen
7. After driving for an hour I have no idea where we are as nothing looks familiar and I'm a bit nervous
8. The meter is climbing dangerously high with the tariff
9. We reach a toll station and taxi driver asks if anyone speaks English
10. One guard is found with a little English who indicates a lane that should get us to where we need to go.
11. I have now missed my appointment to see the Minister
12. We drive for another half an hour and I can see from the meter that I will not have enough money for the return trip
13. We see a small sign that says Riocentro but there is only one lane and it's a traffic jam all along the way
14. I start biting my nails - a habit I gave up at the age of 10.
15. The driver has no idea where to drop me off
16. I insist on getting out as the fee has become too high for me. Taxi driver is angry.
17. Taxi driver adds an extra 30 reais to the bill
18. I demand he write a receipt before we go further
19. I explain I don't have enough money to pay the topup he's demanding and the driver gets stroppy
20. In desperation I give him all money (notes, coins in any currency) and it comes to 95 reais.
21. I have NO money to get home-stranded. Taxi driver has driven a very circuitous route and ripped me off.
22. Military police say I cannot enter this pavilion because I do not have accreditation.
23. I am told to go to Pavilion 1 to get accreditation but it's too far for me to walk in the mud
24. Guy phones his driver to bring the car around and drop me off. Kind but fruitless.
25. Pavilion guards sayIi must check in with UN staff because I have no accreditiation.
26. UN staff hand me from one to another until I am told I am not in their system. Of course not- it's an open invitation to all Kiwis and I have my passport.
27. Am told to try to get past the gaurd at the next pavillion and then I can find some New Zealanders and a money machine
28. Guard refuses me entry and says I'm the only person who has ever tried to get in without accreditation.
29. I am told to wait in a room while someone speaks to someone in the NZ delegation
30.NZ woman tells me there's a mistake, all Kiwis already at the venue are invited. They hadn't imagined I might hear the call of Aotearoa from outside the RIO complex. I cannot come in.
31. Guard accompanies me to ATM and then to a shuttle bus going in the general direction of where I stay.
32. I find myself sitting next to the under-secretary for Forest and Environment for Gambia. We chat off and on for the next hour and a half while he explains climate change is their biggest environmental issue.
32. I spot a familiar hotel, jump off the bus, find a metro station and make my way home in the dark and spitting rain. Utterly exhausted. I just have enough energy to eat a Mango for dinner and then head for bed.

After relating this tale to a Brazilian I was informed that all foreigners are targets, no matter if you are rich or poor, they don't care. It's often organised and often successful. If you don't speak Portugese you are easy meat, there's little you can do.

The man second to the Minister for Forests and Environment in Gambia had told me he'd been ripped off in a hotel scam but discovered it after the first day so he avoided too much of a loss. Taxi fares are usually a rip-off so find out what the fare should be and get out of the car before taking off if the driver insists on more money. Cautionary tale, this one.


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