A prostitute kisses me as I walk out of the grocery store holding bags in both hands. For a moment, her greasy lipstick soothes my sun-chapped lips. She sticks her hand in my pocket.
“Call me,” she says before disappearing into the crowd. I set down my bags and feel for my wallet. Thank heaven it is still there, along with the lady’s cell phone number. At least I hope she was a lady. We’re staying in the gay and transvestite section of Copacabana Beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Back at Hotel Atlantico, Mare sits on the bed with the balcony doors open and an ocean breeze blowing through her hair. Finally we rest after 24 hours of travel which included a 12 hour wait at the airport. I check Trip Advisor after booking this hotel…big mistake, but all hotels in Rio triple prices during Carnaval and most are already full. We pay close to US$300 nightly. Nicer hotels charge $800, so I guess we copped a deal. Plus we have a 24-hour bar/patio restaurant right under us, full of prostitutes, transvestites and taxis. So what if we use the garbage can in the room to catch water dripping from a light bulb on the ceiling, which is starting to smell like sewage? We head down to the bar and “people watch” over a bucket of beers on ice.
The beauty surrounding Rio de Janeiro blends beaches and jungle covered mountains. We stroll for about 4 hours on the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, passing numerous volleyball games, many of which are played without the use of hands.
The hotel clerk warns us to watch out for the small children, who will grab anything dangling from you and run with it. Theft seems to be the largest annoyance here – not too bad for a city of about 11 million people. The beauty of this place reminds us of parts of Istanbul and San Francisco.
We catch a bus across town, and soon Samba singers serenade us during the cog-train ride up the mountain Corcovado, which means hunchback, where Cristo Redentor looks out over the city. We catch a slice of His view between the rain and clouds, and the many tourists who visit this place daily. That evening we dine on cheese, bread, and Brazil nuts, in our room over-looking Copacabana Beach. The bar below continues to provide great entertainment. There is no day or night here.
Another long day of walking brings us to Sugarloaf Mountain (Poa de Acucar) where we catch the only clear day of our week-long stay.
Two cable cars connect to the summit from where the most fantastic view of the city can be found. Micos, small capuchian monkeys with ringed tails, swing around the edge of this mountain, practically posing for the tourists. Mare and I sip caipirinhas, the unofficial, official drink of Brazil, made from fresh lime, sugar, and mostly vodka…that goes down dangerously easy, like Gatorade. No worries, the long walk back sweats out the toxins. After a meal of great Brazilian meat, (seafood is not so good) the 24-hour bar lures us in, and we join the energetic crowd, which gears up for Carnaval.
Pile up the sins now, because abstinence comes on Ash Wednesday. Combine the Super Bowl, 4th of July, Halloween and a Rolling Stones concert together…and still it cannot compete with the energy of Carnaval in Rio. This belongs on the “Bucket List.”
Mare and I forgo spending hundreds of dollars to attend the formal Carnaval events, opting instead to party with the people at the numerous Bandas (street parties). Hundreds of thousands of all ages and social classes join the parade, samba and sing on the streets. Dancing in costume, or bare skin, they follow slow moving trucks that carry bands blaring music, along with a screaming DJ.
The energy brings tears and laughter. The drinks flow. Parties and balls carry on all night long in clubs, while street festivals erupt on designated and impromptu places. Masses of people, elbow to elbow, get along in good spirit – no fights or automatic weapons in sight. Go with it…the hedonism, the chaos, the revelry, the over indulgence…as all sins will be forgiven – eventually. Ron Mitchell