Chapter 29: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Wednesday, September 8
I enjoyed my first self-serve lunch buffet where they charged for the food by its weight on the plate. The hostel host gave the thumbs up when I told her how much I’d paid for my bus ticket. From the first floor balcony she called out hearty shouts for a taxi. A guy appeared at the front door and helped me with my bags to his car and we were off to the terminal. I’d remembered to put my watch an hour forward. The terminal’s digital information board also read 34 Celsius. It was oppressively hot and beads of sweat were running down my face. I left my hammock in the hostel because I already had enough to carry. I walked down to the departure lounge, checked in and climbed up the steps onto the outer platform. A nice young couple were waiting for the same bus and so was a happy, talkative lad from Belo Horizonte. Our TransBraziliana bus arrived just after 3pm, soon after another bus had crashed into the vehicle in front of it on the platform behind us. There were just a handful of passengers boarding the brand new bus. The drivers were quite thoughtful and sincere. They appeared relaxed and happy with their lot. We were travelling down to Rio, so why not? I was happy to leave my guitar, protected in its padded case, in the baggage compartment. When we stopped along the way for a buffet dinner the drivers called me over to eat with them. A tiny old man appeared from the kitchen and sliced more meat. The two drivers urged me to eat as much as I wanted. I also bought some guarana juice and my stomach, despite a struggle, seemed to hold. Back on the bus, I had two seats to stretch out on and I slept for a few hours as the bus averaged a steady speed on the smooth road.
Thursday, September 9
We stopped for breakfast at 7am. The ready-made sweet coffee was quite sickly. I drank another Danone Activia yogurt drink, a diet regular since I became ill in Cusco. Perhaps I was a strange one to persevere with such long bus journeys but I saw lots of the changing landscape, which I wouldn’t see from the air. There were lush looking scenes and vast pastures with cattle grazing in their hundreds. Some of them were dead on the roadside. There were large patches of scorched earth and what appeared to be forest clearances. The Brazil I’d seen so far looked quite developed and it remained that way as we headed south on Route 222 under another beautifully blue sky with fluffy white clouds. There was a far less oppressive heat. We came to a terminal stop at Palmas, where a serene looking young woman warmly embraced and kissed her boyfriend or husband. She came on board and took her allocated seat next to mine. The bus was steadily filling up at regular stops since leaving Belem and it remained full for much of the journey. The woman next to me was so quiet and we said very little to each other apart from exchanging friendly smiles. She seemed to be consumed in thoughts of love and family concerns. With hardly any shakes and rattles on the clean new bus I comfortably read Wild Swans. I didn’t have an iPod or any music with me apart from my guitar but, instead, I had plenty of thought space and time to look around me. The night descended and it became more difficult to sleep.
Friday, September 10
I briefly woke up at about 4am to an incredible sight of the snaking main road lights leading down to Brasilia, the country’s capital. A few hours later we stopped for a coffee beside the Route 40. There was a gorgeous morning freshness to the air. We reached Belo Horizonte’s bright, wide sprawl at 10am. As the bus crawled along towards the centrally located terminal I looked out of the window and observed the relaxed and rhythmical body movements and language of various drivers. It was a day of snacks and only slight stomach struggles. I felt an increasing excitement as the road signs for the south east displayed the diminishing distances to Rio de Janeiro. There were only five passengers left on the bus as we reached the elegantly curving and rolling, steep hills and skirted our way down the passes and ever closer to the Cidade Maravilhosa (The Marvellous City). The unique rocky peaks around Rio enveloped an exciting, rush hour town. The bus entered the Rodoviaria Novo Rio terminal just before 6pm, 51 hours since the journey began up in Belem. Thinking ahead, I briefly looked around for buses to Iguacu. There were two companies offering regular services. My trusted sandals were torn to pieces and I chose the station here in Rio as their final destination. I then ordered a taxi for 45 R$ to take me on my first trip into Copacabana and Ipanema. From my Rough Guide, I’d picked out the HI-affiliated Che Legarto Hostel on Rio Paul Redfern. I hadn’t reserved anything so it came as no surprise to find the place fully booked on a Friday night. It was now dark but it seemed fairly safe to walk up to Rua Barao da Torre and check out the Ipanema Beach House. There were a few spaces left and I took a 45 R$ a night bed in a ground floor dormitory. I’d found a really nice place, with a large courtyard and swimming pool at the back. I went for a leisurely stroll along the streets nearby and found a lively, well stocked juice bar where I enjoyed a refreshing, mixed fruit drink. Ipanema looked very exclusive and luxurious. The shop fronts twinkled and even the street lights shone like diamonds. Back at the Beach House a lively atmosphere ensued. It was Friday night and I was in Rio de Janeiro.
Saturday, September 11
The Beach House served up a tremendous breakfast at the courtyard bar. I had ham, cheese, bread, coffee, milk, sponge cake, fruit juice and a banana. After breakfast I went out and bought a new pair of Brazilian made Grendene sandals, which fitted perfectly. They were also much lighter than my old sandals.
In the supermarket I also bought a bottle of Locao Bronzeadora Sundown Gold Factor Four and a new toothbrush. I walked along to the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, where joggers and cyclists exercised in the bright, morning sunshine. Then I ventured further along and turned towards Mirante do Leblon for a memorable view, a simply stunning scene with throngs of people on the long stretch of Ipanema beach and Rio’s amazing backdrop. I walked through the deep, white sand from one end of Ipanema to the other, and enjoyed a few hours of people watching, sunbathing, smiling and day dreaming. There were bronzed bodies everywhere I looked, young and old, a proper sun worshipping social scene. Closer to the shoreline I dipped my toes into the cold, clear ocean. The waves were massive. I’d never seen anywhere like Rio. It was, and is, one of the most spectacular locations on the planet. Boys were practicing their football skills. The girls were joining in and all seemed well. The beach was famous for the vibrant cultures dominating various parts. There was the gay section in front of Farme de Amoedo, Posto Nine where the young and beautiful crowd gathered and Posto 11 for families, but to be honest, everybody mixed and there was no domination. International gay-pride banners, so similar to Cusco’s rainbow flag, fluttered away in the light breeze, and everyone was gay with happiness in such surroundings. Oh, to be in Rio! I wandered up and around the outcrop of rocks around Praia do Arpoador and returned along the beach and up towards the Avenida Vieria Souto promenade where I enjoyed fresh coconut juice from the shell. I had a late lunch in a busy Italian restaurant on Rua Visconde de Piraja. A young lady dined on the next table with her grandmother. They walked elegantly together arm in arm when they left after finishing their meal. There was a refined air of affluence everywhere around. Internet cafes were hard to find but clean roadside phone booths were ubiquitous. I called Mam to tell her where I was. She sounded very excited and pleased with my progress. Just mention the name Rio and it resonates with positivity! I later found an Irish bar and gulped when I paid 12 R$ (almost £5) for my first pint of Guinness in South America. Back at the hostel I checked my emails and discovered John Toshack had quit as Wales’ football manager after a defeat to Montenegro in the European Championship qualifiers. That reminded me to book a place on a visit to watch Sunday’s big football match. When in Brazil….
Sunday, September 12
Continuing stomach issues became all too boring. They hadn’t curtailed my travels since Cusco but some days were still quite uncomfortable. This was especially the case on this particular day. If I ate anything I was soon running to the toilet again. I was taking my Floratil and Pepto-Zil tablets but I felt so knackered. However, the daylight hours of a weekend in Rio meant only two things really, a leisurely time on the pristine white sand of Ipanema beach and then later a top football match. A minibus arrived at 2 in the afternoon and the bubbly tour guide called Sara came rushing into the hostel to call for me. I was off to see my third live football match in South America. Botafogo were playing Sao Paulo. Sara was really excited and, from her front passenger seat, updated us on the significance of this match. Her beloved Botafogo needed a win to jump up to second place in the Campion Brasileiro 2010. The famous Maracana Stadium was closed for major renovations leading up to the 2014 World Cup Finals. So, the match took place in the newly built Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. There was an assortment of nationalities on the bus. We stopped on a side street adjacent to the ground, organised a meeting point and then enjoyed the carnival atmosphere as we made our way through the crowds of fans in their black and white striped Botafogo shirts. We all kept together and the guide regularly counted us up. The stadium offered a marvellous spectacle on a balmy late afternoon. Outside the ground were large statues of the Brazilian footballing greats like Jairzinho. The stands were about two thirds full when the game kicked off. We were sat in an upper tier with the home supporters, an animated and friendly bunch. Botafogo supporters also packed into the opposite stand where most of the big banners and flags were being waved. There was an atmosphere of great anticipation but the first half remained quite a cagey affair as Botafogo found no way through a solid Sao Paulo defence. Defences on both sides just soaked up any pressure and cleared out of their areas with a finesse akin to Alan Hansen or Franz Beckenbauer. I made my way to the toilet at half-time and, when finding my way back to my seat, I heard a distinctly Merseyside accent from one of our group and I stopped to talk. He was John from Heswall on the Wirral, and a Liverpool fan. We both hoped for a better second half and, of course, some goals. They were duly delivered in a fine second half performance by Botafogo, who stepped up the pressure and broke through by capitalising on a Sao Paulo defensive mix-up for the first goal. Botafogo’s second goal was pure class, with a bit of link up play from midfield setting up Edno to cut in from the left and drive an unstoppable shot past the helpless Sao Paulo keeper and into the far corner of the net. The stadium exploded with noise and colour. Wild celebrations greeted the 2-0 final score. These spilled out onto the streets as the home supporters partied away. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The minibus became snarled up in thick traffic but we all got back safely to our different hotels and hostels. I gave in to the temptation of Bob’s Burgers, a tasty fast food joint. Then I bought some postcards at a roadside kiosk and returned to the hostel. Football provided a good flavour of Rio’s life and tempo. I felt so happy and rejuvenated. I tuned up my guitar and got talking to a Colombian lad called Agustino.
Monday, September 13
There was a well chilled out atmosphere throughout the hostel. Even though the dormitory could be a bit cluttered and busy at times, I was getting a good rest at night. My tablets for my stomach were working. I felt lots better after another fine breakfast. Ipanema being the exclusive end of town, I found myself spending about £40 each day. There were HI-affiliated hostels to check out in Copacabana. The City Hostel was a huge place with 108 beds. It was spacious and cost just 35 R$ with my YHA hostel card. Che Lagarto on Rua Santa Clara wasn’t affiliated but seemed nice enough but Rio Rockers, near to a tunnel on Rua Pompeu Loureiro, looked to be the one. It was manageable and more relaxed. Again it cost 35 R$ with breakfast, which really was a bargain for the centre of Rio de Janeiro. Enrique the receptionist was really polite and liked his football. I booked a dormitory bed for the following four nights and went back out for lunch. There were many self-serve buffet restaurants and I chose a busy looking one on Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana. I piled up my plate with a variety of vegetables, rice and some meat and, with a soft drink, I paid 29 R$. I walked to the end of Copacabana beach and back towards Arpoador. The sparkling sun over the weekend became a slight haze. I had good colour. Even my feet were completely brown from recent exposure to the overhead sun. It was the start of the working week and there were less people on the beach. A few lads were playing football and giving away only the occasional stray pass. I’d stop at times, to marvel at the pristine beach and crashing ocean waves, the luxurious multi-storey hotels on the front, Cristo Redento, skirted by thick forest, up on Corcovado and the Sugar Loaf hill behind me. What an iconic place to be, on a Monday afternoon in September! It was so peaceful as well. There were many scare stories about daylight beach muggings but I couldn’t see any signs of malice. I just had to be aware though because it only took a moment. Back on Ipanema’s front I enjoyed another refreshing coconut juice and returned to the Beach House. The sun was setting behind the high rounded tops of Pedra Bonita and Pedra da Gavea. I took my guitar and sat on a large wooden box on the beach. A light red sky left a strange glow on the white sand. A young can collecting character stopped to chat. He was happy and liked my guitar plus the Rasta wrist band I was wearing. For every kilogram of empty aluminium cans collected he made two US$, and averaged 30 US$ a day. If only there were similar financial incentives for the individual to recycle back in Britain, I thought. We saluted each other and I banged out a tune as he danced away and found more empty cans to throw inside his big bag. I returned to Bob’s Burgers for tea and then bought an International Herald Tribune from a street vendor. Ipanema in the evening looked even more stunning as the twinkling shop front lights reflected onto the streets.
Tuesday, September 14
Ipanema Beach House was an enjoyable place to stay. There was always someone to talk to and exchange travel tips. The hostel hosts were also very nice, especially the friendly pop and rock enthusiast receptionist. There were plenty of yellow taxis passing by outside the hostel’s security gates. I took one to Rockers where I checked into a six bed dormitory. The Rockers team were instantly courteous and offering bags of practical advice. They seemed to have the space and time to deliver it. Rockers didn’t feel overstretched like the larger hostels I’d visited. I shared a bit of English conversation while having a grade three haircut at a nearby barbershop, then enjoyed an ice cream on Copacabana beach where I went for a sundown walk to the far end and back again. Strolling in the heavy, white sands was definitely a good exercise for the legs, especially the calves! A beach vendor in a sleeveless Liverpool football shirt pestered me to buy his produce but I had little money on me, as the guidebooks advised, when walking on the beach alone. Further along the beach I suddenly came across a small bundle of notes partly hidden in the sand. Quickly looking around to notice there were no people nearby, I nonchalantly picked up the cash and walked on. There was definitely a 50 R$ among the notes! I walked up diagonally to the promenade and through the streets overwhelmed by the big blocks of buildings with Christ rising in the background on top of Corcovado. The group stages of the European Champions League were kicking off and I stopped to catch up with a bit of Barcelona, as many football lovers quite happily would. I was also keen to catch up on those old traditional foes Manchester United, but Barcelona dominated every television I passed. Back in the dormitory I met two young German brothers Daniel and Matthias. Daniel had hooked up with a sweet looking Brazilian lady called Vanessa, leaving his brother to play gooseberry. They were leaving in the early hours and apologised in advance for any noise they might make. I laughed and waved them away, saying “no worries, do what you’ve got to do”. They were nice people. I went out for a snack at the Big Bi food stall, sitting on a high stool and surveying the comings and goings on Copacabana’s lively streets. With a bag of supermarket snacks and a couple of large bottles of Bohemia I settled into the hostel’s public bar type lounge for a nice evening talking to another guest, Fabrizio, a petroleum industry worker from Brazil’s south east. The beer brought on an acute tiredness so I called it an early night.
Wednesday, September 15
The British were generally well liked in Rio. There was still a significant English ex-pat community according to Enrique. He said most Brazilians liked the understated nature of their northern hemisphere friends. Rockers provided a good, solid breakfast. I hired a beach deckchair nearby a digital sign, which was already reading 33 Celsius by mid-morning. I finished off the harrowing Wild Swans. In the afternoon I paid 135 R$ to go on the Inside Rio Tour. Naomi Campbell lookalike Isabella was our guide. Outside the Adventure Hostel we waited almost half an hour for a French man. His two friends, already inside the minibus with their National Geographic camera equipment, were extremely apologetic. When the guy eventually turned up he seemed rather oblivious to the hold-up and a clearly irritated Isabella blew her top when he threw a plastic wrapping out of the side window. The round trip ticket stub clearly stated Respect the environment which Isabella angrily pointed out to him. He seemed offhand and played up throughout the tour. Isabella was a nice young lady. She was working as a tour guide to finance her final year in university where she was studying politics, economics and the environment. We reached the top of Corcovado and the outstretched arms of the Cristo Redento (Christ the Redeemer) statue. We swapped buses for the final ride to the top entrance. I left my Olympus camera case on the second bus, not realising that it would be highly unlikely we’d take the same bus back down. It was a long climb to the top and a strong wind threatened to blow us all off the edge of the dramatic hill. Isabella explained that an approaching weather front was heralding the change of season. There were still hazy views of Rio far down below. Isabella took some photographs of me with my arms outstretched with lots of other visitors in front of Jesus Christ. Perhaps we were all going to fly away at any moment. We were running behind time according to Isabella as she cast a sly looking glance at the French guy. Our next stop was the Maracana Football Stadium. Pitch side was closed to the public but there was still plenty to see and pictures to take including the footprints of all the Brazilian greats. I fitted my shoes into the steps of Ronaldo. A bit of camp action followed at the Sambodromo on Rua Marques do Sapucai near Praca Onze’s metro station. It was where the Carnaval’s main parade took place. Katie, from Ohio, and I donned on some flamboyant looking headgear and danced along showing off our samba moves. I’d started talking with Katie on the bus and we hung around together for the remainder of the tour. She was a soil scientist and had been attending an environmental conference. We visited the Catedral Metropolitana. Before I could say anything Isabella smiled at me and remarked in a questioning manner that there was a similarly designed Catholic cathedral in Liverpool, also called the Metropolitan. She knew her churches! The inside differed slightly but the exterior wigwam structure looked so similar. The day was topped off with the high cable car ride up to Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf). I shuddered when I looked up at the precarious looking second ride from the middle hill. The mist descended and our cable car wobbled its way to the summit. The lack of visibility cancelled out any fear and also denied visitors any view whatsoever as it quickly became dark. We came to the end of an enjoyable trip and said our goodbyes and best wishes to the happy and vibrant Isabella. I accepted Katie’s kind invite to join her and a colleague for dinner. We met up with David in his hotel room and found a promenade restaurant serving some fine Italian dishes. Katie and David were at the environmental forefront concerning the biochar charcoal process of carbon capture and storage.
Thursday, September 16
I slept in and had a late breakfast at the bar while chatting away with the receptionists. I accepted their offer to go on another tour, this time to a favela. Botafogo fan Sara reappeared on the scene to guide us on the afternoon trip to Rocinha, situated south of Leblon. A Chilean guy who came with us to Sunday’s football match was also on the minibus along with a group of young Home Counties lads. We reached the foot of the hill where a cluster of motorcyclists waited and we each hopped on to the back of a bike. Sara gave us a rundown of dos and don’ts for when we arrived at Rocinha’s main street. We whizzed up the snaking road and reconvened two kilometres further up where a hive of activity greeted us. Like any busy high street, Rocinha’s had the essentials. But there were gangs of young lads on their mobile phones. This was why we had to keep our cameras hidden. On no accounts were we to arouse the suspicion of these characters who were likely to be conducting drug deals. From the busy centre Sara began the tour. We made our way up a narrow, steep sidewalk which became big steps and then flattened out. The only uniformity in the favela’s appearance came when one looked at the sprawl from afar. Close up inside the favela, everything was added on and individually designed. People made do with what they had, and added on as they went. Sara showed us the improvisational techniques such as electric lines disconnected from the metres and likewise the water. The community had its own ways of survival. There was no planning permission sought for dwellings in the favelas. The ad-hoc developments, with buildings on top of buildings, felt the full force of nature rather than the weight of bureaucracy. Earlier in 2010, hundreds of people were killed in Rocinha and other favelas when landslides and flash floods from heavy rains swept away or tore into many homes. There was evidence of the devastation in the favela’s lower parts where the most recent buildings would be squeezed in. It was much safer higher up in the favela. I noticed a pile of rubble from what was once a family home. I asked Sara about it. She said the family had escaped and in most cases people just redeveloped despite knowing very well that nature could produce a repeat performance. The government intervened in the latest tragedy by setting aside space for the construction of 3,000 homes on the land of a former school but it just wasn’t enough. Clouds and persistent drizzle dampened the consistent smell of home cooking, marijuana and raw sewage. The smell of paint and aerosols then came into our nostrils as we stepped inside a community art workshop where shy and reluctant boys worked away on their latest designs. Home grown techniques were used to decorate doors, walls and ceilings. The expression was well sharp and resembled a graffiti factory. We circled the favela along what was the main alleyway taking us up to the top centre and down to the right against the hill facing north. We stopped to admire the samba rehearsals of some happy, smiling boys. They were well into their sound and the obligatory football sat in the middle as a symbol. Sara told us how the children seriously believed they may become famous in the western world when the tourists started snapping, so it was important to show all those pictured how the photographs turned out. We continued downwards, passing households where children would shout ‘gringo’ and ‘money’. Sara told us to continue and only exchange money when a Rocinha local had a product to sell. One of the English lads thought this also applied to drugs and, quick as a flash, Sara read his thoughts and lightly laid into him. ‘Not on my call, mister,’ she made it quite clear. She had a familiarity with the place after building a long term mutual respect with the locals we encountered. We were introduced to some craft sellers in a small shop. I bought two wrist bands for about £3 each. We really were in a fascinating place full of fast people. The English lads were a good bunch and showed consideration especially when we visited a nursery. It was funded by an English lady who visited Rocinha a few years ago. We were inspecting the place and listening to Sara who told us to wave at the young children. One of the little girls turned towards me, smiled and pulled out her tongue. We all laughed. What a lovely place of hope for the young families, and a great facility to give the little ones a happier start to life. I chatted away with one of the English lads as we took wide photos of Rocinha. It was a real eye-opener of a day. There was a real edge at the foot of Rocinha where lads with guns and bikes crowded together, smoking, chatting and glancing sharply over at us. Only a wide road separated the homes of the rich and wealthy from the favela. In the gathering gloom we journeyed back through Ipanema and watched the moody grey sea tumble its waves close to the front. I felt enriched by the afternoon’s experience and encouraged to venture out for an evening in Lapa. This time I didn’t need a tour guide. I wanted to sample the atmosphere independently. Thursday night was the start of the long weekend as live samba bands assembled in the clubs and ballrooms of the Lapa district. I took the Metro to Cinelandia, popped into McDonald’s, and then wandered over to Rua do Riachuelo where the night-time action was warming up. The darkened old street was closed off to traffic but was busy with people. Wafts of marijuana and sounds of samba filled the air. It was a happy and exciting place where the highly recommended Democraticus was located. The old venue has been hosting ballroom and live samba nights since 1870. I immediately sensed the history of the place and its unique magic, like one can sense in some of the old, cellar and cavernous venues in Liverpool. I paid 18 R$ to go upstairs to the main floor. A slow atmospheric build-up was happening as the first band busily tuned up. I went close to the stage to check out the different instruments then wandered over to the bar for a beer and took a seat further back where the tables weren’t reserved. The low lighted, large room slowly filled up as the band likewise filled in the space with a mellow sound of deep harmonies, laid back rhythm and a late 1960s bossa nova beat. More samba dancers flocked onto the floor and swung into elegant action. It was a gorgeous scene as the young musicians steadily raised the tempo. I later caught up with the lead singer, a cross between Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals and Michael Glazier from Starsky and Hutch! I thanked him for such a cool performance. The subsequent bands brought a more modern sound floating into the old arena. Many young lads took the initiative and led their gorgeous young ladies onto the dance floor. It was a sparkling sight to behold. I joined a table where a group of happy, heavy smoking doctors kept imploring me to take a girl onto the dance floor. I could move but I couldn’t dance like those guys so I just stood and admired from afar, engaging in small talk when often asked where I came from. It was a stunning evening and still going strong when I left at 4am to take a taxi back to Rockers.
Friday, September 17
Memories of the night before caressed my thoughts on another sunny, hot day. I walked to Arpoador and checked out Karioka, a recommended t-shirt shop. I bought a bright yellow Brasil t-shirt and another yellow and black design imprinted with Pele celebrating Brazil’s iconic 1970 World Cup victory. A young woman called Mireli Karioka worked at the shop, which her parents owned. Mireli was a bright, happy character. She was working there until the evening and then planned to go out afterwards to celebrate a friend’s birthday. She asked if I’d like to meet up with her gang at the party and I thought why not. I thanked her and we both promised to keep in touch through Facebook. I walked back along Copacabana beach where the wind whipped up the sand as the clouds lowered onto the Rio hills. A hat seller approached me as I sat at a kiosk drinking coconut juice. He had a persistent selling technique and a family to feed. I bought two baseball caps for 50 R$. I felt rather washed out and took an afternoon nap. A message later came through from Mireli. We arranged to meet up at her friend’s apartment just a few blocks away in Copacabana. I went along after 9 and took a lift up to the high-rise apartment where Mireli introduced me to her young son, and her friends Cristina and Carlos. We had a couple of beers and then took a taxi to Ipanema and popped into Shenanigan’s where there was a heady mix of stylish Cariocas (the locals) and sun burnt gringos bopping away to a live rock covers band. The drinks were flowing. I bought an extra one for Carlos to celebrate his birthday. There was a warm atmosphere with nice company. The tequila games began and we cheered and sang Happy Birthday to Carlos. We paid up at the front desk then took another taxi, this time to Lapa for the famous Friday night street party. I suddenly became quite drunk and remained subdued until we reached Lapa. We stuck around the Arcos do Lapa, sharing beers and tasting the variety of snacks frying away at the many different street stalls. It was the fun place to be on a Friday night in Rio. I felt reinvigorated by the food and the busy open-air atmosphere. Mireli and Cristina had a wide circle of friendly and interesting friends gathered close by. I got talking to a couple of characters called Marianna and Corina. Corina had wicked purple pleats in her frizzy dark hair, to match the colour of her figure-hugging dress. Marianna seemed the quieter but smarter of the two. She smiled every time she caught me glancing at her. There were plenty of Americans and Australians about. A couple of tall Aussie dudes came barging in between me, Marianna and Corina whose wild English tongue told them to move on. Cristina came over to talk with me. She had a heart of gold but a stern Grace Jones type of expression which kept me alert to her words. I asked her how she knew Marianna and Corina. They weren’t her close mates and she asked me if I felt comfortable with them. I did, and we were having a laugh. Marianna didn’t speak as much English as Corina, but I felt more attracted to her. At about 2 in the morning they asked me if I wanted to go somewhere with them in a taxi. A tall European lad suddenly intervened and warned me not to go with them. Corina became very annoyed and shouted at him. Mireli and the others then appeared and said they wanted to leave but assured me that if I was happy to stay then there was no problem. Cristina winked and smiled, so I thought why not enjoy a very, very good time! We took a taxi ride and I sat in the back with Marianna and Corina either side of me. Corina drew up close. Marianna chuckled and said I was so shy and asked me if I wanted her to be as shy. Corina laughed and her hand slipped down the inside of my right leg. We hadn’t told the taxi driver where we were going and, looking into his rear mirror, he saw that we certainly weren’t paying attention to his questions so he screeched to a halt and we got out near to a hotel. The surly looking receptionist folded her arms as we approached. She demanded to know what we wanted. I immediately suggested returning to the Escadaria Selaron steps. On our way back my rapid conversation suddenly wavered when a short, grinning lad with a big spliff in his mouth, and a pistol in his hand, walked past. He happily acknowledged us. My new friends started giggling when they saw my concerned expression. Marianna really opened up and, for a couple of hours until dawn, we sat on the world famous Escadaria Selaron steps. The original street/steps art was created by Chilean artist Jorge Selaron. Since 1990, visitors from around the world have continued donating tiles to help Jorge add an international colour to the steps. We listened to a really good guitar player while smoking some fine weed. “Draw it deep in,” Marianna happily urged and nudged me. With the first glimpses of daylight we retreated to a corner table in a nearby pizza bar and continued chatting away. Corina disappeared again for a while and Marianna opened up even more, and actually spoke good English. She had studied literature and knew a fair bit about great English writers. Corina returned. She bought some pizza and shared it around. My mouth was very dry from the weed so I just drank some lemonade. When I returned from the bar they’d disappeared but there was still food on the table. I wandered to find a taxi and, as I was about to get into the back of one, Marianna suddenly appeared, shouting from the other side of the street. She asked me where I was going. We hugged and kissed. The night was full of fun and cheer. I was on my way back to the hostel and looking forward to many happy times ahead.