We just returned from a quick three day tour of Rio de Janiero with Claiton, Osmar, and Keiki, Osmar's son. It is a miracle how much we were able to see and do in such a short period of time (you will soon see how much of a miracle!).
Our original intent in travelling to Rio was to see a genuine South American futbol match. After much hemming and hawing, we finally decided the semi-final match between rival teams, Flamengos and Botafogos, at Maracana Stadium in Rio was worth the trip. More than being an experience and adventure for us, it seemed like an opportunity of a lifetime for Claiton, Osmar and Keiki...for them, seeing this game live, was like a dream come true.
Upon arrival in Rio, we were picked up by their brother, Mario, and taken to his home. Immediately, we were shown around their home, doted on, and, naturally, a churrasco commenced. After a bit of beer and lots of grilled meat, we were off to go play a quick game of futbol on the neighborhood field. Here they also had us teach them how to throw around an American football, which the girls got a real kick out of. As I sat around with the girls, a Metro train rattled by and I was treated to the information that often when these trains go through the city center, it is not unusual to have passengers hanging out the window shooting at passersby.
The next afternoon we left for Maracana Stadium via the same train I heard about the day before. Their friend, Rafael, who came along to help us get around, let us know that we should keep our hats with bills in front because often when the train hits the station, people reach in the windows to snatch what they can...again, very reassuring.
Thankfully, we did make it to the stadium intact and unscathed, the only incident was Keiki, a 14 year old kid, being picked out by the military police on-board, to be frisked as part of their routine patrol. After finding a scalper of sorts to change our tickets to the Flamengos "side" of the stadium, we made our way into the arena.
The interior of the stadium was no different than any other you could find in the states. However, once the crowd got going, there was no comparison. Alternating black and red ribbons from top to bottom undualated through the crowds, at least 40 gigantic flags waved in each section of the upper deck, a flag as large as an entire section of the stands was unfurled, and banners lined the entire stadium. This does not even count all of the "personal-sized" flags, waving shirts, balloons, fireworks, confetti, and costumed fans! And then there was the band, really just fans, leading all of the singing and chanting of team songs. All it took was one group to start singing, and the ENTIRE stadium would chime in. The level of crowd participation was energizing. Not one person, from the age of 4 to 70 was seated and silent. The best part of it all was seeing the enormous grins, jumping fans, explosive energy, and the singing when the sole goal of the game was scored by the Flamengos.
The next day, Mario and his wife, Gislane had organized a busy day of exploring Rio prior to our bus ride that night. He had contracted a combi (VW van) to transport all nine of us to visit the famous Cristo statue and then Copacabana Beach. Everyone was in high spirits because Mario's family rarely gets the opportunity to go out together, never mind for an entire day since they own a bakery and store.
This all would have been fine and good, except for the fact that the combi was far from new. This one fact made the entire day feel a lot like a "National Lampoon's Vacation" movie...no joke. All I could picture the entire time was Chevy Chase and his family driving round and round the rotary in European Vacation.
After an hour and half of driving past numerous favelas, trash infested rivers, smog covered hillsides, and areas reeking of human waste, we finally made it to the area of town where the Cristo is located - still in good spirits. When the combi tried to begin the ascent to the Cristo, it was very apparent we weren't going anywhere in this vehicle, so we decided to try to hoof it up the hill. 45 minutes later, sweaty, 6 km to go, and less 3 very grouchy members of the family, we realized that we were going to need to find another way to summit. After hailing another combi, we finally made it to the site and spent some time enjoying the views of the city and the new "wonder of the world." (happy again)
After we left, we caught a ride back to the spot where the original driver had told us to meet him in an hour...only he wasn't there. We waited and waited, and waited some more. Two hours later, a fuming Mario collected us all to catch a bus back to the train station, where we could then catch a train back home.
Just as the bus began to leave the station, Mario spotted the combi, had us all jump off, and managed to catch the driver's attention. Apparently, the combi had broken down after we left him, and he had spent the entire three hours at the mechanic trying to get it back in working order.
Now everyone was smiling, laughing, jumping around, and hugging, excited to still be able to make it to Copacabana Beach. After a 30 minute ride, we arrived at the beach for a bit of wave jumping and playing in the water. Despite the truncated stay (literally 20 minutes), everyone was thrilled. At this point it was 5:30pm when we started our journey back home.
For the next hour we circled around the same spot trying to get on the correct highway. We passed the same McDonalds three times, smelled the same stinking river twice, and saw the sign "Retorno" one too many times! Once we caught the correct on-ramp, the grumbling ceased, everyone cheered and, for the next half hour, resumed laughing and joking around.
But by 7pm, tensions rose again...we were stuck in rush hour traffic and we had a 9pm bus to catch...at least another hour back into the heart of the city. Amazingly, we made it to their home at 7:45pm, quickly shoved everything in our bags, and hopped back in the car (somehow with homemade sandwiches and drinks in hand), and made it to the bus station just in time to hear the motor of the bus start to rumble.
Now we are back safely in Amoreira with Claiton's family, but are about to head out to the next town over, Assai, to buy some food in order to cook for their family, all 20 of them, tonight. Claiton is on the move, so I shall sign off for now. Miss you all very much!