Flying in the other night I caught my breath. Rio sparkled below like a cluster of precious jewels, welcoming her visitors with the promise of a rich experience. It was one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen from a plane window, and the excitement was not only palpable, it was contagious. Even the three cherubs could not contain their glee and happily told anyone who would listen that we were "in Brazil". The cariocas are a very friendly bunch, so the irony of stating the obvious did not faze them.
After the twentieth time it was certainly fazing me. This was possibly due to witnessing the slowest baggage claim carriage at an airport I have ever come across. The lack of speed as it creaked around its course was painful. I was sure it was being powered by a single hamster in a wheel who had been fed valium to keep it going.
With the eyes of the world starting to turn to Rio as the next World Cup (2014) and Olympic hosts (2016), I noted to my training partner BB – who is here, hence the extremely valid excuse for our trip out for her milestone birthday celebration – that the infrastructure will be under scrutiny and ripe candidate for vast improvements.
Correct, she answered, "The eyes of the world are upon us, and that is a good thing." Corruption in this part of the world is also rife and sadly the reason why many basic items are neglected. I will not dwell on the favelas which are visible from every rooftop as they cling to sides of the mountains that form Rio's stunning backdrop. That is a whole post unto itself and certainly not a flippant subject for any type of irony, least of all mine.
But by being forced to improve basic amenities and facilties before the world descends upon it, Rio has a lot of work to do.
Some examples which I recall reading about but conveniently forgot as I gazed from the airplane window:
- Roads: a never-ending succession of potholes, patch-up jobs, ruts, ditches, speed bumps and lack of lines. You undertake, you overtake, you take your life into your own hands. Driving style reminiscent of Naples circa 1988. Not as bad as some countries I have visited, but nonetheless pretty hairy. And that was just the road from the airport to the flat in Ipanema. On the upside an amazing amount of VW vans abound which has sent the boys (Mr Man, Widget and Other Half) into a right 'spotting frenzy'. OH is now talking about renting one for our second week as we venture further down the coast. Hmmm...
- Sanitary facilities: ok, so the sewage system is not the most sophisticated of the developing countries (or developed, if you consider BRIC, ie Brazil, Russia, India and China as the 'new' powers of the 21st century), however having to put toilet paper in the bin by the loo is almost a step too far for me. Used toilet paper, that is. Enough said.
- Hot water: in order to heat the water in the kitchen, you need to run the shower in the bathroom. This is the only way the boiler ignites. So bar carrying dirty dishes from the kitchen sink to the bath, I have to clean the utensils with a shower running on full blast. Not quite what they had in mind when they mentioned 'caring for the environment' in the tenant lease I think. Sort of negates switching off the air conditioning when you go out to save energy.
Unfortunately our view of Christ the Redeemer at Corcovado (you know the one, seemingly embracing Rio from above) shows him shrouded in scaffolding, so we will have to make do with postcards – or another visit – to appreciate him in his full glory. But otherwise this destination is a huge thumbs up so far, and the locals are certainly part of the attraction. Where else can you don your bikini, do the grocery shopping, catch public transport and walk into a restaurant for a spot of lunch with no-one batting an eye about your (lack of) coverage? And I am not talking model figures either: any shape goes. And I really mean any shape.
More to follow.