Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was our first destination on a five month long journey around South America. This is about the departure from Norway and first adventurous and dramatic days in Rio.
This article is part of a travelogue from of a five month journey in 1987-1988 to several countries in South America: Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile.
Wednesday 23.09.1987, Stavanger, Copenhagen, Lisbon
Another long journey is starting, this time to South America. I had bought a ticket to Rio with a return from Santiago de Chile (1525 USD). My girlfriend Bo and I were given a lift to Stavanger Airport by some friends of ours. The flight to Kastrup, the airport in Copenhagen, took an hour and we had an entire afternoon in the Danish capital.
We walked around in Strøget, Nyhavn and over to the Little Mermaid which was larger than expected, but still a bit overrated. Copenhagen is a very pleasant city, at least the central parts with small shops and bars.
The SAS Scandinavian Airlines flight to Rio had a stop after 3.5 hours in Lisbon and I had a look in the terminal – quite alright.
Thursday 24.09.1987, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro
The plane lifted from Lisbon Airport an hour after midnight and arrived in Rio at ten in the morning, Central European time – meaning five in the morning local time. The total fly-time from Copenhagen was 12-13 hours. The SAS service was good, our seats were better than for the others flying economy class and we had three meals. We were too tired to watch the movie.
The baggage arrived late but the customs went fast. I exchanged some dollars at the airport hotel and paid a dollar for the bus into central Rio.
We jumped off the bus in the Gloria district and found after some searching a hotel:
- Hotel Marajó. Rua Johaquim Silva, 99. Tel 224-4134. Double for 400 cruzados (ca. 7 USD) with a bathroom, cupboard and a mirror. Small, but clean and nice. Quiet and central area. Nice staff but we had language problems. Breakfast was included. Map.
[A currency note: The official rate was 50-51 cruzados (Cz$) for a dollar, but unofficially we were given 55-56. From Porto Velho and north into the Amazon we exchanged at a rate of 65-66. The Brazilian economy was not in a very good shape. [For the sake of reading I have here in the blog included prices in cruzados and converted it to US dollars at a flat rate of 60:1.]
We did not do much today. We walked downtown and were overwhelmed by all the impressions pouring in. It is exciting to be here. We slept the most part of the day and evening. Some rain scatters.
Friday 25.09.1987, Rio de Janeiro
The hotel breakfast came inclusive and was alright. Afterwards we walked down to the Parque da Flamengo and walked along the beach. We took a taxi to below the Sugar Loaf Mountain and took the two gondola lifts to the top (100 Cz$ (1.6 USD) for a return ticket). There we had a magnificent view over Rio and the beaches.
Back down again we took a bus to Copacabana and walked around on the beach and the streets behind it before going home.
In the evening we went for a walk towards the centre and I had a super cheap MacDonald’s and a beer later on. Bo gets only a cup for her bad wine and is not satisfied.
Saturday 26.09.1987, Rio de Janeiro
The day gave us mixed impressions, varying from being impressed, relaxed and satisfied to being angered and frustrated.
It all started well with a bus and a funicular railway (170 Cz$ (2.8 USD)) to the summit of the Corcovado Mountain where there is a 40 m high Jesus statue folding its arms protectively around Rio de Janeiro. We had a fantastic view of the city and the beaches.
Down below we took a bus to the Leblon beach and relaxed there for a few hours. The sand is quite pebbled but comfortable. The sun and sea temperatures were likewise.
When we entered a bus to go home to our hotel we encountered what we had heard of, but never previously experienced; organised, professional pick-pockets. May large camera lens disappeared and I was left with a rift on the bottom of my bag. We are now, later, able to put together all the bits and pieces of the puzzle and discover that we were completely made fools of.
A number of other passengers boarded the bus with us. Three of them, two men and a woman, all in their thirties or forties, managed to get between me and Bo.
One of them stood for a long time messing in front of the ticketseller at the back of the bus. He sits behind a turnstile letting passengers pass after they have paid. We found it strange that criminal no. 1 was just standing there fumbling with his money without paying so we tried to pass him. But he was accommodating and pleasant whereas the woman had dumped down on a seat at the back.
It was all very tight and the bus was jumping and scurrying on the street. Finally Bo managed to get through the turnstile and found her a seat. At long last I managed to pass the turnstile only to find my way blocked more by the same man. He seemed to be kind of “mad” and I was a bit confused wondering if it was common practice on Brazilian buses not to move forward in the beginning. There are many differences between countries and a strange language and customs makes one uncertain.
I was at the end let by and dumped on the seat next to Bo. She mentioned that she had caught criminal no. 2 with his fingers halfway down her pocket where she was keeping some loose change. I immediately started to check my bag. I first found a five cm long knife cut on the bottom side but it had not succeeded in penetrating the rubber foam cushion inside my bag.
Then I noticed that the zipper had broken, but I managed to fix it in a moment. I was simultaneously shocked to notice that my zoom had vanished; and so had the three people in the back of the bus.
This was bad. The lady in the back had probably been able to slide the lens up after initially attempting to cut the bottom of the bag. Then she somehow had managed to open the zipper without touching the zipper’s handle. The handle was facing forward and I had held the entire bag firmly and tight under my armpit with my elbow and hand on the front half of the bag. She must have pulled the lens up while the ticket seller was watching! The entire operation was thoroughly carried through from the group of three, they each had their tasks and they were fully successful.
I will now have to manage with what I have left. The worst part however is not that I have lost my lens and will miss a lot of good pictures. What I am most angered and frustrated about is the fact that I was tricked and pick-pocketed – taking into account all possible precautions and vigilance.
Sunday 27.09.1987, Rio de Janeiro
After breakfast we left for a market in Ipanema. They had leather handicraft, jewellery, paintings and so on. It was all really nice and fairly cheap. I bought myself a leather money pouch and bargained the price down to 100 Cz$ (1.6 USD) from 150.
We then spent some hours on the Ipanema beach and relaxed even more the rest of the day.
Letter to my family
Rio de Janeiro, 27th of September 1987
I’m still alive. Bo is sweet, Rio is impressive and I’m getting a tan. There is not much to tell yet. I don’t have a postcard at hand so I’m writing a letter instead. The most important for you is to have a sign of life from us, I guess.
We had a long afternoon in Copenhagen (Strøget, Nyhavn, the Little Mermaid) before a comfortable flight brought us to Rio, via Lisbon. Here we have found a good and reasonably priced hotel (25-30 NOK per person) with private shower and toilet. They even change towels and sheets daily. Shocking, actually, in comparison with what I’m used to.
We have done some sightseeing in this great city: The Sugarloaf Mountain; the Corcovado Mountain (with a 40 metre statue of Christ almost embracing Rio and with a great view); the Copacabana beach; and a lot of others. The impressions are many. It is really exciting with the palm lined avenues and human beings of all body shapes and races.
The beaches in the city are huge: Kilometre-long and wide; reasonably crowded and lively; sun and sea temperatures between 30 and 20 degrees respectively. Especially for sister: You should’ve seen all the men walking about on the beaches. They are all very well trained and well proportioned. Not too much, they all look very well. (Even my good looking body is a few notches behind these athletes.)
We figure on moving on somewhere in two-three days. The next “report” will come in a couple of weeks (or more?).
Monday 28.09.1987, Rio de Janeiro
The Norwegian Consulate General is not far from the hotel and we dropped by to get some advice on what to do with the theft of my camera lens. We were given the address of the police in Leblon, the same address offered by our guidebook.
When we arrived at the police station there was no one able to speak English even though this was the place housing the tourist police. A Brazilian man who was standing at the counter reporting the loss of his ID documents turned out to be married to an American and living in the US. He became our interpreter and turned out to be very helpful.
The reporting went fine with his help but we would have to wait until next Monday to get a receipt to show the insurance agency at home. The consulate general had by the way told us they would be able to translate it to Norwegian.
Afterwards we went to see a very interesting and exciting fruit and vegetable market over on the Ipanema side of the Lagua de something.
Tonight we had an excellent dinner, fish and wine, on a nice little restaurant close to our hotel. Tomorrow we are leaving Rio for the time being.
This afternoon we also dropped by the Seaman’s Church situated at the Flamingo Park (Av. Rui Barbosa 170, B1, B, 5 floor). A nice Swedish priest greeted us and warned us of nice people as they were often criminal. We offered the priest our experiences.
There are four lanes in one way streets offering a seemingly floating traffic despite enormous amounts of exhaust gas and noise.
The beaches are stretching for kilometres and draw a lot of people, especially during the weekends. There is a lot of volleyball playing and sellers walking around with soft drinks and biscuits. We also saw a few workout benches.
Crime is high and the police are shooting at everything that moves, according to the priest.
Local buses are cheap, only 1 Norwegian krone, and they run frequently and everywhere. They are shattered and crowded.
The next chapter: Looking for beaches and old colonial towns south of Rio.
Read the introduction to this journey
Click to view my entry about Rio de Janeiro, the World Heritage Site
All pictures from Rio: