So where was I? Ah yes! I had just finished my tour of the botanical gardens and was deciding on a plan for the evening. I settled on jazz at a bar called La Champanharía, some distance away, between the nocturnally nefarious areas of Mauá and Santa Teresa. In the knowledge that walking any distance in these quarters was inadvisable, I ordered an Uber.
My driver, Agosto, was in his sixties but drove like he was 90. He had clearly had an argument with the accelerator some days previously and was now ignoring it. His approach to steering also appeared not to be contingent on the road in front of him. When Google Maps informed me we were a mile away from bubbly and blues, disaster struck. We were in a hilly area with very narrow cobbled streets: rather ill-suited to Agosto’s interpretive driving. It had also begun to rain and I saw him reach the precipice of despair as he realised this journey was beyond him.
We descended a steep slope only to find the road ahead blocked by a poorly parked car. Cue an Austin Powers-style 58-point turn. Having nearly destroyed the clutch, it was time to head back up the hill. For some reason known only to Agosto, he decided to pause halfway up the slope to think. It doesn’t take a mathlete to realise that rain + cobbles + steep slope + (Agosto – driving skill) = wheelspin + failure.
There was only one solution. So here I was, in one of the more dangerous parts of Rio, at night, wearing a checked shirt and deck shoes, looking as out-of-place as a Big Mac in a crossfit gym, pushing my uber driver up a hill in the rain. “It’s a funny story if I survive. It’s a great story if I survive.”
And survive I did. But Agosto was too frazzled to attempt reaching the jazz bar so I headed back to Copacabana and early bed whereas he spontaneously combusted, leaving only a pair of shoes and a wisp of smoke.
On the agenda the next day was some beach time. I strolled along Copacabana to Ipanema (yes, I hummed the tune to myself) passing Steve Redgrave, Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell chatting to Jon Inverdale in a cafe, and lay on the warm sand. Glorious though this indulgence was, I must give a word of warning: if you have poor body image or are a few lbs over your fighting weight, DO NOT GO TO THE BEACH IN RIO. Every man has a 6-pack and every woman has a mixture of flat stomach and curves that would make Kim Kardashian feel inadequate.
Having been informed by people friends that sunset from Urca was an unmissable event, I headed in that direction later in the day. I spectacularly failed to find the sunset viewing spot so, instead, bought a ticket for the cable car to Sugarloaf mountain nearby. It’s hard to believe the view from Urca could have been much better.
That evening was Jorge’s birthday and we joined forces with some of his colleagues to celebrate. For me it was an exercise in using Google Translate fast enough to be able to contribute. Highly amusing nonetheless.
Having been advised by Cariocas (people from Rio) to avoid the favelas, I booked a tour of a local favela (Vidigal) and a hike to Dois Irmoas – the famous rock at the end of Ipanema beach – for the next morning.
The tour was conducted by a local of the favela, making it far safer. This is one of the rare occasions that I will include a full link as I highly recommend the tour and part of the ticket price goes back into the favela community.
Although steep enough to work the sweat glands, the hike was fairly straightforward and provided a wonderful view of both the Rosinha favela and the Rio coastline.
Heading back down, as Newton’s laws suggested we should, we entered the favela. It was a patchwork of bright colours, sewn together with narrow alleys. Brickwork crumbled, the chaotic power cables looked perfect for a scene in Final Destination 12 (or whatever number they’ve got to now) but everywhere there was life; vibrant life. Dogs barked, cats stretched indolently on brick walls warmed by the midday sun, hawkers peddled their wares, and people stood on the streets and chatted. Not quite the murderous labyrinths of legend then.
In fact, our guide informed us that, although the favela had once been very dangerous for outsiders, since a police clean-up and numerous community projects has been initiated, it was now a much safer environment and increasingly popular with tourists.
We stopped at the house of our guide’s sister who, in the knowledge of our arrival, had prepared a traditional feast of meat pancakes, farola, bean stew, rice and salad. I was close to licking the plate clean!
On the hike I had met an English couple from the South West, George and Lucy, who were in Rio for a few days of the games before heading to Peru. Peru! PERU! Yes, Pera, darling! Pera!
They told me they had a spare ticket for the canoeing the next day (my last full day in Rio) and asked if I would like to join them. Loath to have been in Rio during the Olympics and not have seen any sport, I readily agreed.
Dawn broke on a cloudless, warm day: perfect for watching canoeing! A text from George. Must be confirming our meeting point.
But it wasn’t.
The tone was sheepish, apologetic. The summarised message was: ticket mix-up, canoeing tomorrow, dressage today.
You can be forgiven for not knowing what dressage is: it seldom makes it onto mainstream sporting programmes. I can best describe it as Crufts but if the dogs were horses and had people sitting on them. Nevertheless, I was not going to be denied my Olympic experience. I was in!
The trip to the venue was a schlep but eventually we took our seats in the stands (that sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Just noticed that) and settled in for an hour or two of horse-dancing.
After a couple of competitors I felt I had the hang of the various manoeuvres, however, I didn’t know the terminology with which to discuss them with George and Lucy. I suggested we create our own names for the various moves. A glossary below:
- Trotting with extended stride: the lope
- Flicking front hooves out forwards: the Basil Fawlty
- Trotting on a diagonal axis rather than forwards: the drift (when a Japanese rider performed the feat we celebrated Tokyo Drift)
- A change of legs via a hop: the Zebedee
The more we watched, the more we got involved until we were predicting scores, criticising scruffy lopes and providing hushed commentaries with a sidetrack of stifled chuckles. The coincidental intake of beer only served to magnify the hilarity.
In the end, we stayed until the final move of the last competitor. I’m a dressage convert!
We had had so much fun housing around that we decided to meet up in the evening for a few more drinks. We met in Botafogo and were joined by, Vanessa, a friend whom I’d met earlier in the week, and who introduced us to Caipirinas. But not just any Caipirinas – these came with an accompanying ice lolly that was to be shoved into the drink to add flavor and just generally look fun. Already in childish mood, this appealed immensely so we had too many of them then went to sing Karaoke in a nearby bar with a live backing band and a hen party. Fades to black.
The alarm slowly pierced the fog of my hungover somnolence. It was Sunday. Time to leave. Thanks a million Jorge. Great to meet you George, Lucy and Vanessa.
Recife, I’m coming for you.