Just the name of the country alone conjures up so many emotions for me. Passions like football, jungle, rainforests, huge rivers, the samba, and beautiful women.
After crossing the border from Argentina I started to look for a hotel or motel for the night. However, I was puzzled by the exterior design of the motels along the main roads. They had high walls all the way around. There were no windows, and only and in or out sign above high gates. Then I started to notice names such as “Love Motel”, “Motel Intimiso” and neon love hearts beside the name. Only then did I decide that these were not for me. It turns out these are places where couples go to have sex. You drive straight in to a lockable garage before anyone recognises you, apparently. You can rent by the hour, a luxury suite or a cheap room, and even have a meal delivered. Having sex makes you hungry, of course. Condoms are provided, by law. They are not just for illicit liaisons, but most clients are in a long term relationship, or even married. Extended Brazilian families tend to live together, so these motels are a great place to be on your own for a while and make a bit of noise. I chose more recognisable hotels I assure you!
Brazil is so huge, and full of jungle that I pre-decided to head for Rio de Janeiro, then turn west back across the Andes in to Peru. Heading towards the urban sprawl of Sau Paulo, just after lunch, something broke inside my bike. Struggling with shock and disappointment that my previously unbreakable Triumph Rocket was only human after all, I kept going. Selecting a gear now required several attempts by hitting the lever and hoping to find a sweet spot for it to engage the next gear. It was rideable, but with a sickening crunch on most occasions. My plan for dealing with breakdowns or a puncture had always been to stop and phone for help. Triumph have an amazing network of dealers in most countries. Luckily for me they have their own company in Brazil, with an assembly plant and a good service network. There is a big dealer in Sau Paulo and another in Rio. I decided to risk reaching Rio, selfishly because I would rather be delayed there rather than in Sau Paulo, which seemed to have little to offer a tourist. The gamble paid off, and Triumph Rio Barra served me well. I was in Rio for 11 days altogether, over Easter 2018, waiting for a part to arrive. A spring! Yes, after coming all this way, it was just a spring that had broken inside my gearbox.
It is a beautiful and fascinating city, full of wonderful people, who never miss an opportunity to stop what they are doing a have a chat. They call themselves “Cariocas”. A friend bought me a book on how to be one. I learnt the ritual of behaviour on a beach. Rio has dozens of great beaches, all fully integrated with the city. I stayed on Copacabana.
The colossal granite monoliths characterise the city and shape its districts. Between them all life exists: luxury apartments, simpler blocks, shopping malls, a plethora of independent shops, cafes, restaurants and bars called Boteco. Every Carioca has their own Boteco where they are all known by name. Stopping to dance to the rhythm of the batucada there is also a ritual for them.
Rio’s world famous Christ the Redeemer statue thoroughly deserves it’s place on the list of the Seven New Wonders of the World. The design is captivating with its evocative expression and poise. It took a dozen years to build as it is perched 700 metres above the city on the vertiginous Corcovado mountain.
There’s a great view from Corcovado, but my favourite was looking back at the city from Sugar Loaf Mountain. Sugar Loaf is named after its similarity to the shape of the block of refined sugar cane before it was loaded on to ships bound for Portugal in the 16th Century.
My passion for the ‘glorious game’, football, hit an exciting high in Rio. I went to the Maracana stadium and watched two of Rio’s four first division teams play. It was one of the semi-finals of the Carioca Cup. Vasco de Gama beat Fluminense 3 - 2, with the winner being scored in the 97th. minute. Thank you. Although there are team ‘ends’, opposing supporters sit happily enough with each other, if they want to. Everyone hugs each other at the final whistle.
I can’t end without telling you about Rio’s reputation for being a little unsafe. I heeded warnings about venturing too far alone at night; good advice for any city I think. The poor and homeless are evident on the streets, but never looked like they wanted to harm me. The famous ‘Favelas’ are self-built homes in the steep valleys of the granite mountains. You get great views of the city from up there - I paid a high price for a view like that in London! Most favelas now have local government support with roads, electricity water and drainage now provided. Lawless no-go areas are diminishing. There was one just behind my hotel. I only heard gunfire from there twice and was told the shots were just for fun. I bet they tell all the tourists that!