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Rio de Janeiro 2018


Rio de Janeiro (the River of January) – the second most populated city in the Americas, the former capital of Brazil, former royal seat of the Portuguese Empire, one of the most visited cities in the Southern Hemisphere, home to world famous beaches, one of the New Seven Wonders of the world (Christ the Redeemer statue), a world famous Carnival parade and home of the 2016 Olympics (beating out Chicago for that honor).  It is a place I have always wanted to see, and had written off as “not gonna happen” – but it did!  We would be there at the end of their summer and our winter (though, the truth is that our winter has extended way into April – dammit!)

It all began just weeks after returning from Cuba last year.  Allen and Nana (“his Nana”) were talking on the phone and she asked if we had ever thought about going to Rio?  Her dentist of many years has a villa that he rents out to people when he is not there and she thought it might be worth pursuing.

Allen was very excited about it and thought it would be a perfect chance to bring together a group of people to share the rental expense and be together as a circle of friends.  He polled some of his friends, insisted to Nana that she be part of the group, and when he got enough interest, we booked the place.  Part of my enthusiasm behind the plan was this was one of those rare times when Allen suggested the location and so I was all on board.

Over the next months, the guest list would change considerably as people backed out and substitutions were made.  Though the Villa was able to accommodate quite a few, our final group numbered 7 - Allen and I, Nana, Carolyn and her boyfriend Matthew (both top-notch photographers whom we had met through our wedding work) and Carolyn’s brother Charles (or Chip or Chaz as most of us called him) and his wife Martha.  7 is a lucky number, and we felt like a lucky group.

Over the ensuing months, Mike (the dentist-owner of the Villa) and I exchanged a number of emails and phone calls regarding the opportunities available to us in Rio and surrounds.  Rather than booking through the service he normally uses, (https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p174529?uni_id=469627#reviews) we booked directly through his office and so I got to “meet” his very pleasant and helpful assistant Cristian. Mike outlined a number of trips that would be possible, sent pictures of the Villa staff and seemed as genuinely excited about having us as we were about going.  It all sounded great and as the months went by, excitement built.  I believe Nana also visited him on several occasions to talk about it all.  Nana is nothing if not persistent and thorough.

Enthusiasm was building, plans for good meals, good times, warmth and beach time were being made.  All seemed to be leading to a joyful time in mid-February.  That is until Allen discovered that one leg of the flight, from New York to Rio, meant 9+ hours in the plane.  Ouch!  Allen has a bad back, he finds most air travel painful, and an extended trip in the cramped seats we usually fly in, presaged some serious hurting on his part.  Of course, for those who know him, he is also a worrier, and now he had months to worry about long flights, uncomfortable seats, cramped quarters; months where he could imagine and live the torture over and over again before ever setting foot in the plane itself… and he did.

Finally, the day arrived. Originally, we thought of being in Rio for Mardi Gras, but Mike was going to be in Rio for that affair and so we chose the week after.  One bonus, Mike decided to stay later so that he could meet us and get us oriented in the Villa.  He really is a top-notch guy.  Usually, we leave early in the morning, but giving the length of this trip, it seemed over-night travel would make more sense.

The day of our departure (Feb. 17) Allen went to work and I dropped the dogs off at the kennel where we board them (they seemed to know where they were and where to go once we got in the door, and never looked back – broke my parental heart).  Back home, there were some chores to take care of – light timers, laundry to be taken care of, dishes to wash and put away – all those little things that make returning home easier by not having to worry about chores left undone.

Allen got home around 1:30 or so and we left for the airport, Google maps indicating delays all along the way – and they were right.  By the time we got to the long-term parking it had begun to snow – and a silent prayer went up that it would not affect our departure.

Check-in and security were pretty painless.   We boarded the plan at the scheduled time (though I had to gate-check my carry on) and all looked like it was going to go smoothly until they announced that there would be a slight delay as they de-iced the plane.  After that, there was a delay while we waited our turn to take off.  Originally, we were to be in New York with a bit more than an hour to make our connecting flight.  By the time we got there, that was cut down to about 30 minutes.  Luckily the departure gate was nearby.

New York was getting much more snow than we had in Chicago, and so, although we again boarded on time, there was a long wait for deicing and take-off.  In fact, the plane did not take off until about 2.5 hours after the scheduled departure time.  After our flight to New York and sitting on the plane for more than 2 hours, Allen’s back was already hurting, despite the back pillow he had purchased for the trip and the alcohol made available to us.  We plugged in to our video screens, accepted the food, drinks and snacks that were brought to us and tried to find a way to sleep.  I kept dozing in and out, managing to catch a little sleep during the flight.  Allen was pretty miserable (and when Mama’s miserable, everybody is miserable).
We had been scheduled to arrive in Rio at about 10:30 in the morning, but due to all the troubles, we did not get there until about 1 in the afternoon.  Luckily, we do not check in luggage, and so we were able to grab our bags and go.  It was a very long walk from the gate to the airport exit and the route led us through what was in effect a full shopping mall.  Our passport check went without incident and we were simply waved through customs.  Once we found the luggage carousels and exit we were greeted by the sight of Nana and the driver sent by the Villa.  We hopped into the van, buckled our belts – and we were off.
Rio seems to be built in a series of mountain valleys, and to avoid uphill roads, they simply dug tunnels from one valley to another.  The traffic was as crazy and heavy as most major cities, and all along the way we caught sight of the infamous and colorful favelas that are built on the mountain sides, the beaches, the busy city life and residential neighborhoods.  Our driver pulls up to an alley with a gate closing it off to traffic and declares that we have arrived.  The alley is more a short, residential street, with the doors and windows of houses opening up to it on either side.  It ends at the foot of the mountain that towers above us and we can catch sight of some more favelas up its side.  The front door of our Villa is about half way down the alley.  It is a plain wooden door, nothing to really distinguish it from the other doors facing the alley, but once past that door, we were in our Villa.

Walking through the door, we are immediately greeted by Paco – the three year old parrot who lives in a cage facing the front door.  He will be the recipient of many conversations and lots of snacks throughout the week.  The living room we enter is a sizeable room, laid out with several couches, over-stuffed chairs and lots of pillows.  The walls are done in blue printed wallpaper with a very vintage look, lots of vintage chairs, tables and chests of drawers.    There is a library/ TV room and a dining area on a raised area overlooking the living room.  The kitchen is large and open, with a very big island in the middle, stools all around.  Laid out on the island are platters of roast chicken, fresh fruits and a pot of saffron rice.  We meet Adan, the house manager (I understand he oversees a number of these private residences that are rented out in the Rio area) and Tereza the cook (who lives across from the Villa in one of the other homes that front the alley – she has the biggest, most engaging smile I have ever seen and her eyes are bright with joy and warmth.  Also, the rather short, and squarely built Dr. Mike – who owns the place.  They all make us feel very welcome and encourage us to eat and relax after our long trips.

Mike had this place built some years ago.   It was his first trip to Rio and he immediately decided he wanted to have a house here.   The Villa living room is at the floor level of an atrium which stretches the 2 floors up with a skylight allowing lots of natural light throughout the building.  The bedrooms are located on the second floor, the doors facing the atrium.  On the roof level is a soaking pool and yet another large bedroom and a smaller one.  Another bird lives on the roof level.  It is all very comfortable, airy and rather delightful.  Nana was assigned the “princess room” with canopy bed (I told Mike that me and Allen wanted to be the princesses- causing some laughter).  Our own room was very comfortable with a rather large Jacuzzi tub and a separate shower.  Each room was ornate with paintings, lots of flowing, decorative material and interesting wall paper.  We were going to be very comfortable.

Mike really enjoys talking about the building of this place and the many activities he is involved in both directly and indirectly, including education programs for the poor, orphanages, and GLBTQ concerns in Rio - really quite an engaging and involved guy. 

Carolyn and Matthew had gotten to Rio a couple of days before us and spent those days at some sort of B&B – they had been at the villa since that morning and were already familiar with the place.  After getting the lay of the land, most of us took part in the food provided for us.  Allen, really feeling the effects of the trip, decided to take a nap.  The pineapple was the sweetest I had ever tasted – almost melting in my mouth and they had a variety of grape with the most unique and pleasant taste I had ever experienced.  While eating, the last of our group arrived – Chaz and Martha.  After eating, while the others went to relax, I decided I needed a walk and get the lay of the neighborhood.

Initially I headed to a public park area just a block or so from the villa.  I had learned earlier that it was the site of a farmers market.  I was anxious to see it and what offerings might be had.  Unfortunately, it was late enough in the afternoon that they were closing up and most of the booths and tables set up on the sidewalk that circled the park, were packing up.  I did manage to get a good whiff of where the fishmongers had been.
                  Copacabana beach is only a couple of blocks from the Villa, about a five-minute walk.  I headed toward the beach, but then decided to walk what seemed a major retail street paralleling the beach.  Of course, it was Sunday, and so many shops and businesses were closed, but there were still many people wandering about.  As I walked, I would make jaunts over to the beach and see what was happening there.
                  The weather was very warm – not quite hot- but very humid and I was sweating buckets without much effort.  The beach was very busy despite the rain clouds and eventual sprinkles.  I don’t think I have ever seen such a wide assortment of skin colors all gathered in the same area – everything from the whitest white skin to the bluest black – and the tans were incredible.  It was not too hard to pick out the tourists from the locals (the very pink and sun burned faces were a dead giveaway, as well as the accents from all over the world).  There were soccer games, a form of soccer volley ball (where hands were not allowed), beach tennis, regular volley ball and other games being played along the length of the beach.
                  What was particularly striking to me were that the beaches were not built on.  All the hotels and resorts were located across a 4 lane road from the beach.  So, there was no sense of “private” beaches or restricted access, no hotels blocking the view of the ocean or beach, and really not a whole lot of trees.  There were plenty of people willing to rent you a chair or umbrella, there were bar kiosks all along as well, with waiters selling drinks on the beach.  So, the hotel amenities were available without the hotel.

As I continued meandering from beach to retail street and back again, it was a little unsettling to see people preparing their places to sleep on the sidewalks in front of closed banks and stores – laying out cardboard, blankets and gathering their bags and belongings close.  There were a number of people already asleep.  This was to be a constant sight throughout our stay – speaking to the amount of poverty in Rio and throughout Brazil.

Lots of people were barefoot, not only on the beach but in the retail and residential areas as well.  Street sweepers are a constant presence and so going shoe-less poses a lot less problems than in most places I have been.  There was lots of traffic, but well controlled and people were respectful of the crosswalks and the walk/don’t walk signals.  The police presence on the streets, especially in the retail area, was apparent, but not really oppressive feeling.  There was talk of the government establishing more martial law just before we left Chicago, but at least where we were at; it did not seem unusually heavy.

Pharmacies!  There seemed to be a lot of pharmacies.  Sometimes 3 or 4 different ones next door to each other.  Unlike here, they did not sell snacks, foodstuffs, souvenirs or incidentals that I could see, but they were open and they were numerous.  Kind of reminds me of the proliferation of barber shops that we have in our neighborhood at home.  Despite asking around, I never did get a good explanation for why so many.  It remains a mystery for me to this day.  And, given that it is such a tourist destination, I was surprised at the dearth of souvenir shops.

Returning to the Villa after a couple hours of wandering, all was quiet.  Soaking wet from the sweat of my wandering, checking to see that Allen was still napping, I headed to the rooftop and found the others in the pool or on the couch chatting with Mike.  The man does have a lot to say, and he tells a great story.  At one point he even noted that he had become the professors he would laugh at in school because they would hold court and never cede the floor.  Seemingly unlike his professors though – he was interesting

Leaving the conversation – Matthew headed over to the local grocery store and returned with the makings for our drink of the week – gin and tonic.  Allen soon joined us and we were all enjoying our cocktails, asking about sight seeing possibilities, enjoying the approach of evening and laughter – lots of laughter.
Mike was going to lead us to a dinner place within walking distance of the Villa.  The restaurant Carretao was a churrascaria – one of those places that serve all sorts of grilled meats and a hefty salad bar (usually, in the states, the meats are served off skewers with wait staff in gaucho clothing).  Given that Brazil is known for its beef and meats, and this was a very traditional way of eating it, we were delighted.  There were offerings of different beef cuts, pork, lamb and chicken.  As soon as we cleaned our plate, another waiter would approach with even more meat offerings.  Finishing our meals, both of us more than stuffed, Matthew and I still bemoaned the various meat offerings that had not made it to our table or that we had not noticed earlier.  Full stomachs and more than enough caipirinhas (the national cocktail of Brazil – a mixture of sugar, lime juice and cachaça (distilled sugar cane juice) we finally decided it was time to return to the villa and maybe get some sleep.   We were back about 10 or so and got to meet Mike’s boyfriend Thiago.  He had been out partying with his Carnival friends and was covered with glitter, it was quite the sight.



I slept late the next morning (7:00!)  and did my usual on-vacation-morning-routine – wrote in my journal.  Around 8:30 or so, Tereza and Andrea (the housekeeper) arrived, Nana and Carolyn were already up and about.  I took a small walk around the neighborhood to see if I could see the Christo statue clearly.  We were told not to bother going up unless there was a clear sky – there was.

Tereza and Andrea did what they did each morning we were there – prepared breakfast.  By the time it was ready everyone had come down (except Allen), were in great spirits and we ate – talking and laughing, making a fuss over Paco and trying to communicate with the ladies.  Allen finally joined us, seemingly having caught up on his sleep, though he did have a mosquito bite.   His body really reacts to mosquito bite and the large, swollen area on his leg was clear evidence of his sensitivity.  Nana had 2 such bites, though she didn’t swell like Allen. Her big complaint was that given how short she is, getting in and out of the high walled tub was a bit of a chore – but nothing she couldn’t handle.  The lady is incredible.  Mike and Thiago must have had a pleasant night because Mike was shining with glitter when he came to join us.

Mike and Allen spent quite a bit of time at the breakfast table talking about New York, finding common connections and reliving the city scene and craziness of the early 80’s.  They both had a number of similar experiences and touchstones of that era. 

I asked about exchanging money.  I was directed to see Tereza.  After Adan and Mike helped me  let her know what I wanted, she left to her house and came back with a number of rolls of Brazilian Reals.  She and Adan did the math and I soon had my own large wad of the colorful bills as did Nana.  I was assured it was the best exchange rate around and I had no reason to question it.

After breakfast we decided that for supper that night, we would eat at the Villa.  There were a number of dinner  options we could choose from – all very Brazilian.  The deal was that we would pay $150 for all of us to eat and the cost of the groceries.  We settled on the fish dinner and some sides.  After that was taken care of, most of us wanted to go see the famous Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue.  Matt and Carolyn were going to stay behind as they had seen it already and were going to wander the beach instead.

Thiago and Adan convinced us that the best way to get there would be by using Uber.  Though, they do not take more than 3 passengers in any car, so we would have to call 2 of them.    Uber was called and we were told that they were only 2 or 3 minutes away.  We walked out to the street and Chaz and Martha’s car was there.  They hopped in and we were sure to catch up to them at the statue.  Allen, Nana and I waited.  We did not see our car.  We went back to the Villa so to be able to connect on-line (they had Wi-Fi and we did not have phone service away from the Villa).  Uber was re-called, they confirmed the car being there, we went back to the street and still could not find it. 

Back to the Villa again, where Adan offered to help us get a cab.  We did, and we were on our way to Mount Corcovado.
It is on the summit of Corcovado that the colossal statue of Jesus Christ with outstretched arms called Christ the Redeemer resides.  Built in 1931 it stands about 98 feet tall, the arms spanning 92 feet across.  It is made of reinforced concrete covered in a mosaic of thousands of triangular soapstone tiles.  It sits upon a square stone pedestal 26 feet high.  It is the largest Art-Deco style statue in the world and is an iconic Rio landmark.

At the foot of Corcovado, we would catch a tram that would take us up the mountain and to the site of the Christo.  We got there, and despite a number of people milling around the entrance to the trams, we were able to find Chaz and Martha waiting for us.  They had gone ahead and bought our tickets for us and were waiting.  There were a number of vendors gathered in the small park next to the tram entrance selling a variety of souvenirs, booklets, pictures, postcards, etc.  We wandered among the tables and did not find too much that we just had to have.

Allen and I always try to come back with a magnet from these trips, preferably one with some movement (i.e. a lobster with tentacles that shook when moved) I was really hoping to find an image of the Christo whose arms would flap up and down when moved.  It was the grail I chased throughout our trip, but never did find (I am not totally surprised).
We had about a 45 minute wait and so we walked to what was supposed to be a museum next door (according to the signs).  We quickly discovered it was closed permanently, the property for sale.

We then made our way to the church across the street.  The church of St. Jude Thaddeus.  We went in and wandered around a bit.  It was a large church, rather modern, though with lots of statuary throughout. 
Martha and I decided to check out the grotto in the back of the church.  We got a bit confused about how to get there; running into some closed gates, but soon discovered we had to go through the gift shop (and no they did not have a Jesus magnet with moving arms).

Like most grottos, there were lots of candles, and an image of the saint looking down from the top of the grotto.  Only one other person was there - a woman either silently lighting candles and praying or cleaning up the candles, it was kind of difficult to discern.  I was explaining some of what we were looking at to Martha.  It is not uncommon to find “Milagros” (miracles) in these sorts of shrines.  I was most familiar with small tin representations of the various prayer needs (an arm for prayers concerning a hurt arm, a head for prayers concerning head injuries or headaches, feet for foot problems, etc.) and some of them can be quite elaborate.  However, here I was surprised to see that instead of metallic representations, they used wax – and not so small.  There were wax heads, arms, hearts and even breasts – all about half the size of the actual body part.  I was trying to determine if they were just wax sculptures or actual candles.   While I was explaining what they were to Martha, trying to speak very quietly, the woman turned and asked us to step ut of the grotto if we were going to speak.  We did.

We caught up with the others and it was soon time to cross the street and take our turn on the tram.  It was about a 20 minute ride to get to the top.  The tram ran on rather narrow tracks, a walkway beside them, that ran up a narrow passageway – the mountain walls to one side and the walls of homes and buildings on the other.  We could literally reach out the car windows and touch the plants and trees growing on the side of the mountain.    There were a few stops along the way at roads that zig-zagged up the side of the mountain.  Though we stopped, no one got on or got off.
                  At the end of the line we disembarked and then Martha, Chaz and I took the stairs the rest of the way up, offering some grand views of Rio, the ocean and other mountains – really beautiful.  Allen and Nana opted for the elevator and escalator.
                  The statue is at one end of a concrete apron that allows visitors to step back and take in the full majesty of this wonder of the world.  And there were a lot of people there.  We had seen some pictures that Carolyn had taken of people standing with their arms extended in imitation of the statue.  I assumed that they were praying.  However, we soon discovered that much like people in Pisa trying to take photos of people “holding up” the leaning tower, these were people trying to get pictures of themselves set over the statue.  People would lie on the ground to get the optimal angle, and their subjects would spread their arms, hoping for a good forced perspective type of photo.  There were even pads on the ground for use by the various photographers.  Had to be careful about stepping on or stumbling over photographers and stay out of the way of people surprisingly sticking their arms out.

It truly is a magnificent artwork.  We wandered around the length of the apron, taking in the various views of down below and enjoying the people being photographed.  There was a map of sorts at the overlook of the beaches and Chaz, Martha and I debated on where exactly Copacabana beach ended and Ipanema began.

We took our own photos, visited the very small chapel built during the 2006 restoration set into the back base of the statue (some of our group had not found out about it until we mentioned it) and then headed back.   We stopped in the gift stores at the base of the statue, but I still did not find my flapping Jesus.  The day was clear and bright and it was heating up so there was also a lot of taking shelter in the shadows.

Back at ground level, we took cabs back to the Villa.  Chaz and Martha did not come back right away; they visited a local mall that housed a number of antique stores.  Quite a few of them, as I would discover when I made my own trip there later in the week.  Once back, Allen wanted to clean up, so Nana and I walked to the grocery store – I wanted diet coke and she wanted some chips.  After putting my soda in the fridge, I took off to walk the beach. 
At the beach, I watched some more beach games, did some man-watching and walked along the water.  The sand gets pretty hot, but there were wet, cooler trails to the water, created by drip hoses laid out and wetting the sand.  Clever.  I had my shoes off and was wading in the water as I made my way along the beach.  The water was warm, the waves were gentle, and the sun was beating down – for me, it was heaven, especially coming from Chicago.  I walked around, sort of in my own world, lost in the feel of the sand, the heat of the sun, the sweaty bodies and was rudely pulled out of my reverie when a larger wave splashed me, wetting my shorts.
On my way back to the Villa, I intended to stop in the church not too far from us, (a cathedral, I think) but Mass was going on, I was in wet shorts, so I decided to see it later.  After cleaning up and making my notes of the day, I joined Thiago, Mike and Martha around the pool.  Mike was again regaling us with more information about Rio, its politics and his own plans for the Villa, the charities he supports and the really interesting work Thiago does with LGBTQ youth in the city.  When we made our way downstairs for supper, we found the others all leaning over their phones, pads and computers.

Having not eaten anything since breakfast, I was really pretty hungry.  We had  beautiful baked fish portions atop potato rounds with a delicious coconut sauce, green beans and 2 types of rice and a very piquant hot sauce made from some sort of very small (the size of small peanuts) red and green peppers that I was not familiar with.  It was one of those sauces that just a very small amount added flavor and heat, but too much was way too hot and you couldn’t taste anything else.  I loved it!

The fish was very fresh and meaty and absolutely delicious.  I am not sure what type of fish it was, but it was great.  Everything was served family style, and though we practically begged them to do so, we could not talk the staff into joining us at the table.  Mike did make an appearance to wish us well and say good-bye – hugs and kisses all around.  He was returning to New York.
After dinner, Chaz and I walked over to the grocery store to re-stock the bar.  Beefeaters cost about 120 real, the local gin went for 20.  We would drink local.   We returned to the table having been cleared, the ladies at work in the kitchen and our group all gathered around their electronic devices.  Chaz was sharing some of his PhD work on sexuality – specifically what makes a gay man a “bottom” or “top”.  It was a rather interesting conversation that led us to a variety of sexuality topics and lots of humor as well.
Thiago shared with us his ideas for day trips and we learned a bit of his history.  He is working on his PhD in something to do with computers and mathematics.  He also talked about the political situation in Brazil, how badly the black portions of the population (the majority) were treated, and his work with Trans and LGBT youth.  He really seems to be a passionate, intelligent and caring young man.  The night wore on, people started drifting away, and by midnight, having had enough gin and consciousness, I too called it a night.  Don’t know when Allen joined me.



  I slept very well and was up pretty early in the morning.  I took a short walk outside and though it was not yet 7AM, the streets were bustling.  Kids off to school in shorts and V-neck t-shirts emblazoned with school names and crests – quite a comfortable uniform.  It was already quite humid and 80 degrees.  It looked like we would get some rain.  Restaurants were opening, food stalls were already serving breakfast sandwiches, traffic was slowly building, street sweepers were busy, the people who had slept on the sidewalks were gathering up their cardboard beds – the city was coming alive.  I do enjoy watching it happen.

Our area of the city is surrounded by tall concrete high-rises, all very blocky and rather bland.  Very utilitarian.  None of the bright colors or decoration of the smaller homes; dull really.  The sidewalks, at least along the main streets, are mosaics, with designs formed by black and white stones.  Not smooth sidewalks, but not drab concrete either.  The Copacabana part of the city has a black and white wavy pattern to it and the entire 2.5 mile promenade along the beach is done in this wave pattern.  Ipanema beach has more of a necklace pattern the black lines forming rounded squares joined by lines of black.  There were even, at certain places of interest, QR codes created by the stones which could be scanned and bring up a website explaining where you were at and what was of interest there.  I later learned that each neighborhood has its own distinctive sidewalk pattern.  Very cool!

I walked the Copacabana beach until it became Leme beach (still not sure where it changes) and up to Leme rock where the beach ends.  Leme beach is fronted (again, across the streets) by some of the more luxurious hotels in the area and was filled with plenty of locals.  It seems that the locals are on the beaches in the early morning – doing their exercises, running, playing games, etc. and the tourists tend to gather later in the day.  So morning time was the best time to man-watch before the over-sized Russian, German, US and Canadian tourists arrived.  Judging from their accents, I surmised that among the eastern Europeans, the rounder the stomach, the briefer the Speedos they would squeeze into. 
Leme is the closest to Sugar Loaf Mountain and it is possible to watch the cable cars move up and down the mountains from the beach.  At Leme Rock a stone platform has been carved along the rock (a large hill, actually) going about half way around it.  The platform seemed to be a popular fishing area.  On my return to the villa, I noted several signs indicating that I was only about a half hour walk from Sugarloaf.

Back at the Villa, I did my writing and spoke with Thiago some more.  Both he and Mike had highly recommended a day trip to the old Portuguese capital city of Petropolis (also known as the Imperial City) about an hour or more from Rio in the mountain forests.  I was excited about it but when I looked at the pricing guide, it was marked as $290 (US) per person.  I had even asked Thiago if that were a per person or per group price – per person.  It just seemed too expensive.  This morning though, he corrected himself and said that it was actually $90 per person.  That was more do-able and I was on board.  Unfortunately, most of the others were not, and since we needed more than 3 people, it was not going to work out.  Oh well, something to see next time I come to town.

Eventually, everyone gathered at the table for breakfast and to try out the common Portuguese phrases provided us by the staff.  I don’t think any of us were really too good with them, but we all managed a good morning (bom dia) and thank-you (obrigado), Tereza seemed to appreciate the effort.  There were no planned outings for the day – everyone was on their own – but committed to re-gathering for dinner at a Tapas bar near us.  Carolyn seemed to know the location.
Nana, Allen and I decided to walk the beach.  It was 11:00 and 85 degrees when we left.  Before taking that walk, we first had to locate some comfortable sandals for Allen.  I had passed several shoe stores in my wanderings and so I directed them to what I assumed would be the one we needed.   He selected a pair and we were off.  We were walking the opposite direction I had taken earlier, heading toward Ipanema Beach.  After about a half hour walking in the sand, I left the two of them to go check the signage on the promenade to check our location.  Returning, Nana and Allen were both a bit distraught, Allen was holding his sandals and pointed out where his feet had already began to blister.  Crap!  Luckily, he was carrying his socks and sneakers with him, so we reached the end of Copacabana beach, the location of Fort Copacabana.  There was a shaded area where fishermen were drying their nets near a series of sinks that were intended for the cleaning of fish.  Allen switched shoes and we were again off.

On the other side of the point on which the fort is built, we were at the Ipanema Beach area.  A statue of Carlos Jobim who wrote the famous song “Girl From Ipanema” greeted us and we took the requisite pictures of us and Jobim.  This beach did not seem as broad as Copacabana, but was still sandy, populated and resort free.  We came to a refreshment stand on the sidewalk and some seating under the trees where we got some water and took a little rest.  Allen and Nana decided that they would stay there and let me continue my walk of the beach solo.  They sat themselves under some trees as I continued to walk the length of the beach, just to see what I could see, enjoy the sand under my feet and look at the bodies enjoying themselves on the beach.

Upon my return, we started to head back, stopping in the shops along the way, looking for souvenirs.  Just short of getting back to Copacabana beach, Nana decided that the heat was too much for her and that she was going to take a cab back to the villa.  Allen had some initial hesitancy, but then decided to join her so she would not be alone.  I gave him some money (for whatever reason, I had become the holder of our money) and made him write the address of the villa into his phone.  We found a cab stand and they were on their way.

I continued my walk back and in less than an hour I was back at the villa myself.  Allen and Nana were in the living room, talking and playing with their devices.  I went up to change into swim trunks and was going to head to the pool.  On the way, I ran into Thiago.  I asked him some more about Petropolis – and he was very excited about it, making the decision not to go all the harder.  We also talked about U.S. – Brazilian politics.  After a while, the conversation was coming to a natural end and I headed up to the rooftop pool.  I had been wearing thongs for the days’ walk and the sand that got under the strap wore away areas on top of my feet.  The pool water was a glorious reprieve.  In the pool, it dawned on me just how sunburnt I was.  My thinning hair allowed the top of my head to burn as well as my face and neck.  It seems that this is the way of things for me.  Whenever we go away like this, I inevitably burn before I think of sun block and a hat.  In some things, I learn very slowly.

I stayed at the pool for quite a while.  Chaz, Matthew and Carolyn had made their way up as well.  We talked of other trips we had gone on (all of us had done quite a bit of traveling – and to some really interesting places), Chaz’s children, and quite a touching story of how Chaz’s father had died while Chaz and his family were out of the country – and his father, in a premonition of things to come, before they left, told him not to cut the trip short if things turned while they were gone.  They didn’t.  It was a hard, touching story.

Not half an hour after he told the story, he and Carolyn received a phone call that their mother, who is in a care facility, may have had a heart attack.  There were skype calls and phone calls to the states and back.  Luckily, the mother seemed to be okay and they did not feel the need to immediately go back to the states.  It was eerily coincidental that this happened on the tail of his telling the story of his father.

That evening we were headed out to a tapas bar that Carolyn was excited about.  She and Matthew had eaten there earlier and wanted to share the experience with all of us.  Before we left, I made another trek to the grocery store for gin, tonic and limes.  We had a drink, enjoyed some olives, nuts and conversation and then made our way to the restaurant. 
As Carolyn, Matthew and Chaz led the way, the rest of us lagged a bit behind talking and laughing.  Looking up, for our leaders, we discovered that they were nowhere in sight.  Apparently they went into the restaurant without our seeing them.  We looked up and down the street, wandering in the general direction we had last seen them going.  After a few minutes we spied Chaz in a narrow, long place with tables and stools lined up from one end of the building to the other.  As the others found places to sit, I went out to look for Matthew who had gone out to look for us.  I waved him down and we joined the others.

The place was pretty busy.  Along one side of the narrow restaurant was a display case of the various types of plates offered – 98% of them were seafood in oils of some sort.  There were also some bean dishes, a couple of cheeses, and no meat, nothing that really whet my appetite.  It didn’t exactly meet my expectations of what a tapas bar would be.  I thought there would be more meats, more small plates, tacos, empanadas, etc.  I sat with the group, not eating much more than some potato wedges and a portion of mozzarella cheese.  Nana and Martha were also not really eating too much.

Allen found it hard to sit too long on the backless stools, taking standing breaks.  People were getting on my nerves as they continued to encourage me to eat, and so making it a rather embarrassing position to be in.  Finally, Carolyn told us about a falafel place just down the street.  Martha, Nana, Allen and I decided to give it a try and headed out.  We looked into every store front around and never found the place they were talking about.  Finally, we decided to head back to the villa.  Once there, I asked the others if they liked sandwich meat and went to the store where I bought several versions of salami, sliced cheese and a bag of Doritos.  Minutes later, we were all contentedly eating sandwiches and chips and having a drink.  Very content.

When the others returned, they told us of the great ham, bean soup and other dishes that they had eaten after we left.  I guess if we had explored the menu a bit, rather than just the display case, we would have found a lot more than pickled seafood.  Our loss.

Gathering in the living room, talking, laughing, sharing web sites and images, Allen and I were asked about our dogs, and so we had to call up our website and show them off.  Then conversation turned to pot smoking, how it added to the experience of sex.  This led us back to another discussion of sexuality and relationships.  Which led to talk of exploration, abuse, fetishes, etc.  The talk, as it always seemed to do with this group, covered a variety of topics, was always interesting and had plenty of laughter included.  What a great group of people to be with.  Unfortunately, the ice ran out, the freezer had quit making any, and though both Matthew and I tried to find someplace to buy ice, we were out of luck.  All further drinking that night would have to be done at room temperature.
At some point, Carolyn mentioned to me that she was not seeing the pretty men that I keep talking about.  I point out that most of them are seen earlier in the day before the tourists come out.  This led to talk with her and Allen about what we considered a hot man, what we like in a guy and what turns us off.  It was pretty hilarious.  Nana left to bed about 10ish, I followed soon after.  I have no idea when the others called it a night.



I am up the next morning (Wednesday) about 6AM.  In my morning constitutional, I went back to the tapa place to see if I could find the falafel shop.  Never did find it.  I did, however, follow the street up the mountain side and through the neighborhoods.  Blocks from the villa, the buildings turned a bit rougher looking.  Not extreme poverty or shacks, but rougher.  There were lots of kids on the street, bakeries were opening, cafes setting up, life was starting for the day.  The temperature was already in the mid 80’s (at 7 AM) and cloudy, the humidity is heavy.

The street led me through a mountain pass tunnel and as I got to the other side I was facing a very large cemetery.  Built into a low area where two mountains met, there were thousands of crypts and along the mountain wall defining the back of the cemetery, what looked like crypts built into the mountain wall.  I walked the curving road surrounding the graveyard to access the front gates.  All along this curving road, on the side opposite the graveyard, were numerous car dealerships – BMW, Toyota, Honda, etc.  It was a rather striking contrast.

The cemetery is named in honor of St. John the Baptist cemetery, and I would find out later that it is the final resting place of the composer Jobim, Carmen Miranda and a number of other famous Brazilians, politicians, war heroes and artists.  So many people of note are buried here that it is known as the “cemetery to the stars.”  The first burial here took place in 1852.
There were no belowground graves, but crypt after crypt after crypt.  Perhaps the stone ground was too difficult to dig into, or the water table was too high, but this was a vast city of crypts and monuments.  There were several main “avenues” down which to walk or drive, and on either side the crypts and monuments formed walls of sorts.  The space between one road and another was dense with crypts, and walking through meant going around the tombs, sidling between crypts, no clear and easy paths between one tomb and the next.  As though they were all crammed into the spaces between the roads.

The majority were quite simple and plain with names and dates inscribed.  Others had angels, images of Jesus, and other pious statues on top of them.  Others seemed to be family mausoleums, some very elaborate.  The oldest ones I found dated from the 1800’s and some were as new as the month before.  There were quite a few monuments to soldiers, both individuals and fighting groups and to particular wars.

I was really intrigued by a couple of these monuments – one was an especially tall monument with a bas-relief of a soldier holding a plane, on another wall was a carving of an angel lifting a man to heaven – the angel wings were plane wings.

Walking the main avenue, about half way to the main chapel (closed), I headed to a small hill with a flight of stone steps.  Walking the steps, on an uneven path, I came to an area of tropical vegetation.  Continuing around the last bend, there were a large number of white crosses.  There were hundreds of them.    Apart from all these white crosses is another area of  brown crosses – this is the area of the  “little angels”- graves of children under seven whose parents did not have the opportunity or means to pay for an official burial.  It is a very sobering and melancholy vision and demands respect and quiet.  No other little angels have been buried in this area since 2008.

There were a surprising number of workers clearing all the graves and crypts with brooms and hoses.  I saw no signs of trash, accumulation of leaves or detritus, remarkably well kept for such a large and densely packed grave yard.  Another curiosity were some of the vaults built into the walls of the mountains, as high as 30 feet above the ground with only very narrow and precarious looking walkways to access them.  It is hard to imagine anyone carrying a casket or even an ash urn along those walkways, never mind how they got anything into those niches.

From almost anywhere in the cemetery I was able to look up and see the Christo statue high above on its mountaintop.  I took some time to wander through the place, took some photos and simply marveled at the way all of them were so crammed together.   Returning the way I had come, I made my way to the retail street again (Our Lady of Copacabana Street).  There I walked through a number of shops and stores.  I discovered that there were actually quite a few shopping centers along the street.  It was not unusual to walk into a door and discover that I was actually entering  a small mall, usually several floors high with any number and kind of stores within – everything from high-end clothing and jewelry stores to simple news kiosks.  I walked through a number of these, not finding anything I wanted (I was looking for magnets and indigenous masks).

One of these malls also had in-door parking, but unlike the states, people could walk from their cars right into the mall, the halls of the mall looking out on the parking as well as the stores.  Made me wonder how they kept the fumes out.
Back at the villa, everyone was at the breakfast table and I joined them.  After breakfast we all (except Matthew who doesn’t do heights well) got ready for a visit to Sugar Loaf Mountain.  It is a peak that sits at the mouth of Guanabara Bay.  It rises about 1399 feet above the harbor and takes its name form its resemblance to the traditional loaves of concentrated refined sugar.  It is known world wide for its cableway and the panoramic views of the city.  It is also a popular rock climbing site.

Chaz was leading the way.  His idea was to walk to the end of Leme and to find the tram there.  I had told them that there was no way to access Sugar Loaf at the end of that road, but I guess they had not paid much attention.  Maybe, I thought, I missed something myself, so we headed out.  Chaz chose a route that paralleled the beach but took us through more commercial as well as residential areas, it was a pleasant walk.  Along the way, I stopped at a souvenir shop and bought a cap (too late, but now my head was protected from the sun).

Once we arrived at the end of the road, Leme rock, and Fort Leme, the group seemed a bit non-plussed that there were no gondolas there to take us to the mountain.  I had Chaz join me as we consulted one of the maps posted along the beach and pointed out our error.  To walk to Sugar Loaf, we would have to backtrack about 15 minutes and then take another street for about 30 minutes more.

Instead of all that walking, we verified the name of the place to ask for and grabbed a couple of cabs.  It was a fairly short ride.  The site is actually two mountains.   One took the tram op to the first peak – Urca Mountain and from there, take a second ride up to the taller Sugar Loaf.  It was unfortunate that Allen and Nana did not have proof of their ages so that they could take advantage of the senior discount.

We all got into the gondola to make the first leg of the ascent.  Once it stopped at the landing station, everyone seemed to scatter – being distracted by the view and scenery, I did not see which way they went.  So, I followed the walkway to the second tram and went up the second peak, figuring I would catch up to the others there.  My thinking was that I would either catch up to them or they would be immediately behind.  WRONG!

I got off the second tram and wandered around a bit, looking for my group, but also taking in the fantastic views of the ocean, Copacabana beach, other beaches and the city.  The group still had not shown up and so I walked the nature trail that zigzagged down and back up the rear of the mountain.  There were caution signs all along about not feeding the marmosets.  I never did see a marmoset.

I’d been on this second peak for about 20-30 minutes and was standing on one of the viewing platforms when I saw Carolyn looking down from a higher level.  She was telling me to “jump down the mountain and get away”; that Allen was angry as s—t with me for leaving the group and I would be better off taking my chances down the side of the mountain than to face him.

As she was telling me all this, Nana came and joined her, soon followed by the man himself.  I could see the red in his face (and didn’t think it was sunburn) and he was not happy.  I guess he had everyone wandering around the first peak looking for me and he told me that I owed everyone an apology.  From their expressions, Nana and Carolyn seemed to be enjoying all this.  I looked up at them, lifted my hands and told them “I’m Sorry!”  I then mentioned the potential for seeing marmosets and so they all headed to the nature trail, leaving me behind with the promise that I would not move from where I was.

When we re-grouped, Chaz and Martha invited us to share a drink on one of the mountain top bars.  They were planning to have that drink and then wander down to the bay beach that was near the base of the mountains, approachable from the tram station. It looked to be a rather beautiful beach area.  None of us were really in the mood for it.  Instead, I gave Allen some money and told him that he, Carolyn and Nana should take a cab back and I would walk after exploring the first peak.  They did.

At Urca Mountain were a number of exhibits about the history of the mountains and the building of the tram.  It was all pretty interesting.  Also, there was a man wandering around who seems to have either climbed up the mountain or was preparing to climb down – he had ropes and climbing gear.  I would have really enjoyed watching him in action, but he did not seem in any sort of hurry (or he had already done what he intended).

My walk back was pleasant enough, and there were a number of other fellow tourists both heading to and from the mountain.  My route took me past the Naval Academy, a University and through a mountain tunnel, a pedestrian tunnel under another highway, all paralleling the coast.  Eventually I was back on Sra. Copacabana Street and took that back to the villa.  As I walked, it began to rain very lightly, but it felt good and was not a soaking rain.  I was just grateful that the clouds moved in after we had been to the mountain top.

Once back, I found Nana attempting, with help from Allen, to get on to Facebook with her phone.  Both Allen and Carolyn had tried for several hours combined to help her, but were not able to do so.  I offered to give it a try.  I quickly discovered her problem.  When creating her profile, she had accidentally typed AIL instead of AOL in her email name.  Once I discovered that error, her problems with the app were quickly solved.  I think my success in this effort also helped to take some of the edge off of Allen’s ire.

Tonight we were eating in.  Tereza was going to make the national dish of Brazil – Feijoada (a stew of pork and sausage) with salad, rice, black beans, greens, farofa (a local specialty of crumbed cassava, bacon, eggs and herbs), and chocolate cake for dessert.

The meal was grand.  Lots of tender meat, tasty sausage and the farofa was unique and very, very tasty.  Even the greens, which I tend not to be a fan of, were different and delicious.  This was a meal worth writing home about, and I probably ate more than was good for me, but hey, I was on vacation.

After dinner, we sat and talked, helped clean the table and gave a round of applause to Tereza and Andrea – the queens of the kitchen.  I made a run for more tonic and when I got back it had started raining.  For whatever reason, everyone but Nana and me thought it was a good idea to be on the roof and sit under the overhang as it rained.  I later learned that they had acquired some pot and were enjoying it.  The rain soon turned into a thunder storm with lightening and high winds.

Chaz left that group and came down to the living room, Martha also soon joined us.  As we sat and talked, listening to the rain falling, we became aware of being dripped upon, there was a leak in the skylight.  It was coming down at a pretty good pace and so we began moving the antique tables and stuffed chairs out of the way, turning off lights that were getting wet and unplugging and moving lamps.

The more we looked, the more leaks and drips we discovered.  Chaz found a large stew pot that we used to catch an especially mean drip.  Then, thanks to the fierce winds, the water started pushing through one of the windows in the wall, the water rolling down the shutters like a miniature waterfall.

Thiago had come in just before the rain and helped us move things.  We were throwing towels onto the ledges under the windows, hoping to soak up as much water as possible.  Thiago made a call to Tereza who hurried over from her home across the street.  The alley had turned into a fast moving river, with water rolling down the mountain that formed the back of the alley.  Tereza showed up with a ladder, which she climbed to more strategically place towels under the windows and along the ledge.  She then spent some time wrapping the computer and router in plastic garbage bags, tucking them into a corner that seemed to not be affected.  There was not a whole lot more we could do.

We did unplug the electric fireplace that lay below the windows and was getting soaked.  On top of the fireplace was a beautiful arrangement of birds of paradise flowers with two large glass bowls on either side.  The water was dripping onto the plants and spreading through the leaves and along the walls and filling the bowls.  I moved things so that the water fell directly into the bowls and then made it my job to empty and replace them as they filled.

It was now after 10 and Nana went to bed, the others were still poolside (and pretty unaware of what was happening down below) and Thiago got Mike on Skype to show him what was happening.  Sometime after 11 the others made their way down, discovered what was going on and then went to bed.  They were feeling pretty good, I think.

Allen stayed with me for a while as I continued my bowl duty.  The rain started easing up and the dripping had slowed way down.  I decided, around midnight that I could relinquish my duties for the night and go to bed.  I left Allen wandering around the kitchen seeking to satisfy his munchies.  Throughout this flooding, Thiago kept quoting another song by Jobim – “of the waters of March, it’s the promise of life…” The song is called The Waters of March, though I was not familiar with it.  It seemed to put the current concerns into perspective.



I was up early again the next morning, and wandering the streets, it was hard to tell that we had had more than a sprinkle the night before.  The streets were relatively dry, though there was some puddling around the corners and such – I think due primarily to the street sweepers not yet getting to all the drains.  After wandering a bit, watching the city come to life, I returned to the villa to record the events of the prior day.  While walking, through the city streets as well as along the beach, I was struck by the number of tattooed calves I was seeing.  I don’t think I have ever seen as many, as though every third person had one.

I wandered the streets parallel to the beach, walking up until I would run into a tunnel, then cross over to another and walk back, up and down the various streets, taking in the beautiful and not so beautiful homes and hotels that were hidden away behind trees and gates.  Eventually I was at the end of Copacabana beach again and near the fort that separated it from Ipanema beach.  I walked the beach back to the villa, the waters were calm and warm-ish, the air a bit damp from the rains, but it was overall another beautiful day.

The villa felt a bit damp.  Tereza and Andrea had already been hard at it – restoring as much order as possible.  Returning chairs and tables, putting an umbrella over a speaker and electric box, towels soaking up more of the water remaining.   There was some plaster on the floor from where the rain rand down one of the decorative pillars.  The wallpaper was starting to peel a bit, and given that it seems to be one-of-a-kind, it will be difficult to repair fully. 
Today (Friday), Thiago is leading us on a walking tour of the city – both the older and the newer parts.  We began at the nearby Metro station where he bought us tickets and explained that although the signage indicates 4 different lines, that line #3 does not yet exists (it will run under the bay when it is completed).  Boarding the train, it was full but not really packed.  However, Matthew, who suffers from some claustrophobia issues, was “feeling it” a bit.  Carolyn found him a window seat and helped to calm him down.

We arrived at out station – Cinelandia – and Thiago led us to a very large plaza which, when built, was going to be a large entertainment center with theaters, museums, movie theaters, etc. (thus the name Cinelandia).  At one end of the plaza was a massive cultural center in the French Beaux Arts style.  Around the plaza could be found the Municipal Theater, the National Library and nearby Museum of Belas Artes.  In the center of the square there is a monument to the second president of the republic.  The monument depicts scenes of important events in Brazilian history.  Another statue, in front of the municipal theater is in homage of the 19th century composer Carlos Gomes. It is a lovely area, and it was not hard to imagine exiting the theater at night to such a lovely and scenic square.

From the square we walked some more around “new” Rio.  Thiago pointed out all the government buildings in the area, the spots where protestors would gather (the steps of the ministry of culture seemed to be a favorite spot) and sharing with us as much history of what we were looking at as he could.  Rio was once the capital of Brazil.  Once the capital was moved to Brasilia many of the government buildings became military or state government centers.  The streets in this section of the city were not terribly busy, just a few other pedestrians.  I think this was due to the fact that there were also a number of office buildings in the area, so people were at work, not wandering the streets.

There were a great many churches on our route and Thiago told us what he could about them as we made our way to the port area where he pointed out the original landing spot for ships and places where the once vibrant slave trading took place.  The original customs house still stands, though we did not go through it.  Thiago was moving us along at a pretty good pace.  One interesting site was the church and boulevard where the grand Carnival of Rio had its start.  It is a massive, gothic church dating to the 1820’s.  At that time, many of the city’s poor lived on either side of it.  The parade actually stared as a way of protesting and grew year after year – until it became what it is today.

Thiago is really into the whole Carnival scene in Rio and as we walked the streets, he would point out gathering spots he and his crews had used over the years.  He really likes to party.

Continuing our wandering, he took us to the ferry station where we stopped at a small coffee spot and had a drink.  The skies were clear, the sun was bright, and there was not a whole lot of shade or respite from the heat.  I thought we were moving a little slowly, but did not want to tax Nana.  She is indeed a trooper, but she is also 80+ years old.
After our soda stop we headed to another custom house that Thiago said was one of his favorite spots.  It had been, when first erected an elaborately painted and decorated building with a frescoed domed ceiling.  All the décor was painted over and the building now seems to be a place people rent for different events and purposes.  From there we made another stop at an art gallery (Centro Cultural Banco Do Brasil – a bank building turned into a cultural center).  They had a really interesting display made up of shoe-shine boxes in various stages of disrepair, some elaborately painted, others falling apart, all of them looking very well used.  There were probably thousands of them, forming a huge cube – a sort of 3-D collage. 

From the description:” Ibrahim Mahama (the artist) engaged “collaborators” to produce hundreds of “shoemaker boxes,” small wooden objects fashioned from crates used to transport materials throughout Brazil.  Based on the trade of “shoeshine boys” in Ghana, the boxes can also function as an improvised drum, pounded to solicit business.  Gathered together in a carefully balanced and monumental block, the containers are crammed in with other repurposed items such as heels, hammers and needles.”  It is called Non Orientable Paradise Lost.  It was striking, and so many little details to pay attention to, we did not have time to take it all in, but it was striking.

We walked through the neoclassical Candelaria Church which started as a small chapel built between 1775 and 1898, the now colossal building has three naves, a magnificent dome and a neo-renaissance  interior featuring a number of paintings and stained glass windows by the artists of the time.  It really sticks out in this business area, quite remarkable.
We also passed the glorious Museum of Tomorrow.  A very modern, bright, almost otherworldly building jutting diagonally into the sky from the old port.  It is a science museum designed by the renowned Calatrava.  Unfortunately we did not go inside, but peered into it through the windows that surrounded the building, between its wonderfully designed ribs.  Something to definitely come back to on some future visit.

We continued walking along the shore, passing alongside a naval center and into a less open, more congested and busier part of the city.    We were heading to the “old city” and from there to a restaurant.  Thiago led us to a station where he bought tickets for an inner city train that looped the old city and commercial areas.  One of the group asked if we were ready to eat.  That sort of hit me for some reason.  I had been a bit frustrated at our pace and the fact that we were not really exploring the places we were seeing, and I think that all came bubbling to the top when I responded, maybe a bit too adamantly, and with a little more animation than necessary that “NO, I was not ready to eat, we had just eaten a big breakfast and we had just stopped for drinks not too long ago, and I want to see the sites.”  Uh oh, my bad.  I guess that sort of hushed some in our group.  That was not my intention, I just wanted to keep moving and seeing.  Allen sidled up to me after my outburst and asked me quietly not to embarrass myself, nor him, and please don’t make a scene.  I felt a bit ashamed, and cowed and kept any further remarks to myself.

Getting off the train, we made our way down a busy commercial area with shops on either side, cobblestone streets, sidewalks about a foot higher than the street and vendors and their wares all around, on tables, racks, and even laid out on the ground.  Colorful and varied, very cool and very busy.  This is what I wanted to see, to experience, to walk among.  We made our way through the throngs, following our guide who led us to the Confeitaria Colombo.  It seems to have quite the reputation.  A huge Art Nouveau building, erected in 1894 and has been serving pastries ever since.   Filled with Belgian mirrors, rosewood window frames, Italian marble counters, chandeliers and beautiful furniture dating back to its opening and lovingly maintained.  Still very much a bakery but offering a variety of other dishes as well.  It seems to have a long history, beginning life as an elaborate bakery and morphing into the sprawling restaurant it is today.  All wood, it had a tall curved ceiling, a second level of seating along the upper walls, allowing the guests to look down on the main floor.  The main floor felt more like an atrium floor with tables and chairs fitted in as tightly as possible without cramping the diners.  It was really a marvelous and very busy place.  There were display cases filled with pastries, others filled with meat pies, pasties and other savory goods.  There were other display cases filled with menus from the past, china, silverware, branded wine and beer as well as photos of  the place in its glory days and the many famous people who have eaten there.  The smells were amazing.

Thiago requested a table and Allen and I inquired as to how long he thought we would be there.  I got a time frame and told them I would be back, that I wasn’t hungry, and I wanted to wander.  And wander I did.  This area, which I would later learn, was called the Mercado Popular.  I made my way into the thick of the streets, the shops , the booths and tables, all laid out with colorful clothing, jewelry, trinkets, household needs and art works.  I worked my way up and down a number of blocks, going up one side of the street, and down the other, up one side of the booths in front of the stores and back the other.  There was music playing from a variety of sources, some of it live, some of it electronic.  The area was just so very alive and lively.  Vendors would shout out about the quality of their goods, and others would shout out disagreements.  Through it all, the smiles were big, the eyes carefully watching for any sign of interest in their wares, and the sales pitch ready if that interest was shown.  There were fruit stands, flower stands, snacks and beverages readily available.
When a street broke out to a plaza area or wider park area, the vendors had their wares laid out on the ground, keeping narrow walk ways between so as to allow movement.  Any hesitation at any table or shop entrance had vendors or employees quickly approach and offer to help.  It would have been very easy to get lost and turned around in the bustle of it all.  I kept close track of the street I was on and its relationship to the restaurant.  I returned to the restaurant after each street to see if the others were still eating or not.  There was a constant push to see more of this festival of sights and a pull not wanting to be the one to hold the others up.  On one such check-in at the restaurant, I found Nana and Thiago buying sweets that Nana wanted to take back to the villa.  They seemed to be enjoying their meal, and I was enjoying my exploring.

At yet another circling back, Allen was out front and I thought “Oh shit – I’ve held up the group!”  But that was not the case.  He wanted to tell me that they were all heading back to the villa, that they had had enough of the tour and I was free to stay and make my own way back.  Handing him some money, and making him re-assure me several times that this was not going to be a bone of contention between us, I took off.

I spent the next few hours walking, wandering, looking and visiting the shops and booths, and quite a few of the many churches in the area.  All the churches were elaborately decorated, each one having  very unique altar backs, frescos and elaborate, sometimes quite gaudy altars and chapels.   They were great places to duck into when I was feeling a bit over-heated – they were always a bit dark and cool.  One thing I was not accustomed to seeing was how many clothing stores had mannequins that were obese – I mean really fat.  But, as I know from my own heavy days (not near as heavy as these mannequins) large people need clothes too.  It struck me as very funny.  It also made me wonder why I don’t see them in Chicago where large is definitely a norm.

I spent a little time in a costume shop filled with Carnival costumes, some very simple and others more elaborate than a drag queen’s best – feathers, beads, wings, huge masks, some very tempting, but I did not make any purchases there.  Walking through the vendor-filled streets were a number of older women wearing bright vests advertising the location of a sex shop where, once I found it, was filled with sex toys, more costumes and lots of lingerie.  Again, I did not make any purchases.

Almost anything and everything that a person could imagine seemed to be available in the market.  The streets were filled with people as were all the alley ways and side streets.  In the shops themselves, it was common to have someone standing on a small table, step ladder or even a bar stool watching over the people in the store, looking, I suspect, for shoplifters.  Some of their perches seemed quite precarious, but it didn’t seem to bother the watchers.  With all the vendors crowding all the streets and sidewalks, the route became almost maze-like and there were a number of times when I wasn’t sure where I was in regard to my route back, though I never felt endangered or panicked about it.  I was elated about being in the midst of all the colorful, crazy, high energy of the place.  I think I spent the whole time with a big grin on my face.   I did not, however, find the right magnet.

Despite the huge throng of people in this maze of activity, the streets are really clean.  Thanks, again, to the army of street sweepers as well as the business owners themselves who also seemed to be constantly sweeping the areas in front of their stores.  There were also a number of people no taller than 5 feet or so.  Not sure if they are indigenous peoples or what, but they really did sort of stick out.  Also, after spending so much time among people in shorts, tees and flip-flops, those in this business area in suits or long pants really stuck out.

After a while, it began to drizzle and the vendors threw plastic sheets over their wares (and pulled out the umbrellas and rain wear that they were selling).  When the drizzle let up, they swiftly uncovered their goods and it was back to business.  Finally, it started to more than drizzle and I decided I should head back.  I got on the loop train, thinking the card that Thiago had bought was still good. – but they had a machine that would scan it and tell you how much was on the card – mine was empty.  I decided that rather than risk getting caught (they have conductors who make occasional spot checks of people’s cards) I got off at the very next stop.  The rain was coming down enough that I stopped in a small store and bought a soda so that they would put it in a bag and I could use the bag to protect my phone and wallet.
I was in an area that I had not yet been to and was a little turned around, but with the help of some people who gave me directions, I was able to find my way to the nearest Metro station.

Buying the ticket, figuring out which direction to go in and on which train was a little confusing, but the guards stationed throughout the station were very helpful and I was soon back to the Copacabana beach area.  By the time I got there, the rain had stopped, so I wandered a bit on the beach before returning to the villa where I found my compatriots having drinks and eating snacks.  Also, as usual, Paco was being given lots of attention.  With all the time Carolyn spent talking, petting and feeding Paco, I got a little concerned that Matthew would soon insist that it was the bird or him – but it never came to that.
Rather than going out to eat, we heated up the left-overs from the night before (still very, very good), shared our experiences of the day, checked phones and computers, talked Broadway musicals and simply had a lot of fun.  The decision had been made that there were no more planned group trips, that everyone was on their own for the rest of the vacation.

While the others went to poolside to talk some more (and maybe smoke their pot), Nana and I sat together for a bit in the living room and then, around 10, I called it a night, really pleased with how my day turned out.



Friday morning I was up about 6 or so, did my writing and then headed out.  It was humid, overcast and very warm.  I had no real idea where I was going, just wandering.  Walking through more residential streets, I found myself back at Leme Point.  This time, I walked up the small mountain of stone, up to the fishermen’s ledge.  It is a ledge carved out of the rock with a cable railing and holes drilled into the rock to hold fishing poles.  There were about 6 older men with long poles actively fishing.  One man in particular was catching quite a few smaller fish that I assumed he would be throwing back.  However, I was surprised that despite the fish being no more than 6 or 7 inches long, he kept them, as did the others when they caught something.  They were not using stringers or buckets to keep their fish, but rather plastic bags hooked to the railing.  It made me worry about dying and rotting fish taken home to eat – I mean it was really warm outside.
There was a skin of water flowing off the stone hill and one of the men, in a very clever move, had cut a soda bottle in half and anchored it to the wall so it would be filled by the run off.  A hole was punched into the lid of the bottle thus forming a very gentle stream of water from which they could wash their hands – really ingenious.  I stood and watched for a while, the men heckling one another good naturedly, others very keen on paying attention to their fishing lines and others seemingly lost in the view or their own thoughts.  It really was quite a pastoral scene.
After some time there, I headed back, this time on the promenade of the beach.  Along the way, I stopped to watch a man with a push cart who was butchering fresh fish and offered them for sale.  Some seemed to be rather large snappers and others that I could not identify. 

I was back at the villa about 9:30 or so to find everyone gathered at the breakfast table.  There were no real plans for the day, though Nana wanted to get to a synagogue to pray for her mom on the anniversary of her death.  Allen and Carolyn looked up the location of the nearest synagogue – it was supposed to be only about 10 minutes from the villa.  Me, Nana, Allen, Chaz and Martha all headed out to find it.  We headed out in what we thought was the right direction, looking for an intersecting street that I had not heard of in my wanderings.  We got almost to the point where the street entered a tunnel when we decided we were either going in the wrong direction or we had missed our turning point.  So, we walked in the opposite direction, but again, after 10-15 minutes decided this was not right either.  So we turned around again, and since we would pass the villa, I ran in and Thiago helped me google it and I wrote down the directions (which looked a little different from the ones Allen had).  Heading back in our original direction, in less than 5 minutes we found the cross street we needed and soon found ourselves in front of the synagogue.

The gate looked lock, but when Martha tried it, it opened up.  The door, however, was locked.  It seems that the synagogues in Rio kept rather tight security due to troubles they have experienced in the past.  We waved at the security camera near the door and someone from inside rang us in.  Nana asked the receptionist for permission to come in and pray for her mother.  With what seemed some hesitancy, we were led to a small room with pews and an ark(?) and were allowed to sit and pray.  It was an emotional and tearful experience for Nana.  It was a privilege to share this moment with her.  Sitting for minutes, Martha offering a comforting arm, all of a sudden Nana announced it was enough and that we could return.
Walking back, we decided to stop in a nearby mall.  Chaz and Martha had visited this place before, but they had failed to explore the second floor.  The second floor turned out to be almost exclusively antique stores.  Chaz and Martha like antiques and actually purchased some glasses.  Chaz was interested in a number of small sculptures that Martha jokingly remarked they had enough of.     There were several times that Chaz went into a shop and the rest of us stood on the other side of the window watching what he was doing.  When a salesman came to talk to him, and Chaz appeared to be enthusiastically listening, we would chant “Don’t do it”, which I think he could hear through the windows.   We left the mall without his having made any statuary purchases, but I would not have been surprised to learn that he returned to the store and make a purchase.  I don’t think he did.

While wandering through the stores, it began to rain pretty hard, though not much wind like the other night.  We stood at the entrance debating about waiting it out or getting wet.  After about 10 minutes of deliberating, Nana, Chaz and Martha decided to go for it and left.  Allen and I stood a while longer until Allen decided that his new shoes were just going to have to get wet, and so we made our way through puddles that could not be gone around and splashed our way back to the villa.  The alley was once again a river as were the main streets.   We were soaked when we got in and needed showers and dry clothing.  There were again some minor leaks from the sky light, but nothing like the other night – thanks to the lack of wind I guess.  There was enough of a flow though, that Tereza was up and down the ladder, placing towels on the ledge in order to catch what she could.

There is something about our group that I found quite nice.  Everyone lent a hand during these water leaks – moving furniture, putting out pails, etc.  and doing so without complaint.  They were not treating it as something that was not their problem, but pitched in to help as much as possible.  Maybe it was because, unlike a hotel, there comes a certain sense of possession and caring that comes with renting a house.  Whatever- it was a good spirit to share in.

The rain stopped early in the afternoon, so I put on my wet shoes and decided to head out.  I headed to the Metro station, and with all the change I had been accumulating over the week, purchased a ticket.  I decided to go to the stop called Central thinking it might be the city center.  When I arrived, it was a huge station and I soon discovered that it was more the transportation center than the city center.  Home to bus stations, the Metro, lots of cabs and the loop train.  The rain returned, off and on, but luckily I had brought one of the small umbrellas from the villa.  Outside the station were a number of street vendors hawking their wares, covering and uncovering them with plastic sheets as the rain came and went.  The umbrella was rather small, and the handle kept collapsing unless it was held up by hand.
Not sure where I was going or what was worth seeing in the area, I simply picked a direction and headed out.  I soon found myself in a neighborhood that seemed a lot more run-down than the villa area.  There were less people on the sidewalks, businesses that had not opened their metal doors, roads in the midst of being dug up and repaired.  One side of the street seemed to be made up of a lot of government buildings, perhaps military, with people in uniform milling about.  I walked a mile or two in that direction and decided it was not taking me anywhere and so headed back in the opposite direction and the other side of the street.

As I began this walk, I had stopped to take some photos of the favelas on the hillside and had left my bag unzipped, my wallet slipping out onto the sidewalk.  Luckily, I did not walk more than a few feet before I noticed its’ being gone.  If there had been any more of a crowd on the walk way, I am sure it would have been quickly picked up by someone else.  As I stood up from picking it up, I noticed someone behind me who had been hurrying toward me, she smiled when I had the wallet in hand – perhaps because she had been foiled – and she said something about a phone.  I just kept going.
Back at the station, I knew the loop train would take me back to where I was the day before, so I decided to follow the tracks rather than take the train itself.  Once I got away from the bustle of the central station I was in an area right along the mountain side with colorful, roughly built homes and shacks built up the mountain wall – another favela.  It was as though the tracks were in a valley, with a concrete wall on one side and the favela creeping up hill on the other.  I kept following the tracks until I came to a valley that did not have a pedestrian way – and so I turned around and headed back to a train stop that I had passed earlier.
Rather than head straight back the way I came, I decided to walk a bit through the winding streets (more alleyways and paths) of the favela.  I saw some people in front of their homes, all of them looking at me a bit suspiciously, I mean it was clear I was not a local.  There were a few children running through the area, playing with each other and their dogs.  Wood smoke was coming from several of the shacks and the smell of food cooking.  Music was blaring from several of the homes, but even with all this, it seemed more a ghost town than a populated area.  It was day time and I would guess most people were at work.  I thought it might be best to not go too far up the hill and made my way through the maze like streets to the station.

It took a little while to figure out how to buy a ticket from the automated machines, but after watching a few others do it, I finally had a ticket of my own.  Getting on the train, I let it take me where it would.  It was during this trip that I ran into the agent who scanned my card to make sure I had a valid one.

I sat toward the front of the car, hoping to see where I was going.  The side windows were all covered with screen like advertisements that kept the car shaded and cool, but did not permit much of a view.  I took the train until the end of the line which ended up being a waterfront where a person could catch a ferry to cross the bay.  I surmised I was close to where Thiago had taken us on our walking tour.

I was just off a very modern business district.  My route took me once more past the cathedral and some of the government buildings that Thiago had pointed out to us.  I kept to the business area with its tall buildings, lots of shade trees and less boisterous shopping.  There were stores and businesses along either side of the streets I was walking, but none of the vendors, and so it was not the boisterous and noisy market I had spent the other afternoon in.  There were less people about (working, I would guess).  The shops tended to be more up-scale and high-end stores, not much for the souvenir hunter.  The plazas were grand; one in particular was surrounded by the opera house, a museum, a cultural center and others that I was not sure about.  The main promenade was very wide, tree lined, comparatively quiet, lovely and peaceful.  There were people walking dogs, sitting on benches enjoying the day and a few beggars.  It was getting late, and although I would have liked to have stopped in a museum or two, I kept walking.   Also, like the two beach areas, the city seemed to have its own sidewalk designs, very elaborate with many more figures and designs.  And the city folks do wear suits and long pants as well as real shoes.

The signage along the promenade kept indicating where the next Metro station was, I kept walking, going from one station to the next until I found myself back at the Cinelandia station.  The promenade also sort of ended here and so I decided it was the best place to leave from.
I got back to the villa around 6 or so.  Everyone was having drinks, sharing laughter and having a good time.  Chaz and Martha told of their trip to the café at Ipanema where Jobim had written his famous song about the girl from Ipanema.  I was sharing about my walk; Adan was listening, and made a comment about it being best to never go uphill – speaking to my wandering through the favela.

We had reservations at a steak house recommended by Mike - a cab ride away.  Our driver needed to google the address we had given him, as he was not real sure where it was.  It seems the cab with the other half of our group did not know the location either, but instead of hunting for it, he gave his passengers to another cab who did claim to know the location.

 Our route took us through a number of neighborhoods, some rather winding and narrow roads, through more neighborhoods than business areas.  As it turned out, it was not all that far from the graveyard I had visited earlier in the week.  The neighborhood where the restaurant was located seemed almost hidden away, though it looked to be quite a nice, not luxurious area.

It was a steak house, though not churrascaria.  Matthew and I ordered the same cut of steak, but it really was quite salty and not real palatable.  Allen seemed okay with his steak, though he did not eat it all (Chaz helped with that).  I had tried to help Nana when she ordered dessert, but I screwed it up, so we ended up with double what she ordered.  It was okay though, none of it went to waste (just waist).

Back at the villa, we were out of both tonic and, amazingly, limes.  Though the grocery store was closed, I wandered the neighborhood a bit and found a kiosk selling tonic.  Soon we were all gathered around the pool upstairs and most of us sat back and watched and listened to Chaz and Carolyn argue about some issue of no great import.  It was never mean, just good natured sibling back and forth.  I called it a night at about 1 in the morning, leaving Allen to forage for food in the kitchen.


Saturday morning, despite my going to bed so late, I was up early.  I did my morning walk around the neighborhood and beach, and was struck by how quiet it was.  The stores were still opening, the cafes getting ready, but there was not much traffic at all, a lot less people out, there was a definite feeling of it being the weekend, as though the city itself slowed down a bit to rest from the bustling busy-ness of the work week.  As I was journaling, Thiago sort of stumbled in around 8 or so.  He’d been out all night and was partying with his Carnival crew.  His face was covered in glitter and face paint, both he and the paint looked a bit worn out.  It was really pretty funny.

The beach was a different story.  The beach was more crowded than I had seen it other mornings.  There were areas set up for beach tennis, volleyball and the other games that I had seen played there, except that this time there were also TV cameras, sponsors for the various play fields- it seems that these were competitions among organized teams.  It was interesting to watch.  Lots of sweaty men and women, who despite the overcast skies and gentle breeze, found it necessary to remove their shirts and show off some rather fine, shiny-with-sweat torsos.  It was pleasant.

Along the walkway, where the beach met the sidewalks, there were a number of sometimes very elaborate sand castles.  Always near these constructions, sat a person (the sculptor?) who collected money if you wanted to photograph their work.  Some of them had faces carved in them, elaborate castle like features, mermaids, etc.  Nice, but I chose to take stealth photos from further away then come up with whatever fee they wanted to charge. 

As I walked in the surf, it struck me that I had not seen any seagulls, none at all.  There were lots of pigeons that wandered the beach and doing the gull work of eating dropped food and pooping, but no gulls.  I am not sure why this was the case, but it is the first beach, including the fresh water ones I live near, that there we no seagulls.  I made my way to the end of Copacabana and its’ fort and then turned around, wanting to get back to the villa before breakfast ended.
This was Nana’s last day with us; she would be leaving that evening.  I asked Allen and Nana if they wanted to go to Santa Teresa.  It is a neighborhood built on top of the Santa Teresa hill.  Famous for it winding, narrow streets and is promoted as a favorite spots for artists and tourists.  Thiago gave me specific directions that I plugged into my phone, we got a cab and we were on our way.  Our driver seemed really nice, and since he spoke no English, he had a translation app on his phone and had us speak into it and vice versa.  It was slow and clumsy communication, but it was communication.

Our route took us to the edge of the city and then up into the mountains.  Once we got to the Santa Teresa area, the streets became very narrow, vey winding cobblestones – it had to be rough on the cars that drove here frequently.  The streets were often so narrow, that when passing a car (parked or moving) we just barely squeezed by.  We also passed the famous Carioca Aqueduct.  It was built in the middle of the 18th century and provided water to Rio from the Carioca River.  The white stone arches of the structure which no longer carries water but a tram, is often referred to as the Arcos.   There were some throat-catching moments along the way until he finally dropped us off.    On the way he had been bragging about having U.S. 5.00 bills, even showing them to us – he kept them as souvenirs.  As I was counting out the reals to pay him, I asked the other 2 if they had a five dollar bill, but no one did.  I did have some ones, so I paid and tipped him in reals and gave him a $1.00 U.S.  He seemed delighted.

We were on a cobblestone street that went either uphill or downhill, there did not seem to be any truly horizontal streets.  Our cab had let us off in front of a cute shop that sold wooden toys.  There were kaleidoscopes, periscopes, puppets and all sorts of animals – all made of wood.  There were a number of the figures with suction cups or magnets on their feet – making it possible to attach them to something like a fridge or window.  They were colorful, imaginative and quite clever.  Nana was especially delighted and bought a couple of dog figures.

Not knowing the lay of the land, we picked a random direction and headed out.  We passed a few cafes, some artist shops, and one studio where the artist was painting his latest image.  I was expecting more of a cluster of shops and such, but had no idea where to find them.  We started walking uphill on the narrow sidewalks that forced us to walk single file.  Don’t know what we would have done if we tried to pass others, other than walk into the street.
Along the way, there were marvelous and rather dramatic views of Sugarloaf, the beaches and the city of Rio.  From here we were able to truly take in what it meant by the favelas being built up the hill sides, they were everywhere, some areas looking so steep it made you wonder how they kept the buildings from sliding down; there were also a number of very steep stairways leading from one level to another, we stuck to the sidewalks.

According to the signage, we were heading to some sort of attraction.  We made our winding way to what was the top of the mountain to find a ruined multi-story house that was once the home of a locally famous art collector.  The area was once the home to the city’s elite and purveyors of the arts.  This ruined home was once a mansion of a woman who often entertained intellectuals and artists.  It is now a public park, with an art gallery built around the ruins of the mansion.  It houses a bar and is a venue for live outdoor concerts and other cultural events.  The park offers an incredible view of Guanabara Bay and the metropolis that is Rio.
The day was hot and humid and the walk up the hill had been strenuous enough for both Nana and Allen.  The two of them stayed at the bottom of the mansion ruins while I took the stairs and explored the place a bit.  The remnants of the house had a large cupola at the top, giving a magnificent 360 degree view of the area around us.  I wandered a bit, looked in on the museum, climbed the skeleton of walls before eventually wandering back down, buying some water from the café for the other two.  We walked the grounds a bit, taking in the view and then walked to the end of the road which brought us to another museum that we did not go into and a large field fenced off, before heading back the way we came.
In order to find more stores and such, it was going to mean doing some back-tracking and more uphill trekking.  We started to, but thought better of it, especially since Allen wanted to be back for a 2:00 web-cast of a friend’s funeral.  We had passed a tram station on the way up and so we returned there to take the famous Santa Teresa Tram that connects the neighborhood with the city center.

The tram has run continuously since 1877 (except for a 4 year period of modernization) and is one of the oldest street railway lines in the world, and since being electrified in 1896, the oldest electric railway in Latin America.  It goes over the Carioca Aqueduct, the picturesque streets of Santa Teresa and offered incredible views of the city as it makes its way downhill.  Our plan was to take the tram down to the city and catch the Metro not too far from the end station (according to the map at the station).

The tram cars were narrow with a drivers’ seat up front and 4 person bench seats for the passengers.  When it stopped, a wooden running board the length of the car would drop down, providing a step to get into the car.  There were no walls to the cars, just a 6 inch wide board that also ran the length of the car.  It rose so passengers could get on and then dropped when the car was ready to move.  The driver had to manually help this board both up and down.
The tracks were laid in a narrow gully of sorts, and the buildings and mountain walls were fairly close on either side.  There was a point where we had to stop and wait for the tram going up the hill to pass us by.  The cars were clean, brightly colored and very cool.  The track ran across the top of the Arcolos affording us a great view hundreds of feet below us and the city before us.

The end station was a pleasant outdoor station and we walked into the city.  The city was not very busy or inhabited, again because we were in the business area.  I led us to the same Paseo that I had walked through the city the day before.  We tried to get into the opera house, but it was by tour only and the next tour was not going to start for an hour or so.  I led us all the way to the Cinelandia station again, got our tickets and led us to the proper train.  Nana was a bit impressed by how I seemed so familiar with the whole routine.

Once we got to our stop, Nana left us to go to the grocery store and Allen and I returned to the villa.  He was going to go to the pool and watch his web-cast.  I had a diet coke and returned to the beach.  I walked along the water, taking time to stop and watch some of the sports going on and took some time on a bench to watch the people, enjoy the ocean air and soak in the sun.  I was surprised and delighted to see a few gay couples holding hands and strolling – no one seeming to care.

Finding myself at Fort Copacabana, I paid the 5 real entrance fee to go in.  At the entrance was a guard dressed in the old style uniform of red and blue, carrying a musket like gun with long bayonet.  Pretty cool.  What I thought was a natural rock out-cropping ended up being a man-made dome.  According to the museum on the base, it started as a headland area that was originally home to a small chapel to the Virgin of Copacabana.  In 1908 the Brazilian army turned it into a coastal defense fort, protecting the Rio harbor.  What looks like huge domed rocks from the street are in fact very large armored cupolas that held huge cannons.  We were free to wander both the outer cupolas and the fort within.

There is a very pretty, tree lined promenade along the side of the fort facing the city and Copacabana beach.  Lined with café tables and umbrellas, the fort is home to several cafes, a restaurant and souvenir shops.  There were many people slowly strolling the promenade and taking in the sights of the beach.  There are many soldiers around, and some areas are off limits to tourists, but there was no sense of menace from them.  I did finally find a magnet at the gift shop, not the waving Jesus, but a thong shaped magnet with the design of Copacabana sidewalks.

Inside the cupolas there was a surprisingly lot of rooms and hallways – it would be very easy to get lost inside if not for the signage.  At the very middle of these cupolas was the machinery that turned and aimed the huge cannons on top.  Huge wheels and gears, massive cogs, ladders that allowed soldiers to get up and into the guns.

The old electric room housed massive piston engines to provide power to the base (though they are no longer used) and other rooms were barracks for the enlisted men, officers quarters, planning rooms, etc.  It was a full underground military base.  Everything there for housing and feeding troops and waging whatever war was needed.  I wandered through all the rooms, marveled at the size and complexity of a lot of the machinery and, having seen it all, headed to Ipanema beach.  I walked that beach a bit then went across the street to see what kind of bars and shops they had there.  It was all a very pleasant, interesting exploration.

On my way back to the villa, I stopped for gin, tonic and limes.  Nana was supposed to leave at 6 with Thiago and a friend of his who drives (Thiago does not drive), but she ended up not leaving until about 6:45 or so.  Allen and I helped haul her bags to the car and saw her off. 

Chaz and Martha were taking off to a seafood restaurant they had spied in some of their wanderings in the area.  The rest of us, not wanting the fuss of going out, decided to raid the fridge.  I made another store run for chips, gin and mustard.  When I got back, we made sandwiches and talked.

While we were conversing, Thiago showed up with a big bag of costumes, glitter and paint.  He showed us the various parts of his carnival costume – a mermaid of some sort – and Carolyn tried on some of his glitter and paint.
Chaz and Martha returned from their dinner, which they thoroughly enjoyed.  Then we all headed upstairs to pool side.  We sat and watched the mosquitoes attack Allen, laughed and shared random stories and barbs.   Allen was stressing about the flight home and Carolyn and Matthew warned him against alcohol on the flight, Chaz offering him a pill of some sort that would help calm him down.   I called it a night about 11 or so, Allen soon joined me.



Sunday – our last day in Rio.  Damn it.  I was up at 6:00 and did my morning constitution.  It was even quieter and still this morning than it was the day before.

I did not wander too far this morning.  The small city square just a block or two from the villa was very busy.  It was being surrounded by temporary booths and tables and turned into a sort of farmer’s market, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables or every sort.  There were a number of them that I did not recognize.  There were also meat, fish and poultry stands.  In some cases the chickens were hung by their plucked heads – and small mountains of chicken pieces.  They looked good, but there did not seem to be too much ice or cooling involved – kind of scary to a first world person.  The same could be said for the shrimp, fish filets, clams, langoustines, lobsters, octopuses, etc.  Colorful and interesting to look at, but it was already kind of warm.

I watched the butchers chopping the nails off the chicken feet, the fish mongers with deft strokes of their knives cleanly fileting and de-boning the fish, the butchers carving out some really good-looking steaks and roasts; guys with machetes opening coconuts – and everyone still had all their fingers despite the speed at which they wielded their knives.
After making my way around all the booths, watching the shoppers and vendors, I headed over to the cathedral to watch the people going to church.  A number of the women wore their mantillas and most of the men were in suits, children were being pulled into the church behind their parents.  It was fun to watch that for a while before heading to the beach and looking for a shop with greeting cards.  I wanted cards to go with our gratuities.  But, looking everywhere that was open, I found none.

Back at the Villa, folks were moving a bit slower, despite it being an absolutely beautiful day – clear skies, sun and warmth.  Me, Allen and Chaz were going to go with Thiago to some sort of Sunday market just a few Metro stops away.  Thiago got a call just as we were about to take off, as the delay lengthened, you could almost see Chaz’s brain working and he soon talked himself out of the trip.  Oh well, it would be just me and Allen.

It was just a couple of stops away and not really in the direction of the city.  In fact, we ended up to Ipanema beach a few blocks away.  It was a large park square with lots of artists, handmade items, leather goods, jewelry, ceramics, metal art, clothing, etc.  It was just what Chaz had hoped it would be, unfortunately he was not there to experience it.  We walked around the park, stopping at all the booths and I ended up buying a “wishing amulet” based on some sort of Afro-Caribbean religion.  I bought one specifically designed to help wishes for love for a co-worker of mine.  I also got another magnet.  There were a number of really interesting and well-done paintings, some very cool leather bags, but we resisted purchases.

After having seen it all, Thiago directed us to a “gay area” of bars and restaurants.  None of them advertised as being gay and they were not exclusively gay, but it is where “our people” gathered in the area.  The street we were on ended in that part of the Ipanema beach where the gay folk tend to gather and so they frequent these particular bars and restaurants.
Stopping at one of the restaurants, Thiago had a beer (too early for alcohol for me and Allen) and I had a virgin mojito, Allen settled for a diet soda.    Among the things we talked about, Thiago informed us that Brazil did not really have earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons or tornadoes.  As far as natural disasters were concerned they were mainly the result  of the very heavy rains they get, the water washing down the mountains and flooding the rivers – as well as the homes near the rivers or on the mountainsides.  Finishing our drinks, we took an Uber back to the villa.  Grabbing three sheets of typing paper from the villa printer, I took them up to the pool where everyone was gathered and had everyone write a note of gratitude for Thiago, Tereza and Andrea.  I used Google translate to put my sentiments into Portuguese.
I prepared our gratuity envelopes for the three and then went to pay Adan our bills.  I tried to pay my bill with a credit card, but it was declined and his card reader did not accept AmEx.  Shoot.  Luckily, I had enough cash to make it right.  It was then time to pack.

We saw Carolyn and Matthew off and then I walked over to see what was left of the farmers market – not much, just the remnant smell of fish.  Returning to the villa, we sat with Martha and Chaz for a while and then they took off.  That left just me and Allen.
We decided to go get something to eat and ended up with some really bad burgers.  Returning to the villa, we showered, dressed (I really hated putting on long pants and long sleeve shirt) and spent the waiting time in the sitting room.  We were taken to the airport several hours early, Allen and I both agreed it was a matter of sitting around the villa or the airport, and we had not seen too much of the airport.
While we waited for our flight, I bought some things to bring back (chocolates for the office) and then exchanged the last of my reals.  Our flight boarded on time and we were happy to discover that our section of the plane was not as full as it was on the trip there.  In fact, Allen moved to a 3 seat row that he had all to himself.  He would be able to lie down.  Hopefully, with the drugs he had been given and his blow-up pillow for his back, he would have a much less painful flight home.  He told me that with the pillow under his back, whenever we hit turbulence, it was like a massage and really felt good.  The stewards though, did remark on the fact that he left me.  It was funny.

So, the flight was uneventful, with the help of the drugs he was provided by the others and the three seats to lay out in, he did manage to get some sleep, I got a few hours at most, and kept re-adjusting my position, looking for some comfort, but never really did find it.  We got into New York about 6:00 or so, and managed to get through customs and stuff relatively easily.  There was a flight posted that was leaving for Chicago about 7:30 or so.  We asked about getting on it, but the one person told us no, another told us to go to the gate and see.  We hustled down the long hallways, going from gate 13 to gate 53 or something like that.  We got there and were told that in fact they had a couple of seats, not in Comfort Plus, but were available.  It would cost us 75 each, and we took them.  It got us home 3.5 hours earlier than we had planned – which was fantastic.  We got home, we got the dogs, we did our laundry, we took a nap, as usual, it is great to leave, but always nice to return home.