On my Brazilian trip I’d previously visited Sao Paulo, and I’d found that the city’s taxi drivers were relatively honest. Considering that they live in a city with a healthy undercurrent of street violence they probably need to be. They are sensible enough to know that if they take liberties with a fare there’s a good chance they’ll get a gun-barrel up the nostril.
Rio, on the other hand, is a city full of nothing more threatening than gullible tourists. Therefore the priority of Rio’s taxi drivers is not self-preservation but fleecing their passengers of as much money as possible. The bandit that robbed me on the ride from the airport to my hotel proved to be one such felon.
As far I was aware, the hotel that I was staying at was both on a main road and quite well known in Rio. The taxi driver gave me a quizzical look that suggested that the hotel may not be in Rio, and maybe not even on the same continent. However, before I could find a more knowledgeable driver, he’d set off at the speed of light on a circuitous tour of the known universe.
So it was that I found myself cruising around all the outer, and most undesirable, suburbs of Rio. Unsurprisingly these weren’t the types of places you’d want to get out with your luggage and start looking for another taxi. After an hour or so we actually made it to my hotel. As tip-time was fast approaching the driver experienced a miraculous revelation when he realised that this was the hotel that I’d meant all along. This was rather than the other one he’d been looking for on a moon of Jupiter.
The hotel itself was quite prominent, in fact I would go as far to say that it was probably one of the biggest and tallest in Rio. The huge illuminated sign on the roof could easily have been seen from the airport, and maybe from the west coast of Africa. This wasn’t to be my last encounter with one of these scoundrels.
On a more positive note regarding Rio, Copacabana Beach was everything that I’d hoped it was going to be. White sand, palm trees and covered with goalposts for as far as the eye could see. One of my aims in life was to kick a ball around on Copacabana Beach, possibly just like Pele used to do. There were many games in progress and I stood behind one of the goals to watch. As I’d hoped, a stray ball headed my way and the goalie turned around expecting me to gently pass it back to him. Instead I gave the ball an almighty tooth-loosening whack and sent it sailing past his ear, through the goalmouth and almost to the halfway line. He looked at me a little bemused as I cart-wheeled away along the beach screaming, “Goaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal”.
Another footballing must-see in Rio is the mighty Maracana Stadium, for many years the largest football ground in the world. I paid for a guided tour and the view from the presidential box is awe-inspiring. In my opinion it was much better than the view I was going to get from Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue, which is where I had my next run-in with Rio’s fraternity of thieves.
Unlike his airport colleague, this taxi driver spoke perfect English. I’d asked him to take me to the funicular train station at the bottom of the Corcovado Mountain. From there I could take a leisurely train ride up the mountain and then arrive at the summit to see the statue and take in the view. As we got closer his English started to abandon him and he could hardly understand a word of it as we sped past the funicular station.
He also failed to understand any of my English swear-words as we started up the narrow road that actually goes all the way to the top of the mountain. The road is interesting and features dangerously spectacular hairpin bends with sheer drops. These are indeed best viewed from a car when it is going around them on only two wheels. His understanding of English only returned when it was time for the tip. The barrage of abuse he gave me, as I slammed the car door, led me to believe that his understanding of English swear-words had miraculously reappeared as well.
On top of the mountain there is the huge statue of Jesus Christ with arms outstretched, bragging about the size of a fish he once caught. There are also insects the size of dinner plates. Unbeknown to me, whilst I was being traumatised in the taxi from hell, we’d actually travelled over two-thousand feet into the sky and gone through several evolutionary eras of rainforest life. As we were so high up there were many creeping, crawling and flying things with lots of legs, that scientists have yet to find names for. I had many names for them as they crawled on my neck and down inside my collar, but the insects didn’t understand English swear-words either.
Just to make it a perfect day, Rio was swathed in a thick mist and I could see bugger-all from the top of the mountain.