Today was moving day again and so we were up early to have breakfast and get checked out of our room to meet our guide for the last time. Today we were to be taken to the airport, this time on the Brazilian side of the Falls. The airport was small and rather busy. We had not been able to check in online and so we had to go to the normal desks. Here we discovered that it was a Ryanair type of flight and we had to pay for any baggage. I was not impressed but had no choice. Our luggage was labelled ‘priority’ for some reason. Not that this ever makes any difference, in fact in the last 2 years even BA came clean and said they had recently had the ability at some airports to get the upper classes luggage off first and the rest was just a marketing ploy to make people think they were getting better treatment.
We went through security very quickly and sat at the gate in what I would describe as a holding area from the 70’s. There wasn’t even any wifi facilities.
For some reason when queuing to get onto the plane we got pulled out and asked to form another line and then were boarded first much to Karens delight. The plane was old but comfortable for the short flight. I didn’t tell Karen that this airline did not have 100% safety record but put that thought out of my mind and read my kindle instead.
Arriving into Rio was straightforward and despite having priority labels on both bags, Karen’s arrived very quickly and mine very slowly. From here our day deteriorated but only with 1st World problems.
The private transfer to the Hotel I had arranged was not there waiting as promised despite receiving an email from them the day before saying they would be tracking our flight. After wandering around to make sure we were in the right place I called their ‘emergency number’ only to be put on hold. Whilst waiting for 10 minutes suddenly I saw a young lady slowly walk into the arrivals hall holding a card with our names on it. Her English was poor and we got no apology. Still the car was new and clean. Then we got stuck in traffic trying to get out of the airport for 20 minutes.
Our drive to our Hotel did nothing to eleveiate Karen’s basic fears and security worries about being in Rio. Our driver said we were lucky to visit her beautiful City. Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholden. We saw a grey shabby city with buildings half finished or falling down. Graffiti everywhere. Roadworks all over the place. Policemen driving cars with machine guns pointing out the windows. People sleeping rough in the streets and begging in the traffic. I kept hoping we would eventually get to the nicer parts of the City but it just didn’t happen. When we pulled up outside of our ‘4 star’ Hotel I though Karen was about to burst into tears. It looked grim and had been squeezed into a gap on what looked like a run down street. If she had been able to then I think Karen would have gone straight back to the airport and flown home. The photos we had seen of the Hotel must have been very creatively taken.
Still once inside the lobby was not too bad and the staff seemed friendly. One of our pet hates is when Hotels try to be helpful with our luggage. We prefer to sort it ourselves and are perfectly capable of getting it to/from our rooms. Despite our protestations the ageing bellboy (mid 70’s?) insisted on taking it for us. Our room was large and clean but also very dated and dull. When the doors closed, Karen shed some tears saying she hated the place already. I must admit I was not feeling Rio at the moment either but tried to lift her spirits. Things could only get better - couldn’t they?
The Hotel was only 2 blocks from the Copacabana beach so we thought we would walk to take a look. It was now about 33c and even in that short distance the heat got to Karen which did nothing to lighten her mood.
Now I had this mental picture of the Copacabana but what greeted us failed to really meet the expectations. It is undeniably a lovely wide bay (Think Gorleston, but bigger). The sand looked clean enough. At the top end of the bay where we were, the sea seemed a long way away. The beach was crammed full of people. There was a promenade that went all around the bay, was broken in parts and had lots of trip hazards. What surprised us was the lack of any bars/restaurants running along the road which edged the 4km bay. It was a very busy road and there were some hotels that were open, some abandoned and other closed/shut buildings. There were some dodgy looking bars on the edge of the beach. We found one that looked cleanish and stopped to have a couple of cold drinks. Literally the 20 minutes we were sitting there we were hassled every couple of minutes by hawkers selling their wares. They were right in our faces and it was not comfortable or pleasant. It sounds funny now but we even had a 6 piece band surrounding us and blasting us with music at one point. We could see waves of these people hassling everyone along the bay. So we paid for the drinks and decided to walk back to the Hotel. Karen commented that she would rather be at Winterton.
I had read that in the opposite direction from the Hotel that there was a shopping mall a few minutes away and best of all it had a Starbucks for Karen so I persuaded her that we should head there. What I hadn’t appreciated on the map that between the Hotel and the mall was a whopping great rock. We saw there was road tunnel going through it and then we saw there was a raised walkway alongside with lots of people traipsing through it as well. It looked safe enough and so we followed the crowd. The tunnel was quite long and the sound from the traffic was very loud. We made it through it, found the mall and even more importantly found the Starbucks. Whilst Karen fetched the drinks I got onto the wifi and found out that Norwich had drawn 1-1 with WBA.
Karen by now was hungry and we found a sandwich shop where she got herself a Tuna Sandwich. We thought we would then try and find out what restaurants the mall had from the information board and were delighted to find it had an Outback Steakhouse. We were not sure if it was the same chain so headed off to find it and were pleased to find it was. So rather than turn out again later we thought we would eat early. After a short wait we were seated. I had the Outback Special (no salad included) and Karen decided to have a burger as she had just had a sandwich. My steak was good as ever and I ended up eating some of Karen’s burger as she was full. She also ordered a ’Strawberry Rita’ but unlike the USA version it came frozen which did not please her.
We then went back to the Hotel before it was dark as we had read and been advised not to leave the Hotel in Rio after dark. After a shower we thought we would explore the Hotel more. The in house restaurant was strangely totally empty so we headed to the roof top bar and pool. There were just about half a dozen people there. We looked down to street level and in the dark it looked deserted. Where was everyone? Where do people eat after dark and what do they do? This put even more jitters into Karen for the night.
Our conclusion was that we are probably getting too old and comfortable for too much adventure or danger, in particular to third world type countries. We had always dismissed travelling to places like Vietnam & China because of this and they never appealed or interested us. We didn’t really enjoy Thailand for the same reason but had other reasons to go there. We didn’t think that Brazil would be so bad.
We think some of the problem for us is the lack of English spoken and our inability to converse at all here in Portuguese. We thought English would be a second language and understood but it's clearly not. It was fine when we had the guide with us at the falls, but I wouldn’t want a holiday where I had to have a stranger with us all the time. It was ok for about a day, but we like to do our own thing in our own time. This coupled with the real danger of being out in Rio at night and the constant but reduced threat during the day shows this is not the type of place for us. We had been told several times to ‘dress down’ (not difficult for me), without watches, only carry limited cash in a zipped pocket, no bags and certainly no cameras on show at all times. Even I have been wary at times walking whereas Karen has been downright scared. There are still new places we want to explore in the world and indeed have booked. We think we will be fine in Japan this year but are reassessing how we want to visit Russia next year. Other places have now been ruled out completely.
With that we went back to our room where Karen said she felt grateful to have survived the day! This is not how holidays should be and hopefully when we see more of Rio tomorrow she will feel happier and not talk about it having no redeeming features.