Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Boys from Brazil

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of its features is that each seemingly unconnected post has a gossamer thread linking each subject.

This year has been a busy year for travel and todays blog finds me in Brazil - Rio to be exact.

The photograph below shows Ponta de Arpoador - or Harpooner Point, in the background.
This is the piece of land jutting out into the sea, where the original Brazilian indians and Portuguese settlers used to harpoon whales who came too close to shore.

Beyond and hidden by the point, is the famous Ipanema Beach.

The next photograph (below) shows Copacabana Beach. Just above the line of luxury hotels on the beach is one of the many Favela's in Rio. These are basically, slum housing. Many these days are ruled by drug lords and are no-go areas for ordinary folk. Tourist companies make deals with the rulers of these mini-kingdoms and take in small buses of tourists, to see what life is like in the favela.

The BOPE or special police are high trained in urban warfare. I hear that there are plans to clear the favela's before the world cup comes to Brazil in 2014.

I saw one of these BOPE patrols next to us at traffic lights. They were driving a matt black 4x4 which reminded me of something out of the "Mad Max" movie.

The occupants were dressed in SWAT gear, wearing body armour and the muzzle of an automatic weapon was resting outwardly through the open front passenger window, with the barrel in the crook of the driving mirror.

Late at night, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish between the sound of gunfire in the favela or the bangs of firecrackers, which denote the latest drugs delivery.

The photo below shows some of the guns on Copacabana Fort, which was built by the German arms company, Krupp, for the Brazilian Army in 1914.

The guns have mainly been fired to suppress or support internal uprisings.
In 1922, the fort was controlled by army rebels and fired at their own battleship, which returned fire and with 2 direct hits, forced the rebels to surrender. The largest guns have a range of some 14 miles.

Copacabana Beach is a beautiful beach of some 4Km in length. The sand is clean and fine. I was there in the southern hemisphere winter - the daytime temperature was about 28 Degrees C.
I'd hate to think how hot it gets in summer !!
This advertisement hoarding hosts a secret:
In the edge of the hoarding are green buttons. If you press them, a cool, hydrating water mist is emitted, which you can bathe in, to rejuvenate you after time spent in the hot sun.
At a distance, it seems quite weird to watch people standing, waving their hands around themselves as they bathe in the invisible mist.
On the left of the picture, you can just see the famous Pao de Acucar, or Sugar Loaf mountain.

One of the strange things about Rio, is the way that the ultra poor and super wealthy, mix.
Copacabana is not a particularly safe place, especially at night.
Walking the beach in daytime, will see you stopped by beach vendors trying to sell you drinks, t- shirts and so on.
Locals build sand sculptures and every photograph you take, will cost you.
It is recommended that you wear cheap beach wear and don't show watches or cameras.
I was advised to carry about 10 Brazilian Real (about £3). They said "if you get mugged, just give them the ten - don't refuse or give them nothing, as if you are unlucky, they will stab or shoot you without remorse".
Mugging seems to be readily accepted by the Brazilians as a kind of poor tax.

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