THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM (WE HOPE)

I could be sitting in a cosy beach house on the West Coast. It’s raining, not a patch of blue visible in the sky. Snow covered peaks of a mountain range break through mist. Everywhere is dripping wet, wet, wet.
But I’m not on the west coast, New Zealand. This picture window looks out over the harbor in Ushuaia,Patagonia, Argentina. Inside it’s toasty warm and the smell of freshly ground coffee drifts through the reception area where I’m tapping away on my computer along with a dozen or so others also waiting for transport to the dock at 3p.m. Oh yes, and Taylor Swift’s softly singing in the background. She’s dropped her country and western personae and is singing a soft interpretation of Oasis hits, accompanied by gentle orchestral backing. It’s almost lyrical! Funny thing about Taylor Swift is she’s like Elvis; singing alive and well in every nook and cranny I travel. She was alive and well in India but there belting out current pop tunes. Ditto at The Great Spice in Papamoa, Bay of Plenty. Rio de Janerio Brazil she was belting out again, in the JW Marriot restaurant a little softer. Her songs regularly appear in bathrooms around the world!
We landed at a small and very functional airport late yesterday afternoon. 3 hours later we finally arrived at the hotel. It was still daylight. The hotel, as the airport, has a Scandinavian feel to it; lots of exposed wood, steeply pitched iron roofs, clean design without the clutter of other tourist centres. It’s very restful here as I write this and we’re now just minutes away from being taken down to board our Antarctic cruise. Looking around everyone looks pretty dozy but I suspect all this will change once we hit the outdoors, rain, wind and cold.

RIO DE JANERIO STRIKE 2

11 months ago we came here spending several days sightseeing, lying in the sun, getting robbed and becoming au fait with Brazilian culture. This time we laid off the sightseeing, didn’t get robbed but did a lot of beach-work (lying in the sun). When we booked our trip to Antarctica we found there was no easy way to pick up the cruise in Ushuaia (Terra del Fuego). Harry was the one to suggest a stopover in Rio to catch our breath and do some resting before commencing the great adventure further south. And what a good idea it was!
We stayed at the JW Marriott on Copacabana and slept like babies. After breakfast next day we were still a bit jet-lagged but nothing untoward so took ourselves off to the beach for a bit of a laze in the sun. Oh what a beach! By the time we got there it was a bit cheek-by-jowl but the Marriot cabana set us up with loungers and umbrella. Here shops come to you. The waves were big. At home this would mean a thousand people frolicking in the surf; body surfing, board surfing, or boogie boarding.
On our spot of Copacabana it meant no-one at that time of the morning was in the water. The locals were yet to arrive and so far it was just us tourists coyly baring white limbs lying cheek-by-jowl. However, the shopping had begun. Within minutes the woman had arrived with her beach umbrella fringed with skimpy bikini tops. Soon to follow were sellers of hammocks and rope tree swings. Sarongs and cover-ups weighed down on shoulders of vendors displaying them on lashed poles. This merry-go-round of beachware was just the warm-up. Breakfast had been a little over an hour ago, but the cashew nut sellers; agua, coconut water, pepsi, and I kid you not, Vodka drinks were all on offer by 10a.m. Nut roasters, ice-cream sellers, sun hat vendors and so it went on. About 11:00 and the locals began to arrive. Saturday might be a day off for office workers but beach business throbs! Groups of friends arrive with deck chairs and umbrellas. Extended families with nice quiet children have brought their paddling pools for those under 3 and volley balls for those over. It’s a wide beach and every few hundred yards is a volley-ball court set up for the public to use. At night these convert into football fields under floodlight.
Everyone shops. Last year’s bikini is shed under cover of a sarong and replaced with the newly acquired one a la Brazil. Silly tourists spending all that money on expensive beachwear in Brazilian boutiques at home when it’s all here on sale at Copacabana at probably less than half the price. Apart from the Portuguese caterwauling of beach vendors beach-life here in Brazil is laid-back and a place for people to come and chill. The kids just muck around doing kid’s stuff without the drama of over-protective mothers calling and worse screaming after their young ‘don’t go too close to the water…’ or a panicked “Johnny/Jenny/Peter/Rose; come back!” Adults are all smiling, laughing, nodding to one another and we are a happy lot. Soon a local bossa nova combo saunters by, their music soft and gentle without the frenetic activity of electric guitars and amplifiers. We’re all having a ball.
I’ve spent the last two years initiating Harry into beach-life, but with little success. This latest spot of beach-work however he lay under a beach umbrella reading for 4 hours and enjoying the activity unfolding around us. It’s quite a vibe!
Today we left Rio to fly on to Iguassu Falls, a 2 hour flight to inland Brazil. Up until this morning we hadn’t made any conscious effort to participate in the local culture. Taking an internal flight however thrust us into the fore of it all. The airport was a disorganized (even to the locals) mess without system. In fact it made India look efficient. Still it didn’t come anywhere near as bad as we’d experienced in Istanbul so it wasn’t that painful.
We’re cheek-by-jowl again in an A-320 flying to Iguassu. Every seat is full. Everyone is eating/reading/computing but everyone’s happy. Hello Brazil!