24th January – Rio
What a lovely place.
We disembarked about half ten. It wasn’t easy. The quayside is unusable. It is dangerously uneven, with potholes, tram rails and so on. In addition, because it is so dangerous, and we were so far from the terminal (with the MSC Lirica and a Costa ship moored between us and there- P&O are clearly not the only cruise line that cuts corners on the parking spaces), there was a shuttle bus service to get us the half mile or so to the terminal. But there wasn’t much space. So you had the added risk of shuttle buses going in both directions, and, Heaven help us, doing three point turns between our two gangplanks. What a dangerous farce.
Once we got to the terminal, we tried to negotiate with the accredited taxi confederation, who offered us an excellent price, as long as we were prepared to wait for an hour. Which, oddly, we were not. So we kept walking. We walked about a half a mile to get out of the terminal and across to where the (not accredited but still officially licensed) taxis were, because the road between the terminal and the town has been completely dug up, ready to be replaced in time for the Olympics. Or not in time, as the case may be. This town needs a LOT of work between now and then.
The taxi we eventually found took us the nine miles down to Copacabana beach. We could not go into town, because this is a Catholic country on a Sunday, so it was shut. All of it. Every last bit. Museums, galleries, shops, the lot. We drove through it. In nine miles, I saw two corner shop cafes open. It’s like the City of London on a Sunday – shuttered and deserted.
So we aimed for the Copacabana Palace Hotel. Well, it was marked on the map, so we figured it would be pretty posh. And it was. We sat by the pool and Skyped home, using the free wifi (at last!). It was nice to see people again, although the signal wasn’t always superb, and the screen did not cope well with the bright (hazy) sunshine, even though we were sat in the shade.
After Skyping everyone we could get hold of (and using up so much battery, I didn’t have enough left to upload any photos), we went indoors (into the air con) for lunch, which, on a Sunday is a massive buffet, and sat overlooking Copacabana Beach while we ate. Our waiter used to live in Earls Court, so LOVED that we were from London, and took excellent care of us, including showing me the gluten-free options, and also knocking about a third off the final bill (which still came to about 90 quid – I told you this hotel was posh).
We then wrote some postcards, and gave them in at Reception for posting, before heading across to the beach. Got to have a walk on the beach, after having come all this way!
Then we took a cab to a shopping centre I had spotted that WAS open, where mum bought a couple of polo shirts, and I found an amazing view of Sugar Loaf Mountain from the food court terrace on the top (eighth) floor. We met a lovely man called Gerald, who is basically just travelling around the world. At home, he worked in social care, but having rented out his flat in London, he is basically just living off the rent and bumming his way around the planet, enjoying himself as much as possible. Good for him. We chatted to him for a while, until it was time to head back to the ship. Mum wanted to be at dinner, to meet our new table mates.
Unfortunately, our taxi driver got lost. First, we got stuck in a traffic jam (if this is what it looks like on a Sunday, I dread to think what it’s like on a weekday – each time the lights changed, we moved forward two car lengths; that was it), and then he missed our turning, and got trapped in a one-way system that took 20 minutes to escape from (remember the roads are also being dug up all over the place). In fact, most streets in Rio seem to be one-way. It’s quite an odd system. Wherever you are aiming for, you essentially have to drive past it, get to the end of wherever and then turn around and come back again. I think this would become very irritating in very short order, if I was here for any length of time. Entertainingly, when he realised he’d gone wrong, our taxi driver decided not to stop the meter and, when I finally got us to where we needed to be, he tried to charge us for the full trip. Ha bloody ha. We paid him the amount on the meter at the moment I shouted “There’s the ship” – just before we sailed past it in the wrong direction – and walked away. He didn’t come after us. He knew he had been vastly pushing his luck. And anyway, he was paid in US dollars, so he did okay out of the deal.
At dinner, we met Chris, Fran and Abigail, our new tablemates. Nicky and Peter did not make it back in time (neither did we, come to that! We were an hour late in total!). Chris is a retired train driver, and Fran(çoise) works at the Royal Mail – she sounds fairly senior, although they bickered about what her job title really means! Abigail is an apprentice engineer. And they live near me in Bedford! They seem quite lovely, although they, too, are only with us for two weeks. Landed on our feet again, hopefully. I do miss Sheila though. I hope she got off the ship okay, and is having a nice time in Rio tonight. I have no idea how she would have managed that trek to the taxis/coaches with her walker, and I did worry about her all day. I’m sure she’ll be fine, though – they are very nice to little old ladies with disabilities here (no exceptions like that obnoxious man in Salvador).
The low that has been sitting over Rio is called the South Atlantic Convergence Zone, according to Tomasz Shafenaker. So now you know. And we brought the good weather with us. People kept commenting that it was the first time in three/five (depending on who you ask) weeks that it didn’t rain all day. We had glorious sunshine all day and it was 29 in the shade. Perfect. And not nearly as humid as I was dreading it would be. Nowhere near what we had in Salvador. It’s nice to be on a ship that is a harbinger of something pleasant for a change (can you be a harbinger of something pleasant?).
The main negatives were the roadworks and the graffiti. We have never seen so much graffiti in one place. Every surface was covered. And most of it was tags, not art, sadly, so absolutely no positives to be found. Just ugly. I don’t think, even if they start tomorrow (Monday) that they could clean it all off in time for the Olympics.
But, all in all, taxi issues aside (and we’ve come to expect them, wherever we go), we had a fab day in Rio. But, remember, it is a major city – like London. What it would be like on a weekday, with commuters and traffic and roadworks and noise, I dread to think, but if you have the chance to come here on a Sunday, when the streets are relatively quiet, it’s a very pleasant place indeed.
Here endeth the first fortnight/cruise/sector.