Entry #10

Rio: the Good, the Bad and the Funny

Rio has been the most exciting part of the trip so far. Not because of the sights I've seen, but because of things that have happened but don't have pictures of.

First the good news...actually its wonderful. I'm an uncle times 2! Watch out world, here comes another McGrail. My brother, Mark and his wife, Keri, had a bouncing baby boy, Aidan Patrick McGrail. My father wrote that he was 13 pounds 8 ounces...to which I replied "That is a turkey, not a baby!” He is actually a normal weight of 8 pounds 13 ounces. And some of you may have noticed Aidan has my middle name, which I hope for his sake, is a blessing and not a curse. Please World don't hold it against him.

Now for the bad...Mom you'll have to stop reading here...no really.

The second time in Sean's life someone has attempted to mug Sean.

The first time someone tried to mug me was at age 13, while hanging out in the Worcester galleria mall with my cousin John. Some kid wanted the Aerosmith Pin on my jean jacket…I can’t recall the verbal exchange, but I remember being punched in the head...but I never lost the pin:) This story has a similar outcome.

Upon arriving in Rio, I was struck with how much Rio is like New York, except that it has 31 miles of beachfront and a few mountains in the middle of the city. Oh, and monkeys instead of big rats.

An example of some fine Brazilian ingenuity for you...
The guide books failed me this time—I read that I could find a hotel for $35, but after checking with a few hotels $70 seemed to be the going rate, but Amanda, the girl from the UK who I had met in Santiago, mentioned a "backpackers hotel" that was cheap (only $7.) It was late at night so when I finally arrived to the cheap hotel I just took it. Now it wasn't really a hotel, as the walls of the room were cubicle walls, allowing you to stand on your bed and look right into your neighbors "room." In theory if you liked what you saw you could easily climb over, steal their stuff and climb back to your own room and no one would know. I decided I would find a new place in the morning, and slept with my wallet, passport and credit cards in my pillowcase.

Lights out at 12:30.

At 5 AM, I am awoken by the pungent smell of gasoline. I hear some noise in the room next to me, so I investigate. I observed what I assume is the "cleaning staff" of the "hotel" wiping down the mattress with gasoline. Up until that moment I had never considered gas to be a disinfectant, antifungal agent, or an antibiotic, but I guess if there were bed bugs or body lice in the mattress the high-octane gas would surely kill any and all living things on or in the mattress. This seemed like a stroke of ingenuity. However, I'm not so sure the hotel “management” considered the chance of a “guest” breaking the "no smoking in bed" rule.

After seeing this safety hazard, I immediately checked out at 5:30 AM.

Oceanfront Disappointment
After checking out, I was excited to hit the beach and see the sexy Rio exported to the US in films and music. I b-lined it for Copacabana to see beautiful busty women in thongs. Instead I was met with an ugly reality ... there were throngs (not thongs) of old people walking up and down the beach. It was quite a disappointing moment, almost as bad as finding out that the blue-footed boobie was just a sea bird, or that there was only cacca at Lake Titicaca.

Not exactly the "Sexy Rio" had in mind.

I did check into a normal hotel ($65) and began sightseeing. My first stop was Corcovado (a large mountain with a statue of Christ on top)...but my pronunciation of Corcovado, is more like "Kournikova" so every time I asked for directions men would smile and say "I wish I knew where she was" (Grandpa: Anna Kournikova is an attractive young female tennis player that is famous for her looks more than her tennis game).

Pictures really don't do this place justice--the view of the city is incredible. It is so high it looks like you're looking at the city from a plane.

After Cordacova, I made my way to the Santa Teresa area where I boarded the trolley train of death! It isn't called that in the tourist information guides but it should be! It is a nice little trolley train much like one you would find in San Fran., but after it is full your expected to hang onto the side...which would be fine if it was a normal train and you would only fall 3 feet to the ground if you slipped. But this trolley goes over an aqueduct that is 200 feet above the city streets. If you fell, not only would you hit the pavement after a 200 foot fall, but you would also be run over by numerous cars and trucks. But the fun and danger don't stop there... oh no ...strategically placed light poles a foot away from the tracks mean that as you are hanging on to the train, every once in a wile you really have to hug the train to avoid being taken out by a pole.

The Santa Teresa "Train of Death"

So on this ride of death I see a young woman trying find a strategic spot to make her way onto the train. I extend my hand and help her on board (see my momma didn't raise a neanderthal). We start talking. Her name is Anna; she is from Spain and is spending 3 months in Brazil, with one month in Rio. She becomes my tour guide for the next two days, with a first stop at the local watering hole to have the national drink of Brazil, a caipirinha (tastes something like a Mojito.) She also introduces me to a fried cheese dish which was great...but then again how can you go wrong with fried cheese?

She invites me back to the swanky home where she is staying for the month. The guy that lives there, Ricky, is from Chicago but has lived in Rio for 9 years. The place was beautiful and had a great view from the top of Santa Teresa hill overlooking the city. We hung out for hours on the deck talking Brazilian and American politics. The highlight of the night was when Brazil, the soccer team, scored a goal during a soccer game. It was immediately followed by the city erupting into cheers. Keep in mind that it is hot in Rio so everyone has their windows and doors open. When the soccer team scores, the screams of joy create a cacophony that fill the city as though we were in one big stadium with 10 million people, all cheering the home team with great enthusiasm. Imagine Boston last year during the Red Sox/Yankees playoffs, but with everyone having thier windows and doors open.

The next day I had plans to meet Anna at Garota de Ipanema, where Jao Gilberto and Stan Getz wrote the song about the beautiful girl from Ipanema, but first I went to Sugarloaf.

I had some time to kill before meeting Anna, so I decided to walk along Ipanema beach. Ipanema beach is a 5 mile stretch of sand and is considered one of the better/safer beaches to go to. Copacabana has a much seedier reputation people are often robbed on the beach, so I thought I was safe.

As I'm strolling along the waterfront, there are loads of people around. I walk and walk, then get to a point where I'm a 100 yards away from the crowd and the busy street on the shoreline, when an 18 year old kid comes running up to me speaking Portuguese. Now to give you a little background, when you stroll the beach in Rio you are constantly asked to buy T shirts, rent a beach chair, buy sunglasses, etc., stuff you would need for a day at the beach. So when the kid approached me I thought he was just trying to sell me something. I looked at him and said the only thing I knew in Portuguese "No, obrigaddo," which means "No thank you." We do a dance of sorts where he would get in my path, say something in Portuguese and I would side step him while I said."No, Obigaddo."

He became increasingly frustrated, stopped me in my tracks and stood in front of me continuing to speak in Portuguese. Giving it my best shot, I say, "Yo no hablo Portuguese,"(which is SPANISH for "I don't speak Portuguese."...I don't know what I was thinking speaking Spanish to a Portuguese guy.)

Then he puts his hands in my pockets. I thought there must surely be a mistake...a miscommunication...maybe I said "Obrigado" wrong or with an Boston accent and he thought I meant for him to stick his hands in my pockets. Or did he think I WA NTED to buy what he was selling? Then he motions to a thing under his shirt, which to me looked very much like a carrying case for sunglasses. Naturally, I thought, "Maybe he lost his glasses and thinks I found them?" or "Perhaps he's like Mr. Magoo and without his coke-bottle glasses, and is confusing me for someone he knows." All the while I continue yelling, "No hablo Portuguese!!" (yeah I know I'm a genius)

Finally, he grabs my camera bag strap, yanks on it and punches me in the head. Slowly, the situation reveals itself to me. My thought process: "I'm a little stupid when it comes to cultural differences, but punching a customer in the head is surely not a good sales technique anywhere in the world. I think he might be trying to rob me!! But how could that be?...Let's not be rash to judge someone else's culture...He’s still yelling and yanking on my camera bag, which would adequately fit the criteria of thievery, but it’s broad daylight on the NICE beach in Rio, but then again, people have said Rio is dangerous…"

Luckily, I have a thick Irish melon for a skull so I barely took notice of his fist colliding with my forehead. In fact, the punch didn’t even come close to the beating my brother gave me when I was 13, so it wasn't very traumatic. I'd like to take this moment to thank my brother for beating the piss out of me when I was younger to prepare me for this particular moment in my life :)

So when I FINALLY realized that this kid is actually trying to mug ME (ME...your really trying to mug ME...I'm a nice guy) I got angry. My fist clenched and I unloaded on his face (in reality it was an open shot because both his hands were on my camera strap...I could somewhat set up my punch.) I knocked him to the ground and waited for his response. I think he was surprised that I was fighting back, so he turned and ran away.

I didn't lose anything and only have a slight bruise on my forehead. All in all I'm fine...don't worry Mom...but your not supposed to be reading this anyway.

After the exciting exchange, I met Anna and we went to Porcao, a Brazilian all-you-can-eat Churascarias (BBQ.) It was fabulous. We ate for 2 hours, rolled out and hit a Samba club.

Now at the Samba Club I was truly afraid the way I should have been on the beach. There were legs, lips, hips, and arms flying all around the place! People were dancing like epileptics on high seas in a small boat, desperately trying to find their sea legs. And of course having a ton of fun.

To give you an idea of what Samba sounds like, it’s like the opening theme song to the Muppet Show but without the singing of the Muppets. It was a lot of fun and the band was really good.

I aslo met up with Andrea, a friend of a friend from Boston, who is a manager at the Marriott in Rio. She took me to a touristy Brazillian show(not her fault) that was made for old people on tour buses. The old people were more entertaining than the performers on stage.

I also bought two items in Rio, Jeans and a button down shirt. I realized I looked like Panama Jack with all my high-tech clothes and I needed something for the cities I would visit. My bag now is about 25 Lbs.

Tomorrow I leave for Iguassu Falls...I should have some more photos posted in a few days.


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