Dancing 'cross the sand
I am standing beneath the Cristo Redentor statue, atop the Corcovado mountain in Rio, and I struggle for words to describe the atmosphere. It is as if the giant monument itself is emanating a sense of calmness and serenity, radiating the faith that the residents of Rio place in it, as it stands vigil from on high, casting its benevolent shadow across the rich and favela poor alike. I am not a religous man, but this is something deeply moving, and not just because you get to take your photo in a Jesus Christ pose. Below me I can see Rio´s astonishing geography laid out before me, like a geography project designed by an over-excited schoolboy. The brilliant white sand of Copacobana and Ipanema´s beaches; the rounded edges of Sugar Loaf mountain, looking as if it has been lifted out of Yoshi´s Island; the high rises competing for sun, the favelas in a gravity defying cling to the side of any available space. It is impossible to take in, or to fathom how man could create such a place of contradiction. I have never seen anything like it.
He can see your house from here
There is a man with one leg standing on the side of the road with his hand outstretched, silently imploring the passing motorists to take pity and hand him a few Reals. I say passing motorists, this is Sao Paulo, where the traffic does not so much flow as coagulate in the wide Avenidas and Ruas that criss-cross this massive city. He is perhaps the dirtiest and most downbeat figure I have ever seen in my life. His wears a ´white´ rag, thinly disguised as a shirt, and red trousers that have seen many better days, and i dare say a few worse ones. The taxi that we are sitting in barges its way through a tiny opening in the traffic (lanes are purely discretionary) and the man is gone.
And now I am floating in the waters off Lopez Mendes beach on Ihla Grande, a large island located some three hours south of Rio. It has taken two hours to walk to it, through a rutted track with small monkeys chattering in the trees overhead. Hot and sweaty, I have dived into the rolling surf and paddled out some 30 metres from shore, and I turn to take in the landscape. A mountainous backdrop, covered in palm trees, with the omnipresent black vultures wheeling around on the thermals. And the girls are all in impossibly small bikins. Such small bikins for such well rounded posteriors. This is a good moment.
It´s funny how things turn out, how often the most momentous events and experiences should begin from a twist of fate or an arbitrary circumstance. You see, this trip, this self-styled last great journey before I settle down to a phase of home ownership and pension funding, was never meant to start - nor indeed pass through at any stage - the country of Brazil. It was too much representative of ´the other´in my limited imagination. Too much samba swagger and hot house hubbub for my teutonic tastes. No, Buenos Aires was where it was at for me, and then a journey the length of the Andean spine down to Patagonia - sort of like Che Guevara, but with rather less historical import.
But the scheduling of flights and the proximity of an important wedding meant it was Rio or a 200 pound price hike for the following day. So Rio it was, and thus began a journey through quite the most magnificent country that I have yet visited. And the humbling thing is that even travelling from Rio to the border of Uruguary - a culmination of some 40 hours on a coach - merely represents a fraction of this gigantic land. I cannot sum it up in a way that will provide meaning or understanding. All I can do is provide fragments and memories, snapshots from my heart. Like the scenes of insanity outside Sao Paulo football stadium as hundreds of fans rushed towards the pathetic number of ticket windows, a human tide that threatened to sweep Jacqui from her feet. The bearded artist in the back streets of Parati, scratching at his oil canvas, and communicating to us in English by saying the names of all the people he knew - Lennon, Marley, David Beckham. The sun setting over the sea in Barra de Lagoa, near to Florianapolis, and the look of triumph and union on Jax´s face after she had roofed a brilliant goal from my pass in an England v Brazil and Australia match on the beach. The proudest moment in our relationship.
And then there are the people, too many to mention, but some too special to forget. Amid the usual Australian, Irish and German suspects there is evidence that the human spirit is alive and sometimes well. Most notable is the former US marine who walked out of the army, complete with bullet proof vest, and two years later has still not found what he is looking for, though he has strained his eyes looking through many beer cans in search of it. So many stories. PT Anderson could never do it justice.
We move on to our last stop in Brazil, and it is somehow fitting that this would be in Porto Alegre, home to fellow rodent Mateus, aka Wade Garrett. He opened his home to us and enveloped us in his circle of friends (including long time lurker Gustavo - CC Rider - who has now been encouraged to join the forum). We ate the finest steak on earth and played games in an evocation of the true Original Spirit. Good people sharing their passion and beating the crap out of each other on Sensi Soccer (Amiga version of course). Over the course of three days with Mateus we talked at length about Brazil, and he set a context for some of these snapshots and helped us to understand a little better this deeply complex country.
And this is when it starts to kick in. This feeling that an internet friendship, forged over little more than a shared interest in videogames, can bring people together from halfway across the planet and turn a name on a screen into a genuine and real friendship. Perhaps I should leave it to Mateus to explain further:
Mateus and Andy. Yesterday.
First of all, I think that writing anything was never so hard, because Andy and Jacqui just departed to Punta Del Leste - Uruguay and I have some tears in my eyes from the moment they took the bus. I have to say that Andy and Jacqui are the rare kind of person that makes you grow so much as a human being just for being to the side of them, and it is really strange to feel like this as I spend just three days with those really special people! Andy even gave to me his rare shirt with the pictures of the guys from the Brazilian team of 1982 World Cup (and that was another time I almost cried). I will miss they very, very much, and there are no words that can describe how much I admire both Jaqcui and Andy. I really hope they have the best travel around South America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and many other places, and I make a wish that we can meet again, maybe this time in England.
There's very little I could add to that, and with tears in our own eyes we are gone, as he waves us on our way to Uruguay and beyond. I guess that is the blessed curse of travelling. You never stop even when you feel at home.
from way back in August 2008)