I have already overspent my time in Rio. According to the original plan, I was supposed to be out and about by now, doing other things in Brazil. But I’m still here. Guilt-stricken, I decided over the weekend to make an overnight trip; but it didn’t quite work out.
I wanted to go t othe historic seaside town of Parati. On the day I was supposed to be catching my bus, I got a message from one of the people on Couchsurfing (I had joined their Rio group) that he was free, and decided to catch up. He turned out to be a funny, easygoing guy and on hearing my less-than-ideal impressions of Santa Teresa, he wanted to take me back, insisting it was one of Rio’s most beautiful places. We spent the afternoon riding the little tram through the cobblestone streets (while local teenagers held on to the rails and hung out horizontally, parallel with the ground, breakdancing on parked cars!) He took me to lunch and we ate chicken cooked in blood with rice, beans and manioc (in huuuge Brazilian portions) and showed me the golden domes of Santa Teresa’s Russian church and an old ruined house on the hill that is now a semi-restored cultural centre, with THE most stunning 360 degree view of the city, the mountains, the favelas, the city towers, planes taking off from the airport, ships on the bay, and the museum on the cliff at far-off Niteroi. We walked down the hill, passing again over the Selaron stairs, and this time the artist himself was there working, so we chatted a little. He gave me (well, I paid 2 reals for it) a postcard with his email address and an earnest plea to send a tile, so that he could have one from every country in the world to put in his staircase.
By the time I said goodbye to my new couchsurfing buddy it was later than I had thought, and when I got to the bus station the sun was already setting. I just missed the bus to Parati so, making a spontaneous executive decision and being “free” and “wild”, I bought a ticket for somewhere else instead; Ilha Grande. I could read about it on the bus.
Ilha Grande is a lush, mountainous island covered in rainforests and waterfalls, and ringed with beautiful beaches. Its four hours from Rio. The island was was preserved in its natural state because its various uses; including a prison for political prisoners, and a leper colony (both now closed). Sounded great.
But you couldn’t get there directly. You had to stop in the town of Angra dos Reis, and wait for the ferry. Which only came once a day. Which I had missed. No worries, I thought, as Rio’s slummy outer suburbs receded outside my window in the equally receding daylight. I’ll stay the night. But none of my three guidebooks had any places to stay in Angras dos Reis.
I was starting to get worried. I was arriving in the dark, in Brazil, with no idea where (if???) there was somewhere I could stay. I was going to be stranded in this town for 12 hours.
Well, if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll sleep in the bus station, I thought. Its a sleepy country town.
When Angra dos Reis appeared four hours later in the gloomy night, it was surprisingly big and city-like, ringed with favelas, and bus stops where homeless people were already sleeping. The centre of town was a huge shipyard where oilrigs were constructed, and there was a nuclear power plant.
But no youth hostel.
When the bus stopped, at 10.30pm, I rushed out in a panic to find somewhere to sleep. I followed the huge sign atop the “Hotel Acropolis” nearby, only to be quoted an outrageous rate of 220 reals a night. I would hesitate to pay that for a night in the real Acropolis, let alone a lino-floored flophouse next to the bus station in the light industrial zone of an obscure South American provincial town.
Luckily there was a sweet British couple waiting for the bus, having come off the ferry. I explained my predicament and asked if I could see their guidebook. They looked at each other, nodded slightly and said “Yes, sure….but…why do you want to stay in Angra dos Reis?” To get to the island, I explained. The couple exchanged another meaningful glance, and the woman said; “We have just come from there, and to be honest…don’t go. It was absolutely full” (and here she had a look of genuine horror on her face) “with French people!” Her eyes bugged out. “French people, having midlife crises.” The boyfriend or husband continued; about the generic tourism development, the nature treks that were lots of trek for very little nature, the boredom of it. They showed me insect bites and demonstrated chest colds they had picked up on the island.
So that was that, then. There was one last bus, heading straight back to Rio. I got on it.
The next day, to my deep satisfaction, it rained for the first time since I have been in Brazil. I had escaped the wet clutches of the holiday isle from hell :)