Hello From Rio!

We’re here making the final preparations and catching up with old friends. It’s great to get away from the dreary grey of the London winter, and at last we feel we’re on our way, though the Xingu still seems far away.
Final hiccups in London: the good old BBC kept us waiting until Friday afternoon to tell us that the are NOT going to help us with a satellite phone, leaving us no time to organise one ourselves before we left on Sunday. Thanks guys, that was really helpful! We are trying to see what we can do from here, but it looks like it would be just too expensive to do it, so we may be unable to fulfil our plan of updating the blog from the river as we go. This may change, so do come back and check before we launch at the end of March. We will still be uploading to the BBC and here, but the frequency will be limited to the occasions when we are in reach of an internet connection.

The boat has been built and is on its way from Manaus, via the Madeira River to Porto Velho, the capital of the State of Rondônia, then by road to Cuiaba and Barra do Garças, and on to Canarana, close to our launch point.

“Two Brothers” Morro, Rio de Janeiro

The Two Brothers Morro

Rio has been a roller coaster of successes and failure, good news and bad news, but finally we are in pretty good shape for the next leg, though we are a little restricted by lack of funds and lack of support in some crucial areas.

Registering with the Federal Police was an event, and we managed, untypically, to fall prey to an unscrupulous ‘helper’, recommended by a ‘kind and helpful’ senior police officer, who charged us a small fortune (by  Brazilian standards) to cock up filling out some forms. In the end we confronted the man and got most of our money back, and a very helpful man in the Federal Police corrected all the mistakes.

The whole process filled most of a day, and we spent an extra hour sitting in a taxi because of a political rally; the taxi driver wasn’t sure if it was ‘pro’ or ‘anti’, but he knew it was about President Lula.

The kind people at TAM in Rio have allocated us an extra baggage allowance for the flight to Brasilia, saving us a day on the bus, which would have been the only alternative; Thank You Barbara Chaves for your help.

Rio is such a beautiful city! No matter where you are, you are constantly aware that Man has stamped only a temporary mark on the world. The ever-present ‘morros’, sheer-sided granite mounds of rock which stand proud throughout the city, threading between the buildings like an oversized necklace, remind you how insignificant we are. The best known morro is the Sugar Loaf, and the Christ Statue sits atop the highest, the Corcovado.

The ‘bairros’ of Barra, São Conrado, Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, and Flamengo form a ribbon along the coast, so Cariocas are never more than a few blocks from the sea, which is an ever-present feature of life here.

Cariocas are generous, amusing and great fun. Nothing can beat an evening spent exchanging good conversation over a caipirinha, while a warm breeze lifts the light perspiration from your skin, looking out at the fairytale lights of the city with the dark backdrop of the morros, topped by a luminous sky, bright with a full moon.

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Dinner by the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas

Naturally, the conversation turns to our expedition:

” My God, you’re brave. How can you do that? I’m really envious; I could never do it.”

“Why not? It’s your country. How much of it do you know?”

“Well, not that much. It’s really exciting, the raw nature, totally untouched. I’ve been to Russia, I’ve been to Paris. That’s easy, all organised. But I couldn’t go to the Amazon like you are doing, it just wouldn’t be possible. It would take too long, I don’t have the time.”

“But why not? It’s on your doorstep; it’s your country. You should get to know it, all of its beauty, its wildness – its people!”

He shrugs. It’s easier for Brazilians in the First World cities of the South-East to take a trip to Miami or Europe than to explore their own back yard; what a shame!

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Sue decided I was talking too much!

“But, you know, I’ve heard that the Amazon is going to be internationalised, made into a kind of World Park; it’s apalling.”

The old story I’ve heard so many times, put about by people with an ulterior motive.

“It will never happen,” I reply. “The Amazon is Brazil’s and it will always be Brazil’s. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to take care of it. Your country will be the biggest loser if the forest is destroyed.”

Before it becomes too intense, the conversation moves on: “Yeah, you in England, you gave us Big Brother.” I won’t give you all that was said on that one!

As we parted, each and every one gave us a big hug and wished us the best for the expedition. We left with tears in our eyes and joy in our hearts, happy that they understood a little about what we are trying to do.

© Patrick Cunningham


⇒Next: Brasilia

Please consider making a donation to IPCST to support our work with the indigenous people of the Xingu. Click here.

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