Book Travel

Backpacker Confessions Excerpt: Getting rowdy in Rio de Janeiro

We were knackered after a long, hungover bus journey but we were finally in Rio! It was time to continue the carnage we started in the usually sedate Florianopolis…

Rio de Janeiro is the highlight of the itinerary for anyone who does a top to tail journey of the Southern half of the continent. The name itself miraculously conjures up coconuts, hula girls and epic stretches of palm tree studded beaches. This pipedream is how Steph and I came to be staying on Copacabana beach at the infamous Mellow Yellow Hostel.

When we walked into the forty-bed dorm with the bunk beds in stacks of three we understood how it earned the affectionately seedy title of the ‘Favela Room’ after the slum towns of Rio.

There was an Aussie guy spread-eagled on the floor in a drunken stupor whilst the cleaner swept around him. Strangely enough, I fell for him a little bit and I have no idea why. His first words to us were ‘Welcome to the favela room, this place is fuuuuucked!’

He was right.

We dumped our bags and lay down on the wipe clean bunk mattresses, which wouldn’t have been out of place in a modern working brothel. In fact, I visited a knocking shop in an Australian mining town called Kalgoorlie and the beds were the same, most definitely not built for sleeping in.

This moment of relaxation was interrupted by the sound of a bunk bed leg grinding against the floor as two of our roommates, Tom and Janice, got involved in dirty, filthy, favela room sex.

Steph ended up boning Tom and Janice went to work (by pure coincidence) in a titty bar in Kalgoorlie. You’re not actually allowed to show your nipples so you cover them with stickers to get around it. I went there to plant trees, but clearly, I was in the wrong business.

During that week a lot of sex happened in that room and I am relieved to say I didn’t participate in it. To this day I have still not been drawn into the exhibitionist delights of dorm room bang.

Perhaps it was this repressed nature that made the Aussie boys think that I was a grumpy bitch the first evening that we met them at the top floor hostel bar. I did have a good reason, as the funeral for my mum’s cousin was the next day.

I retired from the drinking early and lay on the mattress, which felt like a vinyl covered lead slab beneath me. I didn’t sleep for most of the night so I heard lots of shuffling and grunting from the other side of the room.

In the true spirit of sympathy, Steph ended up having sex with Nick, one of the three Aussie boys in a bunk across the room.

My impression of Nick was that he was a meathead idiot and he thought that I was a miserable emo. However, I’m pleased to say that I stayed in contact with him and I now have great respect for him. He later moved to Bolivia to be with his girlfriend and fought ongoing battles with poachers who hunted in the Amazon, in a bid to save the jaguar.

A recent status of his that I liked was ‘makes me laugh when rednecks in the US are complaining that there are too many nuisance elks. Well, folks, this is what happens when you wipe out wolves, bison, pumas and jaguars from the environment. Idiots, the food chain is important for a reason’.

Drunken army boy turns environmental activist shows that not all the stereotypes of travellers are correct. Although unsurprisingly many are, especially the bad behaviour of the English abroad. Combine this with the Aussie drinking mentality and you have one hell of a party, or one hell of a mess, depending on how you look at it. We were in Rio for a week and a whole lot happened in that time.

We quickly made ourselves very unpopular with the hostel security guard and had a fair few incidents with him attempting to burst our bubble of alcohol-induced silliness over the next week. Aussie Sandy decided to take a bath in the sink fully clothed in an all-in-one green Lycra ‘drinking suit’ that looked a bit like a triathlon outfit.

He splashed around until hearing the approach of the guard, jumped out and stood there dripping wet. In naughty schoolboy fashion, he denied all knowledge of why the kitchen was sopping wet as if the whole situation was a complete mystery to him.

This only heightened our enjoyment of his predicament and encouraged further immature pranks. One night he asked me to put mascara on him so I obliged and he later emerged into the bar upstairs with it streaming down his face. He looked so tragic that we just lost it.

Adrian and I were flirting a lot and it seemed like things were going to happen, but then Steph got in bed with him. This was the second time that she had done this to me after Martin in Mendoza.

I was gutted, as I didn’t think anything would happen between them as she’d already banged his friend Nick. I wanted a bit of build-up before I made my move or let him make his. This was a bit of a controversy, as his friends knew he liked me. Once his previous girl left him for another part of Brazil, I taught him the Spanish for ‘let’s go to bed’. If you’re interested, it is ‘Vamos a la cama’. He told me he was in love again, which says it all for the transient nature of backpacker relationships.

In the drunken whirlwind that followed, I did kiss him and he told me he liked me but then I was put to bed drunk. In the morning I woke up and Steph was in bed with him so I was pretty pissed off.

There are of course many things to see and do in Rio but we spent an inordinate amount of time pissing about, which angered me as I love seeing stuff and Steph was maggot most mornings when I was ready to go out.

One dubious tourist attraction that is available in Rio is the favela tour, which we went on. It is an intimate stroll around the Rocinha, which is the largest in the city with an estimated 150,000-300,000 residents and counting.

There are nearly 800 favelas in Rio alone and the 2010 census stated that 22.3% of the population lived in shantytowns; the figure is in reality much higher as they failed to survey some large outer city suburbs. It is a known fact that the shantytowns of Latin America are run by drug gangs as anyone who has watched the visually fantastic film ‘The City of God’ would know.

I’m unsure if the film was one of the reasons why backpackers became interested in paying to look around a shantytown containing an above average amount of criminals. I have not heard of the service being offered in any other country. Previously to our tour experience, there had been an undercover journalist who secretly filmed the drug dealers and it ended up being broadcast. This caused a lot of problems for the tour guides who live in the favelas alongside these criminals.

Our tour guide was constantly on his walkie-talkie to avoid taking us closer to a deal or any altogether more sinister criminal activity, such as debt collection. The consequences of not paying the dealers the money owed to them are serious. The dealers profit handsomely from this venture so they have good reason not to harm any of the tourists. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but so much money goes to the criminals and is used to buy drugs and weapons so I do not know if I would advise going on this tour or not.

A year later the government took control of the Rocinha, apparently without any shots being fired. Their aim was to clear out the drug lords in time for the 2014 Olympics, an ambitious plan requiring hundreds of trained military personnel and armoured vehicles. In the neighbouring super city of Sao Paolo, it is legal to run through red lights in the hours of darkness to reduce the number of robberies of stationary vehicles.

This is something I wrote prior to the Olympics:

‘I think that despite the difficulties between the police and gangs that the Olympics will be the biggest party that the country has ever seen. South Americans and Brazilians especially have a deep passion for sports and I predict that the pride and excitement at hosting the games will be something to behold. If carnaval has taught us anything it is that the opening ceremony will be beautiful and the Brazilians will be out on the streets celebrating every second of their presentation of the games. I am certainly excited about this spectacle.’

I think that this was true to a great extent. Of course, the Olympic village is barren now and I think that’s diabolical in a city of such poverty, I find it hard to understand why there is no money or plan in place for it.

One very famous gathering in Rio happens every weekend and that is the Lapa Street Party, after a few cans of beer and a hot dog out on the road you can then go into your nightclub of choice as they conveniently line the street. As Brazilian men are very amorous it is advisable to wear tights or leggings if you are wearing a skirt or a dress, Steph and I affectionately called our tights ‘anti fingering pants’. This was a little overdramatic really as all we received was the odd bum grope every now and again, I don’t enjoy that type of behaviour but it is undeniably a problem in British nightclubs as well.

Adrian and I fell out in Lapa as I thought he wasn’t giving me enough attention. I was being a drunken idiot and this became a theme for most nights out. Nick and Sandy were giving him jip about being ‘married’ to me as our ‘relationship’ was messing with the group dynamic.

All was good for Steph though as when we got home to the hostel we were pissing about with mattresses and she ended up banging Tom the English guy. I was in the bed opposite so I saw more than I would have liked. The next day he shagged a Scottish girl and stayed with her for the rest of the time. I felt bad for Steph but she didn’t indicate whether she was upset about that or not, as we never managed to discuss these things.

The next day, despite our hangovers we did manage to have another trip out to visit Ipanema beach, the slightly more upmarket neighbour to Copacabana in terms of beachside properties. It was raining so we made ourselves ‘coconut beers’ (coconuts with beer poured inside them for those of you who don’t live as cultured a life as us) to cheer ourselves up.

It rained and the water made my red dye run from my hair onto my white top. This only served to prove Nick’s theory that I was an angry emo who cries tears of blood. I was quite angry when I was younger and even now at times so the comment wasn’t entirely unjustified. He also wasn’t the only person to remark on it over the course of the trip.

The boys took great delight in singing ‘Perfect’ by Simple Plan at any opportunity in order to take the piss out of me. For anyone not familiar with the song it is about a boy who has a difficult relationship with his dad whilst also wanting his approval. The first line is ‘Hey dad look at me, why won’t you talk to me? Did I grow up according to plan?’. The end of the chorus the ultra emo line ‘I’m sorry I can’t be perfect’.

These were the lyrics of a self-defeatist, self-pitying and self-hating person who couldn’t get on with their father. They had only known me for three days and they knew I fit all these stereotypical qualities. Those boys were dumb and insightful in equal measure.

After being insulted, I then nearly drowned so Ipanema wasn’t the best day trip I’ve ever been on. A mistake I made that day which I will not make again was to swim out too far, this was Sandy’s idea as he said the sea would be calmer. As Australians are saltwater animals, I believed him.

Unbeknownst to me, Nick and Adrian were watching us and joked ‘they’re gonna die’. Predictably, I got caught in a current and it pulled me out to sea. This is when I started to panic. I was rescued by Sandy and I had to hold on to his leg as he swam back to shore. I am not the only Brit that he has rescued from the ocean waves back in his homeland. I doubt that I will be the last near-drowning incident that they all found typically hilarious.

The nearest we had got to the beach previously to this jaunt was drinking at the ‘hooker bar’ on Copacabana, named because it was basically a bar full of hookers. We persuaded the resident musician to play the ‘Copacabana’ song, which was completely different to the crap pop record that we’d heard of, so I’m sad to say we stopped listening and chatted with the girls instead.

Nick was not taken with the city at all and emphatically decided that the only people who were nice to you in Rio were the hookers. I was still upset about Steph/Adrian as it felt like a great betrayal. She was my travel companion and the only friend that I had from home on the entire continent.

I am ashamed to say that I got very drunk and badly behaved at a favela party and tried to explain how bad I felt about it to Steph. Unfortunately, I was nodding dog drunk and she wasn’t bothered by my feelings so it was a largely unsuccessful exercise. They also took a bottle from me, as they were afraid I would harm myself with it, which is quite frightening especially as I have a history of self-harm. Adrian got angry with me and I cried in the minibus on the way home like a little girl, half of the hostel guests were on the bus, which made it more of a tragic display.

The next morning I got up and wrapped my small travel towel around me, I felt really light-headed and after going to the bathroom I blacked out in the toilet. When I came round I woke up with my face in the bin, which earned me the nickname of Oscar, the Grouch. I assumed that this started because I was a grouch until Nick informed me that it was because he lived in a bin.

I’d never fainted before and I was still shaking when I went to tell Steph who was on Adrian’s bed (yes, again), she untangled herself from him and got me some water. Steph just told me I’d been saying weird things but I don’t think she really grasped why I was upset. We all made up in an unsentimental, who cares anyway sort of fashion and realised that we were running out of time to go and visit Christ the Redeemer.

This monument is one of the seven man-made wonders of the world, built on top of a mountain and is known as Cristo Redentor in Portuguese, or as we called it ‘the statue on the hill’. There was a lack of enthusiasm amongst the group due to the terrible weather and when we got to the top we were enveloped by clouds and we could see just about the square root of fuck all. Nick had previously threatened that he was going to take a picture of a postcard and just say he’d been so it was good we got him up there.

After an intensely idiotic week together, the five of us of were standing in the reception ready to say goodbye after spending every waking and comatose minute together in a hostel that seemed to encourage its residents to go gradually insane.

Our English roommate Tom had been living in the favela room for weeks, as he was completely unable to escape the vortex. He had also had an alarmingly amount of sex with various nationalities so there probably wasn’t much incentive for him to leave. That was coupled with the fact that he slept past the check out time of 1pm every day, a common traveller problem that can delay your progress to your flight home destination by 6 weeks to 6 months.

There was a mixture of feelings about leaving each other as that week had stretched out in the elastic way that time spent drinking abroad together miraculously seems to do. A day seems to equal a month in traveller time and you actually feel an inordinate amount of pain and sadness at leaving a hostel friend. You do get over this affliction as soon as you hit the bar in the next place that you rock up to but it does hurt at the time.

This theory could account for why we ended up getting on the bus to the same destination after all. The boys had been bound for Sao Paolo and we were off to a beach town called Paraty, which was four hours down the coast. The geographical position of Paraty being by the seaside and so much closer than Sao Paolo meant that it was the clear winner. It certainly lifted the collective depression and awkwardness when Nick said ‘Where is it? Fuck it lets go there…I don’t care’. And so we went.

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