If you are after fun in the sun on the sand, and/or partying into the small hours, I feel sure that Rio is your town. For culture vultures, not so much. And then there is the security situation. I generally felt OK, but I was definitely on high alert for pretty much the whole time, and I took taxis after dinner when elsewhere I would have walked. I was told that being on the beach after dark was an invitation to a mugging, and I figured that the street my hotel was on (just a few blocks inland from Copacabana Beach) was only safe because there was often a police car parked on the corner.
There are good-looking modern buildings around. There are good-looking older buildings, some in need of TLC. There are history and art museums I didn’t get to, but I really don’t have any urge to go back to see them. Even discounting the favelas (and it’s hard to do that), Rio felt grittier than I had expected. I’m surprised that it was chosen for the 2016 Olympics, and I wonder how much improvement there will be before then. I was in Beijing in 2004, when its abysmal squat toilets were already being replaced by sparkling western ones, well ahead of 2008. Will it be possible to put paper down Rio’s toilets by 2016?
Moving on. I had found the staff at my hotel generally helpful, so I was surprised when one of them made a big deal out of arranging a taxi to take me to the airport. I’d do better to walk to the nearest taxi rank, he said. But his cohort agreed to have one waiting at 7:15 the next morning. I set my tiny, trusty, travel alarm clock for 6:00, and then, for backup tried to set an alarm on my new smart phone. Although it was 23:00 the phone kept saying that my alarm was set for six hours ahead. I concluded I was doing something wrong and went to bed.
Next morning, packed, I went down at 7:00 for a cup of coffee and to check on my taxi. Oh, the companies they used had been fully booked, I’d need to use the taxi rank…. Sure would have been nice if someone had called me. It would have been even nicer if someone had told me about the change to summer time, which I now heard about for the first time. It was actually 8:00 am, not 7:00, and my flight left at 10:00. The last time a time change occurred while I was traveling, in Vienna, the hotel posted notices all over the place. This time no-one even said anything!
I try to avoid traveling on Sundays, but while that would have spared me the time change snafu, it did mean that there was so little traffic my taxi (acquired from the rank by one of the staff) got me to the airport in under half an hour. I was checked in and through security by 9:00. The TAM flight was full, but on time. I retrieved my checked bag, had a word with the helpful woman at the T.I. and joined the small group of backpackers waiting for the bus. Almost everyone else was either traveling in a group or had an expensive car and driver waiting.
Following the T.I.’s instructions, I got off the Brazilian airport bus at the Hotel Bourbon, crossed the road, and settled down to wait for the bus to Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. I was joined by a young German woman, on a round the world trip. She had spent several days visiting the falls, and had been staying at the posh Hotel das Cataratas in the Brazilian national park, a surprise present from a friend. She said that it was a very nice hotel, but you were trapped there after the park closed. It looked nice from the outside, too, unlike the Sheraton in the Argentinian national park, a concrete monstrosity spoiling the view.
After the bus finally showed up, and reached the border, we were surprised to be handed “re-embarkation” tickets, and to see the bus drive off with its local passengers still on board! I have crossed more land borders than I can remember, but this was the first time my transport hadn’t waited for me. I was not amused, and since it was Sunday the border was moribund and we had a long wait.
The day was cool and overcast, and I was relieved to reach the Pension La Sorgente before the drizzle turned to rain. This was a step up from the Edificio Jucati, with a pool, a good if pricey restaurant, a bar, and hot and cold water for the sink as well as the shower. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed on Sunday and I had to trek back into town to eat.
Over the next two days I would discover that the Iguazu falls were worth any amount of aggravation….