Hands, shoulders, wheels and toes
Jul 18, 2007
I hurried down to Copacabana beach early in the morning to watch the Men's Triathlon, an event in the Pan American games being held in Rio. The triathlon for these games involves a swimming leg of 1.5km, cycle 40km and the competitors finish with a 10km run. At 8am, the beach was already full of people, from the morning joggers to the bike boys and girls in lycra, the blue-rinse brigade and the shirtless throngs in thongs (of all kinds). One eccentric old woman even brought her rooster on a tiny leash, both sporting the Brasilian flag on their backs for the show.
The athletes emerged dripping from the water, and in a matter of moments, changed swimming cap for riding gear, hopping on their bikes for the cycle leg up and back along the beachfront esplanade. After the final running leg, a man from the USA finished first, followed by a Canadian, and to the biggest applause of the day, a Brasilian.
Almost all of my clothes were at the laundry the following night, so when it began pouring with rain, i was a little afraid i wouldn't have enough dry clothing for the Handball match i was to attend later in the evening. Stashing my shirt in my pocket, i ran back to the hostel, from awning to awning, as street turned to stream, flip flops became flippers, and wet suits became wetsuits.
Now with protective clothing and umbrella in hand, we caught the Metro Barra bus all the way west to the end, a journey of 90 minutes, past the giant mall, complete with an imitation Statue of Liberty beckoning people to come out of the rain to spend hard-earned money. Our second bus started its journey with a complete loop of the Barra de Tijuca area, passing again in both directions a visibly smirking Statue of Liberty before heading north and inland to the games venues. We passed though kilometre after kilometre of shopping plazas and condominium complexes standing amongst fountains and artificial lakes, along great sweeping highways. The bus seemed to take such an indirect route, that if it were skywriting, it would have recited Pi across the sky to 5 or 6 decimal places. We finally made it to the stadium, after 2.5 hours, just before half time of the first match.
Team Handball is best described as water polo, without the water or swimming caps. It's amazingly fast. Players hurl a mini soccer ball, usually when airborne, at a set of goals, whilst the goalies pull out all kinds of neat acrobatics to try to block it, often completely ineffectually. The game has two 30 minute periods, and played on a court measuring 20 x 40m. Cuba were far superior (not to mention taller and faster) than Chile in the first match, and although the Chileno goal keeper never flagged in his enthusiasm, the Cubans quite literally flew over the top of the hapless Chileans. Skillfully, the second match between Argentina and Uruguay was a more even spectacle, and the majority of Brasilians in the crowd were yelling and screaming for the Argentinians to lose. Things quietened down in the bleachers as the Argentinians took control of the match later in the game, despite the Uruguayan team sporting such obviously household names such as Poggio and Spangenburg. We passed a now fist-waving (and possibly cursing) Statue of Liberty twice more on the long road back to Copacabana.
My last days in Rio were spent shopping, and trying to find a aeroplane ticket north to Salvador, made difficult because of a horrific crash off the end of a runway in São Paulo the night before. Finally, on Wednesday night, i was departing Rio de Janeiro after 8 weeks, the longest time i have spent in any place aside from Melbourne. It really had become my second home, and sentimentality hit as i was walking toward the beach to catch the airport bus.
Along with every other one in the country, your flight to Salvador is delayed, but of course it takes a great deal of questions in broken Portuguese to finally figure this out. A bizarre kinship emerges at 2.30am in the departure lounge with your fellow would-be travellers. You exchange little smiles or looks of quiet desperation while the climate-controlled air chills you to the core. You feel like writing, so you write; later you read a book until your eyes get sore, and you get frustrated because you checked in the Soduku book in with your warmer clothes. You try to sleep, but the seat back is too low, so you break an armrest off in order to recline a little. You ride the moving walkways up and back for a bit, and find to your amusement other people doing the same thing. Finally the flight is called, and with a shower of relief washing over your body, you walk down the isle into a metal tube bound for the sky.