Rio de Janeiro


I walked down to the ocean in Rio on a cloudy day - the beach empty - to pay my respects to the mother of fishes - Yemaya.  The surf was too rough to linger, but I tried to imagine what it must be like when three million Cariocas crowd the beach dressed in white to place offerings here.

Rio is a city of contradictions.  I've visited most of the major big cities of the world but never have I seen anything like Rio de Janeiro.  A city of luxury condos on the beachfronts and sprawling favela shantytowns perched precariously on the mountainsides above them.  


Street vendors hawk their wares and Mercedes Benz busses all have posters proclaiming Brazil self-sufficient in petroleum in 2006. They roar by as horses and cows graze placidly beside the highways.  

Mountains sit inside the city proper, with tunnels bored under them for auto traffic. These tunnels are the preferred route to get anywhere in the city rapidly, or I should say directly, since nothing is done rapidly in Rio. The traffic is always snarled and the drivers are ferocious. Tailgating is the norm, and passing the car in front of you is a macho art form.   If you opt to not use the tunnels there are roads that wind their way up and down the mountainsides are like a slalom course - full of dangerous twists and curves, breathtaking scenic views, and you instantly exit the modern world and enter a tropical rain forest - or a favela area.  In the latter case you speed-up, and don't stop to take photos.  

We took one of those roads and somewhere near the peak of a mountain turned into a small road, crossed a bridge barely wide enough for the car and stopped to view water bubbling down from the peak in small rivulets.


The city, tense with high expectations for Brazil to win the World cup, is draped in streamers of green and yellow.  I'm told jokingly that no one will go to work till the soccer championship is decided, and if Brazil loses its Worker's Party President may lose his upcoming bid for re-election. 

I snapped photos from the car as we sped at breakneck speed in traffic, holding onto the back seat and stomping on an imaginary brake pedal every 5 seconds. 

The streets of Rio have a mixture of cars, busses, taxis, small motor-bikes and bicycles.  Gasoline prices are high, and most cars run on a mixture of alcohol and petrol.  We ate at several open cafes, and one night stopped to eat at a taxi stand where a local woman was grilling "churrascos". 




We sped past a large fountain in the shape of a seashell.  Wish I had a better camera.

Most stores do not have glass fronts.  The heat - and the high cost of air-conditioning make closing them off impossible - so they are sealed at night by steel garage-type doors. 


I saw many visible signs of Umbanda and various other Spiritualist centers, open for consultations.  The photo above is an ad for consultations with an Umbandist - Caterina of Iansa (Oya) who promises "for every question there will be an answer". 


Maria's daughter Carol lives in an apartment in Rio, nestled on the hillside where the Christ statue sits, next to a tropical preserve.  I was fascinated by the view from her laundry room balcony where small monkeys played in the trees, cared for their babies, and darted in to eat slices of banana.


Next: Yoruba music Choral Group


Denise Oliver-Velez