Rio is determined to teach me patience. Every morning we wake up with grandiose plans for what we want to see and do, but so far it hasn’t turned out that way. Day one was spent in search of food, trekking through our vast residential neighbourhood to the nearby shopping complex. After paying a jaw-dropping amount at the surprisingly swanky grocery store, we hauled our bags of food back through the pouring rain to the apartment.
We wandered down to the beach, which is a five-minute walk from our apartment in the western neighbourhood of Barra da Tijuca, but the morning was foggy and the waves wild, and our only company were surfers dotting the green-blue swells and middle-aged joggers on the sand. The boys didn’t care about the lack of sun; they dashed in and out of the crashing waves, shrieking with glee.
Day two consisted entirely of attempting to rent a car – an activity that one might think to be straightforward, but turned out to be a huge runaround. We left the apartment after breakfast to walk a beautiful 4-km trail to the car rental place. It was a lovely paved path following the Canal de Marapendi, and we saw lots of wildlife – brilliant blue and red crabs scurrying along the banks of the canal into their holes as we passed, little monkeys chasing each other through trees, countless birds, and one very large grazing capybara, the world’s largest rodent.
It turned out we couldn’t get a car because Jason didn’t have his passport, but the long trek hadn’t been completely futile. We found a CrossFit gym nearby – another one of life’s necessities – and Jason got a temporary membership for the next several weeks. “O CrossFitchy,” as they pronounce it in Portuguese, is a fairly new arrival to this area, with three new gyms that have opened in this neighbourhood in the past 10 months. The people there were warm, friendly, and enthusiastic about having a non-Portuguese-speaking gringo join their WODs, and I can’t think of a better way for Jason to learn Portuguese fast than by combining it with a workout!
We finally got a car by the end of the day, which conveniently put us back on the road just in time for Rio’s insane rush hour. I’d heard from friends who’ve visited Brazil in recent years that traffic congestion has become a serious problem. On one hand, this is a positive indicator of a society that’s shaking off much of its poverty; more people can afford cars than ever before. On the other hand, the price for growing wealth is pollution and traffic jams unlike any I’ve ever seen before. The city simply doesn’t have the highway infrastructure to support all these new cars, despite its desperate attempts to widen and add highways before the 2016 Olympics; but those construction projects only add to the congestion right now.
I am staggered by how long it takes to move from one point to another. Highways are parking lots, and several conversations I’ve had with taxi drivers have revealed that it’s always like this – not just a rush hour problem. After driving to the gym last night, which is 4 km away, Jason thinks he’ll have to budget nearly an hour to get from door to door.
I’ve also discovered that it’s hard to hail a taxi here. Because most people use a nifty app on their phones to summon taxis to their precise location, it seems that very few are simply driving around, looking for work. I’ve had drivers stop and ask where we’re going, in case our route is along the way to a pickup, but it has never coincided.
Why don’t we walk, you might wonder? We do, and we will continue to, but the combination of two exhausted and footsore little boys, multiple bags of groceries, bottles of water (you can’t drink the tap water here), and pouring rain have made for some pretty stressful moments in the past days, hence the car rental. This way, we’ll also be able to leave the city and explore the coastline south of Rio, which I’m really excited to do.
Now day three has begun, with a plan to visit the Botanical Gardens and the world-famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. We have our own set of wheels, the kitchen is finally well stocked with food, we’ve caught up on sleep, and the travelling life is getting easier.