Sunday, April 6, 2014

There we go again – the end of a roadtrip and first impressions of Rio de Janeiro

After our fabulous roadtrip, we spent a week in California where I taught my nieces how to knit (I am a ball of secret talents), did a barbeque or two, and learned to drink fantastic boxed wine. People, boxed wine is the next sliced bread! It is fresh, it saves glass, it saves corks and most importantly – it is damn cheap! It will take over the world, I predict. A week of boxed wine, and we flew down to Fort Lauderdale where we climbed on a week-long cruise to a string of Caribbean islands whose names and sequence I promptly forgot.
Cruising! My goodness – have you done cruising? It is an outstanding way to vacation! I wish I lived the rest of my life on a cruise. Naturally, it does depend on which cruise line you do end up, so thankfully, with the expert help of our fabulous friends P&C, we sailed on the luxurious Celebrity Silhouette – an island of never-ending buffet, faucets of booze, a delightful British band called “The Smart Casuals” and hundreds of Serbian/Croatian/ Macedonian/Russian/Indian crew members, where you can see why we felt at home right away.  We were lucky to receive a free “classic alcohol package.” Yes, that means that we drank for free. That also means that we drank a lot. At times, indiscriminately even. There were says I thought I’d turn into a Mimosa myself. The last night, I simply could not have a night-cap. My body disagreed and my mind agreed with it. See, the problem was that 1. the booze was free, and 2. there was always someone to bring it to you. Anyway, the cruise was amazing, and no small of that was due to the awesome company of P&C, with whom we even played a couple of exquisite games of Taboo – a game both the Diplomat and P’s husband C particularly cherish. OK, I lied, they don’t. Good men.
Once we arrived back to the ever cultural Fort Lauderdale, we had a day to re-organize our two bulging suitcases and 3 pieces of hand luggage, which were so heavy one would think that we were smuggling led or gold bars. Now, I would like to run by you once again the logistics that was our month-long vacation. As you remember, we started out with 6 suitcases, packed for Brazil. As Brazilians adore shopping in the U.S., the airlines have allowed everyone going to Brazil from the U.S. two suitcases of 70lbs each per person to carry the loot back home. To capitalize on that, I had packed us accordingly. As we were going on a 3-week roadtrip though, we had to leave 4 gigantic suitcases in P&C’s house in Washington, DC, to be picked up after the cruise. We then took the remaining 2, limited them to 50 lbs each and overstuffed the hand-luggage. Once the cruise was over, we spent the night in Fort Lauderdale, and then the Diplomat took a 7 am flight to go back to Washington, DC to pick up the 4 70-lbs suitcases. Son and I then flew on a later, more human flight of 10.50 am to meet him in Washington, and to fly to Brazil.
Fat Cat, at the same time, also was about to board a plane of his own – since our connection to Rio in Houston was only 45 mins (apparently, insufficient for fat cats transfers), Fat Cat had to take an earlier flight and join us in Houston, so that we can arrive on the same flight in Rio. While we were gallivanting through the Motherland, Fat Cat was happily residing with a most amazing friend of ours in Washington. Thus, when the time came for him to fly, we engaged the expert services of an animal shipper, the lovely Action Pet Express. Contrary to my experience with other folks in the business, they were efficient and communicative, and apparently knew what they were doing – Fat Cat was unceremoniously collected from the house of my friend (after some running and hiding, apparently), and put on the plane to Houston. Thank you, Action Pet Express! Same day still, Son and I gracefully arrived at the Baltimore airport, where we soon met the Diplomat who had gotten a rental car and brought the luggage back from P&C’s place.
And there we were, 324 giant suitcases, one bored to tears child running up and down the airport, clutching a large plastic dinosaur, one bedraggled, grumpy and sleepy Diplomat and me – ready to burst into tears as I realized that in mere 6 hours I will be in international air space, leaving my beloved United States of America for two years AGAIN. Our terrific friends M&M came to the airport to see us off and give us one more last hug, which made me tear up even more. Going to Rio in business class helped though.
We landed in Rio on a beautiful Tuesday morning, when the sun was shining and no-one spoke English at the airport. We were picked up by our gracious social sponsor from the Consulate (new officers arriving at post generally are assigned a social sponsor who meets them at the airport, shows them where to buy salt and wine, how to sign up for internet, and is generally there to answer any kind of asinine questions you might have when arriving in a brand new country) and headed straight to the cargo area of the airport to pick up Fat Cat. That took 4.5 hours. For real. I don’t know why. It also took about 1234 pages of documentation, to handle which we hired an outrageously expensive local “broker.” This Fat Cat costs a LOT of cash for the paltry amount of affection I get from him. Just as I sit here and write this, he is lying next to me on his back, four legs high up in the air and his butt resolutely pointing in my direction, twitching in his sleep. Am I supposed to be endeared??
And there they are, my promised first impressions of Rio de Janeiro, the Marvelous City as they call themselves.
1.       Cariocas (people from Rio) are OBSESSED, POSSESSED, CRAZY about working out. Wherever you go, you’ll encounter hundreds of people running (men are always topless), bench pressing, squatting, stretching, lunging, lifting, pulling. There are contraptions every few meters on the beach that present opportunities to do all of the above. At times, I am afraid that as I am standing there talking to a Brazilian, he will burst into a spontaneous workout, or start doing push-ups as we talk not to waste of minute of the day without toning his already perfect body. Yesterday we passed by what appeared to be a public playground. It turned out to be a free gym for the retired. It was packed by 60-year old ladies, who were working out so hard as if they were being paid. It was 9 pm on a Friday…
2.       Every fourth person on the street wears clothes with the colors of the Brazilian flag – whether it is a t-shirt, a skirt, a microscopic bikini or bombastic shorts, the folks of Rio wear their Brazilian pride for everyone to see.
3.       Brazilian men largely consider shirts to be an inconvenience to life. Thusly, they have resolved to life without them. Many also scorn pants – it is warm, after all, isn’t it? Why bother? As a result, the streets of the city are filled with men walking around in absurdly small bathing suits (at least, I’d like to THINK they are bathing suits) and little else besides a watch. Some a pleasing to the eye. Some – well…
4.       Rio is gorgeous. It is busy, crowded, noisy, but it is also filled with trees and palms and flowers, the beach has powdery white sand, the ocean is inviting, and then when you look behind you, there are stark tall mountains, from the top of one of which looks down benevolently Christ the Redeemer. I feel calm and happy in Rio, and forge ahead with my somewhat forgotten Portuguese.
5.       I need to refresh my Portuguese or learn to carry a small dictionary. Today I purchased detergent, but to my dismay my whites’ laundry left a lot more to be desires. Cursing Whirlpool, I ran the laundry again. It was a tad better. Then I decided to read the label on the tub of liquid that I had bought. Not understanding what appeared to be a key word, I went to the dictionary. You see, it appears that I have been washing the clothes with fabric softener.

Summary: Rio is amazing and its people are wonderful. I feel very fat here. Rio is expensive. I need to be at work by 7.25!!!!!! Should I run on the beach?