While the trip is still fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share some more pictures from the Rio Olympics. This was an incredible trip! I had never been south of the equator before and our family has some history with Brazil and Rio so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Plus, I love me some Olympics!! Ever since the 1984 Olympics when my mom and I watched every possible hour of the broadcast from our house in Wakeman, Ohio I’ve pretty much loved anything to do with the Olympics. You can bet I was excited when they were here in Atlanta in 1996! Although, I am going to admit, after visiting Rio, I kind of wonder what there was to see here in Atlanta…the world of Coke? Truthfully, from a scenery perspective, there is no comparison. I haven’t been to a ton of foreign countries, but I’ve got to believe that the ocean and mountains of Rio rank among the world’s most beautiful places. It absolutely blew me away.
You might wonder how we ended up in Rio in the first place. Well, the story starts in 1964 when my grandparents hosted a foreign exchange student from Brazil named Nena. She went to high school for a year with my mom and they became great friends.
In 1990, Nena’s son George called my mom and said hey, I am in St. Louis and I am not too happy can I come live with you? (I just learned this story! I had no idea how he ended up at our house.) We lived in Portland, Indiana at the time which is essentially in the middle of a cornfield. He lived with us for 2 months where me and my brothers were relentless on his accent (his daughter totally got me back…karma’s a b*&^!) He made a really good friend down the street and ended up living with them for another 2 months where I am sure they were much nicer to him.
So flash forward to the 2012 London Summer Olympics and who do I see on Facebook but George attending the games. We reconnected on Facebook and a couple of years later I asked if we could come stay with him for the Rio games. I don’t feel quite as shameless now that I know how he ended up at our house. He enthusiastically said yes and the rest is history. Tim didn’t really want to go and the girls were already in school so I asked Michelle to go with me because I thought she might want to get a passport and she said yes!
Prior to leaving, George set up WhatsApp for us to communicate. He sent us videos of the venues, bought our tickets at the current exchange rate, gave us travel advice, and sent cute pictures of his girls asking when the gringas were getting here. He arranged for a driver that he knew to pick us up at the airport and basically made sure that we had everything under control before we left. I am so appreciative of all that he and Paty did before we even got there. I think it made all the difference in how smoothly our trip went.
The day that we were leaving was the day that Delta Airlines had a bit of a meltdown…worldwide grounding of all of their flights due to a power outage. What? We were supposed to arrive about 8:00 a.m. and then we had swimming prelims at 1:00 p.m. Fortunately, for us, we were only delayed 2 hours and the flight was uneventful. What we hadn’t quite prepared ourselves for was the traffic. Holy traffic batman. And you thought Atlanta was bad. Atlanta’s got nothing on Rio. While we were only about 2 hours late in landing, by the time we made it through customs, and sat through traffic, unloaded at George’s condo, got back in traffic, walked through Olympic Park (roads were blocked around the Perimeter, there was no driving up to the venue for good reason,) waited in line to go through the metal detectors and hiked to the very far side of the park, we were actually 30 minutes late for swimming. But, it could have been much worse when you think about it.
Here are a few of the sights between the airport to the section of Rio where George lives. You pass many Favelas or “shanty towns” as our driver called them. The city built walls all along the road to cover them up but it really didn’t do much. You can still see them quite clearly. You can see part of Olympic Stadium behind part of the buildings. It was right in the middle of a neighborhood. We were also a little shocked to see people selling things in the middle of the road. Not only is there a ton of traffic but there are near non-stop motorcycles and motorbikes careening down the center lines. You take your life into your hands standing in the middle of these streets! Along with the dinginess, there was also a lot of beautiful street art. It was all over the city. In fact, it was hard for us to tell sometimes whether we were in a “good” area of town, or a “bad” area of town because most of the city was painted with tons of graffiti as well as vandalized by random spray paint. Here in the US we’ve been conditioned to see a good part of town or a bad part of town a certain way, but the lines were definitely not defined by the amount of paint on the walls or buildings.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a little trepidation about going on this trip. Between recent world events, the news media’s 24/7 coverage of all of the “bad stuff” in Rio, Zika, and on and on one might be tempted to play it safe. But two things came to mind. First of all, many years ago, I asked my grandmother how she managed to raise 8 children after my grandpa died and her answer was simply, “Trust in the good Lord, Andrea. Trust in the good Lord.” Secondly, and a complete 180 of unrelatedness, on the way home from Ohio, Haylee and I were listening to the radio and the Barenaked Ladies song called “Odds Are” came on the radio. Here is a sample of those lyrics.
Hit by the A-Train, crashed in an airplane
I wouldn’t recommend either one
Killed by a Great White or a meteorite
I guess there ain’t no way to go that’s fun
But somewhere in the world someone is gonna fall in love by the end of this song
So get up, get up
No it’s never gonna let up so you might as well sing along
The odds are that we will probably be alright
Odds are we’re gonna be alright, odds are we’re gonna be alright tonight
So, in conclusion, the Lord and the Barenaked Ladies said “Go and have fun!” Needless to say, that song has been stuck in my head for weeks.
Security was very tight in Rio. There were armed military (or as Michelle and I named them…our AK-47 friends) on every bridge, in every tunnel, at every monument and famous landmark, along the beaches, on the water, and in the sky. I could not hang glide (was going to, seriously! I even bought extreme sports insurance for an extra $15!) because the air space over Rio was closed. We were still cautious, but it felt safe there. Every venue was secured entirely by a fence along the perimeter and you had to go through metal detectors and run your bags through X-ray screening at each event. But that being said, it still felt very laid back and happy. It was not a city on edge at all. I felt compelled to take a picture every time I saw the military. I am not sure why.
Do any of the USA names look familiar? Oy vay. That’s all I have to say about that.
We spent our first evening catching up out on their beautiful rooftop deck. George made Brazilian steaks in the outdoor oven and we ate it Brazilian style…with our hands and as it was finished. He brought out steak, then some vegetables, then some more steak. It was great and very relaxing.
Our second day in Rio was gray and cloudy. It had rained during the night and stopped raining as we headed to sailing but it was a tad on the gloomy side. We went through several neighborhoods and tunnels before we got to Marina da Gloria where the sailing event was held. Here are a few of the sights along the way.
The second event we went to was sailing. My friend Sam, who is married to a sailor, sent me a very funny video about watching sailing from the shore and how confusing it can be. Well, she didn’t know just how spot on she was. We saw the boats sail out and we naturally thought the event had begun. We saw them sail around the bay and were just about to go get lunch when the horn started and the event ACTUALLY started. Who knew! If you want to get a good chuckle, the video she sent me can be found here.
After sailing, the weather got pretty dicey. Lots of rain, gray skies, and wind. We had time to kill because we were going to women’s volleyball later in the evening. We Ubered it over to Copacabana Beach to get some food but it wasn’t without a few glitches. We asked one of our AK-47 friends for directions. Basically, do we turn left or right to get to the train station that would take us to Copacabana. They said right so we went right and discovered later that they sent us in the wrong direction. Apparently, most of them were not from Rio and did not know their way around. It was the blind leading the blind. So we decided to Uber it since we didn’t know where we were. It took us 3 frustrating tries to get an Uber. There were a lot of street closures so I think the drivers were having trouble getting to us. We finally made it to Copacabana, had some lunch and then walked the entire length of the beach to look for the Today show location, only to find out later that it was where we started, we just turned around about 20 feet too soon. But as we would come to find out later, it was nice to explore this part of the city when it wasn’t “Disney on Spring Break” crowded.
Our last stop of the day was women’s volleyball. It was a Brazil match. If you can’t see the USA then I highly recommend Brazil. They know how to CHEER for their team. Everyone was dressed up, singing songs, throwing balls…it was so much fun! It definitely exceeded expectations both in terms of the sport itself (wow these girls are good!) and the fun factor. Two thumbs up for volleyball!
After volleyball, we had our only “could’ve been a bad situation but wasn’t” incident. We left volleyball after 2 sets because Brazil was winning and we didn’t want to be leaving the stadium at 10 p.m. with tens of thousands of people all trying to get a cab or Uber. While we were there, Uber and the taxis were having a dispute so Uber was blocked from many of the venues by a couple of blocks. So we headed away from the stadium to catch our Uber. The first block was ok…Lots of people milling around. The second block, not so much. We found ourselves at night, in Rio on a very dark and quiet street so we hopped our butts directly in a taxi. Well, once we got into the taxi, our driver spoke no English. No problem…Google Translate. Well, he didn’t know how to get to George’s house and he didn’t have GPS. My GPS was in English. On top of that, we have no cash. What are two gringas to do? Call George. We woke him up and he translated for us to the cab driver, gave him safer directions that took a little longer (he was going to take us over a mountain and through a favela which is not such a good idea at night,) and met us at the corner with cash to pay for the taxi. George saved the day. I may have uttered “Thank God for George” more than once on this trip as well.
That’s it for the FIRST TWO DAYS of our trip. Stay tuned for more if you have read this far…