Rio de Janeiro

Always fun to go to Brazil. I was there in the 80s with Peter Safar for a disaster meeting. Now the whole concept of disasters has changed and I we are talking about a lot of new things learned in the last five years.

Going through airport security was the usual impeccably stupid and unrealistic boondoggle of ineffective measures specifically designed to waste time, make passengers uncomfortable and make would-be terrorists chuckle. Once on the plane, it was a pretty comfortable trip. I managed to finagle a Business Class seat, which for a trip this long is a Godsend. I learned to always sniff around looking for bargains and they are out there. Normally a Business Class seat on an overseas flight is unaffordable by mortals, but if you uncover a few rocks, some hidden bargains lie under them. I found this seat on a Delta Air Internet page in the fine print. Apparently they were looking to shore up their South American interest and ran this as a limited Internet special. Usual fine print making it improbable to actually use, but none applied so I got a bargain. Let me tell you, for a big trip, use of the First Class lounges and the Business Class amenities are a BIG deal. Looking back into the flying sardine can, I shuddered. Each passenger with an oar, chains on their legs and a big sweaty guy up front banging cadence on a drum.

Possibly the most beautiful geography in the world. Green mountains, shining beaches. Too crowded in 1999 and starting to see some of the long term effects of pollution but still breathtaking. Critical care czars Rubens Costa Filho and Joao Luiz Ferreira Costa, my friends and mentors, set up a dandy meeting to talk about the International implications of medical politics. Not surprising, we found that most of the problems are shared by the world, a fact we really didn’t know until we moved in next each other in the shrinking global village. Met lots of folks. Hung out on the beaches in my spare time and took a few pictures.

But the really important portion of the trip was, of course, a trip to……..Porky’s! (Porkao!) Literally translated from the Portuguese, Porkao means a “big” pig, and that’s what you turn into after you enter. Porkao is to gluttony as pina is to colada. As you await your fate, a small marker marks your plate position for the culinary delights lined up waiting for you. One side says “Nao Obrigado” (No, thanks, if one more molecule of food enters my stomach, it will be necessary to call the bomb squad and start evacuating the building” and the other “Sim Por Favor” (“Yes, I think my basketball sized stomach can accommodate some more, but only if you pack it in with a plunger”. You turn the marker to whichever side seems appropriate. The management assumes no liability for internal or external perforated viscous.

Every kind of meat I ever heard of, marinated with cheeses and other things I dare not speculate the nature of. Hannibal Lechter has been spotted there they say with a big grin. Pina Coladas so potent the chunks of pineapple spontaneously caught fire and when drunk, the liquid passed immediately out of your body and ripped through three lower floors before absorbing into the concrete. Crustaceans that were not only alive, but tapped out the Battle Hymn of the Republic against the plates. Is this fish fresh? It’s served with the hook still in it’s mouth. Coffee potent? Bulge your eyes out on stalks.

So, when you go to Rio……….the beach is nice and shopping is interesting, but remember two things. Eat at Porky’s if you dare, then bring only Arturo Fuentes (Dominican) cigars for Rubens. None of those cheap Cuban stinkers. He frisks you for them at the airport and you better have some or you might walk to the hotel.

It was very nice of Joao to offer an airport chauffer service and it was very much appreciated. The traffic in Rio is virtually nonstop and driving there resembles a fast paced video game requiring constant vigilance. It never seems to change. Bumper to bumper and fast, any time of the day or night. Claudia was at the hotel and we had a light lunch together. The hotel in Rio was right on Le Blon beach which was beautiful and the weather was perfect.

Rio has a reputation for being a somewhat violent place, but I must say I have never had any personal experience of that kind in three trips there over the last 15 years. I had several people in hotels and restaurants waggle their finger at me and advise no jewelry of any kind, no watches or especially small digital cameras. Thieves are quick, unpredictable and violent. They grab and run. In fact, I went wherever I wanted and never noticed any suspicious activity, but I didn’t wear my watch. I did flash my small hand size camera but kept it in my pocket when not in use. There was an article in the local paper one morning that two of the “Tourist Police” were busted shaking down tourists for money on a “we caught you with drugs scam”. Forced them back to their hotel to get more money to pay the ad hoc fine and were noticed by the hotel dick. So I do pretty much as I please there but I keep my eye out.

One of the interesting facets of Rio is the H. Stern* gem business. There are a lot of German surnames in Brazil, and my guess is that Herr Stern might have immigrated sometime in 1945 with one suitcase 😉 but he has certainly built an empire. You can’t walk ten feet without seeing an H. Stern sign. Top models in the Victoria’s Secrets tradition. Every hotel has a branch. Here’s how it works, in your room there is a packet form Stern including a free round trip taxi pass to the nearest major store. You get in the cab, get dropped off, take a tour of how gems are found and made and then after the tour (very first class), in order to actually get out of the building, you must pass through a very classy “counseling” area if you choose to maybe purchase a stone. You sit down and tell them what you saw that you liked and they bring out the smorgasbord. The stones I saw were quite nice and very reasonably priced, compared to buying them here. And they worked a deal with US customs that they are all duty free. Very classy arrangement and I bet Stern makes a LOT of dough.

Up the cable car to Sugarloaf, up the mountain to Corcavado (compliments again to Joao), up and down the beaches and then off to Recife. That was another three-hour plane ride, and I discovered that Recife is very close to the equator. It was HOT and humid and I tried to move from air conditioner to air conditioner. Ken Mattox and Tom Bleck were there and Janice Zimmerman and Derek Angus. We all had a great time hanging around the bar in the lobby. Off to the meeting, which was a 30-minute bus, ride. The opening ceremony was elegant and classy, with a nice presentation by native Brazilians in dance and music. At least three thousand people there, maybe more. Following day was my day to talk.

Beach at Recife isn’t anywhere in the league of Rio, but then there is only one Rio. Went to a local tourist area called Olinda with lots of 16th century churches and that was OK, but I have become churched out over years of travel and they all look the same to me. Had a great time with many friends in Recife and then back into the pipeline home uneventfully. Except for a run-in with Airport Security again. This time entering the USA. Got nabbed for a random spot luggage check. Glad it was this time since I had nothing of value to declare. They took a great interest in a decorative decanter of Brazilian booze. It was a porcelain figurine of three stalks of sugar cane, each filled with booze. Had a screw on cap and a liquor stamp sealing it. The idiots, whose job it is to know ALL the potential things tourists bring back couldn’t figure out what it was. Duhhhhh……liquor stamp over a cap. Name of the liquor on the side. Smelled like booze when opened. They thought it might be rocket fuel and it took ten minutes for them to finally get bored with it. Sleep well tonight, your trusty airport security guards are on the job.

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