Archive | August, 2009

Throwing in the Towel

28 Aug

After a great deal of thought I eventually decided to give up the web design project. My client was very understanding, saying that I had to do whatever was best for myself and my health. You can’t really argue with that. It now leaves me short of pocket but at least I have my mind back. I am certain everything will now fall into place.

Just three days left at the hostel. It will actually be something of a relief to leave. In all my time working and volunteering I’ve never had such a dogmatic boss. You’d think after the third time of showing me how to correctly fold a pillow case she’d realise that maybe some people are just not interested in folding pillow cases.

Malware, it's got a nerve

24 Aug

If anyone tried to get on this site yesterday they may have had some problems. It seems some malware managed to get on here, cheeky beggar. It has now been well and truly scrubbed and everything is back to normal.

In a further update, it seems that being completely irresponsible works wonders as after ignoring emails from a client asking for progess on a web site they have now offered me more money to see if this will help things move faster. How great is that? Just Don’t Bother, and it gets instant rewards. It’s a marvelous strategy, I think I will use it more. Tomorrow we are going to talk about how much more money, but to be honest I still don’t think I can stand one more month working on this so may have to have peace talks instead. We shall see.

How come I've reached this fork in the road and yet it cuts like a knife?

21 Aug

Okay, maybe the heading is a bit too dramatic, but I really feel like I have to make a big decision shortly.

I’ve been working at Casa Carioka in Copacabana for 4 weeks now, using spare time to try and get a web design complete. In theory, this design is my meal ticket. An opportunity to not have to think about money for a good few months. However, at the start of this week I got asked to do another job, which took a day to complete (these are the kind of jobs I like) and have spent the rest of the week surfing and writing. During this time I have been sent three e-mails by my main client, asking for some progress updates. They are all still sitting in my inbox awaiting a reply.

My previous drive to earn money so that I would not have to worry about money later in the journey has vanished. A realisation perhaps that designing big websites, full of ridiculous coding is a theft of the imagination. I have no natural aptitude for it, so learning and effecting at the same time can be a hard task, one that makes me wish I could buy wind-screen wipers for my eyes, and maybe one of those buttons so I could give them a spray of water every now and again. Give them a good wash.

If anyone reading this has a disposition for designing secure websites in Joomla, as well as shopping baskets and MySQL databases with one-to-many relationships, please get in touch because the one problem I face with all of this is if this is the direction my thoughts continue to head at some point there will be the disappointment of my client unless I find an adequate solution. I would say I could potentially sully my name, but I think this implies having some sort of good reputation in the first place.

It should also be noted that my resistance to do further work on this project has been catalysed by the return of hypersensitive head, a condition that had been laying dormant since my last trip to Rio. For more information on hypersensitive head listen to this:

Life at the Copa

17 Aug

Gold supplement, whey protein, guarana powder, natural energy booster, superfoods, green defense, monster mass, fish oil……..

Rio is a city obsessed with looking good. Supplements and stimulants are sold from every corner. After all, it just wouldn’t be possible to run along Copacabana, go to the gym and have that game of volleyball without a pure protein shake. There surely can’t be many cities where the locals spend more time on the beach than the tourists. Quite how they pull it off is a miracle. Maybe everyone is on the nightshift. Maybe they get time off when the sun comes out. Who would want to buy a mattress anyway when it’s this hot? So off we all go to the beach, to show off our toned abs, to take pictures of our new arse implants and to generally stare at everyone else. It’s not a bad life!

These guys know all about it:

The Pig is Back!

15 Aug

Almost every newspaper I open has a one-page advert for Influenza. I think there’s better things to spend your money on.

It seems that swine flu is following me around. Every day I have seen more and more people wearing face masks. A teacher friend in Rio has been given the month off from work. She’s outraged. They want to make her work all Saturdays when she returns so that she won’t have lost any days. Apparently, there has been almost 200 deaths. Almost all of them occurring in the South of Brazil, where winter is definitely at its worst.

Of the deaths, only 16 have occurred in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Of which, most have been children or pregnant women. I think wearing a facemask on the street seems a little over-the-top. There are 15 million people living in Rio state. Surely the odds are against ever contracting it.

For the latest death toll visit here.

Crackdown in Lapa

11 Aug

Lapa’s crazy on a Saturday night so we headed away from the arches, where the noise of drums, samba and drunk gringos is inescapable. First stop was The Museum of Cachaça. It’s a room about 10 foot x 10 foot. Hanging from the ceiling is a brand of cachaça from possibly every town in Brazil. Normally, there would be seats and tables surrounding its entrance but the Police are out in force. There´s a new mayor and he´s brought with him 2 initiatives. First is the ´dry law´. Random checks are happening all over the city as they look to combat drink driving. Although the drivers are fighting back. They´ve found out a new use for Twitter. There are dozens of people using their iPhones (or whatever the equivalant is in Rio) posting updates on where the ´dry law´ police are stopping cars every night. The second new initiative is to stop bars placing a ridiculous amount of tables and chairs on the pavement and quite often on the road as they look to get as many customers comfortable as is humanely possible.

We didn´t fancy standing in the street so we decided to look elsewhere. After a few blocks we came to a brothel-themed bar. I can´t remember its Portuguese name but I was told it translated as ´House of the Whore´. The waiters wore red and white vertical-striped tops and there was lingerie hanging from the ceiling. I don´t remember seeing any whores. We signalled for three people and the waiter lifted up a table, planting it right in front of us. We grabbed a beer and sat down. After drinking about half of it, 5 police cars suddenly pulled up alongside us. The waiter instantly ran over, took our table and flew off round the back. Some guy wearing glasses and a huge belly came out of the bar, heading straight for the cops. I think he was the owner. He was desperately trying to avoid what I can only assume was a massive fine. The waiter came back over saying ´I told you not to put that table there.´ Cheeky bastard. There was no way we were paying the 10% service charge after that. No way mister!

Spreading the good will

8 Aug

Rio de Janeiro is an amazing place. I have never been to a city of this size where people are quite so friendly. It’s almost like it’s got a small-town mentality. People speak to you in the streets and shops and generally want to say hello, if not sneak in a handshake or a kiss on either cheek. Meeting people from the favelas makes it even more convincing, they are generally some of the warmest people you can meet.

I haven’t been to many large cities where the people are so friendly. London, Buenos Aires, Barcelona and Berlin all have their moments, but none of them quite have the goodwill of the Cariocas (the name for people from Rio). I think it is because they have such a bad image, the people are constantly trying to prove that it’s a good city, that it’s not just a place of violence and beaches. This is my theory anyway. People in the other cities don’t need to prove anything. People arrive with high hopes that they will like the city and will generally be disappointed. In Rio, people arrive expecting to be robbed, and then get robbed. It’s worth taking the risk though, to get to know the people. The key is to make sure that if you are robbed you don’t lose much.

Now I just need to prove the theory, which means making Israel or Islamabad my next stop. I would be very surprised if the people there didn’t turn out to be some of the friendliest folk around.

In football news, tomorrow is Flamengo v Corinthians. Which potentially meant Ronaldo returning to his boyhood club, the club where he trained at the start of the season until suddenly Corinthians had the money and he switched sides. However, he fell over on his hand, breaking it in the process (he is still carrying a substantial amount of weight, it’s almost surprising the whole arm didn’t break in two) and will miss it. I think he did it on purpose. The Flamengo fans had been knitting Judas banners since the fixtures had been announced. It would have been a horrible experience for him. Now, they will have to wait a year. In the meantime we get to see Adriano, which is at least one great from the game. My money is on a Flamengo upset.

The Real Rio

4 Aug

It’s my second stay in Rio and it seems only know that I am starting to understand it. Before, the favelas had always been a dark area, small clusters of activity existing on the landscape around the centre.  Their height above the city, their lack of roads and non-presence on any maps making them easy to dismiss. Their bad reputation also playing a big factor. But it’d be foolish to dismiss them. Over the past week I have been to 2 favelas. Favela Tavares Basto is one of the safest places in Rio. No gangsters. No guns. No smoking on the street. A deal has been struck with the Police and they maintain the status quo. I imagine this is where the older cops come to see out their years on the force. At the top of the favela is a club, my reason for going. It’s a jazz club (another sign that this isn’t your average favela; no booty beats here!).

View from The Maze, Catete

View from The Maze, Catete

This venue has become quite famous for being featured in the video for Snoop Dogg – Beautiful. It’s naming as a favela surely something of a misnomer. There are as many middle-class people in this neighbourhood as poor.

Yesterday I went to Tabajaras with some friends. Another favela, this time with some of the normal problems that favelas face. Guns are drugs are quite prevalant. Walking through the streets can be quite intimidating, there are huge concrete walls surrounding many of the paths with houses overlooking you in all directions. But visiting with people who know the area makes all the difference. Everyone they see on the street knows their name and stops to chat. It takes about an hour to get to the house we’re trying to reach. Without distraction it would take 15 minutes to walk to this favela from my hostel in the centre of Copacabana, yet they couldn’t be further apart. On entering the favela I felt a lot safer. Copacabana is rife with homeless, people trying to sell you drugs and generally people eyeing you up for a lot longer than is really necessary. It’s a haven for tourists and so muggings happen all the time. The favela feels different, it is a home for a lot of people and isn’t just a place to fleece a few tourists.

That said, my plan to roam around the favelas on my own is still a long way off. I know no way near enough to ever realise that. However, my interest has been piqued. It seems like they get a bad name. All tourists stick to the main spots; Copacabana, Ipanema, the street parties in Lapa, and quite a few of them end up getting mugged. This is partly due to them being drunk and speaking English, wearing too much jewellery, carrying unnecessary cards and money and also a heavy dose of bad luck. The reputation of Rio as dangerous will always remain as tourists will keep on coming and keep on getting mugged in these very same places. As the people doing the muggings come from the favelas it is these barrios that seem to get the brunt of this reputation.

The only time people go into the favelas is through the organised tours or because they are doing some volunteering. The real nature of the favelas is generally hidden from the majority of the people. The shame that the Government feel towards them is remarkable. They take every opportunity to cover up their existence. When Michael Jackson was planning to film a video in Santa Marta, the Government did what they could to cancel it. They presumed that filming inside a favela would give Rio a bad name. It didn’t matter that the video was planning to show the favela as the vibrant community that it is or that the inhabitants were overcome with excitement at the fact that MJ was coming to their neighbourhood, they were just unhappy that it wasn’t going to be set on Ipanema beach or one of their other chosen tourist spots. Recently, they’ve been talking about building walls around some of the favelas to stop them from encroaching on some of the rainforest in the area, in what is surely just another method of trying to hide them from view.

Sometime this week I am hoping to visit Rocinha, a favela in the West of the city. It’s an extremely safe area, and is generally regarded as a great example of building a community.

Here comes the steamboat from Spain

1 Aug

Santa Claus is Dutch. Well the story of Santa Claus is anyway. His original name is Sinterklaas and he wears bishop’s robes and a pointy red hat. He lives in a castle in Spain with Black Pete and every Saint Nicholas’s Eve he catches a boat to Holland. When he arrives, him and a whole tonne of Black Pete’s have a big party before he goes off on his white horse and leaves a sack of presents outside everyone’s house, or sometimes Black Pete will climb down the chimney and put some oranges next to the shoes that the children laid by the fireplace the previous night. If the children have been bad he will leave a bunch of willow branches so the parents can give them a good thrashing. In school, after PE class they sometimes have Black Pete class where all the kids learn how to a good Black Pete. No-one is quite sure why Black Pete is black. It is either because he is an orphan Moor child that Sinterklaas helped and then adopted in Spain, or because he is a chimneysweep.

I think when the Dutch settled in America, they decided that loads of white people smearing black all over their faces and having a celebration might raise a few eyebrows, and so replaced them with Elves. And with their canal network far inferior to that of Holland, the only logical step was to give him a sleigh and bunch of reindeers. I don’t know why the date was changed from 6th December to 25th December. I guess it made things easier for it to be tied in with that Christ chap. Too many holidays in one month could be bad for business after all.

Who knew meeting a Dutch couple could be so enlightening. I feel my mind has expanded!

Oh, and one more thing, the most popular song at this time of year is ‘Here comes the steamboat from Spain.’ I’ve heard it, it’s a classic!