February 26, 2004
Fly Like An Eagle / The Chaperone
DAY 126 (Part 1): Lara was buttering another fresh baguette in the morning, before spreading on a layer of her favorite spread Marmite, which she excitedly received the day before when her friends Ester and Pago brought it over from home. We sat over breakfast and waited around for people to come over at 9:30 so we could all try and go hand-gliding together. First to arrive were Esther and Pago and I leaned out the window to see if anyone was coming around. Suddenly I recognized a familiar wavy hairstyle on a guy walking around, looking fairly confused.
"I think I see Dundee," I told Lara before running the five flights of stairs down to catch up with the Australian Tim whom we'd befriended in La Paz. He reminded us of a cross between Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin and Paul "Crocodile Dundee" Hogan, and usually referred to him as "Steve" or "Dundee" -- although not to his face. Lara had yelled his real name out the window, signaling him to walk over to our building.
I met Tim downstairs on the street and said my hellos. He had flown from Salvador to Rio the night before, but never got my email about meeting at the Copacabana Palace at 11 the night beofre. Fortunately for him, upon looking up our apartment, a resident offered him an apartment rental on the spot, which he snatched.
My brother Mark, Terence, Paul and Sharon arrived as I was standing out on the sidewalk with Tim, and the six of us joined the others upstairs. Kate and Jilly came shortly thereafter and we were off -- minus Pago and Esther who weren't interested in the jump, and Tim who had been stopped by his landlord to do paper work.
"I'll just catch up with you later," he told us.
The rest of us walked down to the Superfly Handgliding/Paragliding truck near our usual restaurant La Maison. No one was there, which was weird because we had always seen someone, so we waited around at a table for drinks until someone came. After a while, I just used the payphone to call the number on the side of the truck. The woman on the other end told me that although it was a nice sunny day at sea level, it was cloudy up in the mountains and not clear enough for flights. She said that the cloud coverage might clear up in the afternoon and told me to call back at 1:30. Optimistic, I made a reservation for a pick-up at 2:00 anyway.
The eight of us disbanded for a bit to regroup at one and went our own ways. Sharon, my brother's friend from San Francisco, had met a group of Californian guys on her flight and wanted to look them up -- they were staying at the fancy Rio Othon hotel and so we walked with her to check it out. Mark, Paul and Sharon went up to their room, leaving Terence and I to wander around the rooftop pool area. We managed to snag a picture of the view before we started to get looks from staff who I guessed knew we weren't staying at the hotel. We just went back to the lobby bar and drank caipirinhas, watching the many Americans come in and out in beach wear.
We walked back to the the meeting place along the beach, through the crowds of tourists claiming stakes on practically every inch of sand. We stopped off at one of the many drink stands along the way for another round before meeting up for lunch -- and for Terence and Mark, more beers. I went off to call Superfly again and as predicted, the sky was clear enough. We finished our lunches just in time for our transport at two o'clock. Joining us for the ride was an elderly Swede who anxiously wanted to fly like eagles like the rest of us. Terence and Mark on the other hand, temporarily lost enthusiasm as they both passed out in their respective seats -- Terence more than anyone; he didn't even wake up when we got to the Superfly meeting place on the beach in nearby São Conrado and we just left him in the van.
Terence eventually woke up for yet another round while we waited for the glide organizer to sort us out. He sat at a table with another beer, across from the Swedish guy and started up a conversation with him, while I sat by the curb overlooking the beach. Later, Terence told me the conversation went something like this:
"So, did you sign all your paperwork with your landlord?" he asked.
The Swede had no idea what he was talking about.
"'Rik, is this your Australian friend?!" he called to me.
"No, he's Swedish."
Embarrassed and drunk, Terence came to sit on the curb next to me.
I was next to go up and was picked up by my pilot Saqua, a very experienced glider of nineteen years who had his own handgliding school and had accomplished the feat of flying 100 miles over the California desert. With his glider folded and mounted on the top of his car, we and his assistant drove up the 1805 ft. up the mountain along a steep, winding road. At the top, I met the others who were already in gear and ready to fly and soon suited up myself in a helmet and safety harness while Saqua and his assistant put the glider together.
"Okay, you have to run with me," Saqua said, stressing the importance of being in sync with our footsteps as we were to run down the wooden platform over a quarter of a mile high before jumping off the cliff. I put my hand on his shoulder and my right foot forward as instructed for a practice run on level ground.
"Okay, I'll count down three, two, one and then we run," he instructed. I wondered if he meant start running on "one" or after "one," but he started the countdown already.
"Three... two... "
"Wait, which foot first?"
We ran and kept our speeds together with the help of the arm around the back, hand holding the shoulder.
"Good, you have it," he told me. I was hoping it wasn't just beginner's luck.
Jilly and Lara were already in the air (picture above) when our glider entered the queue for the runway. Saqua did a quick weight check with me and fastened a bunch of things that I hoped would save my life if need be. I felt pretty confident that things would go well, and was just excited to just be in the air. In less than a minute, we were on the runway, ready to go.
"Three... two... one!!!"
We ran in sync and jumped off the edge. Wind caught our sail immediately and soon we were soaring in the air above the mountain residences and eventually the beach and the ocean. A soared with a permanent smile on my face, laughing most of the time, which was good for the bunch of pictures taken by camera mounted on the side of the frame, which Saqua took with his remote control.
"Do you want to drive?" he asked me.
He put my hands on the grips where his were and let go. "Okay, I have to take a nap now because I am going to Carnaval tonight," he joked while pretending to nod off for a second.
With the wind as my companion, I tried to navigate the glider left, right, up and down to Saqua's commands, but it wasn't so easy. I was pulling when I should have been leaning and leaning when I should have pushing or I don't know -- I just know that I never really went in the direction I was supposed to. I almost took us out to sea until Saqua took the controls to steer us back towards the beach.
We gradually descended for our landing on the beach. Saqua explained something about the procedure of landing, and I was a little confused as where to hold onto. Unknowingly, I was holding onto his arm.
"Don't hold my arm, I'm steering!"
Quickly I moved it to a strap hanging off his chest. Before I knew it, we were coming in for the landing. At the end, he jerked the glider up a little so we could just land on two feet. I fell over though, but with a smile on my face.
"You are a good pilot," he entertained me. "Next time, just don't grab my arm."
He gave me the roll of film and went off to prepare his glider for the next client.
"How many beers did you have?"
Apparently Terence was drunk enough to not even lie about it. "Uh, seven?"
"You can't go handgliding," he told him, before explaining to us that you really need to be coordinated for the initial run down the platform.
"No, I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm okay," Terence said in his slurrred speech.
"I'm going to put you with a paraglider," he told him, explaining to us that it's just as good to come down with a parachute, and without any coordinated running.
"Yeah, you should do that," Mark said.
"Good call there," I said.
Terence was out of it enough not to complain and went with a paragliding pilot rather than the next handgliding one. Mark, who had sobered up enough, went with the pilot that Terence was supposed to have.
Kate and Jilly had left in a taxi to get their transport to the Sambadrome, leaving me at the table with just my roommate Lara. We caught up on our inside gossip over orange Fantas until the rest of the temporary eagles came back down to the beach. Sharon was all smiles when she came down, as was Paul. Terence came down in the parachute and stumbled across the beach, giving me his signature middle finger from afar when I took his photo. We waited around until Mark came down with his pilot who told him that out of all the places to paraglide commercially in the world, Rio was probably the best.
With our group all smiling and thrilled by our unmotorized flights in the air, he hopped back in our transport van with our same driver who had us speak on his mobile phone to prove we were with him so the woman on the other line, I take it, didn't think he was cheating on her since he was running late. He probably would have run late anyway with all the traffic on the way back to Copacabana. With all the spontaenous samba parades closing down streets left and right, traffic jam was an understatement. Luckily, we were entertained by a couple of street jugglers through the window.
We kept our card on green for most of the time to beckon the different cuts of steak, chicken, pork or bacon-wrapped scallops. Us carnivores dined with a bottle red wine while listening to the musical stylings of the piano player nearby who played classic tunes like "Feelings," "My Way" and of course, a jazzy "The Girl From Ipanema." Eventually the meat was just coming too fast and we turned off the spigot by turning our card to red, but waiters came regardless with juicy meats that we couldn't resist anyway. Needless to say, there should have been a sign out front that stated, "Vegetarians need not enter."
With my stomach full of food, I was glad that I wasn't going handgliding right after.
DAY 126 (Part 2): A taxi took us to the apartment in Santa Teresa, which was situated on a dead end street called Rua Murtinho Nobe that most cab drivers didn't know the location of. With the help of CB radio, we eventually made it to the three-bedroom place on the third floor of a five-story building. We sat around, beerless, wondering what to do before going to the Sambadrome for the first night of Carnaval after midnight. Sharon went off into the other room and come back with a smile.
"I have a date."
Apparently, the 27-year-old Sharon fancied the cab driver she rode with the night before who was trying to pick her up with a line about trying some the Brazilian asaieda fruit. After she called him on the phone and her high came down, she was suddenly all indecisive about having called the stranger for a night out in the first place and asked the rest of us for advice.
"Just follow your heart," Terence said with a snicker before we all busted out laughing.
"How can I say, I haven't met the guy," I said, not knowing saying it designated me as a chaperone.
"I'm just going to sit with him on the steps," she said. She said she wasn't out looking for a one-night stand.
"We can just follow you like a group of chaperones, like in The Godfather," Terence joked.
"He's a cab driver, he'll probably want to drive you somewhere."
"Am I being stupid?" she asked.
Paul just shrugged his shoulders.
Eventually Marcelo the cabbie came in his taxi and parked in front of the building on the quiet street. We saw him waiting outside from our window.
Sharon, all dressed up to impress went downstairs, but not without dragging me along to check him out. With very limited Portuguese, Sharon tried to communicate with the tall, dark and I guess handsome cabbie who fortunately spoke some English. As predicted, he wasn't about to sit on the steps all night and was there to pick her up to take her somewhere. Marcelo looked fine to me, so I gave Sharon the heads up and announced that I was going out for a beer run.
"Can you give my friend Erik a ride to the market?"
I thought maybe she wanted a wingman for a bit longer and so I hopped in the backseat, while the impressionable San Franciscan girl sat up front. All of the stores in the area were closed, so a local beer run was out of the question. By the time we finished wandering for an open store, Sharon felt confident enough to go off with Marcelo and dropped me off, beerless. The two of them continued on to the otherside of town to buy the supposed fruit for her to try. "Do you want me to get beer?" Sharon asked me.
"I don't have any money."
"I feel like I'm giving you an allowance," I said as I gave her twenty reais. "Don't spend it all in one place now -- unless it's for beer."
Sharon gave me her key to get back in the building and told me she'd be back by midnight so she could go with us to the Sambadrome. The two drove off for "fruit" -- and hopefully my drinks.
"I love this cameraman," I said.
Midnight -- the time that Lonely Planet suggests is primetime to get cheap scalper tickets into the Sambadrome -- was approaching and there was no news from Sharon. We couldn't exactly leave since I had her key and she couldn't get back in, which made us all jokingly yell "Sharon!" the way Ozzie Osbourne does to call his wife. We sat in the bedroom, watching the hedonistic festivities about a mile away -- on a little TV, feeling like the losers in American Pie. It was a pretty pathetic sight.
Suddenly the phone rang.
"Are you guys mad at me?" Sharon said on the other line.
"No," I said, the chaperone.
"We're on our way back, the place was really far. Do you still want beer?"
Another hour of watching the boobies and asses on TV, Sharon finally arrived with our beers. With the night progressing without us, we just left the beers in the fridge and headed out. The one good thing about Sharon dating a taxi driver was that suddenly the rest of us had a free lift to the Sambadrome. Marcelo dropped us boys off near where the scalpers were (picture below) and left with Sharon to continue their date, lost in translation.
Sector 6 however, was on the other side of the parade route, and it took a while to figure out how to get to the other side. It was fun anyway, watching the party revelers around the Sambadrome, and the kids with party spray foam attacking some guy who was taking a nap on the grass. When the guy woke up, face covered in foam, he didn't know what was going on. A little kid ran up to him and threw even more foam in his face.
Eventually we found our sector and stood at the front with the hundreds of others cheering on their favorite team. For the past twenty years, Carnaval in Rio is actually a competition of the top fourteen samba schools, or teams, who create the theme, costumes, choreography and floats to express an particular idea each year as they parade down six blocks to the Sambadrome arch at the end. For example, the Grande Rio school's theme for 2004 centered around safe sex -- a lot of their choreography involved a lot of homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual making out. Each of their floats had some sort of giant inflated condom on it -- some even had huge statues of Adam and Eve having sex on it and were actually censored by officials. Grande Rio made the best of the situation, and covered the sex acts with blankets and a big "CENSORADO" banner on it.
I was really impressed with Unidos da Tijuca's finale float which actually included two figure eight go-cart tracks on it with guys driving around as people danced around them. But the star of this first night of Carnavale was Mangueira, the school I went to see practice just the weekend before. Being from the slums outside of Rio, many people in the stands were cheering on, waving their pink and green Mangueira flags. I didn't know the exact Portuguese words to their song to sing along to, but I faked it with mouth movements. We all enjoyed the whole thing anyway as we danced and tried to sing along with the locals and tourists around us.
The sun was starting to come up around six in the morning, and there was still another school to perform for their 90 minute performance. Tired of partying in the stands, we just left at dawn, knowing we'd be back in the Sambadrome the next day anyway.
When we managed to get back to the apartment after confusing a taxi driver without directions, Sharon was there waiting. She had only just gotten back from her date with Marcelo, the last hour of which was spent outside the apartment. Marcelo wanted a real kiss goodnight, but Sharon would only give him a peck on the cheek. He waited around for it, but she refused and stood out there hoping that her team of chaperones would scare him off -- meanwhile, we were too busy partying at Carnaval. She eventually got rid of Marcelo and waited up for us.
I was dead tired when I got back and just slept in the spare room on the floor, in the darkness, away from the sunrise coming from the windows of the other rooms. I was sleeping for a good half hour when Sharon yelled at me in shock when she opened the door.
"OH MY GOD!"
"What? What?" I said as a chill went throughout my body from the shock of the rude awakening.
"You can't sleep on the floor!"
"Uh, I just was sleeping on the floor."
"I won't have it. You shouldn't sleep on the floor."
"It's no big deal. I'm tired."
She grabbed my arms and led me to her full-sized bed where I managed to get back to sleep while she stayed up talking in the other room.
Still a little cranky, I decided that I would never be a chaperone again.
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