Saturday, May 7

South America, Day Fifteen: Rocinha

Apart from a few days in school and many years later in Morocco, I never really had the chance to even inclination to do the whole hostel thing. The one I stayed in for my final night in South America was nothing like what I had experienced back then or expected now. It was pretty good and could maybe even be considered as high level. In fact it kind of made me regret not having done it for the night before too. Still, the mixed dorm was fun for one night too, not that I had time to mingle too much.

I got out soon after breakfast to check out the nearby beaches; since I was staying in Ipanema, the beach of the same name as well as the possibly more renowned Copacobana were only a few minutes walk away each. Although I spent most of the morning on them, I wasn't too impressed and I failed to see how either could be considered amongst the world's best beaches. They weren't too clean, and the waters seemed very tumultuous and unpredictable. I'm hardly an expert on beaches, but I could think of at least three or four better that I had been to myself. It took me ages to get any kind of decent pictures and it was all so uninspiring. But sure, the ladies were hot.

For the afternoon I caught a favela, or shanty town, tour. The best part for me was the motorbike taxi on the way up to the top of Rocinha, despite it only costing 2 of the 65 Reais we paid for the whole tour. Since the ban for two men to ride bikes came into effect in Karachi it's been over a decade since I last rode on a bike as a passenger, and I totally lapped up the five minute ride as we wound up the mountain.

The rest of the tour consisted of walking back down through the town itself. If any of you have been to the equivalents in the Subcontinent or Africa then you will probably get a good idea of what this involved. If I'm being a little brutally honest, in comparison to those other places Rocinha was quite luxurious (it must have been the drug lord funding) but we managed to play the part of well-meaning tourists anyway and lapped up the poverty porn. We learned about how favelas were societies unto their own, with their own laws and rules.

Although I got back relatively early at 4pm, I was pretty much done for the day, and indeed the trip. Since we had no inclination to do anything else, after a final South American lunch of MacDonald's we decided to head off to the airport early, but not before taking part in a pro-marijuana rally. Don't ask. As an aside, Rio was a little bit of a let down, not least because of the lack of a prayer room or chapel. That makes it exceptional rather than typical; I can't recall using an an international airport in the last decade that didn't have one.

And of course the very last thing to do on a holiday like this is to play The Loose Change Game - the idea being to finish a trip such as this one with no local currency in my pocket. I did well this time, my 5.50 Reais buying me a bottle of water and a pao de queijo cheese bread ball thing. I had no Argentine Pesos either, but the 2000 Chilean I had burning in my pocket since Valpo did lose me points.

But this was truly it; I was coming home. The most disorientating thing was realising that I had only been away for two weeks - it certainly felt like much more than that, especially when I did the maths. I counted four countries, eleven towns or cities and over ten new friends (well, on Facebook at least) which I consider to be pretty incredible for fifteen days, particularly because it didn't feel like I had rushed or missed out on too much. Nevertheless I did feel that my time in South America was up and I did want to get back to home and normality. As I woke up mid-flight and realised that I had missed take-off again, it became clear how full circle I had travelled.

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