(3) Brasil: The Mountainous Center
Rio was just too big. It had outgrown the infrastructure and administration that sought to control it...to govern it...to create sense out of chaos.
With close to 9 million people the novelity of being in Rio wore thin in a hurry. The crush of people and traffic overwhelmed the senses and the sense of well being. We were seemingly the only two white people in town. We were overly conspicuous as tourists and foreigners. We were easy marks. It was time to leave and move on to some place more to our liking.
Homeless people abounded. They filled the parks and benches. They slept in the streets and doorways...anywhere they could find a patch of grass or a piece of concrete. The smell of stale urine reeked through the streets. The desperation that was Rio drove us out. The city was crumbling before our eyes. Structures and buildings that were once proud edifices to a time honored past were rotting into ruin. There was not enough time and money to arrest the decay. We left.
We headed west, into the mountains. Our target was not far away, because we had to get out of Rio first. We mapped our course and set out on a Saturday when traffic was less than on a work day.
It looked easy. A left, another left and then a right at the National Museum. The museum wasnīt there. We missed it somehow. We moved on, following the flow into oblivion. I could see the highway physically and on the GPS. I just couldnīt get there from here. Finally I pulled up beside a police cruiser parked on a side road.
I explained that we were looking for the road to Petropolis. He started to explain in Portugese and readily saw there were too many instructions. He turned on his flashing lights and beckoned me to follow. Ignoring STOP signs and RED lights we moved through the traffic. Only a few blocks away was our Exit. He stopped in the middle of the road and I pulled up beside. He wished me well. We shook hands and then we were off. The GPS tracked the road.
A few kilometers away, the road split. We didnīt see the signs...we missed the Exit. Suddenly, we were heading for Sao Paulo. Usually in Brasil there are RETOURNOs after an exit to assist the unfamiliar in recovering from a mistake. There were none. After a few kilometers I took an exit to a side street and crossed back under the freeway looking for an Access Ramp.
The signs were there. My spirits picked up momentarily. They directed me further away from the freeway and into a poor neighbourhood. The area looked rough. It became rougher. Still the signs encouraged me to continue...deeper into the ruins.
We moved on apprehensively. Enquiring eyes peered into our helmets. As long as we kept moving we should be fine. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity another sign appeared and we swung back towards the freeway. Minutes later we were on the ramp and accelerating...looking for the sign directing us to Petropolis.
The road continued north and west to Brasilia. Is was the main road link with the Capital. It was a four lane divided highway...two separate roads...one exiting Rio and one entering Rio, as it squirmed up and down the mountains that formed a barrier with the coast. The traffic flowed, but 65 kmph was a good average speed. The road had more corners than a pretzal. It was delightful.
Petropolis was jammed. It was too close to Rio. We could not escape the crush. They were having a beer festival. Traffic was backed up for miles. We took a room on the edge of town and enjoyed our solitude. To hell with Petropolis. It became unimportant...
We moved on to Saô Juan del Rei. We must have encountered a thousand motorcycles that day. Travelling in groups of two, four, five, ten or even a bakerīs dozen, they moved on towards us. It was Sunday. Rioīs bikers had been out terrorizing the countryside all weekend. They were now returning for the work day tomorrow. Harleys, BMWs, Hondas, Ducatis and a solitary Yamaha. They were all there. Hundreds of Harleys, dozens of BMWs and more crotch rockets than you would normally encounter in a lifetime...some with their Pacha Mamas glued onto the pillion...others solo. Motorcycles dominated the road. It was a pleasure to witness...
Saõ Juan del Rei was where we first met Aleijadinho. He was Brasilīs Michaelangelo, living from 1730 until 1814. Christened Antonio Francisco Lisboa, he quickly earned the unflattering nickname Aleijadinho which he carries to this day and which labels his work.
You see, Big Al (as we came to call him) lost the use of his hands and his legs when he was still a young man. However, disabilities could not hold him back. He had a mission in life and he moved forward to complete it. With hammer and chisel strapped to his forearms and someone to move him around, he wrought art out of stone.
Aleijadinho...Little Cripple...as he became affectionately known went on to become Brasilīs most revered and respected artist...a Michaelangelo...a legend.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at June 29, 2006 05:18 PM GMT