Foreigners, including myself, typically think of Rio de Janeiro as this paradise-like place of beaches, sunshine, samba queens, jazz clubs and easy going bohemian lifestyle. And this is exactly how it is…to a certain extent. If you would somehow only see Copacabana and Ipanema on sunny days and the best nightclubs, this idea could easily attach itself inside your brain. But most people will also notice a few other things in Rio.
For me, one of the most negative sides is the traffic, which is very chaotic and slow most of the time. Buses are currently the main mode of public transportation in Rio, but the subway system (Metro Rio) is being expanded, which is highly needed.
By walking just a few blocks up from Copacabana beach, you can find the busy shopping street, Avenida Nossa Senhora Copacabana, where there is no time to relax, most people are rushing and you will hardly see a happy looking face. On the contrary, you will see people looking worried, checking the time, many pedestrians walking against a red light to save one or two minutes and cars nearly crashing into them in many cases. I find this interesting, maybe these pedestrians are thinking: “I just saved a minute there. It was definitely worth risking my life for that! It adds up in the long run, you know.”
Patience is not the order of the day on this street, I saw a car stop for a brief moment there the other day to pick up a passenger and instantly the drivers behind him started a concert of honking, screaming some carefully chosen swearwords from their windows and so on. If you find yourself in a similar situation here in Rio where you feel Brazilian swear words are required, here is a list of popular swear words in Portuguese that I learned at school the other day:
Filho de puta!
One day recently, I was with a group from school waiting for a bus on the same Nossa Senhora to go to the famous attraction, Pao de Acucar. We waited for almost one hour before giving up on this bus that never arrived. This is a problem with the public transportation in Rio de Janeiro, it is not too reliable. Another problem on busy streets, such as Nossa Senhora, is that you have at least ten different bus routes driving there, sometimes three of them arriving at a stop at the same time, people waving for them to stop, but they drive past because of lack of space, heavy traffic, stress, uncertainty or what do I know. But this is another factor that makes them hard to rely on, even though they run according to plan more often than not.
I have also been told that the trains here are unreliable, as they often break down, causing long delays for passengers on their way to work, school or other commitments. In fact I think the traffic might be one of the reasons why it is generally considered acceptable here to arrive late and have a flexible attitude towards time. Transport is of course also one of the biggest infrastructure challenges that have raised doubts on whether Brazil was fit to host grand sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics. With regards to the World Cup, I think so far, there haven’t been major issues with the transport of football fans, even though bus driver strikes and metro workers strikes in some cities haven’t come at the best time.
In spite of the traffic, mosquitos and a few other negative aspects of Rio, the positives have by far outweighed the negatives for me here. One stark contrast I have noticed was between the people commuting in Nossa Senhora and the people I saw in Vidigal favela when I passed through there, was that in Vidigal, most people seemed to be enjoying the moment, e.g. children smiling and playing ball games or with toys, grownups playing cards or having fruitful conversations and so on.