Well I was pretty innocent when I first went there. I felt pretty mature and worldly in Twickenham UK but nothing really had prepared me for Rio and Sao Paulo. These places made Twickenham seem like a mother’s union headquarters in an old people’s home. A bit like what I thought my perfect woman would be at that time, beautiful, exciting and a little bit dirty.
I was only 20 when I first went. I had just started working for a Brazilian Airline and they were sending me on an induction course mixed with a familiarisation tour. I was packed off with dire warnings ringing in my ear. My boss at the time gave me sage cultural advice which was ‘drink little, trust nobody, particularly your local colleagues’ and finally, ‘don’t dip your wick out there as it may well end up falling off’. Silly man I thought, I can look after myself, and have a good time.
It did not start too well. The flight was full between Lisbon and Rio so my boss insisted I should travel in the ‘jump seat’ situated directly behind the pilot. This cockpit seat may sound exciting as you get the best view of the plane and its flight crew but the thrill fades when you have sat on what is really a thinly covered tiny wooden seat for nearly 12 hours. It also does not help when the senior captain resents your presence so much that he has instructed the whole crew not to speak to you in protest.
My final memory of that flight was when the co pilot panicked. The captain (Bligh I called him) demanded that his number two land the plane in Rio for the first time. It was dark, visibility was bad and Galleo airport is surrounded by mountains but Bligh assured him that even a useless pilot like him should be able to do it. The poor chap froze about three quarters of the way down. I just sat, frozen too as Bligh grabbed the controls. I expect that poor chap needed counselling and a new job afterwards. One day I might chronicle all the things I have seen or heard about in cockpits but you might not want to fly again!
We landed and my lift was not there. In this case the "Mañana" attitude really meant mañana as the guy reportedly turned up the following day and waited five hours whilst cursing me and all late and lazy English people. In the end I just got a taxi which was hard as the only Portuguese phrases I had learned in advance were ‘a cold beer please’ and ‘leave me alone’ which were not much good at that time but essential later.
It seemed the taxi driver understood a few more words of English than I his language.
You want ‘pokey pokey’ he asked giving me an exaggerated man-of-the-world wink.
‘’No I replied’ I want the Hotel Gloria’. ‘Ah, you want Gloria’ he nodded enthusiastically.’ I know this Gloria’ he said smugly, ‘she is my sister’s cousin’. ‘I do not want her bloody cousin you moron’ I raged. ‘I just want my bloody hotel! ‘Why you say you want poke pokey’ he asked clearly hurt?
The hotel Gloria sounds as good as it looks but it felt like Nirvana when I finally arrived. It was then a dark shabby place that was full of airline staff, cruising ‘ladies of the night, boys of the night and the occasional transvestite. It seemed ‘pokey pokey’ was a local pastime and the sound of groaning, yelping and ‘oh yessing’ from next door kept me awake all night.
My alarm went off about 6 a.m. as work seems to start and finish early in Brazil. It felt as though I had had no sleep and I was yawning repeatedly as I stood outside the hotel waiting for our minibus. The squealer from the next door room arrived and it was a very demure middle aged Danish lady. It annoyed me that she looked so relaxed especially as it was partly at my expense. We ended up next to each other again on the bus as we motored around Guanabara Bay to the local airport where the courses were run.I could not help staring at a very large bite on her neck which she had clearly not got from any mosquito.
The room was stuffy and very hot. I had grabbed a window seat before realising my mistake. Out there you avoid windows as that is where the blazing sun shines through. I quickly learned that seats further in the room are stuffy but window seats are both stuffy and excruciatingly hot. My lack of sleep started to show and when combined with the soporific atmosphere and direct heat caused me to fall into a deep sleep.
It was here that I got the nickname ‘sleeping beauty’. Apparently I drew attention to myself when starting to snore. I heard the course leader tried valiantly to wake me by roaring in my face and squeezing my nose to no effect. Then they decided to have a little fun with me. They went to the medical room and got a blanket and pillow and wrapped me up like a baby with my head resting on the desk. They then managed to get my thumb in my mouth. Somebody wrote ‘sleeping beauty’ across my forehead in lipstick and then the cameras came out.
I woke and was deeply embarrassed, but even more so when I saw all the Polaroid shots of me on display in the staff canteen, company notice boards and, most humiliatingly, behind the hotel swimming pool bar. ‘Ah, meester sleepy’ the barman greeted me drolly. There was no escape. ‘Things cannot get worse’ I exclaimed. But they did.
That night I had my first brush with the local drink of choice, Caiprinha. It is lovely stuff made from the local cane based fire-water called Cachaca, ice and lime juice. The Gloria pool bar had justly earned great renown for its heady blending of these ingredients and any Caiprinhas I have tasted since are pale imitations of these ‘stingers’. I sat there in the heat of the night talking to my new found friends and drinking a stream of these drinks. I remember saying that I must have an early night to avoid further public humiliation in the morning.
I have often wondered about the expression ‘legless’ when it comes to drinking too much. Unfortunately I and this expression became well acquainted that night. You see those drinks were so cool, fresh and tasty that you really do feel better the more you have. The danger is that you honestly feel stone cold sober. My mind was clear and I thought I was talking lucidly and sharply. Others argued differently later.
All was well until I tried to stand up. You see my head was sober but my legs were not. I honestly could not stand up. Below the waste I was like jelly. I was ‘legless’ and the staff left me there until I got over it. Again I nodded off but this time on a cane seat flopped across the table. I had to bash on the glass doors until the night porter came and grudgingly let me in on the agreement I would not be sick in his hotel.
So that was my first 24 hours in Rio. Want more? Want to know how I survived further scrapes? Want to know how I met Gloria or Ramon as ‘she’ turned out to be?
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of ‘An Innocent in Brazil’!