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Blame it on RIO
Prior to his becoming one of Britain’s best loved actors – before his ennoblement and winning two Oscars – the early eighties saw the great Michael Caine accept any offered film roles, especially if they took him to exotic locations…
His view at the time, apparently, was very much that even though it may not be Pinter, at least it’s a chance to enjoy a well paid holiday at somebody else’s expense – that was certainly the case with “Blame it on Rio” one of his lesser movies.
Having said that, even though it wasn’t a masterpiece, it certainly whetted my appetite for a visit to South America’s Carnival city, although sadly, it’s taken nearly 25 years before I actually got round to it.
Over those intervening years this Samba city has acquired something of a reputation for being one of the planet’s worst examples of a polarised population, with the very rich – in their high-rise penthouses – and the very poor – in their favelas – living cheek by jowl.
Not unnaturally, this has also made it one of the world’s most crime affected locations but so keen was I to see thecity has acquired something of a reputation for being one of the planet’s worst examples of a polarised population, with the very rich – in their high-rise penthouses – and the very poor – in their favelas – living cheek by jowl.
Not unnaturally, this has also made it one of the world’s most crime affected locations but so keen was I to see the
Sugarloaf, the Corcovado, and the Copacabana that thoughts for my personal safety were low down on my priority list. Much higher was the chance to experience the recently opened Fasano Hotel, slap bang on the wonderful crescent of seafront and beach that is Ipanema.
This beautiful new boutique hotel, as ever these days designed by Philippe Starck, has quickly built itself a reputation as one of the best in South America. From its amazing rooftop pool, the view out across this most staggering of landscapes looks positively other worldly and is reminiscent of one of those painted backdrops from the original series of Star Trek.
All that is missing are two moons but with so much cherub like pulchritude, clad in implausibly skimpy g-strings, moons were certainly not in short supply.
Neither was security because everywhere in every building, street corner and park bench there stood either a state trooper, policeman, security guard or tourist policeman, the presence of whom practically outnumbered the throngs in their thongs.
From its amazing rooftop pool, the view out across this most staggering of landscapes
So much so that when out walking on our first day en-route to Leblon, Hi-Life’s first lady speculated that “clearly, the existence of so many security personnel means that crime here must be practically none existent”.
No sooner had those innocent thoughts left her pretty mouth, when from around the corner several gun shots rang out as a drive by shooting – thankfully unsuccessful – disturbed the otherwise idyllic afternoon air. No one batted an eyelid, the sun was out and other than the screech of a car tyre the whole incident was over in a matter of seconds. But compared to the slightly more down at heal blandishments of Little Bispham, this was a first for me.
It wasn’t, though to be the last! After several days of enjoying Rio’s delights which included an organised tour of one of the cities notorious favelas, sanctioned by the area’s own drug baron, who dispatched one of his trusty young lieutenants to be our guide through these fascinating but desperately poor slum streets, we were ready for a change.
A country as large as Brazil, in fact the world’s 5th, cannot be experienced from just one location and with its abundance of natural beauty we were keen to experience a more relaxing and natural side. Where better, we thought than in Bahia, where none other than wine expert Jancis Robinson had recently very much enjoyed her stay, in this eco haven.
Located on a largely deserted peninsula on Brazil’s Atlantic coast and where the only means of entrance or egress is via the hotel’s own rather basic 10 seat aircraft, which hairraisingly lands on their own landing strip, finally stopping just yards from their front door.
Here, cut off from the hurly burly of the 21st Century guests can enjoy gourmet food and spa pampering and with only 28 rooms practically never see another soul. It just goes to show not only the huge bio diversity but also the range in social conditions that exist between city slums and desert island retreats such as this.
“But what of this other incident?” I hear you ask.Well, a week in paradise is just about enough R and R for this townie, so on our way home we flew onto Salvador, Brazil’s original colonial capital and the centre of the Portuguese slave trade. This amazing city, the old town of which is a world heritage site, is unlike anywhere else in this huge country and is often described as being more redolent of Africa than South America. It feels more like Lagos or Freetown and has really managed to preserve its original ethnic roots. That said, it does share the modern countries reputation for crime. Our last day had seen us languidly enjoy the delights of the splendid Covento do Carmo, a 16th Century convent now transformed into a sumptuous 21st century hotel. We watched Casino Royale on DVD in the afternoon before going out for dinner in a stunning, contemporary seafood restaurant, right on the waters edge.
We taxied back to the airport before moseying into the heart of the old city across the square where Michael Jackson filmed his famous Thriller video.
Here, on our return, and emboldened by several Caipirinha cocktails (the national drink of Brazil) we were ultimately confronted by three less than savoury looking nerdowells. They stood before us on the dark cobbled streets, as the middle one without speaking, slowly pulled out a twelve inch mini machete. Now, after our initial experience, the First Lady and I had discussed our tactics should we be so accosted. It had been agreed, so I thought, that she would flee backward whence we had come, whilst I – believing myself to be quick on my feet – would hope to be able to appeal to their better nature. That, however, didn’t take account of our afternoon viewing. “Run” I shouted whilst not taking my eyes off the middle of the three, “Go, go now” I insisted. Only to hear Mrs Hi- Life implausibly shout “you go!”, whilst also looking at the same, increasingly confused assailant. Without speaking he looked first to his left and then to his right for clarification from his companions as to what was going on here?
They looked back equally bemused and after a moment’s – but it seemed like longer – figurative head scratching, they shrugged their shoulders and slowly backed off before blending into the night. Clearly, they thought, discretion was the better part of valour. Why involve themselves with two demented tourists who clearly didn’t understand their roles in these matters, there’d be more along in a minute. It was only back at the hotel that I realised, in all the excitement, that my reading spectacles had fallen from my torn open shirt.
Thus, dear reader, should you choose to journey to this beautiful and diverse country – forget Greeks bearing gifts – Brazilian’s wearing Gucci glasses are the ones to look out for.
This amazing city, the old town of which is a world heritage site, is unlike anywhere else in this huge country and is often described as being more redolent of Africa than South America.
HOTEL FASANO RIO DE JANERIO
Av. Viera Souto 80,
Rio de Janerio, RJ, Brasil,
Tel: 0055 21 3202 4000
CONVENTO DO CARMO
Rua do Carmo,
1 – Pelourinho, Salvador, Brasil
Tel: 0055 71 3327 8400
KIAROA ECO-LUXURY RESORT
Marau, Bahia, Brasil
Tel: 0055 71 3272 1320