We emerged from twenty-three hours of flying like wild animals, bleary eyed and not used to natural light. As the sun of Rio de Janeiro washed over us, we stumbled out of the airport dragging our bags behind us.
Almost immediately we were presented with a display of what is termed ‘Latin passion’. A smartly dressed businessman and his wife were arguing in the arrivals terminal. He turned to the woman and gesticulated pulling his hair out: rather than responding with fear, she gestured back, shouting and screaming. Suddenly, he yanked the kicking baby from her arms and stormed towards the exit. Dramatically, she sunk to her knees, and then just as quickly as he had disappeared, he was back, pulling her up, and taking her with him. She kissed him on the cheek, and they both left. Nobody else seemed perturbed by the noise and theatrics involved. In fact, we were the only people to stand watching, mouths agape – welcome to Rio.
After surviving a rather bumpy bus ride to Cobacopana, dodging small vehicles and jumping red lights as horns blared, we walked six blocks up to our hostel, dumped our backpacks and began to explore the beach. It was packed with svelte, tanned volleyball players, energetic footballers and elderly fishermen. Youths confidently strode down acres of white sand in itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny day-glo string bikinis, despite the growing cloud cover. Sugarloaf Mountain loomed over in the distance as aggressive waves splashed and roared against the shore. The sound of samba and loud Portuguese conversation fluttered in the breeze.
That evening we went to a local football match. A derby had been organised between Flamengo and Botefugo, two famous rival clubs. The streets were overflowing with loudmouthed supporters, chanting, drinking beer and dancing into the road as buses veered to avoid them. Rio’s local parliamentary elections were being held the next day and politicians’ cars sped by with megaphones attached, singing out the voting numbers to catchy drum-beats. “I’d like to see David Cameron do that!” a fellow gringo joked.
As we nervously entered the stadium to spectate on the Botefugo supporter´s side, the atmosphere was electric. Around us, giant black flags sporting players’ faces were being frantically waved around. We sat down to await the starting whistle, while our neighbours were standing on their seats, shouting what we later learnt was ‘up yours Flamengo’. Locals were handing out balloons and toilet rolls: as the drumming hit its crescendo, the rolls were thrown downward to produce a fantastic array of falling white streamers. Music and cheering surrounded us. Everything was extremely animated, so much so that we hardly even noticed the match had begun.
Amidst the kettle drums, horns, maracas and singing of the first half, the tourists remained the only people still sat on their seats, nervously clutching at the programmes in Portuguese and clapping only every so often when the match intensified. An old man amongst the supporters suddenly became enraged. He turned to us, gestured towards his heart and screamed an endless rant that ended ´NE APPASSIONATO!´ – he simply could not understand why we had no passion! Why were we sat rather than standing? Why we were not raising our arms to the sky when a ball was kicked off? Why were we not bounding to our feet when it looked like Botefugo might score?
Brazilians are very emotive people, especially when sport is involved. If you cry, you should be wracked with sadness, with tears streaming down your cheeks and your face buried in your hands. If you are joyous, then you should leap up, hug the nearest person and celebrate. The worst thing you can do is sit in your seat and engage in the game by yourself.
Lesson one from Brazil was certainly learnt: live life with ‘Latin passion’. Brazilians are not worried about how they appear to others, and display emotion in every movement that they make. To do otherwise is to not live within the moment. You are not really feeling unless you show it. Life in Rio is a celebration: whether in sadness or in happiness, it must be savoured and enjoyed. Humbled, we rose to our feet, and cheered with our hands to the stars.