We took a bus back to Rio, checked into a small hotel and met Ben back at the hostile around 6:30. He had a great night without us the night before and partied with 2 natives of Rio (one a lovely lady...) until the wee hours of the morning.
He said he liked them so much that he wanted to meet up with them that evening. They invited him for dinner, but when he said he was meeting up with us, they invited us too!
So we walked to Mike's apartment, conveniently and ideally located in the heart of Copacabana, near the beach. Mike is a Brazilian lawyer and spoke perfect English. His friend (we are ashamed to say we never got her name) spoke only Portuguese, but Ben was able to communicate with her in Spanish - and in the language of love :). He and Mike translated for us monolingual speakers as necessary.
Mike had hundreds of CDs scattered around his flat and almost as many DVDs. He alternated his conversation with us with playing DJ, choosing mostly opera and female folk singers as entertainment. During dinner, he chose his favorite DVD's to play in the background -- Gigi and the Sound of Music. (The Sound of Music translated into Portuguese is the The Misfit Nun!) He and I sang every word while the others at the table talked and L looked on in horror :) We maintain that Mike was straight, just a bit eccentric and a terrific guy.
We had a gorgeous authentic Brazilian meal -- a rice dish similar to paella, salad and a few other dishes we couldn't identify (one was a yellow paste similar to grits).
By the time we finished dinner it was after 10:00 and we were exhausted. Mike, though, convinced us we had to go with him to a samba show in town. Apparently the place to see and be seen on a Sat night. So we agreed. If we had known we wouldn't leave his apt til midnight, we might have backed out. But we're glad we didn't.
We took a taxi into town and arrived at what looked like a carnival. Hundreds of locals lingering outside an arena, with music blasting, people dancing, food vendors, etc. And we weren't even in the action yet! We then entered the arena which was full of local people drinking, socialing, dancing, etc. The place was decked out in pink and green and most people were wearing those colors as well.
Mike explained to us that this party takes place every Sat night for 6 months leading up to Carnival. They have a different samba band each week, and out of 200 groups, judges choose only 1 to perform at Carnival. So its a big deal.
Then the show started. The ringleaders cleared the dance floor and a man in the balcony announced the evening's show. He then introduced the band, which was all males, ranging in age from 8 to 80. Samba is all about the drums (and one guy who plays the ukelele). When they started beating, the place started jumping. A group of men and women processed into the arena with pink and green balloons and soon the whole place, all shapes, sizes and ages, followed them around in a circle, singing and dancing. The volume and energy in the place was incredible!
When that song finished, another one started and the festivities continued. They even distributed leaflets with the words to the songs so everyone in the place could sing along. (L volunteered for a solo but they turned him away bc he wasn't a local...) After a few ,the roof of the place opened to reveal the clear night sky. Good thing because it was getting hot in there.
Despite the frenzy, L and I could hardly stay awake. We stayed as long as possible but finally escaped in a taxi at 3am. And the party had just begun. Mike said they typically last til well into the morning - he said he normally gets home around 5-6am!
The next day, we were dragged kicking and screaming out of the hostile, but we had reservations at the Sheraton so we had to leave. It was about a 30 min drive to the Sheraton which was just across the street from a huge, beautiful beach. Words cannot explain our excitement when we walked into this luxurious hotel. This would also be the stay that would use up the remainder of my Starwood points. Not a bad way to go.
So we check in and the woman says that my reservation had been canceled. What????? how could that be???
I racked and racked my brain and realized that I had indeed cancelled the reservation 1 month before so that we could stay the extra night in Santiage. Hmmmm. I was sure I re-booked it... We were just about to suck it up and pay the $160 US per night when i realized I had written down the confirmation # in my journal. So I pulled that out and she very kindly pointed out to me that we were at the wrong Sheraton. NOOOOOOOO!!!
So, we got our bags back and hopped in another cab. L was not happy, but at least we didn't have to go over budget to splurge for a hotel.
We were sure the other Sheraton would not be nearly as nice. But it was. And it was on a private beach. Bonus!
When we checked in there, we ran into the American guys that we had dived with in Buzios. They had mentioned they were staying at the Sheraton but we never figured we'd run into them. Small world indeed!
We spent the day doing absolutely nothing. Had some lunch by the gorgeous huge pool, swam, sunbathed and slept. Magic. I must admit, if we were going to to go out in style, this was certainly the way to do it...
But there was one incident which literally put a damper on the whole stay -- Hurricane Katrina. I heard that it was heading for New Orleans, but as happens with every other hurricane that has threatened, I was confident it would turn at the last minute and not hit New Orleans. We were literally glued to the tv for the next 2 days straight as we learned that this was no longer a warning, it was a reality. I tried to reach my parents and my sisters, but I continued to get voicemails. I was confident they had evacuated to my sister's house in Baton Rouge, but my father has been known to be stubborn in the past, so I wasn't sure.
We were glued to CNN as the nightmare evolved. I could not believe my eyes when a newscaster in the French Quarter was up to his ankles in water in the morning and then 5 hours later from the same spot was up to his waist in water! Not to mention the pictures and stories that were coming from the Superdome and the Convention Center. I could not believe this was happening to my city!! It was totally surreal!
We finally left the hotel to get to an Internet cafe in Ipanema. Yes, this is the most famous beach in Rio, but that didn't seem to matter. I tried my family again but this time got no signal whatsoever. I finally emailed a couple of friends to ask them to continue trying to reach them. Thankfully, Amy Cross saved the day when she got through to my sister, Valerie. She then reported to me that the family was high and dry, all living at my sister Stephanie's house in Baton Rouge. HUGE sigh of relief.
When we finally started to see stories repeated, we figured it was ok to go out again. We enjoyed more time by the pool and went our for our last meal. We had anticipated a crazy last night out, but we were both exhausted and didn't feel like it was appropriate given what was going on in the south. We had a drink at the hotel bar and called it a night. I continued to try to reach the family but to no avail. We had a flight to catch the next morning so it would have to wait til we got back to England.
How do you describe the feeling of getting into the last taxi to go to the last airport for your final flight of a 7 month holiday? Depressing? Bittersweet? Anxious? Overwhelming? It was a mixture of all of the above.
L managed to pry me away from the tv to catch a taxi to the airport. As we did with most coutries, we watched the town go by during the short ride and said goodbye to our last country. We landed in London early the next morning, and within the blink of an eye it was all over (she says with a tear in her eye).
No pictures of our farewell, but please read on for the conclusion...