Things get tasty in the city
20.06.2013 - 20.06.2013
Football in Brazil is a phenomenon, you could say its even bigger than Jesus, and he is as big as they get here in Rio.
When looking at our South American tour, we looked at attending a football match at the Stadio Maracana. Thursday 20th June was a confederation cup match between Spain and Tahiti, unfortunately due to my inability to speak Portuguese we didn't book the tickets and decided to see if we could get some tickets off a tout outside the stadium.
The week before departing there had been protests at other confederation cup matches. What started in Sao Paolo and Rio as protests against fare hikes on public transport soon evolved into a mass of Brazilians voting with their feet against the cost of hosting the confederations cup, the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Quite fairly, Brazilians couldn't see why the government was raising taxes to host the sporting events whilst areas of education, health and social welfare go drastically underfunded.
Monday night saw a crowd of 100,000 march through Rio and with further protests in at the Brazil confederations cup match in São Paulo on Wednesday it was clear they were gaining momentum and critical mass.
It was widely publicised there would be another protest on Thursday so we decided to steer clear of the stadium and the surrounding areas. Throughout the day as we tourist hopped around the city, groups were gathering outside metro stations preparing signs and meeting friends before heading off. The protesters from what we could see where from all age groups and backgrounds though mainly young. I saw a stat saying 77% of protestors had achieved higher education. The protest was reported to have had anything from 300,000 to 1m people in attentandance last night, the first protests Rio had seen since 1992, with similar protests in 80 other cities in Brasil, these people wanted to be heard.
Picture Courtesy of the Guradian.co.uk
Our close call
Having checked the news and local reports we were fairly confident the protest would stay around the stadium and the buildings of political power in the central district, far from where we were staying.
On the way out for dinner the streets were very lively, a Thursday night in Rio; people drinking, eating, playing music and getting ready to samba! Nothing out of the ordinary. We were headed to Rio Scenario, a four floor samba palace where the caipirinhas flow and the food and company is good.
BANG! People screamed and began running away from where the noise came from 20m behind us. Not to be left behind we ran till the end of the street, passing by many people with their hands in the air to surrender. Another bang, this time much louder and we felt the vibration through the ground, looking back down the street you could see the tear gas leaving the canister.
Turning right at the end of the street, the riot police were waiting and we could see ahead a mass of protestors proceeding down Avenue Republica do Paraguai. Another large bang. Natalie and I dove into a hotel lobby, keen not to be associated with the protest in any way. The Manager of the hotel told us we could not stay there as if he let us in, everyone would come in and he didn't want any trouble. News was spreading from across the city that violence was breaking out and protestors were smashing windows, looting and vandalising property. In Sao Paulo another protester was setting fire to a building and had overturned a bus. Messages were confusing and the hotelier wasn't going to take his chances.
Despite being only 500m from our accommodation we were told not to walk and to take a taxi. Our taxi arrived, drove to end of road, saw the protestors ahead, shouted in Portuguese and reversed the car back up the road to the hotel where he got out the car. As he continued to shout, we headed back into the hotel who reluctantly agreed to let is stay until things calmed down.
Forty minutes passed and we decided it best to try to get back to our apartment, a large square stood between us and we were worried the protest would gather there and it was best to get back sooner or later. As we stepped out the hotel other restaurants were opening their shutters and people emerging to find their way home. We joined a few others and walked briskly to the end of the street.
Bizarely, the bar area we'd been in earlier seemed unaffected, people were still sat out drinking, eating and singing their way into the night. A number of Brazil shirts were out, a few had face paint on, and the odd banner could be seen but no sign of real disturbance.
No sooner were we back in our flat and we heard another tear gas cylinder go off on the street we had walked through not two minutes ago, the noises continued intermittently for the next half hour. From our window we could see the riot police in the square and watched as they fired rubber bullets at the protestors and launched further smoke and tear gas canisters. Four helicopters circled ahead and the scene was a disco of police lights.
There was no real mass of people and we got the impression they were trying to disperse people at any cost and prevent any gatherings. We heard a real loud bang and looked to our left to see people running down the street. Tear gas was rising less than 20m from our front door.
Not long after, the riot police came down the street. People disappeared into bars who shut down their metal blinds. A few revellers stayed behind to taunt the police, throwing bottles at them. In return the police fired several shots down the street at them.
Another canister was opened right outside our front door and we could see the gas passing the window. you could instantly feel your eyes start to sting and your throat tingle when it went past. It was my first tear gassing and I have to say, I won't be rushing to try it again!!
The police passed and all was calm for a while. Twenty minutes later the noise escalated again and people ran from the streets again, this time being chased down by police on motorcycles. Again it seemed that the people weren't necessarily protestors, just people who had been in bars then the police had come along throwing tear gas and trying to prevent any gatherings.
I'm normally on the side of the law and think there's no smoke without fire but watching I had to feel they were being too heavy handed and indiscriminate in who they shot at. Reports from last night show journalists and bystanders being injured in the crossfire.
Soon after the motorcycles, a lone policeman came down the street and kicked down a door where some people had ran into firing off three rubber bullets through the doorway. People upstairs threw a bucket of water off the balcony but were not quick enough to get him.
Eventually the police and protestors left with the occasionally bang going through the night. A fair bit of excitement to our time in Rio and I can't say it's charismatic. It is clearly a one off night and similar to other protests across the world We have honestly felt safer here than in many cities in Europe. A man on the bus today warned us another protest would be in Barra tonight and the protest had been a long time coming for the people of Rio frustrated at years of bad government.
Even as I write this, the occasional noise is heard outside and it may continue for a few days yet. A real shame as we won't get to see the real Rio, the nightlife and samba dancing party nation we were so looking forward to. Hopefully some resolve will come out of it, for everyone's sake.
What an adventure!