Thursday, July 28, 2016

Joyous Return To Rio

It's been nine years since my initial visit to Rio de Janeiro.

Reflecting on my first day back in Brazil's coastal metropolis, I sure hope summer 2016 will be only the second of many joyous returns to Rio.

The morning began on Delta Air Lines flight DL21 somewhere over the Amazon rain forest. Early rays of the dawn showcased the earth's curve and jungle-wrapped reservoirs 35,000 feet below our aircraft.

By our 8:30 a.m. landing, I was a little tired and anxious but overwhelmed with relief -- so happy to finally be in the Olympic City.

The five-ringed journey to Rio in some ways began in 2009. I was one of the stunned Chicago 2016 Olympic bid volunteers in Daley Plaza when the Windy City lost the first-round of voting, and had a lot invested in a Chicago win.

At the time, I did not think conversion to "Rio fan" status was possible.

But by 2010 and especially at Brazil House during the 2012 London Olympics -- where a showcase of Rio's plan was on view -- I could not help getting excited.

The deep pile of event tickets on my hotel desk proves I may have gotten too excited (yes, definitely over-spent on tickets).

As our plane pulled up to the gate, there was a subtle difference from the arrival at Beijing or London -- perhaps for austerity reasons, given Brazil's troubled national economy of recent months -- there were no "welcome to Rio" Olympic signs affixed to the terminal. And on what seemed to be a half-mile walk from the plane to the customs and baggage claim hall, only one floor-to-ceiling advertisement for Olympic sponsor Samsung came into view. No big deal, just one of those things.

Limited edition pins; only 300 made.
I was biting my nails as my carry-on bag full of pins (40 pounds of them) got special attention in the "nothing to declare" screening area. But with a smile and brief explanation of Olympic pin collecting history, not to mention luck the guard had seen enough with my top-most box of trading materials, I was free to go, breathing easy my 300 blogger pins made it through (whew!).

Exiting customs into the main airport lobby, there was a sea of Brazilian media staked out to photograph and interview arriving athletes.

It was only later in the day I learned Usain Bolt and the Jamaica Olympic Team touched down about an hour after my flight.

Since my rolling suitcase is a Team Canada-branded bag from Beijing 2008, one curious reporter from Fox Sports started a Periscope interview, asking me about my Olympic plans and my take on Rio's preparations -- quite a welcome back to Brazil!

Swiss House under construction in Rio
The taxi ride through the city went right by the Mare favela neighborhood, graffiti, and school recently featured on Vox. Closer to our destination, the Hotel Vermont in Ipanema -- where we were "Feeling The Bern" and enjoying the Democratic National Convention via CNN International by evening -- our route took us by the incomplete Swiss House under construction.

I spent the afternoon strolling around the Ipanema neighborhood, eventually spotting a group of USA House volunteers donning badges -- everyone in the group was Brazilian, so my guess is that they had wrapped up a training session.

At dinner in a neighborhood steakhouse, another group of Team USA workers sat near me and they confirmed the venue for U.S. hospitality "is still a work in progress but will be ready soon."

The day's only frustration: My domestic mobile provider, Sprint, did not give me complete instructions to activate my phone in Rio (I have a 30-step list of actions to take, but the most critical -- the first step -- was left off their list). But I am optimistic tomorrow will yield a solution at the Rio Media Center or a nearby mobile phone shop. Fingers crossed.

My only regret of the day was being ill-prepared to trade pins with the handful of Rio 2016 volunteers who are highly visible in their bright yellow shirts.

But the best part of the day was meeting people who, in spite of my language barrier, were extremely friendly and accommodating.

I also ran into former U.S.O.C. communications director Bob Condron, a fellow member of the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH, a client), who was at the airport to meet his wife.

Condron helped me learn about the U.S. Olympic Committee internship program WAY back in 1989, and it was so cool to share brief stories of our journeys since Oklahoma City to Rio.

Can hardly wait to learn which other old friends, and new ones, will cross paths in the Olympic city.

Funniest conversation was at at an Ipanema pharmacy (think Walgreen's of Brazil); as I hunted for Dr. Scholl's shoe inserts a friendly store employee asked to help, and our only means of communication was via hand-drawn illustrations of shoes.

We shared a good laugh about it, and my feet felt like dancing on the walk back from dinner.

It's going to be an amazing Olympics.

Images via the Rio 2016 homepage via, Brazil post office archive, with other photos by Nicholas Wolaver

1 comment:

Journeymart said...

The Olympics will bring with it huge number of visitors which means that the public transport will be completely booked hence it is suggested that you start planning your travel agenda to get to your favorite event.

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