Flying into Rio the sky was filled with a grey haze that made any sort of airborne sightseeing impossible… All I could make out was a lot of hills and a very large city beneath me. Both those observations were correct.
Having read the newspaper I anticipated that I would arrive in Rio and experience endless queues, thieves, mosquitos just waiting to bite me and infect me with Zika and generally have a terrible time. I am happy to report the descriptions by newspapers could not have been further from the truth! From the moment I stepped off the plane Rio was a slick operation, well sign posted, efficient and lots of people who either spoke English or were willing to play the game of trying to communicate despite the lack of mutual language! The one flaw in the trip was the number of people expected to fit on the bus into town… The bus arrived already full, 20 people hopped off and about 50 got on, this process continued the whole way into town. When we reached the last stop it looked like the bus was power-chucking humans as the spilled into the station. After a trip on the metro and a ride in a taxi (I was so tired I gave up on finding the bus I could take to my hostel) I arrived at my hostel absolutely shattered! It had been a decent 32 hours since I left London and therefore that long since I had lay flat or had a proper shower!
My exhaustion was quickly forgotten as soon as I saw Angus and excitement took over! After an hour of excitement charged energy the exhaustion of the previous 32 hours set in and Ang and I turned in early in preparation for our big 3 event day at the Olympics!
Our first day at the Olympics was undoubtedly our busiest.. While we left the hostel with the intention of attending 3 events we ended up seeing 5! First up was track cycling, one of the coolest venues we went to with 360 views of the action.
We also got to see the funniest event of track cycling, this was the Keirin this involved a ridiculous looking man sitting on an electric bike leading the race for the first six laps and then the cyclists were able to sprint the last two laps… The guy on the electric bike undoubtedly had the best job at the Olympics!
After the track cycling with a few hours to kill Ang and I started wandering through the complex when the world’s worst skelper came up to us… Offering us tickets to the artistic gymnastics final (including the men’s parallel bars, women’s floor and men’s high bar – we didn’t know this until we went into the stadium.) these were student tickets that retailed at 130R, he offered to sell them to us at face value so we were surprised when we gave him 250R and received 20R back (like I said, terrible skelper). So, off we trotted to the gymnastics final. We were sitting up in the Gods (could feel the air getting thinner as we climbed) but thanks to the big screens we could still see everything that was going on
We sat next to two hilarious Brazilian women who made some very borderline comments about the Chinese gymnasts. These comments continued even when men wearing China track suits sat down right in front of us. The men’s finals were cool, but the women’s floor final was the highlight. Not only did we see America’s superstar Simone Biles compete and win but we got to see a gymnast from GB get 3rd and sob with joy the whole way through the victory lap and medal ceremony… It was seeing people like that win medals at the games that was really cool!
After the gymnastics we feasted on an inspired lunch of wholemeal bread (that was weirdly sweet) with cheese and Doritos… It turned out the supermarkets didn’t really stock ready to eat lunches the way M & S does! From the gymnastics we did a full 180 and went to the 105kg + weightlifting B final. Not only were the athletes very different, but it turns out the people who attend gymnastics and weightlifting are quite different crowds… While sitting at the gymnastics we enjoyed pop tunes and a diverse audience, the weightlifting attracted in general a large, male crowd (or females who lift) and we listened to heavy metal! It was hard to believe it was the B final, neither Angus or I could have lifted what they were lifting and we are both renowned as very good weight lifters.
From the B final we went Badminton… These were tickets Angus bought cheaply when he arrived in Rio. I don’t think I will attend badminton again. While I was impressed that the shuttle cock moves at over 300km at its top speed there was little else about the sport that excited me.
After 45minutes of Badminton Angus was sitting reading and I was really only watching so that we didn’t both sit there are read. At that point we decided to call it a day. Well we intended to. Walking out of the Badminton we were offered free tickets to the A final of the 105kg + weightlifting.. After our thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the weightlifting we jumped at the chance to see the A final.
SERIOUSLY BIG BOYS! The heaviest in the class was 169kg, an Iranian, the favourite, who it turns out is basically a rockstar in Iran. The reason we worked out his fame levels in Iran was because of the high drama that unravelled in the final. In the first round the Iranian managed to break the world record for the snatch and was headed for the gold… Until he was disqualified in the clean and jerk. We didn’t understand what he did wrong but we did understand the Iranians screaming and booing as every subsequent competitor completed their lifts. After being disqualified the 169kg Iranian walked around and stood behind the judges arguing against is disqualification, initially terrifying, that evaporated when he sat on the floor with his legs splayed on the floor crying. While the Iranians continued to boo the competitors from Georgia and Armenia (the soon to be medalists in place of the Iranian) the rest of the crowd banded behind them with the Brazilians getting louder and louder trying to drown out the Iranians. The other highlight of the weightlifting were the facials that came with it… It looked like a battle of the human thumbs, which Angus and I then tried to replicate…
After our 14 hour Olympic marathon day 2 started slightly slower than the day before, but as had occurred the day before we were able to indulge in cheese toasties for breakfast! We headed to Copacabana Beach in the morning where there were very small tog bottoms on both the males and the females, it appears in Brazil togs are made in one size fits all despite the fact that one size most definitely does not fit all!!
After tracking down fresh fruit and vegetables for lunch… And NO bread (something of a miracle in Rio) we headed to an afternoon of sailing at Marina da Glória. Sadly however we spent more time sitting on the side of the beach reading in the shade than watching sailing due to a severe lack of wind (the day was eventually cancelled).
The lack of wind did however give us a clear blue sky and plenty of time to get some token Olympic photos!
We wandered on to Olympic Boulevard which was busy and had a very confusing flow of traffic, our attempt to view the Olympic flame was a failure due to the flame having one way access (we did see it later in the week and turns out it wasn’t very impressive).
The evening of day 2 was one of the highlights of the week, the men’s team Table Tennis final!!! Japan vs China and a seriously vocal crowd. While the Brazilians quickly sided with Japanese team and boosted the Japanese’s volume, the Chinese supporters were relentless in their cheers and had the world’s best table tennis player in their team, Ma Long.
Day 3 started with a morning at the athletics, our morning started watching two Kiwis, Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill qualify for the shot put final, our seats were looking straight onto the shot put pitch (??? Is that the word you use to describe it???)
Both male and female heats for the 4x100m relays were on… While we had hoped to see Usain Bolt (and did initially think we saw him) sadly in a relay team you are apparently allowed 5 athletes so one of them was subbed in for Bolt for the heat!
Despite our mocking of the Japanese team, due to their bizarre peach/orange onside looking outfits, they ended up winning the heat and beating Jamaica much to the shock of everyone in the stadium.
Watching the 400m Hurdles final confirmed to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will not ever be an Olympic 400m hurdler… They just looked so goddam tired in the final stretch, like all the light and joy had been sapped from their lives (also hurdles are high!)
Another 2 hours on public transport and we were back at the sailing for a second attempt and a condensed programme which meant we got to watch three NZ medal winning races! The girls in the 470s and 49s (both silver) and the booths in the 49s who won gold! There was a huge Kiwi contingent there to support the athletes and getting to watch the NZ flag being raised three times, once including the national anthem was a seriously cool experience!
Intending to go to NZ House for a beer at the end of the day we somehow stumbled our way into a swanky drinks party at NZ House with free food and drink (great result). Despite looking very out of place in our shorts and jandals we at least weren’t the poor sods who were dressed up as Zespri kiwifruit and had to dance! Aside from the free food and drink we also got given kiwifruits on entrance and exit… Something both Ang and I were very excited about!
Despite arriving in Rio with tickets to the women’s hockey gold medal match the Black Sticks sadly didn’t make the gold medal match and instead we managed to trade tickets with a couple of Dutch people in our hostel and therefore got to watch the Black Sticks compete in the bronze medal match. We were playing Germany and the Germans were well prepared with noisemakers and air horns making them particularly annoying spectators to sit alongside! The Kiwi contingent did however manage to rally with strong vocal chords and retaliatory chants!
While unfortunately we didn’t get the bronze watching a hockey game like that was so cool, the final 10 minutes were super intense and well yet again I established that I won’t be an Olympian, this time hockey was ruled out!
In the afternoon Angus and I parted company for a few hours, while I headed to diving, Angus trotted off to wrestling. At the diving I sat next to Tom Daley’s family… Not knowing this until about 20 minutes into the diving I managed to get a fair few stupid comments to them e.g. Which board do they jump off! But sitting next to the Daley’s was very useful I enjoyed quizzing them on why dives were scored different ways and what the requirements of a diving competition were!
With no plans for the morning of our fifth day we decided we would walk up to Christ the Redeemer, arguably Rio’s most famous landmark. While the conventional tourist walking path went through the botanic gardens and national park, Ang and I worked out that we were already part of the way there in our hostel so we took the very non-touristy path to Christ.
Walking through a pretty dodgy neighbourhood and then along a few winding roads without footpaths we made it to the information centre. This was sadly as far as we got as the security guards told us we couldn’t walk up from there (even though Christ was only about 500m away) and we weren’t able to get in one of the shuttles up for two hours!
So, back we turned and down the road we wandered with a couple of quick glimpses back to Christ who was swallowed by thick cloud we decided we hadn’t missed out on too much and happily headed off to the modern pentathlon.
The modern pentathlon is one of the less well known Olympic events but has always been one of my favourites… Mainly because I think it’s ridiculous! The event combines swimming, fencing, show jumping and, cross country running and shooting (two disciplines combined as one event). My favourite detail about the show jumping is that the horses are drawn from a hat, meaning the rider is riding an unfamiliar horse!!!
Angus and I arrived at the modern pentathlon just after the fencing demonstration and just as the rain set in. While initially I had something of a sense of humour bypass sitting in the pouring rain, freezing this abated as the show jumping commenced and chaos ensued. Quite a few of the horses were really rather naughty and where they didn’t refuse at jumps they would often jump them in a manner which would leave the audience amazed that the rider stayed on. Undoubtedly however the funniest part of the show jumping was when a rider would fall off their horse… While normally that would result in elimination (in normal show jumping) in modern pentathlon the rider is not eliminated until their fourth refusal or dismount meaning… The riders would fall off and then chase the horse round the course trying to catch them and get back on!!!
After watching 36 rounds of hilarious show jumping the athletes changed and prepared themselves for the 3.2km cross country run combined with laser pistol shooting! The current winner of the pentathlon was set off first with everyone else let off after him depending on how many seconds faster than him they needed to run/shoot to win – this meant the Russian was being chased around the course. The staggered nature of the start made for a really exciting race where you could see people losing and gaining medals as the running/shooting went on.
Starving and damp (the rain did eventually subside), Angus and I decided to get dinner before going back to the hostel and showering. With a bit of a hike up to Santa Teresa we managed to catch the conclusion of the men’s gold medal football match (which the Brazilians won) and found a delicious cafe to eat. Cafe do Alto was the first cafe I ate authentic Brazilian cuisine in that I really, genuinely enjoyed! Angus and I shared two tapiocas, one with guacamole and the other with marinated tomatoes and haloumi, as well as salad, a bean and rice dish with masses of haloumi and finished it off with dulce de leche tapioca!!
Our final day of Olympics (and Ang’s final day in Rio) also saw a lot of rain… Only this time we were prepared, with bin liners! Well equipped for the rain we headed off to watch the men’s marathon. Despite having tickets to the actual stadium where the marathon started and finished we opted to see them twice on the course and then head to the cross country mountain biking. Marathon runners are alarmingly fast.. I mean I couldn’t hold that pace over 100m, let alone 42km! Seeing them at 3km and 16km the only discernible difference in the runners was that there were slightly less people in the leading bunch, other than that they were still moving with serious speed!
As we headed off to the mountain biking the weather started to clear and we were finally able to abandon our bin liners for the day. A busy, male dominated crowd the mountain biking was not an event I was that interested in… Or so I thought. The mountain biking was actually a really cool event to watch, despite the terrain the bikers still move with serious speed uphill and with a couple of spills on the course the event was exciting even though I know nothing about it! Angus was a huge help in this area as he actually know about mountain biking and could explain things to me!
Farewelling Angus who had to scoot off to the airport to fly back to NZ I watched the end of the mountain biking on my own and then headed back to the hostel for a quick nap and a shower before heading to watch the closing ceremony at NZ House. Enjoying a cold shower and a power cut (which carried on for the next 16 hours) I darted back out in the pouring rain for a spot of Mexican for dinner with my friend’s boyfriend who was also a loner for the closing ceremony. My final night in Rio wasn’t a wild party, instead it was a few drinks at NZ house and dodging more torrential rain on my return journey to the hostel – I felt terrible for the athletes who were standing in the rain for about 5 hours at the closing ceremony!!
Leaving Rio the next day I spent the morning sleeping in and packing before finally leaving the hostel with zero plans to return there in the near future! I managed to find a nice cafe where I ate lunch and then started making my way to the airport due to warnings of bad traffic and queues. My own trip would have been exceptionally efficient had I not jumped on the wrong bus and headed in theopposite direction to the airport to begin with! I still made it to the airport with more than enough time and safely boarded my plane for Salvador!
A final few notes on our week in Rio – we were consistently impressed with the speed of public transport and security queues, the locals were very kind to us and always tried to help us get around whenever we looked confused or lost… Aside from turning off the air conditioning on the metros I really don’t think the Rio Olympics could have gone any better for us!!!
Oh and finally…. I never want to have another plain cheese toastie for breakfast again!