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Brazil

Day 52: Rio de Janeiro

 
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On the Rio Metro. Small network, huge tunnels.
Michael Palin - BrazilRoaming around Rio for a day with no particular agenda, I try the public transport system. The buses are the preferred option for Cariocans. They're cheap and frequent, but they're driven hard, as if their drivers are operating fairground rides, so I opt instead for the gentler pace of the Rio Metro. The nearest station is four blocks back from the beach, about a ten-minute walk. It's called Cantagalo, after the mountain behind it, not the favela on its slopes. Unlike London, where many of the Underground lines are tunnelled through soft clay, the Rio Metro has been blasted out of granite and to get to the trains you walk through enormous chambers which contain both the access walkways and the trains. It's like being in the stomach of some great beast, with the entrails all around you. Opened in 1978, the Metro is cool, clean, airy and spacious, but it's a limited system, connecting twenty-five stations and covering just over twenty-five kilometres (sixteen miles) of the city (the London Underground covers just over 250 miles and serves 270 stations). There are plans to expand but it will only add some sixteen kilometres (ten miles) to the system before the city hosts the Olympics in 2016. The station at which I disembark, Cardeal Arcoverde, is like the Hall of the Mountain Kings. Its irregular jagged walls, sprayed with a covering of liquid concrete, rise high above our heads, disappearing into the darkness. Any Cariocan using the London Underground should certainly be warned about claustrophobia.

The transport system in Rio is co-ordinated from a compact, glossy box of a building sheathed in silver-green and completed in 2010. The Centro de Operac§es is a showpiece and I'm not entirely surprised that it is where the Mayor of Rio has agreed to meet me. Inside, like a smaller version of a NASA control room, is a series of low-lit terraces at which operatives sit at computers in front of a fifty-metre wall of screens, transmitting pictures of traffic movement across the city. At the very back of this futuristic control room is a raised platform offering camera positions for the press and standing room for awed visitors like ourselves.

The Mayor, a popular man called Eduardo Paes, is delayed. There has been an explosion in a building somewhere in the city and there have been fatalities. He has rushed down to the scene. So we have plenty of time to sit and watch the seventy screens that make up the wall as they flick over, interspersed with weather reports and other information. No one else seems to be very interested. The staff, dressed in white mechanics' overalls that look very odd in this high-tech environment, are behaving in a very Brazilian fashion, laughing, talking, gossiping, joking whilst the city whizzes on in the background. Admittedly, it's not rush hour, but despite that I can't disguise a slight suspicion that this is all a bit of a cosmetic exercise, more about looking as if you're doing something rather than actually doing it.
 
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On the Rio Metro. Small network, huge tunnels.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 52: Rio de Janeiro
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Rio de Janeiro
  • Book page no: 216

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