That’s because Driving&Life has been on vacation (again?), and indulging in the pleasures of a cruise around the South American continent - starting from Valparaiso in Chile, passing Glacier Alley, around Cape Horn and finishing in Rio de Janeiro.
I did find one to photograph, a matte finish Mercedes coupe! Shortly after I took the photograph, the owner rushed out from his Ipanema apartment, and moved it down to his locked, security garage under the building!
Of course most big South American cities have extensive, popular, cheap and accessible public transport. Buses are well subscribed and there’s lots of them, and they’re air-conditioned. Taxis are plentiful and cheap, but the drivers are basically rogues-in-disguise.
In Buenos Aires I spotted a very well-worn Renault 12.
A very common sight among the taxi fleets is Renault's low cost production car, the Logan, It's very popular, but when you get up close, it's a pretty small car.
Traffic jams are just as common in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro as they are anywhere else, but on the day we arrived in Rio a spectacular accident at 3pm had completely blocked the three lanes from downtown Rio to the beach suburbs at Copacabana and Ipanema. A 13 km stretch, with no chance to divert!
Of course in Rio, in highly Catholicised Brazil, the statue of Christ the Redeemer watches over everyone from Corcovado, so I was hoping a little religious surveillance might have helped resolve the traffic issues. Not so, it still took two hours to travel from the main port to Ipanema.
I guess one of the biggest highlights for me was a real surprise, in Buenos Aires. At the end of a city tour the tour bus drove quickly past a bronze statue in a city park, before dropping us near an excellent Argentinian BBQ restaurant. After lunch I walked back to the park to find it was a fantastic bronze of Juan Manuel Fangio and a Mercedes W196, just opposite BA’s main Mercedes-Benz dealer.
My wife asked me; “If Buenos Aires can do this for JMF, why can’t London do the same for Sir Stirling Moss?” I decided to write to Boris Johnson on my return home and suggest that very idea.
The real reason I was keen to visit South America, was the final stop in Rio de Janeiro. For me, its special value is the Home of Bossa Nova music, my all time favourite jazz genre. I grew up on a diet of Tom Jobim's seductive rhythmns which of course began with The Girl From Ipanema.
|Garota de Ipanema|
As it turned out we dined in the restaurant named for the song, Garota de Ipanema, presumably where composers (Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes) watched the inspiration for the song, passing by each day.
|Vinicius Piano Bar, Ipanema|
After dinner we walked to the opposite corner to the Vinicius Piano Bar, a well-known hangout for fans of Bossa Nova.
We were lucky to catch local star Toni Barreto perform a string of Bossa Nova standards as well as some his own songs. What a great way to end the night!
|Helo Pinheiro circa 1961|
Today, she's a beautiful, cultured ambassador for Ipanema, and her daughter, Ticiane, is working as a model. She's found the right niche! Right!
|Helo & Ticiane Pinheiro|
The beach at Ipanema was everything I expected it to be. The sand is soft, white powder (just like Queensland's Gold Coast beaches); it's long, broad and washed by seabreezes - however the locals tell me it's only warm enough to swim between February and April, due to the cold current which sweeps down the Brazilian coast from the middle of the Atlantic!
|Ipanema Beach late Friday afternoon|
|Ipanema Beach on Sayurday morning|
In addition the area was the beginning of the slave trade from Africa, so this mix of Africans, local native tribes and Europeans has truly compounded the cultural chaos that exists today. However, at a casual glance the South Americans seem to handle this diversity much better than the North Americans - where racial unrest still exists today, not far below the surface!
They’re great food producers and manufacturing centres, and of course they are now among the biggest producers of raw materials for the giant Chinese economy. In a sense, coping with that success, and how it translates to its people is the biggest challenge ahead.
Despite many years of poltical stability in Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, there is still trouble bubbling just under the surface in Argentinia - and that could blow, any time!
On an optimistic note, what you need to find in any city you visit is a positive, optimistic, happy and friendly guy like our cab driver in Rio, Heinrich. On our way to the hotel from the Port, he humbly suggested he could take us on a full guided tour of Rio and environs next day for a very modest sum.
|Sugar Loaf, Tijuca Rainforest and Favelas (shanties)|
What a day! We took in Corcovado, Sugar Loaf, Tijuca rainforest, Jardim Botanico and some real hidden spots in the city. It was worth every Brazilian Real we paid. Not only did we see stuff, with a local, but also a friendly and charming man who was very proud of his city.
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