The beaches of Brazil are admired all over the world and at home. Brazilians love spending time with sand beneath their feet, tucking into a caipirinha or enjoying an intense game of volleyball. Given that Brazil has more than 20,000 miles of coastline, it is little wonder that the beach pervades the national psyche. Beaches are romantic, immortalised in song (Copacabana and The Girl From Ipanema spring to mind) and can dominate the atmosphere of a town or city.
Let’s be honest. When you watch the news, you never think about the preparation that goes into a live broadcast: finding that perfect backdrop, thinking about the hand on the microphone, or the eyes behind the camera. You certainly don’t think about the drivers, translators and fixers that make everything tick behind the scenes. Well at Rio 2016, that driver, translator and fixer was me. I occasionally found myself masquerading as a production assistant of sorts, but, for the most part, I was a good old-fashioned runner for the Sky Sports News team.
Brazil can breathe a great sigh of relief. Disaster has been averted. Despite the predictions that Rio de Janeiro was unprepared and with many expecting the Olympic Games to be an embarrassment, Rio 2016 has just about delivered. Sure, it was a little rough around the edges, with some accommodation not quite up to scratch and a few visitors finding themselves the victims of petty crime. But that raw, fresh Olympic experience was the main reason for bringing the games to South America: to give a continent of sport-loving people access to the world’s biggest sporting event.
Brazil is gearing up to host yet another international sporting event. The opening ceremony gets underway in a few hours and the eyes of the world will turn to Rio de Janeiro. If the World and Confederations Cups are anything to go by, these Olympic Games will run smoothly, despite the odd hiccough involving shoddy stadia and angry protestors. This is the ‘jeitinho brasileiro’ – the Brazilian way – at it’s finest: leave things until the last minute, but somehow manage to achieve decent results. As ever with Brazil, the situation is unpredictable. But what is the lowdown from Rio? Is the city ready for these Olympic Games?
Exploring the Amazon rainforest sounds like an impossible task. It is an impenetrable, unforgiving place. Countless explorers have disappeared in its depths, snatched by disease, starvation, animals, or hostile locals. Even now, when we know so much about the Amazon, it retains a certain aura. We know that the Amazon basin produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen; we know that it holds around one fifth of the world’s freshwater; we know that about half of the world’s species of animal, plant and insect live in the Amazon. And yet, we don’t know anything for certain. It is too big, too impressive, and too important for us to think we have conquered it.
Once an important mining hub, now a relic of Portuguese colonialism, the city of Ouro Preto is nestled proudly between mountains in what was once known as the ‘Vila Rica’. This gorgeous town, famed for it’s quaint cobbled streets and Baroque architecture, went from being the centre of Brazil’s gold rush in the 18th century to a small town that relies mainly on tourism. Meaning ‘Black Gold’, Ouro Preto was the state capital of Minas Gerais until 1897, before industrialisation and development saw Belo Horizonte take over.
My time abroad has sadly come to an end. Siberia and Brazil have given me a sensational, albeit peculiar, year. I've managed to squeeze in an array of activities, from television appearances and rides on snowmobiles, to burning on sandy beaches and experiencing World Cup hospitality. Of course, my two destinations couldn't have been more different. The weather jumps out as the starkest contrast between Tomsk and Rio, but in terms of language, culture, people and more, these two places have almost nothing in common. However, despite all this, I shall attempt to answer the million-dollar question: which did you prefer?
The World Cup is well and truly over. Brazil is once again shrouded in South American mystery, no more than a country of stereotypes that the World Cup has only enhanced. Despite countless protests brought about by high government spending on the tournament, it would seem that Brazil’s beaches, carnaval culture and football-crazy inhabitants still capture our imagination. Although, on second thoughts, that last one has taken a bit of a beating. Losing 7-1 is bad at the best of times, but in a World Cup semi final, at home, for a nation that unhesitatingly proclaims itself as the greatest of all time, it is an unimaginable embarrassment; the ultimate humiliation.
Latin America has a bad reputation for violence. Many people consider Brazil a dangerous place. But I wonder whether this label is just. Is Brazil as violent and dangerous as people say?
One question that seems to come up every time I go anywhere in the world is: ‘did you feel safe there?’ It can be difficult to answer because it is often when you let your guard down that bad things can happen. Even the world’s ‘safest’ cities have their dangerous spots, where any number of things can go wrong. I know that’s a bit of a cop out, but it is true. That said, there are a few places that I have felt a little uneasy and I suppose that Rio de Janeiro would make it on this list.
There’s no denying that my degree is unusual. The combination of languages is a strange one, which usually evokes a surprised or confused reaction. Of the languages offered at Bristol, I couldn’t have chosen two that contrast more. Russian, with its Slavic roots, aspectual verb pairs and approximately 57 different words meaning ‘to go’, has very few similarities with Portuguese, a plethora of subjunctive constructions and complex tenses.