A DEVOTION

Copacabana and Ipanema beaches were exotic dashes on the Rio landscape. Taut green pinnacles rising sharply from the sea. The valleys in between sprawled with the urban mess that always existed in such over-populated cities. Rio de Janeiro, like its ugly neighbour, São Paulo, had a population that crept close to that of Australia's.

Humidity of ninety percent and heat of one hundred degrees greeted me upon arrival in Rio. Another long haul bus trip from the Paraguayan border, the thunderous falls of Iguaçu, and on to the carnival capital of the world. I was already feeling somewhat stressed at again being in the unarmed "incomunicado" state that resulted in not speaking Portuguese. Start again! I remembered the first weeks of fumbling through communication in Peru; how easy it had become, once my basic Spanish conversation was flowing. And now I'm standing at a street corner, cars smoking past, perspiration racing in unmarked lanes down my back, the weight of my pack pinching at neck muscles. I'm pouring through my where-to-stay bible. I sneak in a glance at the page of basic portuguese words and find, "where?", "street", and "thank you". I'd been doing some language study on the bus previously, but my mind was faltering in the sweltering heat, smog and rustle/bustle of the city.

Thirty dollars for a hotel room! He must be kidding! That was a month of accommodation in Bolivia and way out of my range of comprehension. I had become accustomed to paying no more than two or three dollars at the absolute maximum. I recalled paying as much as five dollars on one occasion. But thirty?! I grimaced and walked.

Six hotels and two hours passed. Fifteen dollars was the worst Rio could throw at me. I sat on a garden box and re-consulted my choices of accommodation. I was a determined "tractor" in these instances and felt sure that my push would be rewarded. My "Where - Hotel - cheapo-cheapo?" line in portuguese was taking on an air of fluency and I was now asking people frequently. Sometimes as a double check on an answer previously given or, purely because trying to decipher some of the long-winded answers was purely impossible. My Spanish helped somewhat, if they spoke slowly, but usually all directions ended up with frenetic pointing sessions times by number of blocks. Left two, right four ...... like trying to look for a treasure chest that was empty; the cheapest hotel, paying the least.

I had followed a long curving parade for blocks and turned up a side street. The hotel's sign was ragged and the doorway dark. I breathed deep the musky smell of success. I knew they couldn't ask but a few cruzeiros for this one.

Five bucks a night, air conditioner and radio included. Let me sign my life away. Up one flight of creaking stairs, through a dimly lit brown corridor, to heaven. By now my whole body was awash with perspiration and my back weary from the weight of possessions. Once inside I lowered my pack to the floor and dive bombed to the double bed below. My mind swirled round in psychodelic smoked thoughts. Hotels, directions, thirst, air conditioner, hunger, sleep, the motion of the bus ride still within me. I smelt badly and was dirty. I would shower and venture out to buy some mineral water and a sandwich.

With reckless effort I dug into my pack to get a towel, soap and comb. A short sharp pain shot across my midriff. And another. I straightened and stretched. My forehead went suddenly cold and shallow. A series of slow deep breaths calmed the situation and I set off down the corridor to the bathroom.

Barely enough time to close the door and remove my clothes had passed before a sickened feeling rose up from my centre. It soon enveloped my head and an overwhelming sense of dizziness weighted me. The cement floor below would not be a great place to fall to from this height, so in the one drooping motion I turned on the cold shower and sunk to me knees. The immediate sensation of the cold water being both soothing and a shock.

I pulled my towel down off the rack above and spread it out on the tiles below me, so as to lay on the floor, still aware that the bacteria which might abound could do worse than the present illness which was bombarding me into submission. At this point, I totally slumped into the foetal position, the water splashing forcibly onto my buttocks, sending random soft spray in every direction. I positioned my arm under my head so as to keep my ear, face in general, away from the part tiled and bare cement floor.

Some time later, I opened my eyes widely and suddenly. My focus directed straight in front on me. And there, blockading my central line of vision was the base of the toilet bowl. It was soiled, disgusting. A foul look and smell exhaled back at me as I breathed heavily. A large cockroach meddled playfully at its base and another family of bugs staked their claim. My focus regressed and scanned. The whole floor was despicable, and I was glad that I'd put my arm under my head. I had no idea how long I'd been laying there, but I knew that my body was weak. A general patheticness had overtaken me. I knelt up and let the water massage the top of my skull. It felt more like a skull than a head, I thought to myself! Another waft of slightness came over me.

In one mighty surge of energy I stood up. All the time focussing my face on the refreshing cool spray of the shower; all the time being careful not to allow more than the elusive millilitre into my mouth. With the careless nature of one whose only want in life was to return to his room without passing out I picked up my clothes and towel and pressed them to my front. Loincloth of a madman. Still dripping wet and with hazy focus I trundled out of the bathroom and down the hallway to my room. The inevitable happened. Someone came up the stairs behind me, exposed to the full curvature of my exposed posteria. I couldn't care less; I opened my door and locked it behind me. With the relief of the required destination, I passed from that living world to some other. The instant my body lay horizontal, there was a total disregard to motion, time or even the dampened state I was in. I was away to consult with higher advisers to the medicinal plot.

Four hours later I woke. A litre and a half of mineral water renewed lost liquids and several sandwiches touched on the backlog of needed sustenance. I sat staring out onto the streets of Rio. What an introduction my first day in Brazil had been. But now I was ready for all ...... the beaches, pounding the streets and visiting all the regulation tourist spots. The "Brasileños" said that God took six days to build the world; the seventh he devoted to Rio! It was my brief to inspect their criteria for such boasting.