Memories of Rio de Janeiro

RIO2By Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, Ph.D.

You will be hearing and seeing a lot of Rio de Janeiro in the media and TV very soon. This is because of the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil.  Since life is and should not be about politics all the time, I am digressing to talk about Rio in this column. One of my true passions in life is tourism and travel. And that is how and why I got to Rio.

There are many beautiful cities in the world but Rio is one of the top most beautiful cities among the toppest beautiful cities. Natural topography and human agency have combined to create the beauty that is Rio. There are small hills that jut out like loafs of bread in front of mountains fronted by beautiful natural harbours and sandy beaches and blue waters. Then human beings came and built old European city type buildings, the ones that last forever and not the glassy American-type of today. The people are vibrant, some of the most happy and life- loving people in the world.  Brazilians love to enjoy life.

I visited Rio by design. When I was living in Washington, D.C. in the  early eighties, I read a magazine article that isolated six cities as the most beautiful cities in the world. We know of course that any such categorization is highly subjective. But I was intrigued. The writer thought that the most beautiful cities in the world were: Cape Town , South Africa, Sydney, Australia, Hong Kong, Vancouver, Canada, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil And Paris, France. When one leaves out New York, London and Geneva, on a list of beautiful cities,  then you know the subjectivity of that selection. At that time in the early 1980s, I had never been to any of those cities. I had only been to Dar es Salaam, Ottawa, Toronto, Monze, the Copperbelt, Livingstone and Lusaka.

The article about these beautiful cities ignited my imagination and I started building castles in the air. Most things we do are stimulated by external or internal objects. The mind receives the information and starts processing or digesting the data. Even when we are asleep, the mind continues to plot how to achieve the desired object. Even when you have no means or money to achieve the goal, the mind keeps on dreaming because it doesn’t know you have no money, even when you try to tell it.

The desire to visit all these alleged beautiful cities was unrelenting. I had to visit all of them. I was sold. I also had to visit New York, London and Geneva which cities I had heard were also beautiful. Elsewhere I have written in detail how I ended up visiting all these places and more. The following is a truncated summary.

Since I was living in Washington, DC, I organized a few friends to drive to New York and I instantly fell in love with it and have been there numerous times. It is a city apart. It is indescribable. From there I had a friend in Vancouver and I got him to invite me to a conference that he was organizing at Simon Fraser University. The conference paid for my trip. My work place in Washington was a beehive of connections to a lot of educational and human rights schools in Europe and Asia. It was at a time when the human rights revolution was at its height. I got a scholarship to attend one such school in Strasbourg, France. This is near Paris, London and Geneva, so I hoped to all these places in summer. I took in some study programmes at The Hague and UN and ILO in Geneva. I was killing many birds with one stone.

I had also discovered that York University in Toronto, where I was a student on leave, gave travel funds to students to attend conferences. The Provost whose office disbursed the funds began to be visited by my proposals for conference funds. Universities were not broke then. I also joined a group called International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law which organized rotating conferences throughout the world. York university gave me travel funds to attend conferences in Tokyo, Kobe, Sydney, Hong Kong,  Beijing, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Johannesburg and other places. While in Johannesburg, the conferences organizers took me and others to Cape Town and Robben Island. While in Beijing, I found myself at the Great Wall of China.

In the process of travelling, obviously I came across a great deal of information  on using credit cards to accumulate travel credits, air miles, how to save on hotels and accommodation and an incredible window into the world of tourism and the tourism industry. I had once written to President Mwanawasa about how to improve tourism in Zambia.

Through the use of air miles that I had accumulated, I was able to visit Rio de Janeiro. I was doubly luck that I found a hotel right on the famous beach of Copacabana and I was put In a room on the top floor of that hotel, coincidentally facing the Cocovado mountain on which the Christ the Redeemer monument is constructed. You will see a lot of that statue of Jesus Christ  during the Olympic Games. It is one of the seven man-made wonders of the world. It glows at night in gold colour, one of the most beautiful sights you can ever see. I would sit on the balcony at night just admiring that monument.

I travelled to several cities around and in some of them, you can still hear people speaking in the Yoruba language of Nigeria. Brazil took a lot of slaves from Nigeria. I visited the World famous Macarana soccer stadium where the Legendary Pele made his name. I took pictures on the Nelson Mandela Blvd. I walked on the beach where you will see that Brazilians are crazy with exercising and keeping healthy good looking bodies, even the very old like to jog, exercise and looking fit.

Once you start travelling, there is no going back. You become a slave to the travel industry. I have visited the six most beautiful cities and more and I still want to go places. That article that I read in the early eighties turned me into a slave to the travel industry, a contented slave traveller, nonetheless.

Through travel, I shook hands with Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg where he was the Keynote speaker at the conference there. I also shook hands with and listened to the speeches of some of the greatest judges, lawyers, foreign ministers, ambassadors, politicians, professors and lecturers of many countries including Zambia. Through a process known as osmosis, I acquired a great and invaluable education by travel.

As I hear and see the images of Rio during these Olympic Games, I will be salvating and the enjoyable memories of Rio the Beauty, will be triggered.

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