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  1. web - 7 - 1

    Let me introduce you to Marcus Cal Kung, Rio de Janeiro’s king of the bodyboard.

    Known down on Barra da Tijuca beach as Kungi, the former lawyer is viewed as the father of bodyboarding in Brazil having competed in three Pipe Masters (a big surfing competition) and won many others.

    We thought it would be a shame not to meet Rio’s beach version of Mr Myagi (he looks a bit like him in my opinion) so myself and Tom slapped on the sun cream, put on our boardies, brushed up on our surfer slang and headed down to meet this legend.

    Coming from London, it is not often I get to venture out to the beach, in fact the last time I tried to catch a wave was in my university days where trips to Newquay in Cornwall and Woolacombe in North Devon were commonplace amongst my housemates.

    It is safe to say that whilst they were getting ‘amped’ and ‘stoked’ catching waves I was clinging on to my board for dear life already dreaming of getting out of the water and to somewhere warm to eat and drink.

    As our bus arrived at the upmarket but beautiful beach at Barra da Tijuca I settled on the fact that if anyone could help me catch a decent wave then Kungi could. A clear blue sky and a very wintery 29oC was a good start.

    We walked down to Kungi’s patch (basically a big gazebo) where he has been running Kung’s School of Bodyboard for 15 years and instantly you could tell this guy was cool, a proper surfer dude.

    Everyone on the beach knew him, surfers stopped by to speak to him and he even had banter with the local vendor sellers.

    With the water being so warm (something I never thought I would say about the ocean) no wetsuits were needed, just our boards, boardies, a rash vest and flippers.

    After a quick training session we were in the water. Kungi immediately got into his groove telling people when to start kicking for their lives to catch a wave.

    I had to kick for my life just to get out to the calmer waters and I could already feel the burn in the legs, I made a mental note never to let myself get unfit again.

    After a brief reminiscence about all the bad foods I had eaten over the years my brain finally kicked into surfer mode and I was on the hunt for my first wave.

    I must have seen like a lost sheep as it wasn’t long before Kungi’s son ( bodyboarding is in the genes) was by my side telling me what to do.

    Obediently I did everything that was asked of me and as a set came in I kicked like my life depended on it. And by some miracle I managed to catch a wave (I think it was all of three feet high) and sped back to the shore grinning like a cat who got the cream.

    Kungi, who I think caught the wave with his eyes closed, was soon patting me on the back and geeing me up for the next one.

    Yes I had to basically crawl along the beach afterwards due to exhaustion but all in all things had worked out pretty well and my surfing career was on the up.

    Who do I owe for this upturn in fortune? Marcus Cal Kung, aka Kungi, Rio’s king of the bodyboard.

     

     

  2. Brazil fans are bonkers. Fact. I mean this in a good way of course.

    Web 6 - 8Yesterday I was in Alzirao, Tijuca to watch Brazil’s 0-0 draw with Mexico but this was a viewing experience with a twist.

    Last week I watched the host nation’s opening match against Croatia at the Copacabana fan fest which is put on by FIFA.

    I won’t lie it was a fantastic experience and the atmosphere created by not just Brazilians but fans from around the world was electric.

    But I wanted to try something more local, something which has Brazil and Rio at its heart. A bit more Rio and a bit less FIFA. I found the perfect place in the Alzirao fan site.

    Web 6 - 6This stretch of road in Tijuca has been a dedicated fan zone during tournaments for more than 30 years and it was evident why it was so popular.

    Thousands of Brazilians packed into the site, all wearing yellow or wrapped in their country’s flag, and made sure that if they couldn’t be there in Fortaleza then they would make sure they were heard from Rio de Janeiro.

    From elaborate costumes to old school football rattles to ice cold beers, this place had everything.

    The noise was deafening prior to kick off and when the national anthem was on, no one shirked their duty as everyone sang at full throttle.

    Brazil could have and probably should have won the game if it wasn’t for the heroics of the Mexican keeper.

    Web 6 -3As the final whistle went at 0-0 I just assumed everyone would go home and wallow in their disappointment at not getting the win.

    After all, that is exactly what I usually do if my team Crystal Palace or England have a bad game.

    I was to be proved drastically wrong. This game just the beginning.

    Immediately after the final whistle I was looking at an array of glum faces. Then as if by magic the speakers were turned up, the tunes started to belt out and suddenly we were in party mode.

    There were people as far as the eye could see dancing around and having the time of their lives.

    It was gutting I had to leave for work as this was a party which was going to last long into the night.

    One fan said to us: “This is the real Brazil, the real Rio de Janeiro, right here in this place.”

    Bring on the next game.

  3. The City of God, known as Cidade de Deus, is based outside central Rio de Janeiro on the other side of the Tijuca National Park and a few miles north of the lush beaches of Barra de Tijuca.

    Blog 3 - 1

    Many of you will probably recognise the name having watched the award winning film City of God directed by Fernando Meirelles which centres on the growth of crime in the town from the 1960s to the 1980s.

    Since then it has been ‘pacified’ by the Brazilian authorities and now has more than 350 police roaming the streets to keep the crime rate under control. 

    We were invited to the City of God by Nicholas Wheeler - a former journalist and now an Anglican priest who was inspired to work in the town after watching the film - to get an idea of what life in the town is like.

    Here is my account of my visit to the Cidade de Deus.

    There are times in life when you are truly humbled and I can count my visit to the City of God as one of those.

    I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous about visiting a place which is most famous for a film made about its violent history.

    My nerves did not get any better after a couple of taxi drivers refused to take me and my colleague Tom to the town, with my pigeon Portuguese struggling to understand their reasoning behind the decision.

    So with my imagination running wild, we finally found a driver who was willing to take us and off we went.

    We got to Nicholas’ church pretty quickly and were introduced immediately to Gilmar. A local painter who dreams of opening an art school in his beloved town, who I quickly found out was quite a legend in the town.

    Blog 3 - 4Speaking to us in fluent Portuguese, he made us some fresh coffee before giving us a painting he had created especially for us to take back to England.

    We were then joined by Nicholas who gave us a potted history of the town, its origins and how it was designed by the government as a housing estate to avoid it becoming one of the many favelas already in Rio.

    “When the government was removing the slums from parts of Rio the City of God became a destination for the homeless,” Nicholas said.

    “The film made a deep impact on me as it was difficult to imagine there was a community called the City of God which had such a violent and abandoned story to tell.

    “I did not know about the slums of Rio de Janeiro and the violence and drugs trafficking in our community. When I came here there were lads on the street with Kalashnikov rifles so that was a part of the film that I found here.

    “But a great majority of people have a different story to tell. Lots of people here are trying to make the best of their lives having had to start with very little.”

    As we walked around the community it was evident that some of the streets, named after biblical references, had received fresh investment from the government including new roads, pavements, playgrounds and such like.

    But as we started to go deeper into the town it became apparent investment was sporadic.

    A five minute walk up the road and we were confronted with a mud track surrounded by shacks, which looked like simple tool sheds, and piles of rubbish.

    Blog 3 - 2As someone who has lived a comfortable life for all of my life, it was pretty harrowing to see hundreds of people live in such squalid conditions.

    This was a world away from my time spent on Copacabana beach where people pay hundreds, even thousands to stay in a hotel on the sea front.

    What was even more difficult to understand was a stone’s throw away from these homes were a group of new build flats, enough to fit 4,000 people.

    Surely these would be made available to those who live in the worse conditions in the City of God?

    “We have not been told who these are for. In fact we have not been told anything about these new flats,” Nicholas said.

    We met plenty of people on our walk through the town, many of whom stopped to greet Nicholas before chatting to us about life in the City of God and their thoughts on the World Cup.

    The general consensus was how could millions be spent on upgrading and building stadiums while millions of others across the country try and find enough to afford their next meal?

    Many were also sceptical about some of the investment in the town from the government. Would this attention continue once the Rio 2016 is over?

    The police pacification programme too has been taken by some with a pinch of salt. Is peace really peace when there are 350 armed police walking around. Can peace be enforced?

    Tensions are obviously still high between residents and the police. We saw some graffiti saying “police will die” and “death will come to you” as we wondered around.

    We then spoke to Elza, 82 and a resident of the City of God for more than 40 years. She shares a tiny shoebox flat with her grandson who is also a drug addict.

    He takes her money to buy drugs and sometimes resorts to violence towards her. While we were speaking to her in the kitchen he was asleep in the next room.

    A few months ago one of her other grandsons, (both of them had been abandoned by their mothers) was killed in shootout with police in a nearby favela.

    Blog 3 - 3Despite all this Elza does not moan or sulk. In fact for most of the time we spent chatting to her she was more concerned that we were comfy in her home, apologising to us for its size.

    She said she carries on living in hope that her grandson can change his life around.

    I suppose it is Elza’s attitude which sums up the feeling I got from this community.

    Without doubt there is still a long way to go in terms of the fight against drugs and the level of poverty in the town.

    But everywhere we went people were nothing but friendly, helpful and perhaps more importantly full of joy.

    Again it made me think of all the times I have moaned about things when in fact I have very little to moan about at all.

    Gilmar, who every ten seconds on our journey was in conversation with a local or a friend, said it would be a mistake to judge his community on the basis of a film.

    “One of the negative things about the film the City of God is it only really showed the negative side of our community,” he said.

    "But there are lots of good things that happen here in our community that we want people to know about.

    "I love the people who live here. I love talking to people in our community. People here suffer a lot but for some reason hope never dies, people never seem to give up.

    "When politicians come along promising the earth we look at them in a rather unconvinced kind of way and carry on with our lives.

    “It is the people of our community who keep me here in the City of God."

    As I left the town later that evening I could see what Gilmar meant.

    Earlier that day I had arrived at the City of God with plenty of pre-judged notions about what the community would be like and I was happy to be proved wrong.

    I was leaving there humbled by what I had seen but also inspired by the fantastic people I had got the chance to meet.

  4. I have lived quite a sheltered football existence in many ways.
    Brazil fam 1All my life I have been a Crystal Palace fan (an amazing team from south London for any readers who are not familiar with English football) and for more than 15 years I have been a season ticket holder.
    I have watched games with friends, family and other Palace fans through the good and the bad.
    So when I was asked to go round and watched a Brazil match (Brazil v Serbia) with a Brazilian family, I really did not know what to expect except I doubted very much it would be like watching a game in the Goose in Croydon.
    It was the first time I had ever watched a game with people from a different continent.
    I am still to experience the magic and the buzz of the Maracana but I was filled with quite a bit of excitement especially after our host said: “If you have never watched a game with Brazilians before then you are in for a treat.”
    So with the national flag draped around our shoulders and looking like true Brazilian fans myself and Tommy went round to see how we watch a game of football Brazilian style.
    brazil fam 2I thought I get excitable when I watch football but straight away I was trumped.
    “THIS FOOTBALL IS UGLY” one of our hosts shouted at Neymar. “THEEEESEE GUYSSS ARE BEASTS” another cried as some Serbian giant hacked down Fred.
    At half-time it was 0-0 and the atmosphere (despite copious amounts of popcorn) was low. Had Brazil lost the World Cup final?
    “I hope Scolari beats them up at half time. These guys are nowhere near the players we are used to seeing in our day.”
    The game was pretty drab and Tom even made the classic joke of saying “this is like watching England.” Fair to say the joke went down like a tonne of bricks or they may not have just understood.
    Brazil fam 3Thankfully the atmosphere lifted in the second half when Brazil scored the only goal of the game. Any pain or anguish was wiped off the faces of our Brazilian friends and all was well with the world again.
    This evening we head down to the fan zone on Copacabana beach to really sample what a Brazilian atmosphere is like with thousands of fans expected to turn up.
    I imagine there will be tears, hugging, kissing, jumping around, shouting, screaming, drinking and dancing.
    Post Serbia game we talked about the atmosphere if Brazil lost their first game against Croatia.
    The reply? “Let’s not think about that at the moment.”
    Listen to this Taste of Rio feature on the Planet Sport Destination Rio podcast.