New Digs | Robin Sparks

New Digs

September 2, 2005
Rio de Janiero, Brazil

I´ve just moved into a castle. No joke! I moved out of a non-descript hotel room in Copacabana, to my own little Rapunzel room high up on a hill in a castle complete with everything but a moat. You can see the Valentin Castle from most of Rio and from the castle you can see almost all of Rio – a great place to watch Carnivale, as you have a dead-on view of the Sambadrome. There is a quaint, if noisy trolley car that jerks and sputters up a steep Santa Teresa to its front door. After entering through the heavy wooden door of the castle, you walk down a long, curving underground tunnel which ends at an old metal gated elevator. One day a maid in the castle refused to leave until I walked out with her. She said there were ghosts. I believe her.

The castle has arched doorways, 14 foot ceilings, parquay floors, pointed gazebos, a pool, verandahs. My hosts are Adriana and Louis, a young working couple, the latter grandson of the architect who built Valentin Castle over 200 years ago. Louis’s mother, an government employee, occupies the ground floor flat. She finances maintancence of the castle that was handed down to her and her siblings, by renting out sections of the castle as apartments, and my room, located in the third floor flat of Louis and Adriana. My room including breakfast is $25 less than the hotel room I’ve just vacated. The castle is backed up to a mountain, surrounded by jungle foliage complete with monkeys who steal bananas from the kitchen. The neighborhood is Santa Teresa – bohemian, hip, teeming with artists and musicians. But on either side of Santa Teresa, are favelas, which lend a certain edginess to the neighborhood, especially after dark.

Carlos, a young Brazilian, began the self-sustainable Santa Teresa-based bed and breakfast business called Cama e Cafe, that is responsible for my room in the castle. The idea behind the business is that tourists’ dollars remain in the community that drew them in the first place. Since tourists demand restaurants, shopping, transportation, business, and therefore the community thrives. Best of all, tourist revenue remains in the community that generatged the ambience that drew the tourists in the first place – not to hotel chains. This great concept of self-sustainable tourism, is the reason I’m now living in a castle for less money than it costs to rent a room in San Francisco’s Tenderloin.

The day I am going to move into the castle, Carlos takes me out to a local restaurant. It turns out that eating out on a Saturday afternoon is a Carioca (what they call Brazilians who live in Rio) tradition – that and getting your car washed. Sudsy, wet cars were parked all up and down the streets of Rio surrounded by kids weilding hoses and sponges. We ate an amazing meal of fresh fish, the name of which I forget, and carne del sol (sun-dried meat), feijuadas (long cooked with meat beans), farofa (a fried kasava grain that is to Brazilians, what ketchup is to Americans), rice, salad, and Bohemia beer. All around us were happy boistrous Brazilian families and friends consuming like us, unbelievable quantities of food and beer . We finished with two shots of ginger juice, a traditional Brazilian apertif . Then slightly drunk in the middele of the afternoon, and full to bursting, we walked up and around, and up and around the hill pulling my bags until we had reached the castle at the summit. We pounded on the big wooden door until Adriana rang us in. A long, dark medieval tunnel through the mountain, led us to the elevator. Up, up, up we crept, until the elevator creaked to a stop on the third floor. The door to the elevator would not open. Jammed. Now what? I was trapped in a tiny elevator with a 27-year old guy who´s been coming on to me since the last time I was in Brazil, two years ago.

Which reminds me, Carlos asked me during our meal if I was a virgin. “What?!!!” I asked, almost choking on my Bobo Camarao. “Are you a virgin?” he repeated. Then it dawned on me that he was talking astrologically. Yes, I was a Virgo I told him. He invited me to a rave on a farm outside of Rio for my birthday. I told him I’d have to see. I hadn’t decided yet when I’d be leaving Rio for Fortaleza.

At last the elevator door opened, and Carlos emerged unmolested.

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