The Chaotic Beauty of Rio
The Linvilles’ trip to Brazil began in Rio de Janeiro, a city of beautiful beaches, wildlife, and architecture, as well as chaos, pollution, and slums.
“I didn’t have an appreciation for how big the country was, how much travel it would be, and how rigorous the trip would be,” Randy Linville said, reflecting on his expectations for his family’s trip to Brazil. “[Brazil] is as big as the U.S., and I just didn’t know. Until you’re there, it doesn’t register with you.”
The nine days that Randy, his wife, Debbie, and their children, Jake and Grace, spent in Brazil in August 2012 were memorable, partially because of Brazil’s vastness and unexpected wildness. When they arrived in Rio, Randy was struck by the amount of water and the beautiful beaches. But very quickly, he also noticed the pollution and chaos of the city.
“Rio is a beautiful city, but it’s also kind of horrible. It’s so polluted—you see all the haze over the water. . . . It really is different. Traffic looks more like cars swimming than driving, because they’re flowing. They’re going around corners, they have roundabouts, and they don’t really stop—just very chaotic.”
One of the first stops the Linville family made was at Christ the Redeemer, a 98-foot-tall statue that perches on peak of the 2,300-foot Corcovado mountain, just outside Rio. The statue was only a precursor for the predominantly Christian culture they would discover in Brazil, and they captured several stunning family photos there.
They stayed in Rio for four days total and made several other excursions. One day, they took a bike ride along the coast from their hotel to the Rio de Janeiro Zoo. Randy remembers the stress of the trip well.
“This is a crowded beach, crowded bike trails, and it was really crazy to try and navigate and stay with the group. If you didn’t keep up, you were on your own to try and cross the streets on a bike, and that was not a good thing,” he said, chuckling.
But the hazardous bike ride was worth it when they reached the zoo, which remains one of the most beautiful zoos Randy has ever seen. Grace, who is fascinated with plant and animal life, especially enjoyed their visit.
“I think Grace loved the zoo the most—to see all the beautiful plants and trees and animals and whatnot,” he said. “I love it when I get Grace’s camera and I go back to see what she took a picture of. She focuses in on close-ups in such a unique way. . . . She sees the world completely differently than me.”
Later, they took a tour of the older part of Rio, and a guide taught them about Brazil’s history. Here, they began seeing hints of the corruption in Brazil’s past and the dysfunctional government that still rules the country today.
“That summer [we were there], they passed a law in Brazil, finally, that a politician could be prosecuted for killing somebody,” Randy said. “Prior to that, it was okay to kill somebody if you were a politician, and you wouldn’t be prosecuted. It’s kind of crazy, but you learn crazy things about the political ways and laws of different countries [when you travel].”
Their tour of the city was filled with beautiful old buildings and architecture, which inspired Debbie to pull out her camera.
“If you see architecture pictures, mostly Debbie takes those. She’s really into looking down the beautiful walkways with buildings on either side, taking pictures of arched doors,” Randy said. “She’ll look at an architectural scene and frame it in a way that I don’t see.”
At one point on their tour, the Linvilles noticed people standing on the tops of the buildings they were passing through, many of them appearing ready to jump. As it turned out, the figures were only statues, but the experience was still unnerving.
During the time the Linvilles were in Rio, the people of the city were preparing for Carnival, an annual celebration that Randy compares to Mardi Gras. Although Carnival wouldn’t happen until February, the Linvilles saw many people already building floats and creating costumes. One night, they encountered a group of men and women dancing to traditional Brazilian samba music in the streets.
“The men have this crazy dance where they put their hands behind their back and do all kinds of acrobatic things, and they drew a few people out of the crowd to dance with them,” Randy said. “My kids, of course, volunteered me, so I’m out there, and they took pictures to try and embarrass me.”
By the time the Linvilles left Rio, they had a new appreciation for Brazilian culture.
“It is a diverse culture, a melting pot,” Randy said. “They have a lot more biracial marriages. There’s a lot of original Amazon people and a lot of European immigrants, and they all coexist amazingly. They’re very warm and fun-loving people.”
Seeing the slums of Rio influenced the family also. “It really affected [my kids],” Randy said. “If you live in Johnson County and then you go and see the slums of Rio, you say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know people lived like that.’ Sometimes they can’t explain it, but you see it in the way it changed them and the empathy they have for other people.”
Randy remembers in particular the impact Rio had on Grace. “She started talking about wanting to go to Africa on that trip,” he said. “She really looks into the eyes of the children, and especially the poor, and they kind of pull her in a way that she wants to help them.”
As on many of his international trips, Randy found himself counting his blessings by the end of his family’s time in Rio.
“There definitely is more of a caste system—the haves and have nots—so you see more of the poorest of the poor in those slums. . . . Makes you thankful—how did we get picked to be born in the U.S.A.? I have no idea.”