On the morning of March 11, 2012 the Costa Pacifica pulled into Guanabara Bay and I saw Rio for the very first time. I was so excited. It was the first stop on an 18 day cruise I had booked and I was very much looking forward to seeing the city as it had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember. As Rio was a 12 hour stop on the cruise and I had not learned any better yet I booked a 5 hour “Jeep Tour” of the city. The ships brochure described driving through the city in an open car so that you could get the full experience of one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
I could tell that the tour was not going to be exactly as described from the onset. The tour was not going to be conducted from the back of a jeep. Instead, the tour operator had outfitted an old pick up truck with wooden benches and rudimentary (not quite ropes) seat belts in which to secure yourself in the vehicle.
We needed the seat belts. I learned on that trip something that has been confirmed by later trips. Everyone in Rio believes they are the reincarnation of Ayrton Senna, the famous F1 driver. They believe in driving fast, cutting off drivers with millimeters to spare and terrorize pedestrians. This style of driving and the vehicle that was being driven had some major advantages. First, it got you through most of the city in one day. We went North Zone to South Zone, from Sugar Loaf to Ipanema, from Christ the Redeemer to Maracana and far more all in less than 5 hours.
There were really only two downsides: The constant fear for their life and the open top, and lack of preparation on my part, meant that I got one of the most intense sun burns of my life. One that literally left me red face when I met my wife to be a few days later.
The most impressive sight I saw was not any of those that I mention above. It was the Tijuca forest, a 3300 hectacre greenway that covers a good part of the mountains of above the city. Planted in the 1850’s by two slaves after the original forest had been harvested by coffee planters whose deforestation had caused a major disruption of the climate. Driving through the forest offered a huge respite from the sun, which I more than needed, and also a chance to see a dense variety of native flora and fauna including and much to the delight of us gringos, monkeys and cobras (generic name for snake in Portuguese)
The forest also had one thing many of our National Forests do not have: people. Along side many of the serpentine roads that run through the park are small communities and individual houses. Nestled in the forests and in notches in the mountain side they seemed almost an ideal place to live. In fact, I can remember clearly on one switch back seeing a house nestled within the forest and thinking to myself what a wonderful place it would be to live.
It was a great tour but I was relieved when we return to the ship. Not only had I become lobster boy but I had grown a little concerned over our drivers skillset when our tour guide kept mumbling prayers and kissing the gold cross that hung in a chain around her neck.
Walking back to the ship from where our driver had dropped us off I happened to spy a beautiful dark hair Latina having her picture taken along side the boat. Wow I thought if I could only meet a woman like that on this cruise. Two days later she was my dinner partner who laughed at my mispronunciation of Tijuca (Tea-Jew-Ca) as I pronounced it in Spanish (Te-wah-ca.)
8 years later we have a home in the foothills adjacent to the Tijuca forest and it has become the major backdrop to our exercise walks now that we have self-quarantined
Yesterday, we took a walk in the late afternoon and the forest was back lit and beautiful on the slopes of Pedra Da Gavea. Literally, it took your breath away although that could have been one of the steep inclines we encountered on our walk. It reminded me of a question that had been nagging at me over the course of the past 8 years.
I asked “My darling What is the difference between a forest and a jungle.”
She paused and said “I don’t know…”
Which of course led into a dialogue that lasted the next ten minutes of our walk and produced no definitive settlement on the issue. As a consequence, on our return, I went to my computer.
The word ‘forest’ is usually used to describe a dense growth of trees covering a large area of land. A forest often has a dry climate. However, there are tropical forests and rainforests. A forest has many tall trees and can usually be traveled through by humans.
The word ‘jungle’ is usually used to describe a tangled or overgrown mass of vegetation over a large area of land. A jungle usually has a tropical or humid climate and many plants on the ground between trees and larger plants. The thick vegetation on the ground can make it difficult or impossible for humans to go into or travel through a jungle.
As usual when I find an answer to a question another question popped up for me.
With the Covid 19 crisis are we in a forest, where, while there are many obstacles, we can track our way through it or are we in the Jungle where the undergrowth is so dense it would be impossible to transverse with out hacking our own trail?
I think it could have been a forest. I think if Trump had acted decisively and with leadership we could have navigated our way through this with relative ease. But because he hasn’t and can’t and relies more on gut that science, we are stuck in the Jungle.
Welcome to the jungle.