HOW TO WASTE
A DAY IN RIO

      We were on the tail end of our three week adventure in South America. Only a couple of days to go. Everything had gone beautifully, every day new sights, every night new tastes. All was well with the world.
     "Can we do what I want to do, for once?" whined my wife as I glanced through the Rio de Janeiro guide book.
     Uh, oh. That could only mean one thing---culture. We had been to the beaches, we had gone on the Jeep tour through the jungle---she had loved it all. But those were my ideas.
     "I want to see that summer palace that the tour guide was talking about," she suggested.
     I relaxed, realizing it was too hot for her to suggest a downtown museum. We both agreed the palace was on an island, accessible only by boat. That’s what we thought the Jeep tour guide said, but his English wasn’t the best. If it included a boat, though, I could survive.
     I spotted it in the guide book almost immediately---the Isla Fiscal. King Pedro II had fallen in love with the island in 1808 and……that was enough reading---we were on our way.
     After a grueling taxi ride through traffic and humid 90 degree heat, we arrived at the Naval base near downtown Rio. After some searching, we found the ticket booth for the tour.
     "Boat tour to Isla Fiscal?" I asked.
     "Boat broken," replied the nice Brazilian Navy man in the few English words he had practiced. "Must go by shuttle bus."
     That was strange---an island accessible by bus. Something didn’t seem right, but I didn’t dare suggest to my wife that she forfeit her desire to see a summer palace.
     The bus pulled up and we quickly took our seats. No air conditioning, and windows that only opened about 16 inches. We were both sweating profusely, and my wife doesn’t sweat.
     That’s when the 25 fourth-graders climbed on for their field trip, all of them screaming in Portuguese as their teacher ignored them. I like kids, and so does my wife---just not all at once.
     The bus pulled out and inched through the incessant Rio traffic. Some kid was in the seat behind us, with a voice that would shatter teeth. He was in a league above the rest of the screaming little buggers. With sweat pouring down our faces, we both turned and gave him the international look recognized by children around the world. It didn’t help.
     The only thing that fueled us was the curiosity of how a bus could get to the King’s summer island palace. When we saw the answer, it wasn’t comforting. It was a causeway over the water, just wide enough to handle the bus, and no guardrails. The kids were still yelling, oblivious that we could plunge to a murky death with one inadvertent sneeze from the driver.
     I checked out the window openings. My wife would fit, and I would be left behind. Damn cheeseburgers! I knew they’d kill me one way or another.
     Then I realized I’d have to stay and save the children, anyway. Except maybe the kid in the seat behind me. He’d have to apologize first.
     Thanks to the incredible skill, and health, of our driver, we made the turn and the island was in sight. Our first thought was that King Pedro II was an idiot. One, why would he build a summer palace about 400 yards from shore, and two, why would he build such a dumpy summer palace?
     About halfway through the unescapable one-hour tour, which was all in Portuguese, we realized who the idiots were. Isla Fiscal was where King Pedro II decided to build a government building for use by his Navy. He liked ornate architecture, so it sort of looked like a palace. He never spent one night on the island, and it was pretty clear why.
    We learned much later that Pedro’s summer palace was in a town called Petropolis, which made sense. It was an hour away, up in the mountains, where it was much cooler in the summer. Which made sense.
    The sweat, the screaming kids, the near-death experience, the most boring tour in the world---it was all a big mistake.
    Over dinner that night, after we had recovered, I let my wife know it was all her fault. Had it been my idea to see a summer palace, I would have read the guide book more carefully.
 

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