I was very nearly being an eye-witness to one of those atrocious acts that can only take place in a slave country. Owing to a quarrel and a lawsuit, the owner of the estate was on the point of taking all the women and children from the male slaves, and selling them separately at the public auction at Rio. Self-interest, and not any feeling of compassion, prevented this act.

Not to worry, a lot has changed here since Darwin wrote these lines down in his diary in April 1832, when he visited Rio. Since he doesn’t talk about the sail-in of the Beagle, neither will I write about ours. The night before our arrival in Rio the captain, an able man of few words, had sent us to bed with an unexpected lyrical outburst about the mystical splendor of arriving in Rio by ship. His speech obviously had touched many a passenger, for at 6am the viewing decks were quite full of fairy-pregnant viewers.

Unfortunately, rather than shooting pictures and shouting aahs and oohs, a few minutes after six, the ship came to a complete halt: the port was closed! Blame the fog. Even the rising son, starting her daily climb half an hour later, did not burn the vapor off. When we finally docked, after 9am, the ground fog had gone but Rio didn’t look much different from other cloudy and misty towns: drab, colorless and uninviting.

The guides, unaware of our early morning misadventure, welcomed us saying that we were lucky: the temperature had been around 110F (43°C) for days and had finally broken – we would be facing 32°C, at most. You win a few and you lose a few. I was on a standard Get-to-know-Rio Tour & Walk, with a spicy touch: a helicopter flight to top it all off. Riding to the top of Corcovado, we had a chance to shake hands with one of the “Seven Modern World Wonders”, namely Christ the Redeemer. Being as popular as he (if not himself then certainly the monument) is, it is inconceivable to carve out a space for a private moment, as many tourists spread their arms wide for a look-alike picture. However, the size of the statue is so surprisingly huge that thoughts about handshakes dissipate quickly up there. Meanwhile the morning fog had lifted somewhat, but a lot of nebulosity remained around the many green hills.

Rio is one of the few big cities in the world whose main attraction has to be its fabulous vistas, and not so much for its cultural heritage. (Unless you include the comprehensive collection of body cultures and sculptures, as they are practiced shamelessly on its sweeping beaches, among the “heritage” as well). I learned that a Brazilian invented the bikini in the sixties. This sunny garment has meanwhile shrunk to a monokini plus two well-placed stamps; the postage is, surprisingly perhaps, imposed by the local law!

The helicopter ride proved to be the icing on the cake. Although the cake itself had been a little bit humid (or should I say too spongy?) to make top grade, the copter could get you close enough to the landmarks, cutting through the persistent haze: round the Redeemer, diving down Sugar Loaf onto Copacabana, touring the Bay – the wow-feeling never left. This is the transportation “par excellence” to explore this pearl from all sides, a thrilling experience that will be a treasure to remember in more somber moments!

The second day was intended to be a follow-on to the Barbados “Photography in the Tropics” excursion. As I come to think of it, it seems ages ago. Notwithstanding that, I have not forgotten anything, simply because there was nothing to forget. Would I be lucky this time around? The answer proved to be yes.

The photographer, Fabrizia, was an excellent teacher with true tropical experience, and willing to share it! Moreover, she had brought a security guard to watch our equipment and an English speaking guide to fill in some Portuguese blanks. Because only five amateurs had registered, the value of the excursion was substantially enhanced as Fabrizia could really get engaged on an individual basis.

The grand plan was to visit the world famous Maracanã stadium, one of the sacred temples of soccer in the world, the less famous but inspiring Botanical Gardens and “strategic points” on the beaches. Fabrizia had also brought a heavy telelens which – luck had it – fitted on my camera as well. It could come in handy, for the bikinis perhaps? In retrospect, this day would, when all was said and done, be measured in all kinds of degrees. Sure, there was the air temperature and wet bulb temperature to deal with but color, body and meat temperature would dominate the conversation.

Few people, even few amateur photographers, ever deal or have dealt with color temperature, for the very simple reason that, traditionally, that “variable” was baked into the film roll that you bought (daylight, candle light and, sometimes, flash light) so that you didn’t worry about it. The digital cameras, even the cheap ones, correct for temperature when the flash is engaged and use standard color temperatures for sunny, cloudy, etcetera conditions. In the tropics these estimates break down because the light is intense and the vegetation (creating various types of shade) is exuberant. Visiting the Botanical Gardens in Rio is an outstanding and challenging training ground for appreciating and managing the color of the picture frames! Fabrizia’s close assistance among the shady bamboo and lofty palms provided comfortable assurance.

From there it went to the sea front. It may come as a surprise but at the beach the color temperature is not an issue. One number suffices for all pictures, for indeed there is no green vegetation and the paraded bodies don’t throw off disturbing shadows. This is the place where body temperature enters into the story. For starters the “objects” of the photo all radiate heat, the body heat that belongs to the sunbathers. On the other hand, one should not forget that the subjects, i.e. the photographers, may undergo a body temperature change if he lets himself get exalted or otherwise excited by frivolous activity in the sexy simmering sandbox. Luckily Fabrizia continued to focus my attention on light angles and composition, so that my own (blood) temperature and pulse remained within acceptable ranges. No shakes, nor shivers!

For all their fame, Rio beaches are also organized in a strict manner, using flags and numbers. For instance, on Ipanema, number 9 is reserved for the pretty men and women, number 10 for the rich and number 11 for all kinds of media stars (actors, politicians and journalists). It is remarkable that you do not have to have any kind of proof or to show and admission ticket. No, no, it is much simpler: if you are convinced that you are pretty you go to 9, if you think that you are rich then go to 10 and if you believe that you are star you just walk up at 11. Popular democracy in action!

In closing, I want to mention the last important temperature of the day: the meat variety – as in rare, medium-rare, medium and well done! After the demanding photographic activity and the continuous concentration that it requires, we were invited for a typical Rio luncheon, across from dreamy Sugar Loaf mountain. In one word, it was finger licking good. I am not referring here to all the flesh that was present and parading around – from lightly done all the way to dark roasted – but primarily about what the cooks put on your plate. Apart from an exotic buffet – fresh palm hearts, beefsteak tomatoes, all kinds of exotic fruit and varieties of morning-fresh fish – the place was filled with a full deck of scurrying men, each carrying a flickering knife and a large metal stick full of hot, broiled and juicy chunks of meat, different cuts from various animals. For carnivores it was a Fiesta for the eyes and for the taste buds without equal!

Staying with tradition – Brazilian as well as European, lunch lasted, and lasted. We only got back to the ship by late afternoon. That happened to be the right moment for the air and wet bulb temperatures to make a comeback. As their paths crossed, masses of warm tropical rain fell in buckets from an electrified sky, painted in all shades of grey. It was a welcome drenching after an intensive and rewarding day.

Around 11pm we set sail, on our way South. The Sugar Loaf Mountain stood massively towering but invisibly dark at starboard, while Copacabana stretched itself out in front us – a long, curbed line, a strip of intense light. Here and there, above that line, one could discern hanging triangles, widening downhill, with many small flickering light points. A tale of two worlds …

Prinsendam, Day 29 – Thursday Feb 3rd, 2011

Paraty is next, before we leave Brazil, after 30 days of exploration