20 Days in Rio

Rio Olympic Stadium

20 Days in Rio

By Parrish Frisbee

Hello hello to all of my SEDA friends and readers! I’m writing this from my new base in Northern Illinois, where winter will be upon us much too soon. But for now, I’m going to give a recap of warmer travels I made in August, to volunteer at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games for our beloved equestrian sport. 

August 2nd-22nd (yes, TWENTY days spent in a Portuguese speaking country that many do not find safe, especially for a young foreign woman) I lived with a strictly Portuguese speaking family who cared for me like I was one of their own kids, with some initial translation help from the neighbor, Marcio, across the street and their patient nephew, Paul. The area is known as Marechal Hermes, just south of the equestrian venue in Deodoro. Living with a family in their neighborhood was a cultural eye-opener, and I would have chosen this over a luxurious hotel any day. They showed me around their massive local park, Parque Madureira, which is home to numerous athletic activities, eating and drinking kiosks (many with karaoke, that was a hoot to say the least), and the beautiful Olympic rings. 

After the first two days of going to Gamboa and Deodoro to pick up my uniform and credentials and becoming familiar with the cities, I was left feeling much more comfortable with using the train system and knowing which buses and drivers would brings me to my stops. The father (Garçon) had to drive me several times to the train station because on weekends the buses ran at different times. I never did get the schedules of all the transport systems for specific days down-pat, but by the end of my trip I was easily getting myself around on sometimes hour trips between our house and Copacabana Beach and Deodoro. 

On the night of the opening ceremony, I took a trip with neighbor Marcio down to Central City to watch the event on a large stage and TV set-up. We met several other travelers from Argentina, Mexico, Ireland, Taiwan, and various other countries, and found an open spot for the group of us to stand with our drinks and watch as everyone went crazy over what we deemed a well-put together ceremony for the first Olympics to be held in South America. 

On that first Saturday, I was able to have my first day of work at the Deodoro Equestrian Complex. I hopped off the train, walked the 5 minutes to the volunteer entrance, and immediately met fellow English-speaking workers Jessi from New York and Alicia from the UK. Both remain my steadfast friends to this day, and are a trip for sure. Neither had much equine experience (Alicia wanted nothing to do with animals in general and was laughing at how she had gotten placed at this venue), but were fast learners about how to act around the horses and accomplishing the dirty tasks efficiently. 

Poop-scooping and jump-raking masters we fast became over those few weeks with all our other newfound friends from around the world. We met vets, farriers, and other equine enthusiasts from places such as Spain, the UK, Russia, and so on. To hear so many stories on the various ways of life that horses lovers lead in other areas of the world was intriguing, and it was fun to hear stories from such friendly strangers. 

I worked during the first and last days of the eventing rides, which meant I got to watch the dressage and stadium portions, and watch Phillip Dutton gallop away with a Bronze medal that set the States off to a great start for their equestrian presence. Afterwards, I was more in my element as I got to scoop poop and help the ring maintenance crew in the presence of the world’s dressage kings and queens – Carl Hester, Charlotte Dujardin, Edward Gal, Hans Peter Linderhound, Laura Graves, and countless others. As I told Regina Milliken, breathing their air was probably the highlight of this entire trip. Lucky me as well – as a volunteer, I was able to get access beforehand at a discounted price to tickets to events! So naturally, I was able to get tickets to the finals of the Dressage to watch the freestyles and it was on my day off as well. Never have I been more ok with being burnt to a crisp in the heat of day (this was even during their winter, mind you), to watch tests being ridden one-by-one. Unfortunately, I did not stay for the prize-givings to watch Queen Charlotte take one last Olympic gallop around on Valegro as I wanted to experience more of the Rio events. So I took off on the train after the last ride to catch some beach volleyball on Copacabana. Oddly enough, the game I had tickets to were the semifinals between the USA and Brazil. Talk about an intense home crowd. I enjoyed every second of the energy that the Brazilian people gave off each step of the way. 

The daughter (Thamires) and her boyfriend, along with friend Fran, nephew Paul, and I took a trip to a lookout just below Christ the Redeemer (as I found out it’s quite expensive to make the short hike to the actual statue, and it was very overcast that day), where there basically an entire view of the city of Rio. You could see a glimpse of Maraçana Stadium, Ipanema Beach, Copacabana Beach, Sugarloaf Mountain, and various parts around the city. Even with the murky weather, the view was incredible. Although driving the foggy mountain roads up and down steep cliff sides was not my favorite part, they still taught me as much as they could about the area and showed me some of the military bases, sights, and places to eat. 

Did I mention that traffic is not a thing to messed with? No lanes exist. Motorbikes run rampant in between trucks and buses and cars. Not the most appealing thing, but it opens your eyes to various cultures and how the ‘norm’ can be so different. 

I also made friends with two travelers from Mexico (Manuel and Eduardo) who stayed across the street with Marcio. We took a day trip to the Ipanema beach and met up with some friends of theirs who came along to experience Rio and the Olympics to have dinner along the sand at Copa Beach. Copacabana is actually very quiet contrary to popular belief, even during such a large gathering as the most impressive athletic event in the world. After taking the train home with our group, the three of us caught the bus back to our street, and at that point (about two weeks into the trip), I felt like I had really found a home in another country. Everything still rings vivid and clear in my mind, and I was comfortable around all of the people and places I encountered, even when confronting any obstacles in communication. 

The family nephew lived in a city north of Marechal, and so Garçon and I took a nights trip with him to his family apartment and attended their church. Meeting so many welcoming personalities and experiencing that evening was one not to be forgotten! 

The last week of my trip I actually fell a tiny bit ill, and we ended up believing it was just an odd flu-like strain gone wrong. I did tough it out the last day of work during the show jumping portion, and went home a little early to catch up on rest. The show jumping was a thrill to watch, and Nick Skelton deserved such a fantastic win. To be among the greats was an honor, especially around Beezie Madden who I have idolized as a horsewoman and rider since my childhood. The last two days were spent around my host family and taking one last trip to the local park and telling stories of life in New Orleans to the neighboring Aunt Vania and her sweet young daughter Danielle, both of whom I keep in regular touch with. They both ask me how all of the horses are, and to send photos of them as much as possible! 

My day of traveling home was definitely a rollercoaster-my flight originally for 2:30 in the afternoon was ‘canceled’ but they had really pushed it to 12am. They were then asking for volunteers to step down and stay behind for a later flight to allow others to get on – an option I was not wanting to take as I missed home and of course had to get back to the horses! So after bidding a sad but grateful farewell to my ‘family’ in Brazil and thanking them for taking such good care of me and accepting me into their household with such welcoming arms, I spent several hours in the Rio airport, hopped off the plane for a four-hour layover in Miami, and arrived home early evening in New Orleans. Boy was my mother happy to see me with every limb intact and a truckload of stories to tell! 

Rio was a trip I will forever be grateful for taking. Not only for being able to go to another country, but for being granted to chance to meet so many incredible people from all walks of life, cultures, and stories. I genuinely miss Brazil and all that it gave to me in the form of memories. Many would think that Brazil did not do well for such a large sporting event – but all stories I heard from personal accounts were of positivity and incredulity. Every country has their flaws and downfalls, but Brazil handled all obstacles with ease and showed the world what they can be capable of. Most people I spoke with before leaving showed concern and anxiety over me going off on my own on such a trip. All I have to say is that I’m happy I did it, and that if you don’t take a few opportunities by the horns in life, you’ll be stuck in a hole. Seeing the world is on my bucket list, and to start it off being able to work around the best horse and rider combos in the world was one heck of a start. 

Laissez le bon temps roulez my friends, and vivir la vida al máximo!

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.