Alice Collins’ Rio Olympics blog: ‘The Inexplicables’ of South America

  • I didn’t really think much would surprise me in Rio. Delight, yes, but surprise, no. I’ve lived in Latin America for two years and love it dearly, but it’s been a while since I’ve visited and I’d totally forgotten about what we always used to call ‘The Inexplicables’ of South American life.

    Example: I was living in a small town in the mountains of west Venezuela, near the border with Colombia. It was an overnight bus ride to get up north to the Caribbean coast, and one that we did every couple of months for a weekend at the beach.

    The climate in the city, Merida, was balmy and lovely, usually low to mid 20s peppered with surprisingly sharp showers.

    So, warm in Merida. And very warm on the Caribbean coast. Yet, on the coaches we took between the two, it was cold. Not just, ‘oh I’ll bring a jumper’ sort of cold, but bloody Arctic. We’d pack hats, gloves, thick socks and take sleeping bags with us. We only owned these items to use/wear on the coach journeys. None of the drivers were ever able to make the air con less savage.

    We just accepted it as one of The Inexplicables.

    They are anomalies, wrinkles in life that just aren’t ever ironed out by anyone. And to live happily in Latin America you must learn to love and embrace them.

    We’ve found a few things on this visit that I’m adding to my list.

    Firstly, the coffee. More specifically, the cups. Just look at this teeny weeny little cup. It’s like coffee for Liliputians. Liliputians with Teflon fingers, as the plastic is so thin it scalds you. The only way to drink from it without self harming is to have an inch of coffee in the bottom and hold it round the top.

    So coffee on ration. At least it is so violently strong that you still get a jolt from the inch.

    Next new addition to the list is fruit. Some fruit comes conveniently wrapped in its own special little natural jacket and doesn’t need another one: bananas, oranges etc. So why does this orange come wrapped in plastic cling film? Who knows! Welcome to The Inexplicables, sweaty green orange!

    An orange wrapped in cling film

    An orange wrapped in cling film


    Now take the loos at the equestrian venue. There are white metal doors and, on day one, there were locks but no holes for the bolts to slide into. The springs on the cubicle doors were so tight they whacked you on the knees in a stubborn attempt to stay open at all costs. How was anyone supposed to wee in private? Perhaps that’s just a prudish European construct the Brazilians have chosen to abandon?

    A couple of days in and holes appeared in the door frames for the bolts to slide into. They looked like the army had come in and made them with blunt force and stone-age instruments. Or maybe they used more of the spare bullets like the one that landed in the press office during the eventing dressage. Another one to add to The Inexplicables, seeing as the Rio organisers appear to have not the foggiest about where it came from.

    Continued below…

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    Two that I’m refusing to add to my list are rubbish, expensive internet and a distinct lack of hot water. That’s because I’d like them fixed, please.

    We paid $175 each for enhanced internet, but nobody in the press office at the venue has heard of anything other than the standard internet being available, so H&H can wave goodbye to the $525. We will doggedly keep asking and we will pursue those faster speeds!

    The other is the cold water in our Olympic accommodation. I’m running on six days of bone-shattering morning showers. I’m not an athlete in need of a daily cleansing and invigorating ice bath, thanks. But I really don’t want this on the list, as for $254 a night per person (eye-watering, I know), I’d like to think we can get it fixed.

    So far, 17-hour working days have meant no time for solving the water situation — in fact barely enough time to eat — but hey, we’re making memories. And there’s no good story in having a warm shower and fast internet every day for a week.

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