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Jammin’ in Rio

Letter to the Editor

For the casual visitor, the Corcovado , the Sugar Loaf and the marvelous beaches are enough to inspire that feeling that you’re truly in one of the world’s most stunning cities. But there is much, much more to Rio than this. There are other must-do’s that only a true seeker after the hidden gems of the city will look for.

One of these can be found almost immediately outside your front door. The only requirement is that you must be on four wheels, either your own car or preferably in a taxi.

So what exactly is this particular hidden gem of Rio? For the true aficionado the it is “Jammin”, but let’s use “Traffic Jam”, as this is more easily appreciated by the layperson, unfamiliar with the joys of the bottleneck, the endless traffic lights stuck on red, the road works and the broken down truck blocking the one lane that might be moving.

What most visitors to Rio do not realize is that the Traffic Jam is taken very seriously by the City authorities. Special arrangements are made by the local government to ensure that the full jam experience is a unique and memorable one for those of us that seek this particular thrill.

Preparations are made by the municipal employees from the very earliest hours of the day for the many fans of the Rio traffic jam. Huge holes are opened in key avenues, each with ten “workers” in place (actually unemployed actors hired by the day) trained to stand and watch as one colleague appears to “work”.

Special technicians spread out over the city in the early dawn switching off traffic lights, or turning them to flashing amber so that key crossings can slow traffic to a crawl, and the morning chorus of car horns can rise to a deafening crescendo. To add to the general merriment, a traffic policeman will be assigned to each crossing to add to the chaos with his whistle and arm waving, something he has been trained to do since birth , such is his expert choreography .

In the early hours, Municipal tow-trucks can be seen at work if you’re up early enough. Their job is to place broken-down buses, cars and trucks at key points in the city’s road network. These vehicles represent a special creative element that is a characteristic of the Rio jam, and can be seen as the touch of genius that the Carioca brings to this otherwise prosaic event.

Visitors that seek out Rio just for the Jammin’ also know that the school run adds that special ingredient to the mix. School buses that obey their own traffic rules, mothers in massive 4x4s stopping in the middle of the road to pick up their children, not to mention the triple parking outside the many schools that populate the city road network, all add to the general hilarity and joys of the jam .

To give our readers an example of the fun to be had Jammin’ in Rio, here’s a sample “journey” taken by your correspondent and lady companion, two fans of the jam, only yesterday. The ostensible reason for the trip was a visit to a decorating exhibition in the district of Laranjeiras. We knew that the first jam would most likely be found at the avenue that circles round Rio’s Lagoa, a natural lagoon of great beauty in the South Zone of the city. Our luck was in; there it was, bumper to bumper – a five minute journey transformed into fully half an hour.

Excellent! An extra benefit of this particular jam, and why it is so sought after, is that it affords the Jammer a constant view of the wonderful lagoon as you crawl along at less than walking pace. Once through the jam, we hurried through the Rebouças tunnel, anxious not to miss the famous three o’clock jam in the Rua das Laranjeiras.

Fortune was on our side, because there it was in its full traditional glory. Broken down buses, failed traffic lights, school run, road works, the Laranjeiras had it all. What an experience. Made all the more interesting by the fact that the exhibition hall was on the opposite side of the street and therefore unreachable. Unless that is you took a detour at the end of the street to rejoin the jam, coming back up the other way. We pondered on whether we should do this, but decided to press on and forget the exhibition for that day .

Why, you may ask, did we pass up this opportunity to re-join the Laranjeiras jam? Well the answer is that we were anxious to seek out another of these famous Rio “sights”, the renowned jam on Rua São Clemente. This street takes you back to the Lagoa, where we knew we could join the traditional jam around the lake, this time anti-clockwise to add variety to our journey. We happily crawled along this famous street, able to take in its wonderful old mansions and embassies left over from the glory days of Rio as the capital of Brazil. The long hour spent stationary on Rua São Clemente is its own reward. Only the Jammers can truly live this moment.

All too soon, our Jammin’ was over. We expected to take at least another half an hour by the Lagoa, but the traffic was disappointingly thin and we were home before we knew it. Tired but happy, we reminisced over the pleasures of the day. A full one and a half hours in the jams, and to crown the experience, we failed to make our destination! It doesn’t get much better than that. One day all of Rio will be like that. Stationary traffic, clogged roads, endless fumes, all to the tune of a myriad car horns. Jammers, Paradise awaits !

Chris Burton

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