In Rio Part 2
“Porra! Porra! Porra!” I’m screaming, partially because I just learned the Brazilian multipurpose cussword, but mostly because I’m being jumped by José Aldo and Nova Uniao’s gang of lightweights.
After teaching Nova Uniao some of our wrestling techniques, we were being welcomed with a light hearted beating, and at this point in the face-slapping, multi-man dog pile,I was now being bitten on my ass. I wriggled away from the ass biter, but was suddenly being simultaneously arm barred by José Aldo and his training partner as someone laughed with a Portuguese accent and snapped a photo.
“Let me go, José Aldo,” I screamed, since he was the only guy I knew by name, in a room full of world-class fighters. I escaped, or was released, and was now out of breath, but a small guy, sensing my exhaustion, jumped on my back, put both hooks in, and stretched me out. José came back to abuse me more, probably due to his love of Bully Beatdown and his desire to abuse the handsome, charismatic host.
I met my breaking point, and from my terrible position, I grabbed Aldo’s gloved hand and bit down on his forearm. “Desperate times…”as they say. I should have known that retaliation was coming. The same tattooed guy from Part I of this adventure (see the December issue, or get a subscription already) BIT ME AGAIN! This time, it was a hard, nasty one on the back. This Brazilian mini-riot lasted about 30 minutes or so, and finally, when a truce was called, we went to enjoy a signature of every gym in Brazil—a freezing shower. They don’t waste money on hot water in Rio. As I disrobed, everyone burst into laughter—the last bite left a huge bruise.
We all got a good laugh out of that, and after the icicle shower, we go out into the dirty streets of downtown Rio, which is completely tiled with tiny trapezoid rock. These stones give the city a character that is slightly dingy, as well as rustic. It’s a place with fantastic character—not the cookie-cutter asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks that we are accustomed to in America.
We headed down to the local sandwich shop, and even though I’ve eaten the purple black frozen berry pudding with every meal, I still spout “Um Ass Eye EE!!” I’m met with a frozen bowl of sweet goodness, while still expressing my disbelief at the back-biter, and my regret for not returning the favor. Strong looking porters walk through the streets carrying rickshaw-type carts—filled to the brim with pineapples—in front of the facade of a house that looks very much like an old mansion in New Orleans. I devour the pudding while super tour guide Marcelo Alonso laughs to the rest of this table in his thick Brazilian accent, “Man, this guy is Brazilian now, he loves the açaí.”
We headed back to the parking garage, and I paused to high-five some of the guys, including José Aldo, who is even cooler in real life than in the cage. While doing this high-five love fest in the streets of Rio, one guy’s face stood out to me, but I couldn’t remember why, that is, until one of his partners in crime pointed at the guy and pantomimed a biting motion. It took a second to register, but when I saw his tattooed neck, I knew what had to be done. I gave a high-five, pulled him into the bro hug, and bit down on his trapezius muscle hard enough to bruise him through his tattoos.
“Porra lesque,” I yelled—the equivalent of “Fuck, Dude”—and laughed up a storm with the rest of the crew as he scurried off into the yellow streetlights of RDJ. Joe Rogan had mentioned to me, before I left on this journey, some type of bacterial infection that comes from rat droppings that makes men and women more aggressive and affects a large portion of people in Brazil. I started to wonder if I was infected.
I wondered if extreme fatigue was one of the symptoms. We had been working out hard now, every day, running on next-to-no sleep the entire time and climbing a mountain here and there. Just as I was considering this in the backseat of the car, Marcelo Alonso, not wanting to wait for some slow driver to take a left, skill fully cuts off a more timid driver through his left side. It’s a move I always wished I could make in America, but I must not have contracted the rat-doo virus yet. With some technical swerving, we were back on a busy, two-lane highway that overlooked the beach, which, despite being late into the evening, was illuminated all the way down the shoreline as far as I could see.
“I’m giving you guys tomorrow off,” says coach Ryan Parsons, snapping me from my stare out the window “We’ve been running you guys hard.” I looked over at teammate Pat Cummings, who has bruises on his exhausted looking face and no skin left on his feet—a testament to being a wrestler who never trains without his shoes on…until this trip. “Day off? Sweet! What’re we gonna do?”
When we awoke the next morning, the godfather of Brazil, Marcelo Alonso, had arranged the best present he could for me and Pat: hang gliding. I was so excited when I heard this news that I did a Jersey Shore fist pump double time, and Pat followed suit. We arrived at the beach that served as the landing zone for the gliders, and I started to get psyched. This was basically a childhood dream. Actually, the childhood dream was to fly with rocket boots, but this was about the same. The action journalist that he is, Marcelo Alonso followed behind our official hang-gliding vehicle, and we charged up the mountain in a much shorter time than expected, mostly due to the 45 degree inclines that the small SUV had to endure through the leafy-green rainforest mountains. We climbed higher, and a happy tension built.
Finally, we reached the top, hopped out of the truck, and marveled at the view. We weren’t quite as high as our last mountain climbing adventure, but that didn’t matter. We were about to jump off this mountain. As this was sinking in, I became increasingly amped. Standing on the wooden deck platform, Pat and I began singing at the top of our lungs, “IIIIII just want to fly, like a bird up in the-sky, I’m so high, high high high higher than high,” and then, for a photo op, I did a jumping split leapfrog over Pat’s back dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. The jump prompted this exchange with ace photo journalist Marcelo Alonso and my hang gliding instructor, whose face was growing more concerned that he would be jumping off of a cliff with a kite strapped to his back with me.
“Sorry to ask, but this man looks like he’s plugged into 220 volts of electricity. It looks like he doesn’t need wings to fly. Did he use some ‘additive?’” Marcelo explained to him that I often get excited, and he relaxed a bit. After a few test runs on the ground, we took a sprint and jumped free of the earth. Now, I had been imagining this since I knew what a hang glider was, and maybe it’s due to my adrenaline gland being burned raw from fighting for so long, but as soon as we were in the air, I felt the most serene and calm feeling I had felt ever. I looked down at the beautiful beach, the fantastic mountains, and the favelas (slums)ant-hilling up the sides of them, which looked oddly perfect from a far, and I had a revelation.
I’m here in Brazil. I’m doing the things that I’ve always dreamed of doing. When I first started my MMA journey, I had imagined this, all of this—training with the most skilled nameless fighters on earth, eating food I couldn’t pronounce, right down to flying through the air above luscious jungles and picturesque beaches. This is real. I am here. “Please do not touch my control bar,” the nervous pilot barked (Marcelo had not yet explained that the pilot thought I was coked out), snapping me out of thought and back into the realization that I’m still hundreds of feet in the air, masterly banking left and right, occasionally catching a warm air current that extended our lofty descent to the beach. I finally let out a yell of excitement, and before I knew it, we were catching our feet on the sand.
Upon arrival on the beach, Dr. Parsons had his shoes off and had joined a small group of soccer-fan-looking people in a strange hobby. Pat and I watched as the three took turns balancing on what looked like a cargo strap that had been pulled taught between two palm trees about a foot off the ground. An older gentleman gracefully walked across the tightrope from one end to the other, as I walked to one of the many beach stands that dot every beach in Rio and came back with a celebratory água de coco (coconut water) for me and Pat. As we slurped the young opened coconuts, we watched in awe as a young woman danced across the wire, occasionally putting her leg out for balance like a ballerina. By this time, Ryan Parsons was getting the hang of this low-flying circus act, and he was actually able to take three or four steps until it got too unstable to walk on. Unable to ignore the challenge, both of the adventure twins attempted the walk, but I just came away agreeing with Pat: “Damn, that’s hard.”
“I have a meeting tonight,” says Dr. Parsons, and Marcelo had Brazilian journalism to type up, leaving Pat and I to fend for ourselves. We marched down to the happening street in Barra that we had frequented for food, and in a twist of homesickness, we found a Mexican restaurant along the lines of open air cuisine.We plopped down on the patio, ordered enchiladas and margaritas in Spanish, and listened to talented musicians play American pop songs, sometimes subbing in Portuguese verses. “Damn, this guy is good,” says Pat. “I’ll tell you what else is good,” I say, “this margarita! UM MAIS AMIGO!” “No, DEUSH!” yells Pat.
The girls at the next table got a good giggle from our obvious lack of Portuguese. Now that there was no chaperone, it felt like school was out for the summer, and taking into account our flying adventure, it now felt like a bit of a vacation. We cracked up about the trip, downed some spirits, made friends with everyone that surrounded us, and high-fived the waiter while singing along with a Beyonce song. “Where do we go dance tonight?” I asked the waitress who had taken a special interest in me, since she spoke the best English in the joint. “Baronetti, in Ipanema, is good place tonight.”
“Baronech!” we exclaimed in unison, paid the bill, dropped some Reis in the tip jar for the over-skilled and underpaid guitarist, and thanked everyone for the experience, but no one understood us. Before we could get to the street, Dr. Parsons walked up with some reporter or librarian, or someone boring, and tried to encourage us to sit down. Yeah, right. The powder keg had already been lit, and the last words I remember from him were: “Have you guys been drinking?”
Taxi, tunnel, another streetlight, beach, another town, and I’m singing “The girl from Ipanema.” We stumble into a long line, and I ask, “Que es esh? Baronech?” This got some giggles and some affirmative head nods. I saw Pat’s dismay at the line, but I’ve spent along time in Hollywood, so I knew the drill. I walked right up to the very front of the line and did what you are supposed to do. I looked important. Literally, in two seconds, the velvet rope was pulled back, and we were ushered into the club with the instructions, “Have fun, and no fighting.”
Fun we had. When I say “dance,” think super gay go-go dancers at a gay pride festival. We DANCED. And before long, we had every woman in the entire club surrounding us. If they weren’t shaking their heads in disgust, they were joining in the excitement. A few guys gave us dirty looks, but no static. They just must have had too much rat feces around them. For some reason, in the club, you have a membership card, and you don’t pay cash until you leave. So I was just waving my card about, slapping shot after shot and laughing hard, finally noticing how cool the LED ceiling looked. Then the haze is heavy.
Lights up. Crowd rumbling. Pay my card. Run to a taxi. Head out the window in a long tunnel. Hotel lobby. Now really singing, “The girl from Ipanema” in my hotel room. Awaken in a stupor. What? Where? Who? “Hurry up.We have to go. We’re late.” No food, no water. Charging into the crumbling courtyard of a South American sports complex, the tennis players stop between serves to look at the hung-over American with the wacky hairdo. We climb the stairs, and I’m wondering how I ever got out of bed, but when I see the sign on the door, I forget all about my physical body and feel another kick to my, thus far, abused adrenaline gland: “Brazilian Top Team.” Standing in the doorway is the legend Murilo Bustamante, I’m ecstatic when I see the room full of tough Brazilians warming up in the gym that looks like a converted classroom. How many dreams can come true in one trip?
One of my favorite active fighters, Toquinho is there, and before I know it, we’re training. He’s kicking my ass, then I’m kicking his, then back to mine, and the round is over without getting my knee broken from one of his famous leg locks. The training goes on, and although my heart is in it 100%, my body considers vomiting on a training partner who asks, “You okay, man?” I’m fine. I’m living my dream. Nothing is taking this from me. The grappling rounds begin, and I roll with a friendly guy who I had been talking to before training began. After some positioning and scrambling, this skinny bastard catches me in the sneakiest anaconda choke ever. I had never seen an entrance into it like that. Not only that, but before the end of the round, he catches me in it AGAIN, from a slightly different variation. I’m incredulous, but I thank him for the excellent training, and I inquire about the move to attempt to get it in my arsenal. We leave the gym, and epic tour guide Marcelo Alonso explains, “Man, that’s Milton Vieira, he’s the inventor of the anaconda choke. He teach it to everyone, the Nogueiras, everyone, man. It’s very nice.” Yes, yes, it was very nice.
The next hours are blurry. Maybe it was the constant stream of adrenaline finally coming down. Maybe it was exhaustion finally setting in. We made a stop at the beach in Ipanema and sat on some chairs that they have for rent, as a constant stream of vendors came by to sell tea, snacks, and, I think, pot. The beaches in America suck in comparison. I reclined, and although I never can sleep face-up, I think I passed out. Really, I’d like to think that this was all a dream. A crazy açaí filled dream that changes your life when you wake up. In a way, it was. I had expectations of Brazil from my own imagination, the Brazilian friends that I have, and the movie City of God, but this trip blew all of them away. I’ve left so much of the story out—another trip to the favela where I danced the samba, learning some BJJ techniques from the coach of an archenemy of mine, Jacaré, and Marcelo Alonso’s silent sidekick—who was with us the whole time but never spoke—that I dubbed “Silencio.” I awoke on the beach and admired Brazil in a whole new way. I watched groups of people expertly play volley-soccer with their feet, and realized that the people of Brazil play with passion. I never understood why my Brazilian-American friends have so much love for their home country, but I do now. They have a lot of love to give. Everything they do, they do with a fury. It’s an unmatched passion. I don’t know if it’s the glorious views, the aggressive women, or the900-foot Jesus, but something gives them a passion that allows them to excel at whatever they choose, be it fighting, hang gliding, or driving in traffic. I would like to think that a little bit of this passion rubbed off on me during the trip. Then again, it could be a viral pathogen contracted from rat turds.Time will tell. PORRA LESQUE!