Part 1: “The taxi driver couldn’t understand why I was traipsing halfway around the world just to wave an inflatable hand.”
London 2012 volunteer Chris Thorn has made his way to Rio, via Madrid, Sao Paulo and Fortaleza, ready to lend a hand. But not before he’s acclimatised with a few Itaipava beers and some exploration…
“Bom dia! So tomorrow is my first shift as a Rio 2016 Olympic Village Workforce Ops team member. Just under four years since my first shift in the sports viewing room team in London’s Olympic village.
Flying from Madrid to save money, I took the overnight flight to Sao Paolo, where I saw the sunrise and then jumped on another plane to Fortaleza. Greeted by an American taxi driver called Gerardo, who could not understand what I was doing traipsing halfway around the world just to wave an inflatable hand, carry an athlete’s discarded warming up tracksuit, or work in a back office doing admin – all at my own expense and with nothing more than a free hat to take home. Oh well, volunteering isn’t for everyone!
“I spent seven days in an equatorial sandy paradise eating picanda and batatas frita, drinking Bohemia and Itaipava.”
After a night in a casa by the beach, I then got on a six hour bus journey and another hour by jeep over sand dunes, through a national park, before finally, 64 hours after leaving Chelmsford, arriving in Jericoacoara in time for the famous sunset on the Por do Sol dune. One of very few west-facing beaches in Brazil.
I then did some very important acclimatising in preparation for South America’s first Olympic hosting. I spent seven days in an equatorial sandy paradise eating picanda and batatas frita, drinking Bohemia and Itaipava – well, you should always eat and drink local, helping the local community economy and all that.
The few people I met on buggy group tours who did speak English were not really in the Olympic mood. Fair enough, still a month away and they were on holiday. They were impressed that I had travelled so far and for so long on my own just to offer my services for free, and that I had survived with almost no foreign language skills. Portuguese is about eighth on my fluency list (English, German, French, Spanish, Dothraki, cat meows and emoji).
Desculpe. Dish school pay. Dee cool per. Daysh quoulp. My East Ham/mid Essex monotone accent just cannot do verbal dexterity, so I have to rely on friendly body language, apologetic smiling and communicating with hands or animal noises for food. This is a transferable skill with all sports volunteering. Not everyone will speak English and even those that do are sometimes speechless with excitement or physical exhaustion. By reading body language and being open minded about communication, it’s often very obvious that a person needs a drink or the toilet!
Return hour jeep ride, six-hour bus and two-hour taxi in Friday night rush hour back to Fortaleza airport – sleepinginairports.com a good guide recommended the third floor viewing platform as it had power outputs and chairs to get a nap in.
“…us volunteers will make the best with what we’ve got, to go above and beyond what is expected of us. It’s what we do.”
Five a.m. flight to Rio, BRT Transcarioca express bus to my Airbnb apartment block, five minute walk from the Olympic park, drop off my bag (yes, really mum, I only need one small bag for over ten weeks travel – they do have shops, you know) and then back on the BRT and metro passing the Maracana.
Chris showing off the Rio 2016 volunteer kit
Other volunteers had recommended the free cable car from Central, but that was broken, so I had to find the right local, ramshackle bus up the hill via the cidade de Samba favela to the Uniform and accreditation warehouses in Gamboa.
Absolutely shattered from the two days of travel, minimal sleep and scuttling around Rio on a hot, busy Saturday afternoon. Adrenalin and other volunteer’s cheerfulness got me through the accreditation and uniform collection, and back to the Airbnb apartment before sundown.
Today I did a practice run, well, walk, to the Olympic village. Just under 30 minutes, plenty of local buses running along the corridor, BRT Transolimpica not quite ready, but loads of builders and engineers dotted around.
There’s a big military presence in the Park and around the village. A bit intimidating at first, but then you realise they’re making everything safer and can relax. They’re just people, too, happy to exchange a friendly Olà and respectful head nod. They just do it holding a mini machine gun.
I’m sure everything will be ready by 5 August for the world to see. In the meantime, us volunteers will make the best with what we’ve got, to go above and beyond what is expected of us. It’s what we do.
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