Some tourists gathered along a winding path here on a Thursday in early May, watching the waves from the Atlantic, hoping for a big one. The surf was so high that red flags were planted on the beach below, so even the cariocas – the locals – stayed on the sand. It was only a couple of weeks ago that one of the waves leapt up to a newly built portion of this path, and crumpled it like a wet cracker. At least two people died; their bodies were fished out of the surf by helicopters and laid onto the beach below.
The tourists hung out near a food cart with a bright umbrella, and the owner stepped outside and got a visitor’s attention. He gestured with his hand in an up-and-over motion. It was clear what he meant: every now and then a wave crashed over the ledge, and where the tourists were standing wasn’t quite safe. He returned to work; the tourists stayed where they were. The waves kept coming, higher and higher.
Brazil is a precarious place these days.
“Things are getting uglier here every day,” Brazilian soccer star Rivaldo wrote on his Instagram account Sunday. “I advise everyone with plans to visit Brazil for the Olympics in Rio – to stay home. You’ll be putting your life at risk here. … Only God can change the situation in our Brazil.”
The situation in Brazil right now looks like this: The economy is crashing and no one knows quite what to do about it. The Zika virus has caused paralysis and harrowing birth defects. The Olympics are less than three months away and that will bring security concerns. It will also bring some embarrassment, as the local Guanabara Bay is filthy and rancid. The beach surrounding it has no people, but rather empty cans and vials and diapers. It was supposed to be cleaned; it might never be cleaned.
Perhaps most troubling of all: an impeachment process in the midst of a corruption crisis leaves Brazil’s political future completely uncertain. Plan A has failed and there is no Plan B. When the Olympic flame arrived here on May 3, it was met by dueling protests – one side against a “coup” and another in favor of impeachment. A schoolteacher who watched the torch relay voiced a common wish: new elections. But who is worthy to win? No one has inspired any trust. The most popular politician is someone nicknamed “Tiririca.” He’s a professional clown. His campaign slogan was, “It can’t get any worse.”
So yeah… that “best games ever” seems out of reach.