I had to go into Rio today to fetch some papers from a translator so I took the ferry across Guanabara Bay. The trip takes about 20 minutes and, during the day, ferries depart every half hour, although they are more frequent during rush hours – every ten or fifteen minutes. What struck me about it (and what, therefore, made me think I would write a journal post about it!) was the way a large group of humans manages to swarm aboard a large boat in just a few minutes with hardly any ‘contact’….maybe just an occasional bump or jostle. (It occurs to me that rush hour may be a different experience, of course!?)
The way it works here is that you buy your ticket and then pop the said ticket into a ticket machine which lets you into the waiting concourse. An electronic counter counts down the number of places left on the next ferry and when zero is reached, no-one else is allowed in! (Apparently there was an accident many years ago before it was privately owned and the ferry capsized because it was overloaded – tried to find the details on here to inform you but so far have only unearthed a more recent collision between the ferry and the dock! Injuries only, no deaths, thank goodness!)
From the concourse you can see the ferry arriving and the disembarking passengers take about 2 minutes to get off, then they open the gates and everyone streams forward. each boat holds about 1,300 people and I am guessing that there were about 700 people getting on at the same time as me, perhaps marginally fewer?
Everyone was about equidistant from each other most of the time as we stood in the concourse and, remarkably, stayed that way as we all walked on. That means that we were all doing lots of unconscious calculations about speed of movement and avoidance as we stood and even more calculations when we moved.
The water of the Guanabara bay was moving in a modest swell today, so the pontoons between dock and ferry were rocking and so was the ferry, so everyone was having to rebalance all the time and yet there were very few bodily collisions. Impressive really! I think I probably felt three or four gentle knocks and jostles as we walked the fifty or more yards onto the boat and observed very few bumps around me.
It was raining a little and about ten per cent of the people put their umbrellas up between the sheltered dock area and the entrance into the boat lounge. No umbrellas hit me and I noticed no-one being poked unceremoniously either, so – yet more subconscious calculations to make about trajectories of a rising circle of points for each umbrella! and some of them were the short folding kind of umbrella, so each of the spars had an “elbow” to watch as well! Similar calculations to perform as the umbrellas were collapsed on entering the cabin, too! And the umbrellas were moving in three dimensions, of course, and the surrounding bodies were all mobile too – and the shorter people had to avoid taller heads and the taller people had to avoid shorter bodies being poked and everyone was also monitoring the movement of other people’s umbrellas around them too.
Additionally, several people were walking on board reading books or newspapers and still did not bump into neighbours, keeping pace with the moving crowd and keeping optimum space between themselves and their immediate neighbours.
One of the things that popped into my mind as I was watching this moving ballet (and participating both subconsciously and consciously too!) was a visit we made in New Zealand last year…. one of the tourist places we were driving past was a cave where there were glow-worms. I said to Fatima “That looks interesting and different, let’s go!?”
The Portuguese word for ‘Glow-worm” is ‘Vaga-lumi”, literally “wave-light” and I know that Fatima likes ‘Vaga-lumi’ – so I was a bit puzzled when she showed some reluctance to stop and take in this tourist spectacle!? It turned out that she had seen the word “WORM” and not noticed the Glowing bit and; not being over-fond of worms, wondered what I was enthusing over!.
Anyway we DID stop and, the mis-understanding being reconciled, we went into the caves where these creatures live. It turns out that as relatively immobile cave dwellers – they are non-flying glow-ers – they generally wait for their food to come to them. Nor are they particular what they eat and so, if another glow-worm were to come within eating distance it might get munched upon…..so after many millions of years of existence, they have developed a safe distance to live apart….between an inch and a half, say, and about two and a half inches (further than that and they have no social life and would not reproduce! Actually, that’s a bit of a fib because the glow-worm stage pupates into a flying creature I think…..so their social life is on the wing; I was just trying to keep the story sharply in focus!)
So, there we were in the caves and the glowing creatures were all more or less equidistant from each other, hanging on the cave roof, like well-organised Christmas lights on a stretched net. It was a beautiful and intriguing and memorable sight….so when all of us humans getting on this ferry today were keeping similarly equidistant, I was led to wonder what the social/antisocial imperatives must have been over the millions of years of OUR development to train us into such well-developed subconscious calculations!?
Before I leave the topic of ferries I thought I would mention that on hot days, of which there are many here, of course, the waiting areas and the walkways onto the ferries are well-provided with large fans to circulate the air and also on such hot days there are fine sprays of cold water producing a mist near the fans, so as you walk forward you walk through a fine cooling mist – rather like they provided for the marathon runners in the Olympics recently.
Talking of the Olympics, there was a recent comment on the BBC website about the problem of pollution in Guanabara Bay itself which may prove to be an embarrassment for the Olympic organisers here because it all needs to be cleaned up before the sailing and rowing events which are to be held here. The problem is apparently exacerbated by sewage run-off from the favelas around the bay.
Finally you may already know that Rio de Janeiro really should not be called Rio at all! When the first sailors arrived here and set their anchors in the shelter of the bay, they thought, incorrectly, that it was actually a very large estuary of a very large river (Rio in Portuguese, of course!)
Since they arrived here in January the place should really be called “Bahia de Janeiro”….but I guess it is a bit late to rename the place. Anyway, who would want to!?