Sandro Marino with Brazilian Olympic Rowing Team at the GIG Airport

How I Experienced 2008 Olympics In Brazil

In 2008, while I was enjoying a beautiful winter day on Ipanema beach in Rio Janeiro, I met one of the top women athletes in the world, Camila Carvalho. She was on the Brazilian Olympic Rowing Team for the upcoming games in Beijing. It was so cool to connect with one of the top athletes in Brazil a few months before the games. This is the beginning of how I experienced the 2008 Olympics in Brazil.

Camila brought me into the inner circle of her friends and team mates, we hung out quite bit before her and the rest of the rowing  team had to fly off to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. I was invited to go see them train at the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake in Rio de Janeiro.

The weather in the middle of winter in Rio was about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, perfect for training on the water.  While competing in Brazil, Camila was on the Vasco team. About 6 weeks before 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, the entire team packed up and headed to their training camp in the interior, a mountain range near the border of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.

Pousada Alsene was the name of the lodge that they stayed. It's a very rustic lodge up at the highest altitude that you can get to near Rio. And when I say rustic, I mean no heat or insulation for the brick built cabanas that they bunked in. It got really cold at nigh,t being that it was winter time for Brazil and perched up at 2,400 meters (7,874 feet) in altitude. Coming from Ipanema beach, I fully underestimated how cold it would get up there.

I was excited and privileged to be invited to visit the team for a weekend during their training at Pousada Alsene. I hopped on a bus at the Rodoviaria (bus terminal) in Rio De Janeiro for a 5 hour trip. I arrived in the afternoon, just before the team had gotten back from their day of training at the lake nearby, so I checked in and got settled in my cabana. 

When the team arrived, they were exhausted and hungry from the full day of training, so shortly after we all had dinner together. They were telling me about what they had been up to the 2 weeks prior to me joining them. Every team member was so open, friendly, welcoming and just so awesome!

The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn to get ready for the day of training and had breakfast.

Breakfast at Alsene Pousada

After breakfast, the team and I piled into a few different vehicles and drove out to the Itatiaia Lake. The first Brazilian national park, Parque Nacional do Itatiaia (PNI), is located there. When we got to the lake I discovered that a nuclear power plant was located there and the whole area was closed off to the public. We all had to get special government badges to go into the facility. Talk about being exclusive, I was the only guest that was not part of the team allowed in, awesome! It was such a surreal feeling to be let into a secured foreign nuclear power plant under the control of the Brazilian government alongside their treasured Olympic rowing team, a very cool experience.

They also had a training facility for firefighters as indicated on the sign above. 

The team had left the boats inside the gates so not to haul them back and forth every training session, but they still had to carry them down to the water.

I watched as the team took off into the lake with each of their rowing partners. It's a huge lake with endless waterways and coves. 

The coach took off after them in small motor boat with a speaker on hand.

The team would be training for a couple hours, so I decided to take a run around the lake and explore.

I found the firefighter's training area.

Around this one cove I found some kind of mulch container where there were some Brazilian vultures scavenging through it. 

I also came across a church down a ways and what I found so interesting is that no one could get to it from the outside! It seemed like a community church, but there was no public community allowed inside this lake. Strange I thought, it must have been built long before the nuclear power-plant was there.

As I continued my run, I caught a glimpse of the team as they were rowing back to the dock.

The training was done for the day, so we headed back to Pousada Alsene. When we got back I decided to go on a walk before the sun went down and the temperature dropped big time!

We were up early the next morning for a day of training at Pousada Alsene. They were not going to the lake today, so it was all about hitting the gym.

Their training facility was something you would see back in the 70's, mostly free weights and barbells, no up to date workout equipment other than the rowing machine. It was amazing to see the difference between the facilities that are available to the athletes in the U.S. versus what I saw here. It reminded me of  Rocky IV and how the Russians put Rocky in an old cabin in the mountains to train versus how they had Dolph train in a high tech gym. It was awesome to see them go at it!

Fabiana Beltrame and Camila Carvalho training at Pousada Alsene, in Rio de Janeiro before the 2008 Olympics

Camila Carvalho training

After the brutal workout in the gym, they all went out for a trail run, I decided to do the same on my own and explore the mountainside.

What an awesome view I got from the highest peak I could get to in the Serra da Mantiqueira mountain range. I've spent years in the Sierra Nevada Mountains skiing, so acclimating to the altitude wasn't a big deal. 

The next day I got back on the bus for Rio de Janeiro and as I was traveling back, I thought to myself what an incredible weekend I just had, sharing a once in a lifetime experience with a group of amazing people and Olympic athletes to top it off!

I reconnected with Camila Carvalho and her team in Rio before they departed for Beijing. As a matter of fact, I saw them off at the Rio de Janeiro International Airport (GIG), for their departure to the games!

So this is how I experienced the 2008 Olympics in Brazil, I ended up watching my favorite Brazilian team compete while I was drinking a Caipirinha at the world famous bar and restaurant in Ipanema, 'Garota de Ipanema' (Girl from Ipanema). An epic experience and interestingly enough the 2016 Summer Olympic Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro and I plan on spending it here again. :) I hope that you'll join me for a Rio de Janeiro Vacation!

Author Sandro Marino

Sandro Marino - Dual Citizen, Multilingual, World Traveling Serial Entrepreneur, Concierge, Speaker, Coach, Blogger, Health & Fitness Guru, Expert Snow Skier, Surfer & Beach Lover

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