I arrived in Rio in high spirits after booking my flight for the wrong day, and getting ripped off at the ATM (paying a £8 withdrawal fee and terrible exchange rate which charged me £50 more than xe.com), having negotiated the airport bus to Ipanema and finding my hostel.
I walked along Ipanema beach, watched the surfers from Aproador rock and the clouds roll in over the Dos Irmanos (two brothers) mountain
then wandered further up to Forte de Copacabana to enjoy the sun set with a ridiculously priced and overly frothy beer. I almost blurted out, “ich habe kein Schnitt bestellt!”! Obviously German is no use in Brazil, but it did make me laugh that in Germany (or Munich at least), it would be against the law to serve beers like that unless specifically ordered as a “schnitt” (a 50:50 or 25:75 ratio of foam to beer). Apparently this is a standard serve for BR – ie. lots of foam.
After a stressy day, I was pretty chilled and after a volley of whatsapp messages, Chris (an ex-colleague living in Rio for 7yrs) called to brief me. He advised against heading out into Centro that night due to political demonstrations and heightened tensions from leaked undercover footage of the president demanding bribes.
Reading the silent signals – the Cariocas (Rio locals) carrying bags and backpacks on their fronts, the women-only metro carriages, visible police presence, high security fences around apartment blocks, banks boarded up downtown – along with quiet streets and warnings of robbing and muggings, planted a grain of doubt about where I could, and should visit. (See my previous post)
I’ll visit São Paulo with a different mindset: taking on board advice while looking for the light amongst the dark, the good amongst the unknown. Plus nothing ventured, nothing gained – while my French and German don’t seem to help w Portuguese at all, I’m going to bumble way through what I can to experience and eat what I can!
Rio feels like a tropical Spanish New York: bustling streets shaded by palms and trees with orchids and ferns trailing the branches, packed with juice bars, eateries and shops, and street vendors selling wares from massive pottery piggy banks to mini packs of gum.
The city is bursting with street art that was too good not to flaunt the advice to avoid using my phone on the street. (I’ll do a separate post on this as have lots of great pics.) The Sélaron steps (Escadaria de Sélaron) were a riot of colour: the blue, green and yellow of the Brazil flag, with the ‘happiness of red’ added at a later date. Jorge Sélaron began renovating the steps outside his home in 1990, starting a project of 215 steps, 2000+ tiles over 23 years.
I visited Parque de Lago for a delicious brunch with Anna and Therese, friendly Swedish girls who I was lucky to hang out with for a few days, and loved the peaceful tropical gardens and grounds. It stands at the bottom of Corcovado hill, looking up to Christ, when the clouds aren’t rolling through the city.
Cariocas seemed to love it too, mostly as a place to stage your own photo shoot: from selfies, to engagement pics, to celebrating your pregnancy (bare bellies and floral brassieres), people had tripods, photography teams, bags of accessories and outfit changes, and an encyclopaedia full of mind-boggling poses. Stay tuned for me mastering these…!
On our last night in Rio, we headed out to dinner in Lapa then onto a street party at Pedra do Sol, which is what I had imagined Rio to be like. Bands jamming on the street, samba for all and plenty (beware the requests for a Rio kiss, unless you’re interested!), street vendors mixing up deliciously lethal caipirinhas for R$10 (c.£2.50), all combining in a great vibe and awesome high to close Rio out (and yes still keep your wits about you and your bags).
I thought we’d found a rebel taxi driver who decided to skip the red lights and drive on through, as he already had five of us in the car – who cares for authority?! Turns out not stopping at red lights is legal after 10pm due to the security risks of doing so 😯 Ah well, I guess our next taxi driver thought watching videos on Facebook was also ok!
Having booked to head to the beach as a cure for my travel wobbles and with the sun peaking through the clouds on my last day in Rio, I headed up to Christ the Redeemer on a very circuitous bus, then funicular (sit RHS for best views when there’s not cloud) and finally steps. Arms out stretched to the city, Christo is open and welcoming. Religious or not, there’s benefit to reflect on the message of peace and unity.
Don’t doubt the warnings of limited visibility from the ticketing team below – I’d definitely recommend heading up to Christo Redentor only in clear skies. Unfortunately I missed the breathtaking views of the city: beaches and the city, contrasting with the towering rocky mountains and tropical forest of Tijuca.
I caught Rio in the midst of a bad weather front rolling through: these normally take 4-5 days to clear to sunny skies, approximately the length of my stay! Rio is a different city in the sun – I caught glimpses of it on my last day before heading to Ilha Grande.
Chris is determined to show off Rio’s beauty, encouraging me to head back. My path is leading south, destination Iguazu, to meet Jono and then into Argentina. (hurrrah! I cried tears of joy and relief when he messaged to say he’d be coming to meet me).
I’ll be back in ‘maravilhosa’ Rio in the near future, hopefully with a travel partner.