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Published: January 28th 2006
Welcome to Rio de Janeiro.
Happy New Year, everyone!
We arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the second biggest city in Brazil after a couple hours of layover in São Paulo (another crazy town) several days ago. Unfortunately we didn't see any Rio landmark our first night due to our late arrival. We went directly to our hostel in Botafogo neighborhood, which located only twenty minutes walking from Copacabana and Ipanema beach, sitting next to the Corcovado with the Cristo Redentor statue on top.
Eating fruits in Botafogo, visiting favela (Rio's famous slums), riding cable car to the top of the Sugarloaf Mountain, swimming at Ipanema beach and getting mugged at Capacabana beach are some of minor things we experience during our first day in Rio. Getting mugged? That's right, but story will follow later. First day in Rio: don't be a Gringo, be a local (dot com)
Waking up the first morning in Rio around 7 am, we called the hang glide place to set up an appointment, but unfortunately they are fully booked for the day. Instead, we chosed to do the favela tour, which would take three hours of wondering around Rio's slum. Breakfast in Rio is interesting, as
The biggest slum neighborhood in South America.
we were fed with fresh tropical fruits such as watermelon, papaya, and honeydew. Cariocas
(Rio dwellers) supposedly knowing how to deal with hot humid Brazilian summer, and eating fresh fruit and drinking a lot of water are some of them.
, or slum, is an eye opening experience. Rocinha Favela
is the biggest slum neighborhood in the continent, and it is one of the most dangerous area in town. The tour consists of seven people (Ryan, myself, a New Jersey guy, a Swiss, a Brit and two Aussies) and one guide, Luis. He is a friendly and easy going guy, and he changed our perspectives to the humble life of Rio. All of the people who live below the poverty level is very friendly, kids are curious about us and very talented artists did many oil paintings. As we were told, A.D.A. drug dealers run the favela, and even policemen seldom go here due to its nature. Nasty deals are sorted out within the Favela without any help from outsider (i.e. police). Luis told us that not long ago, the head of the drug dealers got killed during a raid by police, and several days later, there were
Mingle with local kids.
fightings within the neighborhood to replace the position, and several other people got killed. Not a safe place to wonder around by yourself.
Don´t be a gringo, be a carioca! Gringo
used to be a degratory term to describe Americans who is visiting Latin America, but nowadays it becomes whoever foreign visitors in Latin America. When we walked around the favela, I've heard many "gringo" word mentioned in Portuguese conversation pointing at us, and for that reason, become a humble tourist, mingle with locals and accepting the common norms are crucial for any trips. The slogan of our Favela tour is "Be A Local", and the address is www.bealocal.com. Pão de Açúcar
, or the famous Sugarloaf Mountain, is stunning. Riding the cable cars to the top, we saw Rio de Janeiro unfolding before our eyes. Rio is very few city in the world that is blessed with many beaches, rain forest, and beautiful landscape that offers many things to do and to see. It is understandable why Rio is given a nickname of "Ciudade Maravilhosa"
, or the Marvelous City. Where else in the world is to see all aspects of "beautiful" woven into a city: white sand
Cristo Redentor above Rio
Rio de Janeiro. Pretty, eh?
beach, green rain forest, blue ocean, and brown/grayish stone mountains that give a contrast within the landscape scenery.
Putting on our swimming shorts and sleeveless shirts, we decided to spend the rest of the evening at the Ipanema beach. The beach is packed with beach-goers, and the backdrop of the city is georgeous. As temperature is high, the water is cold but refreshing. We spent couple of hours at the Ipanema, then to Copacabana beach until sun started to disappear behind Rio skyscappers, without knowing on what was about to happen next.
Sun was disappearing behind Rio's mountains when we reached Copacabana beach, and although there was still sun light out, people started leaving the beach. We enjoyed our evening, somewhat by ourselves, when a man in his mid 20s approached us, and started speaking Portuguese. He showed a concealed object underneath his shirt in shape of a gun, and started to grab Ryan's shoulder. We were still in shock, but quickly we defended ourselves when he was pulling off the hotel key who was hanging with a chain around Ryan's neck (I bet he thought it was our valuables/wallets or whatever). The chain broke, and realizing that
Pão de Açúcar
Us with Rio de Janeiro from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.
it was not more than a hotel key, he quickly smiled and waived, tried to be casual and called us amigo. Whatever. We were still in shock, and decided to be safe, walking away from him. We still had everything, and most importantly, we were not injured. Strike one. Enough for the day, so we walked back around the more crowded area along the streets with shoppings and restaurants, and then called the day off and went home. New Year's Eve: the last minute of year 2005 in Copacabana beach
Our hang gliding appointment was cancelled due to changing wind after two hours of waiting at the base of the Pedra Bonita
, the mountain where the activity takes place. It was such a disappointment, but we were told to call again the next day to see whether mother nature decides to give us a better opportunity.
Santa Teresa neighborhood is famous for its art and crafts, and it's a very pretty neighborhood of Rio. To get there, we followed the cable car, old way of Rio's transportation, which was popular until the subway system was invented. Santa Teresa is the last operating cable car line in
Floating Christmas tree
Lagoa with its famous world biggest floating Christmas tree.
Rio. I had the same feeling of riding a roller coaster when finally we were on the car, cruising along the old cobble stone of the neighborhood, up the hill of Santa Teresa. Unfortunately seat belts were not installed at the wooden bench, and judging by the calmness of local's faces including whoever just hanging out from the car ducking from tree branches and vehicles, the rattling of old car is a usual event. It was an enjoyable moment to watch colorful colonial houses passing by, and cariocas were waving at us.
Famous Rio's landmark, Cristo Redentor
, or the Christ the Reedemer, is located on top of Corcovado. To get there, there are two ways, with car/taxi, or with tram, which waves its way up through the Tijuca National Forest, the largest urban forest in the world. The tram hikes through reforested mountain, and the next thing we knew, we arrived at the base of the big sculpture. Like Sugarloaf Mountain, the view over Rio from above is amazing. Many tourists imitate the Christ pose, which is as famous image as leaning tower of Pisa, or Eiffel Tower.
The weather was confortable, even though it was very humid.
Swimming at the beach.
As I've heard before about raining in New Year's Eve, the sky started to turn gray, and we could see rain in the distance pouring over Rio. Not a good sign for the New Year's Eve celebration in Copacabana later that night. It was around five o'clock when all of the sudden we realized that Corcovado might be closed early due to New Year's Eve, and we decided to head back down to go back to our hostel before Copacabana celebration.
From our hostel, we decided to follow the route to Lagoa-Ipanema-Copacabana. Streets around the Copacabana beach supposedly closed for the night, and subway's special New Years tickets were sold out months before we arrived. Walking through the city usually is unbearable, but New Year's Eve is different. The floating Christmas tree in Lagoa is registered to be the largest floating tree in the world, and it does float around. Many locals were walking around, preparing themselves to celebrate New Year's Eve somewhere else but Copacabana.
Rio's tradition of Iemanjá
, usually happens at New Year's Eve, was moved earlier this year. But many locals still gathering around the sea and conducting the festival, which honoring the goddess of
Santa Teresa cable car
Rio's pastime, still operating cable car in Santa Teresa neighborhood.
the sea, by building a horseshoe shape altar in the beach, lit up candles and have flowers and other offerings. Iemanjá has an interesting history as Christianity, African and native Brazilian beliefs assimilate into the festival. The legacy of wearing white at New Year's Eve is widely known, and most of the people around us wearing white.
Ipanema beach became a party place, as a huge stage was built to accomodate a live DJ with big speakers, and thousands of people dancing at the beach. To our reliefs, there were many security guards around, and people were not bludgering drunk around. Copacabana beach was more sophisticated, with many families and couples holding up champagne bottles ready to be opened at midnight. Copacabana was packed with people, a whole 3 million as we were told.
At the strike of midnight, people started to scream, clap, and champagne corks flying all over the place. In the center of all, the biggest firework I've ever seen, cracked for around twenty minutes. Happy New Year 2006!
Feliz Ano Novo! First day in 2006: hang gliding, that is
Started to get anxious on hang gliding issue, or lack thereof,
Santa Teresa cable car kid
Just hanging out at the cable car.
I tried to set up another appointment for our last afternoon in South America. After checking out from our hostel, we walked to the Cemitério de São João Batista
, located near our hostel in Botafogo. The cemetery is not as grand as Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, but the location in the center of Rio is stricking. The Brazilians put the deceased person's picture in his/her respected tomb, so it was a different feeling seeing the cemetery.
A typical situation as one o'clock approached, the hang gliding appointment was pushed back to 4:30 due to red flag of not flying. We still had a faith of doing it before we had to head back to the States, and decided to play at the beach again before the vacation is over. Ipanema beach, with bigger waves was more appealing than anything else, so we hung out at the famous beach for a couple of hours. Unfortunately as it was unplanned, we didn't put suntan lotion on, so we were sunburned like crazy. Even I got a sunburn from the Brazilian sun!
Back at the hostel at the respected hour for hang gliding, I was slightly surprised that Paulo, our
Pão de Açúcar
Sugarloaf Mountain from Corcovado.
driver to Pedra Bonita, was waiting with a couple from Malta/France. Paulo drives like a typical Brazilian, fast and furious, but it was good because then we got there quickly. Everybody knew that we had a flight to catch, so everything was prioritized around us, and the next thing I knew, I was strapped to the hang glide device, ready to jump off the platform. Conrad, my hang glide instructor from Germany, told me what to do and what to expect, and we practiced our running and jumping several times. The nerve wrecking part of the activity was jumping off the platform, which is situated at the edge of Pedra Bonita cliff. As soon as we were airborne, I couldn't believe the experience I had: gliding weighless over Rio de Janeiro, looking at the endless beach and national forest below us, Rio skyscrappers were trying to reach us, and the surprisingly calm wind around us wasn't intimidating as I had expected. It was an amazing experience.
We had a flight to catch, so we were heading back to the hostel, taking a quick shower, changing our clothes, and heading off to the Galeão International Airport to be back to
Christ the Redeemer statue on top of Corcovado.
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