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Published: April 29th 2012
Descending out of the gathering cold and cloud, we caught our first breathtaking glimpse of Rio de Janeiro. Its famous coastline of countless beaches, oddly formed peaks and one particularly famous statue appeared from nowhere as we excitedly squashed our faces against the window of the aeroplane, our eyes straining to catch sight of one of Rio’s more famous landmarks – at that height impossible of course but our anticipation had suddenly armed us with irrational, child like wonder. Our tiredness following our arduous twenty-seven hour journey from Mumbai disappeared as quickly as the cloud covering. Here against the cool blue of the Atlantic Ocean, Rio de Janeiro and indeed the rest of South America lay before us...
At that moment, it seemed like years ago that we had ended our time in India, a country which we departed not exactly the way we had hoped for a place which we had anticipated so passionately just a few months before. Whilst we undoubtedly had many positive experiences in India, our final three weeks on the great subcontinent had left us drained, to the point where we questioned the worth of continuing our trip, all enthusiasm evaporated, as if
the Rajasthan sun had been left to sear any joy we were taking from our journey. India is a country that will test people in many ways, physically and mentally, a place where far too many of its people care and consider little for the welfare of those around them and even less for the state of the country itself. It is a place in which all typical societal laws of caring and respect appear to break down with some of its population and as a foreigner, you must constantly be on your guard. The contradiction of course is that it is also an astonishingly beautiful country and some of its peoples, of whom we are lucky to call a few our friends, are the epitome of hospitable, friendly and kind. I’m sure we are not the first to leave India with mixed emotions and we certainly will not be the last and whilst Rajasthan was beautiful, the food terrific and the people far friendlier than in some other parts of India (save perhaps its north east and north west states), we were ready at that time to leave.
With our morale ebbing, Rio and the start
of our South American journey could not have come at a better time. What could have waited were the initial problems we had organising accommodation for our stay in this wonderful city. We had arranged to stay in Santa Theresa; set against one of the city’s numerous hillsides Santa Theresa is an area of Rio known for its bohemian beauty; its cobbled streets, colonial architecture and random smatterings of graffiti make up most of what can be found around the area.
Arriving at our prearranged (3 weeks prior) hostel, we were informed that our dorm room was no longer available as renovations were taking place, and we were told we had been sent an email informing us of such inconvenience. When we enquired as to the date of such email, of course it was sent to us en route! However, despite the fact we were quickly losing our temper, one particular member of the staff helped us to find what transpired to be fantastic accommodation mere minutes away and that was about the only negative thing we could possibly say about our stay in Rio. A short taxi ride away, we arrived at ‘Bossa in Rio Hostel,’
a highly recommended (by us!) hostel on the edges of Santa Theresa. There we found stylish accommodation, very helpful and friendly staff and an amazing breakfast where we troughed on cheese toasties! This would be our base for the next five nights whilst we set about exploring perhaps the most beautiful city on earth!
Our first morning in Rio we awoke to sunshine. Hurriedly, we showered, ate and packed a small bag to head for the beach, of which Rio has a numerous which you may have heard a thing or two about... We decided to take a bus to the western end of Ipanema beach, from where we would walk east across the long stretch and then on to Copacabana, stopping for the occasional bit of sunbathing and swimming in between. However, the first glimpse of Ipanema, its white sand, blue waters and amazing setting convinced us to set up here for the day...we could walk later!
As we had arrived in the morning, the beach was rather empty though this quickly changed as the day wore on. Slowly, as the sun climbed higher into the clear blue, more and more locals descended
upon the white sands, until the beach itself was packed with people. Usually this would be the kind of thing that would put you off such a place – as people who know us would testify, we like our beaches to be of the deserted variety and on previous holidays and such, have walked significant distances to find quiet patches of sand. However, what makes Ipanema such a great place is that accompanying its beauty is the fact that it is a prime people watching opportunity, and not in a perverted kid of way! Back home, we hear and perceive numerous stereotypes about Brazilians and their culture, and on Ipanema beach there is no cliché more evident than looking up to see a thong clad local girl doing kick ups with a football better than you can (bearing in mind I’ve been playing since I was six years old!) I wasn’t quite sure what the appropriate reaction should be so I settled myself with excited giggles whilst my thankfully patient and secure girlfriend watched on!
Rio is not all thongs and sand, mind you. Our second day in the city was another beauty with cloudless blues skies
affording us the chance to walk around the city’s historic ‘Centro’ area. Whilst doing so, we took in a number of lesser attractions, such as the architecturally beautiful Municipal Theatre and the quietly atmospheric Portuguese Library. Nestled away in one of Rio’s many colonial backstreets, this library seemed innocuous from the outside, but inside we found an ancient looking room, whose walls rose high above the ground covered in old dusty volumes of only God knows what. A chandelier and decorative skylight covered the library, a place where Amy and I had a sit down for quite some time just to enjoy the atmosphere.
Of course, one of Rio’s big draws is its iconic ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue, perched high atop Corcovado Mountain overlooking the city below. We paid the fee of £15 each to take the cog train high up the mountain to stay at the feet of this enormous statue and impressive as it may be, our experience was somewhat dampened by the worsening weather conditions over the city that day, where cloud had accumulated rendering what would be a fantastic panoramic view of the spectacular Rio coastline invisible. In our opinions, without the view,
the statue is, well...just another large statue really, the moral of the story being of course to make sure you visit ‘Christo de Redentor’ on a clear day! However, so happy were we to simply be in Rio, a place we were enjoying so much that the weather and lack of atmosphere at Rio’s most famous landmark did little to affect our spirits.
Most of our evenings in Rio were spent not far from our accommodation in Lapa, a place where song and dance flow deep into the night. It was here that we experienced one of those moments when travelling that you truly feel amazed, mesmerised and completely happy! We had struggled to find affordable restaurant food in Rio, but had found a reasonably priced open-air eatery close to Lapa’s famous tiered aqueduct than runs through Lapa, supporting the tram system which continues up into Santa Theresa. Whilst eating our dinner, we heard distinct percussion music and chanting, rising in volume high above that of any stereo system in the vicinity. We finished dinner and walked to find the source of the continuing music and there, under the aqueduct set against the backdrop of graffitied colonial
buildings was a street performance of samba music – musicians, locals and tourists were shouting, banging, singing, chanting and of course dancing! The drums thundered so loud we could feel it in our hearts, the hairs on the back our necks stood on end. On a hot, sweaty night in Lapa, we fell in love with Brazil...
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