When one thinks about Rio de Janeiro images of sun kissed beaches, bikinis, women, legendary nightlife, futbol, and a vibrant and friendly populace come to mind. Everything you have heard, read, dreamed about and then some is true. I spent about a week in Rio (probably should have stayed longer) and it has been one of the absolute highlights of my trip to date. It was the exact recharge and reinforcement I needed for me to again get my state of mind to where it should be. Welcome to "The Magnificent City".
Up early in Porto Seguro I was able to secure a taxi for the 1km ride to the airport for a cost of R$20. Really a total ripoff considering you can take a long distance 50km bus for the same cost, but at 3am with all my stuff I had no choice lest I be robbed. Maybe I'm just paranoid. So after an uneventful flight I landed in Rio with an idea of where to go, but of course no plan. Ipanema accommodation was full so I decided to hop onto the local bus and go to the Copacabana neighborhood as this is where the Rolling Stones played
a free show in 2006 so I figured it was a good start. I was able to find accommodation at a hostel that was descent and a good price. I dropped my bags and immediately went to the beach.
My day was spent wandering up and down Copacabana beach and traversing the neighborhood viewing the daily lives of its inhabitants. Whilst walking through the place I felt a real sense of community. The neighborhood is older in both age and its people, but I could really feel that the different fruit stores, butcher shops, cafes, and bars have had the same clients for 40-50 years. I really enjoyed the communal aspect of it all. I received loads of smiles, handshakes, and waves from the locals which I appreciated very much.
Now that I had finally made it to Rio I was to rendezvous with my old friend Erique who lives here and whom I had met way back in Bogota three months ago. A quick phone call and Erique had a great night planned as he is always so gracious and apt to do. Being Saturday night our destination was Lapa, the legendary nightlife neighborhood that no trip
to Rio would be complete without. On the way we picked up Juliana who is Erique's partner in crime and who I am now lucky to call a friend. Once in Lapa I had to see the famed Escadaria Selaron more commonly known as the Lapa Steps. These steps are a tribute to the Brazilian people from a Chilean born artist who has built an amazing site from tiles sent to him in Rio from all around the world. I had to pinch myself as I could not believe I was actually here - a common theme throughout my time in Rio de Janeiro.
Lapa was great and the three of us spent the night visiting the various bars and viewing the eclectic mass of people cruising the streets. The best bar of course was Sacrilegio
which is owned by Juiana's family. A really cool spot and the samba band playing even had my feet moving. No small feat.
After a late night and an early morning I decided to move over to Ipanema beach. I have always wanted to stay in Ipanema so I hopped on the subway from Copacabana to my new hostel. The public transport
in Rio is modern, clean, and efficient. I really enjoy taking public transport whether it is by bus or train and it is fun to get around in foreign cities in this manner bags and all. I always had a sly satisfaction when I would get on the metro in Rio in flip flops and a tank top while the others were in suits and business clothes for the day.
So, once in Ipanema I again cruised the beach and got my bearings straight. About 1 hour into this I realized my mistake. As nice as Ipanema is, Copacabana is where it is at. Copacabana is much more gritty and real whereas Ipanema is more upscale and driven toward the more affluent class. Both are extremely nice and I don't mean to take anything away from Ipanema, this is just my preference and opinion. But being on legendary Ipanema beach is something I will never forget and I really enjoyed my long walks up and down this revered coast.
The next day I was able to talk Juliana into skipping work and going sightseeing with me, very nice of her indeed. You cannot got to Rio without taking
the cable car to the top of Corcovado where Cristo the Redeemer spreads his arms like a hawk eerily observing the metropolis below. Juliana and I took the subway and then the bus to the site which was super easy for me since she lives in Rio, i.e. no chance of me getting lost. We purchased tickets for the cable car where we slowly ascended the mountain to what is now billed as one of the new seven wonders of the world. We were treated with unbelievable panoramas of the city below, and I of course had to get my obligatory redemption photo.
The views from up here where absolutely incredible and Juliana and I were lucky to have a perfect day with sunshine and zero clouds obstructing the city below, although I could have done without the crowds.
I also booked a favela tour so I would be able to see how the majority of the people in this beautiful city live. Just like any nation; here in Brazil the gap between the rich and the poor grows wider by the day. I won't go into my thoughts or politics as most of you know how I
feel on this matter. I did have reservations about paying money for this type of tour but my hesitation was somewhat alleviated when I learned a third of my money paid went back into the community to foster education for the children and to public works like clean water and health care. I went to the notorious Rocinha favela, the largest in all of South America with some 70,000 inhabitants. It was important for me to see this side of the city and learn the history and of the social structure/aspects on how things work here. I took a moto-taxi to the top of the favela which was a thrill in itself since I haven't been on a bike in sometime and then we all descended by foot through the narrow corridors and maze like walkways of the barrio. Poverty was everywhere and I really became emotional about how fortunate I really am in my life. We were warned not to take photos of any people, just the landscape as the danger is still there and the drug dealers and gang leaders who run the favela will not take kindly to this white dude snapping their photo.
of my time in Rio was spent exploring the various neighborhoods by foot, riding the metro, and relaxing on the main beaches people watching. I also had the pleasure of wonderful company from Juliana and Erique. We had great dinners and drinks at different restaurants throughout the city that I would not have been able to experience had I been alone. It was really nice to be amongst friends again and it really made my time in Rio special. This city is awesome and if I somehow make it big someday I could easily live here. Rio de Janeiro is in the top two cities I've been to in my life and someday I'll be back.
I've now moved on as I continue my way South along Brazil's coast getting in my final beach time as soon I will move inland and further South where winter looms and unfortunately I have a date with her. I leave home at the end of winter and come to South America at the start of winter. Who does that?
My trip in Rio de Janeiro is one I will never forget, and to Juliana and Erique - Thanks for making my
stay and the good times we shared so very special.
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