Days 12-15: Rio de Janeiro

Hi again 🙂

Well what do you know, I´m two cities behind in my blogging! Story of my travels!

I have so much to say about Rio, and don´t even know where to start. We arrived on March 17th to a grey, rainy (pouring, actually) city that did not look much different from Vancouver. It is the rainy season so in actual fact, we´d been very fortunate to have no rain in the almost 2 weeks preceding our arrival in Rio.

For those interested, the city´s name essentially means “River of January”. Why, you ask (or at least, i did – given it is a bay not a river!)? Well, early Portuguese explorers happened upon Brazil in 1500 and came to a little bay which they thought was the mouth of a river, in January of 1502. Given the month and the configuration of the water ways (there are many bays in Rio)they named it Rio (river) de (of) Janeiro (January). There are about 7-8 million residents here, and they city itself isn´t the concrete jungle i´d imagined (I pictured LA or New York) but rather like many cities put together; nestled into the mountains and stretching across kilometres of beaches.. There are apparently 15+ tunnels in Rio, and certainly moving from neighborhood to neighborhood (i.e Santa Teresa, Copa, Leblon) gives you a whole new feel ..

We stayed in an apartment in Ipanema (one of the safer, wealthier areas) and I have to say I felt pretty secure. We had booked Margarida´s Pousada, which is run by a sweet yet stern woman in her 70´s; I guess she also owns an apartment across the street so we were led there; what an interesting setup! We guestimated approximately 1000 sq foot of space: 2 bedrooms (with wiring haphazardly strewn about in an unsafe manner ;), 3 bathrooms, and an indoor patio (in the middle of the apartment). There was a mishmash of modern paintings and antiques; fake flowers and glass china cupboards (locked, nonetheless!)The elevator to our level was one of those ones with the wooden door that swings, and the metal gate that folds – I´m talking OLD STYLE (am i dating myself? haha…). Two apartments per floor! In Ipanema, each apartment building or hotel has gates and a 24 hour security guard. In a strange way, this didn´t create a sense of fear. The area reminded me of our neighborhood in Sao Paulo; there were lots of cafes and restaurants.. as well as a strip of shops almost identical in configuration to Vancouver´s Robson St. We also saw the cafe where two bohemian guys wrote the song “Girl from Ipanema”…

The first night in Rio was certainly memorable; in the downpour (which didn´t let up until mid morning on the 18th) we wandered over to a pub in hopes of a drink and then planned to wander further for dinner elsewhere. That didn´t happen! 1 hour turned into 3 hours, and appetizers and drinks.. the rain did not let up; i don´t think i´ve seen it pour that much in *gasp* Vancouver! I was proudly prepared with rain jacket but I swear people looked at us funny .. while in Vancouver you would be getting looks if you weren´t rain-prepared (i.e donning sandles, a skirt and tanktop) here, it was the other way around. The thing is – it is still warm so it´s hard to know what to where in tropical rain! Could be worse 😉

Over the next few days we experienced Rio on foot and took a few city buses. We saw the Botanical gardens (which, in my humble opinion, paled in comparison to Van Dusen and Stanley Park). We sat at sidewalk cafes and outdoor restaurants just people watching. We took a city tour and got to see Sugar Loaf mountain (a very high, cone shaped rock mountain that you take 2 funiculars up to – with a gorgeous view of Rio).

For my mom´s birthday dinner we headed up to a fancy pants restaurant in Santa Teresa, which is an area of Rio that is known to be Shi Shi and upscale, but at the same time – dangerous to get to? Strange, I know. We had a cabby take us up but apparently some won´t go there as they have to pay a fee to protect themselves fromt he gangs. The restaurant was nestled in the hills and spanned across a huge chunk of land, between trees, with different layers and an open air kitchen. I loved the wicker walls and flooring, and authentic wood furniture. It essentially felt like an upscale adult treehouse! I have to say the food was overpriced ($30 for a goat entree) but delicious. What can I say – if mom´s happy then everyone´s happy .. or at least that´s my dad´s Mantra. Ha. 😉

Copacabana was a little more edgy and definitely did not feel as safe as Leblon or Ipanema. We didn´t spend a beach day there but did take off for our tour from one of the 5-star hotels. The hotels on the beach were all very upscale and hugely expensive, with many prestigious jewellery shops lining the sidewalk. Yet, you would walk about a block into the city and things became a bit more grungy. The market on Fri and Sat night was pretty phenomenal and the art pieces are definitely worthwhile to see. We did see a fight between 2 gang members and military police come running out of nowhere to break them up with batons. When we headed back that evening, our attempt at finding a cab driver was a little worrisome; this lovely gentleman staggered out of the corner bar and looked a little like a drunken Scarface. We chose not to go home with him. 🙂

Ipanema beach was REALLY GREAT! I did not see as many rectal floss bikinis as I´d expected, but there certainly aren´t a lot of one-pieces being worn, either. It was not as frenetic as I expected (i.e you can find a place to sit without too much difficulty) and was actually less crowded and less meat market-ish than Kitsilano. Despite what we´d read there did not seem to be any discrimination between ages or groups of people on different parts of the beach.

You can buy sunglasses, dresses, cervejas, ice cream .. whatever floats your boat .. and then rent an umbrella or beach chair. We tried this cheese on a stick that is roasted in coals then dipped into herbs. It was fantastical!!

A few things before I go:

(1) I would definitely recommend Rio, even to those who don´t like big cities; it was classic yet avant garde, upscale yet edgy, unique neighborhood pockets yet a city of 10 million, very bustling yet nestled in nature with tons or shoreline.

(2) Watch where you walk. We saw a tipped motorcycle with a policeman directing traffic. There was a pool of blood on the ground and honestly, who knows what happened. When we were in Arembepe we saw a body bag (a garbage bag, actually) covering someone who had been hit while jaywalking.. I´ve been in other cities where traffic is far crazier (i.e Kampala, Bangkok) but haven´t had the unfortunate timing of seeing the aftermath..

(3)The favelas (or slums, as the locals would sometimes say) add to the city´s enormous population. We did meet face to face with 2 boys who were no more than 11 years old and may well have been from a favela or similar background; they hassled us when we were outside having a drink and one of them had such a look in his eyes. I´ve never seen that look before .. at least not in boy.. He pierced you with a sort of hate, angry yet vacant stare. Ambivalent to some degree, and empty. The kind of look that – if you were face to face with an older person in an ally – precedes a violent act … Even the bar owner (a gruff yet friendly older man) had trouble with him and you could see there was just something different. *a fantastic movie, City of God, was filmed to depict these slums and the tumultuous going-ons within..*

(4) The people are OTHERWISE and for the most part, so very honest here in Brazil. Margarida did not even count the money we gave her when we checked out .. and we had spent 4 nights there with no deposit. It has continued to be this way with the rest of our travels and encounters..

I am now in Paraty and will be leaving off to Sao Paulo the day after tomorrow, to fly by myself to Iguazu falls while my parents fly home. We were in Ilha Grande in between, and I will be sure to update with pictures of Rio as well as blogs for the in between … in a few days time.

Continuing to enjoy each day … and feeling like there is never enough time to be concise, accurate and eloquent (And upload pictures! haha)..



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