Welcome to Rio!

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Welcome to Rio!

Cristos (Christ the Redeemer) rising above the line of clouds on the top of a mountain, Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf), Copacabana Beach and beautiful women in bikinis sunbathing are just some of the attractions that have brought fame to what is regarded by most Brazilians as “the most beautiful city in Brazil”:  Rio de Janeiro.  However, this is the tourist perspective of Rio.  Most people never get to see and understand everything that goes on in Brazil’s former capital.  What happens when the sun goes down?  What areas can one not go into as a tourist?  How do the inhabitants of this tropical paradise survive day in and day out? 

 

I was fortunate enough to visit this city before the rest of my group because I went to visit a high school friend of mine who lives in Rio with his family.

Beautiful isn't it?
  To be honest with you, if I didn’t have my Brazilian native friend there, I would not have seen as much of Rio as I did.  For those who’ve never been to Rio, hopefully the following overview of my trip will be informative for you.  Keep in mind though that I was only in Rio de Janeiro for 5 days.

 

My friend Bernard and his family live in Baha, which is the newest and most developed area of Rio.  His family was very hospitable to me and made me feel as if I was right at home with them.  After spending a whole day at the airport in Sao Paulo, due to the 5 hour delay I had flying with Varig Airlines (which will probably be out of business by the time you read this blog).

Santos Dumont airport is on the left..the view flying from there of the city is incredible
  I arrived around 7 pm flying over the water to Santos Dumont airport.  Santos Dumont is the smaller of the two airports in Rio, but the view that you get of the city when you fly in and out of the city is breathtaking.  My friend was waiting at the airport for me with his girlfriend.  I spotted him and we left the airport riding in his Renault back to Baha after paying some guy who had been “keeping watch” over his car.  My friend had been waiting for me for a little while at the airport, but he later told me that he had been worried that I would have walked out oblivious to my surroundings with the danger of perhaps being robbed by some native out to get some quick cash.  He also told me that these people “keeping watch” over cars usually did it to make a small tip and if you didn’t give it to them, you ran the risk of getting your car “keyed” (scratched) the next time you visited that area.
me and my boy, Bernard
  “You just need to keep a smile on your face and converse with these people sometimes, just to be friendly when they approach your car to make them connect with you so that you won’t get killed”.  My friend was probably joking with me at the time, but in some areas of the city, I could definitely visualize that occurring. 

 

We drove back to his condominium in Baha where I sat down to eat a Brazilian dinner with his family and a couple friends.  Dinner in Brazil, or at least dinner in Bernard’s family, is usually light.  His family ate cheese, cheese and more cheese.  They had to have had about 5 different types of cheese on the dinner table when I arrived.  His mother had prepared some sandwiches for me as well, because she didn’t know what I would like.

Everyone loves the beach! Who wouldn't if they lived here?!
  They brought out different types of bread and we melted the cheese and ate it with the bread.  After the bread and cheese, they had fondue for dessert.  It was delicious.  Of course the fondue was just for my arrival.  They usually don’t eat fondue every night, but the bread and cheese is a regular item.

 

The following day we visited the beaches of Rio.  Of course if I came all the way to Rio de Janeiro, I HAD to visit the famous beaches of the city.  My friend took me around Ipanema and Copacabana beach.  It was a beautiful day outside.  The wind was blowing a cool breeze across the waves of the ocean, so diving in was not an option unless I wanted to catch pneumonia, but we walked up and down the beach taking in all the sites it had to offer.

Bernard's grandma
  From the beach we went to eat lunch at his grandma’s apartment in downtown Ipanema.  I think we were up on the 16th floor of the apartment building.  The view from her dining room window used to be of the beach 20 years ago when she first moved in, but now tall buildings have blocked that view.  Regardless, I was introduced to Bernard’s grandparents.  We ate a nice Brazilian lunch of feijoada, chicken, spaghetti and some other Brazilian side dishes which I cannot name.  It was a big lunch followed by dulce de leche, cake and ice cream.  After eating all of that, Bernard’s grandfather invited me to drink coffee with him.  It was humorously fascinating listening to him ramble on and on about the greatness of Brazil and the ineptitude of the U.
Rocinha, the biggest favela in Rio
S.
  He had to be one of the most anti-American (referring to the United States) I have ever met, yet it was interesting listening to his opinion. 

 

After leaving Bernard’s grandma’s apartment, we traveled to his great-grandma’s apartment because he wanted me to see the most famous favela in Rio:  Rocinha.  Rio natives never go into favela territory unless they are actually residents of that favela.  It’s pretty hard to get a picture of a favela, much less a picture of all of Rocinha.  Bernard’s great-grandmother has been living in the apartment complex directly across from this infamous favela for many years.

Rocinha at night..yes they have lights
  She refuses to move because according to her she feels “completely safe”, even with the bullet holes adorning her apartment building.  She was excited about showing me the view of Rocinha at night.  We had arrived to her place when the sun was going down, so she wanted me to see the favela when all the lights inside were lit.  “It’s really pretty” she said.  I on the other hand, was checking to see if there were any strange characters around the area prior to taking photographs of Rio’s biggest favela.  Bernard had told me earlier how Rocinha was rivals with another favela on the other side of the mountain called Vidigal and how they would go to war with each other sometimes.  These favelas were also prone to committing crimes like robbing cars at intersections while cars were stopped or even dressing like police to pull cars over to rob them.
2 of the biggest favelas in Rio are separated by this mountain: Vidigal is on the left & Rocinha is on the right
  Central Rio is separated from Baha by a big tunnel.  Rocinha was so incredibly big that they had the power to shut this tunnel down in order to rob the cars inside.  I was dumbfounded when I heard this.  I couldn’t believe that the poor people had that much power.  Bernard explained that drug dealers and other shady persons also lived in the favelas and that not only poor people lived there.  However, there is no law in these favelas.  The drug dealers and the people with all the guns rule the favelas and their word is law there.  My friend warned me that if I was ever to drive right next to a favela, make sure my windows were up and to be discreet about taking pictures because one’s camera could be taken when it was stuck out the window of a moving vehicle. 

 

Later on that night we went to a club called Guapo Loco.

Guapo Loco!
  The club was actually a restaurant that became a little club after hours.  It was pretty fun and I got to listen to a mix of hip hop, rap and funk music.  It was definitely one of the few places where I liked the music for the majority of the night.  It was late when we left Guapo Loco and only the main streets were lit fairly well.  Night had fallen on the streets of Rio and new rules were initiated.  My friend was gunning his engine and we usually didn’t stop at any of the stop lights even when it was red.  When I asked why, my friend told me that there had been incidents of people getting robbed at gunpoint when they were stopped at red lights, so to avoid that from happening people just look both ways and cross at night.  Apparently the police are lenient on this law when the sun goes down in Rio because there is no way that the law can demand that a person wait at a red light when there is a chance that individual could get robbed and maybe even shot.
the blitz
  Flying through the streets of Rio, we crossed into Baha by taking the other route to avoid the tunnel and any encounter with Rocinha.  When we hit the streets of Baha, a new site waited for us.  Prostitutes lined the streets of Baha at different intersections or bus stops waiting to be picked up and make a quick dollar.  This was a regular site for Bernard so I was bothered more by it than he was. 

 

The following day we went to one of the famous tourist sites in Rio de Janeiro.  We visited Pao de Acucar, also known as the Sugar Loaf.  Prior to arriving at the Sugar Loaf I experienced another side of Brazil called a blitz.

they were randomly pulling cars over and searching them..this would be unheard of in the States
  A blitz is just a police check of random vehicles passing a certain checkpoint.  Bernard, his girlfriend and I were all traveling together in one car and had taken the route around the long tunnel running by Rocinha.  Instead of running into trouble with the favela (which usually doesn’t occur in broad daylight), we ran into trouble with the local police.  We had driven through this same blitz the day before and hadn’t gotten stopped, but this time we weren’t so lucky.  Bernard had told me the first time we passed the blitz about incidents of crooked cops smuggling drugs into pockets of those they stopped to “check”.  These poor people were then indicted for possession of drugs.

 

 These thoughts were all flying through my head when our car was stopped randomly by the cops during the blitz.

@ Sugar Loaf, from the top of the first peak (the lower of the two)
  My friend spoke to the police right away and told them that I was from the United States, didn’t really speak Portuguese and was just visiting for a couple days as a tourist.  I was asked to confirm this and was told to empty my pockets.  We all had to empty our pockets and were searched for any “illegal possessions.”  Bernard’s car was also thoroughly checked.  The police officer making the inspections informed us that there had been incidents within the last week of police finding individuals carrying grenades in their possession and transporting them around the city.  We were allowed to go freely and I even took a picture of one of the police officers with his big gun.  They officers were amused by my picture taking, but they were kind enough to let me take them.  I quickly took some and we left the blitz and continued on our way, but my friend later told me that while the police officer had been checking me, he (Bernard) was making sure that the officer didn’t stick any “illegal drugs” into my pockets to falsely accuse me.
from the top of the taller peak of Sugar Loaf
  It was times like this that I was thankful that I had a native tour guide during my stay in Rio, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to what was going on and would have been totally oblivious to even the thought of corrupt police officers in broad daylight.  Cops in the U.S. would never be able to search you like that without first having a warrant, so it was a new experience for me. 

 

The rest of the day was pretty cool.  Pao de Acucar was an awesome tourist attraction.  This attraction is one of the oldest in Rio, but it has come a long way from the technology that it first used.  The Sugar Loaf is composed of 2 mountain peaks from which one can see all of Rio de Janeiro.

at Porcao
  The tram that takes people to the higher of the two peaks is now safer and more reliable than what it used to be in the past.  The view from the higher peak is breath-taking.  It was getting cloudy that day though, so one couldn’t see Cristos (Christ the Redeemer).  We spent a little while there and then headed straight to Porcao, one of the famous churrascarias in the city.  I ate like a pig at Porcao complements of Bernard’s dad.  It was my first visit to a Brazilian churrascaria and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I had never experienced the endless amounts of meat that Brazilian steakhouses had to offer their customers, but it is definitely one of the highlights of Brazil.

 

The following day was game day.

what's left of a favela in the "developing" area of Rio
  Brazil played in the World Cup against Australia that day and Bernard insisted that I come with his family to the home of some family friends to watch the game.  The house we went to was enormous and the people there were all excited about the game.  Everyone was parading around their Brazilian jerseys and t-shirts.  Bernard’s brother even purchased air horns to make as much noise as possible during the game.  It was craziness!  A bet was also placed on the game that day.  All of the people attending that day had placed a bet since Brazil’s debut in the World Cup on each game, but nobody had claimed the prize yet because no one had guessed the outcome of each game correctly thus far.
at the surfers' beach..most tourists never come to this area
  The pot had become so big, that I also entered, but unfortunately my prediction of Brazil winning 3-2 turned out to be completely wrong.  Brazil ended up winning 2-0 and one individual collected all the winnings that day.  The bet made the game more interesting and everyone was on the edge of their seat cheering for Brazil.  It was a fun experience.

 

The following day we visited another beach that most tourists don’t get to visit.  We went to Guaratiba and to the Reserva de Grumari.  It was really quiet in this area.  We had to go past Baha into the neighboring town and beyond.

Yes sir, please believe it!!
  On the way there, we passed a “friendly” favela that was in the process of getting shut down.  This favela was significantly smaller than the big ones aforementioned and new developments had risen around it.  Bernard told me that it would soon be done away with and more property around the beach area would spring up.  The waves in this part of the city of Rio get really big, so this was the ideal beach area for surfers to catch some big waves.  The scenery was so pretty that I had to take more pictures of the beach.  The Grumari Reserve was beautiful as well.  Lush forestation and rock outcroppings are all protected here and we even noticed some workers planting more trees when we were there.  It looked like a tropical haven.  I even enjoyed some coconut water while I was there.
Cristos (Christ the Redeemer)
 

 

That evening I attended a show at a local theater with Bernard’s whole family.  We were treated to traditional samba music with tastes of new mixes of R&B and hip hop.  The musicians even played capoeira music.  It was pretty cool, but it was very traditional, so the majority of the crowd attending was composed of elderly people.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed listening to it. 

 

The last day I was in Rio, Bernard took me to Corcovado to see the Christ statue.  It was bigger than I expected and the view from the top of the mountain which it is on is even better than the one from the Sugar Loaf.

the beautiful view from Corcovado
  The elevation was higher plus it was sunny and clear that day, so the pictures that I took were incredible.  I could see the famous Maracana stadium and many other sites from that elevation. 

 

Leaving Santos Dumont airport that day to fly back to Floripa, made me sad.  The five days that I had in Rio were jam-packed with activities, thanks to Bernard’s efforts.  I thoroughly enjoyed every minute, but I felt that I needed more time to see everything Rio de Janeiro had to offer.  I had a crash course over a long weekend, but those from our group traveling there get to stay for about a week.  It would definitely be fun to stay longer in the city, but I was glad that I had a native taking me around the city.  Without his help I would have gotten into some sticky situations which I could have avoided had I had prior knowledge of the area.  I hope my blog has enabled you to learn a little about Rio de Janeiro.  The city has a lot to offer, both good and bad, but I have to agree with my friend that out of all the cities in Brazil, it really is “the most beautiful city in Brazil.”

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Welcome to Rio!
Welcome to Rio!
Beautiful isnt it?
Beautiful isn't it?
Santos Dumont airport is on the le…
Santos Dumont airport is on the l…
me and my boy, Bernard
me and my boy, Bernard
Everyone loves the beach!  Who wou…
Everyone loves the beach! Who wo…
Bernards grandma
Bernard's grandma
Rocinha, the biggest favela in Rio
Rocinha, the biggest favela in Rio
Rocinha at night..yes they have li…
Rocinha at night..yes they have l…
2 of the biggest favelas in Rio ar…
2 of the biggest favelas in Rio a…
Guapo Loco!
Guapo Loco!
the blitz
the blitz
they were randomly pulling cars ov…
they were randomly pulling cars o…
@ Sugar Loaf, from the top of the …
@ Sugar Loaf, from the top of the…
from the top of the taller peak of…
from the top of the taller peak o…
at Porcao
at Porcao
whats left of a favela in the de…
what's left of a favela in the "d…
at the surfers beach..most touris…
at the surfers' beach..most touri…
Yes sir, please believe it!!
Yes sir, please believe it!!
Cristos (Christ the Redeemer)
Cristos (Christ the Redeemer)
the beautiful view from Corcovado
the beautiful view from Corcovado
Curitiba
photo by: joesu