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Rio de Janeiro Travel Blog

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The marmosets pay a visit to our hostel

As it's the end of my first week in Brazil I thought it was time to get my first blog up and running...

The trip didn't get off to the best of starts in all honesty, Rio has had the worst flooding in 30 years with hundreds of people dying after being swept away in mudslides, as all too common with most natural disasters the worst off are hit hardest, in this case the people living in the favelas. As we left the airport Monday night the streets were so flooded the water was up to the rims of the taxi - almost felt like home except for the humidity.

The knock-on effect was that a lot of things were closed, presumably because people either couldn't get into work or had more important things to deal with like the loss of their homes and/ or loved ones :-( All the museums that I went to, closed, the cute little tram (called the 'bonde') that runs up to one of the historic areas, Santa Teresa, was closed both times I went to visit, and the statue of Christ the Redeemer (the really big one that overlooks Rio in case anyone didn't know), closed and covered in scaffolding! Sheesh! So now when I come back to Rio in a few weeks time I have to spend a few days longer here (such a chore I know) so I can see what I missed which isn't ideal as I'm tight for time to get to the Pantanal and on over the border into Bolivia.

Oscar Niemeyer's MAC gallery on Niteroi.

On the plus side, I saw and photographed the outside of some of the museums, including Oscar Niemeyer's MAC (the one shaped like a flying saucer) on the island of Niterio, I've been to Ipanema and walked down the beach at Copacabana. The hostel I stayed at (which proved to be a good recommendation - thanks to the helpful lady in Travelbag for that one) was only three streets back from the beach at Copacabana (again shame about the weather - no sunbathing for me, sad times) where I've met some really cool people and made new friends, picked up some top tips in terms of places to eat, drink and where to stay. Speaking of new found friends we went clubbing Thursday night to an area called Gavea to party with Rio's young, rich and spoilt, the venue was really cool (if a bit pricey) and the night was a hoot with my new compadres, needless to say I crawled out of bed Friday mid-morning as it was a bit of a late one.
View from Rocina over Rio

I have to say on the whole though I've yet to see that many of the lithe beautiful Brazilian women, clearly they're being exceedingly kind to me and hiding so that I don't feel inadequate! That said I've seen some good looking Brazilian men, nice to have things swing in our favour for once eh girls? One thing I am suprised about is how the people in this beautiful country aren't all super sized, as boy do they like their carbs! I think I may get so sick of the potato, rice combo in hideously large portions (most main meals at a restaurant could feed at least two people) that it may turn me into a salad freak by the time I get to Oz - one can only hope! I am quite looking forward to adventures in seafood - piranha for one, as well as overdosing on one of my favorite cocktails caiparinhas, although they are like rocket fuel here as they introduce cacha, a Brazilian spirit made from sugar cane, in large enough measures to sedate a small pony, but that isn't going to stop me!

After my second failed attempt to tackle Santa Teresa on the tram on Friday I decided to go for a walk around the central historic district to see some of Rio's old and also newest buildings, as the historical centre is also the business district.
The steps at Lapa
the municipal theatre, which is also undegoing restoration, is a beautiful building, very ornate with animals and various bits of gold adorning the building. It started off well with the weather holding out and me making good time around the area. But as I passed the beautiful Art Deco coffee shop Columbo (a Rio institution) the heavens opened. After getting lost and trying to dodge the rain I gave up on the rest of the walk and headed off to take some photos of the arches at Lapa which carry the bonde.

Saturday I coughed up some cash to go on a city tour, given I was running out of time in rio, it seemed like an efficient way to cover the main sights in one go. As I previously mentioned Christ The Redeemer was off the menu so instead they took us on a Favela tour, I have to admit I was in two minds about doing this as it seems a little voyeuristsic, it'd be like someone running tours at home to take tourists around the council estates, although clearly with a less stunning backdrop and worse weather.
View from Sugar Loaf over Rio
Our guide though was very informative (scarily she had been to Birmingham - and yes I did ask why) and introduced us to the people she knew in the favela; artists, trades people, children (these enterprising little souls treated us to an informal capoeira show), she knew everyone but I guess that's why she is trusted by the people who live there to bring in us gringos. As we wound our way up into the favela our guide took us through the door of a house and out onto the roof terrace where we met the owner of the house, he politely greeted us and we all shook hands and then went back to resealing his roof as we took stock of most amazing views. Why other people hadn't built up here previously beggars belief, I know living close to the beach is awesome but the views over the bay and surrounding area win hands down for me.
Sun setting over Rio
 From here she pointed out a few buildings that we could see in the distance, one of which happened to be an International School where one of Mick Jaggers kids had been, a tad ironic given where we were standing. She then went onto explain that we were in Latin America's biggest favela, Rocina, and explained how the whole favela gets started, that after 2 years of habitation in the area by law the government has to provide them with infrastructure. Even in the favelas a three tiered class system exists and in the lower class areas those who cannot afford to pay for their water and electricity tap into the main line and steal it, but in the upper class area they are proud of the fact that they have meters and can afford to pay their own way. I was pretty surprised by actually how nice some of the houses were in the upper class areas, people seemed to take a lot of pride in showing what they'd achieved and good for them too.
Sitting in the crowd at the Maracana
 There are also a few schools and they are in the process of building more so that all of the kids there can get an education as currently there are too few schools to meet the number of children that live in Rocina. Other amenities include a postal service (the post is delivered to one designated address for each block where everyone collects their mail from, as it'd be too time consuming and confusing for the postie otherwise), a post office, butchers, pharmacies etc. I explained to our guide about the poverty I'd witnessed in India and told her that they are people there that are even worse off than those who live in the lowest class of the favela, that these people don't even have any kind of roof over their heads and that some parents cut the limbs off their children as they believe it will gain them more sympathy and therefore money when they are sent out to beg, and she was totally shell shocked, pretty much the same as I was when I saw it first hand for myself.

Quite a few Brazilians that I had spoken to who live outside of the favelas did not seem to have much words of sympathy or kindness to say about those who lived there; in their view its a lifestyle choice these people make and that the economy is strong enough for them to go and find work and rent or buy themselves an apartment but they chose not too as often being part of the gangs can bring a more lucrative lifestyle, whilst for some this may be true I am not sure I share their sentiments that this is the case for the majority. We did however get a glimpse of the gang lifestyle; on one of the streets we were told not to take pictures due to the fact that there maybe gang members seling drugs on the street corner, and sure enough there they were, bold as brass without any attempt to hide the fact there they were openly dealing on the street, pretty obvious these people don't fear the police. What however was even sadder about this fact was that the dealers were choosing to sell their wares only doors down from a kindergarten.

We got to have a little bit of time at the market at the bottom of Rocina before our bus arrived and I mooched around looking at all of the football shirts, I just love how football mad Brazil is, The World Cup here is going to be absolute carnage! After dropping the rest of the group off and our first guide I got to have an all you can eat blow out  lunch with my second guide for the day and our driver which consisted of as much meat, seafood and whatever else you could tuck away, someone roll me to our bus!
The second half of the tour was just me and the guide so I really got my money's worth! We went to the Maracana stadium, the biggest football stadium on the planet which holds the world record for the most people to ever attend a football match, 200,000 people for Pele's last match! Next it was the Samba museum to see where they hold carnival and to see some of the outfits, also for a small charge I got to have some comedy photo's wearing one of the head piece's to a costume (which weighed a tonne) - what a gringo I am! I really want to come back when carnival is on, the costumes and just the spectacle itself just looked mind-blowing from what I saw at the Samba museum.
We then headed to the very modern new cathedral, though not to everyone's cup of tea on the outside the inside is truly amazing, the conical shaped church has stained glass running almost from the top of the cone all of the way to the top, I'm not sure my pictures will really do it justice. Next stop were the beautifully decorated steps at Lapa by a Chilean artist Jorge Selaron as a dedication to the Brazilian people, various tiles have now been added to the site by the artist that have been sent by arious people from around the world, one of whch was a map of London that my guide asked me to explain what all of the different images meant. The installation has been in a Snoop dogg video apparently but I'm not quite sure which one.
The best part of the trip was saved for last, Sugar Loaf mountain; the weather forcast had managed to for once be correct and the skys were clear to allow me to get some breath-taking shots of Rio, with Christo Redentor in the background, covered in scaffold obviously. I stayed up there until sunset and although not your typical sunset it was definitely interesting with the sun turning the bay into a giant mirror before the clouds swallowed it up along with Christo in the distance. I had a somewhat nervous wait for my lift back to the hostel as it was there when I descended from Sugar Loaf, I ummed and ahhed about just paying for a taxi back as I didn't want to hang around for much longer as it was beginning to get dark, thankfully it turned up and off I went back to the hostel for some r'n'r as as most of my new found friends had gone their their separate ways that day - the city tour had wiped me out!

Sunday, my final day in Rio for now was possibly my favourite day so far as I got to one of the main things on my wishlist; watch a live game at the Maracana and what a game it proved to be! It was the semi finals of one of the cups and the two main sides in Rio were playing, Flamengo and Vasco de Gama. I went as part of an organised trip with 3 other minibus loads of other gringos and got talking to three English guys who are on holiday for a few weeks in Rio who kindly let me sit with them. We did however get to sit amongst the Flamengo fans so adopted them as our team, buying shirts as well to blend in...when in Rome. It was such a crazy atmosphere, singing, chanting, dancing, bands, flares and a real mix of ages amongst the approx 60-70,000 strong crowd who were all going nuts in the stadium. My favourite character was an old woman in her 70s maybe who was decked out to the gills in Flamengo gear sitting in front of us, she was chatting away to a younger guy and proudly displaying her collection of ticket stubs that must have spanned years worth of games, initially she seemed like everyone's grandma, a sweet little old lady who just happened to have a passion for football, then the chanting started and she was up out of her seat like a shot flipping the bird to the opposition fans!!! Now that I was not expecting! The guys  and I thought this was just the best thing ever so kept trying to photograph the hell raising pensioner in the act for posterity but I don't think any of us quite captured her in the act. Although the standard of the game wasn't as good as the Premier League it was still an entertaining and passionate affair and thankfully for us and where we were seated, Flamengo came out 2-1 winners and went onto to play Botafogo (another big Rio side) in the final the following weekend. After 90 minutes of football and banter the guys and I decided to meet up  later for dinner; I rushed back to pack then caught up with them at a seafood restraurant inbetween our two hostels, a little bit of an extravagence I know but it was worth it to try a Moqueca, a seafood stew which is actually a speciality of Salvador, so I guess I'll just have to compare notes while I'm here. Bottles of wine and a strawberry cacha later, I'd probably stayed out later than I should have given the early hour of my flight the next day but I always feel that when I'm travelling opportunities to socialise with new friends should not be missed.

So the week went from starting badly to finishing on a massive high, lets hope Salvador holds as much fun!

Ciao for now.

Stigen says:
I ll have to go there on my South American trip ! will try to be there for the carneval ! nicely written blog!
Posted on: Sep 29, 2010
debsadams1979 says:
Dear Zezinho and gypsy08, many thanks for your comments, as I said in my blog those were the opinions of some of the Brazilians I met, not my own and hope I didn't cause either of you any offence. I appreciate that most people who live in favelas do not have a choice and would rather be elsewhere and it's good to hear that people who live and lived there can achieve great things. I loved my time in Brazil very much and thought the people there were some of the friendliest on the planet. As a solo traveller I never felt
unsafe and everyone I met was always willing to help me out. As for my experience in Rocina, I was glad that I went as in the end as of found it to be a valuable experience and would encourage other travellers who are visiting Rio to do so also. My only hope is that when Rio hosts both the Olympics and World Cup is that this presents people with more opportunities to improve their lives instead of just lining the pockets of the already rich.
Posted on: Sep 25, 2010
free08 says:
I agree with Zezinho regards to favela. My hubby grew up in favela as a child, no option, no choice. But with much diligence, ambition, and perspiration through work, education, he was able to get out and became a very successful person.
Posted on: Sep 22, 2010
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The marmosets pay a visit to our h…
The marmosets pay a visit to our …
Oscar Niemeyers MAC gallery on Ni…
Oscar Niemeyer's MAC gallery on N…
View from Rocina over Rio
View from Rocina over Rio
The steps at Lapa
The steps at Lapa
View from Sugar Loaf over Rio
View from Sugar Loaf over Rio
Sun setting over Rio
Sun setting over Rio
Sitting in the crowd at the Maraca…
Sitting in the crowd at the Marac…