Typically we start researching a country just days before we actually enter it. With Brazil, that plan backfired. A three week stay may have been enough in a country like Bolivia or Peru, but for a country similar to the USA in size and number of destination cities, we would hardly be able to scratch the surface. So entering Rio de Janeiro, we knew it was our third and last chance on this trip to get to know Brazil. Unfortunately (we’ve been starting too many sentences like this lately – it really hasn’t been THAT bad), Rio de Janeiro is packed in July – winter break for Brazil, and it seems everyone else wants to get to know this city too.
We arrived with our Colombian friends late in the evening, and given that Rio has a reputation for being dangerous, we decided to follow them to their hostel. Just to be clear, I don’t see how Rio is any more dangerous than any other big city we’ve been to. Even at the beach, people would leave their belongings, with little concern for theft, as they entered the water. Either way, we always err on the side of caution, so when the airline offered to pay for separate cabs to the airport closer to town, we combined our vouchers and convinced them to “keep the change” if they took us all to one single destination: Pura Vida Hostel in Copacabana Beach.
We were stuck in a dorm, helpless against the comings and goings of our roommates and the party going on downstairs. On the plus side, our hostel had a private room the next evening for us (however, nothing for night number three) and was organizing a trip to a football match (soccer) and a crafty tour that hit all the sites called “A Day in Rio.” We jumped on both despite forecasts of rain. All through South America we wanted to see a live soccer match, but it seemed like the teams we were interested in seeing were never playing at home. We weren’t going to let this chance slip away. In the meantime, a chance visit turned into a small addiction at the corner juice bars. Sometimes the same company would have locations on opposing corners, like Starbucks in the US. I guess when you have that much fruit available, you have to find a use for it, so we had fresh juice and acai bowls on a daily basis.
Before the game, Joshua and I explored the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon by foot. At about the point we were furthest from the hostel, the rain clouds started to dump with full force. It required us to learn the public transit system rather quickly. Interestingly, we’ve been told by many locals that Brazil may not be ready for the World Cup or the Olympics for a few reasons: a somewhat limited public transit system, few English speakers, and the most interesting comment from our tour guide (which is somewhat unbelievable), that when you enter a soccer stadium, people tend to sit wherever they want and don’t believe in seat numbers which wouldn’t fly at either the Olympics or the World Cup. We didn’t have that problem at the soccer match at all but that may be because we were in the last row! The fans were definitely inspired despite the home team’s woeful play. The team that just won the Copa Liberatadore, Corinthians from Sao Paulo, wiped the floor with Flameco.
Our “Day in Rio” tour started with a cable car ride to the top of Pao de Azucar, “Sugar Loaf.” The weather did not cooperate, so we had murky views of the city and surrounding beaches. I can imagine it would be incredible with a little more sun—it has been on the tourist scene since the early 1900’s. The sky began to clear shortly after we can down, so we ran to the Redeemer while the views weren’t obstructed by clouds.
We shared our time with Cristo with many other tourists, most notably hundreds of boy scouts performing some weird competitive troop chants like who could be the loudest and pop blood vessels in their necks and who could make their boy scout arm/leg tattoos dance the most. Odd, yet frighteningly memorable.
We stopped at the 1950 World Cup soccer stadium to see how the re-vamp was going for the upcoming 2014 competition. A former Brazilian soccer player from the 1980s (according to our tour guide) who spent all his millions on women and drinking, now juggles outside the stadium for tips. He’s outstanding—he can actually take off his jersey while juggling and then put it back on. Talent for sure…just not certain what it should be used for.
A favorite stop was the promenade used for the Carnival celebration. For a small fee, you can try on costumes used in the parade. Aside from being somewhat revealing, the most notable characteristic was how heavy the slinky costumes could be. I couldn’t keep my hat on straight or the weighted shoulder pads in place for a photograph…imagine balancing it all while shaking your booty! This was the first time Joshua’s shoes actually looked appropriate with his outfit.
Our final stop of the day was the most touching. The Escadaria Selaron is a stairwell covered in tiles from all over the world. The artist continues to exchange tiles for new ones, so the piece evolves constantly. You can send him a tile from anywhere in the world and he’ll include it, eventually. The bright colors and patterns were so vivid that we ended up coming back a second day to see it again.
Not wanting to stick out at the beach, we made a few adjustments to our swimsuit attire which meant Joshua got a speedo that looks like the Brazilian flag (we got one for my swimmer dad too, but he practically lives in a speedo, so it was less of an adjustment for him). Joshua was under the weather and having trouble combating it despite overdosing on Vitamin C and chlorofila (which we assumed was a form of wheatgrass) at the juice bar. So we thought going to the beach for a few days would be a relaxing way for him to recover, but I can’t say that it was at Copacabana. It was packed with red umbrellas, children playing in the sand, sunbathers reading, swimmers, lifeguards and more vendors than anything else. You could buy whatever you needed from the vendors cruising the sands: swim suits, sarongs, sunscreen, water, beer, empanadas, even shrimp on a stick. Brazilians are known for a few things: waxes, blowouts and itty bitty bikinis. Beach goers tend to leave very little to the imagination, so your brain is processing way too much skin…some people have a rather large reality. Joshua didn’t mind at all.