I LOVE LOVE LOVE Rio de Janeiro! Seriously, one of the best cities I have visited, up there with Istanbul, Tel Aviv (and of course Melbourne!). The first thing that we noticed about Rio was the spectacular scenery. It is an amazingly beautiful city. We trooped up to Corcovado to see the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, which boasts the best views of the city. Unfortunately the clouds had got up there first, so no view from the top, but we did get some great shots from another viewing platform a bit further down the hill.
We rented a room in a Brazilian couple’s apartment in Leme, a small suburb that boarders Copacabana, where our lovely hosts, Pablo and Tarin made us feel right at home. Although the weather was pretty miserable, we spent our first few days exploring the beaches, wandering around Copacabana and Ipanema and soaking up the infectious energetic vibe. I couldn’t get the song, “At the Copa, Copacabana…” by Barry Manilow out of my head the whole time we were in Rio!
The beaches were a hive of activity, people running, riding bikes, playing volleyball and drinking in the many beachside bars. Boaz joined in the action learning how to walk on the strap (a combination of a trampoline and gymnastics balance beam), a flexible piece of material strung between palm trees.
One of our most interesting days was spent on a tour of the favelas (slums) of Rio. Our tour guide, Marina, explained that Rio is a city unlike any other where the poor, who live at the top of the hills, are the ones with the million dollar views. We visited Rosina, where in November last year the police “pacified” the favela by reclaiming the territory from the controlling drug lords, in the process arresting people and confiscating arms (including a gun big enough to shoot down a helicopter).
Town planning is non-existent here. The residents built their homes literally on top of each other and as a result favela has approximately 300,000 residents and only 1 road and 4 streets. The residents get around by walking up 1000s of flights of stairs in 1000s of alleys. There is poor sanitation, no addresses, no high schools. The electricity poles have cables running every which way. Yet amazingly the Wifi coverage is more extensive than Melbourne!
There is no support for the unemployed here so people make money in all sorts of ways, including artists. The government, which has not been involved before, is now pouring money to upgrade many services and Rosina has recently gained a new sports and community centre, better housing and access to water. This influx of cash and concern appears to coincide with the upcoming World Cup and Olympics, where Rio will be scrutinized on the world stage, however Marina doesn’t care. She explains that those events will only last a few weeks, and Rosina will be better off for much longer. We were heartened to visit the community school which is supported by the favela tour operators, which aims to keep kids busy during the half day they are not at school (kids go to school in morning/afternoon shifts), and off the streets.
Next stop… Lapa! By day, Lapa is a quiet inner city suburb, where we wandered up, down and around the crazily tiled stairwell that Chilean artist, Jorge Selarón continues to work on. He incorporates tiles that people bring him from all over the world!
By night, Lapa is the place to be if you want a Samba fix. Out on the streets on Friday night it felt like a festival. The streets were closed and we past a drumming circle, dancers, percussion bands and people of all ages drinking beer and capririnas (the local drink of choice made from cachaca, line and sugar) at the outdoor tables that lined the street.
We wandered up and down the main strip listening to the music from the samba bands filter out and had a hard time deciding which of the many clubs to enter. The energy was electric, we had a great night. Brazilian’s really know how to live it up!
We also noticed the amazing talent of buskers in Rio and the extensive efforts they put into their business. We saw a few amazing jugglers performing at traffic lights who also managed to balance a unicycle on his head. A drummer in Lapa brought his whole kit out onto the street and played with such intensity that the crowd were mesmerised.
There were also a few outstanding sand castle creations dotted along Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. We found out the secret to their longevity was all in the (invisible) lacquer spray!
Other bits and pieces…Havianas were sold all over Brazil in supermarkets for about $5!
My favourite street food of choice, the popcorn van!
Interesting anti-discrimination laws in Brazil… Bus seats saved for obese people and special fast track queues for pregnant women in shops yet men pay more than women to enter the clubs in Lapa and non-Brazilians pay more to enter into tourist attractions!
And of course, the fabulous graffiti!
Thanks Rio, we will be back one day!