La Cidade Maravilhosa
04.02.2010 - 08.02.2010 43 °C
From Paraty to Rio de Janeiro, our next destination. Known to the Cariocas as Cidade Maravilhosa, this city hypnotised the whole group. Jungle by the sea, emblematic mountains like the Sugar Loaf or Ipanema, stunning beaches and bossanova. We booked the Mango Tree Hostel for the whole group, which was great for its location (1 block from Ipanema Beach), but the people working there hated us and therefore we hated them! How can people be so angry and frustrated in Brazil? It's Brazil...and it was Rio, the best city in the world!!!
We dropped our bags and off we went to Ipanema Beach. That beach offers one of the best sunsets we've ever seen...you see how the sun hides behind the famous mountain of Ipanema, and in the mean time people are playing football, dancing, smoking, drinking or just chilling. Meeting people there is the easiest thing in the world, Brazilians are so open minded! We heard that beaches in Brazil are full of pickpockets, but we fell very safe and even took our cameras to take some shots. But the best thing in Ipanema is definitely the beautiful people you see there...we were shocked by the quantity of hot men and women that were lying around in their fashionable bikinis and swim shorts. We came to the conclusion that beauty attracts beauty, hence Ipanema and the people there...it's definitely one of the sexiest and most fascinating beaches ever!
But Rio is not only about its beaches, and we learnt that very soon. During our stay there we booked a couple of tours to get to know the city. The first one was a general tour of the city; Ipanema, Sao Conrado, Tijuca Jungle, The Christ and the neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. The heat was killing us (42 °C!!!) but still it was worth it to walk around and get to know the city...our favourite? The views from Tijuca and The Christ, and the famous Selarón Steps. Selarón is a Chilean artist in love with Rio (how's that not possible?), who dedicated the past 20 years of his life to cover some steps in Santa Teresa with tiles from every corner in the world...He was cocky and claimed to be greater than Michaelangelo, not sure about that, but it was definitely a highlight in our trip. Our second tour was a lesson about the Favelas. We booked it through the Favela Tour, an organisation that donates part of the money tourists pay to the favelas for the children's education. Our tour guide was an Italian guy called Luigi, who has been living in Brazil for the past 15 years and knows the country and Rio very well. The tour only lasted 3 hours, but we had a chance to visit the biggest Favela in Rio, Rocinha, and Vila Canoa. We initially thought that the Favelas would be more isolated, but no, the curiousity in Rio is that poor and rich people share the same street address! The information Luigi was sharing with us about how the Favelas work, and how the people inside them live, was eye-opening. There's a code to respect inside the Favelas and as a member of one you can't visit other Favelas. The government constantly tries to improve the people's lives inside the Favelas, although it's tough as they don't really control what's going on inside (the biggest issue was, and still is, the corruption in the police force). As it was a Sunday, the market was open and we had a chance to see people from the Favelas living their regular life...it wasn't fake, and it was fascinating. From Rocinha we went to Vila Canoa, the "posh" Favela and where the school that the company finances is located. We had an amazing time with Luigi and we recommend everyone, not to be scared, and learn.
In Rio we met another Fabio, this time from Bergamo and a friend from San Diego, whom the guys hadn't seen since they had left the US 8 years ago. Chiara, a friend of Olga, also joined us, so the group was growing...however, we lost the Sicilian Fabio, who must have enjoyed himself a lot going out in Rio with all that beauty around him :-). With so many people, it was easy to celebrate Nick's birthday, who turnded 30 on February 5th, and so we decided to go to a fancy restaurant in Santa Teresa called Aprazivel, from where we had an incredible view of the city. The place was great, the company even better, and Nick had a wonderful time with his friends! After dinner we decided to go to Lapa, well known for its bars and party atmosphere, so some waiters from the restaurant offered to walk us there. We had to walk for 30 minutes down these pedestrian roads and Maria, who had the great idea of wearing heels, was in absolute pain. But she wasn't the only one; Luli still had her elephant foot and a Spanish acquaintance from Fabio, Jacinto, had blisters on his feet and kept walking in a funny way. When we reached Lapa the streets were full of drunk people dancing everywhere and Nick tripped, hurting one of his toes!! So that made 4 injured and we were starting to wonder "are we too old for this?". We still decided to have a drink or two around the main square in Lapa and enjoy ourselves.
One thing you can't miss in Rio is all the juice bars around the city...we fell in love with Polis Sucos, where we went every day for our daily vitamin boost and played with tropical flavours. We discovered the famous Abacaxi com Hortela (Pineapple juice with mint), maracuja with orange, mango, watermelon, acai with guaraná...mmmmm...delicious delicious!!! From the Favelas to Barra, for its beaches, for its freedom and bars, clubs, and its people...Rio is definitely magical!!! We would also live the famous Rio Carnival, but before, we deserved a break in another city; Salvador de Bahia.