It was 6am on a sunny Wednesday morning when I arrived to Rio de Janeiro. And I knew I had arrived to the city of Gods, the Cidade maravilhosa. I was immediately struck by the beauty of the city. The greens hill encircled by lakes and favelas - my tired eyes were happy to see Rio! I strolled with my heavy backpack to a super artistic hostel a couple blocks from the Arches of Lapa, right next to the hills of Santa Teresa.
Feeling exhausted from 20 hours of traveling I anyway wanted to get out so I headed to Ipanema beach… and fell asleep on the sound of the big waves thundering to shore. Ipanema is a truly beautiful , massive long beach dotted with people and flanked by another beautiful set of hills. The sun was already setting when I came back to rest before my “big zouk weekend”.
No rest for the wicked - on the next morning me and a couple people from the hostel jumped on a bus to Christ the Redeemer and after some waiting got our ticket for the train up! To pass the 3 hours wait we made a detour to Copacabana and I got my first introduction to the local “per kilo” restaurants: a big buffet of all the great Brazilian and international foods, and you pay for the weight of the food (around 4 R$ per 100g). Loved it (and yes I ate there again and in a sushi kilo restaurant later, yumm!!)! Our trip to the Christ wasn’t as lucky since the clouds had gathered, like the tourists, to the massive statue of the tallest hill – on a nearly clear day. We waited… and waited… and finally were rewarded with a moment of clarity! In a way it made the trip up there even more exciting. Sadly we didn’t see a view down – but I did see fantastic views from the Sugar Loaf later.
So my first weekend there was packed with zouk. All days at workshops, quick dinner, shower and change, and off to a zouk party.. and arriving delirious and tired around 5am to shower and sleep in preparation for another zouk day. I was basically just a ghost in the hostel. But it was so worth it – getting to zouk and meeting all the lovely people!
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t all that lovely; steamy, rainy… Wasn’t the best of Rio but it was a good time to be indoors. After the zouk congress ended and the weather slowly cleared back, I got to spend the rest of my stay sightseeing and shopping in the hot and sunny city. I kept extending my stay and finally after a few normal days I stared to recover from my “zouk overdose”. The beaches were the best places to spend time as you got to soak your feet in the “ice bucket”-cold sea and feel a slight breeze that somehow made all the sweating bearable. There was a lot to see – I went to on top of the Sugar Loaf, sat on the Escaladaria de Selaron and visited the Botanical Gardens. Mostly just rested my tired zouk legs on the sands. I decided I could basically only do one thing a day as it was so hot and it always too so long to wake up and get anywhere!
11 days was a fairly long time in my busy plan to take over Latin America, but spending it in Rio was totally worth it. The best things (after zouk ;)) about Rio were the beaches – Copacabana and Ipanema in particular. The fresh juices (sucos) were my favourite snacks, I must have had a couple different ones every day, trying out the sweet exotic fruits and berries! Shopping was great, although I really hoped somebody would have kept me out of the shops!
Surely there were a lot of things I didn’t like about Rio, such as getting around in the big city and going out in the evening. Although I always felt rather safe and saw nothing really alarming I didn’t feel comfortable taking anything of any value with me (or anything at all), which was sad since then I couldn’t take my camera with me. And it was always a bit of annoying to plan how to get somewhere (and it took a long time to get everywhere) – and how to get back during the night. I was missing the “small town life” where you could just walk everywhere! It was also and expensive city to live and sightsee.
The artistic and musical Cariocas
If salsa was the soundtrack of Mexico and reggae of Belize, samba was definitely the soundtrack of Rio. Ok, from my last post it is clear I dove head first into Brazilian zouk but samba was definitely following me everywhere on the streets, in shops, bars, taxis, my hostel… There was even samba de gafieira workshops and shows at the “zouk and lambada congress”, along with forró. My neighbourhood of Lapa – Santa Teresa was known for its samba clubs, I would hear live samba music pretty much every evening I walked around. The streets were even closed to give room for the party-goers to roam during the weekend nights.
You can be certain that Rio is the city of samba. However much I enjoyed the samba music and party athmosphere in Rio, I didn’t get out to see the samba practices – the classes during the day (meant for tourists obviously) were super expensive: 90 R$ - almost 40 €! And during the night it wasn’t too safe to go find the samba schools by yourself. I definitely need to come back with some samba friends or to venture finding classes in some smaller cities perhaps. I was just happy to see the samba dancers at the zouk congress and amaze at their talent. And hey, I did get some personal tutoring from an older gentleman at the final zouk congress party – samba de gafieira wasn’t that hard with a knowledgeable partner.
Besides samba the local arts were visible everywhere. I can’t believe all the artistic talent that lives in Rio! The walls all over town were covered in not just fancy tags and graffiti but what I would describe street art and even paintings. Some say graffitis are not frowned upon but actually encourages and I can really believe it’s true.
The locals also seemed to like to cover themselves in art – tattoos. And they were easy to spot in the teeny tiny Brazilian swim shorts and bikinis. I had to get my own skimpy bikini as well so I wouldn’t feel like an old lady on the beach :D We all agreed that after putting on one you realize where the term “Brazilian wax” comes from; you will definitely need one to wear the bikini!
Who would I recommend Rio for? Anyone who likes big cities, beaches, fresh fruits, caipirinhas, shopping gorgeus colourful clothes – and has money to spend. You most certainly won’t be disappointed!!