(Day 90 – 95)
19.02.2010 - 24.02.2010 34 °C
Rio. Literally. Exploded. Our. Budget. This insignificant fact put aside (!) we had the most action-packed 4 days of the entire trip so far: What a city!! You don’t quite feel it straight away when you arrive, the streets are not fantastic from the airport and you wait expectantly for one of the iconic landmarks to appear. No, the atmosphere in Rio takes it’s time to wash over you but when it does its hard not to like the place. It has to be said that we had a very lucky time there though.
To start with we had gorgeous weather, we got last minute tickets to Rio’s football final which just happened to be played the particular weekend we were there and we also managed to get our hands on the Rio Carnival’s Winners Parade at the Sambadrome!
So a fairly long blog again, but there is just so much to tell!
Our first day was spent on a city tour to view all the sights in one day: Rio is bigger than it seems and with the little time we had it was worth doing. We started with a stop at “Nova Cathedral” which is the weirdest looking cathedral we had ever seen. Something between a futuristic Tepee and the flat topped Mayan Pyramid in Mexico. We both thought it was quite hideous looking but agreed that amongst the many beautiful ones we had seen in Europe, this would probably be the one we would remember It was only built between 1964 and 1976 and is 83 meters high and has an impressive capacity of 25 000.
We then went to one of the world’s most recognisable symbols, the incredible Christ the Redeemer Statue on top of Corcovado Mountain. This unbelievable statue took 9 years to be built and is about 40m tall, weighing 635 tons (made of soapstone and reinforced concrete) I have to say that when we stood up there and watched the mind-blowing view, I had to pinch myself (and Martin) to remind us of where we were. This was the stuff of movies and here we were standing right below it!!
We then had a huge buffet lunch, after which we headed to Sugarloaf Mountain for some more spectacular views, this time closer to the coastlines and looking down over Rio’s beautiful golden beaches.
Carnival’s Winners Parade
As soon as we got back, we had just enough time for the quickest shower and head out again to the famous Sambadrome for the Carnival’s Winners parade (6 finalists). We were both very excited to be able to be there as we had missed the actual Carnival just days before and this was the closest we were going to get as far as experiencing it.
The Sambadrome is basically a long road (1700m) with grandstands capable of accommodating 90,000 spectators on either side. This is where, during Carnaval, the samba schools perform with their floats, music and dress.
We had the most rubbish seats right at the end of the track and it took 40 min of parading for us to even see the start of the procession! The fun part though is that being right at the end, the participants ended up right in front of us for the final twirls and songs and threw all their props at us.
Each samba school has 1h30 min to parade and has thousands of people participating. They go on foot, on floats, in the most dazzling costumes ever seen: from 3 bits of glitter covering their modesty plus masses of feathers, to full blown intricate costumes covering head to toe. What a show! The organisation was astonishingly good, the participants pumped up by the samba music, the dance and the crowds, and really the carioca people just having so much fun around us. It was truly a night to remember – although we didn’t make it to the winners as they came on at 4h am!
The next day we woke up early to enjoy the beach – Copacabana here we come! Lovely setting and nice water temperature, however we did not see many of the stereotypical dental-floss bikinis we were expecting, then again perhaps it was the spot we chose?
It is true what one of the tour guides said: Cariocas (Rio’s people) believe they were MADE for the beach, and the truth is I have never seen such professional sunbathers before - to the point were it was quite funny. (Keep in mind I am Mauritian and grew up on an island).
Some examples.. There are electronic sun index machines along the beach indicating the temperature and which solar factor you should use if you have this or that colour skin (4 choices). I was quite pleased to see we were spot on, hahaha. Then sprinklers blowing light mist on the street to refresh you, a wet sand path so you don’t burn your feet getting to your spot, showers, and most people have a bucket of sea water by their feet with a squeegee thing to spray themselves when it gets too hot!!!!
There are also the usual drinks and ice-cream sellers, but also coconut water drinks, prawns and so on, weaving through the crowds constantly. Literally everything to hand to make your beach day perfect and comfortable, without you having to move very far.
Football at Maracana Stadium
Attending a football game at the Maracana stadium is one of the recommended activities in Rio. It is huge stadium which can take up to 110,000 people, and saw Brasil lose to a final when they hosted the World cup in 1950 (this is apparently a well-known fact but I wasn’t born and am not a football fanatic so this was news to moi. )
The Brazilians lived up to their reputation and were as energetic and joyful as we’d expected in their displays of encouragement to their teams. Because it was a Rio State final, I suspect there was a touch more excitement in the air, but then again they probably are that expressive at every match! The teams we saw were Vasco da Gama against Botafogo. As they do for their sunbathing, Cariocas take their football encouraging very seriously. Drums, flares, balloons, t-shirts, flags the size of the stadium (well almost!) – no effort is spared to be the loudest & proudest supporters.
We were taken in the atmosphere and became happy Vasco supporters for the match. Sadly they lost, but the experience was still an unforgettable one!
The very next morning we were taken on a Favela Tour. Favela is the term used to describe a shanty town in Brasil. The one we visited is called Rocinha, is the largest favela in Rio and is home to some 200,000 people.
From what we gathered, it was pretty much first come first serve for land. If you saw a plot you liked, you could build your house right there, or if this was not affordable, you could rent your house from someone. People started building at the bottom of the valley and with lack of space, started going higher and higher up. It got to a point where there was no more space, so people started selling their roofs for people to build their home on top, then someone else above that etc. Unlike a lot of the shanty towns in South Africa, these homes were made from brink and mortar and have some splendid views from the mountain. Apart from a main road which leads you to the top and which vehicles have access to, the rest has to be done by foot through narrow, sometimes very dirty little streets into the maze that is the Favela.. There is no access for street cleaners to get in there, and they are meant to take their rubbish to the main road, but sadly don’t. This same rubbish accumulates, blocks gutters when the rain comes and in turn causes illnesses.
We were taken up to the top by motor-taxi – no helmet, and holding on for dear life while the driver raced with his mate carrying a fellow tourist (also holding on for dear life) through all the windy roads. I (Steph) was quite glad to get off! We then followed our guide who would take us through the Favela going downhill.
Our guide’s name was Daniella (from Be a Local company) and she was excellent. To tease the locals she wore her Botafogo winner t-shirt from the football match the night before and invariably was stopped every few metres for a chat and a bit of banter about it. She seemed at ease although Favelas have a reputation for being run by gangs, drug lords and the like. We were warned not to take photos in certain areas especially and I quote “ If you see anyone carrying a gun, a grenade, a walkie-talkie and so on”. Oh my!!
The ones with walkie talkies are the “watchers” and they inform the drug lords of who enters and leaves the Favela. The only sign of this we saw, was a non-threatening man eating his lunch and a walkie-talkie hooked to his belt.. In fact the reason they take tourists to the Favelas is to try to create awareness about the fact that it’s not all that they are about despite the bad (but real) advertising. They try very hard to encourage children to go to school, assist with charities there and so on. It was a very interesting morning.
The afternoon saw us back to the beach, but this time we went to Ipanema. It was fun to be on the well-known beach as I had had the song “Girl from Ipanema” (obviously) ringing in my head since we got to Rio. They actually even have a Restaurant and a shop called that there: “Garota de Ipanema” in Portuguese. The beach experience was a bit more mellow on this side and we relaxed for a few hours, while sipping on some delicious coconut water. There was a hilarious pineapple seller who got his kicks out of making people jump by brandishing a pineapple in their face, unexpected. He had us in stitches as we followed his progress down the beach checking the “victims” reactions..
The final stop was getting ourselves some Havainas flip flops. We’d never had a pair and although mine had been falling apart (and been super-glued many a times) for a while, I dragged them to Rio as this was where I wanted to buy my first pair! They are now a recognisable brasilian icon too after all
The next day was our last and we headed to Sao Paulo by bus some 6 hours away, from where we were catching a flight the very next morning to Colombia.
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