The Magic of Rio de Janeiro
Oh Rio, wonderful Rio! I had high hopes for this city which is partly why I made it my final destination. I knew it had to keep myself stimulated or my mind would have completely drifted back home to the UK and I’d be wasting the final stretch of my epic adventure. Well what’s not to love about a city that has it all! Beautiful beaches, vibrant culture, bold art, smiley people and a whole lot of ass.
There is so much to do in Rio de Janeiro, I barely know where to begin. So I checked out Copacabana Beach. You can almost see the locals wince as the gringos can’t help themselves but sing the Barry Manilow classic. ‘Copa, Copacabana..’. So the beach is okay, it’s definitely not up there with the world’s best beaches (in my opinion) but the fact that it stretches so far and spans a few miles of the city gives it a certain charm.
So big sights, Rio has so many! Christ the Redeemer is undoubtably impressive and an iconic figure. Stood tall in his commanding pose, the Christ is visible for miles around. I wandered up the hill to the statue and fought my way through the crowds to get a proper peek at the concrete Christ. Tourists were in overdrive, trying to get selfies, which involved balancing at obscure angles and the photographer lying on the floor. Very entertaining!
Santa Teresa and the colourful Lapa steps. Chilean artist, Jorge Selaron spent years carefully covering these steps with broken tiles and ceramics all in the colours of the Brazilian flag as a present to the people. Many of the tiles are hand painted, with images depicting different countries from around the world. Blood, sweat and tears went into those steps and Jorge almost lost everything including his home many times. He was eventually found dead, on his steps, covered in burns. A bit suspect hey. I’d have loved to have spent hours here, checking out every inch of his wonderful work but sadly as night falls it’s not too safe to hang out here. We couldn’t head up to the top and were warned if we did we’d get mugged. I want to head back, perhaps with someone big and strong or perhaps just local so I can enjoy the steps for longer.
Sugarloaf Mountain, like any GOOD mountain has a cable car. Fuck walking up it. Although I did see some people scaling the sheer rock face, which looked like an exciting way to reach the top. The views from the top are truly spectacular and I was lucky enough to arrive at sunset. As the sun disappeared, darkness cloaked the skies but the city lights flicked on and Rio came to life.
Without a doubt though Rio’s favelas were the most interesting aspect of the city. I was lucky enough to be able to explore the Rocinha favela and check out the views from one of the highest points from a hostel terrace. These pop up communities that span for miles around, house the poorest people in Rio. Shops, schools and every normal facility we’d expect to see can all be found within the favelas. Originally run by gangs many of these communities now have police involvement, making them a little safer to enter – albeit you have to be with a local guide. The electricity used to power the communities is taken from the richer people. As you wind your way down the narrow streets you just need to look up to see an absolute mish-mash of wires and cabling. With the World Cup having just ended much of the street art was football related, but many pieces also portray the people. I never once felt threatened, smiles beam from every face and despite being a very poor neighbourhood the bold splashes of colour make it such a vibrant place to be.
Crikey, what next. Well I could bore you with shopping tales because it’s a pretty bloody fantastic place to spend your cash and you could spend loads. Rio is an insanely expensive city, especially by South American standards. Window shopping is a little lighter on your wallet, but obviously pretty unsatisfying too.
There are so many art galleries in Rio but I completely ran out of time! Another reason to come back. I did however spend my last day almost being killed on a public bus, whose driver thought he was on Germany’s autobahn and not the busy city streets to get to the other side of town. Having survived that and on the hunt for food we wandered down what looked like a lifeless alley way to discover it opened out into a street of restaurants and cafes with live music everywhere. The atmosphere was incredible and a good feed of Feijoada, the typical Brazilian beans and meat casserole was the perfect way to say goodbye to Brazil, to Rio and to my travels (for now!).