All of those amazing photographs of that you see of that city placed on the beautiful Brasilian coastline are real! Trust me, my mother and I had do some of our own little investigation to see if that dangerous, yet lavishly designed city called Rio de Janeiro really did exist. I remember the first time I saw a photo of the Christ the Redeemer- one of the 7 wonders by the way- overlooking that beautiful coastal city with the bay and Sugar loaf in the background, I had a long conversation in my head about how I would get there and when. Well, that long convo in my head was negated when my mom mentioned she would be going there to visit her friend Carla, whom worked with her through an exchange program at Monarch Ski Area in Colorado several years back. Great, I´ll just tag along with ma and get some free room and board with our friend Carla and her amazing parents, who speak very limited English, not a bad gig eh?
We arrived on Tuesday, November 4th around 10pm. It was election day for the United States of America so you could sense this relief in everyone around the world. A relief that signified the end of that phony Bush Administration, whew!!! That was a long 8 years wasn´t it?? Anyways, Carla was there to greet us at the airport and get us on the next bus heading into the city where she lives, Copacabana. We arrived at Copacabana Palace, right on the beach and I suddenly thought it was all too good to be true, ¨no way, we´re gonna be staying in the palace.¨ She immediately crushed my all of the sudden high maintenance hopes by saying its only a one block walk behind the palace. The heavy ocean air blanketed us on our short walk and the smell of the salty Atlantic Ocean just 20 meters away filled the air. Carla´s parents were there to greet us and help us with our bags. Her mother is a very nice, polite Japanese woman named Bette and her father is a big Brasilian man named Carlos whose English vocabulary is limited to ¨I love you.¨ So that meant a loving, accomodating household and good family fun. As soon as we walked in he was watching the election day coverage in Portuguese which he immediately switched to English coverage for us. Just 90 minutes later, the screen was displaying what I never thought I would see this early in my lifetime. Barack Obama is the next President of the United States. I send out my congratulations to Obama and look forward to what him and his administration have in store for such crucial time for our economy, country and the world at large. By the time people in the U.S. had whiped their tears from the historic election it was 3:30am in Rio and the perfect time for me to discover my shampoo had exploded everywhere in my bag. I enjoy cleaning shampoo out of my luggage at odd hours of the morning I don´t know about you...
The next day, Carla took us for a walk along the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. We stopped about every hour or so to taste some of the Brasilian flavors. Our first stop we had Guarana, the Brasilian natural energy drink. Then in Ipanema I had my first Acaí bowl in quite some time, I love Acaí!! In the states, it´s a bit more expensive since it is imported, yet in Brasil it comes at such a reasonable price. Walking along the Ipanema beach was amazing as I had the famous Brasilian bossanova song stuck in my head ¨Girl from Ipanema.¨ The sounds of Portuguese being spoken at all angles was like music to the ears anyways. On paper, Portuguese is very similar to Spanish but phoenetically it´s a stark contrast. Another interesting contrast from Argentina and Brasil is the health lifestyle. Argentines typically smoke cigarettes much more and the Brasilians are really keen on working out and staying fit to maintain their beach bodies, its like everyone in Rio was queuing up for South America´s Next Top Model, which they could easily be in any country... Brasilians are beautiful people. There was a gym everywhere you looked and even a gym right on the beach in Ipanema, Muscle Beach, a nice imitation of Muscle Beach in California. They definitely work hard for the beauty they strut, but alot of it still comes natural, damn them!waves crashing at Ipanema beach
Evening time came and Carla had to study for an exam so her parents took my mother and I out to dinner at their club which sits right on Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon which sits in between the Christ the Redeemer and Ipanema beach, it is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The club had it all, swimming pools, spas, tennis courts, futbol fields, volleyball/basketball courts and one of the best restaurants in Rio. They treated us to a fine meal that consisted of rice, an assortment of seafood in a yummy sauce, vegetables and a caipirniha to complement the meal. In the seafood, I later found out we had eaten shrimp, octopus, crab, lobster and a bunch of others that we couldn´t exactly translate. Caipirinha is Brasil´s alcoholic drink of choice which can be made with Cachaça-a rum made of sugarcane-cut up limes, sugar and ice. They aren´t made to fool you or sneak up on you, because you clearly taste the alcohol to the fullest. We were also serenated by Carlos who, when discovered I speak decent Spanish, began singing his favorites from Carlos Gardel, a famous Argentine tango singer. It was classic, our conversation was limited and we both had Portuguese/English dictionaries in hand in search for our next sentence. Though, with some Portunol (Portuguese, Espanol), we were able to communicate a bit more. The meal was fantastic, one of the best I´ve had in South America.
After a nice buffet lunch that consisted of more seafood and caiprinhas, Bette took us across the bridge to another town called Nimeroi where the Museum of Modern Arts placed on a cliff overlooking the bay back to Rio awaited us. The Musem itself from the outside was impressive, built like a spaceship by the famous Brasilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who also built the capital of Brasilia! The inside didn´t have much in the way of quantity but exceptional quality. Our return back across the bridge to Rio was hampered much of the way with rush hour traffic and a sudden rain storm. We were able to see a slight sunset before the showers unleashed, however.
Our final day in Rio, we rose early once again to visit the famous Pão de Açúcar, Sugar Loaf. Sugar Loaf is that beautiful upright hill that you see in most Rio photos. It appears as if its an island perking out of the bay from the distance but is actually connected to land. We took the cable car through the air up to the top of Sugar Loaf which once again magnified the beauty of the city, even on a cloudy day. I realized the importance of how lucky I was when we sat atop Sugar Loaf, since I was seeing decisively the most beautiful city I´ve laid my eyes on, not to discount the many other great cities I´ve come across. The only one that may compare is San Francisco. Rio, besides its danger and favellas-shantytowns- is city with infrastructure placed on and all around incredibly beautiful Brasilian coastline. Sporadic green hills reach to the sky along the coast and inland which provides borders to the different areas of the city, the lagoons and beaches are second to none I´ve ever seen and the locals are as equally funky as the cityskape they inhabit.
It´s no question why I feel so fortunate for the last 6 weeks of travel. I´ve seen some of the most incredible natural (Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Iguazu Falls) and manmade (Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer) wonders there is to see in South America and the world. Not to mention the most beautiful city, Rio de Janeiro. As I write this, I am nesting on the island of Florianopolis, Brasil which is in the southern part of the country. To give you an idea of my continued but soon to be ending travelling fortune, this is an island with 42 beaches. Stay tuned for more on the next posting which will also be wrapping up the South American travels. Until then, find a way to get to Rio.... ask your madre, perhaps?
P.S. A big thanks to Carla and her family for feeding us, giving us shelter and tipping us off as to where to avoid and when. Rio is a dangerous city for tourists and if it weren´t for their kind hospitality, my mother and I might had become City of God´s newest residents.