The Marvelous City
Total Days Travelling: 126
Countries Visited: 8
I’m a little behind on blogs after a busy two months of full-on travel but I’ve decided to utilise my ‘Rio-buzz’ to write this blog first and I will catch up on other destinations later!
After four months away from home I was lucky enough to find out that my parents and my grandparents had decided enough was enough and they were going to pack up and visit me. I was supposed to have made it to South America by this point, but was still floating around somewhere between Honduras and Nicaragua (whoops!) It seemed a logistical nightmare for them to come and visit me in Central so I hopped on a plane to meet them for a week in Rio. Notwithstanding that I was obviously excited for them to come and visit me I was just so ecstatic for my parents to have this well earned trip, and experience a taste of the adventurous life. I have watched both my parents work very hard and always provide a comfortable and safe lifestyle for my brother and myself, and in my 25 years on the planet they have only have one short overseas trip together. So to hear that they had been to the travel agent and booked flights to Chile, Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay I could not have been more ecstatic. Never mind that my absolutely amazing Grandparents who have both just reached the ripe old age of 80 decided to join in on the fun. Regardless of age, my Grandfather has the most adventurous spirit of anyone I know (sound familiar?!), and without really knowing what they had gotten themselves in to they had set off on a trip they never dreamed they would experience. After a long day of flying and with tears of excitement in my eyes I walked through the terminal to meet them all, the next morning I would wake up in Rio.
With the upcoming olympic and paralympic games Rio has been at the centre of a lot of media attention, unfortunately with a lot of it being negative. So during my time here I not only totally touristed out taking selfies with a giant state of J.C himself but did a lot of reading and investigation in to the real situation in Rio. I stayed in the safe area of Copacabana but I did find myself being somewhat more cautious than in other areas. We were advised by tour guides to remove all jewellery etc, heartbreaking given that I have a travel necklace I never take off. HOWEVER, the images portrayed in the media of gun-wielding rebels storming the streets in my experience simply wasn’t true. Yes, Rio has a high crime rate, however I did not once see a gun in the hands of anyone other than a police officer and I did not once see anyone with any other kind of weapon. Nor did I feel unsafe or that my experience was any different from any other big city at any time, and I visited the areas of Copacabana, Ipanema, Lapa, Santa Theresa, Downtown and one of the infamous favelas. More about my favela experience later, first I want to describe how flipping insanely beautiful Rio is.
Anyone who knows me well or has travelled with me will know that I am not a fan of cities in general. I have never lived near a major city and I don’t even venture to my home city of Melbourne very often. I just find them generally bland, uncomfortable, crowded and would much rather marvel at mother nature’s creations than mankind’s. However, Rio was such an exception to this for me, because I found myself walking around the city admiring all the nations and seeing how the Portuguese would have rocked up here and been like ‘hells yeah I want to build a city here.’ The way the city complements and is built in to the spectacular coastline, jaw-dropping cliffs and lush rainforest really is as they say, marvellous. The first day was spent cruising among the heavenly atmosphere along Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, which are exactly as you imagine, white sand, waves rolling in, people with leather-tanned skin playing beach volleyball, vendors selling sarongs, sunnies and fresh coconuts. We visited Christ the Redentor, which in my opinion well and truly deserves it’s ‘world wonder’ status partly because of it’s sheer size but also the spectacular views of the city it boasts. We rode the cable car up to the top of the sugarloaf, a famous mountain which is basically just a gigantic rock which had you wondering how in the heck they ever even got anything up there.
In the next few days we visited the Lapa and Santa Theresa areas to learn a little more about the city’s history. One of my favourite spots was the famous Selaron steps. The story behind them is just as fascinating as the steps themselves. A chilean artist, Jorge Selaron was so thankful to the people of Rio de Janeiro for welcoming him in to their community he decided to both express his gratitude and brighten up his rough neighbourhood by covering the steps outside his house with tiles in the colours of the brazillian flag. He became utterly obsessed with this work, soon 215 steps were completely covered and he began tiling the larger area, and drawing a crowd to his work. Soon people from all over the world were coming to see his art and he began asking them the favour of sending tiles from their home countries, as it exists today the whole steps and surrounding area are perfectly covered. The artist became so obsessed with the work and after being known for saying that this work would be the death of him he was mysteriously found dead at the base of the steps. In beautiful Santa Theresa we went on a food tour, actually I’m gonna just write a whole paragraph about the food because it damn well deserves it!
I didn’t have any pre conceptions of what the food would be like in Rio except for my Lonely Planet telling me that the portions were huge so to split one meal between two. This could not have been more accurate between five of us we could order three mains and have enough to fill up all our plates twice. The food was absolutely off its head delicious though. I’ve been experiencing somewhat of a food depression since Mexico, I’m having trouble coping with it not being socially acceptable to eat guacamole 3 meals per day. The food in Rio was exactly what my body was craving though. After four months of barely touching meat and certainly not red meat there were perfectly moist Portuguese-style chicken, thinly sliced and flavoursome roast beef or steaks. The most delicious lebanese food I think I have ever eaten, (and I used to live next door to a lebanese cafe so I know what’s up), and delectable salads and sides. On the food tour we were able to try some traditional food and drinks. Tapioca cooked in different styles, the famous Pao de Quiejo (a cheesy, eggy, delicious bread always served fresh and warm), frozen acai berry, and of course Caprihinhas. So needless to say my tummy was enjoying Rio just as much as I was. Now for some semi-serious stuff.
On one of our tours our guide asked us to describe the word that comes to mind when we hear the word ‘Favela’. The answers included ‘poor, unsafe, danger, slum, shanty.’ etc. 20% of the population of Rio lives in these areas and understanding them is extremely complex. Yes to an extent all of these answers can be true, the citizens of the favelas are living somewhat outside of the law/general society and some are certainly worse than others however some of them remain fully functioning communities. It is difficult to go in to the politics of improving the hygiene and safety of the Favelas because it is an extremely complex issue, so I can only write about my personal experience. Much of the media and many of the Carioca’s (citizens of Rio) are critical of hosting the olympic games and the funds this is detracting from improving the living conditions in the city. I had very mixed feelings about this, my heart breaks for these people to have to watch on as the money is used elsewhere, however in an effort to improve for the games overall infrastructure and public transport has greatly improved. From what I was told by other Cariocas people who are living in the Favelas either aren’t required to or simply don’t pay rent or taxes, creating a huge population and a huge amount of properties without much infrastructure. The favela myself and my Dad visited, Vidigal had a hairdressing studio, a soccer pitch, a supermarket and several other commodities, however on a hike we looked over another which was just thousands of houses on top of each other with no roads etc. Initially we rode motorbikes through Vidigal to do a hike that can only be accessed through this favela. On the way back down after the hike there were no bikes around and we also felt confident to walk the half an hour back down through the entire favela. I didn’t feel particularly any more unsafe than I have in any other poverty-stricken community throughout my travels. My boyfriend has been really great at teaching me that people are just people, everyone is just going about their every day business and living their life, which was a lesson I was able to pass on to my parents. I have also learnt the benefit of greeting a person, especially if a situation looks sketchy i.e a dark street and especially when you use that person’s local language. It breaks the tension and shows that you have has enough respect for that person to acknowledge their presence. The political situation in Brazil is extremely tense and extremely messy and with my very limited knowledge I felt fortunate to witness the best that Rio has to offer as well as visit one of the favelas to gain a better understanding and open my mind to the lives in these communities.
My experience in Rio was absolutely fantastic, especially getting to share it with my family. I am so looking forward to visiting again with my boyfriend and very much hoping to time it with the Paralympic games as one of my girlfriends from high school has been selected to compete and it’s certainly not every day that that happens while you’re travelling in the same continent. I am really hoping that the city can pull it together to host a truly spectacular Olympic Games and show the world how fabulous it is. So Ciao Ciao just for now to the marvellous city.