´Janeiro What You Did Last Summer´

Trip Start May 05, 2011
Trip End Sep 08, 2011

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Where I stayed
Ipenema Beach House, Ipenema, Rio

Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Saturday, May 7, 2011

Question: what is the best way to celebrate surviving a flight to Rio during a week of global terror hysteria?

Answer: jump off a cliff.

You think I´m joking. Little do you know...

After a rather entertaining flight (surrounded by a crazy Brazilian family, but with a whole row of seats to myself), I pitched up into Ipenema, Rio, at around 11pm Thursday night. Walking to my hostel, I was rather unnerved by the disturbing reality of my surroundings. Indeed, there were no drug dealers around my hostel at all! Not even a friendly drug mule. Somehow, I ended up in the nice, safe(ish) part of Rio. My pulse was slowing to a gentle beat. This had to be remedied.

And so, when I woke up on Friday morning, I knew immediately what I had to do. I had to jump off a sheer cliff overlooking the city. Fortunately, I just happend to be strapped in to a tandem hang-glider. Even more fortunately, it just happened to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

I was of course slightly apprehensive about the prospect of jumping off said cliff - even strapped into a metal frame with a piece of platic sheeting to support me. This impression was compounded at the top of the cliff, where I saw other gliders taking off. The run-up to the glide is perhaps the closest that the human being can come to the triumphant flight/fall of the lemming. Genuinely, I was terrified to discover that: 1) We had to run off the cliff. Yes, RUN. 2) The cliff was actually a mountain over Rio (the view was beautiful, but potentially deadly). 3) The run -up was not flat, but instead was downhill. 4) If you stop running, or trip, or jump at the edge (the natural human instinct) you could trip the instructor and fall hundreds of metres to the jungle below. 5) When you run off the cliff, the glider falls a metre or so before it glides :O

I think that it´s safe to say that a sane person would not have done it.

So I was really excited about doing it, and it did not disappoint! Bizarrely, I was not really terrified by the prospect. But as we stood on the ramp, waiting 4 agnoising minutes for the wind to change, looking down over the cliff, I began to have reservations. By that time, it was too late! And a minute later, after running off a cliff, I was soaring over Rio - looking down on the skyscrapers and the slums, and peering over at Cristo Redentor on another mountainside. Oh, and I landed on the beach. Best start to a gap year. EVER.

The rest of the day was perfectly idyllic. Along with Anders (a Norwegian, and the only other tourist foolhardy enough to jump off cliffs for fun) I devoured a delicious lunch, and then headed out to Ipenema beach. The sand there is so fine that it feels like crushed gloden caster sugar beneath your feet. The surf was incredible, and though I only waded in, the waves knocked me under half a dozen times. And as I lay in the sun, perfect temperature (warm sea, and 25 celcius at 4pm) I knew that I had made the right choice for my first destination.

But the day wasn´t over yet. I joined some lovely Irish girls in the hostel for an all you can eat Brazilian barbeque (all you can eat - a concept which we took rather too seriously). And then I felt the urge to complete my day with the perfect night out. And so with another group of Norwegian guys (just out of school, on a world tour), I hit the town at around midnight. Lapa is an odd place - dirty, swarming with people, a massive street party every weekend with vendours selling beer on the streets and a number of bars and clubs. But we had a wonderful time, failing to converse with a load of very friendly locals, dancing in a converted colonial mansion, and escaping the heat to the cool breeze of the balcony. I got back at around 5pm. Despite only having 4 hours or so sleep, I have been buzzing all day since.

Today´s been pretty great as well. After breakfast, a number of us from the hostel went on a tour of Rio´s biggest favella (urban slum, run by drug lords and riddled with crime and poverty - if you´ve seen the film ´City of God´, you´ll know what I mean). It was one of the best things I´ve ever done in a city - Ipenema is pretty affluent, and so it was important to me to see the poorer side of Rio. The povery was pretty desperate (the only place that I´ve ever seen that is worse off is the really poor area of Hanoi in Vietnam). The people are freakishly self-sufficient - even if they do steal broadband, and the place is run by a 24 year-old ´owner´ (24?! wait to make me feel like I have achieved nothing!) Hopefully, education projects and community art projects - amongst other things - will mark a brighter future for some of the kids that we saw. But it was so fascinating that I would recommend for anyone (no matter how freaked out by the prospect of guns and open drains) to go.

On my return, I stolled along Ipenema beach at sunset, taking in the sight of the locals (resplendent in thongs and budgie-smugglers). And after a fun dinner in town, an early night beckons. But with one more day in Rio (and Ihla Grande after that) I refuse to feel anything but ellated. Something incredible has begun...
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