And on to the impressive Rio de Janeiro...

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Saturday, June 4, 2011

The journey to Rio and our hostel is pretty painless although we're still getting used to Brazilian buses. They don’t serve food but stop around mealtimes so you can get something to eat – it does mean that we’re woken for breakfast at 6am but can’t complain too much.

We stay in Lemon Spirit Hostel which is one block from Leblon beach – a nice, up market residential area which does make everything expensive but also a good bit safer.  The hostel seems busy and has a bar and outdoor patio so should be better for our social life.  We even manage to grab some cheese and ham toasties for breakfast.  In an effort to save a bit of money in Rio we booked a nine bed dorm – the biggest yet.  We didn’t realise that involved getting in and out of the top bunk of a three tier bunk bed, which proves very entertaining, especially in the dark!  We head out for a walk along the beaches to get a bit orientated and are immediately hit by the buzz of the city.  There are lots of people out on the promenade exercising/posing, lots of sports going on at the beach and the view is amazing.  The green forests on the mountains meet the beaches to give a spectacular setting for a city.

Determined for a Saturday night out, there is time for a power nap before heading to the hostel bar to find out what’s happening.  Apparently we missed a big night out the night before but a few people are still heading out to Lapa which is in the city centre and meant to be the place to be on a Saturday night.  So we head out with a couple of Danish guys – Andes and Juan, who are very helpful in getting us acquainted to life in Rio – where to go, where to avoid etc.. We get a drink at the many street stalls as both Friday and Saturday night are street carnival nights in Lapa and so there is all sorts of sights on show along with big glasses of caprihinas for only 1.50.  We soak up the atmosphere and head to a samba club called Rio Scenarium.  It’s expensive to get in (we’re learning that’s just Rio) but I’m pretty keen to see some samba and it’s the boys last night so we head in.  Inside the decor is really funky with old radios, televisions and telephones stuck to the wall.  More importantly the drinks are reasonable for a club!  We head to watch the dance floor where all ages are up dancing to a live samba band and the atmosphere so we have a go at pretending we know what we’re doing.  By 2am everyone is heading upstairs to the normal club part where people are partying a bit harder but it’s still a good atmosphere.  By 4am we’re done and after paying our tab – that’s how all the clubs operate here which I feel could be dangerous, we head back to the hostel.     

On Sunday a hippie market is on in the area we are staying, Ipanema, which gives us the perfect excuse to have a lazy morning wandering around the area looking at market stalls.  I think the market is probably now more touristy than hippie but we do manage to get ourselves to a couple treats – a new T-shirt for Jonny (look out for the neon sunglasses design) and a bracelet for me (I’m starting on the travelling jewellery).  We then take a walk to Copacabana which seems to be the main activity for walkers on a Sunday.  The Copacabana beach is a bit more sheltered than the beaches that are close to us and it’s easy to see why it’s so famous.   Big hotels along a big wide bay and a view of the sugar loaf mountain make it unique – and even in low season people are happy hanging about on the beach watching the body boarders.  We head back to the hostel as the sun goes down and opt for a quiet night as Monday is going to be our big tourist day.

 First stop is the Christ Redeemer statue.  We get the train to the top and then climbed the last few steps to a breathtaking 360 degree view over the city while the Christ statue towers over you.  We can see all the main areas of Rio and lets us appreciate how the city fits together as well as take in the view.  We now understand why the taxi across town can take 30 minutes on empty roads!

Next we bus across town to the Sugarloaf mountain (Pao de Azucar), and to get to the top we need to take two cable cars.  I wasn’t so sure about the cable cars from first impressions but up close they look pretty substantial so up we go in to the first stop in a few minutes.  From here you can look out to sea and along the coast but also back to the city with the Christ statue in the background which just encompasses everything of Rio.  Then onto another cable car to the highest point and my favourite view of the city – as you can see everything from beaches to favelas.  There is also the helicopter tour pad but we figured that it probably wasn’t in the backpacking budget!  We stay there until the sun starts to set and then head back to the hostel, quite a British/Irish crowd have collected in the hostel so there is always plenty going on.

The next day we join a favela tour organised by a company as it seems to be the only way to see the favelas and learn a bit more about them (  The favelas are the shanty town areas of Rio where gangs run them, rather than the police.  The police don’t go there and if a resident of a favela needs something like medicine, the gang sorts it out for them. When the minibus picks us up we say hello to three Australians that must be doing the same circuit as us, we saw them a couple times yesterday as well.  The guide then explains a bit about Rio and the favelas – he’s very positive about the future of both as the government seem to be investing alot of money to improve Rio.  He comes across a bit like the tourist board for the favelas so we’re taking everything he says with a pinch of salt – for example there is no crime in the favela as the punishment system is a shot to the foot, leg, arm or dead depending on the crime.  We had a few questions on that but we didn’t get the opportunity to get into that detail.  Our first stop is just into the favela called  Rochina -  the largest in the city.  We can see the favela has started as they have to dump their rubbish on the road to be collected.  We stop at a view point over city where some local artwork is for sale.  The one piece of advice our guide gives us is not to take photos of anyone in the favela as then the gangs get suspicious that there might be police in the tour group.  Slightly nervous, there is a slight delay in getting out the minivan when our guide opens the door as the first person seemed a bit hesitant.  Once we’re out, the view is impressive especially as you can see the very expensive houses and 3000 a month private school right next to the favela.  As we look at the art, two local teenagers walk past, my guess is around 17 years old.  One of them is wearing board shots attached to which are two grenades and a handgun, he is also holding a radio.  This an example of the guys that patrol the area which raises all kind of questions and we’re even more doubtful of how well the system actually works. 

We get back into the van and continue through the main road of the favela that is serviced by government buses and rubbish collectors and so we never truly enter the favela.  I think we are both surprised by the fact that it’s quite a commercial street - shops everywhere including nail salons and everyone is well dressed.  We didn’t see the level of poverty that we were expecting – not to say it doesn’t exist as we were taken to the most developed favela as that is also the safest

Next stop is a viewpoint overlooking the favela where the guide points out that the most expensive houses are closest to the road and as the houses continue up the hill they get cheaper apart from the gang leaders houses as they like to be at the top to oversee the area. The guide points out how the government have built a new hospital, sports ground and apartment buildings to develop the favela.  The guide tells us that the police are planning on invading this favela next so that it will be police run but are currently in negotiations with the gangs – whatever this means, we assume there will be some sort of agreement in relation to the drug trade which is how these gangs make their money.  I did ask if the people would prefer to be under gang or police rule (if there is no crime why would you want to be under police rule – the police haven’t managed that anywhere in the world!)  The guide tells us that generally they would prefer police rule which I think says alot about the system.  It is positive to see that the government are trying different methods of tackling the problem with favelas, whereas other governments have ignored the problem.  Finally we are taken to a favela that has been converted to a state run area and visit a community school which our tour company donates to.  At this point we see a police car and policemen loading a lot of kit into the back of their car.  It seems a bit odd so we ask the guide.  He guesses that they have been keeping an eye on the many forests in the mountains around Rio as these forests are a perfect way for gangs to move about unseen.  Another glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes in Rio.   It seems like a pleasant area, with music playing wherever you go and people were friendly.  We have a very good caprihina from a local bar and watch the world go by.  The bus back is a bit hazy for me as we were made to drink the end of our drinks quite quickly and the local rum is quite strong! We both agreed that it was definitely worth doing but we may have come away with more questions as our guide was determined to keep the dark side of the favela a mystery to us.

Our last night in Rio is spent in the hostel bar chatting to people and then we head to the backpackers night out in a club called Melt.  You pay to get in but then it’s free caprihinas from 10pm to 12pm.  As it’s quite expensive to get in we try to get our value for money from the caprihinas but they’re pretty strong, to the point that they’re not very nice and so difficult to drink.  The club starts off with the samba and then we head upstairs to the club part.  A good night out with the hostel guys but it was a bit of a gringo night and when we come to pay, we discover the beers are about 3.50 each and we got charged service for being served at the bar, Jonny was not happy but as we have learnt this is just one of the tricks of Rio clubs!

The next day we’re on a bus south to Parati, a colonial town on the coast.

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dmillar1952 on

The flavela sounds bit like some areas I could mention!!!!

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