Survival Guide for Rio de Janeiro

Trip Start Nov 09, 2009
Trip End Jun 09, 2010

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

We heard nothing but bad things about how dangerous Rio was before we got there, needless to say we were more than a little apprehensive as we were pushed off the bus...luckily 2 posh English girls we´d met in Buenos Aires were also on the bus and thankfully one of them spoke Spanish so could just about understand the Portugese so we stuck to them like s**t to a shoe!  Got a taxi with them and dropped them off at their hostel first then the taxi carried on to take us to Ipanema.  The taxi man insisted on making me repeat phrases to him in Portugese starting with place names then progressing to sentences...who knows what perverted phrases he was getting me to say so I ceased partaking after a while! 

1) Select good, safe accommodation when staying in Rio...check

We arrived at what can only be described as the scummiest squat in the land which was to be our home for the next TEN nights, we were hearded through the gates and shown to our ¨room¨.  It was a 9 bed dorm with at least 17 people´s stuff in it.  The hostel has long termers staying there so they´d been booted out of their room for Carnival but left all their cr*p in there which meant there was no floor space or lockers for our cr*p.  There wasn´t even a pillow on the bed and we were being hounded for the money immediately.  The window frames didn´t have any glass in them so they opened out onto the walkway outside.  There was one lightbulb for the entire room which was painted dark blue (the room not the lighbulb!), presumably the gloom was to prevent you passing out if you saw the horror in full light.  There were 3 desk fans strapped upside down to the metal beams on the ceiling wired straight into the electrics as there were no power points.  The bed I slept in was beneath the metal walkway for the floor above so it sounded like a bomb going off every time people walked on it.  The bathroom upstairs was leaking onto the floor beside my bed (I am being optimistic and saying it was the shower not the toilet), as it was leaking onto the metal walkway and had clearly been doing so for a long time I woke up every morning covered in a layer of rust.  We´d booked an all-girls dorm however there was a constant stream of boys in and out as they had their stuff in our room and if anyone spotted an empty bed they were in it like a shot.  Quite often we´d go to sleep seeing one person in the bed and wake up and it would be someone different in there.  The hostel sleeps 40 people but they had 100 people staying so there were airbeds covering the lounge floor, mattresses in the hallway, hammocks slung up everywhere, a tent put up and people just sleeping on the concrete.  Hence the reason any empty bed (normally just when the person had popped out for a couple of hours) was occupied within seconds by the bedless. 

We were trying to save our pennies seeing as our hovel was costing us $50 US dollars a night so we were making our own dinner instead of going out.  I was clearing space in the kitchen to put our bags down and discovered a large colony of maggots living there - at least they had a bed.  I ate off the plates covered in a carrier bag and used my own spork as I couldn´t stand the thought of what was growing on the plate!  We hacked it for 3 evenings then decided to save our sanity (and health) and ate out every night after that.

The bathroom consisted of 2 toilets, neither of which had doors that shut let alone locked.  One of the toilets wasn´t attached to the floor properly so it rocked when you sat on it and had a constant leak which meant when you peed the bucket overflowed around your feet....lovely!

The only good thing about that dive was the location and that you got a free chair and umbrella on Ipanema beach so we were able to hide away there every day.  At one end of the street was Copacabana beach and at the other was Ipanema beach.  Oh and Madonna and Beyonce were staying at the hotel at the end of our road, she asked if we wanted to come and stay with her but her room was no better than ours so we politely declined.

2) Carry only the minimal cash around with you and no valuables...check

Due to the horror stories we´d heard of people getting mugged and robbed we had money stashed in every orifice whenever we left the hostel.  I had money inside my bra / bikini top (I need all the padding I can get) worked fine until I went into the sea with it still stuffed down there.  I´d cut a small hole in one of my head bands and slipped a note (of the money variety not a love letter) in there as our ´to get home after we´ve been robbed fund´, this worked find until I put it in for laundry.  When on the beach we carried our stuff in a carrier bag so I put my notes inside my book rather than taking a purse, this was successful until I put the sodding book in the book exchange.  My final trick was to sacrifice some underwear and cut the knicker elastic off which I then safety pinned a purse to so I could have it shoved down my shorts...again this was a successful method until I sat down, one of the safety pins pinged opened and punctured my womb!!!  In the end we decided it was probably better just to keep the money in our pocket seeing as we seemed to be losing more ourselves!  Having had my phone stolen in Bolivia and my camera nicked in Argentina I thought I was relatively safe in Rio seeing as I had no more valuables to steal other than my cash.  That was until we were watching the sunset on the beach and some sod ran off with my flip flops.  Luckily the wife was forgetting the ´let them have what they want´rule and ran after him and grabbed them back for me, I was completely unaware what was happening, too busy tucking in to my frozen yoghurt so was a little perplexed as to why she´d run off so quickly and strolled back with my flip flops in her hand!

3) Do not appear to be a tourist, walk confidently and do not consult a map in public...check

We did the city tour as soon as we got to Rio, because obviously only locals do that and we blended in perfectly in our large group of predominantly sunburnt camera yielding tourists.  We did a whistle stop tour of the top sights, went up to see Christ de Redeemer and had to wait for ages...Beyonce was up there so they were stopping people from going up, got the picture of the statue but missed the Goddess!  Went to watch the sunset from Sugar Loaf was flipping cloudy though so saw nothing!  Did a Favella Tour which was so interesting.  Felt weird wandering around people´s neighbourhood taking photos of their daily life.  It was incredible to see how they have built it though.  Apparently in Rio if you build something and live in it for 5 years then it is officially yours, no planning permission required.  We visited an education centre that is funded by the people who ran the tour.  The government invest 19 times more money into Universities than they do into primary education so only the privately educated generally make it into the state-run Universities so these education centres are vital for people in the favellas who have little chance of affording private education.  Before we came we were told to never go into a favella and to avoid going near them so we were a little nervous about going on the tour.  Our guide told us tha we were actually safer in the favellas than anywhere else because every favella is run by drug dealers.  They have forbidden anyone to rob or harm tourists in the favellas as it would attract the attention of the police which they obviously want to avoid so they can continue their dodgy dealings in peace!  During the Carnival we went to the Sambadrome to watch the parade which was fantastic, the only downside was that there were only porter loos available which obviously didn´t have any toilet paper.  To solve the problem and to prevent us being tempted to consult our map in public we ripped up the map and used it as toilet paper! 

All in all Rio certainly was an experience, not sure I´d be in a hurry to return but we had fun and met some great people...

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