At the Copa... Copacabana

Trip Start Feb 22, 2007
Trip End Aug 22, 2007

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Saturday, June 23, 2007



My earliest memory of this word was when my cousin Sue had her first date at a bar in Sault Ste. Marie called "The Copacabana".  In typical Brunetti tradition, my family sang this song - cleverly altered by my Aunt Vicki - to humiliate Sue.

"At the Copa... Copacabana.  Susie and Darren at the Copa... Copacabana."  Repeat while dancing, until Sue gets mad.

Ok, fast forward to the present.  What´s better than celebrating your birthday on the Copacabana Beach in Rio?  How 'bout nothing.

Except as Steve keeps telling me, I am getting close to 30.  Look on the bright side... we still have two months left before we return to Canada and exciting stops like Venezuela and Colombia.  I will have some form of job when I return.  And I have a mature boyfriend with his head on his shoulders and his priorities in order.  Yeah right.

Speaking of his maturity, I´m surprised we didn´t receive more viewer mail about the picture of Steve´s bare butt on his photo edition.  I guess it´s an unremarkable butt.

I was concerned in my last entry that this photo would exclude us from Travelpod fame.  However, I just received this email yesterday (for real):

"Congratulations! Your travelogue has been selected to be featured and has been added to our queue. Please keep in mind that we typically have several months worth of travelogues queued to be featured but you will be notified when your travelogue is featured on our main page."

Finally, we´ve put those journalism degrees to good use.

Ok, let´s keep this one short, for once.  I´ll just talk about the soccer game, my birthday and our "favela tour."


No trip to Rio is complete with a trip to Maracană, the world´s largest soccer stadium.  The Lonely Planet and other guidebooks endorse such a trip, but suggest going in a group and/or bringing absolutely no valuables with you.  We decided to go to the game after visiting a local fair in the same area, so I chanced it by taking my camera.  In non-typical fashion, we arrived at the stadium hours early to get tickets. 

Good thing I took those Spanish lessons in Buenos Aires, it´s really doing a lot of good here in Brazil.  To me, Portuguese sounds like Russian or some other kind of gibberish.  From what we could gather from the hundreds of local police at the stadium, none of whom spoke english, there is nothing around the stadium except favelas (poor neighbourhoods).  So we killed time drinking beer in the parking lot, surrounded by the local police who were there to provide security for the game.

The game was worth the wait.  It was Botafogo, one of Rio´s largest clubs, vs. Nautica, a small club likely about to get creamed.  Still, Botafogo´s fans turned out in droves.  You would have thought it was a Finals match, especially given the large number of firecrackers.

The biggest excitement of the game was Nautica´s only goal, one of the biggest flukes that I´ve ever seen.  For your viewing pleasure, I found the play on Youtube....

This goal stunned the Botafogo fans for a few seconds, then fired them up further.  The result was two more Botafogo goals in quick succession, ending in a score of 3-1.  (See, I could write sports highlights too)

Using the camera that I wasn´t supposed to have, I made a video of the fans when Botafogo scored Goal #2.  We were in the "calm" section of the crowd and were not robbed.  It was a good experience to see the Brazilian excitement and obsession with futbol with our own eyes.  


It has already been discussed in this blog that Steve is quite the penny-pincher.  This birthday, after indulging me with another morning at the beach, he sprung for an expensive experience for my birthday... a helicopter ride over Rio.

(Sidenote: I´m sure this had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he himself has always wanted to ride in a helicopter and was excited to cross it off his list of adventurous things to do in his life)

Regardless of his motivation, the ride was breathtaking.  We went just before sunset, and the highlight was circling the Christ the Redeemer statue.  The ride lasted 13 minutes but it felt like only 5 minutes.  Riding in a helicopter was very smooth, very loud and very fun.

I think it´s funny that we´re both ducking in the photo in front of the helicopter.  The noise was so loud that we thought our heads might get cut off, when in reality, you can´t even see the propellers in the photo. 

We enjoyed sushi for dinner, then went to Lapa for some samba in the evening.  It was a great birthday, and as Steve will likely point out, one of the most expensive days ever.  


When I heard about people taking "favela tours" (i.e. a guided tour through the poorest neighbourhoods of Rio), I couldn´t decide if I thought it sounded interesting or voyeuristic.  I mean, if I was poor, would I want busloads of rich tourists riding around my neighbourhood gawking and taking pictures of my life?

In the end, my interest outweighed my misgivings, mainly because of a recommendation from our hotel to go with a specific company that gives the social context of the situation.  Also, because I really liked the movie "City of God" and wanted to see if it was an accurate portrayal of life in the favelas.  (If you haven´t seen this movie, go out and rent it. )

Our guide Christina told us that this movie was an accurate reflection of favelas, where druglords make the rules and people follow them.  Almost 20% of Rio´s population lives in a favela.  We went first to Rocinha, the biggest of Rio´s 750 favelas, and were told not to take pictures out of the window, just in case we accidentally took a picture of one of the "soldiers", the young look-out boys.  They were easy to pick out because while the streets were full of busy people, they were the only ones standing still.  An average worker on minimum wage in Rio makes R$350 a month (about US$175)... these boys made $R800 a month.  

We saw the favela from above, a crowded mix of buildings covering a sloping hill with houses built upon other houses built upon other houses.  Our guide explained that the favela is also full of working class people, not just druglords.  The people don´t pay taxes or pay for electricity (take a look at a typical electrical box on the street) and live in close proximity to the places they work, such as the main beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.  The close proximity of the favelas and the fancy beaches is one of the big contradictions of the city, which has the biggest disparity between rich and poor in the world.  

We were told that it is forbidden for the people of the favela to steal from tourists, since it attracts police attention.  While I felt safe walking on the streets during the day - Rocinha really felt like a small city within a city - I´m not sure that I would test this theory at night.   

We also went to a smaller favela, Vila Canoas.  Here, an Italian family sponsors a small school for about 100 kids.  In Brazil, public school only lasts for half of the day, so for the other half, many poor families send their children to beg for money on the streets.  Or, they become mixed up with the drug culture.  The top private school costs R$4000 per month, impossible for those who make R$350 per month.  This school, supported by the Favela Tour, occupies the kids for the other half of the day with classes, activities, snacks, a new computer room and even some scholarships.  There were lots of smiles here. 

The kids also sold crafts they made.  Natalie, these kids have mastered the magazine products!  (No purses like yours, though).  Steve was touched by the experience, so he reached into his heart and his wallet to buy a pack of homemade cookies.  

¨I just wanted to make a difference,¨ he said, as he quickly crammed them into his mouth. I´m surprised he didn´t ask if they sold any milk.

We took a walk into the favela, a maze of tight spaces where you could definitely get lost.  We got a glimpse into some homes, many of which looked cozy with televisions, couches and pictures on the wall. 

All in all, it was a very rewarding experience, especially interacting with the kids at the school.  If you´ve stumbled upon this blog and are thinking of taking a favela tour, I would strongly recommend this Marcelo Armstrong´s company. If you want to learn more about the non-profit that runs the school, their website is below


According to local news reports, the City of Rio has created a program in which city residents can rent rooms in their homes to tourists for the upcoming Pan American games, set to start in Rio in July.  Mostly in response to the high costs of hotels in the main tourists areas, it will be available in different areas of the city... including the Vila Conoas favela that we visited.  That would be an interesting story, following the tourist through their experience in a favela!

While in Salvador, we saw some amazing demonstrations of Capoeira, a form of fighting/dance that originiated in northeastern Brazil.  I did not actually take part in this, just the photo op.  I did film two videos for you, to get an idea of what this dance looks like.  It looks even more amazing in person.


Tease for Steve´s upcoming entry:  he´ll talk about the "eye candy" on Rio´s beach, his experience hang-gliding off a cliff and Brazilian waxes. 

We´re now in Maceio, Brazil.  We´re staying with Leaf Rapids´ other exchange student from 10 years ago, Victor.  Both our dreams have been realized.  Me - over 100 beaches.  Steve - cheap shrimp and crab.  Will we ever leave??   We´ll have another entry soon.

Happy Canada Day!

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