Two weeks in Rio
Trip Start Mar 16, 2008
1Trip End Mar 29, 2008
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Norris and I allowed ourselves to live the good life in Rio. We stayed in a beautiful hotel on a point between Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches (called Arpoador), so we could walk to either beach depending on our mood.
We took a couple trips by boat to get deeper into the water. We did a full-day boat cruise around tropical islands in the Green Coast outside of Rio.
Besides hanging out on beaches and in the water, we kept our days busy with trips to Rio's high points.
Rio is full of opportunities for visitors to enjoy both sea-level beaches and high peaks with never-ending views of the city and its tropical surroundings. We didn't get to jump off all of them and float back down, but the views and the various ways we got up the peaks were thrilling nonetheless.
We took a cable car up the smaller but just as picturesque Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf) Mountain, named by Portuguese explorers for its resemblance to a loaf of bread.
The last huge hill we climbed (literally this time) was perhaps the most educational experience of the trip. We took a guided trip through Rocinha (or "Little Garden"), the largest favela in Rio, with over 300,000 inhabitants. Favelas are commonly known as "slums" to people who have never visited them. They are informal, seemingly temporary settlements on the hillsides of Rio, not far from the metropolitan areas where many favela residents work. The term "favela" comes from a plant, a small shrub that grows all over hillsides. This is an apt metaphor for the settlements of the same name because houses, some of which look like shacks, spring up all over the hills as people move from rural areas into Rio in search of economic opportunities. From the inside, favelas are a maze of small tunnel-like alleys, wires, stairs, open sewers, and even trees and favela plants themselves.
Outside of the favelas, particularly in touristy areas like Ipanema and Copacabana, Rio can appear to be a playground for the rich. There are lots of fancy hotels and restaurants, and all of the luxuries are available to those who can afford them (Brazilians and foreigners alike).
Norris and I ate well and enjoyed ourselves, but we also discovered ways to live more like locals and get the most for out reais (hey-ase, the name of the Brazilian currency). We indulged in the all-you-can-eat-meat rodizios, but we also tried new foods cheaply at the pay-by-kilo restaurants and the corner juice bars.
We partied all night at the hippest club called The Week, and we also hung out at beach-side kiosks sipping caipirinhas (the Brazilian national drink) with the locals.
We couldn't control ourselves, however, at the numerous souvenir and craft markets, where we found lots of great gifts to bring home.
The hardest part about trying to integrate into Brazilian culture, espeically in only two weeks, was the language barrier. While we both learned a lot of Portuguese, and while many Brazilians do speak English, we encountered many people who came up to us speaking rapidly in Portuguese, not even stopping when we told them we don't understand them. This amusing and delightful scenario reoccurred for two reasons: first, anyone can look Brazilian, and we certainly fit the part after we got some sun; and second, Brazilians are open, lively, talkative people, and they are very easy to meet and chat with, whether you speak the same language or not. Cariocas are such nice people, and most of the them proved to be trustworthy and considerate. We never once felt in danger in Brazil; to the contrary, I always felt like people were looking after me, even we were just asking for directions in broken Portuguese.
Rio and Brazil in general is the first truly multi-racial society I have ever encountered where all shades of black and white live side-by-side and seem to celebrate their similarities rather than their differences. After all, they are all Brazilian: they love soccer, eat rice and beans daily, and they all appreciate the emergence of their country as a developed nation.
In short, Rio is a wonderful city with beautiful, happy, and proud people. They have a lot to be proud of, since their city is a both modern and colonial gem in the middle of some of the most amazing scenery in the world. It was hard for both of us to leave after two weeks, even though we were ready to get back to our lives and our responsibilities in Seattle. Rio is the kind of place that you cannot visit just once, and I'm sure we will be going back someday. Until then, Tchau, and Obrigado!
(By the way, there are more photos in the photo gallery of this blog. Please check them out.)
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