The marvelous city

Trip Start Sep 28, 2005
Trip End Jun 24, 2006

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Friday, February 24, 2006

2/24 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Miles travelled: 48483

We've arrived in Rio! After almost 7000 miles of driving the cone of South America, we have reached our final stop and said goodbye to the truck and camping for this trip. We're in a simple but decent hotel across the street from one of Rio's famous beaches. The "marvelous city" as it's called by its residents, home to over 9 million people packed between the mountains and ocean. The name means "river of January", originating from a mistake by Portugese explorer Gaspar de Lemos, who thought the bay was the mouth of a river when he landed here on January 1, 1502. The setting is spectacular, with built-up urban areas weaving in the valleys between large rock outcrops and mountains right on the coast. It's like taking Yosemite and putting it in the middle of San Francisco.

One of the best viewpoints is from Sugarloaf Mountain, reached by two-stage cable car, which stands over 1200 feet above the coastline. We also visited the famous Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue at the top of Corcovado mountain (2400 feet). This art deco statue is over 120 feet high and is the 2nd tallest statue in the world after, of course, the Statue of Liberty. Finished in 1931, it depicts Christ with his arms spread out, blessing the city below. From the statue, we can see over the entire city and see its many neighborhoods, mountains, and bays. It really is a "marvelous city" from this vantage point.

Not all is glitz and glamour, though, in Rio. Along with the image gained in the 50s and 60s as a destination for wealthy jet-setters, Rio has a full set of urban problems including crime and poverty. The "favelas" (slums) are pockets of poor communities set amidst the wealthy areas. We took a tour of one of the favelas by a company seeking to show visitors the reality of life in them, and in turn feed back some of the tourist revenue to the community. We expected to find a downtrodden, dangerous, and generally terrible area, but we were surprised to find a dynamic vitality there. Though not the best conditions, for the most part the houses had real walls and roofs, water, and electricity; there was a vibrant street market where anything you wanted you could find. Some family-owned stores are open 24 hours a day with the mother, father, and eldest son taking shifts. All in all, the conditions in these slums were similar to what we had seen in the mainstream areas of Africa and India. Certainly the conditions weren't down to the level of the slums in Nairobi or Addis Ababa. So, we were pleasantly surprised with what we saw.

We're in Carnival week, so preparations are beginning for the huge parties and activities coming over the weekend. There are street parties, people samba dancing in the subway, and of course lots of people getting completely drunk. Don't worry, we've still kept our inhibitions and common sense intact. The biggest event will be Monday night, at the Sambadrome, where the best samba schools will put on their parade lasting all night (literally).
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