The Drug Wars of Rio de Janeiro

Trip Start Aug 12, 2010
Trip End Sep 23, 2011

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

 Hi all,

Being in Brazil, has meant that Rio de Janeiro is a must see and we have been looking forward to for a while….just to see what all the fuss is about to be honest. At the time we thought it was just another city but Rio is the most visited city in the southern hemisphere and we now understand why. Rio’s landscape is beautiful. Despite being overcrowded, filled with skyscrapers and favelas (shanty towns that consume the mountainside), the city is surrounded by forest-covered mountains, deep blue sea and gorgeous beaches that I have never seen in a city that is so urbanised. Rio is known for its carnivals and samba and already we plan to return another time for the annual pre-Easter celebration or New Year where 2.5 million people gather at Copacabana Beach to celebrate all night at the hundreds of different shows and events along the beach.

Unfortunately during our 3 day visit we could not go to the two biggest landmarks in Rio: the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado mountain (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World) and Sugarloaf Mountain (Po de Acar). Due to the weather being overcast we would not be able to see the (apparently) amazing views of the city so it was not worth going up the cable cars. But from the powers of Google we have been able to supply you with pictures so you can see what we are talking about. Despite not being to see the giant statue during the day; at night when the sky is clear Christ the Redeemer lights up and you can see it from anywhere in the city. It is beautiful….and maybe just a little creepy having a giant statue of Jesus leering from high above.

Regardless of the weather being overcast, the temperatures (unlike home) were a steady 26 degrees so we were able to spend the time on the beaches. By far our favourite was Ipanema beach, but Copacabana and Leblon were equally as nice. The beaches are very clean and full of open-air cafes, bars and restaurants along tree-lined streets. If anyone plans a visit to Rio, the area of Ipanema and Leblon is where we recommend as it has the best restaurants, shops and hotels as it is home to the wealthier residents of Rio. But we stayed in the area of Botafogo which lacks the indulgence of Ipanema but is still quaint and traditional. The beaches of Rio are actually one long strip of beach in reality but we found out that the postos (posts) along them subdivide the beach it areas. For example, Poste 9 is Garota de Ipanema which is where the tanned and beautiful tend to sunbathe; where they really do like to parade their bodies wearing very, very little (we now know why a Brazilian wax was invented). It is also where the men especially like to stop (and pose) to do weights on the makeshift gym equipment that is scattered along the entire strip of beach. Whereas the beach in front of Bolsa de Valores is the gay section, while Poste 8 is the domain of the favela kids.

Our walking tour of the city took us past the historic buildings of Rio including the Teatro Municipal and the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes and the church, Convento Santa Antonio. We also made our way to Praca Floriano, a plaza with an open-air music market and in Centro we went to the famous Saara, a giant street bazaar crammed with stores and market stalls. We originally planned a guided tour of the favelas (not recommended on your own).

Unfortunately, at the time of our visit a tinsy riot broke out on our second day where the police and army had to deploy armoured vehicles and 17, 500 police into Vila Cruzeiro, in the north of the city. The violent outbreak was all over the Brazilian media for the next few days as the ‘clashes’ killed at least 30 people. In response to the police operation, gangs set up barricades, burnt vehicles and opened fire around the city. However, all was safe in the neighbourhood of Botafogo…..thank god!! There are an estimated one million favela residents where the communties lack basics such as sewers, roads, electricity and running water so drug trafficking and crime are very high. This again was disappointing as we were advised not to go out at night and not to go to the famous Lapa Street Party which runs every Friday. After all, the bandits had threatened to kill 2 tourists or policemen for every gang member killed, yikes!!! (p.s. thank you to the BBC for your photos et al.). Overall, Rio is a great city but the escalating violence casts doubt on Rio’s ability to host the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

Lots of Love,

Hollie and Thomas x x x
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