December 10-13, 2015
After an uneventful flight into Rio I tried to take out money at an ATM in the airport but had no luck. I guess I hadn’t notified my bank that I would be traveling to Brazil as well. Now I would have to find a cab that accepted credit card. After a quick pass through customs, we were bombarded by eager cab drivers. We settled on a metered cab- a cheaper option that the dozens of prepaid taxi booths lining the airport exit. The driver was very nice and used google translate to communicate with us. Portuguese is so different than Spanish. Though some Portuguese words look similar to spanish words, when spoken Portuguese sounds so foreign. The ride took around 40 minutes and ended at the top of a winding, narrow cobblestone street, which was surprisingly lively for 3am on a Wednesday. I tried to pay with my credit card, but my card doesn’t have a chip so it was incompatible with the driver’s system. He spent 20 minutes trying to get it to work as the car became increasingly hot and humid. Finally we agreed that I would pay with US dollars- $25 USD, $5 more than the meter.
Out of the cab, with our packs strapped to our backs we walked up endless steps through an alley that smelled of urine and feces. We arrived at the hostel's office and were greeted by a man who spoke no English. I was able to communicate with him via his niece who he had called on the phone to act as a translator. We then left the office, walked back down the stairs and further down the street, up another steep set of stairs until we reached our rented apartment (the hotels other property). Sylvie went right to sleep, sleeping through several noisy roosters crowing, but I stayed up till 5 or so.
The following morning, we slept in and missed our complimentary breakfast. We got dressed for the day and left by 11:30. We walked along Av. Atlantico, a busy beachfront street in Copacabana. The forecast had called for thunderstorms but fortunately the weather stayed dry for us.
I called Ally bank in the morning to inform them of my travel status...again. All was good when I was able to successfully take out money from an ATM. For those that enjoy getting worked up and worried about things you can google "Rio de Janeiro Airport ATM Scam".
The smell of sewage was strong on many streets throughout much of the city. We also noticed a much larger black community here than in any other country so far in Latin America. There seems to be more diversity here in Brazil, or at least in Rio. Rio almost feels a bit Caribbean to us with it's tropical climate, the sound of the language, and the bohemian vibe of the city.
The beach in Copacabana was not the most scenic beach, but it was bustling with people. Some beaches in Cocpacabana are better than others for swimming, not all the beaches have ocean access- it depends on the day and level of pollution. All the girls wear bikinis- regardless of age, size, or body type. They show a refreshing confidence and bare their bottoms in tiny bathing suits. The men and women alike take advantage of many exercise areas along the beach, with obstacle courses or bars for push ups and different workouts. Many people run and bike along the beachfront road on a designated biking path.
We walked along the entire length of the beach until we got to Morro do Leme, a small mountain at the northern edge of the beach. We then continued walking toward Sugarloaf Mountain- which is popular for its panoramic views of the city and coast. We took a pit stop along the way at Rio Sul shopping mall for a breather in some air conditioning. 15 minutes and two McDonalds ice cream cones later we were walking again. We arrived at Sugarloaf Mountain, but were really disappointed to learn that taking the cable car up to the top cost $40 per person. Our plan had been to take the cable cars up, but frustrated by the cost, we decided against it. We were so incredibly tired from walking...the humidity has a way of zapping your energy. We opted to take a bus back to our hotel.
We took a short siesta, recharged and were ready to hit the streets again. This time we walked the beach to the right of our apartment in the neighborhood of Ipanema. Ipanema is a bit more upscale and quieter than Copacabana with less activity on the beach. We bought a beer from a beach side stall and share it while watching a magnificent sunset.
We people watched for awhile and saw several games of volleyball...but the players weren't hitting the ball with their hands, instead they were using their heads and feels mimicking soccer but with a volley ball net. It was very impressive! They truly have soccer in their veins here.
We watched the sunset as the colors became more vibrant and then finally headed to dinner after the sun set. We wanted to final a place with local cuisine, but as we walked along the main street we only saw fried food stands and buffets. After the third buffet we decided that maybe that was authentic food? We went in and had a sample of a variety of foods. It was pay by weight- 4.99 reals / 100g.
The following morning we enjoyed our complimentary breakfast on the balcony of the main hotel. From the balcony we would see an expansive slum on the mountainside to our left. I actually think our hotel is on the perimeter of the slums, at the bottom of the hill. Down the street from our apartment there is a large steep staircase leading up to the decrepit houses above. There is poor infrastructure in the area where we are saying- our street is covered in trash, the sewers are over flowing and there is a foul smell. However, it's a very colorful community.
We planned to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer, but the weather in the morning was very overcast. While waiting for the weather to clear, we decided to walk to a theater in Ipanema to see if we could catch a samba show that evening. However, as we walked and asked around, we soon learned that the theater didn't exist. In the area we wandered into a street market. We were swindled into trying a variety of fruits and then pressured to by some. For strawberries, acai berries and one dragon fruit we were asked to pay 40 reals- Scott negotiated down to 20.
We walked back to the bus to see Christ the Redeemer and stopped along the way so Scott could get a hair cut and I could get some cheesy dough balls (chipasitas) We bought our tickets to see Cristo and took a shared van to the site. We hiked up the stairs to see the enormous statue. It towered over us, but more impressive than the statue were the panoramic views of the mountains and coast. Rio de Janeiro is built harmoniously among many mountains, creating many green reprieves among city buildings. Thought it is now one of the seven wonders of the world, Christ the Redeemer felt like most other tourist attractions- overcrowded with tourists fighting for pictures. All we needed were 20 minutes to appreciate the views and we left.
Back in Cocacobana we sat on the beach for a while then returned to our apartment for our daily siesta. We went out late in the evening and as we walked to town we were drawn to an inconspicuous little bar on our narrow street with a band playing live music. We shared a beer and enjoyed the local music. We wandered down toward the beach and passed through a street market. We ate a late dinner- at another buffet, go figure. We couldn't find anything else! We were nervous to walk back up our street so late, but were comforted by a large police presence- police armed with machine guns.
We spent the morning on the beach and were lucky to have the best weather yet. The beach was incredibly crowded- it was Saturday. Music was playing, children were running around and women were sun bathing. We soaked up some sun and then spent the afternoon in a different area of town.
We took a bus to Maracana to see the Maracana stadium. The bus driver and a friendly english speaking passenger helped make sure we got off at the right stop. We walked the permitter of the entire stadium before finding the door with tickets for tours. The next english tour was at 5- we had an hour and a half to kill. We used our "student ID's" to get half off the tour price. We explored the area- mostly office buildings, and found a restaurant where we split a beer and sausage. The sausage was accompanied by some salsa and an interesting bread crumb like topping- we've seen this on the kebabs on the street as well.
The stadium was ok, but it was more interesting to see how passionate some of the other tourists were about soccer- many of them from other areas of Brazil. It's like a religion to many of them.
After the tour of the stadium we were off to Sao Christavao to see the fairgrounds. It took us about an hour to figure out how to get there. We walked around trying to find bus stops and even tried to ask a cab driver. Finally a food vendor pointed us in the right direction. After a short cab ride we made it to the fairgrounds. It cost 5 reals to enter and inside there were several amateur live performances and countless food and shop vendors. Walking around inside was like a maze. We got a beer to walk around with and saw some samba-ing and karaoke.
We sat at one of the many small restaurants inside and got a dish that seemed to be standard at the venue--Carne de Sol (or meat of the sun). The dish was amazing-- rice and beans, beef and chicken and fried yucca. Just as we were getting ready to leave the sky opened up, thunder roared and it started to pour. The forecast for the last three days had called for storms and we'd have so luck thus far...it all came crashing down at once. There was a flash flood and everyone took cover. We tried waiting it out for 30 minutes and then decided to run for it. We went outside in the rain to hail a cab...neither of us had the patience for public transport at this point.
Outside by the curb there were 4 groups of people waiting for an employee to hail down cabs for them. I thought quickly...walked up the street 50 feet and hailed my own cab. The taxi drivers stopped for me before they even saw the other guy. I felt bad about 'stealing' the other groups' taxi, but not too bad as I was nice and dry inside the cab. We were back in town in less than 30 minutes. After a short stop at a grocery store to pick up food for our 6-hr bus ride the next day to Sao Paulo, we were back in the comfort of our apartment.
We packed our belongings and tried to get to bed early as we had to wake up before 4:30 the next morning. However as I type this line in the blog it is 12:30, Sylvie is already asleep. She wrote the middle of the blog and handed it to me to take over. The internet has been great here except for the last few hours--the storm has caused quite a connection problem.
One of our viewers asked that we post an infographic relating to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Here it is: