In England we live in a bubble. We take our structured, sheltered and generally luxurious way of life as the norm and assume the rest of the world operates in roughly the same fashion. Our first bus journey from Rio airport immediately put this misconception to bed. The words ‘culture shock’ don’t do it justice.
Everything looked like it was on the verge of falling down. Those lucky enough to have walls made of bricks looked more like ancient ruins and the rest use some kind of corrugated iron that we use on our sheds at home. It’s a shocking sight and one that you get the feeling the Brazilian government would rather tourists didn’t see.
So, after around half an hour of travelling, the landscape begins to change. Dilapidated buildings are replaced by the high rise apartment blocks that one associates with Rio. The streets, that were previously filled with traditional markets and crowds of people are now filled with yellow taxis, tourists and the odd high end boutique. It’s mad how much life can change within a mile or so.
In all honesty our first impressions were mixed; our first day was spent on Copocabana beach which isn’t the cleanest of beaches and coupled with the rows and rows of high rise apartment blocks it does slightly resemble a sunny Blackpool. Also, our hostel was basic to say the least: we shared a room with 18 others, which became 20 after another day to facilitate more for New Year’s. Our lockers were obstructed by another bunk which meant we had to undertake some kind of caving/abseiling manoeuvre to access our stuff. Very annoying in 38’C heat..
Our second day we got the bus (Rio has awesome public transport) to a botanical garden where we wandered the winding jungle paths observing the amazing plants and wildlife (monkeys, toucans and loads more that we couldn’t identify).
We then made our way back to the hostel before heading back to Copacabana where we sat on the beach, listened to live music and drank several Caipirinhas, the national drink of Brazil. A cocktail made using limes, sugar and a tequila-esq spirit, Caipirinhas are delicious and seriously strong, a dangerous combination. Can’t remember too much of the rest of that night..
At this point, it’s probably worth mentioning the people of Brazil. Before arriving we heard the horror stories that so many tell. The crime, the robberies, the shootings etc.. and in all honesty it was our biggest fear before arriving. The reality was very different. Never before have we experienced such kind, hospitable people. As is so often the case around the world; the people who have the least are the most generous. This is most definitely the case in Rio. The locals can’t do enough for you. Whether it be inviting us to join them for a drink or watching our bag on the beach while we go in the sea, they are always kind and accommodating.
Our third day was New Year’s Eve. Now, most normal people would see this as a day of rest to prepare themselves for new year celebrations. Not us. We set off early to climb the highest peak in the area; Pedro de Gavea. Before setting off we were warned that the route was very challenging however the view at the top was the best anywhere in Rio. Quite some reward.
It began with a jungle trail that started relatively steep and rapidly got steeper and steeper to the point that we were scrambling up sheer rock faces. At this point, seeing people with ropes and pullies, we decided that the hike was slightly beyond our skill level and turned around but it was a great experience all the same. Along the way we saw more monkeys which briefly followed us for food (slightly unnerving) and more brightly coloured birds. We also heard a number of unidentifiable noises resembling an electrical buzz, a ringing telephone and a chainsaw – very cool.
We got back to the hostel, very hot and sweaty at 5pm, jumped in the shower and got downstairs to join the new year celebrations in the hostel at 6. This is where Rio comes into its own. Loud music, free Caipirinhas and friendly people. It was awesome. After a few hours of dancing and socialising, the hostel filled a massive crate with alcohol which they then somehow lugged down to Copacobana to provide us with free drinks all night. No words will really do the atmosphere on the beach justice. 2 million people, all dressed in white all playing music, chatting to one another. It’s an incredible experience which culminates in the best fireworks we have ever seen (sorry Mike). The party goes on until the early hours and in all honesty our memory is slightly hazy. All we will say is that everyone should add New Year in Rio to their bucket list.. We’ve only just done it and already want to come back next year!
The next day we awoke with very fuzzy heads, but all the same managed to get up and get on a bus to see Cristo Resento (Christ the Redeemer). This, too, was an incredible experience and finally gave us the view of Rio that we had been craving. The 360′ views truly give you an idea of the city’s character. It’s a patchwork of cultures; from Favelas to the Olympic Stadium.. from Ipanema Beach to the untouched forest covered peaks. It really is an amazing place.
Our final day was spent where our Rio adventure began, back on Copacobana beach playing in the huge waves and sunbathing on the warm white sand. Looking back, our view on this beach had completely changed. Yes, its not perfect: it’s not the cleanest, there’s a million and one people trying to sell you something and it’s overcrowded but it also represents everything that’s great about Rio: the people, the music, the colours, the laid back and chaotic nature and its vibrancy.
Rio will always hold a special place in our hearts. Not just because it’s our first destination but more because it’s like an overly energetic pet dog. Rio would jump all over you when you walk in the door, Rio would lick your face with its smelly breath and Rio would most definitely shit on your carpet now and again. But after all that, you still love it and you wouldn’t change anything about it.
Rio, thank you for having us, it’s been a pleasure. Next stop, Paratay.