I just got back to Buenos Aires on Thursday night after spending a week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After going through the ridiculous process of getting a Brazilian visa ($150, copies of literally every personal document I have, including credit cards, student IDs, and bank statements), I thought to myself, this better be worth it. So finally, Rachel, Rita and I flew to Rio last Friday morning hoping for a week of relaxing and laying on the beach, looking at the beautiful Brazilian people.
Rio is a lot different from BA. First of all, it’s a beach town, so that’s the main reason why you would visit there. It also has a lot more, or at least noticeable poverty than the areas I hang out in BA. The wealth gap in Brazil is much higher, which also creates an interesting contrast within the city. And Rio is notoriously very dangerous, which every single person I know happened to warn me about before I came here.
We arrived at the Mango Tree Hostel (so nice and clean with really helpful staff) and were immediately greeted by a friendly Belgian named Octave who invited us to come watch the sunset on some rocks overlooking Ipanema beach. It was a gorgeous view and a perfect way to start our vacation. Rio is a lot more mountainous than I thought, and it’s cool to see the mountains almost frame the beach, with the city right in the middle.
After sunset, we were starving so we went to a place called Delerio Tropical to eat dinner. The food was really good and had way more vegetarian options than in BA. Back at the hostel, we heard that everyone was going to an area called Lapa, where every Friday night there is a giant street party. We went with a bunch of guys from the hostel and walked around. It was insane! There were so many people crowded in a few streets, it was almost hard to move. We got some caipirinhas (local Brazilian drink), and just took in the whole vibe. Tons of people were dancing in the streets and music was blasting everywhere.
Then, a little bit later, as we were walking I felt someone come up behind me and grab my purse that I was clutching in my arms. My immediate reaction was to turn and run after the guy, and so I left my friends and sprinted for about a minute through the streets of people. The thought that the guy might have a gun or knife or anything to hurt me never crossed my mind. Eventually I tripped and fell while running and I completely lost sight of him. I saw a police man and tried to express to him what had happened in Portuguese but he was not interested in helping at all. Defeated, and at this point, crying, I walked back to my friends and they knew the night was over. So me, Rachel, Rita, and this other Belgian guy we had met took a cab immediately back to the hostel. In the cab, I completely lost it. I was in a rage and no one was going to stop me. Rachel tried to calm me down because she was afraid the cab driver was going to drop us off in a bad neighborhood because I was yelling so loud. Of course, the Belgian guy who I had literally spoken two words to had to put his two cents in and say, “He rob you because you are pretty girl.” And that’s when I went nuts. I was seriously considering booking a flight back to Buenos Aires the next morning. The good thing is that I didn’t have my passport or any credit cards or a lot of money with me. The bad thing is that my brand new camera was in there. Being robbed makes you feel completely violated and unsafe, and it was a shame that it had to happen to me on my first day in Rio, because it definitely shaped the rest of my time there. At least I was safe and only ended up with badly scraped and bruised knees and a hole in my favorite jeans.
Saturday was a beautiful day and we woke up early so we could spend the whole day at the beach. I was still a little shaken from the night before, so it was good to just be able to relax and not have to worry about anything for the day. Ipanema beach is public, so it’s extremely crowded with people, which makes it fun to look at the ridiculous bathing suits worn by the men and women. Brazilians are definitely not afraid to show off their bodies. It started cooling down, so Rachel, Rita and I got some food. Brazil has amazing fresh juices made will all different kinds of exotic fruits. My favorite were the ones made with acai. That night we hung out at the hostel and then went to dinner at a place down the street called Zaza’s. It was a great atmosphere, with a bohemian sort of style. We ate sitting on cushions on the floor with our shoes off. The food was delicious, and we didn’t realize how late it was when we finished, so we just went back to the hostel and slept.
On Sunday it was rainy all day so we couldn’t go to the beach. We heard about a Hippie Fair going on in the center of town, so we decided to check it out. It ended up being sort of a craft fair, but with nicer things. It reminded me of the ferias in Buenos Aires. There wasn’t really that much stuff to buy, since most of it was either really touristy or just tzotchkes. For lunch we ate at a place called New Natural that also had a lot of vegetarian food. Brazil has tons of restaurants that are “pay per kilo” and buffet style. It’s interesting because in the US the idea of a buffet doesn’t sound good at all (mac & cheese, jello, etc.), but here the food was really good quality. After lunch we went back to the hostel and played card with some of the guys we’d met. At night we went out to a bar a few blocks away called Shenanigans. It was basically an Irish pub, filled with a bunch of foreigners and a few Brazilian girls. It was fun to go out, but it definitely wasn’t that great of a scene.
Monday was another rainy day. Of course the one week we decide to go to Rio it has to rain most of the time. But that didn’t stop us from taking advantage of the day. We went on a city tour, which first took us through Tijuca National Park. It was really lush and green, which I didn’t expect in Rio. There were waterfalls and monkeys hoping around on roofs. From there, we drove up to the Christ statue/monument that everyone who goes to Rio probably sees. It’s a giant (130 ft. high) statue that is on the peak of a mountain in the National Park and overlooks the whole city. Aside from taking funny pictures with the Jesus, the location of the monument also offers a great view of Rio. Something tells me this statue wouldn’t fly in the US.
The next stop on the tour was to Santa Teresa, another neighborhood of Rio. It was definitely more of how I’d pictured Brazil. The streets were really narrow, people walking all around, tons of graffiti, etc. Afterwards we went to the futbol stadium that hosts “the best soccer team in the world” (so they claim). The tour was exhausting, but it was fun to see some different parts of Rio. For dinner, we went with some people from the hostel to a restaurant called Frontera, which was another buffet style place. The food was so good. I wish Argentina had food like this. Back at the hostel, we didn’t go out since there wasn’t much going on on a Monday and I also wasn’t feeling that well, so we just watched a movie.
On Tuesday we woke up, ate breakfast, and then went downtown to explore the center of Rio. It was raining once again, which is why we didn’t go to the beach. The centro area is definitely not as pretty as Buenos Aires. It’s much more run down, with not as many nice buildings. There were some areas with shopping but I don’t think this area is the reason people come to Rio. We ate lunch at a “famous” cafe called Confeitaria Colombo, which apparently is historic. The place reminded me a lot of Cafe Tortoni in BA, with the high ceilings and art deco style. After that we did a little more walking and then went back to the hostel. I wasn’t feeling well at all, with a bad cough/cold mixture, so I didn’t go out, but Rita and Rachel went to a club called House, which they said was fun, but super small and played certain genres of music and certain times throughout the night.
Wednesday we woke up and got smoothies before going on a Favela tour. Favelas are Brazilian shanty towns, mainly located in Rio, where 1/4 of locals live. There are literally thousands of shacks made from different materials stacked on top of and next to each other.
They definitely have a bad reputation for having lots of organized crime related to drugs, and also just a lot of poverty. I was a little hesitant about going on the tour, not because I was worried about my safety, but because I didn’t want to feel like a was invading the space of the people who live there, like I was being a voyeur. But apparently the people don’t mind, and the tours are designed to change your perspective and image of favelas. First we went to the largest favela in Brazil, Rocinha. We walked through the streets (this favela actually only has one main road going through the whole “village”) and we also went into one of the houses to see how they live. The second favela we went to was a little smaller and there was a school there that is part of a program to increase the educational system in favelas. The whole tour was really informative and it was incredible to see how these people live in such poverty yet are still smiling all the time. Obviously, I didn’t see what goes on in daily life in the favelas, so it is hard to say if what they were showing us on the tour is actually how they live day to day. This was probably one of the best parts of the Rio trip. After the tour, we ate dinner and then went out to a club called Baronneti. It was cool to see the difference between Rio and BA nightlife. This club had two levels, and the first floor was so crowded that it was impossible to dance, so we went upstairs where they played electronic, which we like better anyways. The guys in Rio are definitely more forward than in BA. They would literally come up to me or Rachel or Rita and say two words to us and then expect us to kiss them. The dancing was also a lot more sexual, which is normal in the US, but not at all in BA. So it came as a sort of shock when I saw people getting their freak on like back in the States. Another thing worth mentioning is the amount of older women that I saw at the club. Women I would never expect to be out at a club like this were on the prowl looking for foreign guys to entertain them. We decided they were probably prostitutes. The club was a great way to end the trip and I was surprised at how fast the week went by.
The next morning we woke up and packed up our things and headed to the airport. The Rio trip was great but probably would have been even better if the weather was nicer and we could have gone to the beach more. It was cool to see another big South American city though, to get have something to compare with BA. Now I’m back in Belgrano and ready to enjoy my last few weeks abroad! Miss you all! xo K