Rio… The place with the Jesus statue, a mountain named after a cabbage, the girl from Ipanema and the Copacabana: the hottest place north of Havana!
Arriving at our hostel with another of the crazy bus drivers (not as crazy as the previous ones but close enough to), we were greeted by a dodgy elevator with a sign saying that it was out of order. We were told to hop in and go up, slightly worried that we weren’t going to make it up. Our hostel was on the top of a hill in lower Santa Teresa, overlooking the city and the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral, not a bad view from a hostel. We quickly made our way down into town for a food stop and into the supermarket; the locals (Cariocas) have a thicker and different accent to everyone else in Brasil, they are very difficult to understand. Rio is such a different pace to Paraty and Ilha Grande, we needed to have our game faces back on here!
Thursday was Dee’s birthday, we started the morning with breakfast at the hostel; the standard in most of the hostels has been ham, cheese, bread and fruit with some pretty awesome coffee. Most have a sandwich toaster that makes the sandwiches even better. We’ve both been very happy with the fact that there is decent coffee in the morning. We decided to spend the morning going for a little walk and investigate some of the attractions in our local area. The first stop was the cathedral, which we later found out was based on the design of the Mayan pyramids and was built in the 70’s. The stained-glass windows inside were amazing and the inside was huge! We spent the rest of the day doing a bit of a pub-crawl, ending at the top of the hill for a surprise dinner at a seafood restaurant at the top of the hill in Santa Teresa called (Sobrenatural)[http://restaurantesobrenatural.com.br]. What a treat that was! Most of the restaurants have share plates as their starters (“Petiscos”), with both of us having had a bit of food and a few drinks during the day we decided to grab three of these; thinking they might be enough and if we needed we could grab a few more. Three was well and truly enough; we struggled to finish dishes of perfectly cooked octopus, mussel soup (with more mussels than you could poke a stick at), and perfect ceviche. Unfortunately, there were no food photos tonight because we were a little preoccupied eating and being a bit lovey dovey (sorry for the mushy stuff!). To cope with the mushy stuff we decided that during our time in Rio we would try to save a little money and have a few (or ten) home made caipirinhas, the cachaca is lethal! $3 a bottle is hard to pass up though, and limes at less than $1.50/kg are pretty hard to pass up… and surely having a huge amount of citrus with zerocal (the not sugar version of sugar here) is healthy right?
The few days we’d been in Rio it was disgustingly hot, and Friday was no different. We had decided to take one of the day tours around Rio to visit Christo Redentor, Sugarloaf Mountain, the Lapa stairs, the Cathedral with a quick stop in Santa Teresa. The bus collected us at 10:30am from our hostel, back down the freaky elevator (we had been asked to use the stairs at all other times), and then we took a tour around the roads of Rio to collect the other guests on our trip. There were people from a few different countries on our bus, including a couple of English speakers – Hooray! Our first touring stop was at Christ the Redeemer, via Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.
We arrived to a very cloudy mountain with a slight view of the bottom of Jesus; unfortunately it was not the clear beautiful skies that we had seen in all of the pictures. We did the best we could with what we had, but Jesus didn’t want to see us. We walked around the statue, marvelling at the lack of view but were able to read some of the efforts that went into the building of the statue. The materials were all from Brasil but parts of the statue were constructed in France and transported back to Brasil, a fair effort given it was built in 1931. While we were taking what photos we could there was a distant rumble of thunder, then a slightly closer one, and then a giant flash of lightning and a crack of thunder that we’re pretty sure may have caused embarrassment for a few of the tourists up there with us. Both of us managed to avoid any bodily functions escaping, though the hearts were going a million miles an hour! We decided at this point to start heading back down the eight or so flights of stairs back to the bus before the thunder and lightning got any worse, that, and our tour guide asked us to be back by a particular time to head to the next stop. There were a huge amount of people trying to escape the storm, many of us ended up toward the bottom of the stairs in a small tin shed; however, there were two people who were feeling a little precious about the rain, they’d stopped at one of the souvenir shops halfway down the stairs and stayed until it had calmed slightly. Consequently we waited an hour and a half for them to eventually come down so we could head to the next stop; our lovely tour guide, Isabella, was most unimpressed with them!
As we were coming down the mountain the storm had completely cleared up, and Jesus was visible – it seems to be the way when we’ve organised any kind of tour involving heights. Our next stop on the tour was the City Cathedral, which we’d already seen the previous day. We managed to get a nice photo in front of the building that wasn’t a selfie. Given the security and safety issues in Rio, using a tripod the previous day wasn’t an option, or asking a passer-by to take a photo of us. There will be NO selfie sticks on this trip. Not too far from the Cathedral are the Lapa steps or ‘Escardaria Selaron’, a beautiful set of stairs decorated with Mosaic tiles. The artist, Manuel Selaron, took it upon himself to renovate the steps that ran outside his house as a tribute to the people of Brasil. He began by using blue, green and yellow tiles, then as the steps became an attraction he continued to add tiles from places he had visited; it soon became a tourist attraction and people from around the world sent tiles for him to decorate the stairs. There are 250 steps in total, measuring 125 metres and over 2000 tiles. We were only here for a short amount of time, due to the earlier delays so we weren’t able to see the entire staircase whilst on the tour.
Following the stairs, we stopped by quickly at the top of the hill in Santa Teresa (near to our hostel). Santa Teresa was the original area the native Brasilians kept hold of when there were many attempts to invade Rio de Janeiro. The suburb of Santa Teresa has been preserved as much as it can be; the local government has restricted changes to many of the buildings and roads (similar to Heritage listings of cottages etc. back home). The stone-cobbled roads, albeit bumpy, have given all of the areas we have seen so far such character.
Our final stop for the afternoon was the cable car at Sugarloaf Mountain. We took two cable cars toward the top of the mountain and got a beautiful view of the city. Because we had been delayed earlier in the day we were fortunate enough to see a little bit of the sunset and the city come to light. The mountain is 396 metres high, a fairly daunting height when you’re suspended in a container on a cable with 60 other people. The view from the top was absolutely stunning.
Saturday we decided the weather was perfect for a day at the beach. We caught a bus to Ipanema, found a guy we could rent an umbrella and two chairs off, and then set ourselves up next to the picturesque water. After lathering on most of the container of sunscreen we settled into our beach chairs, we opted to buy two caipirinhas from one of the passing barmen on the beach – a perfect start to the day until the Portuguese misunderstanding kicked in. Instead of being $9aud for both of them (which was not a bad price), it was $9aud each – a total of R$50 reais… a very expensive way to start the morning given how cheap everything is here. We learnt from that mistake and decided that any more drinks were going to be bought off the guy we hired the umbrella off as we established with hand signals that he could take card payment at the end of the day. There are forever people yelling up and down the beach selling all sorts of random goods: bracelets, sunglasses, hammocks, unframed canvas paintings (who buys these from the beach??), drinks and food; including people walking with handheld charcoal brassieres to barbecue cheese (the kind of cheese used is similar to Haloumi). The water was a beautiful temperature, which we both took advantage of; Dee more so, being massively dumped by a wave and coming close to losing her togs. This led to sand being in places it shouldn’t be for days! The end of the day rolled around, the sun was setting and the beach was becoming very quiet. We decided to call it a day and head back to our hostel.
We headed up to our beach man to pay and realised that in the changeover of wallets and everything in the morning, neither of us had bought any cards with us at all; we didn’t have enough money to pay the man! We couldn’t both leave the beach, so I stayed at the hut trying to explain to the man what was happening, while James caught a cab to and from Santa Teresa (around $45 reais each way). After battling through peak hour traffic, an hour later James was back at Ipanema. Because it was so late, and we were exhausted we decided to have the night off cooking and head to a little restaurant around the corner from the place we went for Dee’s birthday called (Espirito Santa)[http://www.espiritosanta.com.br]. We had the appetiser share plates there, and although they were nice, they were much smaller, not as good value for money and nowhere near as delicious as the ones the night before, it was still a nice dinner.
Sunday mornings in Brasil are extremely quiet, there are many older people being helped to church by friends or family and a few people loitering on the streets. The supermarkets and fruit shops are open only for a few hours with the rest of the shops not opening at all. In saying that, all of the bars are open from some ungodly hour of the morning. We decided to have a bit of a quiet day Sunday to recoup a few of the costs incurred the day before. We hadn’t been able to spend much time at the Lapa steps when we visited for our tour so we headed back to get photos and take a proper look at the amazing artwork on them. The layout of the tiles is just incredible; there are tiles from every country perfectly pieced together for the entire length of the stairs. We then walked via some of the theatre buildings toward parliament house to get our photo.
After walking back through the streets of Rio, we decided we would try and tackle the laundry issues – the hostel washing machine was broken, so we had dropped it into a lavandaria (Laundromat) and collected it a few days prior. There was a shirt missing and we had acquired a baby cloth (this is NOT a sign). The laundry was closed, so we wandered to the supermarket; apparently Sundays are the day ALL of Rio does their grocery shopping. After inspecting every aisle and every different type of food available we lined up for half-an-hour to pay – the cashiers in Brasil don’t pack your bags, the entire process is so slow! Heading back to the hostel, we spent the afternoon relaxing and catching up on our lack of responsibilities and a home-cooked meal of steak with cabbage, chorizo, onion and a heap of spices.
Ready to tackle the buses again, it was time for us to go to Copacabana. We were a little more organised, ensuring that we had cards and plenty of cash with us. The day was spent people watching, lapping up the sun and a few quick trips in the water. Being a Monday, there was a lot less people trying to sell us their trinkets on the beach and fewer people in general. We spent the day here but it was pretty much the same as Ipanema but the water wasn’t quite as pretty. The beaches here are nice, but as we’ve said in previous posts, they’ve got nothing on Australian beaches, except the in-chair food and drink service… we’ve got to take the positives out of this! We wound up the afternoon with a quick drink at an Irish bar that didn’t sell Guinness – we secretly suspected there were no Irish there, then onto a two-for-one caipirinha bar and lastly, to a restaurant that sold predominantly chickens roasted over a pile of charcoal.
Tuesday came time for us to leave. We spent the morning packing our bags, then the rest of the day on the computer uploading photos and writing about our adventures. Although it was a relatively boring day at the hostel, it was far too hot to go outside and do anything. Just walking from our room to the kitchen made us look like we’d had a shower and not dried ourselves. Rio is a somewhat crazy city with some beautiful things to see, we’ll end up visiting again someday to see Jesus, but for the meantime it’s off to Florianopolis.