Trip Start Jan 18, 2008
64Trip End Jul 29, 2008
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Where I stayed
Landing into Brazil, the country has a very different feel to the other South American countries. Its a melting pot of European and African culture. The language is different to the Spanish of the rest of the continent, with Portuguese being the official language. Although you hear so much about the poverty in Rio, the Brazilian economy is actually the worlds 8th largest!
To understand the city and the country with its unique culture, you need to understand a little bit of the history. In January 1502 the Portuguese explorers arrived at the Bay of Guanabara. Thinking it was the mouth to a great river they called the place Rio de Janerio, meaning January River. Actually there is no river, but bordered by stunning rock formations with Sugar Loaf mountain being the most famous, long golden beaches, and the natural harbour of the bay, the city quickly became the country's main city, acting as a port shipping the bounties back to Lisbon. From 1550 up to as late as 1888 3.5 million African slaves arrived into the country, to work on the plantations and take over the roles of the local indigenous peoples. In fact about 40% of all the slaves arriving into the new world arrived and worked in Brazil. This has given the country its unique blend of European and African culture, with Samba and football being the backbone of society.
When Napoleon invaded Lisbon in 1807, the prince regent had to retreat to Rio. He then stayed on after Napoleon left the capital in 1815. As king of the empire in 1816, he declared that Rio become the capital of the United Kingdom of Brazil and Portugal. It was the only New World city to be the capital of a European state.
Known as the Cidade Maravilhosa, the marvellous city, it is one of the worlds most stunning cities
We arrived into our hotel at the north end of Copacabana beach, in an area called Leme. This is one of the worlds most famous beaches, and we could see why! It is a hub of city life.
On our first night, we decided to explore the cities nightlife. One of the nicest area for restaurants and bars is Ipenema, and headed there for dinner and drinks. The Caricos (as the locals are known) start very late, with most not venturing out until after midnight!! Having had one too many legendary nights out at Guanabara bar in London, it was great to be sipping Caprinas with the locals on the streets of Ipenima.
The next day was a Sunday, so we decided to take the long walk along Copacabana beach to Ipenima Beach. On Sundays the main road off the beach gets closed off to traffic, and it is filled with locals going about their day along the beach. There was even a marathon on when we were there, these poor athletes running in the sun! Walking along you really can appreciate how ingrained beach life is to Caricos. They live their life on the beach, with large groups of friends playing games or relaxing on the beach or having drinks along the beach shacks watching the passers by
That evening, I had convinced Marie we needed to experience more of the Brazilian culture, and booked us two seats at the Maracana Stadium to watch two local teams Botafago and Flumenese battle it out. The stadium was built for the world cup in 1950 and at the time was the largest stadium in the world! The stadium got into football history after the incredible final that year, when Uruguay surprisingly beat Brazil in front of the 200,000 fans (both legal and illegal spectators)
The next day we relaxed on the stretch of beach just outside our hotel on Copacabana. The place was deserted compared to Sunday, so it was quite nice to have it almost to ourselves. After a relaxed morning, we took the bus into the centre of town, just to check it out. The bus was quite interesting, it has a turnstyle type barrier, so you cant get on unless you pay! The centre was different to what we expected. The nice streets of Copacabana and Ipenema are very different to the streets in the centre. We didn't even get out of the bus, thinking it was not the centre, but eventually got off at the main bus terminal....and it was full of dodgy characters...this is the side of Rio most tourists don't see. We decided to head back towards the nicer part of the centre by foot, the busses were far too complicated!! We passed shopping streets, and eventually found the English bookshop we were looking for
The following day, we spent sorting out things on the internet and phone calls back home to catch up with people. As we are not on a prearranged tour of South America, we needed to sort out hotels at the next places, and arrange transport etc, plus start to think of things back home, not long left before we head back!! These months now seem to have flown far too quickly!!Marie was hoping to get on a course for Interior Design in September, so she was sorting out stuff for that and calling them to arrange an interview. It was lucky for us because the weather was dodgy that day, with tropical rain!!!
We then headed to the main tourist spot in Rio, and now officially voted in as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Perched 2343feet above sea level, on the Cocovado Mountain is the 100ft tall statue of Christ the Redeemer, known locally as Cristo Redentor
Our last day in Rio, we decided to head for a bit of culture at the Contemporary Art Museum, housed in a very futuristic building, designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. The building is in one of the outer suburbs of Rio in an area called Neteroi, which we reached by ferry crossing the bay of Guanabara. Unfortunately for us the day was hazy, on a good clear day (quite rare in Rio) you get fantastic views of the main city centre, Sugar Loaf mountain and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipenema from Neteroi
We headed back into town to do some shopping in the nicer shopping area of Botafago, before heading to an enchanting area of town called Santa Teresa. This neighbourhood developed when the middle classes of Rio headed out of town to avoid the congestion of the industrial city, and settled on the side of the hill with its clean air. The cab journey was amazing, taking on some hairpin turns at a very steep angle over cobbled streets. There is a tram which also gets you there, but its very dodgy. After dinner we headed to an area called Leblon, which has the best samba bars. The one we went was quite strange in that you don't pay to get it, but you pay to leave!!!! Crazy Brazilians!! The place was cool, with live Samba and the locals all giving it some! I made up my own version of Samba, which was interesting to say the least!! It was a great way to finish our time in Rio! The music optimises their culture, the fusion of Latin and African traditions. We loved Rio, it definitely lived up to its billing, it was certainly less dodgy than we had expected. We will miss the laid back lifestyle, the beaches, the football, and samba stitching it all together! It's on our list as a place to return to sometime in the future!