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City of God – Party Time in Rio – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

City of God – Party Time in Rio

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

City of God, Rio de Janerio - view from the top of Corcovado
City of God, Rio de Janerio – view from the top of Corcovado
My mate, Joanne, and I spent a week in Rio de Janeiro, our first destination on a five-month trip in South America. Our hostel, Easy Carioca, (what Brazilians living in Rio call themselves), was nice, homey and situated in Urca, a middle-class suburb of Rio, under the shadows of the Sugar Loaf Mountain. The people were really friendly and helpful. Former guests drop in regularly to use the facilities and hang out. They are full of tips and ideas, which was more useful than the guidebook.

Praia Vermelha was our first beach experience. Brazilians certainly like beaches. We saw all shapes and sizes in up-the-crack bikinis. We stood out with our pasty white skin amid the rainbow of tans. As this was a family beach, we did not see the infamous “dental floss”, but we did see plenty of beautiful bodies. Later on we went up the Pao do Açucar in the two cable cars. The view from the top was stunning, with a view across all of Rio.

The next day it rained – a wet Rio on a Sunday is no fun; Joanne and I ventured out in the rain with our anoraks to Ipanema, probably not the place where people wear anoraks. There are two main buses that do a circular route from Urca round past Copacabana to Ipanema then back again. You pay as you get on, to the conductor who sits behind the driver, who, in turn, sits behind a turnstile. When you disembark, you leap off through the backdoors. We learnt what to do by watching other passengers.

Ipanema is a plush suburb of Rio with Cartier shops and beautiful people, definitely not for girls in anoraks and flip-flops. We went to a bar called the Emporio. It was about 11:00 p.m., and getting busy. We chatted with a sweet 20-year-old Brazilian lad called Eugeno, who surfed at Ipanema. He was soon pushed out by three blokes who wanted to talk to us, an Italian Brazilian called Alberto, a Norwegian Brazilian called Alejande and a Spanish Brazilian called Leonardo. They were very amusing and thought that Cameron Diaz (Joanne) was lovely. Later they took us up the road and bought us cans of lager out of the back of a parked car. This is normal in Rio although I am not sure whether it is legal. These lads were great fun to talk to and made sure that we were safely in a taxi and home by 5:00 a.m.! Our night out cost us less than 10 quid each, including dinner, wine, beers, taxi and caipirinhas, a lethally strong but delicious tasting rum drinks. I recommend a limit of two in one night – a caipirinha hangover is so painful.

The next day we ventured into Centro, the CBD of Rio. It isn’t for the faint hearted as the streets are rammed with people, the traffic horrendous and bus stops very confusing. After about an hour searching, we finally found the offices for Varig and booked our onward flights to Peru. However, we could not find the bus stop for Urca. We had to admit defeat and get a taxi.

Copacabana is a good place to spend the day. It was here that we made a bumbling tourist faux pas at the bank. Entering a bank in Brazil is an intimidating experience. First you have to pass your bags through a plastic shute where an armed security guard checks it. Then you walk through time-delayed double-doors with metal detectors and another armed security guard before you get into the bank itself. Armed guards stand around eyeballing you as you try and translate the signs to work out which queue you need. We wanted to deposit some deneiros, but mistakenly waited in a seated queue for seniors only, a kind man steered us towards the correct queue for the non-pensioner, but not until after they’d all had a laugh and a joke at our expense!

Back on Copacabana beach we admired the beautiful people and soaked up some rays. One thing I’ve noticed about Brazilian men is that they do not hold back on public displays of affection. They love a good snog with their women absolutely anywhere, although restaurants seem to be a favourite venue.

We discovered an excellent place for food in Copacabana, Expresso grill Рa non-descript caf̩ from the outside but inside, there is a massive buffet laid out with everything you could think of. You are issued a card when you enter, which you take with you to the buffet. After selecting the correct plate, you can pile it high with whatever you fancy Рsalads, vegetables, beans, fries, potato dishes, hot meat and fish dishes, and a barbequed meat section where the chef will carve off a chunk of any meat you want. Then they weigh your plate and charge you accordingly. You can go back and select a bowl and choose from a huge array of cakes, desserts and fresh fruit. It is a very good value. A large plate of food with a dessert and drink cost me about four quid. We ate there regularly and discovered similar cafes in other parts of Rio.

A must sunbathing spot is at Ipanema Post 9. This is a famous lifeguard post where only the most beautiful Brazilians lay their towels. It’s a very picturesque stretch of beach with a higher ratio of men than women (although the dental floss was in abundance). The men are straight out of a Mills and Boon novel – tall, dark and handsome with gorgeous washboard stomachs, swoon-some chests – and they know it! We spotted one guy preening himself in a mirror he’d brought to the beach. English men can learn a thing or two from Brazilian men!

Christ the Redeemer, Corcovado
Christ the Redeemer, Corcovado
I was lucky to go to Rio twice during the five months I was in South America. The second time coincided with Carnaval – a five-day celebration of parties and parades. This time I stayed with a friend at her apartment in Botafago with a roof terrace view of Christ the Redeemer. One night we went out to a club called Casa de Matriz. It is in a big house in Botafago, with lots of smaller rooms playing different music. A rather cool place with bosa nova style funky, swing type Brazilian music.

Clubbing in Brazil is a little different from clubbing in the U.K. Once passed the bouncers, you are given a drink card. Each time you go to the bar, the bar staff marks off your drink on your card. At the end of the night, you go to a separate hole in the wall to pay for your drinks. This is to prevent the bar staff from handling money. It also keeps it safer. It can be tricky, though, if you drink more than you planned and then don’t have enough money to pay!

For entertainment when it is raining, I recommend the following museums. The Museu do Indio focuses on information about the lives of Brazil’s indigenous people. There are 270 indigenous groups in Brazil, 370,000 people who speak 180 different languages. There was a video exhibit of a particular festival for one such group where they played bamboo pipes, drank homebrew and then danced until they fell over. No different than any other society in the world. The other museum was a house museum of a famous Brazilian politician and author called Rui Barbosa. He was exiled to England for a few years in the late 1880´s. When he returned to Brazil, he brought back loads of fancy antiques, including Ming vases and art deco crystal. He had the first ever-indoor bathroom in Rio. The toilet was British made.

Another fun experience is to go and watch a football game at the Maracana Stadium. We went and saw the two biggest Rio football teams play a friendly – Flamengo and Fluminense. We managed to get free tickets as my mate’s Brazilian boyfriend got offered some by a guy hanging about outside. I am sure this isn’t normal. I thought ticket touts expect money, not give tickets away. We were lucky.

I decided to support Flamengo with the black and red strip. The stadium wasn’t as big as I expected and it didn’t have a screen. If you missed a gooooooooooooooaaaaaaal, there were no replays. Neither were there pies on sale like in England, but men walked through the stands selling bags of biscuits, nuts, fried cheese on sticks (very popular on the beach too) and cold cans of drink. In the end it was a draw and although the stadium wasn’t full, the supporters gave it their all, chanting and banging drums.

For a Saturday night out, head to the district of Lapa. Every Saturday they have a big street party with beer sellers and live bands. We went during Carnaval so everyone was in high spirits. We started in a cafe called Sacrilegio, where a band sang samba tunes and everyone was dancing and singing along. We chatted with this extremely posh bloke named Simon, a stockbroker living in Fulham. He looked and talked just like Ben Fogle from Countryfile. Later on, at the street party, bloca, Joanne and I were very popular with the locals. They all wanted to dance with us. Joanne was whisked around the dance floor by a French Brazilian, and I was spun around by a designer called Alex (didn’t find out what type of Brazilian he was). We had a great evening and returned to the apartment at dawn.

A sunny Sunday was probably not a good day to go and see Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado. Every tourist and local had the same idea. The queue for the tram up to the top of the mountain was too long. We got together with four other bemused tourists and paid one of the many mini van drivers loitering at the tram station to take us to the top and back again. With six of us, it didn’t cost much more per person than the cost of the tram, plus it saved us the long wait.

Christ the Redeemer is an impressive sight. From the top you can see across the whole city of Rio and the surrounding bays and islands. The statue is huge and although I’m not really into religious icons, even I couldn’t help but be blown away by how he looked against the blue sky and the green mountains. I tried to take a few arty shots and fun ones of us standing in front of it with our arms out, but the rugby scrum of people made it very difficult. To miss the crowds, I would go during the week and not during Carnaval!

We went to the Sambadromo the second night of the two-night Carnaval competition parade. We didn’t pre-book tickets. Instead we turned up at the stadium at about 9:00 p.m. and bought our tickets from one of the numerous ticket touts. We had to pay this time, but it was probably cheaper than buying tickets in advance. I suggest you check the seating plan and decide where you want to sit and how much you are prepared to pay. Obviously, the better sections are more expensive.

On each night about 12 samba schools from Rio take part in the special parade. Each school is accompanied by a song written especially for the night played during the parade by the school’s band and singers. Costumes, floats, lyrics and choreography are linked to a theme chosen by the school. Judges award points for each part. To be the winning school at the end of the two-day competition is highly regarded.

So much effort goes into this competition. All the fake feathers, glitter, sequins and gold shoes in Brazil must run out before Carnaval. The school is allowed 95 minutes to parade down the aisle of the sambadromo and a team of cleaners appears in-between each set to sweep up the feathers, glitter and sequins. Joanne and I were in section five, on the tiers where the seats are concrete steps. Bring a cushion if you plan to stay for several hours. It was rammed with people. Every photo had people’s heads, hands and cameras poking into the frame. It wasn’t easy to see the detail of the costumes, but the floats looked excellent. We stayed and watched two schools of up to 5,000 participants with four or five floats in each. The night went on for nearly 12 hours and well into the late hours of the next morning, so if you don’t have the stamina, you can see a lot in a few hours.

Our final Rio classic tourist activity was a favela tour (Marcelo´s favela tours is recommended). We went with three Russians from Moscow, an American and a German couple in a combi van up to the biggest favela in Rio, Rocinha, ironically located next to the richest area of Rio, Gavea, where the wealthiest man in Rio (a plastic surgeon) lives. It has an official population of 60,000 with one tarmac road (only put in by the government six years ago). The buildings and streets were not as slum-like as I thought they would be, and not like the film, City of God.

The slums of Peru, especially Lima and La Paz, were much more shocking than this. However, the people who live in the favelas are poor and subsequently, poorly educated so they have very little opportunity to change their situation. It is true that the drug lords police the favelas. They ensure that there is no trouble such as theft, assault, etc., as they do not want to attract the police into the area. There is regular violence, though, between the two main rival drug gangs or between the police and a drug gang.

Marcelo told us that recently a war broke out between the two groups. The police joined in and the gunfight went on for 45 days. We saw a man with a huge gun tucked into his trousers walking down the main downtown shopping area of the favela. What a reality check! Later we went to a smaller favela, Vila Canoas, where money from our tour fee goes to a community school and education project where they have been able to dramatically increase the number of children getting scholarships to the universities.
In this particular favela the government had put some money into improving the tiny alley-like maze of streets and water system. There were no drug lords because it is surrounded on all sides by a walled golf course, which would not provide a means for escape for the drug dealers when they needed to get away.

A float at the Sambadromo, Carnavale, Rio de Janeiro – not easy to get a clear shot
A float at the Sambadromo, Carnavale, Rio de Janeiro – not easy to get a clear shot
It was a really interesting tour. It dispelled the myths and impressions provided by the media about life in the favelas. Unfortunately, the other half of Rio (the rich) does not go on these tours and does not understand the favelas. Even the three Russians were acting extremely ignorant on the tour, which surprised me. The women were more interested in whether Globo TV did tours of the sets of the telenovelas, Brazilian soap operas, and looking in disgust at the rubbish piles. The government only provides refuse collection on the one main road. Rubbish is collected and brought to the outskirts of the favela by the favela’s own garbage collectors. I thought the favelas were cleaner than the housing estate where I used to live in southeast London.

I think Rio is an underestimated city. It suffers from a perception of high violence and street crime. Yes, we did meet tourists and backpackers who had been mugged or had cameras/bags stolen, but it is no worse than any other large metropolitan city. If you take the necessary precautions, don’t wander into places you shouldn’t, blend in with the locals, you will have an enjoyable time.

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