Rio is a crazy city. It’s the only way to describe it. Arriving from quiet, peaceful Kiwi land into Rio couldn’t have been more of a shock – like landing on the moon! In our taxi from the airport at midnight the driver played Crowded House. He didn’t speak any English, which we figured was unlucky, but probably the exception given the English music. We were in for a big surprise. The next morning we were introduced to the cars screaming down the road, with a fast-paced “no time for anyone” attitude and a complete lack of any English!
We started out by taking things slow and completing simple daily tasks, such as getting food and water. Thankfully we could mime enough to sustain life, but not much more. When we did attempt to ask for directions, we were generally met with blank stares followed by big smiles on their faces and instructions to go in entirely the wrong direction.
As it was 30 degrees plus, we wanted to check out Copacabana beach which was a 5 minute walk from the hostel. We thought it might be a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Rio. Wrong again. We managed to squeeze into a spot, no more than one metre square, despite the beach being 10km long. Our glow in the dark white bodies stood out against the sea of tanned locals. Next we were harassed by people trying to sell things. Beer, caipirinhas, sarongs, candy floss, jewellery… Basically it’s home shopping combined with sunbathing, but with the intensity of a Harvey Norman sale advertisement. There’s no escaping it.
A couple of days after arriving Carnaval began. I imagine this is the time of year those that live in Rio are infuriated by the hooligans that enter the city. People are dressed up all day in every sort of costume imaginable. There are non stop parties and celebrations. Carnaval marks the count down to lent, so South Americans will go all out before they give up their luxuries for 40 days. It’s also a week long public holiday. There are blocas (street parties) all around, which are attended by anywhere from 2,000 to 150,000 people. We accidentally came across a few just as we wandered around town. There is also the Samba Dome, which hosts a massive (8 hour!) parade from the top samba schools in the country. The floats are huge and very elaborate. There were floats that were mechanical tigers, ships, and a water slide among others.
We also saw the tourist sights. We went to Christ the Redeemer, the sugar loaf, the maracana football stadium, an urban cathedral, the botanical gardens, Sao Conrado beach, Ipanema beach, a soccer game and also on a tour through a favela (slum/shantytown). My highlight was the favela tour. We were taken to the top of the favela where they filmed Fast and Furious 5 and walked back down through the stairways. It was so interesting to see how they lived. On average they earn 7,000 Reals a year, which is around $4,000NZD. That is barely enough for one, let alone a family. There is no sewerage system in the houses and they are grossly overpopulated (160,000 people in 4.5 square km. They have no addresses for their houses, as there are no roads and they have to walk to town for work. The favela wasn’t dangerous and was nothing like the movies make them out to be. There was talk of a wall being put around the Favelas to make them look more attractive for the Olympic Games, but that would only increase the segregation between the favelas and the rest of the community. I think there has been a lot of injustice for the Favelas to be as they are now.
Whilst in Rio we had no issues with our safety, but we were careful about it. You are told to never take a bag outside, only take enough cash for a day and carry a photocopy of your passport. During the day the streets were fine, but there was a noticeable shift when the sun set. The crazy came out in people’s eyes. Still, we never had anything stolen, but many of the other groups in the hostel had phones and cash stolen. I heard one girl had been robbed twice in as many days!
I was exhausted after 9 days in Rio and was ready to leave and head for the quiet coastal town of Florianopolis!