Thursday, August 25, 2011

Paradise City... Rio de Janeiro !

The land of Jesus, beaches and more capirinhas. For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to visit the Rio and see what all the hype is about. It's not carnivale time here, but the week I've spent in Rio has been so so fantastic.

We arrived in Rio on a sunny Sunday afternoon and after a quick drop off of our bags at the hostel, we headed back out to the Ipanema square and the hippie market. We wandered around the markets for a bit and took a walk down by Ipanema beach which is where our hostel was located. We were located right next door to the restaurant Garota de Ipanema which is where the song was written.

After an early night, we woke up dark clouds and a very foggy day in Rio (we later found out that two of Rio's main airports were closed so we were lucky we had arrived the previous day). Being a fairly crappy day to go sight-seeing at any of the main attractions, we instead met up with our friend and colleague from the IBM Rio offices, Marcel. He suggested some things to do and places to go to.. so we decided to go to the really really local markets to buy some much needed stuff. We hopped on a train, and spent all of the day shopping before we headed back to the beach and Arpoador Rocks (which separates the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches). Unfortunately, when we got there, the fog still hadn't lifted and infact it was worse, so we had no sunset that day.

The next day, being another gloomy day, we decided to book a Favela tour for the morning. We were picked up by the tour company and driven to one of the largest Favelas in Rio - Rocina. We got some insight into the Favelas and the people who live there. There was a time when most of the Favelas in Rio were controlled by the drug lords and these places were unsafe and no one would visit them. Now, the government is trying to take back control by installing a military presence in these Favelas to keep them safe. When they government takes back the control, they call this "pacifying". Rocina is not a pacified favela and in this Favela alone, there are about 85,000 people living (I think that's the number I heard) and only 1% of that population is actually involved in drugs. When we got in to Rocina, we were told that we could only take photos of the views and not of the people there because they are still controlled by the drug lords and had been asked not to. They were expecting a government take over and we actually saw kids with guns standing around "watching" the activity of us tourists and the locals. After a brief but interesting visit and taking in the views, we went to the next favela which was Vila Canoas. This one is a pacified favela and we could take pictures of anything and everything. We took a walk through the favela and its narrow lanes and got to see some interesting architecture and people. We also visited one of the local day care centres where some of the money from the tours gets donated to.

That afternoon, we made a quick visit to Santa Teresa which we heard so much about. We got into the city and from there took a tram across the bridge to the beautiful little suburb. There wasn't much going on there as it was the middle of the week.. but Santa Teresa is apparently a really cool bohemic place. So, I guess I'll just have to visit there again the next time I'm in Rio :)

On Wednesday, I had booked in for a Brazilian cooking class. The day and the timing was perfect because it was another gloomy day in Rio and it was pouring down with rain. Our class was in the afternoon and it was just perfect. We started the class with .. Batida de Coco (coconut drink with cachasa) and from there made some Aipim Frito (fried manioc chips). Our teacher, Simone was amazing. It was a very hands on class and she gave us lots of tips about different cooking techniques and also some of her secret (not so secret now) recipes. While we were tasting the Aipim Frito, we started the second round of drinks which was Passionfruit capirinhas -- these were just as awesome and the class got even more interesting -- you can see why Simone has such good reviews about her cooking classes .. its because we enjoy the drinks so much ! Next on the menu was the main .. which was Moqueca ! A-M-A-Z-I-N-G ! It's a fish/ seafood stew that is very traditional in the north of Brazil. We also made some rice and farofa with banana to go along with the Moqueca. This cooking class was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to Rio.. and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who goes to visit Rio.

Thursday we woke up and we FINALLY had the sun back and no fog in sight. We made a few quick calls and booked a hang-gliding trip. We got picked up and driven to Sao Conrado beach where we got our hang-gliding "license" and were then taken to the top of Sao Conrado mountain where the ramp is located. After a quick 30 second lesson on how to run in tandem off the ramp (which I thought I needed more practice of), I was strapped in and awayyyyy I went ! This was the second highlight of my trip ... the video below is really long.. so just watch the start where I run off the ramp (funny!) and then skip to 5 minutes where I'm in cloud 9 (literally!) and then to the end where I land on the beach.

Friday morning and the skies were still clear and it was the perfect day to go up to the top of Cristo Redentor and to Pao de Acucar. So, off we set early in the morning to go visit Jesus.. or at least what we thought was early. When we got there, we ended up having to stand in line for 45 minutes to get a ticket and then another half an hour for the train to take us up. But it was completely worth it when you get to the top ! The size of the monument and the views of the city were so amazing. We spent a good 2 hours at the top elbowing people out of the way so we could have some photos and then we headed all the way across to Pao de Acucar. We thought we had already seen it all from Cristo, but the views from Sugarloaf were even better we had a 360 degree view of Rio and we also got to watch the sunset from here.

In the night, the lovely Evelyn (another colleague from IBM Rio) organised for a night out in Lapa with some folk from the local offices and their friends. We went to some place that promised Samba but started off with Metallica instead. I have a feeling Evelyn gave them a few threats before they started to play some Samba music for us ... it ended up being a fantastic night of samba music and dancing with good friends in the party capital of the world ! ;)

Saturday was my last day in Rio and my masterplan was to bum on the beaches and eat ! And that's what I did ... I took a walk down to Copacabana and lay in the sun (coz I'm still working on my tan) and people watched and ate plenty of fried cheese on a stick and corn. The evening was spent with some friends I made at the hostel .. we walked back down to Copa to the markets, bought some last minute souvenirs and were then picked up by the lovely Evelyn and Ilan for some more drinks on my last night there. We went down by the lake to this really cool bar/ restaurant where we tried some more authentic food and interesting capirinhas !

And with this, I ended my six week Brazilian adventure... and what a fantastic six weeks it was ! I made so many new friends, tried so many different foods, learnt to Samba, learnt to cook, took a trip into the clouds, met Big Jesus and had the BEST time ever. Like I've said so many times, this was my first time in Brazil, but it certainly isn't my last... I will be back.. and next time for longer.
ps- Evelyn, I think we need to start working on that exchange :)

Next Stop >> Buenos Aires, Argentina !

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