14 Mar Rio Sweet Rio
I decided to meet my homeboy in Brazil in February 2015. Prices were kind of high for Carnival so we opted for the week after. For those familiar with the US version called ‘Mardi Gras the’ fun usually ends after Fat Tuesday but when I arrived in Rio the following Sunday morning the streets were still packed with parades and partiers putting the finishing touches of their Carnival celebration.
Knowing only about 5 sentences in Portugese I walked up to a charter bus driver standing outside the airport and showed him the address to my apartment. I dont know exactly what he said but he motioned to a set of busses on the other side of the street. I went over to those busses, showing them the address and eventually I found the one that was headed my way. The first thing I immediately noticed was how eager people were to help me. On the 35 minute journey on the bus we passed many poor neighborhoods and favelas with distressed brazilians mixed in with children gleefully playing in the street. This sight showed me how differently poverty is viewed by different people.
After checking in my AirBNB (which was one block from Copacabana beach) I met up with my homie Ralph and we immediately jumped on the subway and headed to a flea market near Ipanema Beach. I love taking public transportation in other countries for a couple of reasons. It allows you a chance to see and interact with the REAL people in a natural kind of way. You also avoid the taxi price hikes that occur when they realize you’re a tourist. We hit the outdoor flea market because I wanted to people watch and grab a little grub. I stopped at a food truck to grab some popcorn since i saw several people walking with it. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they top the popcorn with sweet milk and shaved coconut. Different but very tasty! Then we headed to the busiest beach I’ve ever seen, Ipanema!! WOW! This is the beach the locals come to so their was a beautiful chaos from end to end. I saw break dancers, beautiful ladies and all kind of vendors selling their goods. Most of all since this is where the locals hang, I saw thousands of brown people representing all hues lovingly interacting. Families splashing around in the water together while a few feet away teenagers tossed a frisbee, freely enjoying life. Pleasantly different from the stuntfest that I see so often on Miami’s South Beach. Not shitting on Miami but the fun times are less simplistic and more ‘paid for’ in the States.
Needles to say that the sights at Ipanema were impressive. Thats not to say that Copacabana beach was slacking but because of its location and surroundings its more catered to tourist than locals. Later that night we went downtown to see what was popping to find that a few final Carnival street parties were still going on so I quickly grabbed a caipirinha(Brazils national cocktail) and jumped in with the rest of the partiers. This is a culture that goes ALL IN when it comes to its most famous national celebration. There were makeshift bands marching in the street while singing in portuguese without a care about how good(or bad) they sounded. These people were partying on a spiritual level that allowed them to get lost in the moment. Times like these are when I’m reminded of the power of music to remove inhibitions an take the listener into another realm of consciousness.
Of course in my 5 days there I encountered many of the usual tourist sights. I rode the cable cars up to the 3rd/highest level of sugarloaf mountain and saw one of the coolest sunsets I’ve seen. For any james Bond fans this was in the 1979 Bond film Moonraker(i’m old, I know this already). The views from here are nothing short of astonishing! 360 degree views of al the beauty that makes up Rio. This is 1 of the locations that will make you absolutely fall in love with this place. From Sugarloaf you can see the sun setting over Corcovado Mountain where the Cristo Redentor statue sits. This is a popular spot for local couples to come and se the sunset so if you go expect it to be crowded. There are several mini-restaurants and gift shops on the trip up so you can easily turn your trip to the top of the mountain into a romantic early evening outing. It closes at sunset though so after sunset you’ll have to take the party elsewhere.
And speaking of Cristo Redentor, aka Christ The Redeemer aka ‘1 of the most popular statues in the world’, this is truly a beautiful sight too see and a must-do on any tourists list. This massive 130 foot behemoth sits atop Corcovado mountain and can be seen from almost anywhere in Rio. In 2007 it was placed on the list of the 7 Wonders of the world. When I say this is a breathtaking sight I mean it. Even fo rnon religious folks the marvelous care taken on the construction of this statue is nothing short of miracolous. The views from the moutain top arent too shabby eathier.Much like Sugarloaf mountain you are treated to 360 views of the busy city nd the coarse mountainous terrain than encompasses Rio. This is a true sight to see and a mist visit on any serious travelers list.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Nightlife in Rio is like in most developed countries. There are several spots that cater to clientele from the US and they can easily be spotted because their signs will be in English and the usually will feature a US flag somewhere on it. I hit a few of those spots but i found more pleasure in mixing with the locals so we purposely sought out spots with non- english speaking door workers. I pride myself on regularly stepping outside of my comfort zone so I’ve never been afraid to be the only American in a bar. I do my best to talk to people and I always learn enough of the local language to at least order a drink or something to eat.
Since were talking about night life lets get to the elephant in the room(or at least in the heads of many Americans.) YES there are prostitutes walking around trying to make something happen. I didn’t indulge but I did have a conversation with a ‘lady of the night’. Theres a spot called Mabs where a lot of them gather and my homeboy and I would end our night there because they were open late and had reasonably priced drinks. Its got a big patio area that faces Copacabana beach and thats where the chics gather. The restaurant wont let them in the bar to bother the patrons but they are right there when you walk out. As I was walking back to my room a woman started talking to me, right. Let me reiterate once again, I DID NOT TAKE PART IN THE WILDNESS but since she spoke english I stood out there and kicked a casual conversation with her. She was a 23 year old Venezuelan who lived in the favelas and would come to the beach to make money for her family. I’m always curios as to what makes a woman decide to take this path especially in a place like rio where there are a million legitimate hustles and a halfway decent economy. I look at prostitution like I do drug dealing here in the states. You can pretend all day long that you HAVE to do it, but there are other options if you apply yourself. Anyway back to the whore. I asked why she chose this as an occupation and she told me quite honestly I like to have sex and this is quick and easy money(same logic most drug dealers use.) I thanked her for her honestly, refused her last attempt to sleep with me and retired to my room alone.
All in all this was one of the most eye opening experiences of my life. Waking up in South America is something that most Memphians never imagine but I was blessed to do it for 5 glorious days. From struggling to get around to tasting the many flavors of street food available Rio has found its was to the top of my must see travel destinations. So much so that I’ve pledged to visit at least once a year for the foreseeable future. Its also in the top 5 of the places I’d love to make a new home.