cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Just a Few Days in Rio

The Cidade Maravilhosa

We flew into Santos Dumont airport at about 9pm on a Thursday night, less than 1 hour after leaving Campinas, SP. There's an extreme thrill to landing on a tarmack that appears to be floating in the harbor; the vision is plane surfing at top speed. What a wonderful first impression of the cidade maravilhosa. My thoughts returned to that moment three days later as we made our way via bus to the international airport, Galeão, to catch our flight back to São Paulo. If i had flown into Galeão rather than Santos, i would not have thought of the cidade maravilhosa at first impression, but rather of the cidade de deus. Who planned that one? Scenic view for the domestic flights, but a fast-dash tour above the slums on the speed way for the international visitors? Slightly humerous. Either way, my lasting impression is that Rio is in fact, the cidade maravilhosa. While our overcast stay lasted only a few days and was limited mostly to where our feet would take us, the taste was sweet, and has made a certainty of the fact that it will definately not be our last adventure in Rio.

When we decided to take a mini-trip to Rio to visit our friend M in Copacabana, one thing i knew i would be thinking about was the bad safety reputation made all the more worse by the 2016 Olympics and accusative press. So, according to many, Rio is not a safe place for the Olympics. Slums, gangs, drug trafficers, thieves. Ah man ah man. But you know, you probably won't believe it, but there are two Rios. There is the third-world Rio rife with crime that you see in films such as City of God, in video games where you shoot drug traffickers in the run down slums, and on the news when police helicopters are shot down. This Rio of suffering is unfortunately real. But there is also the upscale Rio where one can walk the streets in a bikini on the way to the beach, drink coconut water while lying in the sun, dine at upscale restaurants, take in an opera, shop through the finery, and jog along the shore. This Rio of fancy is also real. Two extremes tucked in right next to each other. As tourists, which we were, we were well contained in the later of the two cities. Was there danger? Maybe. Was i walking in the streets afraid of being shot? Not exactly. Imagine being inside of a sims video game, in a photoshoped city on your desktop, or in a lego land pink palm tree toy set. Rio is the Rio of the glamour movie unless you leave it for a reality check. Walking on the beach is, well surreal. So are the Olympics going to be hell on earth for the visiting world population? No, it is not. Rio is only hell for those who are sadly and unjustly born into it. But how can two cities, two worlds exist in the same place? I don't know. That's Rio.

So what did we manage to do in three days. Well, as we were visiting our friend, the first night was catch up talk and dinner in her 1960's apartment two blocks up from the beach in Copacabana. When i say Copacabana, i'm talking about a district. Rio is split into many district of which famous beachs that lie within also happen to maintain the same name. The whole city is first split up into zones; the historic center (downtown), the South Zone, North Zone, and West Zone. Within the zones are districts, such as Copacabana, Botafogo, Flamengo, Leblon, Ipanema--yeah you've heard of all these famous beaches, but they are named after the districts they're in. There are dozens, probably even hundreds more districts in Rio that i am unaware of. But one that i did spend a great deal of time in was the Jardim Botânico, home of the--you guessed it--botanical gardens of Rio.

As i knew we would only have a few short days in Rio, my mind was made up that i didn't want to do anything except for sit on the beach and do maybe one or two of the you must do this in Rio tourist activities. But M had a few things planned for us. The Jardim Botânico was one of them, which we managed to get to on foot from Copacabana. After walking along the shore through Ipanema and Leblon, and the 7 kilometer -around Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas (a lake), i was just about ready to pull the why couldn't we just go to the beach line, until we rounded the corner and the massive avenue of imperial palm trees came into view. damn. The botanical garden of Rio is truly a lush oasis in the middle of the city. The gardens were established during the first years of the nineteenth century (that is, while Brazil was still under Portuguese rule) as a local for growing foreign spices and exotic plants. The garden is filled with regional, national and international flora from all over the world. In a way, it is a condensed showcase of what is natural and what has come to be natural in Brazil due to importation. The imperial palm trees are the most regal aspects of the park, yet they are not native to Brazil, they were brought straigt from Central America. The jaca tree that produces jaca fruit (also known as jack fruit) runs rampant through the gardens (and much of Brazil for that matter) but was originally brought from Asia by the Portuguese. Aside from being a tranquil rest from the city, the gardens are a living lecture on natural history.

After the gardens, from which you could see the Christ way up on his little hill (Corcovado is the name of the mountain) we decided to find the way up. First step naturally was finding ice cream, and the second finding a bus. We took a city bus all the way to the bottom of Corcovado from which we were herded into the Jesus van by an overenthusiastic sales man. You speaky English my amigo americano, the man said to my husband who since arriving was mistaken as an American at every chance possible. Grrr. how much is it? he asked the man in Portuguese. You speaky a Portuguese? I thoughta you were grigo! He said in astonishment. Poor H, he is no longer Brazilian because of me. The next day i forced him to wear his São Paulo jersey to look more Brasileiro, but that only brought cat calls from Flamengo and Botafogo supporters. Ah Rio. After the bumpy van ride up the mountain, we were deposited at the ticket booth where you wait in yet another line to take yet another bus up to the top where you then go up an elevator and then an escalator. Jesus Christ (literally) it takes quite an effort to get up to see Christ the Redeemer, an icon recognized the world over. The view is unpayable, no where else in Rio can you get a view of the entire city, Atlantic, and all the neighboring hills. Just remember that if you go in the evening on a smoggy day, don't expect ideal lighting for your photos.

After spending R$100 for both of us to get up to the Christ, we decided that Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açucar) could wait until our next visit to Rio. The next two days were spent being lazy, the overcast gray sky and wind helped out on that one. We made it to a music cafe with live popular Brazilian music (that's an actual genre of music) and spent a few cold windy minutes on the beach. That's what you get for going to Rio in the winter. No matter, Sunday was a bit warmer, and awarded a few hours of beach lounging followed by the World Cup final at the "Fan Fest" on Copacabana beach. As Holland was the reason Brazil was eliminated, i can tell you that there were a great many more Spain fans in the crowd. I personally was rooting for Holland, for family reasons. Either way, the Fifa Fan Fest is an enclosed event on the sand (with a lot of security officers) with stalls, vendors, live music, and of course a really big scren on which to view the game. I couldn't imagine how crazy the place would have been if it was Brazil in the final, either way, watching the game with a thousand other people sitting in the sand was definately a once in a lifetime experience, even with the unfortunate outcome.

So Rio, to be honest i was not expecting too much. Before coming to live in Brazil, i never cared for the country or anything in it, so Rio was never one of my dreams. But after a quick glimpse, i can tell that there definately is something to Rio. I never want to live there, that's for sure, but i have no qualms with visiting again, and again and again. The service at the restaurants was extremely mediocre (ok terrible, but i was warned) and the food didn't taste as good as it does in São Paulo (i'm just saying), and the air was a bit (a lot) humid, and without visiting the beach everyday (i suppose even Cariocas have to work) life might not be so great in the city, but there is something charming about Rio, and i'm excited to get back for another visit.

All in all, i'm glad we're in São Paulo state. Cariocas may have the reputation, and the men are comfortable enough to wear Haivaianas outside of the house, but for me that's what vacations are for. I prefer to have a closed-toe shoe wearing Paulista.

Hell yeah that's a monkey.

a bientôt


El said...

It looks like you had an amazing trip and the photos are spectacular. Thank you for taking us along for the journey. And, I do love the monkey.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful pictures and great trip description! Wow, I've never wanted to be in Rio so badly! I want to visit Sao Paulo too! Thanks for sharing!


Nani said...

Nice pictures Mallory! As you know I am from Sao Paulo, and even though it's close to Rio I never had the desire to visit Rio??? I don't know, Rio does not attract me at all. It's the violence, it's the "carioca" way of life...I don't know exactly why, but I never wanted to visit Rio. I don't like Sao Paulo Capital either, only the rest of the State. I love the country side in Sao Paulo State, and Minas Gerais, Love Bahia, and other states up North, and some states on the south part of Brazil... I've pass through Rio many times, but only passed, on the way to Bahia. I guess my parents never took me there afraid of the violence, so I grew up not "liking Rio"... too bad cause I heard some parts are pretty. I am glad you enjoyed it.

Nani said...

I would love Indaiatuba! :)
I am not sure when we will be going to Brazil again Mallory. Bryan and I plan to go to Europe for our next big trip. I have been going to Brazil for 3 years and have not had the chance to travel the world yet. Of course, my parents are there and I desperately need to see them every year, but unfortunately we don't have money to take as many trips as we wanted so we will have to sacrifice not going to Brazil another year. Plus, I am still traumatized from my last experience there last year (the whole surgeries and hospital time thing), I was there for 3 months.
I really want to see my family, but it will wait a little more.

I will let you know though. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Mallory,

This is the best, most accurate description of Rio I have ever heard.
Rio is great and off course depending on one's budget is even better.
However I am with you on preffering Sao Paulo to live.
Great blog!


Corin said...

Wonderful, wonderful! Que saudades! Glad you had a good trip!

M.Lane said...

Rio has always been on my dream list, due almost completely to Bebel Gilberto and "The Girl From Ipanema".

Thanks so much for the wonderful post.


Brynn said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Rio and thrilled to know I'm not the only gringo who is immune to the spell of Rio de Janeiro!

In Rio, I'm surrounded by expats and Fulbrighters who stepped off the plane and just knew their heart was truly Carioca. It's funny because I married an actual Carioca and he complains as much as I do about the traffic, pollution, etc.

And my husband could totally relate to yours on being constantly mistaken for a gringo. He is constantly offered taxi rides to Corcovado. He swears that never happens when he's alone.

So, last week moved to Vitoria, Espirito Santo. I'm loving it! So much calmer than Rio. If you guys ever pass through Espirito Santo let me know. Dinner is on us!