Despite the fact that I’d just lost 2 nights out of a 4 night trip to Rio de Janeiro, I used the positive energy of the Brazilians on my flight to pump me up for a fun time and looked ahead brightly. After all, the Brazilians are very fun and welcoming, so I knew this was going to be a good trip. I already had a place to stay with a friendly host from Couchsurfing named Sergio. On top of that, a girl I knew from Buenos Aires from Brazil was going to meet me in Rio and show me around. She’d also written me a letter of invitation for the visa application. So I got myself an overpriced taxi at the airport to avoid any possible late night kidnappings and start off well. Ludmilla suggested I not get a yellow cab (even though all the cabs in the city are yellow) and instead went for a private service costing 99 reales, where as a regular cab would have run around 60. Sergio later told me not to worry too much about the cabs, but just speak in Spanish at least if you don’t speak Portuguese and always pay after.
Getting into the Botafogoneighborhood too late to do anything, I talked with Sergio a while and then went to bed. In the morning I woke up to find that it was raining and cold, and I was ill prepared for it. In fact, I’d only brought one sweater and one pair of jeans which I’d already been wearing since leaving Buenos Aires, and would need to wear them every day. I had planned on warm weather and had shorts and t-shirts, plus sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat, all of which went unused. The umbrella did come in handy, however. I met up with Ludmilla and we started with a quick stop at the Rui Barbosa House, just a few meters down the road.
The Botafogo neighborhood is very residential and peaceful, but next to Copacabana and close to the center, which made it very attractive for me. The house was a former residence of a prominent Rio citizen, and is now a museum. We took the Metro which was in my opinion, years ahead of the Subte in Buenos Aires, and got off in the Central Station. Ludmilla wanted to show me a point where some of the poorest and hardest workers in Rio must travel to daily, and it’s a very symbolic point for many. Again, the Metro system in Rio impressed me, with wider, faster and more reliable trains. No one pushed or crowded the doors, and there were various methods for buying tickets. Buenos Aires could learn a thing or two.
In the center we moved around to various spots, including the Municipal House (Tiradentes Palace) where we got a tour of the main chamber, the recently refurbished Municipal Theater and the National Library. Between all of this it was on and off raining, but never as cold as Buenos Aires gets in the winter. It was odd because some people would be in shorts and sandals and others like myself were totally bundled up. We had a quick snack at Confiteria Colombo, a famous cafe in the center on par with the Cafe Tortoni in Buenos Aires. I took advantage of a store in the central market and bought a pair of sandals with the Brazilian flag logo, which in recent years has become very fashionable, yet were always a mark of a poor person without much money, so I was told.
I was pleasantly surprised by the churros sold at the stands in the street, and can say they were definitely the best I’ve ever had. Warm, filled with either dulce de leche or chocolate, they were coated in cinnamon and totally delicious. I wanted and had to have a couple more throughout the next days. We visited a couple of cathedrals, including a giant pyramid-shaped one, and then took a bondhi, or trolley car up to the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Santa Teresa is very bohemian and kind of like San Telmo in Buenos Aires. There are pretty cafes and restaurants along the hills and you get good views of the city below. One of my contacts fell out in Santa Teresa and I couldn’t see much for the next couple of hours, but we later met up with Sergio and went out for dinner.
I had my first taste of feijoada, the traditional Brazilian dish of steak, rice, beans, fries and whatever else. It’s a huge mix that’s usually eaten for lunch, and it’s a great blend. I also tried a caipirinha, which is a traditional Brazilian cocktail made with cachazaand lime. For me it was a bit too strong and acidic, but I can see how it can grow on you. We had an interesting talk about the favelas and Brazil’s booming economy and rise of the middle class. I was told that a lot of the favelas are no longer dangerous and have been pacified, though it’s still obviously a major problem.
It was time for bed and the next day, which promised the main sights of Rio: Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf, Cobacabana and Ipanema…