Rio de Janeiro
21.05.2009 24 °C
Seeing that this week has been so fast-paced, I'm going to race through most of the things I've done in Rio since arriving. I'm just beginning to find my bearings in this enormous city. Before I begin here´s a snippet of the coach journey from Florianopolis. This was just as I woke up, around seven in the morning and towards the end of my 20 hour journey. ´You Have to admit, he does do bloody good sunsets´ (for James and little sis and any other fans of Neil Gaiman´s Sandman).
IPANEMA AND COBACOBANA
I just realised I haven´t taken any photos of the beaches yet! Well there´s plenty of time. I´m sure I´ll spend more time lazing on the beach towards the end of my stay. They really are spectacular. Ipanema is slightly nicer and you´re less likely to get mugged than on Cobacobana, which is full of body builders and sex workers. It is unfortunately far from the impression I had of Copacobana from this video featuring Liza Minelli and the Muppets.
The site of Christ the Redeemer is impressive but a little bit too full of tourists taking photos of themselves with their arms outstretched. Plus the statue itself is a bit art deco for my liking. Its still worth a visit though, and it looks great from a distance.
The highest point in Rio from Sugar Loaf mountain is acessible by taking two cable car rides. Now I´m not brilliant with heights, but the slight feeling of nausea was countered by the breath-taking view as we ascended. At the top you can buy a drink from the restaurant and bask as the sun sets over Rio.
A very historical area of Rio, Santa Teresa is quiet but there are some gorgeous old buildings and great shops with all sorts of fashion and craft items for sale.
I took a tour of Rocinha, the biggest favela in South America and home to some 200,000 people, with a tour group called Be a Local. When I first heard of these tours I wasn't sure it was something I wanted to do. There was a fear that it would be treating a poverty-stricken area like a museum. But several people, including Brazilians, strongly recommended it as something that puts a lot of money directly into projects which help support and develop the community. Besides, the favelas are a very complex social phenomenon, and not quite as simple as poor people living in bad conditions. There are those living there with PHDs, or those who work in hostels or banks and various other places, leading a normal life outside the favela. They all tap free electricity, many own computers, and there´s a whole range of poverty and wealth existing side by side. They were founded over a hundred years ago by ex-slaves who the government refused to provide housing for. They´ve always lived by a seperate set of laws. The drugs trade makes for a strained relationship with the police, and every few weeks there´s a raid, drugs are seized, dealers and sometimes civilians are killed. But a lot of the time it´s all for show. If the police wanted they could shut down all drug operations in the favelas in no time, but of course they and the government ultimately pofit from this trade, so its in their interest to allow trade to continue whilst keeping the population in fear. Despite this, the favelas are completely safe for us gringos to visit. There´s an understanding that tourists bring money into the favelas and if they were put off visiting by crime it would be disastrous. But as our guide told us, the guy who shakes your hand in the favela may be the same guy who takes your wallet on Copacabana beach.
A chaotic street party that stretches for miles across the Lapa district. I didn´t take my camera as it really wouldn´t be safe. I remember lots of people and samba dancing and too many caparinhas. Caparinhas are a lethal mix of white rum, lime and sugar. The helpings of rum and the sugar here are generous, to say the least.
One of the things they say you have to do in South America, even if you´re not that into football, is go and see a game. Fluminense played Santos yesterday in a league game. I don´t know much about Fluminense, but Santos are Pele´s old team. We were on the Fluminense side and got our ass whooped 4-1. Sometimes though its just as entertaining being surrounded by angry fans as it is by jubillant ones.
I´ve been staying in The Girl From Ipanema Hostel, which is nice enough (though its no Tucano House. I don´t know if I´ll ever top Tucano! Miss you!) I joined couchsurfing.org a few weeks ago, but hadn´t made much use of it until now. It´s a site principally for finding people who are willing to let you crash on their couch for your stay, but its also an online community where you can team up with people for sightseeing and going out and whatever you´re into. Someone on the forum suggested meeting to check out some galleries tomorrow before seeing a live samba show. Yes please! I´ll do that tomorrow and possibly get drawn into this couchsurfing thing, which may be like joining some sort of cult. It would be good to meet some more people. You do meet plenty of people anyway travelling round by yourself, but sometimes it can be tough if you want to do something specific and have to find a group of people interested in the same thing.
I´m thinking of moving on from Rio sometime in the next few days. My initial plans to go North to Bahia have been called off due to a dismal weather forecast for the north - rain for the next two weeks! But maybe its good to have my options limited. There are plenty of incredible places much closer to Rio that I´ve been discovering through talking to other travellers. One in particular has great appeal...
Ihla Grande is an island just a few hours south of here by bus followed by ferry. The official tourist website describes it thus:
Ilha Grande has a rich history with stories that are far more interesting than those in storybooks. It was once a hideout for sea pirates who made their money by looting European trading ships. The thick tropical jungles of Ilha Grande provided the perfect refuge where the pirates could hide their boats. The island was also a hub for the slave trade in Brazil. Since Ilha Grande is strategically located on the sea route, it has been colonised by the Spanish, French, Dutch and Portuguese at various points of time. After the proclamation of the Republic in 1889, Ilha Grande had an important hospital and then a prison. The prison was closed down in 1994, after which eco-tourism and tourism have flourished. The flourishing tourist trade has led to the development of a number of great Ilha Grande hotels, pousadas and hostels to cater to the increasing flow of visitors.
Cool, huh? There are monkeys too. Part of the reason this has such appeal for me is that it reminds me of my favourite computer game and one of the all time best things ever: Monkey Island. There were four Monkey Island games in all between the mid eighties to late nineties, but the first one, The Curse of Monkey Island, still stands out. It´s a comic adventure game (point-and-click puzzle-solving) set on an island just off the Carribean. The hero, Guybrush Threepwood, becomes a mighty pirate by defeating the sword master of Melee Island, finding the treasure of Big Whoop, and rescueing the beautiful governor Elaine Marley, all the while avoiding the clutches of the evil ghost pirate Lechuck! So yes I expect Ilha Grande will be just like that, and I intend to introduce myself to the people I encounter there by saying, ´I´m Guybrush Threepwood, and I´m a mighty pirate!´ I´ll let you know how that goes.
Once again, lots of love to you all. Send me your news and stories, be they real or make believe. Shibber me Tibbers! Argg! x