Rio. Everybody loves Rio. Everyone. (except my mother who warned me not to trust cariocas) There are songs and movies about this fascinating city and its legendary beaches, so I was excited to find out what exactly was the allure of this beautiful and somewhat dangerous place.
For this being my 5th time to Brazil, its surprising that this was my first trip to Rio. I went on a bus of 50 other gringo exchange students and our tour guides, Lucas, Igor and Eduardo. We didn’t have much time in Rio, only about 2 days, but I’m content with that since it certainly won’t be my last trip there (I’m planning another one now!)
On Saturday, our first full day, we went on a tour of the Favela Santa Marta. Favela is the Brazilian term for slum. Some of them are quite dangerous and overrun with drug lords. Some people felt uncomfortable with the idea of touring a favela, but it has actually become quite common in recent years. Michael Jackson even filmed his music video for “They Don’t Care About Us” at this place. Our tour guide was a resident of the favela and appreciated our curiosity about his neighborhood. During the tour he invited all of us into his house, which was very tidy and tastefully decorated. We said bom dia to his mother who was cooking lunch, and then headed up to a nice area to have our own lunch of feijoada. Feijoada is a very Brazilian stew of beans, beef, and pork. It originated with the slaves in Brazil who were given beans and meat scraps from their owners to make a meal. The favelas were painted bright different colors as part of a beautification project. On the way up, we climbed thousands of steps to the top, but on our way back we discovered how the residents make their way up and down every day- an electric tram. Of course. The homes were nice – simple, but nice. Many of them even had flat screen TVs. We walked through the favelas, past the residents carrying on with their daily lives. Children were playing, women were doing each others hair, and groups of guys were hanging out, whistling at the gringas walking past and casually passing around a joint.
On Sunday morning, we witnessed the sun rise in all its glory from the east horizon on Copacabana Beach. There are 28 million posts on Instagram hashtagged #sunrise, and I’m sure each of those is special and unique as all sunrises are, but there’s just something about being with new friends from all over the world in Rio de Janeiro on Copacabana watching the sky go from pitch black to bright blue while blasting all of the colors of the spectrum in between. Its one of my most special memories in Brazil and I will always treasure it.
After the sun had risen and was sitting high as if it had never set in the first place, we found an amazing place which served an American breakfast buffet, complete with fresh orange juice, eggs Benedict and, most importantly, lots and lots of bacon. The rest of Sunday was spent on the beautiful beach of Ipanema. We spent the time napping in the sun and surviving the waves. By using the word survive, I’m implying that they were trying to kill us. Or at least injure us to a certain degree. You have to get past the breaking point of the waves to really enjoy the ocean, but getting in and out of that was a struggle. The waves knocked me over multiple times- I’m pretty sure I actually did a 360 degree flip multiple times, ending up upside down. At one point, after being knocked down and shoved back to the beach, I was left sitting in the sand trying to cough out the salt water and pull myself together. I thought, I’m way too far back to have to worry about the waves… WRONG. Another giant wave heaved itself out of the ocean, smacked me in the face and caused me to skid probably about 20 meters across the sand. You could have filmed it, it was such a joke. But, an excellent exfoliation opportunity.
The waves were exhausting and we ended up taking a break in search of food. I found the most heavenly beach snack my mouth has ever discovered, tapioca recheada. It’s these Brazilian crepes/pancake pockets made of tapioca flour, which provides this amazing soft, warm, crunchy but chewy texture. Mine was stuffed with cheese and pork, but they can also be made sweet with fruit and dulce de leche. I’m going to look the recipe up, master this and make it when I get back to Texas!
Até logo, Rio. I’ll be back.