I know it has been a while since I have posted a blog. As most of my friends begrudgingly know from my unashamed sending of myriad beach pictures…it’s SUMMER in South America. So the beach and porch sitting and rooftop parties have been a little more appealing than writing. But I promise to recap a ton of important events that have happened in November and December.
Currently I am in Rio de Janeiro. It has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to come to this amazingly vibrant and wildly dangerous city. I have no idea where I saw it or even heard about it, but since I was a wee one, Rio has always been a place of intrigue for me. I knew that someday I would come and my first six-week summer break in January seemed like the perfect time. Needless to say my first day was filled with that eyes-wide-and-take-it-all-in vibe. I landed early and immediately dashed through all immigrations and customs. Both Montevideo and Rio were a frequently-flier’s dream. I didn’t even have to take my shoes off! Even my Mate Yerba made it. (I decided to try flying in true Uruguayan fashion.) So making use of the airport wifi, I called my first Rio Uber.
NOTE for future Rio travelers: The taxi people are relentless and HATE Uber so they will lie to you about where to go. You need to go to the second floor embark to meet your Uber. Also, the middle lane is the best for easy pickup.
1. Rio people will talk and talk and talk
My driver was wicked nice. A thing I have notice about Latin America in general is that even when they absolutely know that you do not know the language, people will continue talking nonstop about whatever it is they think you should know. My Uber driver decided that I needed to know all of the street names. A lady in the Metro, whom I asked for directions, talked until the subway came about Christ the Redeemer being so expensive when I told her I wanted to go.
My Uber from the airport was a nice view of the city from one end to the other. I was immediately taken with the vast number and sheer size of the Favelas. These are the poorest parts of town that all tourists are wildly discouraged from going into. Even with the Olympics/World Cup cleanse to make Rio safe again, my driver’s adamant no no no no no every time we passed one and I took pictures was enough to discourage. Picture massive dilapidated brick boxes stacked. Looking at them, you could not image how they are safely inhabitable. Then hanging clothing and the random person in the window reminds you that poverty is real and people actually live in falling apart boxes. The buildings sweep up the mountains. Ironically, the Favelas have some of the best views in Rio. They are not tucked away in a corner like most cities. The Favelas are clearly visible and everywhere. One stops and two blocks later another one starts. It sounds like I’m already painting Rio in a negative light. On the contrary. There is a beauty to the destruction. The buildings are quite colorful and their placement on the hills make areal views of them stunning. They are a community, albeit a rough one, but a sharing of experiences nonetheless. Let’s put it this way. One can tell a stranger in the Favelas and I find that oddly poetic. I would give anything to be able to see this community firsthand, but I think I’ll do as my Uber driver’s does and just say no this trip.
I pride myself in figuring out the public trans system in most cities, but Rio just alludes me. The buses make absolutely no sense. It’s like the all go the exact same route called the circular but then have these modified baby routes that completely mess you up. My hostel is right next to the botanical garden but only one main bus from the circular goes there. The rest just seem to skip it, but then drive right past. Again…no sense. And don’t even get me started on the Metro. I freaking LOVE metro systems. I have figured them out in English, Italian, Spanish, and French. But I for the life of me cannot figure out The Brazilian Portuguese. Is it because I don’t know the areas? Is it because the line I actually needed was the Metro Superficie, which is actually a Bus NOT a subway (WTF?!) that made me all confused? I have no idea. But I asked four different people. Had a super nice lady basically hold my hand on the subway to get me back on track and I still got lost and ended up above ground waiting for a bus and then quickly hailing a cab because the man sitting next to me decided to smoke some crack out of a beer can creation. As pissed as I was about the 25 Real ride home, I figured it was a better idea.
My first stop was a little street market for some pastel de queijo (think fried chick dumpling with cheese). The Brazilians love their fried food and I don’t blame them. However, after some asian and some tacos I rate them at a 6 so far for flavor. Don’t get me wrong…this is a large step up from the 2 that Montevideo hovers around daily for me; nevertheless, I believe I need to try some more Brazilian delicacies before making up my mind. As of right now, the international food scene is so so.
5. Blending with the landscape
One of my favorite parts about Rio is all of the green. When they say Jungle, they mean jungle. Even flying in, I saw massive mounds of Forrest tucked among the people. It’s as if Brazilians know and understand that they land was here first, and we are merely encroachers upon it. My hostel is situated right behind the Botanical Gardens. Great green giants loom over the outdoor patio. I feel completely wrapped in nature. The only place I have come close to this was Costa Rica. Sure, we had forest in Tennessee, but the forest was harsh and austere. The green was dark and the rocks were black. This green is happy and friendly. This green invites you into its shade as a welcome respite from the sun. This green promises protected wildlife and insects. And the best part, follow the green up and up and the massive Christ statue opens his arms to more possibility and adventure.
6. Bar scene
Rio has a very unique nightlife that I have not even begun to tap into. I’m waiting for the real nights out when Gabriel gets here. However, I did find a super cute and super safe street called Patricia. This is where all the young people go to hang out no matter what day it is. Why is this unique? Well, the restaurants and bars that line the streets have very little indoor space. Five, maybe six tables at most stand empty in the air-conditioned room. The rest of the tables and the people are out on the sidewalk. One must slowly meander through tables filled with loud friends laughing and talking, liter bottles of beer being kept cool in perfect-fitting cold koozies, and tiny cups for sharing. The cups crack me up because in the states, they are considered the “tasting cups,” meant for one or two swallows to see if you like the stuff. Here, these cups represent sharing and community. I know because I, too, sat for a beer and was handed a regular sized chilled pint glass. The other difference I noticed were the empty bottles. In the states, many times a waitress will remove the finished drink to replace it with another. That way the table doesn’t seem crowded or dirty. Here, it is almost a scene of pride as the empties accumulate. I saw a table of four men with seven empty bottles. The table looked like it was getting ready to play a game of bowling with bottles. Even on a Tuesday night, the streets are filled with the locals enjoying the semi-cooled air, the refreshing beer, and each other.
The one thing I love about Montevideo is the cleanliness. It isn’t the clinical clean of Austria. But Uruguayans definitely take pride in aesthetics. Street sweepers come several times a day to empty trash and sweep the corners. Each morning, beach cleaners rake the beach. Yes, there may be a strike once or twice and the trash overfloweth, but for the most part, Montevideo is pleasantly clean. Rio is most certainly not. Maybe it’s the pound of sunscreen and bug repellent on my skin. Maybe its the constant feeling of perspiration sliding down my back. Maybe its the vast amounts of trash on the side of the roads. Either way, Rio feels dirty – like shower every hour dirty. My students know that I loath hand-sanitizer. I find it repulsive, but please believe the Purcell has become my new companion. If anyone asked for my bag, I’m pretty sure I’d be like “just leave me the hand sanitizer!”
8. Overall impression
There is so much that I haven’t explored yet. There are so many unique places and adventures that Rio offers. However, my first overall impressions is that Rio lives up to all of it’s expectations. It’s lively. There is never a dull moments within the hustle of the people and the traffic. It’s diverse. All shades of people, plants, and animals make up the city. There are huge racial discrepancies still and massive gaps in socio-economic levels, but it is clear that no one is specifically ignored. It’s scary. I’ve never watched my back or my bag more and actually think three or four times before pulling out my phone to take a picture. The reputation coupled with the watchfulness of the locals gives a definite sense of caution. It’s Portuguese. Although English is widely spoken in the tourist areas, Spanish is not. One man actually told me he preferred English to Spanish. (To be fair, I am still butchering my new adopted language a bit.) The languages are similar enough that I can get by, but Portuguese has moments of complicated letters and pronunciation. Was it everything my younger self believed it to be? Yes and no. But for now, Rio still feels fantastical.
**Pictures to come when I can figure out how to get them off my GoPro and on ton my IPad.