Rio de Janeiro | Cidade Maravilhosa

Sorry for the silence y’all! 1/2 of CBTHBN are currently exploring the wonders of South America for 6 months so the change has taken some time to refigure ourselves, but from here on out we’ll be back to our regular posting with some snippets of what is going on 5,406miles away…

Part One

Landing in Rio I began to realise how little I knew about the town, home to Sugarloaf, Christo, Copacabana and the Girl from Ipanema. Over the next four days it could be said I partook in a whirlwind crash course of the city. Staying at the Ipanema Beach House I was based in an area known as Rio Sul, Ipanema sandwiched between Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, the towering Dos Hermanos and Copacabana beach is one of the better off, more cosmopolitan areas of the city.

Unable to check in to my hostel till later in the day and unsure of where to start I signed myself up to a tour of the Rocinha favela. Rocinha is the biggest favela in Rio, home to 240,000 people it is one of the 'pacified' favelas meaning they are slightly safer, although I wouldn't recommend a visit without a tour guide or local. The favela sits on the hillside looking down over Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, Gavea, and Le Blon. Visiting the favela I was struck at how many of the structures seemed to simply stack upon one another. Asking my guide I found that none have foundations and people simply add levels as they please, usually to accommodate more family or to earn money by renting rooms. The homes that sit on the Main Street that runs through the favela have access to most services whilst those that sprawl above are less well served. This being partly to the upper buildings not having addresses so the council has no means of billing. Yet this doesn't stop them accessing services and I was fascinated by the electrical pylons that seemed more like birds nests, cables sprout from cables, sprouting from cables and so on until they are so intertwined it was hard to tell the top from the bottom. 

After the tour I decided to get acquainted with my new neighboured so went for a stroll to the beach. I ended up walking the length of Ipanema beach and half of Copacabana, I was hoping to see the famous Sugarloaf but the clouds that had been high in the sky when I landed that morning seemed to have closed in and hung around the famous landmark shrouding it from view. My beach wander had been a great leg stretch but I fancied walking back a different way so navigated the streets of the two areas getting to know a bit more about the area and observing that the obligatory footwear here are Havainas - EVERYONE wears them; if you can't beat the, join them right... I treated myself to a lovely green pair for roughly £6.50 if only I had reason for a pair in each colour...

The next day I was up early and the clouds from yesterday were still hanging about. I had decided given this it wouldn't be a good day to visit Sugarloaf or Christo so asked which bus I needed for downtown and set off. Unfortunately my sieve of a brain had forgotten the bus number by the time I got to the stop so hedged my bets and hopped on one in the direction of 'Centro' fingers crossed. Using the city map I had picked up leaving the hostel I was able to follow the buses journey through town. I soon realised quite how big Rio is. Getting towards Centro I spotted a colonial style building I liked the look of so hopped off the bus a little early to take a further look. The building turned out to be part of the port - I guess an old administration / entry point to the city. Cool to see but I had no idea where I was and wasn't that close to my planned destination... I was however next to the main Rio ferry terminal for access to the island of Niterói a place I had in mind visiting because I wanted to see the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC), designed by Oscar Neimeyer. Seeing as I was in the right place I adapted my plans and bought a ferry ticket over to Niterói.

As the white buildings I'd presumed were then Museum came into view I began to realise I didn't know the name of Museum I had travelled here to see, and at my presumption had been wrong. With no data or lonely planet to refer to I realised I had perhaps made a mistake impulsively coming across.

Lesson 1: Take the lonely planet everywhere

Worried I might be taking the ferry straight back across to the mainland I spent the majority of the journey kicking myself mentally. I did realise however, the ferry ticket had an image of the museum on it so I must be in the right place - worst case I can point at the picture right? Not speaking Portuguese is definitely a downfall. Luckily as soon as I got off the ferry there was a tourist information centre where I was informed the museum was "a short 45 minute walk along the coast" and so I set off.

It was more of a long walk and at times I wasn't sure how safe it was but the views back across to Rio were exceptional even if the clouds were still low in the sky. I'm sure on a clear day they'd be breathtaking. Finally I rounded a corner and the Museu d'Arte Contemporary came into view. Hanging off a rock likeThunderbirds HQ it was everything I imagined and more. I chose to visit the gallery inside as well as explore the external structure and was pleased to note Neimeyer had his angles right...

Following my walk back along the coast I arrived back at the ferry and decided to explore the original white buildings I'd seen. A theatre, council office and library along with two churches that are still in construction form the Neimeyer Way. There is a visitor centre here that runs free half hourly tours and it was nice to find out a little more about Neimeyer work - a worthwhile visit for any architecture geeks.

Arriving back in Rio I decided to try and pick up your original plan and headed through the bottom of Centro to Lapa to see the Lapa arches and Santa Teresa steps. Finding them both along with the amazing Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, I was excited to see a new side of the city rather than the urbanised jungle of Ipanema and Copacabana.

At the top of the steps carried on climbing, starting to explore the Santa Teresa neighbourhood and following signed for the named but unknown Parque das Ruinas simply because I was intrigued. One of the great things about Rio are it's signposts and information boards giving history on different areas and walking times to locations. I found my way many a time using these. The Parque das Ruinas turned out to be a house from the 20th century Belle Époque movement, over the years it had fallen into ruin and more recently has been stabilised and turned into a gallery / viewing platform looking down over the city. From here I could see the MAC in Niterói, Niterói way, ferry terminal, and Cathedral of Saint Sebastian. This view along with my tingling feet alerted me to quite the distance I had covered in one day. From this viewpoint I could also see that the clouds that had been surrounding Sugarloaf had lifted, not completely, but enough to see the top. I decided to peg it down the hill in time to catch the sunset from the top and my was it impressive.

Part Two

After two days of not seeing the sky the clouds lifted and I made it up to see Christo, words cannot explain quite how big he is! Towering over Rio, the official height of the statue is 38m, sat atop the Corcovado mountain the full height is 738m, on a clear day he can be seen from far and wide.

I chose to take the Corcovado Railway train up to the top, other options are a van or if you're feeling adventurous a hike through the Tijuca Forest National Park. The train leaves every 15 minutes and the journey up passes through the park and offers snapshots of the panoramic views you get on arrival. Interestingly, the entire statue made its way up the mountain on the original steam powered railway. Corcovado offers different viewing platforms and levels to look up to Christo and down to Rio. Although crazy busy with tourist and locals alike, I still managed to get some photos / selfies of me and the big guy, along with painting the post of my travelling postcards...

With my time in Rio drawing to a close I booked my transfer on to Paraty and made plans to spend the last day between the beach and the Botanical Gardens. I'd been anxious about visiting the beach all week as had heard it was a hotspot for pickpockets. With this in mind I decided to take nothing but myself and BRS$10 for a deck chair and parasol. It felt great to sit back and people watch. The beach sellers offered everything from 'fresh prawns' to bikinis, they didn't however, bother anyone simply passing up and down offering they're wares but not approaching unless invited. It seemed to me that Brazilians like the beach but not the water as no one seemed to be swimming, only sunbathing - I understood why when I felt how strong the waves and currents were when I went for a dip, all the same it felt great to finally be in the water after three baking days! The bright turquoise waters and the view up to the dos hermanos mountains and favela made for magical scenery and I wished I'd brought my go pro down so I could record the moment but it will be a magical image always remembered.

That afternoon I got an Uber to the Botanical Gardens and explored some more of Brazils amazing wildlife. The gardens sit right beside the Atlantic Rainforest backdrop that surrounds Rio's mountains and offered the chance to walk some paths through the rainforest as well as explore other gardens. I really enjoyed this visit and it felt great to feel relaxed and calm after a few days of constantly having my guard up in the city. If you do visit make sure to walk through the Atlantic rainforest and also the orchid house but watch out for the photo shoots. During my time in Rio I have learnt along with the beach, Brazilians / Cariocas (locals of the Rio de Janeiro State) LOVE a photograph, I have possibly seen more photo shoots here than anywhere else. I feel a lot of this is for social media rather than legit advertising... what they don't realise is that I've been caught lurking in the back of quite a few of they're shots!

Getting back to the hostel I decided to try my hand with the buses and after waiting for my bus that wasn't coming as I was on the wrong side of he road I managed to route myself back to Ipanema in time to walk along the beach and catch the sunset from the rocks at Arpoador (Pedra do Arpoador), a magical ending to a whirlwind four days in the city.

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