**More photos to come but the internet is too slow to upload for now!
Ah! It’s been 10 days. Hard to believe. As they say, time flies when you’re having fun. Rio was my first stop and an amazing way to start the trip. I stayed at a hostel that I loved – Discovery Hostel. Can’t say enough good things. Big beds, huge breakfast, cheap happy hour and great people. I am happy to say that I felt quite safe in Rio. Before I left the dangers of Rio were so hyped up I had started to get nervous. I was more aware there than I might be in other places – bag in front of me at all times, tried to always pay attention to who was around me. Thankfully I had no issues and none of the people I met did either. Score one for Rio!
I arrived and made it to my hostel by bus. I have decided my approach to public transport is to just attempt to explain where I am going to the person sitting next to me and hope they tell me when to get off the bus. So far, so good. My hostel was in the Santa Teresa neighborhood. I couldn’t check in yet so I dropped my bag and then went out and explored. Santa Teresa is hilly, people say it’s San Fransicoish. I’m talking hills. Stairs. Up, up and more up. I made it to the top of the bijillionth hill and got some coffee. The view? Eh. Probably not worth it but still good to get out and walk around. I was super tired so I made it an earlyish night.
For day two, I went on a 3.5 hour walking tour through the center of Rio. I saw all the big highlights there – Municipal Theater, Cathedral that looked like a spaceship/pyramid, Royal Palace and my favorite, the Selaron steps in Lapa. Selaron was a Chilean artist that mosaiced a HUGE staircase in his neighborhood. He did it for free, he just wanted to live somewhere pretty. He would sell a painting, buy tiles, sell a painting, buy more tiles and so on. In the end it was gorgeous. I love mosaics so it was one of the things I was most excited about in Rio. That night I went to Sugarloaf Mountain for sunset with 3 of the people from my hostel. Note to self, Albanians are crazy power walkers. We had to wait for someone and left later than planned. Alex wasn’t going to miss sunset though so we basically ran from the subway to the mountain which was really quite far. I was def a sweaty mess at the end but at least I got to see sunset! The sunset was ok but but the lights from the city were actually the best part. Rio is beaches straight into mountains and everything looks so nice at night. I’m glad I went up for the evening rather than just during the day. It was Friday night and Lapa, the next neighborhood over is the place to be. A big group from the hostel headed out to a street party and later to a club. The club gave free caipirinhas, the drink of Brazil for 2 hours. Caipis are like a margarita but with a different liqour and they are hella strong so it doesn’t take many to be good to go. The club had fantastic samba band – 3 different kinds of drums and 3 different kinds of guitar like instruments and fantastic singers. Even for those as tone deaf as myself it is impossible not to find the beat! It was great, we danced for hours. I can’t samba but after a few caiprinhas you just don’t care what you look like! I ended up calling it an early night by Brazilian standards – home by 3:30am. My sister gave me a pedometer before I left it was about a 14 mile day if the early morning dancing is included!
Saturday was a recovery day. Laid out on Copacabana beach. It’s beautiful. The waves are NUTS. No one really swims because the current is so strong. I dove around in the waves but I tried to be sure I could always keep my feet planted. Everything you could ever need or want is being sold at the beach – bikinis, cold coconuts, sandwiches, shrimp, henna tattoos, beer/water/tea, sarongs… someone is always hawking something. It was great to just nap on the beach and because we came as a group there was always someone watching our stuff. Everyone says Brazilians are so beautiful. Walking around the city you find all sorts of people, its a pretty average mix. Then you hit the beach and the rumors of the beautiful people are true! Lots of huge, ripped men in speedos doing pull-ups or playing soccer. Beautiful women in teeny tiny bathingsuit bottoms. Ha! Brazil lives up to the stereotype on the beach! Of course there are all sorts of people at the beach too. Its very accepting, everyone fits in at the beach. It’s not a very relaxing beach but it was great just to sit back and watch all the action everywhere. That night I went out again with people in the hostel again. Another good night but this time DJs rather than live music. I definitely liked the Friday night better but this was an outdoor venue with beautiful views over the city which was nice. An even earlier night, home by 2.
Sunday morning I caught up on sleep which felt fantastic! That afternoon 4 of us went to a game at Maracana stadium. It was cool to see the stadium and I absolutely loved the people watching. From beginning to end there were drummers going throughout the stands, giant flags waving, people singing, dancing & jumping. It was just nuts! It was an exciting game 3-3. The teams were ok but after watching World Cup games they certainly weren’t up to that standard. All the best Brazilian players play in Europe because they can make so much more money there. Tickets were only $15 though so it was totally worth it. That night we found this tiny hole in the wall restaurant and I had my best meal of Rio. Pretty basic – grilled chicken, rice, beans and french fries. It was just perfect though. Tons of food, several beers and it was about $8. That was awesome because Brazil isn’t cheap.
Monday I went off and explored on my own. It’s nice to do things on your own pace. Go as fast or as slow, take as many pictures as you want. The perfect for my date with the big Jesus! It was cloudy in the morning so the crowds were quite small. The statue is impressive up close. He really is massive! After doing that I felt like I had properly done Rio. It was my final day and I had checked everything I wanted to do off my list.
I had initially planned to go from Rio to Foz do Iguacu but I have thrown that plan out the window. First off there are no luxury, reclining bed buses to make the 23+ hour journey. I thought there were so that was a none too happy surprise. Secondly, I realized there was more of Brazil I had to see! I left Rio to Ilha Grande, a big island about 4 hours from Rio. It was a great choice, I am so happy I went!