Arriving in Rio, we expected that many things would surprise us here. We also expected it to be very hot and very dangerous. Is this really the case?
For advice on how to avoid being killed, we went to meet Kuba. He has lived in Brazil since the 1970s, with a 10-year break for work in the USA. He was born in Poland in 1939, but in 1940 his parents emigrated with him to Great Britain. He traveled around many countries of the world, reconstructed many antique cars and made a six-month trip with an old convertible around Europe with his friend – my friend’s (Michał’s) dad, from whom we had contact to Kuba. Despite so many years abroad, we speak Polish with him without any problems.
We meet his nice wife Lina, crazy dog Johnny and together we go to bloco, and then we get an invitation to a delicious dinner, during which we learn to do caipirinha. We meet several more times, ask about life in Brazil now and then, and collect valuable tips for survival in this country.
What surprised us in Rio?
After bloco we go to visit the old town. Between the buildings having a few hundred years are hidden beautiful stairs Escadaria Selaron. The artist Jorge Selaron living in this place in 1990 decided to embellish the vandalized stairs leading to his home. 15 years of work has resulted in more than 2,000 tiles laid in steps and walls. Initially, Selaron was looking for tiles on the demolition, construction sites and rubbish bins in Rio, but later people began to bring him tiles as gifts from around the world – including from Poland.
Strolling through the old town, we were surprised by the view of storefronts. All were either covered with metal blinds or boarded up. It turned out that it was for security reasons during the carnival – the banks were also planked as well as… Burger King.
And from culinary curiosities – farofa, feijão and rice. Always. For every meal. Farofa, or roasted cassava flour, is present on the table next to salt and pepper. Obligatory also on the grill (grilled pieces of meat are coated in farofa). Feijão, something like a stew of beans, sometimes with cracklings. And rice. In addition to rice, other carbohydrates are compulsory – usually pasta or fries. Such a dinner set with meat is enough for 2 people, but we always see surprised faces when we order one dish and say we want to share.
Rio, like other cities in Brazil, is a city of contrasts. In particular, this applies to the wealth of residents and the price range in particular districts. Once, we went with self-confidence to the dingy-looking bar and ordered 4 small dumplings for breakfast. We didn’t even ask about the price, because we thought that we wouldn’t pay much in such a place. Surprise. For 4 dumplings we paid 18 BRL. And we didn’t even fill ourselves… Another time for 14 BRL we get a huge dinner, which we share for two of us (as in the description above) and we can barely eat it anyway. And these 2 places are only a 30-minute walk away. Moreover, the chocolate bar can cost more than a liter bottle of rum… Of course, the biggest contrast is the favelas in the city center bordering the big apartment buildings, with guards and fountains at the entrance, fenced with high walls.
Rio welcomes tourists not only with beautiful views. After arrival, a big wave of heat and moisture and a whole range of scents hits our face. Unfortunately, the temperature is very conducive to the development of those particularly unpleasant, and the matter is worsened by the piles of trash at the entrances to the favelas and ordinary rubbish booming on the street. Definitely, it’s not a capital of cleanliness.
If we are already at cleanliness, we were surprised by the showers at the toilet seats. At the beginning, we didn’t really know why no one was worried about the lack of toilet paper in the bathroom. In the end, it turned out that such showers are a great solution and are found here in most homes. Having finished the project, you can clean everything you have to and you don’t need to use large amounts of toilet paper, which unfortunately is thrown here in the rubbish bin, which does affect the bathroom aura.
And finally the drugstores – there are plenty of them here, more than groceries in Poland. They are the size of our Rossmann or even larger, open 24/7, and no one knows how they survive. It’s easier to find a drugstore than a convenience store or an exchange office.
The trip to Jesus
We want to climb the Corcovado hill, of course, on our own legs. Through the jungle and in the incredible heat, but every BRL counts. Transportation to the top is expensive. Before us, guys from Autostopem Dookoła Świata and Zosia and Adam during their Eskapada climbed there, so can we. When our host hears about our plans, he clearly warns us not to take anything valuable with us and to go in a larger group. At the beginning, we belittle his warnings a bit, after all we’ve walked Rio a bit, there is danger everywhere and somehow nothing happened to us. I even made an attempt to climb through the jungle to the Irmao Menor, hill towering over Ipanema, and didn’t meet anyone on the trail. However, the evening before the attack on the summit, I am digging for articles about the walking trail on Corcovado. It turns out that from January 2017, attacks on tourists in that place increased significantly, up to 40 seizures a month, and the police don’t have enough strength to secure the trail. Even the American embassy gave its citizens a clear ban on walking that path. Ultimately, to get to the top with the railway convinces us with the message that in July 2017 a Polish tourist was stabbed to death on the trail … We find that, however, we value our lives at more than 75 BRL (entry price for one person).
If you plan climbing Corcovado, be sure to check that the route is already safe. The risk of losing precious things is currently very high, and as you can see, you can also lose your live there.
The day of our trip to Jesus is cloudy, and unfortunately it is our last one in Rio. We enter with nineteenth-century cog railway dense clouds, with the resolution that we will be camping upstairs until the mist dissipates. Once every several minutes, Jesus appears from the clouds, which causes applause and cheering among the gathered people. Cameras and telephones are taken out with the speed of a gunslinger. Unfortunately, there is no chance on the panorama of Rio yet. We make our camp under the pedestal, make a picnic and wait. We don’t feel that the sun also mercilessly burns through the clouds. We will feel it only in the evening 🙂 6 bananas, 4 rolls and half a liter of yogurt later the clouds dissipate and both Jesus and Rio reveal themselves in full splendor.
Copacabana, Ipanema and how we have witnessed the robbery
Of course, we couldn’t miss a visit to these two famous beaches. It turns out, however, that they don’t differ too much from the beach, for example in Las Palmas (which we consider to be better by the way), and the beaches on the Baltic coast lose mainly in terms of temperature and intensity of “beach walls”. Copacabana and Ipanema are full of people (although Copacabana is a little less) and sellers of everything – you can buy drinks, caipirinha, sunglasses, scarves, baked cheese, cookies, ice cream and other wonders without moving out of the towel. At the entrance to the beach, it is highly recommended to buy a frozen coconut. Honor must be given to Ipanema, from which you can observe the beautiful sunsets with the background of the hills surrounding Rio.
Returning from this beautiful spectacle, we are witnessing a robbery. It’s 20 o’clock, we’re waiting for the bus. There is a boy running fast across the street. From far away we can hear the woman’s screams ‘Please! Catch him!‘. One by one, passers-by point their fingers on the robber and start chasing, including a motorcycle rider passing by. A dozen or so chase disappears from our sight around the turn, but a moment later a police car comes up. Yes, it’s dangerous. But social solidarity in Rio is a thing.
Departure from Rio
After a week of intense experience in the City of God, we decide to head north. We give ourselves a week to reach Salvador – the capital of the state of Bahia, distant about 1700 km. We say goodbye to our hospitable and forgiving host and his pets and the last time we go down the several hundred steps leading to the favela Julio Otoni.