Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I mentioned this day briefly in an earlier entry as a bit of a stop gap but here’s the full story! The day started with a 4.30am farewell to Rachael who’s time with us had come to a sudden, albeit scheduled, end. In the lead up to the trip, I hadn’t anticipated that I would have to go through more goodbyes other than those at the gate so it was a bit of an unexpected blow. There were tears as she drove out of sight.
Then there were two…
At a more respectable hour, Rebecca and I boarded our flight to Santiago, Chile where we’d change for a flight to Rio. We were pleased to find ourselves sitting in first class, which is to say, it was a tiny plane and we were in in front of the undrawn curtain – that’s it. We did however get a first class view of the most spectacular borderline in the world – The Andes. It was truly awe inspiring to be so close to them, to see their full majesty.
We enjoyed our time in Chile although in good conscience can’t really count it as a country visited as we didn’t clear customs or get our passports stamped – that seems to be the agreed rule however, we may have found a loop hole – Bec bought souvenirs so the question remains, does that trump a passport stamp? I’ll leave that for each of you to ponder.
Onto Rio de Janeiro. Now, I’m the kind of person who picks up the Lonely Planet and heads straight to ‘Dangers and Annoyances’ – for Brazil that was hardly necessary given the absolute onslaught of travel warnings about violent crime. Suffice to say, I was on guard and all but resigned to the fact that something would go down. The other side of this coin was my awareness that I’d been down this path many times before with places like Mexico, Russia, Lithuania etc – all of which amounted to nothing crime wise. I knew I was doing it again as I strapped on a money belt for the first time in a long while and even arranged a ‘decoy’ purse as suggested by a fellow paranoid traveller on wiki-travel. I know it’s not as glamorous as the reckless devil-may-care attitude that a seasoned traveller such as myself should have but hey, that’s me – better safe than sorry!
With this in mind, our first impressions were not great. Surely an international airport is a country’s welcome mat – Rio airport is dark, dirty and downright dodgy. I was grateful to be with Bec and her fancy taxi-catching ways because it meant we were met at the airport and driven through an equally dark and daunting city and then out the other side… and up a hill… into even deeper darkness… luckily, we were delivered to our hotel which was clearly further than we thought from looking at the map at the time of booking.
A big sigh of relief as we stepped through the gate into a gorgeous rainforest setting and a beautifully designed guest house that we could call home for the next few days. Just to complete the picture though, from the terrace we had a perfect view of the favela (slum) up the road and glowing in the distance, our first view of one of the 7 modern wonders of the world – ‘cristo redentor’ – or ‘christ on a mountain’ as we came to know him!
Our host, Jacques, gave us every assurance that Rio was not as bad as all the horror stories suggested (as proof of this, our room has a shower that opens onto a little court yard which doesn’t lock – Lonely Planet better not hear about that!). We were reassured by his casual dismissal of our well researched fears and took up his suggestion of going to dinner at a restaurant in Ipenema, Zaza – a delicious meal and our first caipirinha’s for the trip.
So begins our love affair with Rio…