Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
For our last day in Rio, we decided it was best to have an early start… so at the crack of midday we headed into the centre of town to see some of the city’s more historic sites with two opposing walking tour maps.
Now it’s not that neither of us can read a map – I know Bec can – it’s more that the streets kept changing names and directions or just plain disappearing. Our two maps seemed to be littered with noteworthy monuments but try as we might, we couldn’t pin down a single one. We did however, stumble upon Bar Luiz – established in 1887 as a popular haunt for intellectuals and politicians – clearly is still has a magnetic pull on such types! We concluded that it should be on at least one of the walking tours and therefore count as a sight seen.
Time was ticking and Lonely Planet was very strict about us not being there after dark so we made an executive decision to cut our losses and hot foot it to the bonde (tram) up to Santa Teresa – a neighbourhood famed for its artists and bohemian community. Ironically, we managed to see quite a few of the sites en route to the tram stop – turns out we just had to catch them off guard, act like we didn’t want to see them!
It’s fair to say that what had seemed dark and dingy in Ipanema and Leblon, paled in comparison to the disorientating and overwhelming Centro area. That in turn seemed like a playground compared to the unique charms of Santa Teresa. The tram itself seemed innocuous enough until all the seats were filled and they kept putting people on around the edges, standing on a ledge maybe 15cm wide, just hanging on. This might not have been so bad had it not started raining the instant we pulled out and over the aqueduct arches which are the width of the tram tracks.
The steeper our ascent, the more ‘rustic’ the experience became. It was as though muggers and their victims decided to share a ride to the scene of the crime, the journey itself giving them time to decide which cameras and wallets they liked best. With the sun setting by the time we reached the top and having seen the most spectacular views from the tram already we made yet another executive decision just to stay on board for the return journey for which even more people decided to perch on the outside. Alongside us were a group of fearless local kids who gave us more than one occasion to look away lest we see them fall to their fate, especially coming back over the aqueduct. I might not know much Portuguese but I’m pretty sure I heard them saying ‘Look, no hands!’ just as Bec reached out to grab them.
Having survived the adventure without witnessing a death, there was one more place we couldn’t leave Rio without visiting. We hopped on a train and got off “… at the Copa, Copacabana!”. Apparently the area has fallen from grace since Bazza was last here with Lola, we did see some yellow feathers strewn about when we drove through the night before so were expecting the infamous showgirl hangout, the ‘Copacabana Palace’ to be in a state of elegant dilapidation. We were surprised therefore to find all the buildings along the beach front very much in a state of restored grandeur, almost to the point of being charmless.
Like having a Singapore Sling at the Shangri-la, we obediently ordered our Caipirinha’s but it all felt a little too ‘safe’. Perhaps it was this, or the lack of face washers provided at our accommodations so far, that made Bec take matters into her own hands… or her own bra. Having visited the swish bathrooms, I reported back with a usual star rating, awarding an extra one for the provision of individual washers for drying hands. Bec paid a visit and came back with a certain look on her face that said ‘drink up, we gotta get out of here!’. Once in a taxi heading back to Leblon, Bec reached into each cup to pull out a face washer for each of us for our onward journey. Lonely Planet were right – there is a criminal element in that part of town!
Back in Leblon, which felt palatial after the days events, we squeezed in a little souvenir shopping before dinner. Bec already bought her local attire, it was time for me to buy mine – thongs. If you are reading this in Australia, your definition of thong is correct. If you are reading in the UK, Canada or any other part of the world, your definition of thong is also accurate in describing Brazil’s national costume but this is not what I availed myself of – I refer to flip flops or Havianas which, although Brazilian, constitute an essential part of the Australian national costume. Accordingly, I’d actually left about 4 pairs behind somehow forgetting that I’m likely to be showering in hostels at some point somewhere so they doubled as a souvenir and practicality.
By now, you will have picked up that our guidebook of choice for Rio is the Lonely Planet because (a) Bec lost her copy of Wallpaper en route and (b) someone had left a copy at our hotel complete with their notes. We decided to take the advice of this random stranger as denoted by a circle on a map for our last supper in town. Somehow, this stranger had looked into the future and seen an odd couple – a scruffy, brokenhearted backpacker and a pretty princess with a wheelie bag and marked out this place as a happy median – casual but with a clientele in possession of their own shoes and teeth.
We’re sorry to be leaving Rio so soon, in fact we had tried to ditch Sao Paulo altogether in favour of spending the rest of the time here but our terms and conditions weren’t prepared to be as flexible as we were. So thongs in backpack and washers in wheelie bag, we looked out on the holy moon one last time…