Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Latitude 22.92711°S Longitude 43.17608°W

Saturday, April 5, 2003

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Today we stepped off the bus in Brazil's largest and most flamboyant city, Rio de Janeiro. This was to be our last destination in South America, culminating almost 8 months of energetic traveling. We decided to celebrate by checking into a decidedly up-market hotel in the Flamengo area, a part of the city sandwiched between the central business district and the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.

The choice of hotel turned out to have some subtle consequences that caught us a little by surprise. While on the one hand, it was a purely indulgent luxury to be staying in a quiet and comfortable room, served a sumptuous breakfast buffet every day, and having our belongings safe and secure, on the other hand we did not meet a single other like-minded traveler during our entire stay; the hotel seemed full of business people. As a result, our time in Rio was a little more subdued than in other cities where we quickly made new friends in hostels and went partying together.

Another reason our stay was a little low key probably had something to do with the fact that we were visiting Rio in the near aftermath of the world's biggest party, Carnaval. It had been our goal all along to be in Rio for Carnaval, but our travels through Patagonia had taken longer than planned and so we had missed out. But there was that unmistakable air of quiet recovery people have after a huge party and it made us regret we had missed it even more.

After the European finesses of Chile and Argentina, it was stimulating to get back to a country which had more exotic cultural roots. The first impression of the streets and buildings is a little more run down than in Santiago or Buenos Aires. But the dark skinned people of Brazil are friendly and have a true lust for life as seen very evidently in their beach and nightlife and music cultures. To walk outside into the streets of Rio is to be greeted by the languid strains of a bossa nova or the urgent pulsing rhythms of samba, an incredible variety of fresh tropical fruits which are blended into delicious shakes for you in an instant, endless stretches of golden sandy beaches, and a city nestled like a jewel between a sparkling blue sea and towering escarpments. It is easy to see why this city is dubbed the cidade maravilhosa - the marvelous city.

While in Rio we saw all the usual sights: the famous statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) standing with outstretched arms embracing the whole of Rio atop Corcorvado's peak. The lookout at Po de Acar (Sugarloaf) which affords spectacular views of the beaches and city. And of course, the renowned beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema which were packed with thousands of sun worshippers on the weekends. We spent a lot of time at the beach soaking up the sun and ambiance. Brazilian men with chiseled bodies and skimpy speedos would suntan while standing up - their bodies on display, to see - and in turn be seen by all. Tall, bronzed, statuesque Amazonian women in even skimpier thongs lay on squares of colourful cotton under the blazing sun, aligned carefully for the perfect tan. The beaches are the playgrounds for Janeiros. It is considered extremely uncool to come to the beach carrying anything more than a pair of sunglasses. As a result, all the beach paraphernalia you could ever need are permanently located at the beaches. Groups of young men with impossibly perfect bodies play volleyball or kick a ball. Some are doing their yoga on the beach. Others are seen working out using the bars and free weights located here and there. Vendors are happy to sell you icy cold fresh coconuts bursting with juice, or perhaps something harder like the national drink caipirinha, guaranteed to blow your head off. Women's bodies glisten with tanning oil at stalls where the vendors eagerly spray it on. The beach is the central microcosm of Brazilian life.

Photos: (click on images to see full size)

An icon of Rio: the huge statue of "Christ the Redeemer"Bird's eye view of Rio from the Cristo RedentorAt Sugar Loaf (Po de Acar)Copacabana beach from Po de AcarThe girl from IpanemaThe boy from Ipanema
Ipanema beach life

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