Yearning for Brazil; Yarning about Rio
A little anxious, and a lot of sleep deprived, we touched down in Rio.
In light of discovering that we might not be allowed into Brazil without proof of onward travel, and with the horror stories that we'd heard, we edged our way off the plane apprehensively. Proof of onward travel was exactly what we didn't have. Unbeknown to us at the time though, once we were through UK Customs, we were good to go. So instead of resting assured, what we did do was spend the most part of the 12 hour flight from London to Rio plucking at any and every idea of a legitimate means to said proof - which, when you're thousands of feet in the air without a signal isn't the easiest of tasks. And what we did arrive at was what anyone would have done given the circumstance.. Handwrite an itinerary. Yup, handwrite. Okay, no one would do that. But now you understand the level of our distress a little more (level: lost the plot).
As I said, we were sleep-deprived - which incidentally was as a result of the same reason the night before, combined with not being packed for the 4 month trip. Organisation isn't our strength. Optimism however, is. Still, after a brief nap once we'd formulated our ingenious plan, our certain delirium was lifting a little and upon exit of the plane, we now realised just how ridiculous our proposition was.
Looking suspiciously shady in our angst, and almost deserving of questioning because it was plastered all across our mute faces, we were successfully ushered through with everyone else - to no surprise of anyone reading this with half a brain, I'm sure. Our WhatsApp group wasn't named 'Idiots Abroad' to be ironic.
Upon reclaiming our bags I quickly realised that my decision to not purchase a new rucksack for the trip, but rather take with me my now quite seasoned bag, was a terrible one. Approaching on the conveyer belt entirely absent of buckles and ties on one side, bursting with everything I owned for 4 months, was said bag. Unfazed, overwhelmed by excitement of the times ahead, I cut my losses (literally having to remove now redundant straps hanging off) and hauled my sorry excuse of a rucksack over my back, walking away from Baggage Claim with a slight slant in my stance. We headed to the allotted taxi rank outside, charging through to the masses of taxi drivers and porters that were now swarming round us - a tempting offer.
Now let me tell you a little something about driving in Brazil - it's chaos. We hurtled down the highway into Rio, weaving our way in and out of traffic like something out of Mario Cart. We were exhausted, to the point where my eye sockets actually hurt. So we weren't very elaborate in our expressions of our first-sight love of the place, but sat stunned in a mutually agreed silence of awe. Absorbing and appreciating internally all the same. Being nightfall, the starry-like city lights that scattered the hills and enveloped the river only added to the surrealism of the experience. Unforgettable magic.
Arriving at Mambembe hostel, there were hammocks, there was street art, and there were even cactuses growing out of toasters - quirks upon quirks. We hit the hay, clambering into beds stacked like literal hay bales, piled 3 high. As someone of 5ft nothing stature, the act of which was a little on the challenging side, and one I wouldn't be reversing until morning. In that moment it occurred to me just how strange the concept of sleeping was, something I'd never really thought about before, but as I looked around at the beds in this hostel dorm I couldn't help but think of them like individual charging pods we all retreat to for our nightly dosage of rejuvenation. And finding it almost comical, I called it a night.
The next day arrived, our energy depletions restored, and we headed out to explore. We'd been warned that the neighbourhood could be dangerous, so we only strayed about 20 minutes from the hostel before opting for a table in a restaurant overlooking a Plaza, complete with church view. Idyllic.
We thought this would be a perfect opportunity to begin getting acquainted with Brazilian culture, try some traditional Brazilian cuisine, practice speaking some Portuguese ... And we ordered pizza. Still, the intention was there. And in our defence, pizza is international. So technically, technically, we succeeded. But all intents and purposes considered, we'll look on it as a seeking of familiarity in a place we were feeling very much stranger to at this point.
Turns out though, pizza isn't as standardised as you might think, no. In search of a simple cheese and tomato combo (what could go wrong?), we were greeted with 2 choices: Margherita or Mozzarella. Assuming tomato was a given topping, we figured Margherita must come with a different cheese for them to specify a 'Mozzarella' pizza. Wrong. In Brazil, 'Mozzarella' means without tomato. Still, could've been worse, could've tried to order 3 pizzas and only end up with 1. And that's exactly what did happen. For whatever reason - our Portuguese too poor to convey, our accents too strong, or our number gestures too misleading.. This was the situation we'd arrived at. The side plates that had arrived minutes before suddenly made complete sense. Vowing to try harder at pursuing Brazilian cuisine next time and not wanting to question their apparent better judgement that we only needed to share 1 pizza between the 3 of us, we ate our 2 slices and made a swift exit.
The evening which followed excused our lack of venturing into Brazilian culture up until that point - a Brazilian street party with some locals we'd met. What an experience. Full of energy with samba, salsa & jazz. And what was insane to us, yet wonderful about the whole event was that it had only been publicised to the people 2 hours prior and despite being a Sunday evening, families with all age ranges showed up in their hundreds, bar and snack stands in their many, topped off with a live band to steal the show. And that's exactly what they did - with the help of a couple of extremely talented 3 year olds slamming on keyboards and strumming air guitars between sets, that is. The atmosphere was electric and the impressive backdrop of a view overlooking Rio by night, only added to the sparks. It was so incredible to see for our own eyes the Life in the Brazilians that we'd always heard of; I loved how
much of an integral part of their culture social activity is.
A little less fresh than the start of the previous day, but without an ounce of regret, we headed to the spectacle that is the Lapa Steps. There we found the iconic, explosive colour tower of 215 steps (made up of over 2,000 unique, intricately detailed tiles, collected from over 60 countries all over the world) stretching out 125 metres. Visiting the Lapa Step's is something I would highly recommend, purely to soak up the vibe that surrounds them. It's a destination for artists to congregate and showcase their talent under illumination. You're guaranteed to meet
some really interesting characters there - as we did - who are so glad to share their work with you, whether that be hand-crafted jewellery, paintings, or to provide music to your ears. We chatted with one jewellery maker at the bottom of the steps who was selling jewellery for his livelihood whilst learning English, and was pleased to discover England was where we were from, keen to practice. An incredibly kind-hearted soul and we were full of admiration for his range of ink-based necklaces- Molly so much so she proceeded to buy one of his creations.
Returning to Rio after a sun-chasing attempt to Paraty, we sat on the beach eating Acai under a cloudy sky. Commenting that I could do with a little bag for carrying around my valuables, as girls can do, a beach seller arrived right on cue with a selection of 'zip bags'. What is a zip bag, you're probably wondering? Or for those of you who do know, are probably shaking their heads just as Molly and Sarvi were at my fascination with such. A zip bag, is a bag taking its form being made completely out of 1 zip - a great buy for travelling because it packs down so small. And no I'm not a salesperson for them. I just found it really, really cool.
So I broached my first haggle, only jokingly so at first not wanting to push my luck, and then actually pulled it out the bag (no pun intended). I was chuffed. And I ignored the stares of confusion, deflecting the borderline-disapproval from my friends, who were evidently questioning my choice.
After being told Rio was the 'most foggy' ever seen by a girl at our hostel (Walk on the Beach) but with a flight to Iguazu looming the following day, we realised our opportunity window for visiting Christ the Redeemer with clearer skies was limited. Our doubts of a restricted view were confirmed when with our tickets came a big, bold 'NO VISIBILITY' stamp. A tad on the unnecessary side we thought. Laughing to ourselves as another tale of the 'Idiots Abroad'
unfolded, we carried on up the tram ride regardless. When we reached the top, though not disguised completely, the city below was in fact submerged in cloud. The view of the statue however, couldn't have been clearer. We were above the cloud - the gamble had paid off. And with our spirits remaining high, told ourselves that actually, we'd got an even better deal than the expected; the rare haze we'd witnessed, made our experience unique.
By the time we headed up Sugarloaf mountain, the haze had thickened some more and meant our chances of glimpsing sunset over Christ the Redeemer were slimming fast. But we went anyway. Again, telling ourselves we were lucky to have such a rare experience. The guy operating the cable car was slightly more sceptical though - explaining while we waited in the 3 man queue (that's us, we were the 3 man queue) that we could go up and down as many times as we liked if there was nothing to see at the top. Now becoming so much more than a mode of transport to the intended attraction, promoting rides on the cable car had become the next best thrill in the absence of such. And to be fair, we could see for ourselves why he was hesitant to match our optimism; the disappearing metre of cable line visible made it look like we were going to plummet to our deaths, never mind glimpse the sunset.
We almost had the viewing platform to ourselves with the exception of a few fellow optimists, who admired the heavenly setting with us briefly before heading down. In amazement of the white surround, and our excitement of being in a cloud not having faded for a good 45 minutes, we remained up. With what happened next, we couldn't have been more grateful for that either. A gust of wind blew the slightest wisps of cloud along, and in that movement revealed Christ the Redeemer illuminated in orange, with a touch of pink. It was the most dramatic reveal of the iconic statue we could have ever imagined, especially given the weather conditions - the kind of moment that lifts the hairs all over your body in a chilling, but moving way. Godly.
After that, the cloud continued to lift and we witnessed the most stunning sunset I've ever seen as darkness fell over Rio. Against the odds and the expectations of the cable car operator, we ended up staying up there for 3 hours in total. Quite the contrary to the 5 minutes he'd predicted. We sat overlooking the city pondering life over hot chocolates and custard doughnuts with a definite sense of euphoria reflecting on the days events. And in her expression of the pinnacle of such an amazing time, Molly verbalised my sentiment exactly; 'And a custard doughnut!' It was a good doughnut. The crème de la crème of the day, if you will (sorry if you're reading this with a severe tendency to sweet tooth cravings).
A final day in Rio, and a busy one. A Favela tour, the Museum of No Tomorrow, and an English Teabag Hunt saga (we'll get onto that later). A huge perspective taking day. Entering the Favela with a trusted guide, our eyes were opened to a whole other world - one where copious amounts of wires were hanging over head in the streets, and guns are carried around casually for protection and regulation. A contained society within a society. We visited
schools and watched a street performance of music with recycled instruments before heading up to a high point to take in the scale of the entire Favela - massive. Life within Favela Rocinha is simple, but the people couldn't be happier. Unexpectedly, and contrary to popular belief (including our own) we felt surprisingly safe precisely because of that sense of community. If you go with a respect, appreciation and interest in their way of living and not with a desire to impose your own ideals there, you will not be in danger.
Leaving the Favela, we headed to the Museum of No Tomorrow - an opportunity by the way for location posing next to the 'RIO_TE AMO' sign, for those of you that are that way inclined when you find yourselves exploring a city. This Museum is a must visit!! There are loads of interactive exhibits, extensive detail about influential points in history, combined with philosophical inquest to the future, and even a planetarium!
One of things I found most inspiring about the place was a quote at the entrance
''Our exploration of Tomorrow begins with the understanding that we belong to an immensely vast Cosmos, as old as time and in perpetual evolution, and yet, as large as it is, still fits into our thought. We are Cosmic.
...We are made of the same matter as the solar system. Interconnected to every living being on the planet. Deeply similar in our genes and brains, yet incredibly diverse in our creations and cultures. We are Earth.''
At the end of our day we realised that the perfect remedy for a long day on our feet was a good, simple cup of English tea. Unbeatable. So, onto that English Teabag Hunt saga to wrap up our time in Rio - I know what you're thinking, our final night in Rio already sounds like it's pumping up to be a crazy one (Born to be Mild). In search of some home comfort, we scouted out a supermarket to realise our dreams.
Locating that touch of quintessential England transpired to be a lot more difficult than you would expect, or probably would personally encounter with even marginal greater common sense than us. But we are who we are, and we arrived at our first hurdle: communicating our desires in the most basic of ways, given our language barrier, to a blank-faced shop assistant - 'no café, té.'
Overhearing our struggle, a man able to converse in both languages approached us to help out, and we were taken to the aisle of the tea, and the coffee. Jackpot. Twining's! Compromising the Breakfast Tea for the Earl Grey that was available, we grabbed a box along with some Milka (the right of passage for any Brit abroad anywhere ever) and some Mollico - the only long-life Milk Molly would tolerate because it almost had her name in the title. Turning over the money we had left in our Kitty in my hands, Molly and I registered the amount: 200 Reals, two 100 notes. More than enough.
Glancing up at the till screen, not anticipating needing to hand both the notes over, we saw that the total was 104 Reals. A little surprised, and after exchanged looks of confusion followed by looks of acceptance with Molly, I handed the money to the cashier. Sarvi, who had been waiting alongside us during the whole thing, took her confusion over the amount to the next level, by actually questioning it - which was when we realised we'd paid the equivalent of about £30 for our goods. And obviously, for a box of 20 teabags, some long-life milk, and some chocolate that was extortionate. But still, Molly and I toyed with the idea of it being accurate, with justifications like it being a 'novelty item' from the World section of the supermarket, and the fact it was 'Twining's' - a luxury tea brand. As I'm sure you'll support,
Sarvi shut down these suggestions in a heartbeat exclaiming they were 'ridiculous', that we were 'too trusting', and I was sent to check the shelf price before we returned to the cashier. Sure enough, it was significantly less - about 90 Reals less - and had been mistakenly put through the till wrong.
Receiving a refund and exiting the shop for the second time, satisfied with our reimbursement and the prospect of tea and chocolate, we headed for the hostel. And then came a second chipping in from Sarvi asking 'how much change did you get?' to which we of course didn't know the answer, because we hadn't counted. Caught red-handed again, having just promised minutes before to be less trusting in the future, we'd done the exact opposite of that. Much less to Sarvi's amusement in her despair with us, we were beside ourselves with laughter, to the point where trying to walk normally was a challenge. But after successfully navigating the streets of Rio for a final time, we enjoyed a calmer, more collected evening and prepared for our departure to the Iguazu Falls.