Leaving home. Alone for the first time in a country that I don’t speak the language. Everyone’s worries running through my head. Years of dreams keeping me hopeful. The anticipation, the unknown, and the free alcohol and movies to distract me until I got there.
Getting off the plane, with no more phone as a safety, I was looking for my Couch Surfing host, Victor. Victor generously offered to pick me up at the airport, knowing it was my first time doing something like this. As I waited where he told me and looked around, I loved the feeling of having no idea what was going to happen. Taxi drivers were preying on me, thinking that “my friend is coming” was an excuse to wait for the best taxi driver to come my way. When we finally found each other, this new sense of friendship surged through me as I realized this guy was my lifeline for the time being. After picking me up, he had to return to work for a couple hours, so I went with him and wandered around downtown while he worked.
Throughout the two weeks I spent in Rio it became my favorite place for many reasons, one being its balance of nature and city. The pictures show the beautiful mixture of grey cement and luscious plants, the mass quantities of VW buses and motorbikes, how people set up stands everywhere to sell things like the man only selling salt shakers, or the booth only selling gold fish and the fresh coconut water to hydrate you at every corner. Around 1/3 of the businessmen were walking around with a popsicle in hand, I felt like I had found Never Land. Museum of Modern Art
One of my favorite parts of couch surfing is getting to see places that most tourist (and even locals actually) never see. These places aren’t “secrets spots” that the travel channel would do a special on, but I am just weirdly curious about everything, even the insignificant or boring details of a story. I like to see how people live. When I start falling in love with a place, I want to know what it would be like if I actually lived there (in a neighborhood I could afford) or what it would have been like to grow up there. What they eat, not the “typical” or cultural food, but like the pop tarts and egg frames of their culture.
This post is a contrast of the local and touristic places I visited around Rio. It features the most famous places such as Ipanema Beach, Copacabana Beach and the 2 brothers hike; but also the inside of Victors house, around his neighborhood, through a favela with another couch surfer, and a day we went to Carnival practice in a park.
Locals would laugh at me with my camera, wondering how I got lost so far away from the tourist area and even after Victor’s explanation they still didn’t understand. This world is full of so many details, it is impossible to catch them all, but the ones I do notice give me joy. Here a few of the details I noticed…
Ipanema & Copacabana (footvolley, slack lining, speedo bike riders, pop-up beachside cafes, soccer flags marking territory, street art, fishing net repair, etc)
Barra de Tijuca (The windiest beach, where we met up with Victors friend’s who were learning how to kite surf. The Brazilian kite surfer later moved to Europe to teach kite surfing) Ilha da Gigóia – My heart especially loved this place. It was an island inland from the beach, that the residents had to take a boat to get to and from their homes to their cars with. Children ran around barefoot playing soccer under the street lights. Other kids tried to make some money selling old toys and comic books. There was one tiny shop to get food, and we had a backyard bbq where I experienced the amazing way Brazilians make their meat, nice and salty.
Abolição (The suburb my friend Victor lives and I stayed while visiting.) Take note that they have bread-bikes (like our ice-cream trucks) with a guy that rides around with a bell selling to the neighborhood. The other day I was reminded of this and thought it would be a fun idea to make loafs of bread and sell them this way here…it will probably just stay an idea. For breakfast many times we ate toasted sandwiches filled with jam and white cheese. Victors family (mom,dad, and grandma) spoke no English, but I fell in love with them and we are still Facebook friends. They nursed me back to health one day that I couldn’t get out of bed and Victor had to go to work, I am eternally thankful for their kindness.
I could have taken a million photos of all the hills with the faded, colorful, box houses, they were gorgeous.
The train that connects the suburbs to downtown to Ipanema beach. This wasn’t even as crowded as it could get. One day I was sandwiched in so good that I was leaning at a 30 degree angle balancing on the toe of one foot and the shoulder of a stranger. Notice the line in the 3rd picture of people hoping to make themselves fit in a bus that we would think was full 15 people ago. Two brothers hike (Dos Irmaos Hike) is the famous double mountain seen from the beach of Ipanema. The hike starts in the middle of a favela, which can be scarier than the cliff you reach at the top. While looking at the views think of Neverland.
The street art is gorgeous throughout Rio (Buenos Aires had some amazing street art also). I couldn’t take pictures of most of it because we drove quickly by or I didn’t have my camera in those neighborhoods. But I can’t resist mentioning it.
Complexo do Alemão – A tram that goes through one of the 700+ favelas of Rio. From above I could see the police marching around with their huge guns. The favelas are the poorest neighborhoods but I found it interesting that they were usually placed in areas that would be reserved for the rich in California, such as hills with views and seaside cliffs. There was something beautiful in them and I wish I could meet the people that lived there and hear their stories and understand. A couch surfing friend took me on the tram to the top where we got Acai, talked and rode back down. I bet this tram would be gorgeous at sunset.
Flat tire on the way home. It may be hard to tell in the photo but this is the middle of a road where he is changing his tire. Brazilians are the craziest drivers I have experienced. Baking up on freeway ramps after realizing they have gone the wrong way, and using their horns to warn other drivers that they will be weaving through the tiny pockets of traffic.
Carnival practice – I wasn’t able to stay for Carnival in February, but lucky for me my friends knew about a park where they practiced in and had mini parties leading up to make sure all the parts were in tune with one another. I can’t imagine what the real thing would be like, but the way Brazilians party and celebrate life is so passionate and pure. It felt more like a wedding to me then a frat party when we would go out on the town.
Sunset BBQ – How a bbq differs in Brazil verses the United States is that they grill up the meat in waves and everyone will pick at it slowly. Rather than in the United States where everyone gets a steak or piece of chicken or sausage. I liked this. Peru did something similar to this with drinking. They would get a 40oz beer and just one tiny glass (barely bigger than a shot glass) and take sips of it together, passing it around until it was gone.
People warned me about not leaving my stuff on the beach unattended. But when you have a couch surfer take you to his secret spot, you have the luxury of the beach vendors walking around, but not the risk of the big crowds to snatch up your things unexpected. I loved the beach vendors, it was like being at a resort with beachside waiters, however you were just on a public beach, casually chilling with friends. Beach vendors are like the popcorn guys at baseball games, but sold everything from bathing suits to mangos to candy I can’t pronounce.
The sugar loaf – cost $25 to go up. I almost missed out and decided that I had experienced so many cool things that I didn’t need to pay to do this. But once I got to the top and saw the view I knew I had to experience the sunset up here. The pictures speak for themselves. Their was even a diamond ring store at the top to help any impulsive romantics.
People tend to ask what my favorite place was on my South America trip. As you could imagine this is a hard question. Everywhere is unique and has things that you will miss forever. However if I was forced to pick a place I would have to say Rio De Janeiro (or the Amazon). It might be my favorite because it was the first place I traveled solo internationally, but I think it is my favorite for that perfect blend or nature and urban life. You can go on a gorgeous hike, or hang out at the beach and still have amazing street art and sports stadiums and dance clubs. Not only that, but the people there are some of the most excited people I have ever met in my life. I understand I might be stereotyping all of the people because my Couch Surfing host was so full of energy and craziness. But it wasn’t only him, as we drove/walked around I would look in the mechanic shops and various restaurants and everyone was laughing and teasing each other. People couldn’t even keep the party in the bars, they would spill out into the streets and fill them with energy. As I traveled on (and since I have been home) I have told people about my perception of the Brazilian people and everyone says the same exact thing. Rio you stole my heart.