#102. Go to Rio de Janeiro. We left Sao Paulo where the city’s highrises are crying out for a lick of paint, the pastry shops are bulging and there is enough fresh juice to make even the Breakfast Bandit blush (there is no such thing as a juice that isn’t fresh in Brazil), and travelled to the island of Ilha Bela – two hours drive and a ferry ride away. There we stayed overnight at a pousada where our hosts were more than hospitable and we spent a lot of time using hand gestures to get around our lack of Portugese. Ilha Bela is all about the beaches although there seems to be very little left of them. This doesn’t seem to put anyone off as the islanders and thousands of local tourists jam-pack every available spot of sand.
And then it was time to head for Rio – a five hour drive made into 11 hours as thousands flocked back into the city after an Easter weekend.
This city has an edge. You can feel it in the huge police presence (federal, municipal, tourist), and in the towering favelas that rise above the city, by night their winking lights all pretty, by day they are shanties hanging off the mountainsides and commanding the best views of the rich. Around the Copacabana the streets smell of homelessness, and of one too many drunk having relieved themselves on the once pristine black and white stone paving that is the trademark of Rio’s major beaches.
The morning was spent at the Corcovado – the statue of Christ the redeemer – whose outstretched arms and beatific smile command the highest point of the city overlooking a dramatic landscape of mountains and sea, of scattered islands all haphazardly arranged.
Then a walk from Copacabana beach across to Ipanema. The Copacabana feels like Durban’s marine parade before it got messed up by bad design – one long boulevard to be walked, strolled, jogged or cycled, the little beach shacks offering fresh coconut water and caiparinhas.
But no girls to inspire songs here just lots of people covered in tattoos and dressed in very little and with lots to show – it seems North America’s problem is now South America’s problem. Rio has gone large. McDonalds is everywhere.
We joined in by having lunch at a churrascaria in Ipanema – traditionally Brazilian with mountains of sushi (not so traditional) and Argentinian beef (OK, I am not sure where the Brazilian part comes in) until more walking was needed.
Everywhere there are people – the rich sandwiched between the poor – and you get the feeling that the city belongs to all who live in it. In the haze of the afternoon you can warm to this city, its shapes start to become familiar, its edges less rough.