Rio was the most crazy, confusing and spectacular city. Even though I had been forewarned, I spent a de days struggling to get my head around the prices of Brazil – especially leaving Mexico. I initially stayed in Ipanema Beach (beside Copacabana) when I arrived in Rio. Although the beaches were beautiful, I felt like I didn’t see too much of the “real” side of Rio. It felt a lot like any other extremely wealthy neighbourhood of the West.
A highlight was an organised tour through one of the favelas in Rio – Rochina – apparently the largest with 75000 inhabitants. The favelas snake down the hillsides of Rio, stacked upon each other with what seems to be no plan or structure. We went on a walking tour through the favelas, starting at the top and walking all the way down. It was incredibly humbling to see the cramped and dirty conditions that people live in there, especially given that this favela is located a few minutes walk away from a luxury golf course and some of Rio’s most expensive apartment buildings. The gap between rich and poor was incredibly pronounced, but obviously even more so at the favelas.
The guide was very particular about when we were able to take photos, as the favelas are gang controlled. On a few occasions , the tour guide had to yell to get us to put our cameras away – even holding them in our hands was too dangerous – as boys (I choose that word purposefully – they looked about 17) strolled past with rifles slung over their backs. The guide told us that these guys are so well connected, we could be anywhere in the favela and they would know, as they have eyes everywhere.
After a couple of days in Ipanema, we moved to Santa Teresa – a beautiful neighbourhood perched on the top of the hills. I really really loved this change, Santa Teresa was spectacular. It is famous for its artists, bars and buildings – all beautifully perched with plants, peeling paint and incredible views.
We went out a couple of times in the nightlife district of Lapa, where roadside pop ups selling caipirinhas (a sickly sweet,deadly strong Brazilian cocktail) and beers, were more populated than the actual bars. The first time we went out, we saw a live performance of Bossa Nova, which I loved.
When we were walking around Santa Teresa we happened upon this intense football match, on a concrete pitch inbuilt into the cliff side, covered with graffiti. The game was clearly invite only – several spectators watched on from the sidelines, trying to decipher the teams and the meaning of the near – constant whistle blowing from the ref. When we went back the next night, kids with bare feet had replaced the men, and my football obsessed friend was able to join in and play. Despite the calls of “gringo”, the boys seemed to love playing with a new friend, particularly after he proved himself with a few goals. Watching those games was definitely one of my favourite aspects of Rio – it was awesome to see communities united over a mutual love of a game.