When we arrived in Rio de Janeiro on 1 November 2009, it was close to midnight and unbearably hot, but the city showed no signs of slowing down for the night. Cafes and bars and stores were still open, and people spilled out onto the street.
It was colourful and loud in the central areas, and it wasn’t until the light of day that the distinction between those who have everything and those who have nothing is apparent. Many taxi drivers and buses will take a longer route to avoid showing tourists a glimpse of the slums, but we were lucky to strike a cabbie with excellent English, who took us past the real Rio. It was intensely sobering, shocking and heartbreaking to be driven past neighbourhoods where multiple families live in ramshackle tin huts that look as though they’ll collapse in the merest breeze.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot to see in the city itself; most tourists come for the beaches and for carnaval. There are some absolutely gorgeous parts of town, but there’s not a lot to do other than laze on the littered white sands and watch the multitudes go by.
For the first two nights, we stayed in a small hostel that I’m sure was the loudest and hottest place in the whole city. Despite using earplugs and the ceiling fan that spun in lazy circles above our bed, we got hardly any sleep, and decided to move on fairly quickly.
We decided to spend a few days in a hotel in Copacabana (go on, sing it with me…), mainly to satisfy my beach-loving husband. I spent my time reading and shade-chasing, while Tall was thrown about by some very impressive waves. Anything goes on the beaches in Rio; it was so refreshing to see people of all shapes, sizes and colours relaxing and not giving two hoots about what they look like, how their bellies hang over their speedos, or how their impressive Brazilian bums seem ready to escape from their teeny g-string bikinis. It certainly made this pasty white kiwi with the expanding belly feel very un-self-conscious!
When sitting on the beach got too much, we took a cable car up to Sugar Loaf Mountain, which has amazing views across the city and up towards Christi Rei, ready to launch himself from the top of Corcovado. We sat and watched the sun set behind the famous landmark, before taking the twilight cable car back down into the city.
We wandered out of the main city area for dinner one night, and came across a restaurant that looked okay. However, we were disappointed again by the lack of fresh seafood on offer, and the fact that the rest was overcooked. The only redeeming feature was that on the translated menu, the desserts fell under the title, “Hail to the Chubby”! Tee hee!
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Rio, to be completely honest. I was still experiencing a bit of morning sickness which was compounded by the heat and some terrible food, and we were approached countless times by beggars and young children asking for money and food. And later, when we returned home to New Zealand, we discovered Tall’s credit card had been skimmed at the airport when we first arrived, and someone had been having a great time spending over £1000 in various places around the city. Luckily we were able to prove we weren’t in Rio when the transactions took place, and all of the money was returned to our account.