Welcome back to more of my travels so far. This latest edition takes me on board my first plane in quite some time heading from the Bahian capital Salvador down south to the famous city of Rio De Janeiro.
Like with many things in Latin America, you have to do things backward to go forward and this flight was no exception. I decided to fly with the brazilian irline TAM which was the cheapest and got me to Rio in four hours or so. But instead of flying directly south to the destination, they decided to reroute the flight 45 minutes of a flight north of Salvador to Iracaju to collect more passengers. I would hvw thought that it would have been more wiser and cost exfective to fly from Iracaju to Salvador and then to Rio? Anyways, it was a minor hassle having to fly at 2:30am in the grand scheme of things, but I was quite tired having burnt the candle at both ends the night before this resulted in very cranky Casey after short bouts of sleeping and waking, embarking and disembarking continuously for four hours. Eventually I find myself awake and looking out my window seat, oogling the amazing landscape drawn beneath me of Rio De Janiero as dawn broke. Which made the arrival even more special was the fact that the plane was to land at the domestic airport of Santos Dumont which straddles the the coastline of Rio's bay huge bay. I land early and on time, 6:30 to be precise with another piece of my journey falling into place easily, that being my accomodation for the next five nights was only a short hop, skip and jump away in the nearby area of Lapa, some five minutes away. I grabbed a taxi as it was recommended to me via the owners as regardless of the day or night, I stood out like a sore thumb with all my regalia and possibly I would have been a target for the early morning muggers. The early bird catches the worm I told myself as I reasured myself getting into the taxi. Books hostel was the name of the hostel I was to stay at, based on Francisco Muratori. The security guard was the only one on duty when I entered through the door, there wasnt a murmur to be heard. Either this place was dead or everyone had a big night from the night before. It was to be the later of these reasons as to why it was so quiet when I arrived at 7:30am and over the course of the next few nights I was to having a 'blue' whale of a time there too, the blue whale being the biggest! As it was still quite early, I would have to wait till noon to check in to my room. In the meantime I was offered breakfast and to chill out whilst the 59 bed hostel came to life with people from all over the world wrestling the crust from their eyes as the joined me at the table. A man approached me weaing nothing but a pair of shorts, a hairy chest that his grandmother had knitted for him and a beard far beyond its Gillette Mach 3 days. There was hardly an introduction but instead a question as to how I heard of the place, as if it was a secret society or something. His questioning and appearance startled me as I was unprepared from such a question without an introduction atleast. I later found that this person was Felipe, the 26 owner/manager of the place, a person with whom I became great friends with, someone who I admire for his way of managing and socialising all at the one time. Over the course of my stay there, we were to have many a caper, memories that I will always remember. The hostel had a quirky egde about it. Felipe was an avid reader, hence the name of his hostel and he managed to incorporate ideas from his reading habit into the make and feel of the place along with the fact that it was constantly occupied by travellers. One of the ideas being an old suitcase hung high on a wall, open, with all the cutriments one would have in a suitcase hanging out of it. A nice simple idea of decorating with leftover items from guests, I thought. The location of the hostel was smack bang in the middle of Lapa, a two minute walk from the famous white aquaduct that is found there and the beautifully tiled steps of Lapa, the ones that were featured in the song by Snoop Dog/Lion and young man Pharrell Williams. Having not really met anyone as such from the hostel, news comes down the wire that not one but three people I had met previously in Brazil would be in Rio over the same days that I was there. Early in the afternoon, I hooked up with the first of these people and headed to check out Lapa in all its glory during the day to make the most of it before the throngs of people arrived later that night for the famous Friday night street party. We then checked out the bordering neighbourhoods of Santa Teresa and Gloria. Back in the day, these wold have been places of Police interest but have since been cleaned up thoroughly and are actually amazing locations to live it. Gorgeous houses built on steep streets, at the top giving commanding views of Rio's geography. Santa Teresa up until a few months ago used to have a tram system in place that ferried residents up and down the neighbourhoods hills but is now inoperable due to some poor soul who lost their life hanging from the side of the tram. Regardless of the fact, locals are crying out for the trams return, their link to the city's streets below. Some have even painted murals depicting the importance of the tram and why they want it back so badly. Back at the hostel, Felipe opened the bar between 7pm and 11pm each night. Four hours doesnt seem to be that long but it was enough to instill the party vibe amongst his guests. There I bumped into a another friend whom I had met in Praia Pipa. We got chatting and decided to do something exciting the following day, something that not all visitors to Rio do.
The next day dawned with beautiful weather, clear skies, a warm breeze and nil aon scamall sa spéar! (I'd say im missing a few fadá's, but you get the picture). Whilst other guests were nursing their sore heads or heading out to enjoy the beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema, myself and my two friends found ourselves in taxi to the area of Sao Contrado, a beach suburb of Rio south of Ipanema, heading up to the hills beside it to shock the system whilst we handglided over Rio! Once at the beach, we were met by our contact there and he drove us up to the take off point for the flight. It was first gear all the way up the hills with them being so steep. The jitters that some of us felt was made more special once we captured the commanding views of Rio. Straight in front of us, you could see the beach of Sao Contrado and to its left blocking the way to Rio's central district was the infamous favela of Rochina, the one made famous in the films City of God and City of Men. Once the glider was assembled I was greeted by my non-english speaking pilot/instructor, Blade. For some reason, I dont think his mother christened him Blade but the name was appropriate for the way he flew through the air, like a hot knife through butter! Blade also looked a bit more like Wesley Snipes than I did, stinking of taxtaion fraud! After a quick tandem run as I held on to him and kept pace, he deemed me OK to fly, that was it... you can run, you can fly. As I said, he didnt have a dicky birds notion of English, so jumping off a 750metre mountain was bound to be interesting. The moment came, I was strapped in, or atleast he thought I was as I didnt know what the hell I was connected to! With 4 to 5 running steps, looking out and never down, the land gave way and weeeeeeee, we were airbourne. I've done a sky dive before, so I had to make a comparison and I must say that the skydive still holds the number one spot, atleast for what you experience as a first timer. However, the handgliding was over all more relaxed, you could see more and I never felt in danger as we took in the sights below, other gliders to our left and right and some above us as we worked with the thermal and ocean winds all the way down. All three of us landed within minutes of each other with beaming smiles to boot, it must have taken us a solid hour to shut up about it, "remember this", "did you see that", "I was like", "argh". You get the picture.
Later that evening, after recovering from our afternoon of aerial fun, I met up with another guy I had met perviously in Brazil. We toured some of the bars in Lapa but this evening soon fizzled out early as I couldnt stand his constant positive then negative approach to everything. An example conversation would be: him - "I stayed in this place, it was cheap", me - "yeah?", him - "mmmeeeeehhh, it was not so good". Him - "I did such and such", me - "yeah?, him - "meeeeeeehhh, it was not so good", over and over and f*cking over, the course of the night. Ugh! I pulled a sicky and got out of there as I was sick of the one sided converation, thats right, I wasnt able to get an edge in sideways, me!! I used to be fun having a conversation with you friend, but I've decided, meeeeeh, its mot so good! Bye!
The following morning brought an overcast sky, but it was dry and relatively warm. A good day for some sight seeing I said to myself. At this stage, I had gotten to know a good few of the crew at the hostel, three of them and I then headed to see one of Rio's iconic showcases, Christ The Redeemer. We a had a short bus ride from Lapa to the area Cosmo Velho, where from there we got the train to the top. Not knowing that there was only one train that services the summit every half hour or so, arriving at mid day, we had to wait two and half hours for our chance to go up. There was also the option to walk up the mountain which would have taken hours, but I'm on holidays so I was getting the choo choo! Ye can walk, I'll meet ye up there with the flask and sangagiges ready! Half way up the mountain on the train, being slanted back at a near 45 degree angle, I take out my camera to take a few shots. Snap, nothing happens. Snap, nothing happens. I went to investigate only to find that there I hand never replaced my memory card. Oh my dear lord was I bulling! I was absolutely ripping and I still hadnt gotten to the top. All I wanted was to get off the now poxy mountain and return home. I had only a few days to get to see Rio and a return trip wasnt really doable to Christ, so I sat like a bold child on the steps throwing my toys off the top whilst I waited for everyone else to do now 'stupid' poses of them standing like Chirst. If I had my camera proper, there was no way I was going to do that either.... Yes being there was fantastic when I look back, I'm very lucky to get the chance and to do that, I cant complain about that, but having your own photos to say that you were there is quite important to me, hence my bullish attitude.
To get rid of the days disappointents, Lapa's streets were alive with its famous weekly street party. Up until a few months ago, local government had decided to open the streets again to Lapa, meaning that cars once again could pass through at night instead of it being thronged with people having a great time, totally taking the edge of what the party was all about. Now folks are secluded to the footpaths or if your from America, the sidewaaaalks! Local businesses wonder why this has happened as it has done nothing but decimate the revenues that they could pull in over one solitary night. So it was to the paths for us and where ever else a foot could be put. The area was absolutely packed, samba music being played by local bands, food stands on all corners and what were by day, redundant buildings were now the coolest little bars selling caipirinha's capable of putting a man on the moon! To put it mildly I had drank very responsibly but doing so over the course of many hours ended up being not very responsible at all! Que soft head the next day.
One of the other attractions that I wanted to check out whilst I was in Rio, was the favela's that lined the many hills within Rio, and that is a lot. I think that there are over a few hundred favela's crawling with all walks of life. The reason some of them are so infamous is due to the building being built in tight spaces and poverty in affluent areas. For example, you have the beach side condo's of Ipanema and all you have to do is to raise your head to see illegal housing built one on top of the other, probably unknownst to the neighbour below as it was constructed over night. To get a closer look, we headed out to Bon Successo, a pacified favela made safe by the hard hitting branch of the Rio police force called Bopé. What made this favela so accessible was the fact that there was recently a cable car system installed over the favela. It started at the train station where we arrived and then climbed to five stations dotted over the favela below. For wary tourists like us, it was great way to see it and still have our belongings on us on our return. Below you could see the maze of alleyways between houses, hardly big enough to a suitcase down, never mind anything bigger. As Tommy Tiernan says about the Irish Travellers and the size of the televisons in their caravans, "they have televisions so big, they have to build the CARAVAN ....AROUND..IT"!!!
We got back early enough from the favela and decided to pack in another activity before the night really kicked in. So three of us headed off to the Sugarloaf mountain there that splits the beachs of Botofogo and Copacabana, where at the top, sits an observation area accessed again by cable car, two of them to be precise. It was dark at this stage and for some reason, it wasnt busy. We literally had the place to ourselves and thanks be to god for that. Before arriving we could see Christ all light up the other side of the city, so we knew that visibility was good enough to go up. The reason this appealed to me was the view from there, especially at night, one that I will never forget and one that for sure, did not disappoint. The city was alive with its lights, individual spot lamps lined each of the citys beaches to allow surfers to continue doing their thang till the darker hours and to keep the beaches safe in general with visibility. Farther off in the hills, Christ was identifiable but only because of the extreme lighting that beamed his good self to the heavens. The city centre and its neighbouring barrio's we alive too and further east to where I was standing was the domestic airport where I flew in a the bay side barrio of Nitoroi. It was a truely amazing experience to be there, to take in the unobstructed views, pretty much alone bar a handful of people enjoying the scenery in that early night hour. Satisfied with some great photos and memories, ones that will go over the mantlepriece, it was back to Lapa again.
I thought I was done with favelas for the rest of my life but the favela party that the hostel organised was happening that night. I wasnt sure if I was going to go as i 'really' didnt know what to expect. Regardless of what I wanted or thought, I was ushered into a taxi with a few others and we were on our way, an hour out of the city to the favela of Castelas San Pedras. I had a clue what to expect. Were we going to be up in the hills of the city, walking down tiny alleys just like in the movies? No. Instead, it was a neighbourhood, again pacified by the police and deemed safe enough by the hostel to haul a bunch of 20 lunatics without a word of Portuguese between us up in to the ghetto. Luckily Felipe was with us and didnt everything he could to ensure we had a good night and we did! At one stage, of course, being the biggest eejit in the place, who's pulled up on stage? You've guess it. A few others along with me were dragged up also to basically be a part of this talent contest. I hadnt a clue what was going on or what was being said so luckily one of the other lads I was with took the leap of faith and went out in front of the audience while I watched from the left of the stage. He didnt dance but just acted the complete eejit, pulling all kind of shapes before on to the floor. I think he did a turtle spin at one stage. Next up was a local girl, she'd done this before and it was not a talent contest or dancing contest that I was entered in as such but a contest who could shake their booty the most whilst hovering the closest to the ground. I know knew why I was chosen! So basically my understanding of this was that you have to paralyse your upper and lower body... but not your arse. Hmmm. I had my camera on me at one point as I was taking videos of these 'amazing' dance moves being done by the other hostel crew on stage. I gave the camera to another lad as I motioned myself to the front to be ushered on in front of the raucous audience, still not yet knowing what I was going to do once out front. I was fairly inebriated at this point, so much so that the people in front of me looked more like little fuzzy animals. I felt like I could pull off some amazing dance moves, perhaps a new Riverdance version right in the favela would be suitable I thought. And thats what I began to plan in my head. Would I have enough space to run from either side of the stage and do a Michael Flatley, flying through the sky whilst landing in ae booty shaking Roscompton Junk In The Trunk Funk? The more I think of it, jaysus I was balloobas, someone must have been looking down on me and told me not to make such an eejit out out of myself on stage and didnt allow me to get close to the front to be picked. For this reason, others squeezed in before me and got on before I could show them my 'moves'. I went back to one of the guys who I thought I had given my camera to, but he didnt have it. Nor can he remember having it, even though I insisted on him having it at one stage whilst I was going dancing. To cut a long story short, I was crawling all over the stage like a womble looking for my camera whilst booty shaking was happening all around me. I ended up missing my go and not being taken into account for this prestigous event. I climbed back down off the stage in disgust, no camera and no admiration for my moves, only to find the camera in my booty shaking back pocket! Double disgusted! The people of Rio will have to wait for another time to see a 6'5" guy dropping it like its hot! Thankfully we all got home, safe and sound, wallet and dignity still intact.
The following day was to be my last day in Rio and to hell or high water I was going to the beach. I've quite jammy with the weather so far but it wasnt to be this day. It was overcast and quite windy. Regardless, a few of us ventured down to the far end of Ipanema and walked it and the length of Copacabana before heading home. I know it was a bad day and the sun wasnt out, but I wasnt at all impressed with the beaches as I thought I would be. Yeah, there city beaches but thats about it. They were dirty and uminpressive in comparison to what Brazil has to offer further north. The waves were extremely choppy so swimming was out also. Maybe I'm a bit bias to the places which I fell in love with up north like Jeri and Pipa, so perhaps I'll have to revisit Rio in the summer time when theres actually people on the beach. I wont knock them out of contention as being amazing beaches until I see them at full strength during the warm summer months, for there must be some reason Barry Manilow wrote a song about it with catchy music and attractive lyrics.
Rio was hectic but I loved every minute of it. There was things that you see, people you spoke with, flavours you tasted that cant all be described in a blog like this but it'll give you a good taster to what to expect from a town such as it.
For my next leg of the journey, my travels take me further south to the colonial town of Paraty, the scenic island of Isla Grande and the modern day metropolis of Sao Paulo.