Rio is such a beautiful city. Lush, green canopies shading almost every street, magnificent forest-covered peaks and white-sanded beach backdrops, and a constant ocean breeze filling every breath. The air is thick with the scent of both jungle and civilization. Most city blocks are lined with small bars or stalls selling everything from açai to coconut milk, and although many of the bulidings are old and unkempt they each have a very unique and interesting look – each with its own distinct personality.
And unlike American cities which seem to be populated only by commuters sealed off in their air-conditioned automobiles, cariocas can be found out and about in every imaginable nook and cranny of Rio; old men playing checkers in a park, kids playing soccer on a sandy beach, jugglers standing on crates trying to earn a few reais during a brief red light. Whereas the US is an overwhealmingly indoors society, Rio seems to be buzzing with activity during every hour of the day. For a city as stunning as this, it really is a shame how poorly Rio is treated by some of its inhabitants…
During my first week or so in Brazil I’m staying just a few minutes’ walk from Copacabana Beach with Silvia and her family. I first met Silvia through Felicia, the very close family friend who visited me in Tokyo about six months ago. Silvia and I were introduced eleven years ago to the day, and save for a few long radio silences have managed to keep in relatively good touch during recent years (thanks to the Internet).
For our first day together we borrowed the family car and drove all around the various neighborhoods of the city – Urca, Jardim Botanico, Flamengo, Leblon, Larenjeiras, and many more the spelling of which I can’t begin to guess. We walked a good portion of the Copacabana beachfront, several beautiful jungle paths (one of which contained an entire family of mini-monkeys that I first thought to be squirrels), and stopped for a cup or two of fresh-squeezed fruiet juice (omg amazing). Out of a sheer stroke of luck I just happened to arrive on the first day after a long string of torrential rain, so although the skies were a bit overcast the weather was more than sufficient for a pleasant day’s tour of the city.
And you know, of the areas I saw Rio didn’t seem to be nearly as third-world as I’d originally imagined. Sure, Silvia was probably taking me to the nicer of neighborhoods; certainly we didn’t wander into any favelas; but nothing I saw could compare to some of the worse areas of Mexico or Bali.
Still, I did think it was quite sad how we had to take so much care with regards to crime. As soon as we’d enter certain intersections she’d would warn me “roll up your window; we don’t want to attract any muggers at this next stoplight,” or “let’s head back the other way now” as we approached a group of favela kids hanging out on a sidewalk ahead. I was warned not to walk alone on the street just one block from her house at night, and never to use outdoors ATMs after dark. I can see how much more dangerous this country can be without an intimate knowledge of where to go and where to avoid. As we drove through a beachfront military fort and I read aloud the words on the Brazilian flag – “Order and Progress” – she laughed, saying that she adores her country, but sadly those words couldn’t be farther from the truth.
It’s a shame Brazil isn’t a safer place; if it were, I could really see myself falling in love with it.
After returning for a quick rest and dinner with a few friends we decided to turn in early and get plenty of sleep for my first taste of Carnival bright and early the following morning. I tidied up my things, opened my bedroom window, and curled up in bed. For about an hour. Then I woke up to find my arms and legs covered with mosquito bites. D’oh. I won’t make that mistake again. It wasn’t until about 2:30am after squishing what I decided was the last remaining invader that I finally knocked out for the night. How nice that was, watching its belly literally burst with all the Justin-blood he’d syphoned out of me over the previous hour.
I’ve really gotta get used to the idea that I’m in the tropics now. I had to shower four times today just to feel reasonably clean for dinner, but by the time I got back I was sticky with sweat all over again!
I’ve already taken several hundred pictures, but due to the time required to simply resize and upload them from my phone I’ll most likely be focusing my posts on writing during this trip. Don’t worry; I’ll do my best to catch up with a massive photo update after returning to the US and sorting however many gigs and gigs I ultimately end up with 🙂
Addendum 03/13/08: Obviously this is no longer relevant…as I’ve gone back and added the pictures 😉