Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Travel Report 1: Rio de Janeiro

Last month, I snuck away for an 11-day trip to South America, a continent I’d never been to. I was with my husband, my mother, and her travel buddy, and we all joined a tour group that guided us through the highlights: Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, and Buenos Aires. I’ll report on them one at a time…

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Rio is a city of incredible topography, from granite peaks to beautiful beaches. If the city was speaking to me, it would be saying, “Relax! Enjoy!” So it had a somnolent vibe, but beneath that ran an undercurrent of activity and a hint of danger. At least, that was true for the heavily touristed areas, which we were in—those being the Copacabana and Impanema beach areas and Corcovado and Sugarloaf mountains.

I’d say that I worried more than was necessary, but having read all the warnings about not wearing any jewelry at all and being very careful with your money and phone, I was on my guard the whole time and didn’t have any issues. Someone else in our tour group wasn’t so lucky: she had a small gold chain yanked from her neck as she walked on the beach (by a guy bicycling past). We all saw the scratches left behind. So while I never had a problem, there were times I didn’t get a photo I wanted because we were in a location where I didn’t want to pull my iPhone 6 out of my purse and make myself a target.

All that aside, the people we interacted with couldn’t have been nicer, from hotel and restaurant staff, to shopkeepers, to the old woman at the café who was sure I understood what she was saying (I didn’t).

The best story we heard: Sao Paulo and Rio have a healthy rivalry, and apparently SP residents think residents of Rio don’t do anything, so the joke runs that Christ the Redeemer is up on the mountaintop waiting, arms open, to applaud when Rio’s residents actually do some work. The story was told to us by our local (Rio native) tour guide, who didn’t seem to care about SP’s perception and thought it a good joke—which reminds me of Southern Californians shrugging off the disdain of Northern Californians….

What I don’t have photos of: the jam-packed beaches on a Saturday (not a spare inch of sand) filled with rental umbrellas and chairs; the favelas (slums) that climb up hillsides, meaning the poorest neighborhoods have some of the best views of the city; and the never-ending supply of meat offered at the churrascaria for dinner.

The sights we saw were the basics (top to bottom): Impanema beach, Corcovado mountain with Christ the Redeemer on top, the view down to Sugarloaf mountain and Copacabana beach from Corcovado, Christ the Redeemer himself, a typical stand selling fresh coconut juice, street scenes, and the Selaron stairs.

Stay tuned for photos and stories about Iguazu Falls next. Hint: the theme was WATER.

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