4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the tag “Rio de Janeiro”

City, Beaches, and Cristo Oh My (by Nathan)

Rio de Janiero is engulfed by skyward reaching tropical mountains.  At the top of biggest and most prominent peak stands Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), the famed symbol of the city.  No matter where you are the Cristo is always overhead, always watching.  We wanted to see what he saw.  But we made our way slowly.

First we explored the lowlands, we baked in the sun at Ipanema, we drank coffee at Colombo, hiked the steps at Lapa and always just behind a cloud or shining brightly in the sun, the Cristo Redentor was there.

Parting of the clouds at Corcovado

Parting of the clouds at Corcovado

Our first vista of the city from any elevation was from the Morro da Urca.  This smaller mountain was a great little climb leaving us both out of breath and satisfied that this was at least a little training for our eleven days of hiking planned for the Peruvian Andes in May.

Marmoset at Morro da Urca

Marmoset at Morro da Urca

Upon reaching the summit we found another creature with an omnipresent watchful eye.  This common marmoset and his gang of friends looked like they would jump us and steal our granola bars if we approached too close.

Pão de Açucar from Morro da Urca

Pão de Açucar from Morro da Urca

The Morro da Urca can also be reached by cable-car for those not wanting a hike. From Morro we then took a cable-car to the main attraction, the Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain).  The hill is named after its familiar shape to the loaf of sugar made during pre-industrial refining.  It is a tall (400m) hill with shear and jagged cliffs all-around and of course has some of the best views of the city.

Sunset from Pão de Açucar

Sunset from Pão de Açucar

We arrived at sunset and we gazed out into the golden city.  The Cristo, high up on the Corcovado peak was shrouded by his apostle clouds.  The colors transitioned from a warm tangerine orange, then cadillac pink, then in flowed the deep purples, that, with the darkness brought the cool night.

Cristo Redentor

Cristo Redentor

The day finally came for us to visit the Cristo Redentor statue.  Up close we were able to view the intricate details  cast into the concrete: the seemingly flowing fabric, the tranquil facial expression, and the arms spread wide welcoming everyone to him and to Rio.  The statue is an elegant piece of art deco, angular, flowing and full of emotions.

Rio from Corcovado

Rio from Corcovado

Turning around from the Cristo we saw the city of Rio from his perspective.  The botanical gardens, Copacabana, Pão de Açucar were all there, tiny specks in this beautiful city.  The buildings kissed the sand and the ocean appeared endless as it wrapped around the urban landscape.  Rio de Janiero has it all: food, music, dance, beaches, city and transit.  Could we move here and learn Portuguese?

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Rio Historic (by Carmen)

Central Rio's narrow streets

Central Rio's narrow streets

I often think of Rio de Janeiro as a modern city complete with problems caused by rapid, unplanned urbanization.   I hadn’t much thought of historic Rio but it was a pleasant surprise to find it.  I know not all of you are not history buffs.  I am no expert either, but I love my hostoric trivia.  For example,  the city was founded in 1565 and has functioned as an important port for centuries.  It was also the seat of Latin America’s only monarchy.  Don Pedro I and Don Pedro II reigned from 1822 to 1889, when Brazil was declared a republic.  Ok… I´ll tone down the trivia for the rest of the post.   :)

Cafe Columbo

Cafe Columbo

A mix of colonial and modern buildings fill in the narrow streets of Rio’s center. It’s on one of these streets that Cafe Columbo can be found.  After all the historic cafes of Buenos Aires I wasn’t expecting much from this one.  But I was wrong. It was beautiful, bright, elegant and airy.  Huge mirrors lined the walls so that soft light bounced throughout the cafe.  The sweets they offered weren’t as spectacular as the surroundings but they were still good.  Drinking coffee and eating a fruit tart at Cafe Columbo is a lovely way to spend an hour or two.

Sad transit breaks my heart

Sad transit breaks my heart

Just uphill from the center area is the Santa Teresa neighborhood.  We tried to take the historic streetcar that rides along the city’s old aqueduct (history AND transit, woot!) but it wasn’t running.  The strange thing is no one would tell us why.  Finally, a friendly shop owner told us that a few years ago the streetcar had flipped over killing 6 people!  It was a tragic accident that the government says they are fixing.  But they are taking too long and the residents are upset.  Hence the crying tram.  I hope the city gets their act together by 2014 because the tram is an important lifeline for the residents of Santa Teresa.

Funky Brazilian flower

Fountain at Jardim Botanico

One more history lesson was at the Jardim Botanico, founded in 1808.  Since Rio was our most tropical destination, I was pretty excited about this one. It had some pretty extraordinary flowers, like the one with thick red petals and a prickly yellow center.  And of course, they had plenty of orchids.  But my favorite part turned out to be the historic central fountain.  Palm lined paths led up to it and it was backdropped by the Corcovado (the mountain with the famous Cristo statue on top of it).

Orchid at the Jardim Botanico

Orchid at the Jardim Botanico

Rio’s history added another layer to this beautiful city.

Finding Heart and Soul in the Favela (by Nathan)

Reading a guidebook about Rio can make you think that you need an armored tank to move around the city.  “Do not go to the beaches at night”,  “take taxis at night” and “watch your belongings” were statements that echoed in our ears over and over.

What we found was quite different- a city that was full of community and great people wherever we met.  That does not mean that we ignored these suggestions, but we recognized that, like any city in the world, tourists are easy targets for theft.  With our heads down and hands tight on our bags 8 feet 4 mouths (ie. us & Carmen´s parents) had a memorable trip to this great city.

Rocinha favela from above

Rocinha favela from above

Part of the reason Rio is recognized for its crime is because multiple favelas are perched next to the main sights and the city.  A favela is basically a squatter community that houses thousands of people that need to work in the city, but cannot afford the city.  So in Rio when rural populations rushed the city for jobs, they built their homes on the cliffs surrounding the city.  Now, the squatter communities have expanded and grown to form huge networks of buildings and businesses.

I was so intrigued about this intertwined network of buildings, people and  resources.  I wanted to see it for myself.  I wanted to walk through the randomness of it, I wanted to get lost in the alleys and experience the favelas in some way more than just squinting from afar.  But wondering through a favela is pretty unsafe.  And on a tour I did not want to be the spectator that exploited the poverty of the people.  It was a torn decision, but I ended up walking with a small group and guide through one of the favelas.  The end experience was rewarding in ways that I could never have anticipated.

Favela doorway

Favela doorway

My day started with a minivan picking me at the hostel and taking me to the base of the biggest favela in Brazil, Rocinha.  There are only 4 roads in this favela and only one gets to the top.  All the buildings are connected with tight paths and staircases.  Although busses attempt to navigate these roads, I hopped on the back of a scooter, the favela taxi.  Imagine Lombard St. in San Francisco, a little wider, a little straighter and just as steep.  Now add a bus coming downhill, road construction taking up a third of the road and fifty or so motorcyclists with passengers racing eachother to be the first to the top.  The German tourist I made friends with in the minivan wore a pink helmet and I could not help but laugh and give him a thumbs up as my driver revved and pried his way between the front of the bus and his scooter.

We made it to the top without incident.  The main street in the favela was nothing that you would expect.  This was not some lean-to hodge-podge of a settlement, this was a mini city.  And the four main roads were the downtown of this mini city.  There was everything here: markets, appliance stores, restaurants and even pet stores all lined up on this winding street that snaked up the mountain through the favela.

Favela Walkway

Favela Walkway

Stepping off of the paved road was an immediate change of climate to a network of tight alleyways and staircases that weaved there way through the community.  And again buildings were not what I had anticipated, this was not a shanty town, not a slum, but a streetless city of real buildings, a favela.

There is major construction happening here, two and three story masonry buildings with concrete columns.  And what an effort because everything has to be carried or wheel-barrowed through the winding paths.  Every building appeared to be part of some bigger plan, with a little more money another room could be added, or maybe next month the plaster could be complete.  The people and community worked day-to-day and month-to-month to build shelter for their families.   The construction was not the greatest but in most cases it looked straight and they even had some rebar in it.

Trash and rubble from mudslide

Trash and rubble from mudslide

The positioning of buildings is chaotic with very little order.  The pathways follow the way of least resistance zig-zagging through the hillside.  As we approached the steepest parts of the hillside we started seeing the effects of the storms of the previous rainy season.  Whole homes crumbled from mudslides and toppled over one another until eventually it was contained.  The pathways were cleared and the rubble remained.  I guess it stays until the next family forgets about the incident and decides to build their home there.

Electricity Nest

Electricity Nest

The squatter aspects of the favela are most apparent when looking up along the sides of the buildings.  Electricity connections merge into nests of spliced and re-spliced wires and cables.  Water is supplied by the city, but the pipes run along the alleyways and are similarly spliced and split.  Sewage was not so “organized,”  sometimes it ran in pipes, othertimes in trenches and well othertimes, the greywater just overflowed onto the tight alleyway.  The biggest issue was for the downhill residents when it rained, because everything flowed towards them.

We continued our walk through the favela, meandering down through the alley ways, slipping around corners and discovering more of the labyrinth of buildings.  Amazingly, there is an estimated 200,000 people that live in this one favela that is one square kilometer in area.

Favela colors

Favela colors

We stopped at multiple locations in the city for the guide to talk about the favela, teach us about the schools inside the community as well as welcome us into the local businesses.  It was here that I realized that we were not just spectators of the impoverished favelas, but as tourists we were part of something bigger that supported and contributed to the community.  We bought art, crafts, drinks and food which brought money into their economy.  We listened the drum style and dance that originated from the favelas.  And we  oohed and awed at all the little children napping in the preschool.

Our walk through the favela was completely safe.  Residents said “hello” to us to practice their english and we replied with our few known words of portuguese.  I enjoyed seeing how happy people were.  All the residents appeared to know my guide and they gave him high-fives and compliments wherever went.

Favela stairs

Favela stairs

The scramble to the bottom took a couple hours.  It is extremely impressive to imagine climbing these walkways on a daily basis.  Thousands of people do it, in fact there are over a million people living in favelas in Brazil.  We walked along and stepped to the side from time to time as a group of men carried a refrigerator up the steep steps or a group of school girls passed talking on their mobile phones.  Yes, many of these residences had all sorts of appliances.  An hour walk from the main road and we could peek into a home and see a family cooking a delicious feast, and others watching TV from their sattelite dish and more just enjoying the sun on the patio.  How is this different from anywhere else?

I think what I like most about the Rocinha was the whole collaborative community aspect of living in the favela.  Despite that everyone was thrown into this random maze of buildings, the people found the time to help each other, to laugh and to work together for their community.  The colors of the buildings and the bright smiles of the people are to be remembered forever.

Eating too much and staying up late in Rio (by Carmen)

4 feet in the sand

4 feet in the sand

So we didn’t spend all day at the beach!  Although it was tempting.  We mixed it up with some good sights, food and nightlife too.  Our entire time in Rio was spent with my parents.  Four mouths to feed usually means that we got to try even more dishes when eating out.  But on our first night in Rio, all four wanted the same thing: feijoada.

Feijoada

Feijoada

Feijoada is the national dish of Brazil.  It consists of black beans stewed with meat, served over rice and other side fixings.  We chose a place that specializes in feijoada and were pretty excited to fill up on some homey comfort food.  All four of us ordered the feijoada but the waiter kept shaking his head and saying that was too much food.  He kept suggesting that we mix it up with something, such as la truta (trout).  It didn’t seem like he was getting money out of us – it was more of a cultural misunderstanding. Nonetheless, we insisted on getting feijoada and 4 huge bowls of it landed on our table.  We could’t even make a dent as it was a feast for ten people.  But it was good. And now, whenever a misunderstanding occurs (which is often) Nathan and I shrug our shoulders and say ¨la truta!¨(you have to say it very emphatically with a long drawn out “ah” : )

Bossa nova nightlife

After the feijoada we were in food coma mode.  But we charged on to the bossa nova club.  It was awesome!  The singer performed a mix of old standards and a few less familiar songs too.  My dad would play bossa nova while I was growing up and I’ve loved the genre ever since.  This was a special treat.

Shrimp wrapped with fried noodles at Manekineko

Shrimp wrapped with fried noodles at Manekineko

Brazil has a lot of Japanese immigrants so we were excited to find Manekineko, a japanese brazilian fusion place.  Fusion in this case means mostly japanese food with the chefs adding cheese and frying things when they found the opportunity.  Nothing amazing but it was fun.

Fresh juices and smoothies at Market

Fresh juices and smoothies at Market

I think the best thing about the Rio food scene (and Brazil for that matter) is the wonderful array of juices.  Everything from pineapple to kiwi to avocado to pears.  Mixed the way you want.  I want a juicer now!

Palm hearts and sashimi at Market

Palm hearts and sashimi at Market

One of our best lunches was in the palm shaded patio at Market.  The organic certification reminded me of California.  As did the quinoa salads and salmon sandwiches.  But after so many heavy dishes, I liked being reminded of home.

Samba club in Lapa

Samba club in Lapa

Our meals fueled us up for a big night out in the Lapa district, which is a hub of Rio nightlife.  We went to the club with the biggest crowd and loudest samba band.  I loved how people of all ages were dancing between the tables.  It was great to put my year of samba lessons to use!  This inspired me to come back for Carnivale…maybe next year…

Copa and Ipanema, the Beaches of Heaven… (by Nathan)

Sidewalk along Ipanema

Sidewalk along Ipanema

Rio is by far one of the most beautiful and exciting cities.  Imagine walking along a beach with incredibly soft sand.  The waves are crashing in front of you.  Behind you there are majestically steep mountains surrounding a city of highrises that come right to the water.  These are the beaches of Rio.  And they are blissful.  The beaches and laid back atmosphere sometimes reminded us of California.   But the setting was much more urban.  Los Angeles can learn a lesson from Rio on how to build a proper beach side city.  LA, you planned it all wrong!

Delirio Salads

Delirio Salads

Even the food has a California type feel with an abundance of fresh local salads.  At one of our first restaurants we were hit with the flavors of Brazil and the realization that finally we were in a country that loved their veggies.  The variety of salads is something to awe  at.  Vegetables cooked and raw and delecately infused with new and known spices.  And Brazil cares about variety so we lucked out.  2 blocks from our beashside umbrella on Ipanema was Delirio Salads which was had some 20 options that were all fenomenal.

Girl from Ipanema (i.e. Carmen)

Girl from Ipanema (i.e. Carmen)

First let´s describe the sand.  The magic I think must be in the sand.  The beaches are not exactly white sand, but the texture is soft, real soft.  Slipping your feet into this sand is like having your feet wrapped in warm velvet.  The sand is like like brown sugar and just as sweet for your toes.

Copacabana Beach

Rio’s beaches are enormous.  The two popular ones, Ipanema and Copacabana make up about 5 miles of bliss.  The waves were big and there was a hefty riptide.  There is also a beautiful sidewalk along the full length of the beach, tiled with Poruguese black and white patterns.

Sunset on Ipanema over ¨Two Brothers¨

Sunset on Ipanema over ¨Two Brothers¨

The beaches can be enjoyed at almost all times of the day.  The sunsets there are breathtaking and the sunrises are passionate with color.  The beauty is omnipresent.

Ipanema sunrise

Ipanema sunrise

These beaches are destination worthy sights on their own.  Thrown in the amazing food, the history, the samba nightlife, the mountain-top vistas and crazy high-speed bus rides and Rio has become one of my favorite cities.

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