Sunday, October 31, 2010

City of God

We are finishing up our fourth day in Rio, heading to Iguazu Falls tomorrow, but so sad to leave this beautiful city and the amazing people we've met along the way.  There's a bit of a culture shock upon entering any foreign country, but we settled in rather quickly, remembering why it is we love to travel.  When you fill each moment of the day with a completely unique, completely new experiences, it becomes addictive rather quickly.  It's easy to see how people can peel off and travel for an entire year or more.

We are staying in the Lighthouse Hostel in Ipanema Beach.  The Lighthouse is owned and run by Sylvia, a vegetarinan athiest from Rio.  Though I can't say I ever imagined I would warm up to someone who hated bacon and god, Sylvia has been amazing.  Sylvia is like a mom with no actual children.  When you own a hostel, you give birth to new children every three days.  Some of our best adventures in Rio were accompinied by our fellow hostel mates.  They are a wild mix from the States,Australia,France,Germany,Argentina, England and Brazil.  Without them, our experience here would not be the same.  Though we were all strangers with language barriers at first, it doesn't take much for fellow travelers to warm up to each other, as we each share a similar view: go explore the world you live in!

Hostel row.  Our accomodations weren't awesome, but the people were exquisite.
 Some highlights from the trip below

Night One:  Road weary and tired, we watched the sunset in Copacabana, then stumbled into a bar for drinks.  We stayed quite a while, taking in the sights around as a few hours passed.  The bar filled up with men, lots of men.  Before we knew it, everyone was making out and groping each other.  Too tired and slightly buzzed, we finally realized we had been sitting in a gay bar for the past three hours.  We laughed and decided to call it a night after a Kabob.

Day two:  We spent the first half of the day on a favela tour.  The favela tour was, without question, one of the most eye opening and astounding things I have ever experienced.  A favela is a slum in Rio run by drug lords.  We visited a favela where 300,000 people lived in the side of a mountain.  Everything in a favela is technically illegal.  They steal their electricity, there is no formal trash system, no sewage (it runs right beneath your feet in a small stream) and most importantly, there is no Brazilian law.  The police rarely enter the favellas and for good reason: people usually die.  Recently, some of the youths shot down a police helicoptor and the entire favella held a three day party to celebrate it. Corrupt and brutal, the police are despised in Brazil.  In the favella, houses are built haphazardly in the hill side out of a mish-mash of found materials and stacked on top of each other like legos.  A few bricks, some corrogated aluminum and clay shingles make up the majority of houses.  There is a hierarchy, the rich live higher in the mountian, the poor live at the bottom with little water, also where the trash and  sewage accumulates.  To reach the favelas, we took a van to the bottom with our tour guide.  The tour company built and runs a day cares in the favella and as such, are allowed in and out with their groups of Gringos with relative ease.  At the bottom of the favella, we hopped on motorcycles and zoomed to the top in what seemed like a chase sequence from Lethal Weapon 3.  I'll be honest, it was terrifying and enough to make your butthole pucker right up.  Suprisingly, no one has ever died on their way up to the top.  I wanted to videotape it, but there are many places in the favella where taking pictures and video are forbidden.  Keep in mind, this is a small city run by drug gangs. During the tour, at multiple points we passed youths carrying Israeli sub machine guns.  They serve as lookouts for the drug lords, monitoring everyone in and out of the favella.  Taking pictures anywhere in their vacinity is strictly forbidden, although there are areas where pictures are allowed.  However, inspite of the guide being very clear on when and where pictures were allowed, a dutch girl happend to take a picture in the general vacinity of a gang lookout.  They ran after us shouting, machine guns slung over their shoulders and hand guns at thier side.  Everyone in our group looked straight at the ground, unsure of what to do or what was about to take place.  After a heated exchange with our guide, who was a stone cold Brazilian chick, the gang members agreed to take only her memory card.  Phew, close call.  This would not be our only encounter with violence in Rio.  Some pics and video below, make sure you enlarge the screen.

The favela is much bigger, this is just what I could fit in the frame.

View from the day care we visited.  Only so many opportunities for pictures in the Favela.
  That same night
On our 2nd night in Rio, we decided to go with a group of our hostel mates to see a futbol game.  We all hopped in a van for what we thought would be a thirty minute drive to the stadium. We grabbed some coxinhas (basically fried chicken balls) and a few beers for the road and drank quickly, as alcohol is not served in the stadiums anymore.  Trust me, the games are rowdy without alcohol, they dont serve it for good reason.  Two hours into our thirty minute ride, I was praying to every god in existence to get to a bathroom, so I would not be forced to pee my pants infront of my new friends.  There are only a few times in my life that I have contemplated what steps I would take if forced to pee my own pants.  This was one of them.  The futbol game was awesome.  People in Brazil take futbol very seriously and because of this, everyone in the stadium is either extremely happy or extremely angry at the same time, and I can tell you that being around either is enough to put you on edge.  Gringo's stand out like a sore thumb at futbol games and because of this, we had a guide with us to keep us safe and ensure that no one would mistake us for fans of the rival team, which would have certainly ended poorly.

Christina and I at the Futbol game after the crowd had left.

Day three
On our third day, we took a trip to Corcovado.  If you've ever seen a picture of Rio, you've likely seen a giant statue of Jesus looking over the city, palms extended.  The views are fantastic, so pics are posted, but nothing blog worthy about the experience, except for the swath of Japanese tourists clicking away with their Nikons.  After getting back, we headed down to the beach to drink some coconut water and take in the sights.  In Rio, the men wear bikini's and the women wear really, really tiny bikinis.  It's people watching at its best; the good, the bad and the ugly.  Half way into my coconut water, a group of twenty Municipal guards marched unto the beach.  These guards are police without guns, but giant wooden batons instead.  Christina and I watched and wondered what was about to conspire.  Apparently, you cannot play futbol on the beach after four o'clock.  As everyone watched, the guards emerged from the crowd with two young guys by the neck, kicking and screaming.  A group of their friends rushed the guards and tried to pull the captives away in a tug-of-war match.  At this moment, the police took out their batons and started cracking skulls, knees and  every bddy part they could connect with.  This was my first time watching someone get hit in the face with a giant stick.  As I mentioned previously, the police are despised in Brazil and as such, the crowd at the beach did not take kindly to this.  Before I knew it, two hundred angry males from the beach (and their man-kinis) rushed the guards, slinging coconuts, chairs and anything they could get thier hands on.  This all happened in a matter of seconds and before I knew it, Christina and I were right in the middle of a small riot.  I grabbed her and we hauled ass down the beach, seconds before the chairs we were sitting on were picked up and used as weapons against the police.  The police eventually retreated and within the hour, the place was swarming with helicoptors and additional police to show their force. Christina and I were a bit shaken, but to be honest, I'm glad we experienced it.  It was pretty awesome.

Christ the Redeemer

View from the top of Corcovado
 Later that night
Friday nights in Rio, people bring the heat.  There is a giant street party every Friday in Lapa, a neighborhood in Rio.  Ten thousand people gather in the streets to drink, fornicate and kill as many brain cells as they possibly can until the sun comes up.  Lapa can be a bit shifty, so we were delighted to have Bernardo, our Brazillian hostel mate, lead our hodge podge group of travelers to the party.  Whithout Bernardo, we likely would've not made it out of Lapa in one piece.  In fact, we likely would've not even had made it there (the metro can be a bit tricky when you dont speak portuguese).  Lapa was amazing, you could not have wiped the smile off my face if you tried.  The party is compeletly lawless and could never take place in the states.  You only bring with you what you are willing to lose, or much more likely, have stolen.  By mistake, one of our travel mates brought her small purse to the street party.  I eventually lost track of how many times people attempted to steal it.  Regardless of the theft, we were not deterred.  The group of us danced wildly to Samba music in the street, dranks way too many Caipirinhas (the signature Brazillian drink), chatted with friendly locals and ate questionable street food before heading home at 5 a.m.

I cannot decide what my favorite experience in Rio was, but the street party will probably take the cake.  People in Rio know how to have fun, at first glance it appears that most of their culture is built around a single purpose: having fun and enjoying life.  They work less, they wear less clothes, they work out and eat more fruit and put pleasure in front of work.  It's everything that America is not and I love it.   Having been traveling a few days now, I'm quickly reminded why we went to such  great lenghts to plan this trip.  You see a single street in a single neighborhood in a single city, and your view of the world in which you live can change instantly.  It's a bit of a drug, but this is one case where addiction may not be so bad.  Many people say that nationalism is a disease and the only cure is travel.  I'm not certain if I agree, but it does seem to make sense. After reading all of this, you may think Rio is violent and dangerous.  It may be a bit differnt than the States, but violent and dangerous it is not,  It's a big city and like all big cities, if you trust your gut and use common sense, you will be fine.  If you do not,  you will suffer the consequence, I promise.  Come here, you won't regret it!

Thanks for following.

p.s. Have had some problems uploading multiple photos to this blog.  So, will likely provide a picassa link going forward, as soon as I get a stable connection.

1 comment:

  1. I would have ran like White Castle after binge drinking out of your ass. That, seriously, is one of the coolest things I've read. Especially because I know the main character. I have not had the pleasure to meet your lady, but anybody that drops everything to go do crazy shit like this could be the holy grail of women. Keep posting kids.