My first week in Rio has been exciting and full of delights, but I have been plagued by feeling utterly useless! After more than five months being an independent, semi-Spanish-speaking survivor, I have regressed to being a totally useless and helpless gringa. I didn’t realise quite how much basic Spanish I knew, until I realised that I didn’t know a single word in Portuguese and couldn’t handle the most basic tasks. Beyond that, any attempts to learn a few words has failed me, thanks to the entirely unexpected pronunciational surprises.
Luckily, I have accrued a great group: several girls who I’ve met across my travels so far and several Latino beaus to help with the translations! With locals (or at least ‘temporary residents’) in tow, Rio, and especially its nightlife, has been our oyster!
Living in the bohemian, hillside neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, we are mere moments from the parties and insanity in the adjacent Lapa district. From our cobbled, impossibly winding roads, we descend to the square beneath the colonial aqueduct, where the crowds begin to gather. Multiple nights in a row spent in Lapa have proven as diverse as the city itself. Live music is abundant and ranges from traditional samba to old school rock classics. Bars range from casual, sit-down pizza joints, to the tiny Casa do Cachaca shack, decorated entirely with hanging bottles and serving a plethora of different flavours; we repeatedly set our lips on fire with this taste of local life!
On weekends, especially Friday nights, the crowds multiply tenfold. Any car or cab brave or stupid enough to hit the streets become trapped and entirely stationary, amongst the slow-moving, street-partying revellers. All parties spew out onto the pavements, where street vendors lap up the trade, offering impossibly cheap caipirinhas! When in Rome!
After so long feeling comfortably westernised in BA, Rio harks back to the crazy South American climes from earlier in my trip. I’m not sure whether it’s the humidity, the sunshine (which occasionally pushes through the clouds) or the general street-dwelling vibes, but I instantly felt ‘holiday-y’ again. Thus, despite the totally average weather, we headed to the world famous beaches.
With ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ spinning in our heads, we explored all the way to the other side of the city. Around every corner, it feels as though you’re in an entirely different city. Mountains and verdant hills spring from amidst packed-in skyscrapers; unexpectedly European, gold-clad, historical wonders appear downtown; and modern hotel blocks dominate the beachfront neighbourhoods.
The beach itself has the famous golden sands and aggressively powerful surf waves. Beach vendors populate the entire strip, branching out from the usual beers and sarongs on offer, instead peddling giant (seriously, enormous) fans, portable barbecues of mystery treats and an umbrella adorned with hundreds of bikinis. The people watching was top notch and the swimwear was so small to be practically nonexistent!
On even less sunny days, when rain repeatedly prevented us from climbing Christ the Redeemer, we hid inside various museums and galleries. The (questionable) highlight of which was an exhibition of unavoidably phallic monsters, made with real human hair, designed to question our preconceptions of beauty, evolution and some other unnecessarily deep thoughts.
My favourite art piece in the city (because I’m a tourist cliché) has to be the Selarón staircase. Stumbling upon it in the middle of the night, we had this usually crowded tourist hotspot entirely to ourselves. The vibrant colours and infinite variety accurately portray the ingrained Carioca vibes. My personal favourite tile, amongst all of the poetic tributes, inexplicably announced ‘Dog doo, snowcone in your eye’; riddle me that?!
As previously alluded to, my time in Rio has mostly been defined by the people I’ve surrounded myself with. Following my BA-buddy, Lexi, to her hostel, I dragged my newest friend Jenny all the way from Iguazu. Upon arrival, we were concerned and alarmed at the sheer number of triple bunks piled into our prison cell sized dorm! However, I’ve learnt that a hostel is heavily defined by the atmosphere, more than any of the facilities offered.
Some nights we have branched out to the local restaurants (which, bizarrely, often double up as clothes shops) to sample the Brasilian delicacies. Meat-heavy Feijoada, fish-based Moqueca and the ubiquitous farofa rice/sawdust concoction that comes with everything. However, some of my favourite meals have been cooked in the hostel, as a big family affair.
Somewhat less locally flavoured, one of my favourite nights was when my Argentinian pizza chef, Leo, came over and cooked up a storm for us all. We girls returned the favour on curry night and, if the homely vibes continue, I’ll be stuck here asking for ‘uno noche mas’ for even longer than I did in Buenos Aires! Throw in multiple live music jam sessions and I’m going to need a serious influx of motivation to catch my impending flight home!