They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I guess the same goes for a city while a major event is taking place. If I did, I’d have to say that brazilians have a bizarre fetish for dress up and drink an inordinate amount of brightly coloured mix drink from plastic bottles.
Rio during carnival. It must be different to Rio during any other time. It must be.
It’s really hard to categorise my opinion of Rio de Janeiro. It’s alike to many cities we’ve been to, and still – so unlike any. The city is nestled between plant covered mountains and alongside beautiful golden beaches. Rich (well, slightly nicer) houses next door to ill maintained high rise apartment blocks, wires and wires connecting everything. And people, so so many people.
We stayed in Botafogo. A middle class area and away from the masses of tourists on Copacabana, and let’s be honest – the only place I could find at such late notice during the busiest period of Rio’s year.
There are buses and an underground metro system, and a thousand yellow cabs and some more. Getting around the city is not difficult. On the contrary though, trying to figure out where you’re going to is – especially as English is as foreign to the Portuguese Brazilians as mandarin would be to the Xhosa at home.
I was warned that the lure of the beaches would get the better of us, and they did. Even though they made camps bay on New Year’s Day seem spacious. Tucked between the tiniest bikinis and buffest of bodies, we drank caipirinhas and settled into this very chilled way off beaching.
It has to be noted that for a nation that is allowed to drink in the streets, on the beach and on public transport – there was very little aggression or testosterone. My previous experience, before the ban on public drinking in London, was quite the opposite and I guess this just solidifies just how chilled out the Brazilians are.
So besides the half nakedness of the beaches, we also ticked two bucketlist items off our list.
Christ the redeemer is so much more overwhelming than I could’ve ever imagined. He is huge. While I imagined it being a little more sacred than it was (while most religious tourist attractions hold very little spiritual attraction to the masses), it was beautiful to see the city from underneath His outstretched arms. On top of the world much?
Stomping our feet as we samba’d along with the greatest samba schools of the city. The Sambadrome parade was a sea of colour and the most beautiful costumes I’ve ever seen. I thought back to my late ballet teacher and the effort she used to put in to our costumes – Bev would’ve loved it.
It was magical to see it come alive, but the enthusiasm of the locals showing their support for their favourite schools filled the only two South Africans there (not a fact but most likely) with so much energy that crawling into bed at 5am after being awake for about 36hours seemed natural.
Rio is dirty, and busy and full of people. And a good chance it’s not for everyone. But no one can deny the remarkable energy and enthusiasm it carries. Along with the half nakedness and buff bodies.