Taking a tour of the favelas is certainly on my recommended list of activities for you to do when you in Rio – it’s both eye opening, and challenging to the perceptions I had. I didn’t know if I should even take my camera with me, or if I had to keep it in my bag the whole time – in fact that was one of the first things I asked Gabriel.
Maybe you’ve heard too how dangerous the favelas can be, and I believe some of them are, but with expert, local guidance, they are as safe as any other street in any other city. Just like in London, there are neighbourhoods you can go, and places you shouldn’t. Having a local to help you tell the difference is essential, especially if you are new to Brazil, and don’t speak Portuguese, like me!
And of course, there is more to Rio than the Favelas. You probably know Sugar Loaf Mountain, and the Christ The Redeemer statue, which are worth visiting for the view on a clear day.
Luckily, and not entirely coincidentally, I was in Rio for most of the Carnival – the Biggest Party on Earth, apparently. I think a million extra people come to Rio, just for the celebrations. Now, a million people is kind of a lot at a street party, and I was a little overwhelmed with it at times. I tried my best to join in and have fun – such a struggle for me!
To be honest, a couple of days of this was more than enough, and I was very happy to retire to my wonderful guesthouse in Urca. Urca is at the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain, and one of the safest neighbourhoods in Rio. There’s only one guarded road in, and a number of military bases stationed there, so if you want safety, it’s the place to stay. It’s a little off the beaten track too, with no local metro station, so it’s not the most convenient to get to, but certainly one of the most peaceful.
I found my guesthouse through AirBnB.com – and it was excellent.It’s newly refurbished, and the hosts are wonderful. Graziella will be running the place usually, but as she was away for the carnival, I spent most of the time with her wonderful mother, Edilene. She prepared a delicious breakfast, and took care of me like a long lost son. On my last night she cooked dinner for me and two other guests. In exchange, I made her a pretty strong passion fruit Caipirinha.
After the Caipirinhas, I had one more stop in Rio – the official Carnival parade. While most of the Carnival happens freely on the streets, with people young and old following trucks blaring out music, the parade is the real show of the Carnival – dubbed the Greatest Show on Earth.
I wouldn’t go that far, but I would say it was pretty amazing. I spent some time, unfairly, comparing it to the Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies. It’s on that scale, but it’s not same. It’s about 8 hours of thousands of people in brightly coloured costumes, parading along the “Sambadrome” – A custom built walk-way, with spectator seats either side. Some of the dancers are on floats, and some walk and dance along.
There weren’t quite as many women in skimpy outfits as I was lead to believe from all the marketing. There were however thousands of people with enormous amounts of colourful plastic stuck to them. Everything from human snakes with footballs in their mouths (I don’t know why), to scuba divers, to, like, a kind of human oil slick. Hard to explain, weird to see. Only a few of the floats really amazed me – like the one with some kind of giant animatronic neanderthals, and the one with a giant glowing lizard with free floating jelly-fish.
I guess it’s the kind of thing that has to be seen to be believed, and I feel very lucky that I got the chance. Now it’s on to Salvador, the end of the Carnival, and discovering paradise in the North East of Brazil.