We should preface this blog with the sentiment 'I'm sure it's different at Carnival but...'
We'd deliberately bought forward our week in Rio to get further away from the arrival of football fans (wise decision given the prices were due to increase 300%), and had considered chopping it down to 48hrs and dashing off to Isla Grande for the remainder of our Brazil stay but we decided that was only guaranteed paradise if the weather was brilliant - and it hadn't been of late.
We stayed in Santa Teresa, a bohemian artsy area (for which read the graffiti is of a slightly better standard than the rest of the city) at the top of a steep hill, affording us a great view over the sprawling city. At night it looked lovely - bright lights of the city, less bright lights of the favelas, the marecana stadium (referred to unwittingly as the Macarena by me several times -I just can't care about football), and of course big Jesus watching. He's always watching. By day it was just another sprawling mass of dishevelled buildings that had once seen much better days, tumble down hillside houses (like favelas but slightly less corrugated iron), and buses freewheeling down, or teararsing up the very steep hill.
Because it was my birthday we'd booked ourselves into accommodation far nicer than our normal fare and were really pleased when we were shown into our huge room with king size bed, dressing area, massive bathroom (twin basins and a walk in shower you could fit 10 people in.probably). The place had a pool, a bar, a gym, and it turned out, the most aggressive manageress you could ever meet. If we wanted breakfast if was $350 US more - that was double the price we were paying for 6 days! If we wanted to stay in the hotel any time after our checkout (including leaving our luggage in storage) it was another $40 US. There was to be no noise after midnight. Apart from on the nights she invited her friends around to play ragga, drink the bar dry (not hard - it only had one type of beer, coke and water), and practice their dance hall moves. Wierd, weird place and I pity the people who will be paying top whack to stay there during the World Cup. A cathartic trip advisor review though.
Anyway, back to Rio. The city failed to snare us with it's charms. It's not unpleasant, just not striking for anything in particular. It has mountains, forests, beaches and slums - 10/10 for diversity but it just didn't feel cohesive or especially friendly.
The much famed beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana are nice enough - they feel very American with their concreted promenade and highway running alongside the beach front, overlooked by swanky hotels and apartment blocks. And the globally travelling art exhibition of bears that started life in Berlin in 2006 - each country decorated their own and they all hold hands across the world. Nice innit.
The anticipated beautiful people were elsewhere when we visited. People of all colours, shapes, sizes and ages just doing their own thing. Like on any beach.
Plenty of volleyball, rollerblading, skateboarding etc. but no swimming as the rip-tides'll kill you.
Big Jesus (Christ the Redeemer if we must) is as you'd expect. Or as you might, not as we had - we'd misread the guide book and thought his arm span was 78m. Turns out it's 7.8m. Suspect we're in a minority to have turned up and done a disappointed 'oh. Is that it?'.
Thankfully there was a constant stream of religious exhibitionists there to entertain us (out clapping, out praising, out-hand-in-the-airing the person next to them) so it was a good morning out.
Rio is massive. It took us about 90 minutes to get from our hotel to the beach front. 90 minutes of crazy bus sports for a bargain price of $3 Rs wherever you wanted to go. Getting there -child's play. There was a bus stop at the end of the road and provided you didn't mind waiting an undetermined amount of time one of 2 buses would eventually slow down enough to let you on, push you through the turnstile (2 weeks on I still have multiple bruises from this) then swing you through the streets of Rio until you flung yourself out the door.
Coming back though was a competitive sport. The bus stop stretched around 100m and catered for 50+ buses. Hundreds of people would gather, doing calf stretches and lunges, in anticipation of their bus turning the corner at 50mph. When it did you had to
A) run out into the road waving your arms to signify your interest
B) preempt where it might stop (other buses decreasing it's options significantly)
C) give chase, pushing women and children behind you
D) pay $3Rs, smash legs through turnstile, wedge yourself next to a stranger and enjoy the next 90 sweaty minutes home.
My birthday! Our friends Sam and Nicole who we'd met in Boliva, then subsequently in Chile and Argentina, were in Santa Teresa too so on my birthday we all met up and drank too much fizzy wine and avoided the topic of how old I am. Was a great way to spend the big event as it was a bit odd being so far from friends and family on a day you'd normally spend with them. Also, Sam and Nic being Drs, prescribed me a fantastic birthday present of diazepam which made the next 24hrs of travelling a breeze!
So not that whelmed with Rio, we said goodbye for this trip to Sam & Nicole. They headed homebound to New Zealand and we headed north to Miami, Mexico then Cuba asking big(ish) Jeezus to make sure all our connections worked out ok....