A Riveting Night in Rio de Janeiro
Aaahhh….Brazil – the name itself conjures up daydreams of endless beaches, samba and caipirinhas.
Brazil had been on my travel radar for quite some time and in 2001 I was offered the chance to finally go.
My friend’s cousin was living there and invited us to stay with him – not going wasn’t even an option! Singing The Girl From Ipanema, I got busy packing my bikini (NOT an itsy bitsy Brazilian bikini) and my flip flops. I was ready to spend some time in la cidade mervilhosa taking in the sites but mostly just sunbathing on the world-renowned beaches. I went for a week in September knowing it was winter but still expecting the sun to be hot enough to take in some rays.
How wrong I was!
(This is part of my Early Travels Series hence the grainy photos – see more in The World)
Sadly, I actually only spent one day on the famous Copacabana beach. The rest of the week was cloudy, rainy and chilly (as far as Rio goes). But on the flip side, that left more time to go out and about exploring the sites Rio de Janeiro was famed for: the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Mount Corcovado and Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açucar). I also went shopping in Ipanema, had a drink at an Irish pub, danced in a discotheque suspiciously named HELP and hiked Pedra Bonita.
Topping the list of some of my favorite destinations are big cities bordered by beaches and Rio de Janeiro certainly didn’t disappoint in that respect. As for architecture, I can’t say it was the best-looking city but keep in mind that I only visited Copacabana and Ipanema. Both of these neighborhoods are riddled with rows of nondescript apartment buildings and high rises with very little architectural interest. All the credit goes to the beaches where cariocas (locals) from all walks of life spend most of their time anyway.
When I told people I was going to Brazil, most warned me of the dangers of Rio de Janeiro (although they hadn’t been). At the time, it was the highest ranking city in terms of (drug-related) crimes and murders. This was before police pacifications made it possible for tourists to roam around somewhat carefree in some of the favelas (shanty towns). I admit I was a little worried but not enough to stop me from going.
Check out the very compelling film City of God recounting the start
of gang and drug violence in Rio de Janeiro.
I’m happy to say I wasn’t mugged or robbed and that most cariocas were friendly while others didn’t even bother to give me a second glance (which was fine). However, I can’t write about my time in Rio de Janeiro without recounting my first night there. Here it goes.
My friend’s cousin was renting an apartment on Copacabana Avenue across the street from the luxurious five-star Copacabana Hotel – an indication of the upper class area. But like most upper class areas in Rio, the favelas are never too far away nestled in the surrounding mountains.
After two flights and a layover (a total of 18 hours of traveling), I was looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep. My nocturnal plan was abruptly interrupted when, after just a few minutes trying to get comfortable in a bed that wasn’t my own, I heard gun shots. Let me clarify: I heard several, continuous heavy-duty machine gun shots being fired and it sounded like they were coming from just below my window. This continued for about 5 minutes – which is a long time as far as gun shots are involved. The shooting finally stopped and I managed to fall in and out of sleep trying not to think of what I had so clearly heard.
The next day I asked my friend’s cousin if he heard the gun shots. He casually answered that it happened often in Rio and I should get used to it. The gun shots echoed from the nearby mountain where the favela could be seen at the end of our street. It was probably a drug-related shoot out – not uncommon in Rio at the time (nor today). I never heard any gun shots after that – maybe it was just Rio’s way of welcoming me to its urban jungle.
After a week in Brazil – it was off to Argentina!
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Have you been to Rio de Janeiro? Do you have any interesting stories to tell? What did you like/dislike about this city?