The beach, the flare, the statue of Christ and the mountains, Rio de Janeiro has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We had booked our accommodation in advance using AirBnB and were to be staying with a young lady called Pracilla in her 2 bedroom apartment. She messaged us some rough directions to follow, so we input them into the GPS.
It was an expensive but pretty ride through the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. We had previously spent two months in Brazil during the World Cup. During this time we got to see a lot of Brazil but also took a hit to the back pocket with the costs of accomodation, food and fuel often going over our daily budget. Taking this into consideration we decided to take motorways as much as possible to move quickly south.
The motorways on which we had been travelling up until the state of Sao Paolo didn't require payment for motorbikes at toll stations. Motorbikes were provided a separate lane on the outside of the road with a little obstacle coarse to prevent other vehicles from passing through. With our wide 45L panniers it could sometimes be a little challenging for us. Unfortunately for us in the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro motorbikes had to pay. The cost was always half what a car paid but to be fair, the quality of the roads in the southern states were excellent so in this case, you really do get what you pay for!
As we approached the city of Rio de Janeiro, we dropped in elevation from the raised plateau down to sea level. For weeks, Janell had been singing the song “I go to Rio” by Peter Allen and Adrienne Anderson. Janells excitement quickly rubbed off on Stu and he started singing his own version “we're going to Rio, de Janeiro.” The song has a real broadway show feel to it so thats what we were expecting Fred Estair and Ginger Rogers to be tapping in the street with crowds of brightly coloured back up dancers around them.
Needless to say our arrival into the great city was the opposite. It was a miserable day with rain obscuring anything above 5 storeys off the ground, even the statue of Christ the Redeemer towering over the city from Corcovada wasn’t anywhere to be seen. To add to our dismay, the directions we received for the apartment were not exact enough for us to identify the building. We expect problems like this whenever we have accomodation prearranged but we are always hopeful for a smooth arrival. We stopped to try and find WiFi to contact our host but before long a local gentleman approached us to see if he could help the very obviously lost tourists. He tried a few times to describe the route we needed to take then decided it would be safer to get his motorbike and have us follow him. Brilliant plan!
The kind man lead us straight to the address, and waved goodbye. Then waiting for us at the gate was our host. Yay, we’d made it. Janell was back to singing again. The apartment block was built within a secure compound-like area at the base of one of the western favela’s (slum districts). There was some serious fencing around the perimeter of the site with 24 hour security at the entrance gate. Our host, Pracilla, cleared us with the security guard and directed us to park our motorbikes in one of the car parks. The bikes were safely inside, but was inside safe? To be honest, we were a little uneasy about it, the bikes were completely exposed and even a simple thing like stealing a number plate could cause us all sorts of problems with the police and border crossings and delays we just didn't need at the moment. No point worrying about all the things that could go wrong so we got on with unpacking the bikes with Pracillas help.
The apartment blockwas in fact one of 10 identical buildings each with about 10 floors and 6 apartments on each floor (we didn't actually stop and count). We think there were around 3 or 4 of these complexes centered by a ring-road with a large field in the middle; a bit like a community or government housing scheme. We were the only white people in the complex and our presence drew a lot of attention from the children who insisted on practicing their English on us every time they caught a glimpse of us. This is always lots of fun for everyone, only the brave children have a go while the others site behind giggling. Then we throw in a new word, generally Australian, to give us a chance to giggle.
As we were unpacking, the central field was being setup for a Christmas concert. We saw people in their flats having family christmas parties and really getting in the festive mood. Everyone we saw was very welcoming and seemed happy to have us around. One particular apartment, located below ours, was very memorable as there were so many family members they had to put chairs out the front door just to fit everyone. These guys said hello and smiled at us everytime we did a trip from the bikes to the bedroom.
Pracilla was an excellent host. Her apartment was on the third floor and she helped us move our things from the bikes up the three floors to her apartment. When that was all done we quickly showered to remove all the sweat and grime from a days riding and then she took us for a walk to the nearby facilities; shops, supermarket, train, buses etc. After that we decided that to make the most of Rio, we should head out straight away and see the night life. Negrita made herself right at home with Pracilla and her brother and seemed happy for an afternoon siesta at the apartment.
We are always trying to learn from our travel experiences and improve so to head in to the city after a big riding day was unusual for us but we knew that we would probably leave Rio de Janeiro wishing we had more time explore. We hopped on a train and 15 minutes later were in Copacabana, a place we’d heard so much about.
There was still a little sunlight so we took a walk along the beach front and admiring the various sand sculptures and restaurants deciding where we’d like to have dinner. Cities offer us a chance to eat a lot healthier than small town takeaway but all the nice restaurants on the beach front were out of our budget. We found a bar a street back from the beach with reasonable prices and got something to eat and a beer. We sat and talked about the amazing things we’d seen to date and how surreal it was to be sitting in a bar in Rio de Janeiro.
The next morning we were up early and out to get supplies for breakfast; home-cooked eggs on toast, just how we like them. Our host was out early but had given us instructions on how to leave the apartment and that she was happy for Negrita to roam around. The sun was shinning, so we decided to return to Copacabana, this time for a swim. On the way, we stopped in the city center just to have a walk around and see a bit of the architecture. It was a Sunday so everything was pretty much shut so we continued by foot along the waters edge and watched other tourists riding bicycles around the city, what a great idea.
The detour in the city worked out well as things were just starting to get lively down at the beachfront of Copacobana. More and more people were setting up on the sand but not many people were in the water and we wondered why as the water looked so inviting. It certainly wasn't going to stop us going for a dip so we found a place to sit.
We'd no sooner got our cossies on show when a young man approached us selling cocktails at a reasonable price. We weren’t really ready to have a drink so turned him down, but he just kept dropping the price, not realising that we just didn't want a cocktail. Initially he wanted R$15 each, but settled for $R5 for the both of them in the end. We pretty much took them in the end so he’d leave us alone, but they were really good cocktails, he certainly didn’t hold back on the alcohol content.
After our drink, we walked down to the waters edge (we weren’t carrying anything valuable, just enough money for the day which was kept in Stuart’s swimming shorts). With just our toes in the water we realized why everyone stayed on the sand. Even though the atmospheric temperature in Rio can reach over 40° in summer, the ocean currents, being predominantly from the south, keep the water at an icy temperature comparably. Janell was in first and it felt great after everything went a little numb, so refreshing and shocking at the same time. Back on the sand and soaking up some sun we joined in with the locals and other tourists relaxing in the cool breeze.
If you're not a fan of laying around in the sun getting sandy then there are plenty of beachside bars. Janell gets bored of just laying around so we moved to the nearest bar, ordered a beer, and pulled out our Footprint South American Handbook to figure out what to do over the next few days. A Favela tour was top on our list. Favela’s are found in all the large cities of Brazil (and similarly across Latin America under different names). In Rio they have become a tourist attraction with guides taking groups throughout the streets and alleyways and into houses to give an idea of what that world is like. Using wifi we booked one for the next day and were really lucky to get a guide all to ourselves. During our tour we were pleasantly surprised at how much infrastructure was in place; in recent years the government had assisted in upgrading these areas with water, electricity, sewage. We're reasonably sure the places we were taken presented the best parts of the Favela as we compared with similar places, but in much worse condition, that we'd witnessed in both Asia and Africa.
We dedicated one of our days to riding around Rio de Janeiro; 'we' here means three up on Stuarts bike with Janell and Negrita enjoying the views and Stu doing all the work. Its a pleasant city to ride around but the mountains can be a bit challenging. The road up Corcovada to the statue of Christ is narrow with cobbestone sections and rail tracks. Its also very steep in sections. The statue is located in a national park, something we weren't aware of, and we were denied entry with Negrita. We took photo’s from a nearby lookout and when we saw the queue of people lining up for the Statue of Christ, made the decision to settle with getting close enough. Our next stop was a cable car ride near Ipanema beach. Negrita wasn’t allowed on the cable car and when we tried to take the walking track up to the viewing platform we yet again were denied entry, even with her on the lead. By this time Janell was getting we upset about it all, coming from Australia with really strict rules about pets in national park etc. we could understand the rules but we just really wanted to get pictures of Negrita with some of the famous landmarks.
After four full days exploring the city it was time to leave. Our departure coincided with Stuart’s 34th birthday, so Janell decided to attach yellow balloons all over his bike as we rode out of town and take him out for breakfast by the beach. As if riding around with a dog on the back of a bike doesn't attract enough attention, with balloons the fascination was ten fold. Considering how hot it was the balloons performed better than expected until we hit 60 km/hour then it didn't take long for them to pop.
All in all we decided that Rio de Janeiro was amongst our favourite destinations thus far, the scenery was picturesque and the atmosphere along the beaches was fun and exciting.
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