Rio de Janeiro. A city which, at the time, was frantically preparing for the Olympics, and had lured me over with the promise of sunshine, incredible views and a good party. I touched down after two back-to-back 7/8 hour flights from London via New York JFK, and stepped out of the airport into glorious Brazilian sunshine… Ah. It was 16 degrees, cloudy and wet. Pretty much what I’d left behind in the UK. Not to be dampened, however, I pulled on my waterproof jacket and jumped in a taxi to the hostel. Stuck in early morning traffic, I took in the sprawling favelas of a city very much awake and alive, excited for what my week would bring.
Arriving at the friendly exterior of Bamboo Rio Hostel in Copacabana, I took a deep breath and entered. Its entrance hall makes a great impression, with hammocks lining the corridor. I couldn’t check in until 2pm, but dumped my bags in secure storage behind the desk, bought a large bottle of water and headed out to explore the city with some fellow Brits – Fi and George – who I had just met (and tagged along with for the majority of the week). The hostel itself is extremely friendly and full of travellers from early-20s to late-30s who are solo, coupled up or in groups of friends. The swimming pool leaves much to be desired – I doubt anyone has ever actually braved it – but the bar is a good laugh and offers as many free caipirinhas as you can drink during Happy Hour. Breakfast is also included in the very reasonable price – and food is available throughout the day, although don’t expect it to be cooked quickly, or anything special.
We jumped on a bus with the aim of seeing Escadario Selaron – those tiled steps you see on everybody’s Instagram feed. I was lucky with my photo, the steps were actually rammed full of people, but it is a cool attraction. We strolled up the steps, enjoying the tiles which varied from Bob Marley to an entire set of stairs dedicated to Kazakhstan. Afterwards, we wandered down the back alley adorned with street art into Lapa with the intention of finding the Cathedral. Of course, we were looking for a conventional cathedral, so we missed it completely – you’d be forgiven for thinking that Rio’s Cathedral was a 1970s tower block crossed with a Dalek. The unassuming yet odd exterior gives nothing away of the eery space inside, with giant stained glassed windows reaching to the heavens and Jesus on a cross suspended in mid-air. It’s worth seeing just for the sheer surreality of it all.
We stopped for lunch in Lapa – street food fare of meat and rice – before wandering down to the sea front to a war memorial, catching our first glimpse of Sugarloaf Mountain. We then returned to the hostel to check in before heading out for an obligatory drink on Copacabana Beach (despite the weather). After dinner, we called it an early night as we had all arrived early that morning from various locations, but promised that we’d be much more fun the rest of the week.
So, the next day we awoke to…more rain and clouds. We took ourselves off to a Picasso exhibition in the morning, before meeting up with Fi’s Brazilian friends, Camilla, Karina and Felipe for lunch in Ipanema. After a fun afternoon exploring the beaches, we headed back to the hostel to take advantage of Happy Hour. Happy Hour led to a club where I did not have to buy a drink because they had unlimited free caipirinhas for most of the night, and I think I’m still recovering.
Those of us who were alive the next day – myself, Fi, and Katie, a hilarious South Korean girl, being the only ones out of a group of ten or so who even made it out of bed – dragged ourselves to Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) to turn the wine in our bodies back into water. (I used that joke in Rio too, but thanks). We had to wait a while, but thankfully there was an immensely average but greasy burger chain nearby – it was probably the equivalent of Wimpy’s but it did the job. By the time we were jumping on the train up the mountain, I was a new man and the views and scenery scared anything that remained of the hangover away. What a view! The Redeemer is great too, but that view! We did have to fight our way to the front of the huge crowds for a good photo, of course, but it’s worth it.
Later that day, we met up with the rest of our new group from the hostel who were finally rallying from the night before and made plans for another night out – this time to the Rio Scenarium in Lapa, a club in what is essentially a four storey house which doubles as a restaurant during the day. The walls are covered in random paraphernalia, antiques and junk, and each floor offers completely different styles of music, with sweeping staircases or an old school lift between floors. Great fun, and the temperature outside was heating up too, which boded well for the rest of the week!
Rio Talk 2 (or some other witty name) coming soon…