No Jesus to cure our sins today (see Rio Talk), so myself and Fi hired some bikes and set off to explore Copacabana, Ipanema and Lagoa. The sun was finally out and the beach was full of tanned, nearly naked bodies playing volleyball, exercising and sunbathing. This was more like it.
It was a fab cycle, taking us along the beach of Copacabana, through the streets of Ipanema and round Lagoa lake – an important spot for the 2016 Olympics, although you would never have known at the time. Rio’s incredible skyline dominated the cycle at every turn, the natural landscape a stunning contrast to the office blocks and favelas of the sprawling city. And what better way to relax after a long cycle than sitting on Copacabana Beach drinking out of a coconut watching the world go by. Fi went off for a nap, but after a bite to eat I bumped into Katie, Chloe (another South Korean girl) and, separately, George, and we chilled on the beach kicking a football around while Katie chatted up the locals until sunset.
That night, after some food and Happy Hour caipirinhas (I’ll never drink them again), we found ourselves heading to Lapa once more. It was a Saturday night and the street party was in full swing by the viaduct, the drinks were flowing and cariocas and travellers alike were mingling in the heat of the city. We found a stall selling cheap but powerful (you guessed it) caipirinhas and the rest of the evening is a blur.
If we thought the hangover two days previously had been bad, we were naïve. Nevertheless, I dragged myself and my pounding headache from my bunk and set off to Sugarloaf Mountain. There is a bus, but I felt that I needed a walk, and having mapped out the route in my head I set off through the streets of Rio. I’m sure there are plenty of guides telling you not to do this, but a) I never once felt unsafe in Rio, b) I stuck to the bus route, I wasn’t walking through favelas and c) I cannot express how much I needed that walk. It was nice to see the city from a different angle. And it was a beautiful day.
(Just a quick note here – overly panicky guides about Rio make it sound like you could turn up a wrong street and find yourself in the middle of favela gang warfare. You would know if you were entering a favela. A guy I met in the hostel did get mugged walking along Copacabana Beach in the evening, but he had his expensive camera dangling around his neck. Just use common sense. Don’t look too much like a tourist, and make the effort to learn a few words of Portuguese.)
The views from Sugarloaf are dreamy, and very much cemented my love of Rio de Janeiro. Half price entry if you’re a student too! If you’re feeling extra sprightly (or didn’t go out the night before) there’s the option of trekking to the top of Sugarloaf. I, however, gratefully took the cable car.
That night was a much more relaxed affair, with Katie and many others from our hostel gang leaving either that night or early the next morning. We ate and chatted and said our goodbyes. I had planned to head to Ilha Grande with George the following morning, a Monday, but decided (rightfully) that it would have been too risky to attempt to visit there and get back in time for my Tuesday evening flight to New York. He headed off, and Fi was still unwell, so I ventured off to the Botanic Gardens. I arrived there around 11, but it didn’t open until 12. There was nowhere obvious to sit and wait nearby, so I headed back towards Ipanema and Copacabana to check out the fort. It wasn’t open on Mondays. Definitely bear this in mind: very few tourist attractions are open on a Monday, which I did not know, and unfortunately had planned nothing for this day. Hungry, I settled at a beach front stall for some food which was one of the worst things I have ever eaten, and afterwards, still ravenous, I headed to Bakers Café on Rua Santa Clara, Copacabana which offered a fantastic selection of cakes and pastries, which was just what I needed after an otherwise unsuccessful day. In hindsight, I should have been content with a beach day, and would have been had I known in advance that Mondays are a religious day, but I was very much unprepared for this. I was therefore quite restless on a day where I should have just settled down with a good book, having spent my day wandering around looking for something to be open. So I’m all for being spontaneous, but you don’t want to waste a day when you’re only in a city for a short time.
My final day, however, was definitely not a waste. My flight was at 7pm, so I woke early to take a taxi from the hostel to São Conrado for my final adventure – paragliding! I signed my life away before driving up the mountain, strapping myself to a parasail and a Brazilian man in his mid-thirties and throwing myself off the side of the hill – and then we were soaaaring, flyyyying (sorry) through the skies of Rio, circling over trees and houses towards the beach. I was completely relaxed throughout it all, even when my instructor/guide/fellow man strapped to a parasail gave me – what seemed like – complete control of the sail. All too soon we were flying over the road, over the beach, and out over the sea (which I’ll admit was a bit unnerving) before circling back onto the beach to land.
After watching my video, and purchasing some photographs on a CD (which I have since lost, sadly), I headed back to the hostel to meet Fi and Chloe, where we then headed straight to Copacabana beach for a chilled final afternoon in the sun.
A fab week over all too soon, and I’ll definitely be back to explore more of Rio and Brazil!