The title of the post says it all! I had the chance to visit Latin America's most visited city and well, it exceeded expectations in every way possible...so much in fact that I'll be making a return trip this weekend to once again live the vida carioca (Rio life).
Last week couldn't have gone fast enough...the anticipation of heading to the world's most beautiful city awaited me. On Thursday I aced my accounting test and then headed out to the bus station, just a 20 minute subway ride away, to head on out. Another victory scored as I somehow successfully bought a ticket and navigated my way to the bus station itself. I was expecting a calm ride but what unfolded was one of the funnier and more strange things that has occurred for me here in Brazil...
Just my luck, I had the pleasure of sitting next to cat woman....dressed head to toe in leopard print! Literally...EVERYTHING! Toe nails, shoes, pants, scarves, belts, eye glasses, hair pins, purses, bracelets...you name it, she was wearing leopard print. I didn't notice at first...just a glance revealed a coordinated and sharp looking older lady...but subsequent interactions with her were priceless! We had a grumbler on our hands. I couldn't understand a word this woman was saying to me...she just continually grumbled. It was quite cold on the bus and she started wrapping her hair around her arms for warmth, which is where I then realized that her hair was as long as her body...literally to the floor. She later fell asleep on my arm and when I advised her with a "licenca" (excuse me), she only responded with another grumble and continued to stretch out and put her feet on my legs and drifted back into her catlike dreams...the 7+ hours could not have gone slower!
We indeed made it to Rio where I was met by my friend who lives there at the bus station with his parents to pick me up. We reminisced, realizing it had been 5 years since we last saw each other in high school, retold tails of the "good 'ole days" and remained in disbelief...thinking we'd never see each other again. It was a pleasure to meet his family as well...wonderful people. We headed out that night to the bay and got some food and chopp (draft beer) with his friends. I was instantly taken by the friendliness of the people and of the carioca accents...where they pronounce "shhhh" instead of "ssss". It was simply beautiful to listen to and made me jealous that I have the Paulistano accent.
Friday was a day to remember. I was actually staying in Niteroi, the city across the bay that looks directly at Rio. We hopped the 14km bridge over to the big city and began our journey to Concorvada and the Christ the Redeemer statue. We grabbed lunch and then took the rickety red train to scale up the mountain to spend the day with Jesus! Now I've been very very fortunate in my life and have had the opportunity to see some very cool things like the Great Wall of China and the DMZ but this easily goes down as one of the neatest things I've done. The statue itself was impressive but the view was completely breathtaking. Rio is a picturesque city and seeing a 360 view with the buildings, ocean, beaches, etc was awesome. A glance right I was looking at historic Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and a quick look left I was seeing bustling traffic in the city and the favelas (slums) dispersed amidst the buildings. It was like capturing the essence of what is Brazil with my own two eyes...and despite all the action below, it looked so peaceful from above and it was even cooler to look over it and say that I've called this country home. After taking plenty of photos (link to pictures below (photos don't do it justice)), we headed back to sea level and home for some dinner and out to a barzinho (outdoor music bar) for the night. After some drinks and appetizers we packed our bags and headed to another friend's beach house for the rest of the weekend!
The next best story about the weekend occurred on Saturday, also my friend's birthday. I woke up and was told that we were going to the beach...so I put on my havianas and my swim trunks and was ready to go...then my friend told me to switch to gym shoes because we were walking to the beach and we were going to go to a good "site" spot and had to get there via a trail...fine by me....little did I know that this trail was a flipping MOUNTAIN that I was completely unprepared to climb for 5 hours haha. In fact, we trekked some 500+ yards to the highest point in Niteroi for an incredible view. The best part of it all was the pure fact that I had no clue we were doing that. I was still in my swimsuit and this trail was easily one of the most physically daunting things I've ever done in my life...a short slip of the shoe away from falling to my death I dare say. And this trail was not one of those friendly here's a nice stick for a railing...we were straight scaling rocks the size of the Jesus statue with ropes and sorts...again, you'll see in the pictures. My shoes are pretty much shot, although I have no room to complain as one of the other guys climbing with us actually trekked through his shoe and had to descend the mountain barefoot in the brush. Nevertheless, the view was, again, beyond incredible and the sense of accomplishment for having scaled the mountain was equally as exhilarating, not to mention a fantastic workout.
We did end up making it to the beach...which lived up to every Brazilian expectation I've had and spent the rest of the weekend relaxing by the pool and eating churrasco (Brazilian BBQ). Even better for my Portuguese was hanging out with all native speakers and people my age...I finally got some slang down and am sounding more and more native every day. In fact, my speaking partner at school and professor said that I've really really really improved! I'm still shocked at how much I've come along...closing in on two months. I'll be dreaming in Portuguese by the end of my year.
A few big days ahead of me. Lots of midterms the next few weeks and group projects due before the end of our first class modules for the semester so I am hitting the books before another Rio style vacation this weekend. Life there is contagious and if you haven't been to South America before, put Rio de Janeiro on your bucket list. The people, the food, the lifestyle is a complete dream and well living in Brazil has been nothing short of living the dream. Tchau!