As I considered Salvador merely a sleepover I’d say this was my second stop in Brazil. Still getting over my stay in Itacaré, I probably didn’t start out with the best mindset for the bustling life and all the opportunities this city has to offer.
I decided to start with two nights in Ipanema and then try another hostel in Lapa to experience a few of the many districts. As I had such a great experience at the Che Lagarto in Itacaré, I went for another stay with the franchise in Rio. It was not the same, of course. But it was a good place to meet people and get a bit of distraction from longing back.
When I arrived the weather was overcast and not too hot, so I decided to do that long suspended run along Ipanema beach. As it was Sept 7th, the Brazilian day of independence, the road along the beach was closed of in one direction, as it usually is every Sunday, allowing the multitude of people to bike, skate, run or just walk along the beachfront. A wonderful initiative from an architect’s point of view, as we always love lots of people in the streets.
The active crowd of Ipanema is facilitated by loads of equipment. And encouraged to shave their chests, ugh.
Ipanema is quite a polished part of the city, with mostly newer, tall buildings and wide streets. It’s also a quite green part of the city with its green avenues and fresh ocean air. My favourite part though, was definitely the beach with lots of opportunities for football or volleyball, exercising and some surf.
Crowded at the top
The second day I decided to go on a tour to sort of check all the attractions of my bucketlist and free up the next couple of days. The tour included Christ The Redeemer, Santa Teresa district, the new Cathedral and a sunset view from the Sugar Loaf. Big mistake. It was my first and probably last tour I will ever do. First of all it was 185 BRL and doing the different attractions on my own would only have set me back around a 100 BRL including transport as half of the attractions were free entry. Second, they arrived late so everything was slightly rushed after that. Third, the guide knew nothing, no history, no fun facts, no real facts. She was basically a facilitator counting people getting in and out of the van. I guess it was a tour adapting to the snapshot generation where what people mostly care about is getting a photo with the designated attraction to say I’ve been there. So I decided to make the best out of it and just go with it, which means I got some real decent selfie practice!
Feeling like I have this shit down! Though the Sugarloaf was a challenge, way too much wind. Still struggling with getting a selfie stick though, that might be too much of a commitment to the selfie.
My advice would be to take an extra few days and do one attraction a day and rather spend some time in that district as Rio is so diverse and it’s definitely worth visiting more than one or two areas.
Rio is really easy to get around by public transport. I never got around to try the Metro cause the buses always did the job for 3,40 BRL. Just make sure you tell the driver where you’re going. They only stop at a signal, even when the destination is the name of the bus route, as I unfortunately got to experience going to the main Bus station in the dodgiest area of town. I had to get of late and walk along the highway with all my belongings, absolutely scared shitless. I have never been so happy for the catcalling construction workers along the road. At least they were people and witnesses if someone would jump out from under the bridge or drag me into a car.
The next two nights I spent in Lapa, famous for its nightlife. This felt more like a real city to me with bustling streetlife, dirty sidewalks and small shops and café/bars just outside my door. As it’s part of the old town, Lapa is characterized by the colourful colonial style architecture with Classical and elements of Art Nouveau. It’s a run down part of the city though, so finding it charming might need a bit of goodwill.
Lapa with its colonial style architecture and some samples of the great range of streetart you can find in Rio.
The mosaic Selarón stair in Lapa by Jorge Selarón. Apartently the artist sampled tiles during 20 years from over 120 countries to complete this urban gem. A more known fact is how he mysteriously was found dead in 2013 at the bottom of the stairs, some claiming it was murder, others suicide.
I had a bit of mixed feelings about visiting a favela. As many of the favelas are becoming victims of gentrification after the pacifying process started in 2008, they’re becoming huge tourist attractions. In addition to the recent established hostels you have the weekly favela parties arranged by outside initiatives cashing in on adventurous backpackers. So while I’m slightly repulsed by the trend of white kids feeling like their immersing in culture or experiencing the real Rio by hanging out in a favela, I was also genuinely interested in seeing a favela myself. Not trying to sound like I, myself had a higher purpose, I was particularly interested in the architecture of a favela. Seeing it from afar it looks like such a dynamic and organic structure, clinging to the steep hills where no one else wants to build.
Michael Jackson got his own square in the favela with a mural and a statue. Very…ehm, nice.
So with that excuse I decided to take a look. I was definitely not getting an overpriced tour though, walking around in a large group with a guide and my “expensive” camera on display, so I got the hostel guy to recommend me a favela I could visit on my own safely. He recommended Morro Santa Marta, the first favela to be pacified but still not as gentrified as Vidigal. At the bottom at the favela the guides were lined up anyway, demanding 50-80 BRL per person for a tour. And you can be sure a large sum of that money finds its way to a suit somewhere.
Jesus looking out over the Favela
The Favela was quite touristic with attractions like Michael Jackson’s “they don’t care about us” music video being shot here and a more recent art project painting the several of the houses in vivid colours. But even though tourists were common, there was a bit of a confrontation between a local guy going off at one of the tourist guides bringing a group around. He was definitely not happy with them walking around their homes taking photos (and the guide making money from it). So be respectful.
SPEND A WEEK
I only stayed four nights in Rio and I was busy every day discovering new parts of the city. If I had more time I would have visited Copacabana, which is supposed to be good for shopping, along with other areas of the city, hiked one of the many surrounding hills or done some more cultural stuff. But for me the timing for a big, busy city was a little off and after a few days I longed for a small, laid back town again.
Snapshot generation was here, did that.