Sunday 19 October 2014


This city is a car accident waiting to happen. Everyone drives about 20 mph too fast, speeding around cars, buses, dodging pedestrians, bikes and children that dash across the road without looking. Twice from the airport I was sure I was about to become a witness to a double homicide.

And here was me expecting the first day would be a write off. Exhausted, I would stumble across the city in a daze, find my way to the hostel after hours of pain and stress, and finally fall asleep on the couch in the common room and wait until the evening. Feeling pretty useless at the airport, but enjoying the sunrise, I decided to splash out and taxi my way into the city. And, to be honest, after hearing the stories of various others who decided to try and use public transport, this was apparently a really good decision. However, moving around the city on the buses is actually pretty easy and convenient, and very cheap.

I'm staying in Discovery hostel, which is next to Gloria Metro station, in Centro. Full of lively, friendly staff and clean, cheerful rooms, I like it a lot. The metro station is right outside, and if you feel like walking (though doing so is not recommended on the weekend), it's not too far to most of the popular sites.

So, on Friday I arrived, and found I had accidentally booked my stay a day early. The start of this trip has really highlighted how utterly unorganised I am, which is a little wake up call for me. I'm going to try and be a little more sensible in the upcoming weeks. As it's only a three hour time difference, the jet lag is surprisingly manageable, and I teamed up with a Finnish girl called Frida to hike up the first of the two Sugar Loaf peaks. Apparently a brain wasting disease had taken hold, because why on earth I thought that hiking up a mountain after a 36 hour plane trip was a good idea I'll never know. Still, it was beautiful and a very enjoyable hike, with little monkeys bouncing around the trail.

At the top, the clouds seemed determined to get in the way, giving us a beautiful view of milky whiteness; exactly what we had headed up to see of course. Luck was, however, on our side, and after 20 minutes of us pretending to enjoy the distinct lack of a view, they cleared and Rio slipped into view. Christ looks on from the far left on his position on the mountain, watching over the colourful city below. The sea is bright blue, the sun is shining, and all in all very much worth the wait.

Afterwards, we took the cable car back down (we used it to head over to the second peak) and made our way on the bus back to Santa Teresa, which is a neighbourhood on the hill above our hostel. We'd been recommended a restaurant named Bar do Murino to try the local cuisine - a dish called Feijoada. This is a combination of black beans, pork and various other pieces of meat, stewed until the pork is tender and full of flavour. Absolutely delicious, we polished it off with a very welcome ice cold beer after climbing several hundred steps up the hill.

To our great fortune, two Brazilians (Irapuan and Mariane) sat down next to us, and surprisingly spoke perfect English. They very kindly took pity on us two gringos and explained what each of the dishes were, and gave me some useful Portuguese words too. After receiving a warning about walking directly from Santa Teresa to the Selaron steps due to the road skirting the edge of a slightly dodgy favela, we wished them well and walked to Lapa, which incidentally turned out to be the exact road we should not have walked along. Woops.

Lapa was pretty, with the white aqueduct gleaming in the bright sunshine, but we then headed onwards to the Selaron steps from there, believing (incorrectly) that this would not take us through the dodgy area. The steps are beautiful, with colourful tiles leading from the bottom to the top, including ones sent from all around the world to the artist. He apparently spent all of his money on tiles, before going broke. He then started to receive tiles from people around the world, allowing him to continue and finish his work. As we walked back down, lo and behold, there was Irapuan and Mariane taking pictures! Obviously we were just too damned pretty to not be followed (or not).

We headed back to the hostel, happy but utterly shattered, and I spent the remaining of the evening trying to stay awake, lasting until the late, late time of 6:30.

So, bright and early the following day, it was a farewell to Frida, who was off to her Chemical Engineering conference on the other side of the city, and I overheard a couple of people in the common room discussing the free walking tour that had been recommended to me the day prior. Jumping on the opportunity, Anna (a Polish woman) and I headed off to Cariocas to spend the day traipsing around Rio city centre.

It's a really great tour actually, led by Gabby, a Carioca with more energy than a five year old stuffed full of Coca Cola and M&M's. If you'd like a good way to see the major attractions (Cathedral, historical and famous shops, Lapa and the palaces) it's a great way to do it. While we were in Lapa, after Gabby spun quite a tale of Samba street parties and cheap Caiparinhas, Anna and I agreed we'd return that evening. Well, I'm not going to be here next weekend, so decided this was my only chance. I also got a mild lecture from Gabby regarding our walk the previous day, who asked me to please take a taxi past areas like that in the future.

I got a message from Mariane, and headed out to see her and her cousin for Caiparinhas in Botafogo, which is a nice area, and the drinks were spectacular. Following this, it was off to Copacabana for more drinks with my friends from Bristol - Giovane and Mariana. Giovane poured far too much beer into me, and I slightly staggered back to the hostel to drink my body weight in water and jump in a taxi to Lapa. No, there are no pictures; I'm not silly enough to carry electronics into Lapa at night!

I'm mildly horrified by how much money I've spent. Not quite used to the exchange rate, I've realised that Rio is just as expensive to live in as Bristol is. Meals and drinks are all going to be the best part of a tenner, and it's really easy to forget how much you're spending! I've had a stern talking to myself, and hopefully I don't go broke in the middle of Ecuador.

Well, the next stop has been booked: I'm flying from Rio to Iguaza falls on Tuesday, spending two days more in Rio than originally planned. It's a fine balance really, the faster you want to move, the more expensive it gets. In this case, it was a choice between a 26 hour bus journey for 279 Real, or a 2.5 hour plane journey for 500 Real. Still, that's three days budget, so I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the cheap eats.

Eating here is particularly easy actually, there are little buffet places everywhere. Walk in, get a slip of paper, load up your plate and pay by the weight. It's a pretty effective way of stuffing yourself with a variety of food, including your five a day (Mum will be pleased).

So, that's the update! I realise this has taking me a few days, and probably rambles a bit, but I'll do my best to update more often with shorter posts in the future. As always, thanks for reading.


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