“One has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather
the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.”
– Paolo Coelho (world renowned Brazilian writer from Rio de Janeiro)
So finally, after 6 long weeks of travelling around South America & Antarctica, I will see my husband again in Rio de Janeiro, just in time for the Rio Carnaval!
I have been planning and saving up for this trip since 2015, and I was really happy when my husband told me he can take some days off his work in February 2017, I decided to gift this Rio trip to him last Christmas as my appreciation too for his loving kindness and support to pursue this dream of mine for a long time now. He chose to join me in Rio than the other countries on my itinerary because he doesn’t like hiking and definitely doesn’t like snow (Antarctica), he said this are not his idea of holiday, lol! So Rio it is ;)
I put Rio at the very last leg of my trip because for me this will be the “relaxation” part of my trip. After series of hiking trips, cold weather, and couple of misadventures, Rio is the best holiday to end my long trip. And I told myself, I will just relax and party with my husband for 2 weeks. And since it was the carnaval time, we knew it will be flocked with LOTS of tourists, so we decided to hire a car and drive outside Rio de Janeiro to visit some small towns and beaches. With the help of my Brazilian friend, we decided to go to Paraty and Ubatuba (Sao Paolo).
Rio de Janeiro is the 2nd most beautiful city in Brazil (first is Curituba) and one of the most visited country in the southern hemisphere because of its city landscape, beautiful beaches within the city, and very interesting culture like in music, dance, carnaval, and food.
Part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the NEW 7 Wonders of the World is in here, the Christ the Redeemer. If you watch the cartoons, Rio, then you know that Rio has SO MUCH to offer, I love that cartoon I tried almost everything I’ve seen there, haha!
We stayed on our first 4 nights at Centro, because apart from being close to the Sambadromo to watch the Carnaval, my husband’s free miles gave him this free 4 nights accommodation at Rios Presidential Hotel (just behind Ibis Centro Hotel). Little did we know that Centro is the best place to stay at during the carnaval because blocos are everywhere here we didn’t need to go anywhere, it was literally just below our hotel!
The vibe around the city was just crazy, everyone, young and old Brazilians, are happy and having a fantastic time! We believe that most of the party people in this area were locals, we believe that most of the tourists were in Copacabana/Ipanema areas. We met and partied with a LOT of locals despite the language barrier. We felt very safe. We realised too that Brazilians are happy people and VERY good in dancing! And that’s just my first day :P
On the day of our Rio Carnaval ticket, which is a Sunday, we just walked going to Sambadromo, where the annual Rio Carnaval is being held. It used to be at the streets only like the blocos, but because it is attended by 1-2 millions of people every year, the Sambadromo was built in the 1980’s and tickets has been sold to limit the size of crowd to prevent accidents and convenience perhaps in mobilizing it.
Rio Carnaval is the biggest carnaval in the world with participants from different samba schools competing for a prize so it is quite serious for them. There are thousands of participant for every samba school, so it takes like 30-45mins (or sometimes it feels like an hour!) before one school finish their parade, and there are 6 schools! OMG haha! So after we got samba-ed out, we left Sambadromo, lol!
On our last day at Centro, we collected our rented car at the domestic airport, Santos Dumont Airport, which is very close to Centro and headed off to Paraty. When we got back to Rio de Janeiro after visiting Paraty and Ubatuba, that was when we planned to visit Rio’s “touristy” places.
We stayed at Arpoador, the area in between Copacabana and Ipanema, so we are close to both places/beach. The beach in this area is best known to watch the sunset in which we always do over a glass of Caipirinha or Antarctica Cerveja, just before we have our dinner somewhere. I booked at Atlantis Copacabana Hotel, although the name says Copacabana, it is a lot closer to Ipanema. Though it’s not beach front, it is 5-minutes walk only to both Copacabana beach and Ipanema beach. We also noticed that there are more residential buildings here so it’s a little bit more quiet than those in the heart of these 2 popular beaches.
During the day, we prefer to stay in any Postos 4 or 5 or 6 of Copacabana Beach, the most popular beach in Rio with 4km stretch of white sand beach. This is where they always hold the New Year’s Eve fireworks. We like to stay here and watch people play Pevoley or footvolley, a sport created in Brazil, exactly here in Copacobana, which is a combination of beach volleyball and beach football. I like the view more in Copacobana because you can see the Sugarloaf Mountain from here as well.
As the day ends before sunset, we always walk towards Ipanema Beach to watch the sunset. Ipanema beach is known to be the sexiest beach in the world. Not sure why but perhaps because it became popular after the bossanova song, A Girl From Ipanema. And since our hotel is more on the Ipanema side, we always find restaurants around Ipanema area only.
Then one night, we were supposed to meet one of my friends who live in Rio for dinner and he recommended Garota de Ipanema Restaurante to have an authentic Brasilian cuisine apart from churrasco that we always have for several nights already, lol! Little did we know (because it was in Portuguese so we didn’t have any idea) that this restaurant was used to be the Veloso Bar where the bossanova song, A Girl From Ipanema, was composed ;)
Churrasco btw is the Brasilian barbeque or steak. It’s not difficult to find a churrascaria but it’s difficult to find one that is traditional Brasilian or Rodizio style, where the waiter goes around with skewers of different meat and slices it on your plate, then they will continue serving you until you turn your green card to red card, meaning you are done.
If you also prefer this, just ask around or check it online. In Ipanema area, we found Carretao the best churrascaria in this style. The usual churascarria we see are those buffet style and per weigh, not a fan because my husband and I were not good buffet eaters :P
There are so many things to do and places to see in Rio that our remaining 4 days will not be enough. So my husband and I just narrowed it down to 2 places for each of us that we want to visit. I picked Christ the Redeemer and Santa Teresa, he picked a visit to favela and hang gliding and he already booked the tour for both so I don’t have the option to say NO anymore. Uh, oh…
Cristo Redento or Christ the Redeemer is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and I chose to visit this because this will be my 6th! We DIY it because my husband is not fond of joining big group tours and it is also expensive to take an exclusive guided tour.
Anyway, it is a popular destination so doing it yourself is readily available in the internet. We took a taxi from our hotel going to the tram station going up the Corcovado Hill where the Cristo Redento is. However, when we got to the station, we already missed the last tickets available for the day (it’s already 11am I think). So we took the vans just outside the station, not so expensive for a 2-way ticket too. At the entrance, we just bought our tickets at the DIY machines there. You have the option to take the lift of walk the stairs up, we chose the latter because of the long queue.
And finally we reached the top, breathtaking panoramic view will welcome you and also a very thick crowd of tourists! Getting a decent photo without any other tourists on it is a lot more difficult than climbing the stairs haha!
The next place I chose to visit is Santa Teresa because I love old towns and bohemic places. Santa Teresa is an old town on top of Santa Teresa hill at the centre of Rio. It used to be the area for residential of the rich people in the old times, and now it is a hub for artists and active nightlife. I love narrow cobblestoned streets so I enjoyed walking around it from one interesting shop to another.
And whilst having our drinks at one of the restobars at Largo des Guimaraes, we saw the famous Santa Teresa 18th century old tram! We boarded it and saw lots of places around downtown (Santa Teresa, Lapa, and Centro) and even crossing the Carioca Aqueduct until we reached the last station.
One of the sights I want to really see why I want to go to Santa Teresa is the Escadria Selaron. It is an iconic steps of Rio de Janeiro that is a masterpiece of a Chilean eccentric artist, Jorge Selaron, in which he began creating in 1990 only and spent all his life decorating it out of broken and antique pieces of mosaic tiles from all over the world.
Ironically, he was found dead on these steps just exactly outside his house in 2013. Goosebumps. We enjoyed this place despite the crowd of tourists again because every mosaic tile is interesting, it kept us busy until we reached the top of the stairs landing.
Unfortunately, Rio is also known for its poverty and crimes. Before our trip, the 2016 Olympics and 2016 Paralympics were being held in Rio, so there were couple of videos showing the rampant aggressive pick-pocketing around Rio targeting mainly tourists.
It’s a little bit scary to watch but we felt that as long as you are vigilant and doesn’t look an easy target, chances are they won’t harm you. We don’t know if the carnaval festive vibes or the location we were in Centro (less tourists) are the reason why we didn’t witness any of these and never even felt unsafe at all, or perhaps it wasn’t as bad as the videos were trying to imply. I’d like to believe it’s the latter, but still be very, very careful.
In line with this, Rio is known for its favelas. these are slums of poor-quality housing located in mountain slopes around the city. I remember watching City of God (one of the best ones I’ve seen!), it’s a movie inspired by true events about the favela Ciudade de Dios, in this movie it shows the poverty, crime, violence, drugs, and corruption enveloping the favela communities. This is also the reason why a friend of mine who lives in Rio discouraged us to rent a car because it’s too dangerous if you get lost and end up in a favela. There are many events already that people even die because they end up in a favela.
My husband booked us a favela tour at Favela Walking Tour, one of the most trusted favela tours with high reviews. One should be careful in selecting a tour operator for this because some were just a trap – tourist trap (you will be just driving around it) or worst is crime trap where they are not legal operators so I guess you know already what you’ll end up after.
Our guides, Roberto and Raphael, were both from Rocinha favela, the largest favela not just in Rio but in whole South America. This is also the favela they featured in the cartoons, Rio ;) Apart from our guides are from Rocinha, it is safe to go to this favela because it is one of the safest favela in Rio.
Before we started our walking tour, they only have 3 warnings for us – (1) beware of stepping on dog poos, (2) motorbikes because they are too fast, (3) and mothers carrying their babies because they are over-protective that if they stepped on YOUR foot, even if it’s intentional, just say “Sorry, excuse me.” Don’t pick-up a fight, lol!
It was a very interesting walk I must say, the stories shared to us are quite unreal but very funny and interesting to know. It was safe because the residents there respects Roberto and Raphael, so they don’t really bother anyone and some mostly just ignore us. It was a fun visit and we’re glad we did it!
The last thing we tried doing in Rio is hang gliding! Hang gliding is one of the popular activities to do in Rio It’s good for us because for my husband he was saving the best adventure for last, and for me it is good because if this is the part already where I will die from this long trip, then it’s a good ending isn’t? LOL!
But kidding aside, I am not a daredevil and I have motion sickness, so hang gliding is the last thing I want to try. But this is my husband’s gift to me and he was so excited to try it because he said if we are to try hang gliding in our life, Rio is the best place to do it, so ok fine, anxiously, I just gave it a try. He booked our hang gliding at Rio Adventures because they have no records of accidents yet (I thought maybe I will be the first one haha!) and has professional pilots. Your life is at risk here so better not go to those offering cheap prices.
As soon as we arrived at the meeting point in Praia Pepino in São Conrado, we saw a rescue helicopter leaving already, not a good sight if you too nervous like me haha! We never knew what happened why there was a helicopter there, maybe for safety precautions only, I hope so! It was very windy so our pilot told us to come back in 1-2 hours time and see if the wind will subside a bit. But the thing is we have no other plans for that day and also the taxi fare going there is a bit pricey so we decided to stay and wait there, the beach is fabulous anyway.
In about less than an hour, we saw people flying already! So we asked our pilot if it’s safe already for us, maybe he thought we had left so he had no choice but to tell us yes hehe. They brought us to the top of the São Conrado hill and briefed us quickly on how and what we should do. It was nerve-wracking whilst waiting for our turn!
Rio is indeed the best place to try hang gliding (or paragliding) because of the marvellous view on top of the hill where the jumping point is and whilst flying you’ll see why Rio is a beautiful city – the landscape, the urbanscape, the forests, and even the favelas looked fabulous up there! The best part is landing at the beach. Well, it turned out to be the best experience I had in all our Rio holiday! I thanks my husband for sharing this experience with me.
When I posted our video on my FB page, one of my uncles commented that I’m a lot braver than he thought. Perhaps the video shows how courageous I look with my smile, if everyone just knew that deep inside me, during all those times, I was freaking out inside! I was just quiet and smiling because I was so nervous, unlike the other tourists there (both men and women) that they scream so loud before and during the jump sometimes, because in my mind I need to save my energy in case something goes wrong, misfortunes happen when you least expected it, that’s why it’s called an accident!
Actually, an accident happened to me, slightly. One of my knee straps got loose and my knee or legs are hanging suddenly, my glider pilot was just quick to tell me to put both of my legs on top of his so it is not hanging, otherwise it will get heavier and who knows what can happen next. Also, in just around 3minutes (maybe, because it felt like the longest 3 minutes of my life!) I felt nauseous already because of my motion sickness, so when my knee strap loosened up, we agreed to land soon, so in total I only did it for about 5 minutes unlike my husband who did it for like 15minutes or maybe more.
Anyway, we landed safely, thanks to my glider pilot and to God for extending my life, haha! Seriously, I’m glad I did it despite my fears, it’s like how I also face the obstacles in my life. I push myself as long as I still have something to give, I don’t give up easily unless that person or that situation or life itself gives up on me, that’s when I stop trying.
For me if I don’t try then I may never know how far I can go and how strong I can bear. I may not be a daredevil on trying extreme sports or activities but I am confident to say that I’m a daredevil in enduring life’s complexities. One has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear. Being brave is the courage to not let your fear stand in your way.