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South America 2015

Rio Rapido

BRAZIL | Tuesday, 8 September 2015 | Views [247]

Rio Rapido

The whirlwind continued as we landed in Rio in the late afternoon. We fought through several different taxi companies trying to rip us off blatantly until one driver pointed to the 'common' taxi rank with disgust. 16 Reals to the hostel on the meter, a little better than the $R60 most were trying to charge us. Being targeted as easy prey for taxis drivers at airports is really getting old but being onto them, asking locals on the plane or emailing the accom before you arrive really helps. We still probably pay over but not as badly as going in blind. At the hostel in Santa Teresa we booked a day tour for the morning and headed out for dinner. Our lack of any Portuguese landed us in a totally different area of town to what we wanted but found a nice little restaurant anyway and managed to make it home safely, ready for the adventures of the next day.
The day tour had seemed expensive when we first booked it but we were short of options and very short on time so we agreed. Turned out to be worth every cent. We met the bus at 10am down on the main street as the bus couldn't fit up the cobblestone laneway our accommodation was on. 
First stop was the Escadaria Selaron, or Lapa Steps. An artwork by Chilean painter Jorge Selaron as a tribute to Brazil. The steps are covered in ceramic tiles from all over the world. As a side project for the painter who lived on the staircase, he began renovating them in 1990 but kept running out of money so he sold paintings and accepted tile donations to keep the project going. Travellers from everywhere started sending tiles from their home towns to help out. It took several years and was constantly evolving and changing colour and shape. There are 250 stairs in the 125m long staircase, with over 2000 tiles and mirrors from 60 different countries. At least 300 are hand painted by Selaron, he continued to work on the piece up until 2013 when he was found dead on the staircase. He had claimed in the 90's that the work would never be finished until the day he died. It really is an amazingly colourful and beautiful piece of art. We even found a kangaroo tile from Australia hidden in there. 
Next stop was Christo Redentor, Christ the Redeemer, the 38m tall statue of Jeebas over looking the city of Rio and surrounds. One of the new 7 wonders of the world it is very impressive for not only its size and views, but how they managed to build it in its location on top of Corcovado Hill. Also a main tourist attraction of Rio, it was packed with people. Elbows and selfy sticks causing havoc as everyone wanted that special photo, there was even a marriage proposal next to us causing more chaos. We got our photos, admired the view, bought a magnet and got out of there. Another wonder ticked off the list.
The Sambadrome was next. This is where the Rio Carnivale samba competition is held and the starting point of the parade. Though generally only used once a year for Carnivale, it is a permanent structure in downtown Rio. Grandstands line the streets for 700m, seating up to 90,000 people. Tickets start at around $70 US and go up to $1250 US for corporate seating, and that's before scalpers get hold of them. The event can sell out up to two years in advance. We took our pictures in cardboard cutouts, some of the girls got dressed up in Mardi Gras costumes then back on the bus to the Rio Cathedral.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian is a very different church. Very modern architecture in the shape of a cone, 106m across and stands 76m tall. It has 4 stunning stained glass windows, one on each point of the compass that are 64m tall. All of the wall panelling allows natural light through to the chamber. The pews hold 5000 people but for major events they are removed and the capacity grows to 20,000. Like when the pope visited. A very cool building and something a little different.
A late lunch was had in Copacabana, true to form on the holiday, once we got near the beach it started raining so we remained inside and hammered the buffet. We did drive along the beach after lunch but didn't manage to lounge in the sun drinking caipirinhas on Copacabana beach as we had imagined. Still, the sight on the list had been seen.
Rio's Sugar Loaf Mountain ( Pao de Acucar ) was our next destination. We thought we were just going to look at it but turned out our ticket price included going up to the top of it in the famous Rio cable car. The mountain is the shape of a sugar lump and sits in the middle of Rio's natural harbour, climbing to 396m above sea level. The area is now a national park and home to many exotic bird species including Toucans. The views from the top are incredible. You can see the entirety of Rio, with Jeebas watching over, the harbour and all its islands, which are now considered a natural wonder of the world, the full 13km span of the Rio - Niteroi bridge over Guanoabana Bay and the planes landing in the middle of it all at the domestic airport, whose runway juts out into the ocean. We stayed until the sun went down and headed back down the mountain to the bus to end an eventful day. Six major sites including 2 wonders of the world. Not bad going !
The next morning we got picked up early and headed towards Rocinha, Rio's largest favela for a walking tour. The poorest of poor live in the favelas, which are mostly run and controlled by mafia gangs and drug lords. They started as workers building shanti towns as cheap accommodation but expanded massively. They are built into the mountains around Rio and other cities. Rio has over 600 favelas. They are little cities within the city. We got warnings from our guide, no trouble expected but don't start any either, and absolutely no taking photos of dealers or people holding guns. Each favela is like a maze with tiny alleyways and steep pathways, no streets or building names. These days most have running water and electricity, though the electricity is dubious, the wiring up and down the paths is scary. We visited an art gallery, a bakery and a daycare centre. Our guide told us of the battles between government and the drug lords, as bad as the situation got, all residents still prefer the control by the drug lords rather than the government as they know where they stand with the mafias. According to our guide the Brazilian government has the money and power to change the situation but choose not too as the corruption makes them all too wealthy. Only the military police fight the gangs as the standard police are all on payroll. We wound our way through the alleys for a couple of hours. It's a very eye opening tour, a tough way of life for the people who live there with absolutely no government support or services. 
We made it back to our hostel about 2pm ready to head to the airport at 5pm. We filled in the time with bite to eat and an impromptu samba session on the streets as a local band practised. 
One and a half days and Rio was done, again we were quietly proud of ourselves about what we managed to achieve. That pride was short lived however as we started our journey to the domestic airport for our domestic flight, only for the taxi driver to double check with us what airport we were going to. Dug out the itinerary and sure enough our domestic flight was actually leaving from the international airport, over an hour away ! Not that any South American taxi driver ever needs to be told to hurry up, our race against the clock in Rio's peak hour was a tad nerve racking. We saw two accidents happen including busses colliding, but we got there in time and made the flight. Off to Sao Paolo for the night before our morning flight to Chile. It was an absolute whirlwind be we reckon we nailed it !


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