There are certain myths and unknowns about Rio that need to be dispelled and elaborated. These are the basics.
Keep Rio in Perspective—Music is the skeletal system of Brazil and Samba is the Pulse.
It is not the most dangerous city on the planet. Using every caution that you would find in any major urban center it should be a memorable, in fact un-missable experience.
The beaches are not topless. The Brazilians have a great attitude toward the body. Everyone wears the skimpiest of Bathing suits. Older women, overweight men, all shapes, sizes and colors let it all hang. Hey, this is the beach…. miles and miles of it.All the string bikinis could be places in an envelope and it would still only require one first class stamp. Skin rules the beach and it exists in abundance.
The chauvinistic male characteristic of being focused on breast development doesn’t exist. Brazil, is in love with the bottom. Heads turn to follow “a bunda.” Large or small, always extremely revealed. This is the land of the rear view.
Higher education is not what it appears. The Academia da Cachaça is a lovely, refined bar with every manner of this sugar cane derived rum possible. Courses in learning of this wonderful drink may leave you higher, but knowledgeable in only one aspect of consumption. The “Samba Schools” are actually fraternal organizations that create the world famous carnival displays, costumes and floats. There are 18 major schools. They begin early September and are centers for late night drinking, dancing, and heart-pounding samba. These are open to the public on weekend evenings for small admission charges.
Learn to dance. This is a city where everyone of every age, ethnicity and economic background, not only sings but also knows all the words. No one stands still and everyone dances constantly. Sensuous singers with sloe eyes spout gentle strains about loves and passions, while drums are woven with guitars and mandolins and a hint of brass. These enclaves are heard in the clubs, on the streets, around the beaches. Music is everywhere.
This is the home of the Museum of Carmen Miranda. Who can say more? But it also houses the Museum of Contemporary Art, built by Niemeyer, also the architect of Brasilia. In his nineties, he still holds court on Saturdays at the Hotel Caesar Park. Well worth a visit to meet one of the defining minds of 20th century architecture.
The cheapest food is best. The national dish is Feijoada. Made from black beans and organ meats and traditionally served on Saturdays, after cooking all day. Fish is surprisingly expensive for an oceanfront community. Better meals in the most upscale restaurants can cost $15-$18 for an entrée, but picking up some ham, cheese, fresh baguettes and a bottle of water will cost you less than $1 in a grocery one block from the beach.
This is an industrious country but they take their fun seriously. Time is divided into three segments; before, during and after “Happy-Hour.” Conversation will ramble in a stream along the street in a melodic Portuguese when you hear the English words “Happy Hour” interjected. Happy Hour is the defining moment of the day. As with many Latin countries, the real life of the city begins late and continues well into the night. It is not a hard regime to adopt, but most distinct from the southern California, “early to bed-early to rise” routine.
Go off the path a bit. Many tourists will be seduced by the luxury of the world famous beaches, Copacabana, Ipanemaand Leblon. They will visit the normal attractions and shop at the touristic “Feira Hippie.” All well and good, but with a little effort and a world more adventure, you can see the North East Fair, populated by a distinct smaller, regional group of people that dance the Forró, late into the night, all night and sell regional meats, grains and spices that you see nowhere else in the city. Also worth a visit is a Macumba ceremony. Usually, these are well into the suburbs or hills of Rio and are Afro-Brazilian religious ceremonies where devotees dance in circles, offer food and fall into trances. The father out you can find one, the later the hour the more exciting these are. But, these are very difficult to find and gain invitation. Think of these as African-Cuban, Chongo ceremonies or Haitian Voodoo. VERY exciting.
Geographically, you can fit eleven Europes into Brazil and still have room for Texas. The land and the people are a diverse, integrated population. People here are constantly offering you a sign of “thumbs-up”. It is a city with scale. Rio boasts the worlds premier Samba-drome, a symmetrical tiered ¼ mile of reviewing stands, 100 rows up on either side complete with luxury corporate sky boxes. Here also is “Maracanã” the world’s largest soccer stadium for 93,000 people. As well is the largest Favela or slum in South America, a river of lower-income housing that flows down the mountain and overlooks the ocean over Leblon beach.
I approached Rio with media-inspired stories of robberies, dangers and people waking in iced bathtubs, a note, telephone and no kidneys. As I left Rio, I could not wait to return. I believe the dangers are romanticized fantasies and the realities are a place that can only be realized in dreams or on the beach. Drinking Caches in the moon shadow of Sugar-loaf mountain while lights, attached to fishing lines arc through the night sky and gently splash in the Atlantic surf…….I’m packed and ready, skimpy Speedo and all.
IF YOU GO
There are a variety of quality hotels, pick your pleasure. At the beginning of Copacabana and one of the best in town is the Le Meridien Copacabana.
Avenida Atlantica 290 – Leme
Rua Gonçalves Dias, 32 – Centro
Arco do Telles—Several outdoor bars and restaurants. Great for Happy Hour.
Avenida Armando Lombardi, 800 – Condado de Caiscais
Barra da Tijuca
Rua Gonçalves Dias, 28 – Centro
Toca do Vinicius has every shape and form of Samba and Bossa Nova
Rua Vinicius de Morais, 129- Ipanema
Museum of Carmen Miranda
Parque do Flamengo
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