Monday, December 19, 2011
Rio de Janeiro reminded me of somewhere. The only problem was that I couldn’t decide exactly where that somewhere was. Every part of the city was reminiscent of another place to which I had traveled, whether it was in Asia, Europe, the USA or elsewhere. This was particularly evident on the second day of my Rio de Janeiro tour in Brazil, when I had a chance to explore some of the city’s diverse neighborhoods.
My tour started at 9am, when my guide, Ana, took me to Santa Teresa. The neighborhood was located near the downtown area on the border with the Lapa district, where we had gone out to a samba club the night before.
Santa Teresa was all hills and hippies. The neighborhood was known for its bohemian style, which was evident in the art that could be seen on every street. It was also famous for its streetcar, the tracks of which cut through the roads as they wound their way up the hills. The area was strikingly similar to San Francisco, another hilly city with a hippie vibe and a famous cable car.
At one point we stopped in Santa Teresa to look over a vista point at one of the city’s favelas. The slum area was a jumble of buildings that climbed up a green hill opposite us. Ana informed me that authorities had recently put police stations in the favelas in an effort to crack down on drug dealing and other illicit activities, and that Rio has started to become safer as a result.
After the stop, we continued our tour of Santa Teresa with a visit to a cultural center called the Parque das Ruinas, or Ruins Park. It was housed in the vestiges of the home of a famous socialite. In 1996, architects had preserved the remains of the home and added additional spaces to make it a contemporary art exhibition space. It was a great blend of old and new, and a creative way of preserving a historic home.
After walking around the Ruins Park, we visited one more of the area’s attractions. This one was a city staircase, another feature that reminded me of San Francisco. A an artist from Chile named Jorge Selaron had turned the urban space into a work of art after growing tired of its boring concrete appearance.
The Escadaria Selaron was covered in bright tiles from all over the world, and was a continual work-in-progress for the artist. We were lucky enough to meet him, as he was working there that afternoon. He showed us his gallery in a building adjacent to the staircase, then proceeded outside to continue his work.
After parting ways with Selaron, we left Santa Teresa and drove along the coast. Passing by Guanabara Bay with its surrounding green hills, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in Hong Kong. We passed by the famous Ipanema Beach and its neighbor in Leblon, continuing until we reached the beach at Sao Conrado. There we sat at a beachside cafe drinking coconut water and watching the hang gliders dive through the sky. It reminded me of Goa.
After finishing our drinks, we went back to Ipanema and met Elisabeth from the Rio Convention and Visitors Bureau for lunch. Our meal took place at Casa da Feijoada, a restaurant that served one of Brazil’s most traditional cuisines. Big bowls of black beans and pork were brought to the table along with plates of rice, vegetables, and orange slices. We piled our plates high and had ourselves a feijoada feast.
After lunch Ana and I walked off some of the calories on the famous shopping streets of Ipanema. There we walked by every shop from Louis Vuitton to local fashion icons like the Rio-inspired Gilson Martins and a shoe store called Mr Cat.
Afterwards we continued our walk in Rio de Janeiro’s botanical garden. The large park was on the grounds of a former plantation that then became a gunpowder factory. Afterwards Dom Joao VI turned the space into a botanical garden for plants from all corners of the Portuguese empire. Everything from massive Asian palm trees to Amazonian orchids graced the grounds. It was as if we were walking through the whole world right in Rio.
The final stop on our Rio de Janeiro tour was at the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, a large saltwater lagoon just north of Ipanema. The lake was home to Rio’s annual Christmas tree, which stood 28 stories high and was the largest floating Christmas tree in the world.
We sat outside at one of the cafes along the waterfront, enjoying drinks and Middle Eastern snacks as the daylight faded into night and the tree lit up with dazzling designs. Our mezze platter reminded me of some of the great feasts I enjoyed in Jordan.
At 8:30pm it was time to head to the airport for my flight to London. My two-day Rio de Janeiro tour had come to an end, as had my time in Brazil. I didn’t want to leave the beautiful city with its pleasant summer sunshine, but there were enough parts of Rio that reminded me of other places that I was sure that many memories would pop up as I continued my travels around the world.