Brazil – We like to move it, move it

Brazil – We like to move it, move it

Rio de Janeiro is a city of 7 million people and that’s small compared to the 17 million souls of São Paulo. Around 20 percent of these people live in slums or favelas as they are called here. Normally the richer areas are up on the hills but here it’s the other way around; the favelas are perched up on the mountains and the beach areas are where the upper and middle classes live. Some of the larger favelas are completely lawless and ruled by organized crime. Powerful drug gangs have full control and do not allow any other crimes, like theft and mugging, to take place in their territory. This makes favelas, according to some, a lot safer place to be in than anywhere else in Rio. Taking a favela tour is a good way to see the other side of a city like Rio and learn that it’s not just a place where the police are in constant war with drug lords but also a place where normal people are trying to live a normal life…

The Argentinean side of the Iguazu falls are great, too. You can walk all the way up to the top of the enormous Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat waterfall. Very impressive. After having spent a day on the Brazilian side and one on the Argentinean side, we have seen the falls from nearly every possible angle. It’s fantastic and it’s fun getting wet but we feel we have had enough of waterfalls for a while. So, on we went to São Paulo! Now that is one big city.. Unfortunately it doesn’t have any nice landmarks and it’s one of the unsafest cities in the world (it is now legally allowed and recommended to slowly drive through red lights at night in an effort to put an end to the ever increasing number of car-jackings and red-light robberies) so we decided to spend only one full day there. Despite the miserable weather it was fun seeing some of the old centre and watching ‘Sampa’ getting in the Christmas mood.

From São Paulo we took the 6 hour bus to Rio. It’s cheap and reasonably comfortable but not a very exciting ride. In Rio we had booked a hotel in Copacabana, right on the ocean boulevard. It’s a safe area and it would be so easy to go to the beach. Unfortunately the weather hasn’t been so good and even Copacabana isn’t much fun when it rains.. But we have kept ourself pretty busy; our first day was put to good use by going to the Dutch Consulate to request a new passport. Why? Simple; my passport is completely full. There’s no space left for any more stamps, let alone a visa for Cuba which we will need soon.. And we expect to encounter many more stamp-happy immigration officers. Thanks to some help from our friend-at-foreign-affairs Carola, that went really smoothly. Since then we have visited the old centre with a lot of colonial buildings and possibly the ugliest cathedral in the world, the artisan area of Santa Teresa with its cute cobble stone streets and old tram, walked all the way from Copacabana to Ipanema and Leblon where we also went to see the movie “Madagascar 2” (we like to move it! Go see it, it’s even better than the first movie) and when the weather cleared up a little bit we went up the Pão de Açucar or Sugar Loaf hill for some views of the city.

One of the highlights for me was a visit to the Sambódromo, the famous street where the yearly samba school competition is held at carnaval. Each samba school is allowed to have a few technical rehearsals there to practice for the big event. Even though it’s nowhere nearly as nice as the real thing it’s a good way to sample some of Rio’s carnaval spirit.. We saw the Salgueiro school (2nd place last year) and even for this practice session, we counted around 2000 people in their parade! And we have met the carnaval’s king, queen and princess of 2009! Our last full day was busy: we started with the favela tour in the morning which was very nice and interesting. It’s safe (please do not photograph in that direction because there will be drug deals going on and the dealers don’t like to be on film) and it’s an opportunity to sponsor some of the support projects. Unfortunately it was raining most of the time so we couldn’t admire some of the great views. But, very very luckily, later that day it cleared up and we felt it was a good (and probably last) opportunity to go to Corcovado and climb up to the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue for the real views of the city. And it was worth it! It’s fun to finally stand under the magnificent statue that we (sometimes) could see from our hotel window, high above the city. But the views are absolutely (absolutamente) fantastic!

Don’t you hate it when this song keeps popping up in your head which isn’t even really about the place you are visiting? No, Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’ is not about Rio’s famous beach but about some night club in New York. Astrud Gilberto’s ‘Girl from Ipanema’ really is about Ipanema but is not as catchy…

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