Why I fell in love with RIO - My Family Travels

After completing a 8-week internship abroad through IAESTE for an architecture firm in Londrina, Brazil, I had about a month left to travel before my flight back to the States. Rio de Janeiro was my first stop, and after that, I was planning to head to Buenos Aires, maybe Belo Horizonte, or Iguazu Falls. I didn’t really plan anything out 100%, but I knew that I would be staying at the BrazilHostel Hostel, in the neighborhood of Lapa in Rio starting December 26th.

The girls that worked at BrazilHostel were not only extremely helpful but really fun and friendly. Most of the girls were from Argentina, one from Mexico. The hostel was great, a true community of international “citizens of the world”. It felt like a big boarding house, there was always interesting and open minded people to meet, chat with, go out with, exchange stories with, cook dinner with… etc. I definitely recommend this place to anyone visiting Rio on a budget. Its geared more towards students and young people like most hostels, I’d say most guests were under 30.

I spent New Years Eve on Copacabana beach with over 2 million people. I ate grilled chicken hearts. I’m not sure which one is more astounding, but the chicken was actually really good. Copacabana was amazing. I wish there were better words to describe, but it really was like a dream, the best most fantastic deliriously magical kind. There were stages set up, famous Brazilian bands playing pagoda music with Samba beats. Everyone knew all the words to the songs… I was jealous but then I caught on and sang along too. We took a gazilion pictures in front of the Copacabana Palace, the richest, most expensive, and best lit hotel on the shore. Somehow we managed to sneak 5 bottles of champagne onto the metro. By “we” I’m referring to the 4 awesome Brazilians that I met a few nights before, and ended up spending Reveillon (new years celebration) with. I met Jefe at a club in Lapa one of the first night in Rio, and from there he introduced me to his roommates, and a friend who was visiting. I feel so lucky to have met them, because there is no way I would have the impression of Rio that I do now. The real Rio, not just the touristy pre-packaged Rio that the whole world thinks of. For example: They know this juice lady who makes the best blended juices maybe in all of Rio. She has an outdoor stand in a flea market section of Rio that I would have never thought or known to stop at, as its exterior is modest to say the least. She was great though, joking with us as she went to town, juicing, straining flipping cups with efficient yet artistic skill.

I love Rio. It could be the people I have met, or the amazing beach that makes me smile everytime I look at the 5 foot crashing waves and the laughing kids popping back up after the wave passes- or the hostel with its wonderfully quirky and assorted personalities. Its definitely not the mosquitos, which love me here. Or the heat that makes it hard to fall asleep. I think it is a combination of all these things- but all I can think is how lucky I am. Some people save their whole lives for a chance to come here- and I did. I have seen Rio, lived Rio, breathed and swam in Rio.

I also met this amazing family during a tour I did of Rio. I held my pride and spent one day as a complete tourist, even though I hated the idea of it. It was through a touring agency recommended by the Hostel, and it was really comprehensive; we saw all the major attractions. The – Sambodromo, where Carnaval is held- designed by none other than the great Oscar Niemeyer. Then Maracana stadium, the largest football stadiums in the country- if not the largest in South America. Three times life sized murals of Kaka, Ronaldo, all footballing legends greeted you as you entered the stadium.

We also went to Pao de Azucar, Sugarloaf, a huge group of rock formations that identify the Rio skyline. It is a contender for one of the seven new wonders of the world. And then, of course, we saw the statue of Christ the Redemptor, which was really cool. It was so high up we were in the clouds, made it feel surreal and heavenly, more spiritual and mystical- very beautiful. This family, was the coolest. The mother and I started talking right away, and she was super interested in the states, in how I was liking Brazil, etc. Her ten year old daughter Luana and I were best friends by the end of the day- she was such a sweetie. They are from Sao Paulo, and found me on orkut, so hopefully I will get to meet them when I go back there before my flight back.
Rio de Janeiro, I will come back to you. Promise. Now that I’ve found you, I don’t even want to travel anywhere else- I want to spend the time before my return flight to the states here in Rio, there is just so much to see and do, and so many amazing experiences. Everyday has been an adventure.

One Saturday, I got up, had breakfast with the Argentinian girls who worked at the hostel and then planned on hitting up the museums. I’m not usually that interested in them, or anything that would give me away as a tourist. It was a point of pride when people would mistake me for Brazilian, and it happened almost every day. Anyways, the museums were all located in a place on the map that had a high concentration of “points of interest” so I figured I would give it a shot. I left around noon and walked; it took about half an hour. The closer I got the more historical, colonial style buildings I would find, and the narrower the streets got. I have this thing about really tall narrow streets, the negative left-over space between two buildings, between two blocks. They are one of my favorite spaces to be in. On one of these roads, Rua Ouvidor, I found the coolest most alive place to be that afternoon.

So. Imagine that tall narrow space, the old, charming colonial buildings with their shallow balconies protruding into the street space stories above your head… The cobblestoned road with no car access…add a string of restaurants, sleek awnings stretching past the sidewalk, a mess of occupied tables and chairs in the middle of the road, on the sidewalk, people lunching and drinking beer- singing- dancing with the pick up samba band set up in the center. AMAZING.

The band was young, and it seemed like anyone could just walk up to the table grab an instrument and start playing. All their equipment was set up outside, people were crowded around them, singing along, dancing, drinking- having a good time. There were some women holding their kids, singing and dancing, it was so cute. Music is such a part of their lives here, it’s made me appreciate it more. The band was in a circle around two tables, on which were a bunch of samba instruments, a tamborine like thing, a pan with a drumstick, a wooden ridged shell thing you scratch with another piece of wood… all kinds of stuff. The two main guys leading the show were playing a guitar and a banjo. There was this drum like thing they play that makes a high pitched “oi” sound I always thought was just someone’s voice. It was so fun, and so cool to see everyone and their mom singing these samba songs I spent the whole day there. I met some girls from England and we had a beer together, dancing along to the music and laughing at our mispronounced lyrics.

Rua Ouvidor ended on a street that happened to be having a fair that day. More restaurants, artisan work and live music. I bought a leather bracelet I’m obsessed with, and watched amazingly acrobatic street performers, I have a video of this one guy that is unreal. There was a photographer with a table selling his work, which was all VERY good, I took down his email- you can get his stuff online too. By the time I realized what time it was it was starting to get dark. I had an hour to get back and get ready before I met friends to go to a samba club. I spent the whole day there… loved every second. Days like that were the best. Its both a little scary and wonderful to be on your own in a foreign city… I love it. It’s like my adrenaline rush… that and heights. Maybe that’s why Rio was so perfect for me. It has both.

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