For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to visit Brazil. Even more so when I lived in Argentina. After all, I was just a short plane ride away. Over the span of the two years that I lived in Buenos Aires I had always planned on going, but somehow never made it. There always seemed to be an excuse for not being able to go, such as not having a visa, not having any vacation time, or just not having enough money. After moving back to the States, however, I really regretted not making more of en effort to go.
I have my Masters in Spanish and Latin American Studies, however the enphasis of the program was more focused on the Spanish speaking countries of the region. Since Brazil is such an important part of Latin America and is an emerging world power, I wanted to learn more about Brazil as well as learn Portuguese. I was tired of making excuses so in 2014, as one of my New Years Resolutions, I decided I would learn Portuguese and go to Brazil. In February of 2014, I started my Portuguese class at the International Language Institute in Washington, DC. Shortly after, I bought my ticket to Brazil.
Me voy a Rio..
After first making a stop in Buenos Aires to reconnect with my old life and friends I hopped on a plane to Rio de Janiero. The flight was about 3 hours and I arrived at Aeropuerto Internacional de Galeão around 8 PM. After exchanging the cash I had on hand into Reales I took a cab to the O Veleiro Bed and Breakfast in Botafogo. I paid R$70, (or about US$35). My best friend and roommate, Heather was already in Rio waiting for me. She arrived the night before and was picked up at the airport by a shuttle provided by the B&B and ended up paying around US$60. I was glad that I decided not to take the shuttle and was able to save some reales.
The cab to Botafogo took about 30 minutes. The first thing I noticed was the large hill (more like a mountain) that led up to the B&B. It was long, winding, and steep. Needless to say, I was relived that I had taken a taxi and did not have to lug my suitcase up by foot. Aside from the gigantic hill, the house itself was quite impressive and had a spectacular view of Rio. The B&B, or Hospedagem Domiciliar is run by a Portuguese-Canadian couple, who has been living in Rio for several years. There was also a very nice Venezuelan woman who worked there, Patricia whom I enjoyed talking to.
At the time of our stay, there were just two other people staying in the house, a couple from Germany, so we pretty much had the house to ourselves. The house was was very quiet and ideal for getting away from all the hustle and bustle from the city’s center (if that’s what you’re looking for…) The only real negative I found was the long trek up and down the mountain. It wasn’t great for coming and going, as it took almost 30 minutes to make it down the hill on foot. I also probably would have liked a bit more of a social scene to be able to meet fellow travelers, and the chance to be able to speak more Portuguese, but it was an ideal place for couples, families, and those looking for seclusion or a quieter stay.
Breakfast was included in our stay and was complete with fresh fruits, juices, breads, and cereal. There was also a nice natural coconut jam, which I wish I could d in the U.S. There was a big tortoise and a friendly cat, Felicia who also lived on the property, so there were plenty of friends to play with.
On our first day, we made the 30-minute trek down the mountain to explore the city. We walked down to the Botafogo metro station took the metro a few stops down to Rio Largo Do Machado where we were told we could buy tickets to the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue. There were a few options to reach the Cristo Redentor, by train, hiking, or by van. Since the train was sold out we opted for the van. Tickets were sold at a small booth in the middle of a plaza, and after waiting in a long line we bought our tickets and then took a small van to the top of the mountain.
As we made it up the to the top of the mountain, we stopped to have a bite to eat at a small cafe with outdoor seating. We could not have asked for a better view. After lunch we continued to the top of the Covorcado, where we took pictures with the famous Cristo Redentor. It was extremely crowded, and everyone was trying to get their own picture with Cristo. Photo bombs where happening left and right, but we were eventually able to get a couple good pictures (we just had to lay on the ground in order to do so).
On our way back we stopped off in Impanema to spend some time at the beach. The beach was beautiful, with white sand and breathtaking scenery. As we relaxed on the beach, we watched the sun setting behind the Dois Irmāos or the “Two Brothers” Mountains.
The next day we visited the Pão de Azúcar, also known as Sugarloaf Mountain. We paid R$60 and took a cable car up to the top of the mountain. The top of the mountain was spacious, with lots room to walk around with lookouts to take pictures, but no picture could do the views from the top of Pão de Azúcar any justice. It one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. So much so, it almost didn’t seem real. There were cafes that served any kind of fresh fruit or juice you could imagine and benches to sit on and relax. I could have spent the entire day there. There were also little marmoset monkeys running around everywhere, which really made my day.
We spent the next day beach hopping between Impanema and Cocacabana, checking out the feria artesania, or arts and crafts fair, and souvenirs along the way. I couldn’t help but notice the strong fitness culture. It seemed everyone was out biking, running, rollerblading, or doing some other sort of exercise. There was even an outdoor gym. We stopped to check out the outdoor gym and to take some pictures. Heather ended up making a friend and asked before I took her picture, “hey, can I use you as a prop?” He didn’t seem to mind.
Before leaving Cococabana, we stopped at one of the open-air cafes to have dinner. The restaurants and cafes closer to the beach were more expensive and all seemed to sell the same food (most of it fried), but we sat down anyway to see what we could find. I ordered what I thought was going to be a cod empanada, but I what I actually got was quite different from what I had envisioned. Rather than having a pastry shell, like the traditional empanada I was used to, this one had a thick shell of mozzarella cheese filled with a salty cod mush. I don’t recommend it. It began to rain and there was no roof, and we didn’t have an umbrella so we decided it was a good time to start heading back. I mentioned to Heather about going to find some chocolate on the way back from a kiosk, but there was no need, because just at that moment a convenient stranger appeared and offered me a piece of his chocolate bar.
Once back in Botafogo, we reached a tunnel that we had to cross though, only it was flooded with sewage water. The water was at least a foot deep, and there was no way of getting across it without getting our feet wet.. or so we thought..! As we stood debating the kinds of diseases that may be lurking in the dirty water, just like the man with the chocolate, there appeared a helpful Brazilian who saved the day by giving me a piggy back ride across the murky water to the other side. It’s random things like these that I really miss about living in Latin America. We laughed all the way back to the B&B.
On our last night in Botafogo, as I was relaxing in the hammock outside, Patricia came out to talk with me. Actually, the conversation first began because she had said something to me in English, and I asked her if she minded if I spoke to her in Portuguese so I could practice. She seemed relieved and said “é certo”, and we began to speak in Portuguese after that. It was then that she told me she was from Venezuela, and that she had been living in Brazil for several years, I think she said 15 years, although I cannot remember the exact number. When I asked her if she had been back to visit Venezuela since she had moved, I was surprised when she said she had not and had no plans on going back. “In Brazil, anything is possible”, she said. “You can do anything. In Venezuela, it’s not like that. You can’t do this.. you can’t do that.. there are many things that you can’t do.” The next morning we left Rio and caught a bus to Búzios.