Rio de Janeiro. This city sheer fascinated me ever since I took my first step out of the plane. It has so many different faces, so many facets. You are surrounded by colours, sounds and people. It’s the most vivid city I’ve ever been to. So many people are out on the streets, so many cars and buses are going around. So many impressions, I was completely overwhelmed at first. But there I was. Directly in the middle and ready to get to know the most famous Brazilian city.
At first, of course, I had to discover the most famous sights simply everybody goes to. However, I wasn’t there all by myself but with my boyfriend, a real carioca, who’s been born and raised in Rio by my side. So, I got quite an insight of “normal” Brazilian life as well – apart from all the tourists and sights.
Let’s start with the most obvious sight though – Christ the Redeemer. This giant statue of Christ opening his arms while watching the city is situated on top of a hill. It was built and established due to celebrating the 100 years of independency from Portugal. The catholic church founded the stature as they wanted a sight representing their religion in the country. This place is just always crowded with tourists who even lay down on the floor in front of the Christ to get their perfect selfie. But the Christ is not all there is to it. Up on the top I had an amazing view over the whole city. It’s so big you can’t even see all parts of it. Sun shining on my face, wind playing with my hair I could have stood there for hours just absorbing the beauty of Brazil.
Copacabana. The famous beach. With its long promenade it’s one Rios most touristic areas. While I was there the sea was still a bit too cold to swim as it was just spring yet, but the beautiful beach attracted a lot of people anyway. If you sit down there, you can watch the sea on the one side, the city lying behind your back and hills to your left and right. A lot of food shops opened at the beach, a lot of people were constantly marching up and down the promenade selling food, drinks or even bikinis or towels.
There, I noticed the division of class in Brazil for the first time. As all the people selling stuff at the beach had darker skin I began to wonder if there might be a relation between skin colour and poverty. And sadly, there is. The poorest people who live in the slums, the Favelas or sell things at the beach or in the streets always have darker skin. This division really shocked me even though it makes perfect sense. Those are the remains of slavery that Brazil still didn’t succeed to overcome. The poor stay poor, because they grow up in a favela and can’t go to a good school – or no school at all if is none. Without a proper education, the children will end up like their parents and the vicious circle takes its course.
Mountains. Dark green with colourful spots in between. A beautiful picture. A dark reality. The colourful houses everybody talks about, which are all over postcards and pictures. The Favelas. Slums. People so poor we can’t even imagine. At the time I was in Rio shootings in Favelas were reported nearly every day. It was a time you should rather stay out of them. Some touristic companies who offer Favela tours kept running during this time though. Essentially, these tours just take you into a Favela to watch the poorest of the poor. For me, these tours are simply too much. It is just not right to shove the people their poverty right in their faces. Maybe even taking pictures of them. Treated like animals in the zoo only that they are watching people. It’s rude and insensitive even to consider going on a tour like that and it’s definitely not the right way to get to know these places. If you really want to there, go with someone who knows the city, but not with a guided tour. If the roles were reversed, you wouldn’t want to be watched like that as well.
The Favelas in Rio are not all equally bad or dangerous, some of them are controlled by the police or calmer in general. But some of them are controlled by criminal organisations. The biggest organisation is Cormando vermelho which is ruling a lot of Favelas and is operating in other countries as well – like Peru, Bolivia or Venezuela. Their criminal activities start with bank robbery or fraud and range to assault, drug trafficking and murder. The organisation also kind of take care of the people who live there. Sometimes they give them food or other things in order to spread their word or to gain loyalty. Contrary to what you can read in most of the western the media, people in Favelas are included in the Brazilian society. The often also work in the city, but they just don’t pay for anything. They don’t pay rent in the favela, they don’t pay for electricity as they get the cables from somewhere else. Since the government doesn’t really care about what they are doing, they are also not punished for it.
Brazil is a beautiful country, Rio is an awesome city, don’t get me wrong. But there are a lot of downsides to life there as well I simply couldn’t ignore. If you come from Europe you might be shocked seeing more people sleeping on the streets than you’re used to. Or just seeing poverty in general. What I found amazing though, is that people there help each other. Once I saw a woman with two small children out in the streets selling peanuts. In Vienna, I’m used to people ignoring street vendors, maybe one in a hundred stops for them. In Brazil, that’s different. A lot of people bought her peanuts, because they could see she needed the money. The same thing appears if a street vendor enters a bus. He will never leave without having sold a few items at least.
So, from the Brazilian lifestyle we can learn a lot. Helping each other as much as taking life not too seriously. One situation in particular stuck to my head. We were driving with the bus to a quarter named Lapa – which is the party district of Rio. People were already drinking wine and just having a good time. The bus ride was quite bumpy as the roads in Rio are old and covered with a lot of potholes. Buses drive over them so rapidly that you are jumping up and down on your seat the whole time. Due to that bumpy ride someone ended up spilling the red wine he was drinking on the white T-shirt of another guy. However, the guy even though all covered in wine didn’t even care and they went one having a good time. That really got me thinking – because I’m convinced that same scenario would have ended completely different in Vienna. People definitely hold grudge longer there. So, overcome our seriousness and just live – that’s something we should adopt from them.
Going out in Rio was also way different from what I was used to. Of course, going out was different when I went to Chile as well, but Brazil took it to a whole new level. Lapa, as I mentioned before, is the place to be if you want to party. Crowded, a lot of people already dancing and singing in the streets. Music coming form every corner. Reggaetón and Funk, you’re completely caught up in the atmosphere. It’s chaotic, but it’s a fun chaos. Food places can be found everywhere in the streets and of course- a lot of places were selling Caipirinha. Going into a club everybody knew how to dance – something I can’t generally say for Austrians or even for myself. Brazilians really feel the music differently than we do.
Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. The lake in Rio is a beautiful little oasis. Sun is shining on the blue water, you can rent a boat there or just go around the lake by bike. That’s what we did. Just biking alongside green trees on the one side, the lake on the other. It’s a great place to relax or run as a lot of people do here. At the lake you also have an amazing view on the city and the sugarloaf.
Remains of the Olympics. The Olympics cost Brazil a lot of money and a lot of people were against them. The country has other problems and the money would have been needed elsewhere. The government got a lot of money from the games though – due to corruption a lot of politicians enriched themselves during the games. Today the Olympic boulevard is a souvenir of the games. This part of the city has been completely rebuilt. It’s a part of the city that seems a bit out of place. The Olympic boulevard is so clean, so new and modern. The opposite from the rest of Rio. Faces of different nationalities covering a huge wall, watching everyone who walks through. It’s a beautiful part of the city, that’s for sure. But if seems like a mask, like an image just built for the Olympics. If you just see that part of the city, you wouldn’t get the full spirit of Rio.
My souvenir of brazil went under my skin. Literally. It all started with a couch surfing meeting we went to. Situated in a hostel, there already were staying a lot of nice and fun people who travelled as well. The first one I got to know there was an argentinian bartender. During the evening I learned he also did tattoos. As I really wanted to get one while I was there, that perfectly fit my needs. So, I didn’t hesitate for long, went to the tattoo place the next day and a half an hour later it was done. I didn’t want to leave without a souvenir that went deeper than just a statue of Christ. I wanted something to always remind me of the time I was there, because it really changed my point of view on certain things once and for all.