I could leave Rio tomorrow and feel as if I fulfilled every goal that I had for this trip and that I saw and felt just about everything that Rio has to offer. It’s only been 5 days that I’ve been here and it feels like it’s been months. I think I’ve seen more of this city that most Brazilians have!
Since I last blogged I have gone on a walking tour of the city, met and worked with a famous crazy artist in his first ever class (“Art can’t be taught” -Saleron), been very close to sun poisoning, tried surfing, seen the sunrise, gone to the museum of indigenous people, visited the recently discovered famous Brazilian slave port, been to a bar in the infamous Copacabana and Samba’d until wee hours of the morning at 1of the 14 top tier samba schools that is intensely rehearsing for Carnival….
Not only have I done all of these things, but every single experience has been 5 star and we have been VIP at every place that we’ve gone to– this all thanks to our travel advisor, Javier, who is absolutely in love with this city and wants us to be fully emerged in it and its culture.
Early in the week, my roommates, Deanna and Rachel, and I joined the Literature class on a 9 hour walking tour of the city. Mario, our tour guide, was infectiously passionate about the transition that Brazil has undergone into its modernist period. We learned about the artists and architects that worked to bring together Brazil’s rich nature with its cityscape. It may sound boring but it was awesome.
Escalderia de Saleron– Saleron is the name of a now famous artist who moved to a run down part of Rio over 20 years ago and he began decorating an old city staircase with tiles (a Portuguese tradition). He is now very famous for it and his life is this staircase. He lives there, any profit he makes now goes to the staircase and he has made it a living artwork which he constantly adds to and changes. He and his work are a staple of the city. Javier met and made friends with Saleron many years ago (he and his wife have a tile dedicated to them in the most important part of the staircase) and because of this we participated in Saleron’s first ever “class.” He gave us all small canvases and told us to draw something (either newly invented or inspired by one of the existing tiles) and then he would add red paint to it and we would both sign and date it. I could barely pull myself away from taking pictures of the tiles to draw! When he signed mine he wrote “Helen” and at first I was bummed but then I thought how perfect it was. A great memory. This whole experience was truly unbelievable– a phrase that I’ve been using often.
The downside to this amazing day was the heat. Rio is sweltering every day, no matter what time or what the weather is like. That day was incredibly hot and we had little shade. When we left the Escalderia and got to lunch just around the corner I was feeling quite faint and thought I just needed some food and water but I ended up getting sick and having to go back to the hotel (via a horrific cab ride– they drive like freaking maniacs here) and missing out on 2 museums. I wasn’t too heart broken. Instead, I slept and felt much better afterwards.
Then it was on to the Samba school. It’s hard to even explain what this is or how crazy our experience was. A samba school is like a dance studio that competes in a competition– that competition being Carnival. It is a community based place with participants ranging in all ages. However, every weekend it’s open to the public as a sort of nightclub. Everyone samba’s all night (and morning) until the dancers of the school put on a mini show as a glimpse of their upcoming Carnival performance. When this happens there is a big circle made and everyone stands around it to watch the performance. However, by this time, it was already realized that we were a group of American students. Javier answered the questions of some of the leaders of the school when they asked about us and so we were made to be the guests of the night. Prior to the performance the dancers came and danced with us to make us feel welcome and then at the end of the performance we were announced and welcomed into the circle to dance with them in their costumes and in front of the entire place. From what I understand, this is not a normal occurrence– we are incredibly lucky to have experienced this. Vila Isabel gained about 45 new fans that night. We got home at about 2 am and we were the first ones to have left.
Samba’s and other bars/parties last until 5-6 am every weekend. We noticed this the next morning when we woke up at 5 am to go see the sunrise. We were only a few of the people who were out and just beginning our days–everyone else was still continuing their nights. The sunrise was incredible. We went to a little cliff that is down the street from the hotel and sat along with many others who, again, were ending their nights. Our pictures look fake and the sky looked like it was on fire. It was amazing. All of this concluding with a morning rainbow.
Then it was onto the beach. I made an honest attempt at surfing and although it is now on my bucket list to succeed in learning to surf, it was a joke and a half even trying to stay on the board. I only got so far as being able to balance on my stomach on the board. Sitting? Not so much. Standing? Not even close. One day…
Later we went to the museum of indigenous people which was interesting but rather boring after a morning full of beach beauty. After that we visited Maracana– the largest soccer stadium in the world which is now under renovation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. We couldn’t go inside because of the construction. I’d love to say that I was more interested in this but soccer’s just not my thing ever since I peed my pants in the goal in pee-wee league. I’m still rather upset about that actually…
Back onto the bus we went–again, a seemingly life-threatening ride. Unfortunately we got on the wrong bus and it was pouring rain when we had to switch them and ride further. Oh well, no complaints from the Americans who are usually pouring sweat amongst Brazilians still wearing jeans.
This morning we went to a recently discovered excavation site. In its heyday it was the Valongo Slave Wharf–the port through which millions of African slaves were brought to Brazil. Again– not your average tourist experience. We were given a tour of the site by one of the lead archaeologists on the dig. Then, we were brought into the temporary artifacts laboratory and allowed to take pictures and be up close and personal with dice, buttons, crystals, jewelry, spiritual paraphernalia, pipes, coins, etc. from the 18th and 19th centuries! These things will soon be transferred to museums and put underneath glass. Allow me to once more say: unbelievable.
On the way to Valongo I sat next to an older man on the subway and he immediately asked me (in a friendly way) about Obama and my thoughts on him. We got to talking and I learned that he was imprisoned for a year and a half during the military dictatorship that lasted between 1964-1985. He said that the worst part was that they didn’t just imprison you– they tried to change your mind about your opposing views. He was a student and didn’t agree with the military’s views and so he was put in prison. He said that although this is the best time of his life because he is now retired, it saddens him that his body is failing him. He is very self-conscious about his teeth. He has much optimism about the world and he thinks things are getting better. He was fond of Americans and said that he appreciated that they like to travel and learn about other cultures. He loved Chicago from when he briefly visited during his study abroad in Ohio and he especially loved the era of the 70s. He has a son and a grandson who are both very smart. He turned out to be a great new friend. He left me with this: “I am glad to see you because it shows me that Americans are not all fat anymore.” Success!
On tap for this week is visiting a favela– this will be a safe and rewarding experience– class on the beach, a visit to the State Assembly museum and building, the modern art museum and finally Sugarloaf mountain (not to mention continuing to channel the Brazilian nightlife energy) It promises to be yet another amazingly fulfilling week.
Below are some random observations that I’ve had since being here:
-I am so sad not to speak Portuguese. Although we can mimic and find other means of communication to get around this, it doesn’t allow for us to communicate with the people and learn about them as deeply as I would like to. Another addition to my bucket list is to learn to speak this language and to use it to continue traveling to and throughout this amazing country.
-The napkins here are comparable to thin wax paper. They work for nothing. I think I’ll start a napkin manufacture enterprise here and become a billionaire. They have no idea what they’re missing.
-Juice is a huge part of the food menu here. It is made from fresh juicy fruit–some of which we don’t have in the States and I will be so sad to not have. It is SO yummy.
-On the busses/subways/ in the grocery stores there are “preferential lines/seats” which are reserved for elderly, pregnant women, disabled patrons, etc.
-Brazilians are extremely genuine people. They are so proud of their country and excited that we came to visit their home.
-At a bar/club, when you come in they give you a type of credit card and they scan it to keep track of your tab and then you pay it at the end of the night.
-Brazilian flower stands/shops are open 24/7 so in case of a need for flowers (a death, a nice gesture after being out all night partying, etc) they’re always available
-Brazilian men are incredibly forward. By American standards, unacceptably so. It’s cultural though, not offensive.
-Brazilians liter… a lot. They’ve got recycling down– but not the throwing away of trash part.
-Redlights are optional after 10 pm
-The pedestrian right-of-way is also seemingly optional