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I just got back from Brazil yesterday and am still in a state of depression. I so did not want to leave. Honestly I don’t know if my blog posts will do any justice to the amazing time I spent there.

I spent a day in São Paulo before heading off to Rio. To be honest although São Paulo is a metropolis that can hold its own. It could be any major city around the world. It is probably the only Brazilian city that has absorbed so many immigrants. There is the Japanese Quarter and oh so many Arabs, primarily Lebanese. I found out that there are more Lebanese people in Brazil than there are in the nation of Lebanon, interesting (most of them live in the greater São Paulo region). A day was more than enough time for me in this city. I couldn’t wait to get to Rio.

I spent 4 nights, 5 days in Rio de Janiero. I stayed in a hostel in Copacabana called Rio backpackers. It was 3 blocks away from what probably is the most famous strip of sand in the world. I wasn’t all too concerned about the beach, I wanted to get out and see what Rio had to offer. I had my reservations about travelling solo but it wasn’t so bad. During the day I would go off and wander different parts of the city on my own. It was ridiculously hot with highs of 40 degrees C and the humidity was through the roof. Still that didn’t stop me.


room 8 @ the hostel – the street leading up to the hostel

Walking tour


First day there, not knowing really where to start, I turned to my trusted lonely planet guidebook. It outlined a walking tour of the centro, which I decided to follow. I asked at the hostel reception what would be the best way to get downtown and was told the metro would be best. Luckily there was a metro station 2 blocks from the hostel. Metro was definitely very pleasant to take and offered some welcomed cool air from Rio’s dreadful heat. I started off following the lonely planet guidebook and found myself randomly veering off. So I ended up just exploring what I saw fit; stopping every so often to buy some coco water, which was always ice cold and oh so delicious (its essentially fresh coconut water poured over ice). To escape the midday heat I found a park with lots of shade and chilled there for a while and got back to the hostel in the early evening. By then I was super exhausted from all the walking. After a shower and a small nap, I got up and chatted with a few other travelers at the hostel.

Cathedral Metropolitiana( ultra modern) -Treatro Municipal (modelled after the Paris opera house) – Old PetroBras building (looks like a rubric cube)

Santa Teresa
This is one of the many neighbourhoods of central Rio. It’s located high up on one of Rio’s many ranges overlooking the centro. It used to be the exclusive region of Rio with large mansions from the 40s and 50s dotting the ridges. The only way to get to the top is to take street car (bondinho). This street car is more like a trolley resembling those in San Francisco. After taking the metro to the centro and wandering off until I found the bondinho station, I rode it all the way to the last station at the top. I got off and started walking. I stopped by two museums. Along the way I stopped to take pictures of the sights down in the valley. Wedged between Santa Teresa and the centro is one of Rio’s many favellas (slums). I didn’t really know that at the time. Spent most of the afternoon up there and then walked all the way down, unintentionally crossing some parts of the favella. Thankfully I didn’t have any problems.



bondinho

view from Santa Teresa

Favella between Santa Teresa/Lapa & el centro – view of el centro from Santa Teresa

Selarón

Another day I set out to find the infamous tiled stairs (Stairs of Selaron). I knew they were somewhere in the Santa Teresa/Lapa. Most people know these stairs because of the Snoop dogg video “beautiful” or Bono from U2 video. After wandering around for what seemed to be hours, I finally found them. When I got there the artist, Selaron (an eccentric Chilean man) was working on the steps. He worked on these steps (215 steps, 210 feet high) all on his own, adding all those tiles over the course of 17 years. When he saw me, he prompted his assistant to come and talk to me because he believed I was African. When he found out that I was born in Sudan, he was so excited. He told me that he had so much trouble collecting mosaics/tiles from African countries. I talked to him and his assistants for a while.

I then joined them along with an American girl working on a documentary, for lunch. I got to hear so many of his crazy stories. Later on his assistant told me that it was rare that he was so talkative among strangers. I asked about how he got started on this farfetched project all on his own. He started doing so mainly because he wanted to people to come see his paintings. This area of Lapa, at the time and still to this day to some extent is fairly dilapidated and extends upwards to the favella between Santa Teresa. He thus started to clean up the stairs and the area around his home. Afterwards, it became his lifelong ambition to continue to tile the entire set of stairs. Initially he started with Brazilian colours, then he expanded to add others. Now he receives numerous tiled gifts, some which he puts up on the walls along the stairs.

He gave me one of his small sketches. I in return promised to send him a tile representing Sudan so he can add it to the walls along the stairs. Now the Brazilian government has officially decreed that the stairs are a national landmark and any tampering to them would result in jail time or fines. Only Selaron has permission to make additions or changes.

stairs of Selaron (connecting Lapa to Santa Teresa) – a mosiac series on display- some of the assistants working on repairs

one of the side walls (has mosiacs sent from around the world)

Lapa

After meeting Selaron and his assistant, Angela, her girlfriend Jarim (both from Mexico), We agreed to meet up once again with more of their friends.. Jarim initially came for a 2 week vacation and ended up loving Rio so much she decided to stay. I also met their friend Mercedes who was visiting from Mexico. They invited me over to their place for dinner and to experience some of Lapa’s Friday madness.



Angela (with the hat), Mercedes (in brown), Annie (blue tanktop) and Jarim


Every Friday night the streets of Lapa turn into one giant Samba party. This weekend the crowd was ten-fold stronger as it was nearing the new years. No joke, there were probably a good 8,000-10,000 people all over the streets. It was CRAZY! and so much fun to watch. I got to Angela/Jarim’s place which was close by and had spectacular views of the city. They have a rooftop balcony (sutu7), where we sat around eating and chatting. I met more of their friends and got to know so much more about Rio and their crazy adventures with Selaron.

Lapa madness (this was on one of the side streets, the main streets were packed!)

Juana! One of the highlights of my trip was meeting up with Juana (who was in town with her fam visiting her cousin). We spent an entire day near the centro (where we were approached by 3 guys, immediately we knew what was happening. They started asking for our cell phones, neither of us had any. Then they started talking faster in Portuguese. When they saw we really didn’t have anything one of them went for Juana’s bag that had a really thin strap. When I tried to grab hold of her hand the third guy came in between us. We didn’t bother trying to hassle because it wasn’t worth it. They made out with 80 reals, which is roughly $44USD). We definitely didn’t let that incident ruin our day. Ironically that turned out to be one of my best days in Rio. I guess being mentally prepared for the reality of this city helped. This in no way should deter others from visiting. Just be careful and be ready to give up what you have. They didn’t go for my bag, so continued on with the day. Stopping at Jarim/Angela’s place for a bit then to a major feria (market), then more walking around eventually took the cable carup to Pao Azucar (Sugarloaf) where we spent hours chatting till near sunset. Followed by dinner. The following day I met up with Juana and her mom for dinner in my last night in Rio before heading out to Brasilia.



Juana y Juanita


I can go on and on about Rio, but I’ll let some of my pictures speak for themselves. There are days I didn’t take my camera along because I was walking around the city too much. Sadly one of those days I ended up going up to Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer) and and roaming around Leblon and the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas areas.

I left the morning of the 31st to Brasilia.

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