Weekend in Rio

Itinerary: 

  • Thursday: Fly ATL to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Friday: Land in Rio, nap and dinner out
  • Saturday: Hike to Cristo and night out
  • Sunday: Brunch and flight back to ATL

Dates: July 23-26, 2015

Our Odyssey: 

When I told people I was going to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for
a weekend, I think most of them thought I was joking. But thanks to my dear
friend Rachel, who loves weekend blitz trips to crazy locations, I would be on
a red eye from Atlanta to Rio with her, her boyfriend Heath, and her friend
from high school, Brenna to celebrate Rachel’s birthday– as soon as we all got
our visas squared away.

Getting a visa to Brazil is surprisingly complicated –
especially if you travel a lot and need your passport handy. According to the
consulate website, it can take up to 3 weeks to get your visa processed. This
means, unless you live near the consulate in your jurisdiction (mine was in
Chicago) you have to mail them your passport at least 3 weeks in advance, along
with all the paper work and processing fee. Tim and I got back from our trip to
the Arctic on June 23, and I was booked to be in Brazil on July 24 – so I was
cutting it pretty close. I got my visa the Monday before we left (which was a
Thursday). Rachel got hers on Wednesday. Yikes!

Since we were all flying from different locations, we met up
at the Atlanta airport and took the same flight from there to Rio. We knew our
trip was off to a good start when we saw Dennis Rodman outside the Delta
SkyClub.

We all tried to sleep on the flight, and when we arrived the
next morning in Rio, we were excited to get out of the airport and explore. Two
hours later, after a lot of money issues (all of our debit cards rebelled
against being used in Brazil with unnecessary fraud alerts), we were on our way
to the Airbnb that Rachel had booked for the weekend. It was a great apartment,
located in the Copacabana neighborhood. Our place wasn’t ready when we got
there, so we dropped off our luggage and walked along the beach until we found
a good place to nap, with the jutting mountains looming along the coast nearby.

image

Our napping spot on Copacabana. Photo by Heath Hanwick

Copacabana is one of the most beautiful urban beaches I’ve
ever seen. You have great sandy beaches right in the heart of the city, and
this stunning mountainous scenery all around you.

After our nap we checked into our apartment and then got
ready for dinner out. We picked an Italian restaurant nearby – it was delicious
(albeit not Brazilian) and we shared a bottle of wine and a lot of laughs and
good conversation.

image

The group at dinner Friday night

After dinner, Rachel and Heath were ready for bed, but
Brenna was feeling spunky and wanted to go out in Lapa, a neighborhood she had
heard was good for nightlife. Ever so gutsy, she approached two random girls on
the street and attempted to ask them where we could go to dance. Neither of
these girls spoke English, only Portuguese, but Brenna got by with a little bit
of Spanish and just like that we were on a public bus with our two new friends
heading…somewhere.

image

On the bus to Lapa, or who knows where…Photo by Brenna McEowen

After about an hour on the bus, Brenna and I were a little
worried – where exactly were we going? We knew it had to be a pretty rowdy
area, though, because with each stop the bus accumulated more and more young
people who were clearly looking to party. And so the public bus turned into a
party bus and before long Brenna and I were introduced to everyone as the
Americans. Eventually, we knew we were at the right stop because literally
everyone emptied out of the bus onto a street filled with stalls selling food
and drinks (including beers and caipirinhas- a strong Brazilian mixed drink
that is similar to a margarita but mixed with a Brazilian liquor called
cachaca).

Our new friends pointed ahead to white arches at the end of
the street and told us to take pictures of them (but to do so carefully so our
cameras wouldn’t get stolen – Rio has a petty crime problem). We would later
learn that these were the Lapa Arches, part of an aqueduct system built in the
middle of the 18th century.

image

Me, Brenna, and our new Brazilian friends in front of the Lapa Arches. 

Photo by Brenna McEowen

 

Eventually we went to a club with the two girls, listened to
a band, drank caipirinhas, danced, and had a lot of fun. We didn’t stay out too
late though – the next day would be our only full day in the city and we didn’t
want to be sleepy or hungover for it.

The next morning, we were up early for a carb-heavy
breakfast at a nearby bakery, followed by a stroll through the Botanical
Gardens. Walking through the gardens we saw many toucans and even more monkeys
– I believe they were black howler monkeys. It was so awesome to watch them
jump and run around on their two legs. They truly move like little humans. We
also caught our first glimpses of the famous Christ Redeemer statue, which sits
atop of a mountain overlooking all the city.

image

Me, with the Christ Redeemer statue behind on the hill. 

image

A little monkey at the botanical gardens! 

Photo by Brenna McEowen

 

From the botanical gardens we headed to Parque Lage. We didn’t
realize it until we got to the trail head, but this park is the starting point
for the hike up Corcovado Mountain, all the way to the Christ Redeemer statue.
We had read about this hike, but decided not to plan on it since the weather didn’t
look promising. When we found ourselves at the trailhead, however, and the
weather looked clear, we decided to give it a go, all of us in flip flops and
Rachel in a dress. We only had a few bottles of water and no snacks on hand.
This was probably the least prepared I’ve ever been for a hike to the top of a
mountain (and that includes the time Tim and I hiked to Torres del Paine with
only a can of tuna and some packets of oatmeal).

The hike itself was fantastic, albeit challenging in our
footwear. There were some more technical pieces of the hike up that required
climbing up rocks via chains and scrambling up ladder-like stairs for long
stretches of time. The wildlife viewings on the hike were amazing – we saw some
capuchin monkeys playing in trees as well as some common marmosets. We were even
chased by a howler monkey (and that was actually scary). Later on, we looked up
information on this hike in the Lonely Planet guidebook in our apartment. All
it said about it was that it’s challenging and you really ought to go with a
guide. Oops.

image

Just some light rock climbing to hike up Corcovado

image

Monkeys in the trees during our hike!

When we got to the top, at the base of the Christ
Redeemer statue, we had hoped to see not only a view out over the city, but the
grand statue itself. So it figures that the statue, which is visible from all
over the city, day and night, would be shrouded from view in a foggy cloud when
we arrived. Interpret it how you will, but we certainly pondered the symbolism
of a strenuous climb to reach the Lord only to arrive and find that he wasn’t
there at all, and all we had were ourselves and our smiles. Far from
disappointed, we were all on a high from the hike and had a great time in the
rain at the base of the (surprisingly not that large) statue.

image

This is my favorite picture ever of Rachel. Oh and the statue you can’t see is behind her. 

image

Our group standing in front of nothing. 

We opted to take the tram
down – we were exhausted, and it was raining at this point. The line for the
tram took over an hour and the whole area was crowded with more tourists. It was
such a contrast from our secluded walk to find ourselves back in civilization
among the most obnoxious primates of them all.

When we got back to the
apartment, we all napped and then cleaned up for dinner. We went to a
traditional Brazilian tapas restaurant where we drank caipirinhas and ate a
great meal, followed by more drinks in what can only be described as a shopping
mall of bars. Brenna and I later returned to where we had gotten dinner for
more drinks while Rachel and Heath went home to bed.

The next day, our last, was
Rachel’s birthday. We celebrated with a lot of indulgent food – brunch, a trip
to a market, and a long leisurely lunch, before heading back to the airport for
our red eye flights back to Atlanta.

While we were there for
only a short time, I feel like we had a very authentic and full Rio experience –
interactions with locals, great food, hiking, wildlife, and some of the main
sites of the city, all in less than 72 hours. This trip was fantastic, fast,
and such a teaser to return to Brazil (with Tim next time!) and explore even
more.

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