This won't be a long entry for a couple reasons:
First, I wasn't in town for very long. I had about four days and three nights, which is obviously pretty short.
Second, I hated it.
When one thinks of Brazil, Rio is the first city that comes to mind. Beautiful beaches, beautiful people, wonderful weather, etc. I was actually pretty excited about going there at first because of those reasons. Not that I'm a huge fan of beaches, as white-pasty skin like mine and direct tropical sunlight don't mix well, but hell, it's Rio. "The beautiful city". And, completely honestly, the thought of girls in thongs on white sandy beaches is enough for me to get out the sunscreen and brave the UV radiation.
However, the scenery can only take a place so far. I didn't like Rio (or even Brazil for that matter) from the start. My bias against the country itself was due in no small part to the absolute pain in the ass it was to get a visa just to visit. That whole experience got me headed down the wrong path to start with. My problems with Rio itself were three fold:
- Crime. Every guide book I read warned about the ridiculous amount of robberies and muggings in the city. These fun little escapades are apparently compounded by an extensive amount of police corruption, which by all accounts (even those of the locals) runs pretty deep. Obviously, I'm glad I knew about this going in, but it also puts you on edge for the entire trip. Two different muggings happened on the beach to people in my hostel during four days there.
- Portuguese. This isn't a slight on the country or people of Portugal. It's just that I spent nearly three months getting my Spanish to a semi-passable form (ok, quasi-passable - but enough to figure stuff out) and now it's pretty much useless. There are a lot of similarities, but the pronunciation is completely different, and my valiant attempts at Spanish were met with a fairly distasteful look.
- Beaches. The beaches were, well... beaches. They were nice, I guess, but for those of you who know me, I'm not much of a beach guy. Perhaps if I weren't part vampire, and didn't burn within 30 seconds of exposure, I may have liked it better. Rio is a beach town. That's why you go, and why you stay. If you aren't a sun worshiper, there isn't a lot to do. I walked (in the shade) up and down the famous Copacabana beach area, as well as Ipanema beach, but just didn't enjoy it like everyone else. Don't get me wrong, there was some great scenery - the stories you've heard about girls on the beach in Rio are pretty much true. The problem with that is for every hot girl in a thong, there are two overweight, hairy old men in red Speedos. It was horrendous. And, I don't have any pictures, because you can't take your camera to the beach - because of reason #1 above.
However, I did do a short city tour which had some interesting highlights:
1. The Christ the Redeemer statue. You've undoubtedly seen pictures of the unmistakable figure of Christ overlooking the city. It is amazing. It's visible from pretty much anywhere in the city, sitting at the top of Corcovado, the highest point in the area. Once right up next to it, you get an idea for the scale - it's tremendously big. 125 feet from bottom to top.
While on the viewing platform underneath the statue, you can see all of Rio - it truly is a beautiful city. Copacabana and Ipanema beaches stretching out between mountains, the city growing up on any flat or semi-flat land available.
At one point, a hang-glider swooped up near the statue, putting on a little aerial show for the faithful. It was truly the highlight of my visit to the city.
2. Monkeys. On the way up to the top of Corcovado, we stopped to see some of the wild monkeys in the trees of the mountain. They were all over - we had to stop/swerve a couple times as they ran across the road at random times like deer. We stopped at one viewing point where smaller monkeys hung out in the trees by the parking area, waiting for people to come feed them. They'd come right up to you and grab stuff out of your hands. The tiny ones looked a lot like little squirrels with human-esque faces and hands. They were pretty fun to watch.
3. Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro. I didn't know anything about it before we arrived, but I'm glad we paid a visit. One of the most interesting and odd cathedrals I've ever seen. I can't say it's overly attractive on the outside - looking like a big cone with the top chopped off. However, the inside is beautiful - four long, tall stained glass windows rise from the four corners of the base to the top, meeting at a large glass ceiling in the shape of a cross. The entire interior is darkened except for the stained glass. There are no seats - only curved benches surrounding the altar at the center. Absolutely intriguing.
4. Conversation with Erik and Nick. I was joined by three others on the city tour. After the cathedral (and the Christ the Redeemer statue), two guys from Holland, Erik and Nick, got to talking about the existence of God and Christ and what it meant to have these beautiful structures in a city like Rio. I was delighted to share a little about my beliefs in Christ and a little about the how's and why's of my faith. I was touched by the fact that the next day was Easter Sunday, and I had a chance to share my faith just a little. I don't think I converted anyone right then and there, but it was yet another confirming mile marker on this long road I'm on.
So, there it is. As a good friend of mine said a few weeks later, "Rio is... Rio". You have to understand what it is before you go, and be willing to accept it. In the end, I'm glad I gave it a shot, but I don't think I'll be back anytime soon.