We arrived in Rio de Janeiro, in the dark and just after 18h on the 8th of April. An English speaking woman (yeah!) at the information desk helped us find the local bus to the Humaita area for our first CouchSurfing experience. Another person on the bus helped us to get off at the correct bus stop, just opposite the building of our hosts, Marcos and Ludmilla. Their home is on the 9th floor of a apartment building next to a very busy (Humaita) street, with a beautiful view of the Corcovado peak and the Christo Redentor statue. At last we found a super clean bathroom and shower with warm water!! It was also great to have our own room after the shared dorm at Che Lagarto. When we unpacked, we realised we forgot Cobus’s towel and my sarong at Ilha Grande, but Ludmilla was kind enough to lend us a towel. After a quick shower, Marcos and Ludmilla took us to a restaurant, called Galeto mania, where they introduced us to the Brazilian cuisine of “little chicken” (galeto) with typical Brazilian side dishes (polenta, farofa, salsa, etc). We also had our first Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaça (sugar cane rum), sugar and lime (optionally with other fruit variations). We enjoyed the outing a lot! If not for them, we would probably have ordered burgers and chips from the Portugese menu.
Our first full day in Rio started rather late. Cobus and I were still trying to adapt to the new time zone and weather. We also did some admin, laundry, unpacking our bags, try to figure out where we should go and how… At about 12h we went in search of the subway to see if we could find a map of the city. Luckily the subway had a really nice map which we studied the whole day. We realised we were only a couple of blocks away from the famous Copacabana beach, and went in that direction. The information desk at Copacabana had small lonely planet booklets of the city for free which proved to be very helpful during our stay in Rio. Copacabana is a beautiful long outstretched beach with thick white sand and palm trees. Soccer posts, volleyball nets and other exercising stations may be found all along the beach. It seems that most Brazillians are very serious and conscious about their bodies. The high percentage of Brazilians we’ve encountered having a tattoo is also witness to that.
On our way back we took the subway to Botafoga station near to the Humaita area, and then took a stroll through the city to the apartment. It’s always very interesting to experience a city on foot – one tends to get a better feeling of everyday life compared to just sticking to the tourist hotspots. We stopped by several supermarkets to buy some food supplies for the next couple of days. Just examples of the prices: cheddar cheese = R94 per kg, 250g mushrooms…wait for it…R80…ouch. Maybe it was a very special kind of mushroom…hmmm, magic mushrooms?? Our plans to go out again was interrupted by some heavy rainfall. And then after that it was interrupted by Cobus sleeping. Marcos and Ludmilla got home just after 7pm. They took us to Copacabana and Ipanema beach for a drink – always nice to walk on the beach at night!
Overcast and rainy weather was forecasted for the next day. We decided to leave the Corcovado and Sugarloaf excursions for the following day for which warmer weather and clear skies were expected. We took the subway to Cinelandia and got a bus to Santa Teresa to check out this historic upper class borough. As we didn’t know where to get off, we sat on the bus all the way through Santa Teresa and ended up at the entrance to the Tijuca Forest National Park on Corcovado unexpectedly! The skies were blue for a perfect view from the top and we decided to go see it.
Just as we were leaving the park, the clouds moved in again to obstruct most of the view – again luck was on our side. At the bottom of the hill, we took a long walk to and through the areas called Flamengo to Lapa. On our way we saw two historic palaces and entered the old presidential (Catete) palace, now the Museu da República. The interior decorations of the building is beautiful. Unfortunately we could not understand a lot since everything was in Portugese.
At the edge of Lapa exist a beautiful set of world-famous steps, the Escadaria Selarón. They are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who claims it as his “tribute to the Brazilian people”. After a long day of flashing away, we managed to take one photo before we ran out of battery power – an insult to this amazing work – and we decided to head back home.
Marcos, Ludmilla and Marcos’ brother, Paulo, took us to another place where we were introduced to pasteles, another typical Latin American dish. The pasteles came with various fillings, including shrimp and cream cheese, beef and gorgonzola, and of course bon-bon and chocolate sauce. Very very nice!
The plans for the last day in Rio were simple – the famous Sugarloaf mountain and Ipanema beach. In order to reach the top of Sugarloaf mountain, you need to take two cable cars. Unless you’re a rock climber, there is no other way to get to the top. The view from Sugarloaf is amazing! It is from a totally different angle compared to the view over Rio from the Corcovado. It’s hard to say which one to do if you had to choose! We also saw lots of cute little Sagui (Tamarin monkeys) on Sugarloaf.
After spending the morning on Sugarloaf, we decided to chill on Ipanema beach for the rest of the afternoon. The beach is also a long outstretched beach like Copacabana, although not so wide and with more waves. Apparently, the locals prefer Ipanema above Copacabana.
We had to go to the supermarket again in order to buy ingredients for the South African meal we promised to cook for Marcos and Ludmilla. Bobotie, sweet potatoes, banana salad and rice were on the menu. I thought it was the best bobotie I’ve ever made – thanks to my mother who sent us a recipe from the “Wenresepte” (we had to make a few adjustments as we couldn’t find the exact ingredients, for example chutney). They also seemed to enjoy it a lot. Ludmilla made some dessert – Brigadeiros, or chocolate fudge truffles, which are what Brazilian kids expect to find at their birthday parties. The dessert is made from condensed milk, butter, and hot chocolate powder. Very delicious!
The next morning we took our first taxi ride to Rio International Airport for our flight to Foz do Iguacu. We arrived 2 hours before our flight and had time to drink some yummy hot chocolate!
On the one hand Rio is just another busy, expensive city with people working and living in it. On the other hand there is something special about the city you won’t be able to find in another place. It’s a beautiful city with proud, friendly and helpful citizens. We were also privileged to experience the hospitality of a wonderful couple who opened their home to us without knowing us or asking anything in return. We are so thankful to Marcos and Ludmilla who made our stay in Rio more special than we could have hoped for.
2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.