From Christ the Redeemer to Rio Carnival to Boozey Sunbathing
It was the most perfect week. There I was, sprawled out on the fine white sands of Copacabana Beach, with one arm propping my head up to watch the warm glow of the sunset setting behind the rocky outcropping at sea. It created a beautiful ambience for us backpackers. We clinked our Caipirinhas. We had actually made it. We were at Rio Carnival.
Sitting up to brush the sand off my suntanned body, I couldn't believe it. I'd left the snow-covered isles of Britain only to be bathed in hot sun in just a pair of Speedos. And it was the middle of February, a fact I relished much to the annoyance of my friends back home. Dipping into the sea, allowing the powerful surf to suck me under, the noise silenced and I took stock of what had happened the past week.
Meeting the Cristo Redenter
My first thought flashed to Christ the Redeemer - more discreetly known as the Samba Jesus - that overlooks the city of Rio de Janeiro with his arms spread and palms facing out ready to accept the party-fuelled city in its throes of Carnival. Taking time out of the partying, my fellow backpackers and I decided to do something cultural for a change and it was time to meet J to the C.
Jumping on a city bus (make sure you only take essentials with you and nothing too valuable), we arrived in the district of Cosme Velho to grab a van to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World on top of the 710m high ridge called Corcovado that gives fantastic views of Rio itself. Similarly, you can catch a cog train that takes you straight up to the summit but remember to book your ticket on it, especially during Carnival. I didn't so I had to take a van that zoomed round precariously near the edge. Reaching the summit, you will be totally wowed by the statue of Cristo himself. For some reason, the Angel of the North sprang to mind.
Buzzing with crowds, to grab a photo with the big man himself is a lot harder than you think. Luckily, I had friends I met from the hostel. My big tip is to get one of you to lie on the floor with the camera without being stepped on and then take pictures successively. I recommend you do silly poses including a jumping one or even looking buffed up as is usually the case for me!
Also, while you are up there, remember to look across the views of Rio. It's pretty awesome and I felt like a small ant in the whole of Brazil.
Partying at Carnaval
Breaking the surf, I combed my hair through my fingers to see what my fellow backpacker friends were up to on the sand. All of them were still wearing their Carnival gear and I laughed silently when I thought of our partying on Rio's beaches.
Stepping out of the metro station and laughing at ourselves, we looked ridiculous. My friends sporting small hats, flowery leis, and as much face paint as they could slap on. I bought some bunny ears, but had lost my tail on the tube. Maybe a Brazilian took a shine and decided to pinch my butt but got more than bargained for!
We were on Ipanema Beach, just a stone's throw away from Copacabana. This area is known for being less touristy, with more locals and better prices. Joining the throng of revellers, and dressed even more outrageously, we took our places in one of the Banda Parades that happen across the city during the Carnival. We danced merrily with warm beer in our hands. I was having a great time. The best thing about the Carnival is you get to speak to people from halfway round the world. I met Indians, Danish, Israelis, Americans, even a Ghanian! Many Brazilians complimented my ability to fit in with the locals - my suntan must be working!
For 12 solid hours from late afternoon when the parade started, we partied like crazy. I know I'll never party like that again. The whole city really goes for it. I never thought I'd greet the dawn on Ipanema Beach by diving into the sea in just my undies and my bunny ears with my fellow backpacker mate holding the Caipirinhas.
Exploring Rio de Janeiro
I watched the sun set at a different beach. I looked far off into the distance and saw one of the Favelas, Rocinha, nestled on one of the peaks surrounding Rio. I visited on an eye-opening tour and saw first hand the poverty-stricken places that make up a huge part of Brazil's culture. Throwing off the old reputation that they're controlled by drug-dealers thanks to a massive police crackdown, they're slowly being rejuvenated by the tourism that takes place there. Attending a local school, craft shops, and the winding alleyways that go up and down discovering unique places, you never know what's around the corner. The people are friendly and warm and fling open their doors to you for a chat and to tell you what it's like to actually live there.
As I walked back to the beach, I was greeted by another friend showing off some samba moves from another Carnival event. Famed for its parties, Lapa, a district next to Santa Teresa, is absolutely heaving from the late afternoon. The white arches are home to many parades and there's a massive stage to showcase the best samba music and dances on display. Reminiscent of a music festival - there are many food and drink stands ready to keep you well supplied (they certainly did for me!) - I could be found swaying with the crowd and perhaps doing samba skits with some laughing locals.
The sun had just about set and I was in need of another Caipirinha. I decided to head back to my newly-opened hostel, Hercus Santa Teresa. I felt safe and I liked it there, especially the high price I had to pay for a bunk bed, but then again it's Carnival, it's the best place on earth to be in mid-February.
There certainly weren't any lowlights in Rio. It was unique, cultural, interesting and modern yet historical. It was certainly a place to party with friends, new and old.
But as I walked out of the sea, my mates mercilessly teased me in my speedos and what could I say, I simply did the Strongman. I'm in Rio and I love it.
About the Author: Ed Rex
Ed, in his own words, is vain, profoundly deaf, and a blogger chronicling his globetrotting Rexy Edventures. He also has a tendency to wear wacky hats but most of all he loves to travel. Ed's been on one or two adventures in his time, including a RTW trip to South East Asia, been on Ozzy and Kiwi delights, hitchhiked to Paris from Leeds, volunteered in Uganda, has had a few dirty weekends in Amsterdam, and has enjoyed the beautiful countryside of Great Britain! Next on the travel hit list is more of Africa and Europe with stories soon coming to gapyear.com!