Rio de Janeiro…this city invokes so many images when you hear its name. From images of beautiful girls in their tanjas (thong bikini’s) strolling along the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema their hips swaying to the sound of your heart breaking, the beat of Samba and sweet notes of Bossa Nova, to wild parties complete with elaborate floats and costumes of Carnival all the way to a city of violent crime pouring down the hills from the Drug Lord gang controlled favelas.
Cidade Maravilhosa (The Marvellous City) as the locals call their home is all this and more. I was in Rio for far too short a time on this trip…and it is a big spread out city with many different neighborhoods. In the few days I stayed in Leblon before heading to the beaches of Buzios (their St Tropez…only fitting since it was the Woman That God Created Brigitte Bardot that turned it from a humble fishing village to a playground for the rich in the 60’s) I did get to know Leblon and Ipanema pretty well and will give you a number of great places to eat and drink and if you get stuck in the rain (as did I) shop/people watch.
In regards to Rio being dangerous with lots of petty crime, I didn’t experience any (I was only in their better neighborhoods and a resort area), do not dismiss that it is there. Having said that…if you are street smart, don’t walk around with expensive things on dressed like a gringo stumbling into the favelas day or night you should be fine. I look at Rio like New York back in the 70’s/80’s. If you stayed in the right areas you were fine…but trouble could be very nearby and certain areas were best avoided (which of course now…most are the current hip and trendy hoods).
My biggest concern going to Rio was…will I be able to walk around or will I have to go from place to place by cab. I had no desire for that. I like to walk around…my feet need to feel the street…it’s how I find places to eat, drink, shop, discover art on and off the street…how I get my heart-broken when I do a double-take at a beautiful woman walking by. As it turned out I was able to walk around Leblon/Ipanema at night with a few multi-flavored caipirinha’s (a tangerine caipirinha may be my new favorite summertime drink) in me without incident (my friends claim it’s my size…I like to think it’s I walk with purpose and my smile:).
One thing I could not help but notice were how all the apartment buildings and homes are gated up. These gates were so thick and loaded with security cameras and lighting I often wondered were they trying to keep out the poor from the favelas, Terrorists ramming trucks into them or a pending Zombie apocalypse?!? You also can’t help but notice the pretty lights up on the hills… coming from the favelas. That’s the thing here…the city is still very divided between the very rich and poor living in fairly close proximity. Rio like the country of Brazil itself is on the rise and improving (It’ even on the cover of Barron’s this week) and I look forward to returning to explore Cidade Maravilhosa.
From here I will leave you with some pictures to whet your appetite and over the next week will add photo essays and pieces on Leblon/Ipanema and Buzios…