We felt unprepared for Brazil, we booked the flights and the first week of hotels but left the second week open for whatever we pleased. The holiday sneaked up on us whilst we were busy working, and suddenly we were on the plane from Heathrow, stopping at Paris for some Camembert and an excellent nighttime view of the Eiffel tower, then onwards, to Rio, via an 11 hour Air France flight with complimentary champagne.
In Rio we arrived to a broken baggage carousel, overcast skies and rush hour traffic. Along Linha Vermelha we drove, Rio’s steep mountains in the distance, tops covered in cloud, a shanty town favela to our right; rickety buildings piled on one another with corrugated iron rooftops and thin dirt roads dividing them. Above us great black vultures circled and on either side motorbikes honked as they weaved passed.
It took an hour or so to make it to Botafogo and our hotel, O Veleiro B&B, atop a twisting cobbled street. It was a beautiful three storey yellow building set amongst a small tropical garden, pool and bar area. Marmosets climb down from the trees to eat bananas, hummingbirds flit about, and a tortoise plods by, always on the look out for someone’s tasty toes.
Inside a dark wooden staircase takes you up to the living room and communal dining area where we checked in. Our room was simple with wooden shutter doors, a double bed, sink, some mosquito spray and an outdoor shared toilet and shower next to some hammocks.
Hoteliers Rob and Rich showed us around and pointed out the sights, Botafogo below us, the head of Christ the Redeemer to the right, and sugarloaf hiding behind the trees. All checked-in and ready to go, we set off to explore Rio for the first time, very aware of our belongings and security.
Rich showed us a shortcut down through the winding roads, a steep narrow alleyway into town, then a 20 minute walk to the metro station. Each tower block had security gates and tall metal railings. Inside guards watched CCTV cameras.
Tourists are advised to use taxis but the metro is very safe, and simple too. R$3 per journey, we loaded up a prepay card and took the orange line to Ipanema. The Sunday ‘hippy’ market was on in the square; homemade jewellery, t-shirts and the usual market thoroughfare amongst stunning artwork portraying favelas, the people and the sights.
There was a sunny haze about the beach. Huge waves crashed against the shore amongst perfect bodied volleyballers, skaters, swimmers and sunbathers. Military personnel stood around in shorts and t-shirt, their guns holstered but hanging out for all to see. The sand was fine and warm between our toes.
Every 200m or so you can find a corn on the cob stand, which we had to try. We nipped into town looking for food. At Polis Sucos we ordered freshly made juice, but guessed from the foreign menu, I remembered maracuja was passion fruit, the other juice was pink, and probably raspberry and something, but I can’t be sure.
We came out next to Ipanema lagoon. Across the water was Christ the Redeemer. Joggers and cyclists ran by, many on Rio’s orange Boris bikes. Desperate for some food, we sat down at the fluorescent orange Koni, a trendy new restaurant chain, for some brazilian-japanese sushi fusion.
Koni’s specialty is based on a ‘cone’ of rice wrapped in seaweed. You choose your filling, which is usually tempura. The honey roast tuna, shimeji tempura and salmon tempura were all yummy. We washed it all down with some iced tea.
Exhausted from travelling and walking we headed home, via a market for dessert and snacks. Back at the hotel we shoved in our ear plugs, turned on the overhead fan and fell fast asleep. The sounds of german conversation outside fading into our dreams.