Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Zuka restaurant and Samba in Lapa

More rain in Rio

On our third full day in Rio it rained, not a slight drizzle or the occasional shower, a constant downpour all day. Luckily by now we’d done the two major Rio landmarks and didn’t have to rush about town ticking off our sightseeing checkboxes. Instead we lazily headed up to the dining room table for breakfast with our new friends.

Eating home made cake, spreading butter on toast and trying the latest fruit juice, we discussed our day plans with the four guys from London and Cookie, who now had a day to herself after her friend had flown back to England. We tried to convince the others to come with Rob and us on a day trip to Rio’s national park and parts of the city that tourists rarely see. Everyone cautiously agreed, but it never happened, and quite rightly given the rain outside. A hidden deserted beach isn’t so wonderful in the wet.

From the dining room in O Veleiro’s bed and breakfast we looked out across Botafogo, today you couldn’t even see Christ the Redeemer, he was quite literally up in the clouds. We hung around on the hammocks by our room, reading the Lonely Planet and planning the next stage of our journey, keeping an eye out for hummingbirds that occasionally fly down and hover around the flowers.

Sam relaxing in a hammock
Sam relaxing in a hammock

Zuka restaurant

Around lunch time we were getting peckish. The weather looked like it was clearing up, so we gambled and headed out into town, with a hopeful plan of walking around the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. Down the winding road from the B&B, left at a hidden alleyway and down the shortcut steps, into Botafogo and on to the metro. We topped up our cards for one last set of journeys and hopped onto the orange metro line, on the air conditioned train, along to Ipanema.

Up the stairs and escalators and back into the open world, the rain was falling harder than ever. We were wearing wet weather gear and must have looked ridiculous. We tried walking through Ipanema towards Zuka, a recommended restaurant, but we soon gave up and jumped in a taxi. After a bit of floundering, some gesticulating at a map (which didn’t help because the driver didn’t have his reading glasses), we made it into Leblon and found the place we were after.

Sopping wet, in shorts and black plastic, we walked into the suave Zuka, water dripping everywhere. Flustered, we sat near the entrance and perused the menu, but not before Sam had knocked over her warm hot couvert. We really hoped the posh looking carioca business folks didn’t mind us too much.

This really felt upmarket; in Rio, where you’re cautious of your valuables at all times, and where imported products cost an arm and leg due to import tax, diners had their iPhones, laptops and iPads out for all to see. It could well have been London at lunch time. It was odd to see this lavishness, knowing that just a few blocks away was a favela.

The food was incredible and, at last, good value. Served on oblong stone plates, there was care and attention to flavours, sauces and presentation, something that proved to be a rarity in brazilian dining. This turned out to be the best place we ate in Brazil, it’s a shame we only had lunch here. But we made the most of it, with a starter, main and ‘sombremesa’ (desserts), and a strong espresso coffee to finish.

Samba night in Lapa

A taxi home at Rio rush hour, back to the B&B where everyone was still lounging around, reading their books, browsing the internet or using their phones. It was very much a day of doing nothing. In light of this the guys decided we should all go out to a live samba night in Lapa, at the centre of Rio’s bohemian scene amongst all the dilapidated old mansions and the tram line that no longer runs.

A quiet day at the B&B
A quiet day at the B&B

At 7ish Richard made us all Caipirinhas and the eight of us went by two taxis to Carioca da Gema. R$ 20 for the music, and the place was packed. We found a table upstairs overlooking the stage where we ordered beer and shared nibbles, I can’t remember any of the portuguese names of things, just that the little bean samosas were lovely.

(A brazilian peculiarity, at pubs, bars and even service stations, when you enter you’re given a card with menu items on. As you buy things the items are ticked off on the card, and you pay on your way out.)

At eight o’clock Bruna Baffa took the stage, and we knew the crowd already loved them. We moseyed down and tried our feet at samba, amongst the dancing veterans and the cool, beautiful cariocas.

Later that evening a more nuanced improvised samba act took the stage, Alaan Monteiro with Wanderlkey Monteiro, who seemed to be a local celebrity, well, his picture was on all sorts of t-shirts and CDs. The bar was quieter, but that just meant there was more space to dance; and some of the best showed us how to do it.

A perfect way to end our time in Rio.

Rio to Iguaçu

O Veleiro really felt like a home in Rio, and it helped us make the best of the city whilst it rained. The breakfast table helped us chat with other travellers, see where they’d been, find out where they were going, tell our stories and talk about our plans. It felt like a wonderful close knit group, and was exactly what we were looking for.

Packed and ready to go, we said our goodbyes the next morning and taxi’d (because you go everywhere in Rio by taxi) to the international airport. We’d booked our flight and Igaucu hotel beforehand, but we hadn’t planned the return leg at all. So after check-in we frantically ran around the Gol, TAM and Webjet desks to get flight quotes from anyone that spoke a little bit of English.

Rio from the sky
Rio from the sky

To Iguaçu Falls →