Day #11,056: No two ways about it, Mr. M & I were Bummed to be leaving our Ilha Grande island oasis. But seeing as how I’d already only allotted a day and a half to see all of Rio de Janeiro so that we could visit Ilha Grande in the first place… and how you can’t go to Brazil and not visit Rio, it was clearly time to move on.
After a boat ride back to Angra, the death-defying drive from Angra to Rio (where lanes, speed limits, and leaving more than a foot of cushion for the car in front of you are all optional) ended with me thanking every deity I could conjure for delivering us safely to our B&B in the neighborhood of Santa Teresa.
We were greeted at the double-locked wooden gate by Sergio, a slight, industrious man whom I never saw without a genuine, ear to ear grin. He whisked our bags up two quite large flights of stairs, showed us our beautiful attic room, and immediately pulled out a map of the surrounding area so we could make the most of the afternoon we still had left.
Sergio told us that we had to, had to, HAD TO watch the sunset from Pao de Azucar (Sugarloaf). I like people that give definitive travel tips. He also told us we shouldn’t walk around Rio with backpacks and that I should keep my obtrusive camera under wraps whenever we were outside tourist areas.
I’d heard a lot of rumblings about safety in Rio. Much along the lines of frequent armed muggings, which are really only dangerous if you don’t have cash at the ready. As long as you’re not fumbling around, the muggers will never shoot and will take what you give & quickly move on. Because I’m scared of everything under the sun, I spent my two days in Rio walking around with money stashed in my sock, my pocket, my bra… had anyone even tapped my shoulder to ask the time I would’ve thrown all my cash at them, pushed Mr. M in their path (uh, just kidding?), and taken off sprinting.
Of course, we didn’t end up getting mugged while in Rio. And I know people will say that it’s silly to worry about safety in Rio when I come from New York City. But I heard from enough sources (including Brazilians themselves) to keep a wary eye that I did.
Despite Mr. M feeling sick as a dog and me trying to ignore my own rapidly advancing scratchy throat, I grabbed my most inconspicuous shoulder bag, and we caught a cab to Pao de Azucar. Correction: We went downstairs, and Sergio had ordered us a cab, which was waiting. The man seriously had things done before we even thought to ask. He made me want to hire a sidekick or industrious intern to TCB (take care of business, clearly) back home.
The ticket line provided Mr. M & I with a wonderful opportunity to observe humanity. I think all social anthropologists should just conduct their research from lines… it’s fascinating to just watch humans in their natural habitat. We saw lovebirds, line-cutters, a gentleman who desired his iPhone much more than his beautiful and forgotten lady companion, parents & kids, and of course, the woman who didn’t subscribe to the belief that some parts of the world don’t speak English and who kept speaking to the guards LOUDER to be understood. I love watching people.
Line and all, we timed our ride up to the midway station perfectly; the sun was just starting to set, and we managed to get a free section of railing to take some pictures with my heretofore hidden camera.
We rode the second gondola to actual Pao de Azucar, with me clutching Mr. M’s shirt and holdingverystill. The view from the top of the Pao (a very fun word to say with emphasis: POW! de Azucar) was mesmerizing.
After the sun sets, Rio de Janeiro is essentially a collection of steeply undulating peaks with what look like handfuls of jewels scattered in between. Big Jesus (Cristo Redentor for the formal among you) glows bright white and appears to hover over it all like some sort of guardian angel. It was stunning, and we both agreed that from that vantage point, Rio was the most beautiful city we had ever seen, anywhere in the world.
We took a taxi back to our adopted neighborhood of Santa Teresa (which sits hidden, high upon one of those steeply undulating peaks) and soon learned that most cab drivers would end up getting lost in the labyrinthine maze of cobblestone streets that the area is known for. Although it was hard to blame them- Mr. M & I decided to go for dinner at a little Brazilian place called Espirito Santa and ended up getting a bit lost ourselves. We found ourselves walking down a street that we probably shouldn’t have wandered down cuz things suddenly cleared out, streetlights started to flicker, groups of bored-looking kids eyed us, street dogs came a-wanderin’ over, and we realized we should probably turn around or have our mugging money at the ready.
After finding Espirito Santa, imbibing too much pineapple caipirinha, and stuffing ourselves on amazing plantains, hearts of palm, and feijoada, we headed for our final stop of the evening: the samba nightclub Rio Scenarium in the neighborhood of Lapa. Like so many of the other very friendly Brazilians we met, our cab driver thankfully didn’t seem to understand why the lack of a common language would ever prohibit conversation.
Mr. M is neither a nightclub person nor a dancer (I got him to agree to a slow dance at our wedding and considered myself quite lucky), so I was surprised when he was pumped to hit Rio Scenarium. It was a side of Mr. M I rarely see; and apparently he knew how awesome the night was going to be.
Because we were tired and sick, Mr. M & I arrived on the early side and managed to avoid the huge lines we saw when we exited a couple hours later. Rio Scenarium is extremely well-managed (you’re given a card upon entrance to keep track of food & beverage consumption, and you pay for that + cover charge on the way out), and it appeared to be frequented by both tourists and locals alike.
The first floor dancefloor is open to the two floors above it, so you can have a drink and watch the whirling gyration of colors and sweaty bodies and passionate musicians from on high. We snagged a spot along the railing and reveled in the fantastic band and the fact that we were actually in Rio de Janeiro listening to real live samba music.
When we played our end of the trip Travel Wrap-Up Game, Mr. M said that it was his favorite “Moment of the Trip.”
That night, we fell into bed exhausted and snuffly with some sort of cold. And we couldn’t wait to wake up for another full day in the most beautiful city on earth.
Details of the Day:
Accommodations: Casa Cool Beans isn’t for everyone, but if it IS for you, you shouldn’t think of staying anywhere else. I know that didn’t make sense.
If you have difficulty with stairs (it’s a huge, vertical mansion without an elevator), if you came to Rio to stay right on the sands of Ipanema (it’s located high on a hill in the Santa Teresa neighborhood), or if you prefer the company of other tourists (Santa Teresa is an up-and-coming artsy enclave with nary a standard Tourist Souvenir Shop to be found), don’t stay here. If none of those hold true for you, get thee to Casa Cool Beans. Bonus: it’s one of the absolute cheapest non-hostel places in Rio.
We’ve never met hosts more gracious than Lance & David, the American ex-pat owners, or Sergio, their right-hand man. They seemed genuinely happy to see us and eager to make us fall in love with their adopted city. That’s a major bonus, especially when you don’t speak the native tongue.
Espirito Santa: Dinner was SO GOOD. An even better endorsement came via the huge family holding court in the front of the restaurant for what looked like a weekly Sunday dinner. Where there are teeming groups of locals, so there should be you.
Tips & Tricks: Bring a purse or- better yet- a shoulder bag for while you’re in Rio. Like Sergio told us, backpacks made other tourists stick out like sore thumbs… I don’t know if it was the lack of tourist paraphernalia, but we were mistaken for locals (or at least Brazilians) more than once and most importantly- never mugged! Big win for the team.
If you’re staying in Santa Teresa, know that some cab drivers do not want to take you back to this area because the very steep hills and cobblestoned streets are understandably hard on their cars. This was the only time in Brazil where we agreed to a cabbie not using his meter and charging us a bit more for the ride… just because we had such a hard time finding anyone who would take us back from Lapa. The iconic San Francisco-esque cable cars (called bondes and pronounced BONE-jees) that usually run up the hill to Santa Teresa are currently not running.
That said, I couldn’t recommend staying in Santa Teresa more. I felt like we got to see a part of the city that I otherwise never would have found. It didn’t feel touristy in the least. The neighborhood itself was walkable and relatively safe (at least as safe as NYC) and is home to a bunch of art galleries and local bars overflowing with character. I can’t imagine the beachfront hotels of Ipanema could offer any better.
**A special thank you to reader Kina, who recommended Rio Scenarium to me as a Must See in Rio. She was so right!**