After spending Christmas in Brazil we moved 10k south to the main city staying in Botafogo, an area located in the East side of the city within walking distance to most of the main parts that we wanted to see for New Year.
Rio is very very hot. It was hot over Christmas in Recreio but in the city the temperatures neared 40c with a 85% humidity. Sweat was a common theme; I spent most of my time in shorts and flip-flops, sounds great in theory but limits what you can do, sadly running was not an option for me.
Botafogo is a nice area of the city, and you can see both Sugarloaf Mountain and Cristo Redentor. We decided to head up Sugarloaf Mountain first as it was just a short walk from the hostel to the cable cars. It turned out to be a good choice as the views across the city are spectacular. We timed it quite well and got to see sunset from the mountain, but also caught a warm rainstorm.
I was keen to take a tour of one of the Favelas, the slums that Rio has more than its fair share of. They can be dangerous places but during the day organized tours run through them without any issues.
The tour started with a drop off near the top of the Rochina Favela which has a population of 70,000. Rochina means “Little Farm”, it was a big maze of streets and people, very few roads run through, the residents just wander around on foot. The streets are residential mixed with shops, small cafes and schools; a fully functioning society lives up there.
Notorious for drugs and gangs, the government is making efforts to “pacify” and clean them up. It was interesting to see but due to a mess-up by our hostel, we were put on a crap tour with a guide who was rather disinterested, just seemed to walk us through at speed, stopping mainly in places he had lined up to sell us something. Annie complained and we got a fair refund, so it was not all bad.
With amazing scenery [Annie says the city has the most beautiful natural setting she has ever seen] and clear blue skies, we decided to splash out a bit and try Hang Gliding from one of the mountains over the city. Heading out late in the afternoon, we were driven up the mountain before arriving to what is like a mini airport. Loads of Hang gliders being prepared by various companies, I had a look over the runway’s edge, spectacular view ahoy! A quick five minute lesson on how to hold on to the guide and how to take off, we were running towards the edge, looking at the horizon and following strict instruction not to stop or jump. What a rush; spectacular views of the city; the beach; it was great fun and really quite calming. I did have a little concern about landing, though it turns out the passenger doesn’t need to do much as the instructor does the work for you.
What is billed as an essential stop in Rio is Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer in English), the statue that peers 2,300 feet over the city on Corcovado Mountain. You can see it most of the time from the city. We were warned about the queues, two hours for tickets and then two hours to get up and therefore decided to set off at 7am to try and beat the tour groups. One metro and one local bus later, we arrived at the train that runs up and down the mountain. There was what appeared to be two queues and a big neon sign saying “no trains available” but nothing was explained any further. As more and more people joined the queue, news came back that tickets for the train are already sold out for the next two days, bummer.
An alternative route to the top is using the minivans that were available just a short walk up the road, sounds fine! Walking up and joining the 15 minute queue, we paid our way and started the ascent. That would have been fine if not for the fact that the van does not take you to the top but instead it drops you less than half way up in a chaotic mess of cars and people. Joining another queue, this time 30 minutes long, we got our tickets and walked to the next queue for the second minivan, which over the last half hour had tripled in size, gah!
We waited in what turned out to be a frustrating hour long queue, with tour guides pushing their groups to the front. We had a calm exchange with one who seemed to think we were stupid and would not accept the fact we saw him skip in, asshole. Boarding the minivan and continuing to the top, we arrived to find hundreds of annoying tourists surrounding the statue, all trying to get a photo of themselves with their arms out mimicking Christ. We pushed our way around, got some photos and got the hell out of there, all to start the queues in reverse to get back down to the bottom. It wasn’t only us who felt the frustration – a riot nearly broke out when a tour guide pushed his luck too far on the way down. A horrible excuse for an attraction and a waste of six hours.
Rio was picked as our final destination in South America, where we would see the year out. New Years Eve in Portuguese is called Réveillon, which translates as “Waking”. The city becomes full, the streets are closed and the party focuses on Copacabana Beach. We saw the preparations days before, roads were closed and large ships are moored in the bay where the fireworks will launch from. Two and a half million people were expected to line the beach for the firework display and concerts, it is one of the biggest parties in the world.
Our hostel gave us tickets to a night club with an open bar, considering the price we paid for a dorm room, that’s the least they could do. We headed down early with our Metro tickets, to help with crowd control we had to pre-purchase these days before, selecting a time slot as no tickets were on sale on the day.
What we did not know until arriving in Brazil is the Brazilians wear white as part of Réveillon which symbolizes purity, peace and renewal. Travelling rule 101, do not pack anything white as it will just discolour… Arriving at the nightclub, we didn’t quite blend in.
Heading down to the beach for the main event, I was surprised that it was not as busy as expected, probably due to the size of the beach. We easily found a space to watch the fireworks and enjoy some drinks.
Unlike home, there is no countdown to the bells; the fireworks just started which always seems a little odd. The display was very good, after it finished the Brazilians head in to the water for a dip, in our merry state we decided to join them, good fun but I now need a new watch as mine did not agree with the antics.
After a few more beverages at the club, we started the walk back to Botafogo, I did wonder if the beer scooter would get us home but did not need to worry, as all the roads are closed, it was just a mass of people walking down motorways usually choked with traffic. In what seemed like no time we were back at the hostel for some much needed rest.
Time to depart Rio, Brazil and South America, what an amazing three months. Now we begin heading towards Asia, with a few stops on the way.