Drum circles are formed, pounding with beats that draw people together from all over the world to dance and start their night of celebration. The crowd is dressed in yellow and green, waving flags that read “Ordem e Progresso.” This is Copacabana beach and the Brazilian national team just beat Colombia to advance to the next round in the World Cup. For many the night is just getting started and this is what you can expect Rio to be like any day of the week.
Rio is a city that no tourist could conquer in a few days. Throughout my trip, I spent 7 days in the city and there are still so many more things I could have done. Yes, I visited all the tourist sites; Pão de Açucar, Escadaria Selaron in Lapa, the beaches, toured the favelas, and hiked the Corcovado to see the Christ the Redeemer. All of these are a must but be sure that you give yourself plenty of time in the city so you can enjoy it. The Pão de Açucar, or Sugarloaf Mountain, was the first thing I visited when I arrived in Brazil. Once I finally found where I was staying and woke my friends up from their slumber, we headed off for my first adventure.
To reach the top of the Pão de Açucar, we needed to take a cable car up first to the Morro da Urca. It had restaurants and shops where I bought my first souvenirs, had lunch and made some new friends, that being monkeys. So watch out for your lunch, because they are pretty friendly! Afterward we took a cable car from there up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. The top of the mountain has a great aerial view of the entire city that allows for taking awesome photos of the whole city. *Tip for traveling abroad* Bring a student ID with you from a university if you have it and you pay half the entrance price.
A few days later we took a tour of a favela. Now, I know that taking these tours is a controversial issue. Some guide books and websites will recommend it; others will discourage it saying it is disrespectful or unsafe. With that said, let me explain my reasoning. I chose a tour that I heard was safe because the favela has been occupied by the police and the tour guides are respected in the community. I chose a tour that takes the money that people pay and puts it right back into the community. This tour took us to a school that is run by volunteers and I could see firsthand that people are not trying to ignore the discrepancy between the have and have nots in Rio but rather are trying to build the community up from the inside out. I will also add that the favelas are not a zoo. They are people’s houses, who have jobs, who are proud of who they are, appreciate what they have and are overall high spirited people. I will not post pictures; those I am keeping for my own memories because I want to remember how other people live, how my worldview changed, and when I learned to appreciate what I have. So if you choose to do something that will show you how people really live in Rio, I would definitely recommend taking one of these tours.
After a week in Buzios, we came back to Rio for the Final of the World Cup. The game was on Sunday so we spent Saturday checking off our bucket lists by seeing the Christ the Redeemer. It was a relatively nice day and we decided to hike up the mountain to get a workout in and treat it as a pilgrimage. Following the winding roads up the mountain took us about an hour. Once we reached the top we had to buy our tickets and hopped in a van that took us right to the statue. The sight was truly breathtaking as I saw the statue that is larger than life overlooking a city of over 6 million people. Unfortunately the weather was a little hazy at the top but it was like we were in the clouds. Regardless of the weather, there were many tourists there, specifically from Argentina since they were celebrating their team reaching the Final. It was impossible to take pictures that did have a lot of people in the background but one cool thing that they had for the World Cup was a camera they had installed on top of the Christ that took a picture of us, if we chose to. Here is mine:
Lastly, and of course most importantly, was attending the FIFA Fan Fest at Copacabana beach. This is where I watched Brazil vs Colombia and the Final. There are very few words I can find to describe being on the beach, surrounded by excited fans watching a game in a country that lives and breathes futebol. I know that I have never seen so many people crowded together in one space before. It was, after all, a few hundred thousand people. The pregame concerts were a delightful surprise that highlighted the songs that were on the official album of the 2014 World Cup as well as samba and other typical music of Brazil. That was only a warm up for the cheering that would soon be heard throughout the game. The chants that each team had or songs that they would sing made being at the Fan Fests just as fun as sitting in the stadium, or so I assume. There were very few “sore losers” who tried to start trouble when their team lost. Especially for the Final, there were so many policemen around that even if people were getting out of control, the issue was resolved relatively quickly. Overall, attending the games was the highlight of my trip and that was the whole reason why I went to Brazil in the first place. Vai Brasil!