Into the favelas
After visiting three of Rio's many favelas, including the largest (Rochina) and most well-known (Santa Marta) we were able to see the complexity of the political issues of Rio first-hand. Five star hotels and mansions often marked borders between the rich city-dwellers and the favela residents, offering a cruel social contrast both visually and emotionally within various neighbourhoods of the city. Our tour guides we're very informative about the political history of Rio, explaining in detail how the favelas came to be through both racial oppression and geographic circumstances.
It's a common misconception that all favelas are dangerous, violent, drug-run places solely for the underprivileged. The favelas we visited we're 'pacified' - meaning that the police and governments had taken back control of the area - and were therefore 'safe' to visit. This didn't detract from the very visible problems that the people faced, such as drug abuse, open sewage and lack of other amenities. However, what was clear was the enormous sense of pride the community shared for their homes. Brightly painted walls have been commissioned by artists, colourful tiles and local artwork and hand-written signage filled the streets. We left feeling a sense of admiration for the people who lived there, who against all odds, had managed to build a strong and tightly knitted community both architecturally and socially.
It was noted by the guides that the pacification of these more popular favelas could be for visual effect, a mask that the government has provided to hide the real problems of less supported favelas in Rio; problems that lie much further afield from the rich southern neighbourhoods that seem all too convenient to 'fix'. Having only been in Rio for two weeks we could only hope to scrape the surface of understanding such complex issues, but walking around the favelas and speaking to locals we began to have a better understanding of what it's like to live inside a pacified favela in Rio.
Every Sunday the Hippie Market (Feira Hippie) fills the square near General Osório in Ipanema. With various stalls selling colourful and exotic hand-crafted items we loved wandering around looking at the painted ornaments, vibrant rugs and taxidermied pirañas - we only wish that we had enough space in our bags to buy everything!
Bloco on Ilha de Paquetá
We were told by our airbnb host Rafael that there was a 'Bloco' (a Brazilian street party) on a nearby island and that we could join him, although it started 'very early'. After cracking the first beer at 8:30am, followed by possibly the craziest queue we've ever faced, we managed to squeeze onto the boat that took us to Ilha Paqueta in a last-minute gringo costume. Once we arrived we realised that the early morning doesn't seem to prevent the Brazilian crowd from partying, with brass bands and beating drums becoming the center point for the carnage.
Fuelled with plenty of strong Caipirinhas, we managed to keep the dancing going throughout the heat into the evening before getting the boat back to Rio for some final drinks (randomly crashing some wedding shoot!?) and grabbing much needed Brazilian tapas before bed.
Jardim Botânico & Parque Lage
Jardim Botanico is located in the 'Zona Sun' region of Rio, and hosts a wide variety of Brazilian plants and wildlife. Although little underwhelming at first - as some of the areas were relatively barren due to the heat - there were many interesting things to see including giant Amazonian water-lillies in the main lake and tiny Marmoset monkeys jumping though the branches of exotic trees.
A mile away from the gardens is the more architecturally impressive 'Parque Lage', an estate and public park built in the 1920s. We spent a morning wandering around the intriguing nature-filled subtropical forest that surrounded the mansion before stopping at the picturesque cafe in the central courtyard for a drink. Apparently the Snoop Dog music video 'Beautiful' was filmed here.
Dinner at Quitéria
One of the few things we had booked before leaving the UK, besides the fight, was a meal at Quiteria. It's a smart, upscale restaurant located around the corner from Ipenama beach, allowing us just enough time to see the sun go down before we made our way there. We did feel a little guilty about splashing out in such a lavish place in Rio, but seeing as the meal was a Christmas present (à la Stef!) we thought we'd see what the great reviews were all about.
The menu and wines we're delicious - a solid balance of French-style cuisine with traditional Brazilian ingredients, paired wines from all around South America and exquisite presentation. The restaurant itself felt minimal, almost Scandinavian, which is unusual for Rio, but we loved it. At the end of the meal we got to say hi to the chefs and get a cheeky photo as well!
Sugarloaf mountain was one of the key things we wanted to do in Rio, and leaving it relatively close to the end felt like a nice way to round off our visit. There were two separate cable cars to get to the top. The first stop gave a great view of the mountain, then once at the top the 360° views were arguably more breath-taking than from Corcovado. We aimed to see Rio from as many different perspectives as possible, but seeing it from Sugarloaf mountain confirmed that Rio really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.