South America #4: RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL (2017)

Part Four: Rio

The epic conclusion to a truly magnificent 18 day stint in South America was about to be reached as I visited the city that gave me the inspiration to make the trip as a whole in the first place; and having indulged in all that was on offer from Argentina, Uruguay’s rural and urban mixtures and then the islands, rainforests and waterfalls of Brazil, it was time for Rio!

Growing up as a football fan here at home, seeing colourful and vibrant images of this city was what whetted my appetite to pay the money and travel across the world just to see it for myself. The desire to go there was probably instilled in 2014 during the World Cup Final that was played there and the TV channels were showing the sights that the city could offer.

Now a quick word of warning to anyone who plans to visit here. Absolutely go and enjoy it and take in everything you can see and hear in this wonderful city but be aware, it’s far from the safest city you’ll ever visit. Muggings are common and some locals can be over friendly to get what they want from you. So keep the wits and leave all valuables back at the hotel. 

I was grand but I will admit I was a tad on the nervous side in a small nightclub one night when I got temporarily separated from the group and could sense there were a few vultures about. When asking for directions off a policewoman, I don’t think she took my broad Donegal twang too seriously but thankfully, a taxi-man and another hotel worker helped out. 

Aside from that momentary scare, the rest of Rio lived up to expectation and more. As soon as we arrived, we made our way up to visit the statue of Christ the Redeemer and the view from the city there was nothing short of breath-taking. It was only equalled a few short hours later when we took the cable-cart up to the Sugarloaf Mountain to watch the sunset over Rio.

There were some great funny moments at these two sights too. At the Christ, I was the butt of the jokes for playing the somewhat stereotypical Irish-Catholic stereotype by being spotted buying about ten mini-statues from the gift shop as I had to get one for Mammy, the aunties, the Godmother and some friends back at home. Nobody else even bought one, I don’t think!

On the journey up to the Sugarloaf, English Michael spread the ‘fun fact’ that an old James Bond film was filmed in one of these, but then he topped it off with “What sort of name is Sugarloaf anyway?” I reminded him that there was one called the same in Ireland but he won it with “Yeah, but Sugarloaf Mountain! It sounds like something from Super Mario Kart!” Ba-Dum-Tish!! 

From our high vantage points, we were able to gaze upon the beaches of Copacabana, the famous Maracanã stadium and the Favela slums that are built on the hillsides that surround the city. We were even shown a mountain where if you look at it carefully, it resembled an almost perfect shape of Homer Simpson if he was lying down. And oddly enough, it did!

Before a good old night on the town, we all sat down for dinner at a very sophisticated restaurant that served skewered meats and wines that could keep you filled for a week and our famous Chilean tour-guide, Rodrigo, told us that once we were finished here, that he had one final surprise for us. 

Legend that he is, he took up the elevator to a hotel rooftop that overlooked the Copacabana and where we were treated to drinks and cocktails in an executive lounge with the most perfect of views. In a way, this was an emotional gathering because we knew the group were approaching the final days of our adventure together. 

We marked the moment by presenting ‘Rodney’ with a wee financial gift that we all clubbed together for and me being the teacher, I was given the honour of saying a few words about how truly magnificent and courteous. He’d looked after us, educated us about the continent, made us laugh and showed a genuine fondness for us all. We’re forever in his debt. 

Moving on from there and we just so happened to spot an Irish Bar when someone shouted “We have to go here for Johnny; him being the only Irish here!” 

So in we went. What was funny and typically Irish about this moment was as we walked in, Caitlyn (Aussie) told me that she met one Irish guy in Peru and no sooner had she finished that sentence … there he was sitting at the bar! A Cork lad with a name none other than Michael Collins. And good on him! An hour later and he was on the snog with our Louise! 

Small world and a real ‘Speak of the Devil’ moment! 

Two days later and after having a bit of a rest day in between where we congratulated Rodrigo in his celebrations as his beloved Chile beat Portugal in the Confederations Cup – his joyous roars of ‘Vamos Chiiiile!’ could be heard all through the hotel that day – it was time to brave a trip into the Favela slums.

These cramped and rundown tenements were a huge eye-opener as to how people live in a city that is so wealthy just a few kilometres away. Chickens and dogs roaming the place and poor sewerage systems are all around and the sight of locals carrying weapons and negotiating drug deals so photos being taken in here are to be kept to an absolute minimum.

Having said that, the Favelas are worth seeing. You still see smiling children waving away and people performing rhythmic beat music with their salutations of ‘Bom Dia’ (tr: ‘Good Day.’) Later that day, it was time for one final bit of tourism before the flight home that night so the iconicEscadaria Seleraon steps, the San Sebastian Cathedral and the La Paz arches. 

But like all good things, they must come to an end. Our group bade fond farewells to one another and to Rodrigo of course. And with that, our taxis arrived and it was off to the airport for the journey homeword to begin. 

This travelling was all it was built up to be and more, friendships were made, a big part of the world was seen but as the famous old song by Willie Nelson says: “And I just can’t to get back on the road again!”

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