by lyle e davis
The name itself evokes excitement, adventure, romance . . . but the destination, Rio de Janeiro, offers all that and more.
Tropical climate, fun-loving people, a natural rain forest near the city limits, great business opportunities, plenty of higher education, lots of culture . . . you’ll find most anything you’re looking for in Rio de Janeiro.
Those lucky enough to have visited Rio de Janeiro for Carnival say you have not partied unless you have experienced this event.
A city that spends most of the year dealing with growing domestic issues comes together to show the world amazing color, beautifully rehearsed dancing and to play hypnotizing music.
This statue of Jesus stands 38 meters (124.6 feet) tall on top of the Corcovado mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro. Designed by Brazilian Heitor da Silva Costa and created by French sculptor Paul Landowski, it is one of the world's best known monuments. It took five years to construct and was inaugurated on October 12, 1931.
It is famous for its spectacular natural setting, its Carnival celebrations, samba and other music, hotel-lined tourist beaches, such as Copacabana and Ipanema, paved with decorated black and cream swirl pattern mosaics. Many of the locals prepare for the best party of the year, known as Canival, from February 2-5 this year, to show off their talents – and the performances are faultless.
Fairly typical street scenes from Carnival, Rio de Janeiro’s annual street scene that is world famous and which attracts participants from throughout Brazil, South America, and from the World. Tourists flock to Carnival (spelled Carnaval in Brazil) and hotel space is at a premium during the season. This year, Carvival will be held from February 2 through the 5th. There are parties and samba dances and parades through Brazilian cities . . . it is parade time!
Time to sing, to dance, to be happy . . . and to enjoy life!
For more than 150 years the Brazilians have been showing the rest of the world how to party. More than 100 groups will be parading through the streets, not just of Rio, but throughout the country. Carnival is held each year 40 days before Easter and marks the beginning of Lent. If you are planning on attending Carnival, however, you’ll need a visa; time is getting to be of the essence so you may wish to ask your travel agent to assist in getting you your visa on time.
But Rio de Janeiro is the place to be. There is a plethora of balls and you have to get to one to be a part of the celebrations yourself.
The Samba School Parade at Rio´s Sambodrome is something everybody has to experience at least once in life. The event is broadcast live to several countries and all Brazilian states. Watching on TV is cool, but not half as much fun as being there. You have to mingle with the crowd, sweat, maybe even march with a samba school.
Unlike Street Carnival the Samba Parade is not free. Tickets are actually quite expensive, but more than worth the investment. Fourteen special group schools march on Carnival Sunday and Monday, seven each night. The parade starts at 9 p.m. and goes on until sunlight the next day, around 6-7 a.m. This samba marathon is more than a show - it's also a fierce competition.
The final step if you are thinking about watching the show in person is taking a samba lesson. It will teach you what to do when the samba beat inevitably starts to get you. You are encouraged to sing along, stand and dance from your seat. This is the way to show a samba school that they are doing their job right!
In the best tradition of Rio's Street Carnival festivities, everybody is welcome to join the fun. And better - for free!
In addition to the Samba Parade, and all the fun in the Streets, Rio offers a selection of Carnival balls you really should not miss. You won't have to spend a fortune to have a great time. Tickets to most balls will cost you around $20 to $50. If you are coming with a group you may reserve a table, or even a box.
One final note: It may be too late to get housing in Rio for Carnival. Rio is a year-round destination, but Carnival (usually in February) is the best time to soak up the city's energy. If you go, it’s always best to arrive a few days before the celebrations begin, or stay a few days after they end in order to enjoy the museums and other sights that close for the four days of revelry. Often, it is necessary to book your hotel and flight at least one year in advance for Carnival. Check with a reliable travel agent for sure.
To tour the city at a quieter time with gentler temperatures and at lower prices, come in the off-season, from May to October (Brazil's winter). The temperature in the winter tends to be in the upper 70s during the day and rarely falls below 50 degrees at night.
It’s not the worst place in the world to consider retirement, either.
• On average, expect 70 to 90 degrees temperature. 70 degrees Fahrenheit is considered chilly. Near the beach cities, you could reach 100+ humid degrees.
• The exchange rate for the American dollar as of this writing is equal to $1.00US = $1.73 Real (pronounced ‘hey-al.’
• According to a survey carried out by a U.S. magazine in 2003, Rio is the friendliest city in the world. Cariocas were the most helpful people in everyday situations such as when a stranger asked for information, dropped a pen, or had problems crossing a street.
A local newspaper once did a similar test. They had a reporter impersonate a tourist, and ask a police officer in the street for information in English. Most cops here are not bilingual, but they went our of their way trying to understand what was being asked, and always ended up finding someone willing to be the interpreter. This only helps to prove that the people play a major role in making Rio the Wonderful City. The language in Brazil is Portugese. Spanish is helpful as most Brazilians can follow Spanish reasonably well. A Portugese phrase book, however, would be helpful, and good PR!
• Brazilian goods are of excellent quality, and you will find everything from bikinis to gems, shoes, leathers, etc
• Finding your way around Rio is really not all that hard, even for first-timers. Most of the attractions are on the South Side of the city. The beaches, Guanabara Bay, and the lake are excellent references.
• Walking is one of the best ways to explore South Side neighborhoods. Pick out the right hotel and walk your way to the beaches, excellent restaurants, shopping, movies, theaters, concert halls, and all other conveniences. A stroll along the beach on Sundays is almost mandatory. One of the lanes is closed to cars, and pedestrians take over in grand style.
• There are bicycle lanes connecting all South Side neighborhoods, from Leblon to Leme and beyond. Go across the tunnel connecting you to Botafogo and reach the Flamengo Reclaim, one of the biggest urban parks in the world. There's another bicycle lane around Lagoa that is also very scenic. Many locals go two wheels, sharing the lane with rollerbladers, skaters and joggers. You may rent a bicycle at Ipanema Beach or Copacabana Beach on Sundays.
• Rio's subway is still relatively small, but it is very safe, comfortable and reliable. It is especially useful to take you from Copacabana to Botafogo, Flamengo, Gloria and Downtown. One-way tickets are about $1.50 US.
• Air-conditioned buses: Locally known as frescão (fresh-caun) - the fresh guys - air-conditioned buses can be hailed, just like taxis. They run along the beach, and connect South Side neighborhoods to each other, downtown, the airport and Barra. Beach corners and right in front of lifeguard stations are the informal stops. Take a ticket from the lady sitting in the front, and choose a seat. Later she will charge you and give your change. You may ask the driver to drop you off anywhere along the way. This service is available only during the day.
• With a new driving code and heavier fines and penalties, drivers in Rio de Janeiro are starting to act almost civilized. Now many cars actually stop at red lights, at least during the day, and drivers and passengers do wear a seatbelt. You do not need a car to get around the South Side, but it makes sense to rent one if you choose to stay in Barra, São Conrado, or take short trips off-Rio. As parking is not very easy in Rio, consider staying in an all-suite hotel - a parking spot is often part of the package. To secure the best rates available, rent your car online and pick it up at the international airport or in Copacabana. A compact with insurance and unlimited mileage will cost you about $70 (US) a day.
• We found, in just a few minutes on the Internet, beautiful properties ranging from $150,000 for a three bedroom, three bath home, to $680,000 for a mansion with six bedrooms, six bathrooms, swimming pool, maid’s quarters, solarium, spa, gym . . . all kinds of nice amenities with which to enjoy your retirement . . .
• Those who live in Rio call themselves Cariocas. You don't have to be born in Rio to be a Carioca. All you have to do is relax into the city lifestyle, and soon you will become one. There are some basics you should learn first, though, if you want to make friends with locals, that is.
The most important is that time is a flexible concept in Rio. Unless you are talking business meetings, half an hour late means perfectly on time. If you don't understand this, you will live on the verge of a nervous breakdown while in the city, sure that everybody is trying to leave you behind. There's another trait that is hard for visitors to figure out. Cariocas are a friendly breed, and they don't mind engaging in a conversation with perfect strangers. Brazilians are not Hispanic in the true sense of the word, but they share many Latin traces with their cousins. Cariocas have nothing against touching each other - two kisses on the cheeks is how boys and girls greet in informal situations. Throughout its history, Rio has welcomed waves of immigrants from all over the world. People with different religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds have long ago learned how to live peacefully with each other; more than that, how to interact.
Most everybody shares in common European, African and Native Brazilian roots. A typical Carioca is born Catholic, but you will find very little discrimination as to race, gender, or religion. It’s a very cosmopolitan place.
• Although Brazil is surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries, the language here is Portuguese. Your Spanish will help a lot, though. Most Cariocas understand it, if spoken slowly. Anyone dealing directly with tourists will understand, and try hard to speak English. French and Italian are the other two languages that are likely to be at least understood.
• Eating out in Rio is not an expensive experience. Even at the sophisticated restaurants there are dishes around $15 US. A bottle of mineral water or soda goes for less than $1 US, domestic beer or draft less than $2 US. Expect to spend per person from $5 US to $15 US at budget restaurants and snack bars, and from $20 US to $35 US at more sophisticated restaurants. If you really work at it and order a bottle of imported wine or champagne, appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert, you may be looking at $80 US and up. Some restaurants do not take credit cards. Ask first, to avoid any embarrassment. Check the menus outside, before you go in. If the restaurant does not have some display with the price list (it's the law), be ready for a big surprise. The additional 10% you see at the bottom of the bill is not the tax, it's the tip. You may round up, or give a little extra if service was outstanding. If the tip is not included, give at least 10%. Locals double-check the bill, and ask when they do not understand or agree with some detail. Proceed likewise.
Rio de Janeiro Beachhouse
Rio is jammed into what is probably the world's most beautiful setting: the ocean and escarpment. It has a population of 7 million "Cariocas," as Rio's inhabitants are called. This second-largest city in Brazil remains a major cultural capital and "emotional" capital as well. Majestic Rio is bordered on one side by a magnificent bay, and on the other side by a towering mountain range and tropical rain forest. Because of this beautiful setting, Rio has earned a reputation for being one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and thus its title "Marvelous City" (Cidade Maravilhosa).
For the history buffs, Rio de Janeiro was discovered on January (Janeiro) 1, 1502, by Portuguese navigators. Some say they mistook the entrance of Guanabara Bay for the mouth of a river (Rio) but any mariner worth his salt would have known it was not a river but a bay. Sixty years later,because French traders in search of pau-brasil (Brazilwood) were routinely "visiting" the area, the Portuguese crown established the city of Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro. After two years of bloody conflict the French were expelled and settlers began to cultivate the surrounding fertile lands.
In the beginning of the 18th century the city's importance and population increased immensely as it became the main shipping port for gold and diamonds. In 1763 Rio became the colonial capital. In 1808, as Napoleon's armies began the invasion of Portugal, the decision was made to transfer the monarch and his court to Rio de Janeiro, where he would remain until 1821. During this time Brazil was elevated in status from a colony to United Kingdom with Portugal. With the advent of independence, Rio became the capital of the new empire. The city prospered economically, and by 1891 it had a population of over 500,000 inhabitants, ranking it one of the largest cities in the world. As the city grew in prominence mountains were removed, bay water reclaimed, and skyscrapers constructed.
Economically, Rio de Janeiro is a service industry center, a key financial center, and a producer of foodstuffs, building materials, electrical equipment, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, beverages and textiles. But these are not generally what Rio is known for. The people of Rio enjoy the good things of life like no other people: beaches and beautiful bodies, samba and beer, football and cachaça (the local gin) .
Copacabana is probably the world's most famous beach, and runs for 4.5km (3 miles) in front of one of the most densely populated residential areas on the planet. From the scalloped beach you can see the granite slabs that surround the entrance to the bay. Ipanema is Rio's richest and most chic beach. Other beaches within and near the city include Pepino, Barra da Tijuca, Flamengo, and Arpoador.
The 47 sq mi Parque Nacional de Tijuca, is only 15 minutes from the Copacobana. The forest is an exuberant green, with beautiful trees and waterfalls.
Rio is definitely a city that lives in and for the sun. But, it cannot be denied: Rio has enormous problems.
Like all paradises, there are upsides and downsides.
In Rio de Janeiro one of the downsides is the favelas (shanty towns). A third of the people live in the favelas that are located on many of the hillsides; the poor have no schools, no doctors, no jobs; drug abuse and violence are endemic; police corruption and brutality are commonplace.
Sam “MoMo” Giancana’s home at 1104 S. Wenonah Ave, Oak Park Illinois
Rio's reputation as a violent city has caused a sharp reduction in tourism in the last several years, and there is even a special police unit which patrols areas frequented by gringos in an effort to keep them safe - recent reports suggest they have been pretty successful.
But, I have found over the years that you can find pretty much what you’re looking for in any major city. You want beauty, architecture, good food, good night life, you can find it. You want trouble? You want the seamy side of life? You can find that as well.
I remember when first moving to Chicago I had visions of gangsters on every corner, with Tommyguns, chewing on big fat cigars and saying “youse guys” a lot.
I not only found the house where Sam “MoMo” Giancana, the famous Chicago Mafia Don lived (about 10 blocks from our apartment at 1147 S. Wenonah, in Oak Park), I found out where other Chicago mobsters had lived as well . . . but I also found lots of wonderful restaurants, great museums, zoos, and somehow I managed to discover Lake Michigan, all by myself.
What’s more . . . those of us who were born and raised in Paradise (otherwise known as San Diego) probably don’t know or appreciate the many beautiful sights there are to see; not nearly as much as those of us who moved in from outside the area and went exploring to discover them all. That was true when we moved to Chicago, and when we moved to San Diego. And so it will be true for you if and when you visit Rio de Janeiro. There’s lots to learn, lots to explore, lots to see!
The other things to consider.
It can be an expensive plane ticket and a long plane ride. It is, after all, 6211 miles from San Diego to Rio de Janeiro.
We checked with John Nigro at Vineyard Travel in Escondido (760.741.6667) and found we could get a round trip ticket LA/Miami/Rio for $1156, including taxes. That’s better than other fares we found by Googling . . . we found fares ranging from $1700 to $1929. Elapsed flight time of around 13 hours with a one hour layover in Miami.
The best fare we found was for students and teachers via STA Travel out of Pacific Beach (858- 270-6401). If you qualify, you can secure a round trip ticket for $849 plus tax (taxes can run from $100 to $200). Figure around $1000. Flight time: Leave San Diego at 1pm, arrive Rio de Janeiro the next day at 10:30am, with a one hour layover in Washington, D. C.
Students typically stay at hostels. They may be available at $15 to $19 per night; hotels from $67 to $80 per night; higher end hotels, expect a low of $140 to $180 per night to $350-400 per night, and up. For the Carnival Season, higher end hotels may be difficult to find at this late date. Some of the premiere hotels book up to a year in advance of Carnival.
So there you are! Your next really big vacation spot! All mapped out for you. (You may want to contact a good travel agent. They can make your trip so much more enjoyable and often save you money!).