I'm beginning this blog entry on the plane flight from São Paulo to Houston, which means I may or may not get it done by the time I arrive in the US. It's a long flight, but I'm fighting off sleep right now. It's so crazy how fast the past 3 1/2 months have gone by.
To continue the story… So, I didn't actually get to Rio the day I said I would. Reason being, Rio had more rainfall in one day than it typically has in one month- 7 inches! This coupled with a not-so-sophisticated drainage system meant for some serious flooding both in the city and on the roads leading to the city, including the one that the buses take from São Paulo. Luckily, I managed to bump forward my hostel reservation in Rio by one day and lost no money in the process.
I enjoyed my extra day in São Paulo, especially walking some more around the area and visiting the SP Contemporary Art Museum. I was surprised that the museum had free entry, and even more surprised to see how empty it was. Six floors of some really cool exhibits and I only saw one other visitor the entire time I was there. The museum was eerily quiet, populated only with 2-3 bored-looking security guards on each floor. I asked if this deserted environment was normal and the guard replied that yes, the only visitors these days were the occasional tourist and elementary school group. Pretty sad, as I honestly thought this museum was more interesting than the more popular MASP.
That evening, I reunited with my friend Elaine the two of us met up with a couple friends of hers. We started the evening at a local bar known to have the best coxinhas in São Paulo- and they were incredible! We ended up checking out a cover band at another bar- mostly American music, but the band was talented and the company was good.
Early the next morning, I dragged myself out of bed and took the metro to the bus terminal to catch a 9:15 bus to Rio. After an uneventful ride, I arrived and caught another bus from Rio's terminal to my hostel in Copacabana. The hostel was definitely the most expensive one I've stayed in so far, but the 70 reais (about $30) per night was worth it for the clean, safe accommodations and for the location, about 3 blocks from the famous Copacabana beach. Even though the weather never became true “beach weather,” for this midwesterner, a beach is a beach!
My first evening in Rio, I met up with a local couchsurfer who graciously showed me a little bit around Lapa, a Bohemian artist district and a popular area for night life in Rio. We walked through the “street party,” complete with musicians, venders, and dancing, checked out the famous tiled staircase (the cops stationed at the top and bottom of the stairs did little to deter the cocaine addicts I witnessed on our way down), and ended up at another forró dancing club. José, my couchsurfer buddy, ended up being quite the forró dancer and we had a great time.
I met another couchsurfer in the morning and took a tour of the beautiful municipal theater in downtown Rio, per his suggestion.
I then navigated the Rio public transportation over to the Corcorvado, the mountain housing the famous white Christ statue overlooking Rio. It was there that I met a new friend, Jimmy, a New Yorker who was in Rio for the month visiting friends. Jimmy and I rode in a van up the hill to the statue which was every bit as magnificent as it appears in the movies. Not to mention the view was spectacular. The people-watching was actually an extra perk- the only way to get a full picture of the Christ from the base was to lay on the ground. Of course the resulting pictures were not the most flattering from a double chin perspective but they were still entertaining =).
That evening, I reunited with Valerie and Muz, my friends from back in Quito. I joined them and some of their friends in a visit to a well-known samba school in one of the favelas (shanty-towns) of Rio. In Brazil, during the several months leading up to February's famous Carnaval events, the samba schools who will be competing in Carnaval begin their weekly rehearsals, and open them to the public (for a fee of course). The event at the Mangueira school was so much fun- amazing drummers in the samba band plus bright colored costumes and men, women, and children who could move their feet and butts like I'd never seen before.
The following day, I started my morning with a long beach walk, one of many I would enjoy over the course of the weekend, and had brunch with Valerie and Muz on a peninsula where a military fort is also located. The best part of brunch, aside from the delicious prosciutto salad, was the view of the Copacabana beach and the stand-up paddleboaters. We headed over to an Ipanema street fair with arts and crafts, known as the “Hippie Fair” in the afternoon.
In the evening I met up with a couple from the hostel, a German and Brazilian guy, who live in Germany together but were visiting the Brazilian's family for the holidays. Over beers and picanha at a local boteco (for those that have read my blogs before, this vocabulary should start to sound familiar!), we had a long and very enlightening discussion of political, cultural and economic differences and similarities between our countries.
Finally, my last day in Rio was filled with more beach walking, sunbathing (the sun finally came out for a few minutes!), lunch with Jimmy in Ipanema, snacks and conversation with Valerie and Muz in the evening, and an overnight bus back to São Paulo. I was hoping for a sunset in Rio (those of you who have followed this blog also know I will do anything to catch a good sunset), but instead, I experienced a peaceful moment on the beach, watching the rain on the horizon, the orange of a sun setting somewhere, the lights of a favela flickering on, and all the while eating a delicious mango. Life is good.
My final 36 hours in São Paulo were spent with my dear friends, Anna and Marcel, who I am already missing. Marcel took us out for sushi for dinner and between the three of us we finished a huge boat! São Paulo has the largest Japanese population next to Japan, so the quality of the sushi was no surprise. The next day, Anna was off of work and took me to Villa Madalena, a neighborhood which up to that point I only knew at night. We wandered around the quaint streets, stopped in some quirky little shops, and checked out “Batman Alley,” known for its everchanging graffiti artwork (I guess batman was among the original graffiti but today, no longer makes his presence known). Marcel drove me to the airport after work, and this epoch of my trip has come to an end.
I am actually finishing this blog entry after a few days of being home, and I have had time to reflect a bit since then. What have I learned so far about myself as a solo backpacker? Over these last few months, I have experienced three different kinds of travel activities. The first is volunteering. The second is visiting with friends, and friends of friends, aka hanging with the locals. And the third was “playing the tourist.” I have learned that the third activity was for me the most difficult and draining. As a single female traveling, I sometimes found myself in situations where going out alone was not only a lonely prospect, but also a potentially unsafe idea. I found that my extroversion served me well in terms of meeting fellow travelers to do things with, but that sometimes this process became exhausting when it was a necessity. I also now understand that I tend to feel the happiest when I am staying busy and involved in an activity that serves people, or when I am in the company of the local people and delving a little deeper into the culture of a country. Learning this, has made me consider modifying my next leg of the journey. My original plan was to spend a month in the Dominican Republic and then a month each in Italy, France, and Spain for a total of three months in Europe. I am now working on finalizing an opportunity to serve with Timmy Global Health as a long-term volunteer in a community in the Dominican Republic, where I will hopefully be working with a Dominican doctor seeing patients and developing heath projects in the community. This commitment would be at a minimum until the end of February, with the potential of even a few more months. Europe is still on the horizon at this point, but my time there will likely be shortened, and I am okay with this. I think I may end up taking Europe in pieces, on a series of smaller trips over the next several years.
Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to read my blog entries and in this way have shared in a part of my journey. I look forward to continuing my writing in the Dominican Republic sometime mid-January.