Rio De Janeiro People in No Mood for Bossa Nova and Samba

March 17, 2016

The tag line for this blog is a semi-haphazard trip around the world and our  stop overs in Rio and Ethiopia on our way to Asia is an example of how some destinations were selected by chance.

The plan was to start the trip in South America followed by Asia, the middle wast and Europe. However, there are no direct flights between South America and Eastern Asia and the connecting flights through the US, Europe, Australia and Dubai are expensive and inconvenient. The solution came from a chance search on Kayak for flights from Brazil to Japan which turned up the Ethiopian Airlines flight via Addis Ababa. For the sum of $2,000 (can)  the two of us could fly from Rio to Addis Ababa and then on to Tokyo as distance of 20,000 km. I  did some research on Ethiopia and found out that it had a long and interesting history, was safe for tourists and offered trekking destinations. Ethiopian airline is the largest in Africa and the route is serviced by 787’s. I was convinced and worked on convincing Eliot. Next thing you know, we booked our flights to Japan via Rio with a 10 day stop over in Addis Ababa.

Based on our Colombian and Ecuadorean bus rides we decided that it would be better to fly to Rio rather than bus it across the Brazilian hinterland. For 15,000 aeroplane miles per person we were able to book direct flights from Lima to Rio (about 3,500 kms). With flights booked the Rio trip was set.  Eric Jemetz decided to join us in Rio and Mario Vasquez arranged his vacation so that he could meet up with us. So we were 4.

Neither Eliot nor I have ever been to Rio. Based on James Bond movies, and Stan Getz tapes I had this romantic notion of beautiful brown-skinned people strolling on beaches speaking that sexy version of Portuguese playing bossa nova music and dancing samba.

The people and beaches did meet my expectations but the city itself was no quaint seaside town. The location is as stunning as it is on TV, there are beaches, mountains and tropical plants.  Flip flops were common, and the weather was sultry. But otherwise it was large very modern city with a metro, extensive tunnels and high-rises.  Some areas reminded me of Toronto. Perhaps  the people were too busy worrying about work, the economy and the worsening Petrobras scandal to be singing bossa nova. During out visit former president Lula was accused of corruption based on the use of luxury homes. Playing the populist, his retort was that every rich guy in the country can visit someone’s luxury estate except for a “shitty miner” like me. Even the upcoming Olympics did not seem to matter to the locals and we did not see many signs of the 2016 olympics other that unfinished contraction sites and  havaianas flip flops with the Olympic logo.

We rented an apartment in Ipanema. It faced a green mountain slope and was three blocks from the beach and 2 blocks from a metro station. I arrived two days after Eliot and Eric because of my visa blues.  We visited the downtown area and took a free a tour of city hall (which used to be the capital building when Rio was the capital). Our guide was  a young intern who pretended to speak Spanish. He took us into the municipal chamber and showed us paintings of various battles- all won by Brazil.  The steep upper parts of the hills have favelas (shanty towns) and you see a number of young people and mothers that come from the favelas to work.  Eric took us up a special elevator next to the metro station that goes up about 10 stories to provide favela residents with easier access to the city.

The trip to the statue of Christ the Redeemer was a lesson in the need to plan for visiting popular sites. It was low season and we thought we could just show up and take the train to the summit. When we got to the ticket office at 10 am we were told the next available train up was at 2.30 pm. We opted for the mini-bus option which proceeded as follows:

Step 1- board mini-bus across the street from train station- drive 500 meters to ticket booth;

Step 2. get off mini-bus pay $18 for mini-bus  tickets;

Step 3 board another mini-bus drive up the mountain to reception centre;

Step 4. get off mini bus wait in line 15 minutes to buy tickets for the site;

Step 5. get into another line for a mini-bus to take us from reception centre to the mountain top;

Step 6. wait 30 minutes in line for 5 minute drive to mountain top, get off bus and line up to enter the site and have our tickets checked;

Step 7. Enter site, climb stairs past tourist shops selling glow in the dark Christ the redeemer night lights. Arrive at mountain top, squeeze through  hordes of tourists to take photos;

Step 8. Take mini-bus down to reception centre;

Step 9 Line up for another mini-bus to take us down the mountain; and

Step 10 Take 2nd mini-bus down the mountain.

One woman videoed the entire ride up and down on the mini-bus. Eric joked that he was going to ask her for the link because he could not wait to see the videos once she has them posted

The process for visiting the site was either an example of hopeless organization or a brilliant scheme to avoid over crowding. After that we decided to focus on the beach and the restaurants. The beach was packed with a lot of very good looking people (see beach clip). There were muscles and pecks, tits and string bikinis as far as the eye could see.  There was not a lot of hair, I guess they call it a Brazilian for a reason. I have the “Litvack” cut which is a cross between steel wool and Jewfro. The waves were almost as big as some of the egos.  In addition to the usual drinks, vendors were selling selfie sticks, grilled cheese on a stick and empanadas.

Restaurants were a  bit more challenging than Peru. We found the food to be heavy, and bland.  The per-kilo restaurants had the best assortments of fresh food, we also found a place that served ice cold beer and fried chicken at all hours of the night. On our last day Eliot and I splurged on a Brazilian BBQ restaurant in which they bring out grilled meats on skewers and slice it onto your plate. It was a vegetarians nightmare. However, we repented by eating virtually no meat in Ethiopia.  We went to this area called Lapa for music and Portuguese food. The place had great street art and was hopping.

On March 4,  I spent my 50th birthday on the beach and Eliot brought me a cake with 5 candles. It did not feel like a big deal turning 50. Maybe it was because I was so far away from most family and friends. Perhaps I was just putting the idea of mortality out of my mind as the adventure continues.  Maybe, the trip was making me feel young. On my 40th Birthday I was single and working as a tax lawyer. I could not have imagined being in Brazil on my 50th with Eliot. Who knows where I will be for my 60th? None of us know what the tide will bring in.

In the end I think it would have been better to have spent more time in Brazil. The change in language and the modernity of the place was a culture shock after 6 weeks in Peru.  A week spent in a touristy city was not enough time to get a sense of the place or the people.

On March 5, we boarded a flight in Rio for Sao Paulo where caught our flight to Addis Ababa.


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1 comment

  1. Comment by Maureen

    Maureen Reply March 17, 2016 at 9:32 am

    What a time to be in Brazil, politically! There is so much in this post to love, especially from the comfort of my kitchen table. Happy birthday, Lorne. I thought you were about 36. Are you sure that the mini bus ride up the mountain didn’t just give you the illusion that 14 years had passed?

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