This week my husband went to Rio de Janeiro mostly for business and I tagged along. It was a lot of travel for a short time there — two overnights on planes in a week — but we had some adventures nonetheless:
* Walking along the beach in Copacabana. The beach is beautiful, with walking and bike paths.
* Dancing the samba (or approximation thereof) with some serious drumming.
* Going up Sugar Loaf Mountain. I don’t particularly like heights, and you have to go up in a cable car, but at least the car is fast, and covered. You don’t have to look out if you don’t want to. I kind of stood in the middle and then admired the views once I was on top of the mountain.
* Seeing the main football stadium when it was completely empty. That is one massive space.
* I went on a favella tour. This was probably the most interesting part of Rio for me. I visited Brazil in college and the bus had gone past numerous slums (they’re unavoidable) and I was curious about them. So I went with a group to a “pacified” favella, where the police have a presence and the community has instituted formal structures like community centers. There was plumbing and electricity. So no where near as bad as some of them (more on this in a minute), and a lot less violence than in the past. I took a picture of a bullet hole in a school mural. We climbed up hundreds of twisting cliffside steps past all the garbage and stray dogs, and saw the homes and businesses built into the cliffs. I toured a children’s center sponsored by UNESCO that had a pleasing number of computers and — just as nice — an elevator back down to street level so I didn’t have to walk down the hundreds of hillside steps. Though I shouldn’t complain; there are people who make that walk as their commute daily.
* Trying coconut water. Straight out of the coconut. It’s better than the supermarket stuff!
And then there was one too-adventurous moment. On the bus ride back to the airport, we got stuck in a giant rush hour traffic jam. Nothing too momentous there, but then we noticed there was no traffic going on the other side of the highway. We soon came to a bus blocking the opposite lanes. Both front windows were shot out. Our driver informed us we were going through one of the other favellas (hidden by walls, a non-pacified one, apparently) and I don’t know if the other bus got caught in gang crossfire or what. But soon there were more shots nearby, and a whole SWAT team of Rio police officers running by with machine guns next to us. Meanwhile we are creeping along. Fortunately, we eventually moved forward out of the danger zone.
(And made our flight on time).
I’m curious to see how Brazil will handle the Olympics in two years. Obviously, the country hosted the World Cup and managed to keep everyone safe during that, but the Olympics is a giant target. Russia and China had their authoritarian ways of keeping violence locked up, but in Brazil it will be a slow struggle to keep trying to turn more favelas into livable places vs. war zones. Such issues play into the presidential election (happening this weekend) and it was interesting to see the political signs plastered all over the favella I visited. I’ll be watching to see who wins.