Rio de Janeiro is a bundle of contradictions and we love it.
After an ignominious start to our time in the Marvellous City, Rio knocked our socks off! Moving from the hotel to the flat we rented gave us a better look at the grittier elements of what was on offer. Traffic, masses of people, graffiti and favelas told us we weren’t anywhere close to home. But…
There is a vibe in Rio that set aside Brazil from the rest of the countries we visited in South America. Rio gave us exactly what we needed exactly at the right time. Cariocas have a tremendous pride in their city. They are open, welcoming and warm. Our Portuguese is atrocious but efforts to communicate in the local language were met with enthusiasm and a willingness to figure-it-out! Having picked up a couple of basic polite phrases, augmented by mispronounced Google Translate sentences, we never felt we couldn’t get our point across and were met more than halfway in our efforts.
There were some common themes in our conversations as people asked us what we thought of Rio, how we were enjoying our time and, most common, the importance of being safe.
Safety was always in the forefront of our mind - to the point I’ve never experienced before. Prior to having kids, I’ve been to a few dodgy places but as a family, Jody and I felt we needed to think of additional considerations: when to go out; when to come home; limited cash on hand; a decoy wallet; bank and credit cards hidden in different spots; etc. My head was always on a swivel and Jody was always keeping an eye on the backpack.
The flat we rented was in an absolutely brilliant location - right between Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and we could see both from our windows. Arapodor is (reasonably) safe and has a well-defined community with more residential living rather than businesses or hotels. While just up the street from Copa and Carnaval in full swing, it felt like we were some of the only tourists in the area. The architecture, patterns and designs in the sidewalks and the pride locals take in their homes really gave us a feel for this part of Rio. There was a small grocery store down the street from us and we hit it up everyday for the basics and by mid-week got to know the rhythm and patterns of Arapodor.
On our first night in the flat, we headed to my friend Kamal’s home to meet his family and have dinner. A few blocks away, we decided to walk down the street to check out Ipanema, make our way along the beachfront before heading a few blocks inland to reach his condo. It was an easy walk to the beach but the closer we got the more and more crowded the streets became.
We hit Ipanema and our pace slowed to a crawl as we were now shoulder-to-shoulder with a million revellers. This was the biggest crowd any of us had ever been in. I put Avery on my shoulders and she had the best view of all that was going on. She asked if she could have my phone to take pictures of the crowd - she would have gotten some great shots but we thought it best to leave the technology deep in my pocket and away from anyone keen on a grab and dash. Not that they could get very far though…
The crowd was a sweaty, tangled mess and you couldn’t lift your arms over your head without hitting at least four people around you (Avery on my shoulders - perdon! desculpe!). The police presence was also significant. For the most part, the officers in the crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves too with the music, dancing and female attention. While it was still prior to 7pm, I could sense the energy in the crowd building and that things might start going sideways if the police felt things weren’t going as they should. We managed to slip off a side street after about two blocks and saw an even stronger police presence with all the available tools of their trade for crowd control.
The next day we found out there were no issues and the only damage that occurred on the beach was self-inflicted but easily cured with sleep, water and acetylsalicylic acid.
It was great to be able to spend time with Kamal, his wife Raphaelle and their three boys Gael, Rommy and Jonah. Kamal and I went to university and played rugby together many years ago. We picked up very quickly from where we left off and my girls disappeared with their new friends until it was time to go — they may have been starved of interactions with kids their own age. It was great to see how well everyone got on over the week.
This was also an opportunity for us to get to learn about life in Brazil from fellow Canadians. Raph works for the Federal Government and was offered a posting in Rio a few years ago. Kamal and Raph made the very brave decision to move their family from Ottawa to a different continent. They took Portuguese lessons and enrolled their boys in a French international school in Rio. The Dantreks only have a smattering of Spanish and French, so Jody and I watched with great envy as Kamal and Raph interacted with their boys in French, English and Portuguese interchangeably.
Over the next week, we got the inside scoop. Kamal introduced us to a number of things we wouldn’t have done if we were on our own - Parque Lage, the weekly market at General Osorio Square, the hike up Pao d’Azucar, the walk around the lagoon, surf lessons at Ipanema and most importantly, the Parade of Champions. They wanted to show us the ‘real’ Rio and make sure we got the most of our time. This included some great conversations about the disparity of life in Rio, favelas and the pride people have in where they live regardless of their community. A really unique moment for our girls came when we discovered that our surf instructor, Filipe, came from a favela and was working hard to establish his business and buy a few more boards to help it grow. We had a really good conversation with Meghan and Avery on what favelas were and that the people who live there are just like us. Needless to say Kamal and Raph were incredible guides and made a great week in Rio even better.
The only issue experienced was on the last day when we were inundated by several hawkers at the beach pushing their wares. Somehow, someway, someone made off with Kamal’s bag right while we were standing there. We still have no idea how he/she (?) was able to do that. It acts as a good reminder to always be vigilant…
In terms of the echelon of places we’ve visited on this trip, Rio is right near the top. We will definitely be making our way back to the Marvellous City. What a fantastic place.
We're the Danchuks - follow our explorations and family adventures in a wide world (2018).