City explorers // rule breakers // Rio carnivalers
Brazil Part Two- 50 hours in Rio is not enough…
If you missed Part One of my Brazil blog click HERE.
I think of myself as a city person, I live in a city, I work in a city, I choose city breaks every time – you get it, right, I love cities. But, I was scared about coming to Rio. And not just new place nerves – full on fear. I’ll put this down to a few things, well a few people really;
* DB, cautious by nature, had been to Rio previously and had come back with stories about how edgy and dangerous it was (although nothing had actually happened to back this up).
* Renato – my newfound Brazilian adoptive dad – wise and all knowing, and concerned for our safety, had spent a lot of the past few days telling us how dangerous Rio was. “Muito perigoso”, very dangerous, “get taxis EVERYWHERE, make sure your driver is waiting outside, NEVER get your phone out in public, don’t carry money or credit cards outside, don’t wear any jewelry, call me if you get in trouble”.
* Elson, our driver – we’d spent about 6 hours in cars with each other so far and although he lived in Rio, he was also quick to tell us how dangerous it was. He looked visibly nervous when we gave him the address of our hotel, and explained that there had been gang shootings nearby. Perfect.
A bit of ‘historical’ context for our trip to Brazil – we flew out just as the UK media was gripped by panic over the potential apocalyptical devastation of the Zika virus. Colleagues, family members, and even my hairdresser asked with genuine concern “so are you still going to go?”. With this in mind it seemed fitting that while in Rio we stayed in Casa Mosquito.
Casa Mosquito is built into the hillside between Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. You enter via an unassuming gate on a narrow street, but as soon as you go through the gate you are in another world. You climb up several flights of steep steps to get to the reception area. Casa Mosquito is without a doubt the most fabulously cool hotel I’ve ever stayed in in my whole life. Everything about it screamed cool. DB and I arrived with backpacks, wearing standard travel clothes and had a moment of self-doubt – what were 2 thirty something office workers even doing in this oasis of chic?
The staff had the best uniforms – they all wore shirts or dresses in an awesome jungle print – imagine a Justina Blakeney Jungalow interior – I was in love already. We were welcomed by Rosa, the manager, who told us to treat the hotel like a relaxing house and make ourselves at home. She also reassured us that it was perfectly safe to walk around Rio. She had a really calming energy about her and instantly I felt more confident that everything would be OK and perhaps we stood a chance of making it out of here alive.
One of the things that made Casa Mosquito particularly special (and played a big part in us choosing to stay there) was the rooftop pool and terrace. The terrace had views of the city and beaches and behind the bar you could see over to the favelas. This was a view that I became a bit obsessed with, especially as sun fell and the kites started flying high above the buildings. Our barman explained that these are fighting “pipas” (kites). These along with the pumping house music and twinkling lights had me hooked.
We touristed and we carnivaled
We had to see Cristo Redentor – obviously. We’d read that it’s best to go in the morning, and that you have to get the train up the mountain. So we were very disappointed when we got up early (missing breakfast) and got to the train station, only to find that the train was fully booked until 4pm. There were guys walking around in polo shirts and caps offering bus trips up the mountain. At first we assumed this was some sort of scam, but the lady at the train ticket office told us it was OK. So top tips for Cristo Redentor is either book train tickets in advance, or find a guy selling bus tickets. Oh and also be prepared for a lot of queuing, and a lot of tourists. It was worth it though – to get up close and personal with the big man, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World no less, and of course to take some snaps for the Insta.
The other big tourist thing we did was a walk up and down Ipanema beach where DB enjoyed the Brazilian penchant for thong bikinis.
And then there was the main reason we were in Rio at all – CARNIVAL! I could probably write a whole dissertation length blog just about carnival, but I’ll try to be concise. It. Was. Incredible.
We had prebooked Sambadrome tickets in sector 9 which is the tourist sector (this was when we were still scared and risk averse). Sector 9 is right in the middle of the parade route, so you have great views, it is opposite the judging area so you tend to get a bit of showboating by the performers which is also really cool. The other big selling point of sector 9 is that you get assigned seats even in the grandstand area – which to be honest, I did really appreciate. It meant you could get up to go to the bathroom or get food/drink without someone else taking your spot. The downside was there were a lot of tour groups in the sector and lots of these groups left around 1am, so the atmosphere perhaps suffered a bit as a result.
We made friends with a Brazilian couple who told us all the stories that the Samba schools had built their routines around. It made it more enjoyable knowing what the parades are about. I had no idea that there was a storytelling aspect to the parades, so if you do come to carnival I’d say it’s definitely worth researching what the stories are that year!
My one regret about Rio is that we didn’t have time to see the Selaron Steps, which is why I feel passionately that 50 hours in this city wasn’t enough. At least it means I’ve got a legit excuse to go back though!
We broke all the rules on day 1
Within a few hours of arriving in Rio we had broken all of Renato’s rules – we had walked places, we had got our phones out to use the map, AND taken photos. And you know what, nothing bad happened. It could be that we were amazingly lucky. It could be, that like some panto scene, there were baddies ‘behind us’ constantly who just happened to be foiled and distracted by other things. It could be that I was blissfully walking around, head in the clouds, happily unaware of several murders and muggings and kidnappings going on around us. Or it could be that Rio is actually an OK city to be a tourist in, and that because of big events like the World Cup and the Olympics, the city has increased policing and made a big effort to make it a safer place to be. Whatever the reason I felt safer here than in parts of some European cities I’ve visited, and, if you’re considering Rio but are scared of the ‘dangerous’ reputation, I’d say come here and make up your own mind.
Have our holiday
We stayed at Casa Mosquito in the Villa-Lobos room. We booked through Splendia because they had availability on their website when the actual hotel website was showing fully booked. I would stay in this hotel 100 times over, it was everything.