When I arrived in Buenos Aires, Mehek was finishing up her last week of a summer internship. That meant that I had three days to explore on my own. I had booked a round trip flight to Buenos Aires when I had first planned the trip, since we didn’t know where we would spend our vacation. Our initial hope was to head to Patagonia – the stunning snow-capped mountains and cute penguins wobbling about – but the realities of winter on the tip of the continent, almost to Antartica, quickly shot down that idea. We’d also considered Mendoza, Argentina’s answer to the Napa Valley we had easy access to at Berkeley, Santiago, and Vilparaiso. But we were both craving warm sunshine.
Once we heard about Brazil’s new eVisa, where for a low price Americans could easily apply online and hear back about their visa status in just 5 days, we immediately picked Brazil. Initially, we had ruled it out due to the horror stories of friends spending weeks shuttling to and from the Brazilian embassy trying to get their paperwork in order. But this new visa made it possible, and we immediately planned out a weekend to visit our top destinations. Rio was the city I was most excited for on this trip, and it did not disappoint.
As soon as we arrived in Rio, despite having slept in the airport, we headed straight to Ipanema beach to enjoy the sunshine. Little did we know that that morning would be the sunniest of our entire trip, and our beachy getaway would be plagued by us cuddling up in sweaters. I only brought one light jacket for the trip, and wound up wearing it every single day.
Before visiting, I knew Rio was a stunning city. The steep forested hills contrasted against sprawling concrete jungle are iconic and unique. But Rio surpassed my expectations because it was such a vibrant city. Not only were the views, like this one from Christ the Redeemer, beautiful, but so were all the people and life on the streets. At nighttime, bar-goers spill out into the sidewalks and mingle with one another regardless of the night of the week. The outdoor block party we visited on Monday night at Pedra do Sal was more lively than any club I’d visited in San Francisco or Ecuador. It was filled with caipirinhas, samba dancers spinning around on the dance floor, and friendly men happy to teach a foreigner with two left feet how to join in.
I had also been heavily forewarned about the dangers of visiting Rio. When I first arrived, I felt paranoid and on edge about getting pick-pocketed. But Ecuador has its fair share of pick-pocketers as well, and by using the same strategies I do in Quito or Guayaquil, I didn’t feel like I was in any more danger than other large cities I’ve visited. I kept my cell phone tucked into my waistband, cash split between several inside pockets, and only took out my phone when necessary (like to remember which Metro stop to get off). So if you visit, be cautious, but don’t let fear stop you from coming!
Its a popular project for Peace Corps volunteers to paint a world map mural in local schools to help teach them about the wide world outside of Ecuador, and help themselves feel situated on the map. Seeing this mural gave me inspiration for how I could do my own. Maybe highlight famous people from across the world, instead of the couples featured here?
Rio was just one of the three cities we visited in Brazil – stay tuned for stories and photos from llha Grande and Sao Paulo!