Oy, Rio De Janiero, Brazil!
As an adventurous traveler, I have a long bucket list of things to do around the world before I die... Carnaval in Rio De Janiero was one of them! I have a 5-6ish year vendetta to hit up all the global party spots in the world before I get old, wrinkly, and creeper (basically before I turn 30)... so I was planning a trip to Rio this year for Carnaval.. sadly, the timing was horrible since I was in Mississippi training for work. I had vacation time after Mississippi, so I thought, "well.... I've never been to South America...Why the hell not and still just go to Rio?!" So that was the plan! The original plan was to stay in Rio de Janiero and then take a relaxing week in the beautiful island of Fenando de Noranha a.k.a Heaven on earth. Little did I know was how DIFFICULT it is to get a plane ticket or just travel domestically within Brazil especially if 1) You don't speak Portugese 2) are not Brazilian. I have learned that purchasing tickets of any kind (bus, train, plane) are almost impossible to get until you are in Brazil and have a Brazilian to help you. So Plan A for Brazilian vacation unfortunately changed... Instead, we decided to go to another island getaway... a little more touristy, but definitely still a paradise.
Hanhwa and I took a night flight out on AA from DFW to Rio de Janiero. International AA flights are TERRIBLE. I have never been so uncomfortable before on an international flight. I have flown AA internationally going from Dallas to London (and back), Dallas to Spain (and back), Dallas to Paris (and back), and now Dallas to Rio de Janiero... all just horrible.. I don't think I will ever take an economy international flight on AA again...
Our flight landed into Rio at about 8:30AM in the morning, so I assumed that we would at least have half a day after lunch to do some sight seeing... very, very wrong... Whenever I go overseas, I travel with my handy dandy Charles Schwab Debit card, which has 0% international fees and no ATM charges, thus PERFECT for traveling! I never carry cash with me because I know that I can go to any ATM and pull as much as I need... But when we landed into Rio, there was trouble.. Hanhwa and I ran around the tiny Rio airport with our luggage back and forth trying to find an ATM... It was so difficult trying to first try and find out where an ATM with my broken Spanish/Portugese and when we FINALLY found a row of ATMs... NONE OF THEM WORKED. WTF?! I was so confused on why my reliable Charles Schwab did not work.. An error message in Portuguese kept popping up with beeping... the whole time I was just standing there in complete stupor thinking "WTH!!! ARE YOU SAYING TO ME?!?! WHY ARE YOU FREAKING BEEPING AT ME OMG WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?!?!?!?" Frustrated, sweaty, and sleepless, we made it though finding a taxi was another bump along the road. ATM was a complete fail, but luckily Hanhwa had 100 USD to pay for our taxi... Hanhwa was already paranoid from scary stories she heard from one Brazilian about how dangerous Rio was and on top of that there were some shady taxi drivers and a creeper man that kept following us... so I was trying to be extremely careful, so we paid more in price at a taxi stand for a safer taxi option.
Driving towards the city from the airport there were run down buildings, traffic EVERYWHERE, crazy drivers, people in the middle of the highway selling these strange popcorn snacks (Globo shit.. that's what we called it), and a backdrop of the ghettoest buildings I have ever seen before... My first time seeing a real Rio de Janiero Favela.. endless favelas along the highway reaching past the horizon, seriously favelas as far as I can see. I could not believe my eyes.. People still live like this?! Even in a large metropolis like Rio? It literally smelled like shit and garbage the whole 1 hour we were in traffic passing the Favelas. Although the this was the first impression of Rio, I stil had hope for this city!!
We finally made it to Lemon Spirit Hostel around 12PM. We tried to find another bank to pull cash out from... We literally went to 4-5 banks and still no luck! Apparently Brazilian banks do not take American credit/debit cards and I have just learned it the very hard way. So for two to three hours, Hanhwa and I walked back and forth along the same streets in Leblon trying to find a bank. Even major banks like Barclays and BNP Paribas ATMs would not accept our cards. Luckily there was an HSBC that accepted our cards, but only allowed a limit of 300 Reals a day, which is about 150USD.
After our extremely tiring search for a working ATM, we stopped by a little cafe for a Linner (Lunch/Dinner)... After all we went through up to this point in Brazil, I really wished that I had learned a bit of Portugese before I came. Ordering was difficult to say the least... The only thing I recognized was "caipirinhas." Who knew Linguica is Sausage?! After struggling for about 30 minutes trying to translate the menu, we chose two sandwiches that were NOT impressive... and the Caipirinhas were SO strong which is bad.. and good.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the beautiful Leblon beach (only about 2 blocks away), walking around the majestic Jardim Botânico (the Botanical Garden), and walk around the active path of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas a.k.a. the Lagoa. No matter where we went, we saw the Cristo Redento or the Christ the Redeemer statue. Although it is tiny up on the top of the mountain and along the skyline of the city, it still has a lingering presence, hovering and watching the city. It was seriously an amazing half day exploring and soaking in this scenic town (and it's also nice to know that Jesus is physically always watching over us ;) ).
For dinner we finally got some real, authentic Brazilian food. We ate Brazilian beef with these baby potatoes. One word, YUM... Salty, but the beef quality was tender and juicy. After all the walking we did plus the restless sleep on the plane, Hanhwa and I were just exhausted... so after dinner was a perfect time for a siesta!
Baidy, one of my friends from MS training, traveled into Rio de Janiero, so he connected me with some of his friends in town. I spoke with Vitor, who was the DJ and event planner for a club in Lapa district. Apparently Lapa district is known for street parties, performances, cheap drinks, street dancing, and is just the poppin' place to go on Fridays, so of course we HAD to go! We met up Vitor at his apartment and headed into Lapa. It was SO lively and exhilarating! The color and the energy of Lapa was rejuvenating. There was so much going on everywhere, there was so much to see, and delicious smells coming from every direction.. Vitor, his girlfriend Natalie, Hanhwa, and I got went to the Lair of Funk, a medieval club decorated with knight gear, ceiling chain toilet flusher, cast iron gates, and all sorts of archaic flare. It was a fun interesting place. I liked how Brazilian night clubs take your information at the front so that you pay once when you leave, instead of constantly having to charge your credit card or pull change out of your pockets throughout the night.
Hanhwa and I wanted to go experience the night street parties and eat some delicious food, so we left for about 2 hours to partake in the street festivities. We got french fries as well as some grilled chicken... OM NOM NOM... seriously so delicious and for only like 5 Reals ($2.50 USD)!!!! Food and drinks are so cheap... I love this country! Hanhwa and I had about 5, 6, 7 caipirinhas? For those who have not tried these drinks, they are EXTREMELY STRONG.... I'm still debating on whether it was a bad mistake or the best decision ever to drink that many? Still not sure, but we sure did have a great time. So great of a time that we did not know how we both got back?! It was a crazy fun night.. and I am excited to see how the rest of our Brazilian adventures will be the next two weeks!