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A dose of familiarity...

Day 6: Rio de Janeiro

At some point in the last couple of days, it suddenly dawned on me that if something horrifying were to happen, like being abruptly struck down by one of the city busses hurtling around the place like an over-speeding projectile of terror as I casually strolled down a zebra crossing, my nearest immediate family member was about eleven thousand kilometres away.  The closest relative? Six thousand kilometres.

And just like that, in that moment, the enormity of the trip I have embarked on and the ramifications of backpacking solo in such a distant corner of the world hit me like a ton of bricks.

So I was pleased, as well as secretly relieved, when my friend from home, Anders came up from Sao Paulo on Thursday (a few days ago) to visit me for a couple days with two of his friends.  Just so I could recognise a familiar face that already knew me, and inject some measure of familiarity into this surreal experience so far.

I wanted them to come with me to Sugar Loaf mountain, and also a day trip up to Petropolis.  But they had very different ideas.  After spending months cooped up in urban, chaotic, land-locked Sao Paulo, attending hours of university classes every day, they didn't want to do anything other than lounge on the beach.  Whereas I had spent the past week more or less breathing, eating, and drinking the beach, so I was, to be honest, completely sick of the sight of sand.  I put aside my slight disappointment, reasoning that it would be unfair to ditch them and go to these places, since they had come to Rio specifically to see me.  Plus, even if they hadn't come up here, I would have had to go without them anyway.   So once again I lolled about on the beach.  Which, to be fair, isn't a bad thing at all.

Something interesting I noticed about the beaches here.  A lot of Cariocas here like playing beach sports, like volleyball.  And they take it very seriously.  Far too seriously.  I once saw a middle aged guy literally persecute his team mate after he missed the ball when it came his way.  The guy's gonna die from a heart attack induced by stress from volley ball if he doesn't watch out.  Of all the things you could die from.  Told you the people here are quite passionate.

Anyway, the hostel I've been staying at is nice enough.  Spanning five floors, with about three dorm rooms per floor, and the bar/chillout area on the ground floor, with a TV.  Major points for being less than a block from the beach.  Huge points for having a promo on for USD5 a night (!).  The bar gives it a real party atmosphere and you are constantly meeting people.  Apparently this is low season, meaning the hostel isn't too full. Also, at least 80% of the guests at the hostel are Scandinavian for some unusual reason - 'an invasion', as one of the Norwegian girls put it.  Everyone is quite laid back but I must admit, now that the three Norwegian girls and two Danish guys I've been chilling with since I arrived have now left to fly back home, I haven't met others that I click with to the same, comfortable degree.

Me with the two Danish guys and four Norwegian girls, chilling at a beach side cafe

There are one or two oddballs.  Like the 60-something year old Australian traveller that has a daily ritual of having breakfast at half nine, climbing back up the stairs to get his laptop from his room, only to head back down, settle on one of the sofas, and fiercely scowl at anyone who happens to even blink in his direction, interspersed with a few moments of web browsing.  He did this every day without fail for the whole week I stayed at that hostel.  And from what I heard, he's not the best conversationalist.  He also wears the exact same bright Hawaiian shirt and beige cargo shorts.  Every time you see him, it's like deja vu all over again.

After beaching it with Anders and friends all day till sunset, I went back to my hostel to change clothes, then headed to their hostel in an area called Copacobana to reunite with them for dinner.  Copacobana was the place to be seen in the 90s, and now it has passed that crown to Ipanema and Leblon.  It's not a bad area by any standards, but does look a little shabby in some parts, compared to its leafy neighbour to the south, Ipanema.  While I waited in the reception/lounge area for them to change upstairs in their room, the hostel owner seemingly appeared out to nowhere to introduce herself.

An Australian woman from Sydney, she's been living in Rio for about six months and has no plans to leave.  And so she opened a hostel.  Definitely a independent, hippie type, as the numerous bangles and chains on her body informed me, Fi had also spent time living in Asia and had no intention of ever going back to Oz ("such a boring, bland country").

While we were chatting and getting acquainted, her pet dog bounded out of one of the doors leading out of this reception area.  It was one of those miniature breeds, with black and tan fur.  Being a canine lover, I reached out to pet the dog, commenting 'he's pretty friendly isn't he?'

'Oh yes he is, such a darling!' Fi practically cooed in delight.  'Do be careful when you pet him though, as he does tend to nip people and draw blood.'

I stared at her.  Fi beamed back at me.  She had said it so sweetly and with such a cheery tone to her voice, I thought maybe I misheard her.  I wasn't taking any chances.  I abruptly got up and moved away from the pet, pretending to take a sudden, yet keen interest in the rows of books across the room on the shelves.  I didn't come to South America only to potentially have my hand chewed off by some woman's pet dog.  Once my friends came down from their room and as we sat on the sofas discussing what to do later in the evening, I brought up the topic of the owner's dog.

'Yeah that thing is a beast,' my friend muttered in disgust.  'It keeps going after our fingers.'
'What?! And she just lets it loose, just like that?' I replied in astonishment.
'Yeah...well, she's a bit crazy herself to be honest,' another friend said quietly.

A few minutes later, the little puppy turned up again, seemingly attracted by the scents radiating from my friends.  It took an interest in Jay for some reason, and before we knew it, tried to nip a chunk out of his leg.  He yelled in shock, jumped up on to the sofa, and started shouting all kinds of profanities in English, Dutch, and a bit of Portuguese.  This excited the dog and it started barking, hopping excitedly from one person to the next.  The hostel owner, no doubt hearing all the commotion, ran into the reception to see four fully grown guys jumping up and down on sofas, flapping arms in the air wildly, shouting and swearing in about four different languages, with a tiny little puppy bouncing around in the middle of the fracas.  After managing to extract her pet from the scene, she promised to lock the dog away.  By then we had had enough of her canine Antichrist, and hurried out of the hostel onto the streets of Copacobana for something to eat. 

There is a really cool concept here called kilo restaurants.  They are buffets, but once you've filled your plate with food, you then go to the person behind the counter, put your plate on a scale, have it weighed, and you get charged according to how many grams (or kilos) of food you've heaped onto your plate.  You can have as many plates as you like until you literally feel like you're about to burst (as I did).  I've never come across it before.  Pretty cool concept and a cheap way of eating.  We went to one for dinner and after stuffing our mouths, headed to the bar at my hostel for pre drinks, then on to Lapa to go clubbing.

I had gone clubbing pretty much every single night since arriving in Rio, but I stuck to various places in Ipanema and Leblon.  This was the first time I'd be going to Lapa.  Now, the story goes that up until five years ago, the area used to be quite run-down and crime-ridden.  Suddenly, it become popular with trendy, bohemian and artistic types as a place to go for a night out.  The local government sat up, poured millions into regenerating the area, and it's now become a pretty funky place to hang out for everyone, not just for the type claiming to be 'hip'.

There are two ways of enjoying Lapa.  You can either head into one of many clubs dotted all over the place, or you can literally party on the streets.  There is music playing out in the open, and business-minded men and women set up little stalls selling alcohol.  If you get the munchies, there are kiosks offering very very tasty meat on skewers.

We decided to go into one of the clubs that is world-renowned (well, apparently).  Rio Scenarium is laid out over three massive floors and once inside, does not feel like a club at all.  It felt like we were partying in some royal's huge mansion, with hundreds of antiques (even a real Model T Ford) peppered around, and different music playing in each room.  The crowd was varied, but well up for dancing.  It was a complete contrast to the clubs I went to Ipanema and Leblon.  The music here felt much more authentic and Brazilian-influenced.  Basically, here, I knew I was in Brazil, whereas in the other clubs, I could have been anywhere in the world to be honest.

As much as Lapa has become a tourist magnet, it still is dangerous and lots of people warned me not to take my camera in case someone made a grab for it.  You can see that despite the fun atmosphere, there is still a seedy layer to the place.  Whether, it's the dilapated buildings, the graffiti, or even the transsexual prostitutes dotted on the street corners vying for business.  I literally did a double take when I saw this particular flavour of ladies of the night.
Still, if you're in Rio, you should definitely check out Lapa.

Here are some pics of Rio Scenarium:


Ms Beauty Soul said...

I loooooove food and so I looove the kilo concept! The more tastes the better!

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