On my second day in Rio I had to go to volunteer accreditation center and to pick up my uniform. It was located in the Samba city (Cidade do Samba) close to the city center. I checked the map and went to “Central” metro station from where I was supposed to walk like 2km. What I found at Central was a chaos of people, vehicles and street crossings all around …it felt quite uncomfortable and intimidating to be in this mess of events (but me generally I don’t like big cities and their madness). I was afraid to take out my phone and check the route (I was expecting someone to snatch it from my hand anytime) so I went to the police and asked for help… They were no good in pointing me into the right direction, but at least in their presence I was brave enough to use my phone 😉 I found my street, which was very crowded and generally looked very dodgy. I followed it for half of the required distance and then I found myself in front of a tunnel! I should have studied the map better. I paused for a second and realized that going alone into it was not an option and I had to turn back and find another way. I decided to ask for help and entered a small shop. I turned to a man in Spanish (that is what I always did to communicate with locals), the man turns to me and I see a gangster!!! Well.. hehe… I don’t know if he was a gangster, but he had one eye damaged and bruises over his face.. OMG! I was so scared and I guess a look on my face told him everything about how I felt. Nevertheless, he explained me the directions and suggested to get back to metro station and take a bus… Finding the right bus and making sure it was bringing me to the right place was another adventure of its own. But I managed all of that and got to the accreditation center.
I took me about an hour to get there from metro station and I was so exhausted! I was sweating not from the heat but from all the stress of being on my own in the dangerous city and trying to find my way. I am not sure if it was really that dangerous or all the bad stories I heard and read were getting to me, but all my energy was drained. I remember sitting in the accreditation center (after queuing for two hours and getting everything done) and just breathing and mentally getting ready to be on the streets again. I know, sounds too dramatic =) Maybe it´s just me being too sensitive, but all I can say is that it felt hard to be there.
As I was offered free accommodation from the organizing committee, I moved the next day to my new home – a hotel in the Lapa area. When I was reading forums before going to Brazil, everyone named this place as especially dangerous one and to be visited only during the daylight and during the week. Oh well … According to my roster the shifts were supposed to end around 11pm and the way home would take another 1,5 hours at least. Oh dear God, what am I doing here?!
The area around my hotel was very ran down and right next to it there was a mini flee market. Homeless people were sitting there all day and selling all kind of useless crap. Who would buy anything here? This thought crossed my mind dozen times. But I guess selling stuff was not the point. It was just a social place to hang out. Looked very creepy to me, but again, maybe I am just too sensitive and refined after all these years in Europe. In front of the market there was a shop/bar that was opened 24/7, an old tv was constantly screaming out of it and a lonely weird man was sitting outside on a stool. What can I say: me and other volunteers were totally scared of our environment! (And local volunteers when heard the name Gloria metro station were like “Sh**! Guys, be careful!”) After our first shift coming home at around 1am me and 2 other colleagues were literally running from the metro station to our hotel. Running like hell! I guess the locals had a good laugh looking at our faces full of fear)
After 2 days I became brave enough to do the route from the metro station to the hotel on my own. I was still running like hell, but got a bit more confident. Apart from the homeless people on the flee market there were other “participants” of my daily night routine: the prostitutes. At first I was again scared of them and their clients standing all around, but then I kind of got used to them and weirdly felt even safer. Like having old mates nearby.
In the mornings with my room mate Oxana we enjoyed the “Empaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaada” show. Every day someone downstairs was walking around and shouting “Empaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaada” “Empaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaada” “Empaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaada” (local patties). I think we should have tried that!
What our location lacked in security it made up for it in parties! It was THE area for amazing nightlife. Our first attempt was rather touristic, we went to a famous night club Rio Scenarium. The interior was very sophisticated with a lot of antiquities and furniture in colonial style. On the first floor you could listen and dance to live Samba music, but we went to the upper floor for the “disco”. It was nice but nothing special in my opinion and it felt too “fancy” and unauthentic. I would not do it again I think, but we still partied till the early morning – Rio spirit!
Next time we went for the real Rio nightlife just wandering around the streets and entering free bars with music we liked. There were crowds and crowds on the streets, everyone moving somewhere, drinking something and shouting something. We had the most amazing vodka caipirinhas for just 5 reais (a bit more than a euro) from some suspicious kiosk. I probably would have never bought from such a place on my own, but my friends said it was totally fine and I agreed to try. No regrets afterwards 😉 We were dancing somewhere but then left and somehow ended up in a place where we were the only white people around. I did not notice that at first, but my friend told me this, I looked around and yes, we looked so out of place! Then we saw a door sliding down to close the entrance and we were like – we need to get out of here … fast! The sun has come out already, I am tired of dancing, I can barely move my legs, but do it perfectly like a machine. Rio is recovering after a long party and gets ready for a new day and me… I go to sleep. I will miss my breakfast, but will be ready by 12 for my shift.
The last night was in a night club as well. Not in Lapa, somewhere else I don’t remember. The crowd was obviously “Olympic” with few local people. It is inspiring how a city turns into Olympic wave during the games – you see accreditation badges and colorful uniforms everywhere, everyone is excited to be here and so many happy faces smiling back at you for no reason. Uber early in the morning to bring you back to the hotel, beautiful and calm Rio at night, the ocean somewhere close, you are tired after a long day and several hours of dancing, almost falling asleep and pinching yourself – is this happening for real? 🙂
Copacabana is not the paradise I imagined it to be even though long sandy beach and powerful ocean are incredible. It is cold, I only managed to enter the water for the sake of accomplishment: I´ve been there, tried the Atlantic taste and made 2 jumps on the waves. You can not relax and enjoy the mild sun while dreaming your own distant dreams, you have to squeeze your belongings tight and watch out for criminals. It´s not the Copacabana itself but the thought of being at COPACABANA what makes you breath faster. It´s so hard to believe that here you are on the other side of the world in a city you´ve only seen as a child in Brazilian soap operas. 10 years ago I though that was almost impossible, now I believe that I can do anything.
Ipanema. Another magic word after Copacabana. Sunset at Arpoador. There are still so many places I have not experienced in Rio and much more in Brazil. I know, it will never be the same, but I will find the right company, I will pack white pants and I will come back to this beautiful land.