Cidade Maravilhosa

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We had an entertaining, if fairly unpleasant, 11-hour flight to Rio de Janeiro. As we were flying Iberia this was expected, but the real entertainment came from our fellow passengers. A lady seated behind us belched out loud with total abandon for the entire flight. There was another passenger who had the most unfortunate sneeze – it sounded like a pig dying – and the poor guy had caught what appeared to be a pretty bad cold.

There was a group of Italian men who would go to the loos and come back reeking of cigarettes, and then pass around mints to disguise the smell (the plane was too old to have functioning smoke alarms, apparently). The food was inedible, there was turbulence throughout the flight, and the service was brusque to say the least. But it did get us to our first destination, Cidade Maravilhosa, Rio de Janeiro!

We were met by my dear friend Leo at the airport and were whisked away to his giant flat in the Lagoa neighbourhood to drop off our luggage before leaving for drinks and dinner. Marc and I enjoyed our first caipirinhas in an outdoor bar on the banks of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freites, with a view of Christ the Redeemer glowing in the night and feeling the sticky warmth of the Carioca summer on our skin.

After one caipirinha both Marc and I were a little drunk and quite hungry, so our host Leo and his lovely girlfriend Luciana took us to their local sandwich joint, and that is when we found the holy grail: BB Lanches.

For those who have not yet been to Brazil, it is the kind of juice bar/sandwich place that you find on every Rio street corner, selling freshly squeezed juices of all fruits you’ve never heard of, and all manner of sandwiches from the most healthy (light turkey ham and salad) to the most indulgent (beef fillet steak with melted cheese). Except this is one of the best.

Our first açaí (of many) was consumed here, standing in the glow of fluorescent lighting and purple juice dribbling down our chin. Then we had a grilled chicken fillet, pineapple and melted cheese sandwich, as recommended by Leo, and that just confirmed BBs as our top eatery in Rio, hands down, on the first day. (There was some tough competition to be had, however, from a later find in Copacabana: Bibi Sucos. Açaí milkshake, anyone?) With our stomachs full, our legs still drunk from our caipirinhas, we headed home to bed.

As we had timed our arrival in Rio with the beginning of Carnival, the most important holiday on the Brazilian calendar when the entire country bursts into song and dance, the following few days were a combination of beach time and carnival street parties, or blocos in português. The best bloco we went to was Ceu na Terra in Santa Teresa.

Santa Teresa is a neighbourhood perched on a hill in the centre of Rio. It’s a bohemian, artsy area that can be accessed by walking or driving up the steep, winding paths that lead up from Lapa, or jumping on the vintage rickety tram that chug, chug, chugs up the hill by the grace of God. We chose to take this latter option on our way up to Santa Teresa, and our packed-to-the-brim bondinho sang sambas across the Lapa arches all the way to the top of the hill.

As we had realised by this point, a major part of Carnaval in Rio is about dressing up in costume. The girls’ costumes, in general, seemed to be one of two: bride or butterfly/fairy, making most ladies look like they were headed to a hen party, minus the plastic penises. The boys’ seemed to be a bit more creative. For example, our new friends Domicio and Jonny from Sao Paulo had dressed up as two reporters from Rede Coqueiro (The Coconut Tree Network) and used their mics as props to interview all the pretty brides and fairies that caught their eye. It seemed to work like a charm, considering the amount of snogging that was going on! We were told, though, that girls aim to collect as many kisses as they can during Carnaval, which may also explain all the enthusiastic tonsil hockey we witnessed.

Another particularity of the Rio carnival’s street parties is that many start at completely ungodly hours. Ceu na Terra, for example, started at 7am on a Saturday and lasted all day! The real pros wake up with the birds to enjoy the band of the bloco before all the riff-raff and gringos like us show up at around 11am and crowd the joint with our amateur antics.

That said, the party goes on all day. There are bands with drums and trumpets that everyone follows as they walk around, everyone is dancing, chatting to strangers and smiling. There is beer everywhere. There is always a beat you can hear, no matter how far away you are from the band. There was even a completely drunk guy on stilts! We had an amazing time but after 6 hours of drinking and dancing that started at 11 in the morning, our amateur asses were wiped out! We headed home for a shower and an açaí milkshake at Bibi Sucos.

Attending the street parties is all well and good but you haven’t really done Rio Carnival unless you’ve seen for yourself what the world over has already seen on TV: the Carnival procession at the Sambôdromo, the Avenida Sapucaí. One catch: all the tickets had long been sold, and our host Leo and his flatmate Nino wouldn’t be around to help us out, as they would be participating in the procession themselves with the Imperatriz samba school. Would team M+M make it through the obstacle course that would be getting tickets to the Sambodrome? Or would they do the usual and go for an açaí milkshake at Bibi Sucos? Dun-dun-duuuhn.

(Photos to follow once we find a stable internet connection!)

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3 Responses to “Cidade Maravilhosa”

  1. Patrice Fiset Says:

    Good read, thanks!

  2. cynthia cutler Says:

    Absolutely fantastic. Well written Manna, you made it seem so real xxxxxx

  3. miriam Says:

    this sentence literally made me shiver and cry just a little as I write you from a moscow covered in 63cm of snow: “Marc and I enjoyed our first caipirinhas in an outdoor bar on the banks of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freites, with a view of Christ the Redeemer glowing in the night and feeling the sticky warmth of the Carioca summer on our skin.”

    pictures, pictures! (did you take one of the belching lady?)

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