A city like no other I have ever experienced - Rio de Janeiro is one of extremes. Dramatic beauty intermingled with stark poverty, warm hospitality punctuated with the very real danger of criminality, Rio is in a battle with its own identity much like a Gemini, struggling for one ego to come through over the other. But like the Gemini, the extremes and the conflict of the identity comprise its distinctive and charming embodiment. To water it down would be like watering down a wine, in that its bold characteristics serve well to effectuate its subtle notes and to change its form would betray its complexity.
Up to this point on the trip we had been getting by pretty well with our Spanish. We were improving quickly and by this time we were confident in knowing what was going on around us. Brazil turned all that upside down. I have zero background in or prior exposure to Portuguese so it was a bit intimidating at first. However, as you may or may not know, Mandy is extremely proficient in language and so we could cobble together English, Spanish, and Portuguese to get by. By way of background, Rio de Janeiro was founded by the Portuguese in 1565 and was the most important city of Colonial Portugal until Brazil moved for its independence in 1822. At one time, it was the capital of the Portuguese monarchy worldwide and its prominence and Portuguese identity remain even until today. It is now Brazil’s second largest city and the fourth largest in South America.
We had been on the road a while and we thought it best for our psyche and our budget to stay put for two weeks. Given our time constraints, it was too daunting to attempt a full Brazilian tour and thought Rio would give us a flavor for the rest of Brazil which we hope to fully explore in the future. We rented a cozy apartment in the Lapa neighborhood – the notorious nightlife district of Rio. Our 8th floor one bedroom apartment sat perched atop several bars and offered a safe and effective vantage point of the debauchery taking place below. I am no stranger to a good night out but was astounded to find the party that started around 7pm not let up until 9:30am the following day. These marathon party nights – undoubtedly fueled by more than just alcohol, roared below us. You could hear the transition of the crowd go from sober levity to manic inebriation and then devolve into aggressive irrationality.
We spent a lot of time in the apartment catching up on work as well as organizing for our trip back home to AZ. We made a point to see at least one attraction per day and as a result got a very full exposure to the highlights of the city. Our apartment was next to a grocery store and gym so we cooked a lot of meals for ourselves and worked out a lot which was a pleasant change of pace. After three months on the road a routine felt amazing. I must say that every person we encountered was overwhelmingly warm, welcoming, and proud of their city. I have never felt more welcome than by the residents of Rio and it is irrefutable that overall, they were the nicest people we encountered on our trip. The warmth we felt I think is a true reflection of the Brazilian culture and the live-in-the-moment attitude was palatable.
The beauty of Rio is best understood through a reflection on its dramatic landscape. The steep mountains of Sugarloaf and Corcovado occupy the middle of the dense metropolis that seemingly falls into the ocean. All the while, Christ the Redeemer is visible at almost all times watching the city grow and evolve over the years as it stands unvarying - measuring the change against its consistent presence. It’s beautiful and never-ending beaches in Ipanema & Copacabana are countered inland with slums at the edge of balcony-wrapped skyscrapers. The view of Rio is chaotic and diverse much like the natural space it occupies. I have never in my life looked at a city vista and struggled to identify whether I was more drawn to the architecture or the geography which seem to be locked in this never-ending struggle for dominance. I think we can all relate to this struggle in that our society labors between preserving natural beauty and embracing our god given gifts of creating beautiful spaces through art, architecture, urban planning, and design. The secret is shown in Rio – a marriage of man and nature. // Jeff