“You’re in Rio—why are you sleeping?” Part (4/5): When in Rio, do as the Brazilians do

Once again, if you take anything with you from this blog, it should be this: When traveling in a place you’ve never been before, ALWAYS. HANG. WITH. LOCALS. Seeing a city with alongside a person who understands it and has lived in it opens the city for you in a way it never would if you’d stayed behind the plexiglass barrier that is being only a tourist. Because we made a point to run with as many Brazilians as possible, Roshan and I understood more truly than ever, what a Brazilian life means.

As it turns out, what does it mean to be a Brazilian?: To enjoy yourself.

See me there in the corner? Yeah—things are pretty crazy right about now.

See me there in the corner? Yeah—things are pretty crazy right about now.

Rio de Janeiro is a throbbing city—and when I say throbbing, I mean it in all the senses of the word. Rio is like a throbbing, open wound, a throbbing heart, a throbbing headache, a throbbing longing, a throbbing reverberation of music in a chamber, a throbbing engine hauling 16,000 tons of coal up a mountain. Rio is what I imagine it would feel like if you shoved your head right into the middle of an active beehive—the thrill and the terror, the excitement and the pain.

I’ve never been in a place so alive. When the sun is out, the heat is unrelenting, the streets are swarming and the attitude is scattered. And when the sun goes down, things don’t really change much.

On the very first night we got to Rio, after nearly 16 hours of travel and 5 straight hours of filming and interviews and 0 hours of rest, Roshan and I were gung-ho enough to allow Thiago (our translator) to show us the biggest Rio late-night hotspots. When we asked Thiago where to go, all he said was, “Oh, Lapa!”

Lapa it was. We boarded a turbulent roller coaster of a bus that was packed like too many sweaters in a suitcase. I’d never had so many people I didn’t know touching me so closely and completely. But, as I told myself thousands of times on the trip, I guess this is Rio!

Me, on Las Escaleras, at 3 am

Me, on Las Escaleras, at 3 am

I’d never seen a party scene like there was in Lapa. It was like ever Las Vegas casino and Bourbon street had a child that mated with Beale Street and NYC on New Year’s Eve’s child and those children had a child and named it “Lapa.”

First of all, in Lapa, outdoor drinking is 100% legal. In the middle of the streets that are normally crowded during the day hours, vendors set up shop and sell everything from Caipirinhas (Brazil’s favorite mixed drink), to fejoida (Brazil’s favorite meal)—and these stands go on for miles.

Second of all, Lapa is located in the center of Rio and comes complete with two of Brazil’s greatest landmarks: Las Escaleras Selarón and Los Arcos da Lapa. Imagine if you were allowed to drink and eat like an obese alcoholic all while sitting on the lap of the Lincoln Monument. That’s what Lapa is.

Here, I can be seen standing in front of the internationally renowned Arcos da Lapa, while holding a Caipirinha.

Here, I can be seen standing in front of the internationally renowned Arcos da Lapa, while holding a Caipirinha.

Lapa was loud. And hot. That’s the thing about Rio—the temperature remains the same, regardless of whether the sun has chosen to show itself or not.

On the night I was in Lapa in particular, I was a bundle of ups and downs. I’m not a huge, wild, crazy partier, especially not when I’m running on 0 hours of sleep after shlepping across the Equator. But, I was in Rio, and I was gonna be damned if I wasn’t going to try and have a good time. So. The following is a slide show of my moods throughout the night.

We're all really excited to go to Lapa.

We’re all really excited to go to Lapa.

581576_10200909267233381_1466452731_n

Oh man, are you telling me there’s live, impromptu Samba music in the streets that I can listen and dance to for free? I’ve gotta dance!

521365_10200909297074127_385724533_n

And dance.

261287_10200909266633366_177562058_n

And dance.

179036_10200909266953374_1005368479_n

And keep dancing, but mainly just in order to embarrass Thiago (in the striped shirt).

Whoa, that dancing wiped me out.

Whoa, that dancing wiped me out.

So, to wake us all up…

Let's climb Las Escaleras!

Let’s climb Las Escaleras!

And, of course, rest at the top.

And, of course, rest at the top.

One group member isn't quite done resting.

One group member isn’t quite done resting.

It was at this point, I wanted to go home. I was sleepy, sweaty and surly. So,

So, we waited for a bus back to Ipanema.

So, we waited for a bus back to Ipanema.

But then, the most random thing happened. Out of nowhere, a guy walks up to me and asks me if I was the girl who was dancing crazily in the Samba circle earlier. I said yes, I was, assuming he was just another drunk Brazilian, but he kept talking to us. He had a friend with him who we also started talking to, and pretty soon, we were all laughing and having a great conversation, when the bus pulled up. I said, “Alright, well, I guess I’ll see ya!” And he said, “What?  You can’t go, you must come to this great club we know, you must!” And I looked at Roshan and we said to each other with our eyes, “Well, we’re in Rio!”

The Brazilian dude who turned our night around.

The Brazilian dude who turned our night around.

They brought us to this excellent club that wasn’t packed to capacity by tourists. It wasn’t air conditioned, but then again, not many things in Rio were. There was live music, a dance floor, a bar and a whole lotta energy. By the time we all finally decided to call it a night, it was 4 am. Roshan and I knew we had to get up at 9 am the next day to do some more reporting, but the bus ride home was the most cathartic experience after that night. Both of us knew we wouldn’t have traded that experience for a few more hours of sleep. And, that was one of the first time we thanked our lucky stars for being able to hang out with a local.

The next night, we decided to get to know the people in our hostel—especially the Brazilian staffers. More advice from me when traveling: stay in good hostels as often as possible, and befriend as many fellow customers as possible. Having all those friends in your hostel is like going back to freshman year and living in a dorm with all your best friends all over again.

This is how that night looked:

144_10151329606731333_1683639933_n

Chillin’ on the front porch.

One of the best things about staying in a hostel is getting the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. We learned that Europeans think Americans are “superficial,” which is great, ’cause I always just thought they thought we were “fat.”

73743_10151329606866333_1257954526_n

The guitar was taken out, and a good time was had all around.

181028_10151329607451333_800922842_n

On the left is Mateos, who is the bartender at the hostel and also works at a surf shop in Copacabana. On the right of me is Emily, an MIT student who was probably the fittest person in Rio.

261314_10151329562001333_1100004101_n

Between me and Roshan is Cadu, a Brazilian actor. He told us about the latest commercial he was in, which was a beer commercial. We asked him to recite his lines again, and he did. Cadu is the definition of a “ham.”

549917_10151329606721333_408780126_n

I tried my hand at the guitar, and was henceforth known as “rocker girl.”

529043_10151329561996333_2099706456_n

Just ’cause everyone needs another picture of Cadu.

580380_10151329562171333_675045110_n

Between Roshan and myself lies Ray, the best friend we made on this trip. Ray lives in London, and I am going to get another chance to see him when I travel there this summer!

photo 2-40.JPG

Pleased with our hostel selection.

photo 4-39.JPG

Holding a caipirinha.

At this point, you may be wondering what a Caipirinha is. When I first started hearing that word get thrown around, I wondered the same thing. It is pretty much the only mixed drink served/consumed in Rio. In fact, it is actually Brazil’s national cocktail. This sums them up pretty cleanly:

photo 1-22.JPG

It is a mixture of cachaça (a Brazilian hard liquor), lime and sugar. There is usually more or less sugar in the beverage depending on how poor or excellent (respectively) the vendor is, says Mateos. One of my favorite Mateos quotes came when we asked him to come out with us for our final night in Rio. He had a lot of work to do that night, and tried to explain to us what working at a hostel and a surf shop—two very social places—meant for him and his social life: “I am always stuck in a life of party and I can not help it.” Hard knocks man, hard knocks.

Roshan and I were always flabbergasted by the amount of times we ran into people we knew in Rio. Why? Because we were with Thiago, who knows all the places true Brazilians go to hang out. So, naturally, when we got there, we would of course see all the other Brazilians we knew because, birds of a feather…

One such place was at Pedra do Sal.

**Photo cred: Ray Mohammed

Pedro do Sal is the most outrageous Samba dance party in Rio de Janeiro. Every Monday night, people gather in this place no one can find unless they already know where it is. When Thiago was showing us the way, many times Roshan and I looked at each other thinking, “oh my God, he’s lost and too embarrassed to admit it…” But the moment we heard the music, we knew we were in the right place. Plus, you could see people spilling out of the main dance area from side streets:

Madness.

Madness. 

Then, we arrived.

9962_10151329611771333_1475016117_n

Thiago told us the history behind the event—making the experience all the more amazing. The location—a small, flat area with a skyscraper-sized boulder slanted on a hill right next to it—was a former market for the slave trade.

People hanging out and sitting on the boulder—which actually makes a great set of bleachers to see the music from!

People hanging out and sitting on the boulder—which actually makes a great set of bleachers to see the music from!

The slaves would dance the Samba, which would go unnoticed by the guards as they mistook it for walking. And no, if you’re wondering, the gigantic boulder everyone walks and jumps up and down is not, in fact, safe. It is slippery as hell and many drunken people—even just the night I was there—fell, slipped and stumbled. But, I guess, the drunker you are, the less you feel anything but good vibes.

Roshan and I, sitting on the boulder, trying to make sense of the madness. Don't judge my experience that night by my facial expression—I was having a great time. Candids—they're just not my forté

Roshan and I, sitting on the boulder, trying to make sense of the madness. Don’t judge my experience that night by my facial expression—I was having a great time. Candids—they’re just not my forté.

When we first got there, everything was overwhelming. The music, the people, the food, the smells, the sights—all foreign and all incredibly intimidating. In a setting like that, it’s either sink or swim, so either you grab a caipirinha and get on the dance floor, or you fall to the way side and get yelled at by the vendors for sitting in their chairs without buying enough (both of which happened to me—the sinking and the swimming).

Another awkward photo of me trying to dance. Don't worry, it gets better.

Another awkward photo of me trying to dance. Don’t worry, it gets better.

But, soon and serendipitously enough, we ran in to a gaggle of folks we’d met at the hostel, and the night went from blurry to brilliant.

We ran into Ray and Richard (a backpacker who got a job at the Mango Tree Hostel so he could stay in Rio indefinitely) among others who, darnit, we didn't get pics of! **Photo cred: Ray Mohammed

We ran into Ray and Richard (a backpacker who got a job at the Mango Tree Hostel so he could stay in Rio indefinitely) among others who, darnit, we didn’t get pics of!
**Photo cred: Ray Mohammed

The only thing that Brazilians love more than dancing is futebol—or soccer, as we Americans say it. Thiago knew the ins and outs of soccer games and tickets, and whereas the hostel was selling tickets for R$80 a pop, he was able to get us the same tix for R$15 a piece. Locals, man.

Ever since I was but a youth, I’d always wanted to see soccer played in Brazil. My first club soccer team was founded by a Brazilian man (who I originally thought was crazy, but now, after having been in Brazil and met all kinds of Brazilians, he’s almost tame in comparison) who always taught us that soccer is like a dance—like a Samba. It is a beautiful game, he said, and always make sure you remain composed and exercise “tranquilo,” he said.

Roshan knew it was on my bucket list to see a soccer game in Brazil, so we made it happen.

Thiago leading the way to the field—through a tunnel.

Thiago leading the way to the field—through a tunnel.

Thiago laid down some ground rules for our trip to the game: Outside the stadium, do not speak English and seem as local as possible. That was the only rule. It was difficult, but we made sure to give it everything we had.

Once we were in watching the game, maybe more exciting for me than watching the game was watching all the fans around me. After having grown up in a country that doesn’t love soccer the way I do, it was a dream come true to be surrounded by a people for whom soccer is their life’s blood.

Waving the home team's flag proudly.

Waving the home team’s flag proudly.

When I first arrived in Rio and got to the hostel, I met a French couple who had been in Rio for two weeks, and they said, “The only thing on Brazilian TV is shows about God and futebol.” That sums up the country pretty accurately.

So stoked to be there.

So stoked to be there.

Luckily, this was a game with a lot of goals scored for the home team, so I got to do a lot of cheering. Like this:

55

And this:

You can't really tell I'm cheering, I just think this is a really cool photo...

You can’t really tell I’m cheering, I just think this is a really cool photo…

And this:

pin

Maybe the best part, though, was Thiago translating the different things the fans were shouting at the players. Within five minutes, the man sitting behind us yelled that the same player should both be on the national team, and get a futebol shoved up his @$$. The fans flip flopped between cheering for their teammates and insulting them, all depending on how well they played at any moment.

w

Also, if you’ll notice, no one sits at a soccer game. They’re always on their feet, just as involved in the play as the athletes. Watching soccer games in Brazil is an interactive affair, if not a contact sport itself.

Pleased with that evening's itinerary.

Pleased with that evening’s itinerary.

On our last night in Rio, the hostel gang went out for dinner and clubbing. Here’s the gang:

9557_10151338588756333_1855503366_n

Rio wouldn’t have been the same without them.

One thought on ““You’re in Rio—why are you sleeping?” Part (4/5): When in Rio, do as the Brazilians do

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s