If you find yourself in South America, Rio de Janiero is a must visit. Like so many locations before, this one did not disappoint.
In both Spanish and Portuguese, this word means river. There are an innumerable amount of cities and waterways named with this word. Still, when these three letters appear by themselves, almost everyone thinks of a single place: Rio de Janiero.
This vibrant city might be the most iconic, most recognized place in all of South America. But believe it or not, I almost skipped it.
In the days leading up to my visit, I was not feeling well and I began to become increasingly worried about staying safe there. Two years ago, an Italian motorcyclist was led into one of the “flavelas” (slums) by the directions on his GPS. Mistaking him and his companion for police officers, he was shot and killed. For some reason, I just couldn’t quite get this story out of my head. (LINK HERE. Mom, don’t read it.)
Furthermore, I came across a post from a local motorcyclist on ADV Rider (the motorcycling website where I also post this story). He was imploring fellow riders to skip this city.
Despite being such a major tourist attraction and having hosted the Olympics just two years ago, there are still some persistent safety issues in Rio. Ultimately, I decided it was worth the risk to bring myself and Annie into this town. Surely we’ve been through rougher places on this journey, right?
Saturday, July 21st
On the way into town, I saw what would become a recurrent theme during my time here: How quickly things can change. One moment I was riding through a well-manicured, modern metropolis…
….seconds later, I was passing shanty-towns built beneath freeway on-ramps.
I was on high alert and became aware that I was being followed. I sped up, slowed down, changed lanes and found that my follower had earnestly attached himself. Waiting for the right moment, I was able to execute a maneuver that would make any World War I fighter pilot proud, sending my tail ahead of me. There’s a 99.9% chance that this car was just trying to read my sign or license plate, but safe motorcycle travel is all about mitigating those .1% occurrences.
As I neared my hostel, I routed onto a section of the Sambadrome. This is the long stretch of bleachers used during the famous Carnival parades in Rio. I was a bit surprised that the road ran through part of it.
Feeling significant relief, I reached Hostel by Hotel Galicia. This hotel took a corner of one of their floors and converted it into a shared living space. It had very secure parking and was, amazingly, just $6/night. Almost too good to be true! Though it may seem counter-intuitive, hostels in the big cities are almost always cheaper than the ones in less populated places.
Sunday, July 22nd
I woke up not feeling very well again. I decided to see if I could take a day of doing nothing trip related and just rest up. Surprisingly, I succeeded! Nothing got accomplished! It was great!
If I had more time and money, I probably would have built in a “sabbath” every week. I think that’s generally a good idea. Maybe “next trip.” 🙂
Monday, July 23rd
Ok! Enough lounging around! Let’s see this city!
I decided to leave Annie securely parked during my whole stay, walking or using public transportation the whole time. I hopped the metro to the south ($1 for a one way) to reach my first attraction: Pão de Açucar (or in Gringo-nese: Sugarloaf mountain).
This granite monolith is one of Rio’s most recognizable sites. There are cable-cars that take one up to to the top for about $22.
The ride is a two stop process. The first car stops at Morro Da Urca, which is about half as tall as Pão de Açucar. From here you can hire a helicopter ride (about $60 for 5 minutes, I think):
The final cable-car ride gave a great view of this imposing palisade.
Some people decided that $22 was too much apparently. It warmed my economic heart.
The view at the top was OK, I guess. 🙂
In the image above, the big beach to the left is Copacabana. The tallest peak, on the right side of the frame, is Corcovado, the mountain on which the “Cristo Redentor” (Christ the Redeemer) statue stands.
The tops of these mountains were quite commercialized…
…. but there were some nice nature trails too.
This is a great “first experience” in Rio. It really helped me with understanding the erratic layout of this city.
I decided to walk to my next stop, Cristo Redentor, which was about 3.5 miles away. The route seemed safe and it was a really nice day.
I debated making this whole post a “Where’s Jesus” search, where I give a prize to the person who can spot Jesus in the most photos. He really pops up at the most peculiar times in this city.
In Rio, they sometimes have to get creative with working around all of the granite globs:
As I walked to the monument, I did feel some sense of regret. Distinguished readers of this quality publication will remember that I saw a very similar statue back in the Colombian city of Cali:
Since I wasn’t sure whether or not I would have the chance to visit Rio, I used up all of my good jokes back then. But since I am such a conservationist, I will recycle them here:
“Many months ago, I got to see “Touchdown Jesus” at Notre Dame (August 1st).
So what was this Jesus? I would recommend “Big hug Jesus,” “Ready for liftoff Jesus,” “‘The fish I caught was this big’ Jesus,” or, sticking with the football theme, “Unsportsmanlike conduct Jesus.” “
OK, what other names for this Jesus did did I miss? Dad, I’m sure you will have some creative names. Let’s hear ’em!
The most classic way to get up to the statue is by train. This fee was about $19. An expensive day for me, but well worth it. There were some nice views on the train, but I didn’t capture any. Sometimes just being in the moment is nice. 🙂
The monument is covered with little soapstone triangles:
You could tell the Spirit of God was present in this place as people were speaking in strange tongues (…or maybe that was just Dutch) and falling to the ground, overwhelmed with the presence of the LORD. (….or maybe they were just trying to get the perfect angle)
It was like a charismatic revival service.
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about my time up here. I really wanted to just soak it in and savor the experience, but I constantly found myself dodging selfie-sticks and trying not to appear in the background of everyone’s photo. Even though it felt really crowded, this was actually not a busy day for the monument.
There is a little chapel below the base, so I sought solace there for awhile.
Some clouds rolled in which swallowed up the view from below. I left without taking the iconic photo mimicking Jesus’ pose. I just didn’t feel like elbowing my way into the prime position and finding a willing photographer. Next trip.
By the time I got down the mountain again, it was dark. I decided to walk home through rough neighborhoods, intimidatingly shaking handfuls of cash to let everybody know that I mean business…..or maybe I just took an Uber home for $3. I can’t remember. 🙂
Tuesday, July 24th
A mixed day of business and pleasure. I started by spending $3 to gain admittance to the breakfast for hotel guests. Is this how the other half lives?
I bought it the next two days too.
The hostel had a nice atmosphere. I met a lot of great people here. Daniel from Argentina worked the desk most days I was there. He spoke great English and helped me out a lot. I had roommates from Brazil and Paraguay with whom I had some great chats. Claudio from Buenos Aires liked me enough to give me an Argentina flag. 🙂
I set off to see some of the sites that were near the center of the city. First up was the classic aqueduct:
Nearby are the strangely decorated stairs called “Escadaria Selaron.”
This unique piece of art began as a local guy just trying to spruce up his neighborhood. After years of tireless work, the whole area (215 steps) were covered in bright tiles.
Nowadays, tourists from all over the globe have added their own. It is a really random collection.
I didn’t find a Nebraskan tile, but did spot a couple of Swedish ones:
Next up was the Cathedral of Saint Sebastian. I’ve seen soooo many churches on this trip, but this one was one of my favorites.
It is a modern cathedral, constructed in 1979. The scale is hard to fathom. It rises 22 stories into the sky and has a capacity of over 20,000 people. This means that only 10 cities in Nebraska are capable of filling it. 🙂
Some other sights….
Statue of a pastor, complete with congregation:
Endless motorcycle parking:
How I feel when I finish a good post and I am ready to show it to the world:
As I walked around, I noticed once again how quick the neighborhoods can change. It can go from a tourist spot to a bad neighborhood in just one block.
An interesting way I’ve found of discerning how dangerous a neighborhood is, is to glance in the banks as I’m walking by and count the number of armed guards. I went through some “three guard bank” (great name for a band, by the way) areas.
Back at the hotel, it was time for Annie to get a valve adjustment. One of the hardest parts of this was trying to clean off the valve cover before removal. That red dirt is really sticky.
As long as Honda makes a parallel-twin with a single overhead cam, there will be one in my garage.
I’ve always kind of like valve adjustments. The most minute movements cause noticeable changes.
I usually leave my valves on the loose end of spec. I might be sacrificing some performance, but as the old adage goes, “Loud valves save bikes.” (….or something like that)
I ended the day by watching an animated movie set in my current locale.
Wednesday, July 25th
I had originally planned to leave this day, but decided to stay one more. I had a lot of writing and planning to do and one more major attraction to see. And for $6/night, it seemed a good deal.
I was a little short on coolant after my valve adjustment (it requires radiator removal) and I actually had a hard time tracking down a little bottle in my neighborhood. I did eventually find one, along with some less touristy steps.
Staying this extra day gave me the opportunity to attend a soccer match in the Maracanã Stadium. This is one of the most famous soccer venues in the world. It was built before Brazil hosted the World Cup in 1950. In the championship game of that tournament, it is estimated that 210,000 people filled the stadium (there were no seats at that time). This is a world record for soccer that is unlikely to every be broken.
I took the metro to the stadium and settled in to see the game between local club Fluminese and São Paolo based Palmeiras. The general admission ticket was about $13.
The stadium was renovated before the Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup. It is really well done.
One of the anecdotes that I often tell to explain about where I am from is about Memorial Stadium in Lincoln where the Huskers play. Though Nebraska is a small, rural state, our stadium holds 85,000 people. When the stadium is full, it becomes the 3rd largest city in Nebraska, only behind Lincoln and Omaha. Additionally, we have sold out every single game since 1962. The data imply that we have the most loyal fan support in all of American sports.
The Maracanã was only about 1/4 full for this game, with an attendance of 22,000. Still, the crowd support and noise level were pretty good. It takes a lot to impress me in this regard. 🙂
They even had a dog show!
Fluminese won 1-0 in an entertaining game. It was another experience that I will never forget.
To get home in the dark, I got off at a station that was further from my hostel so I could avoid one of the “three guard bank” neighborhoods I’d walked in the day before. I made it home without incident.
Thursday, July 26th
Getting packed up took me longer than I would like to admit, but we were eventually rolling again. I made just one stop on the way out, to take some more pictures of the Sambadrome. The next time I make it to Rio, I hope it’s during Carnival!
I actually had a navigational error on my way out of town. I thought about trying to shortcut through some neighborhoods to turn around, but decided on the longer, safer route.
I felt quite a bit of relief once I was back into the countryside. By any measure, my stay in Rio was a peaceful, enjoyable one. Still, I have to admit that I did sort of feel on edge in this city. I’m not sure if that was due to the actual surroundings, or to the things I heard before my arrival. I’m still sorting that out in my mind.
All that said, I would not discourage anyone from visiting this city. As long as one stays in the more modern, peaceful areas, especially after dark, there shouldn’t be any problems. Even though this city still has a lot of things that need improving, the natural and cultural wonders justify its iconic reputation. I’m glad I “sucked it up” and came to visit.
Stay iconic, everybody
Realtime update: Latin. America. Is. Done! I currently sit in Salvador, the last song place that is outside of the US. I still have a long ways to get home, but I’m feeling a real sense of accomplishment right now. I plan to linger here for awhile. I have lots of catching up to do and want to completely plan out my route through the interior.
One more fun update: On July 14th, 2017 I was with my Aunt and Uncle in Trout Lake, Washington. I had my first tire change here and my Uncle Doug and Aunt Janet said they could use my old one as a potato planter.