How To End The Trip of a Lifetime
And so we completed our final bus ride of the entire trip which was strangely something of a relief and found ourselves in glamorous Rio de Janeiro from where we’d end our epic journey.
There was a bit of surreal atmosphere as we arrived which was probably down to the fact that we realised it would be the last time we’d share a room together, the last time we’d explore a new city together and the last time we’d be living out of a backpack in a hostel before we found ourselves back home and in our own beds – for the time being at least.
I’m sure the boys would agree that as a place to finish the trip, Rio de Janeiro was the icing on an incredible cake and despite it’s big billing, Brazil’s most talked-about city had no problems living up to it. Our first couple of days were blessed with glorious sunshine which let us explore some of the city’s more famous sites, namely Christ the Redeemer and two of the world’s more famous beaches; Copacabana and Ipanema (where Phil could be heard singing ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ pretty much on repeat, to both mine and Jimmy’s dismay I must add).
Christ is a absolute must in in Rio, but if you don’t get a clear day then I’d consider it almost a waste of time – there’s even a sign in the train station at the bottom letting passengers know that there is definitely no refund on their extortionate prices if the weather is unfavourable once you reach the top.
The fact is that despite Christ’s religious implications and iconic standing with his arms out wide overlooking the city, it’s the view of Rio that takes the breath away. I know, I know, I’ve said this about many of the views that I’ve been lucky enough to see over the course of the last year but the view from Corcovado really is up there.
The 360 view takes in part of Rio’s rainforest and the whole city which includes the equally famous Sugar Loaf mountain, most of the city’s beaches and the rest of what Rio has to offer. I could have spent all day up there. As with many of the world’s other iconic sites, Christ comes with the usual horde of tourists which I’m not ashamed to say irks me somewhat, but it wouldn’t be the attraction it is without people turning up on the doorstep every day of the year.
Just expect to find it very difficult if you have ideas of getting a photo of just you and Christ together – he’s a popular guy, particularly in these parts.
With us completely winding-down and almost a full week in Rio, we unsurprisingly found ourselves spending plenty of time on the beach being as active as we’ve been all year – and before anyone comments on my contradiction I should probably explain.
Rio, you see, actively promotes it’s beaches as areas for sport with volleyball nets, beach football pitches (where kid’s teams train every evening) and futvolley courts (a combination of football and volleyball which the Brazilians practice with an almost unbelievable amount of skill) but this is Brazil and we couldn’t help join in with a childish enthusiasm.
Of course, on top of all that there is most definitely plenty of space to catch the sun and yes, the women are as spectacular as any adverts for Brazilian tourism would suggest.
I couldn’t finish this entry without reference to one of the best experience’s we’ve had on the whole trip, an event that was swiftly put on the same level as the spontaneous wedding invitation we received in Cambodia way back in November. While visiting Brazil’s slums probably isn’t the most ethical thing in the world, I feel able to take the moral high-ground in that we were at least invited into the favelas by one of it’s own residents.
Generally, many tourists pay ridiculously high prices to be taken on a tour of Rio’s infamously poor areas (with security the big selling point) and I don’t imagine the neighbourhoods themselves see any of the profits which the tour companies turnover. But our experience couldn’t have been more different. The cleaner working at our hostel happened to live in a nearby favela and, after a bit of translation, explained that a family member was pregnant and wanted us to come to their family’s babyshower – all we would need to take was a present for the mother and baby, with nappies apparently top of the list.
We jumped at the opportunity and the next afternoon, in the pouring rain we walked to the bottom of the favela set into the hillside. Now Rio’s favelas are reknowned for being dangerous, often the police don’t want to go in and there are probably enough weapons lying around to kit out a small army, so you can imagine our apprehension when we were told that we’d need to get a motorbike taxi into the favela one-by-one.
The cleaner, our new best friend and apparent guardian, instructed each moto-taxi driver to take us to her uncle’s bar and set us on our way. The driving was somewhat questionable and I don’t think he had his wet tyres on but there wasn’t much to do but cling on as he threw us round corners and drove through a few dubiously small gaps.
At least the helmet disguised the fact that three gringos had infiltrated the community. We all made it up to the bar without problems and along with Pedro, our Spanish friend and Portuguese speaker, we were introduced to the family – who were huddled inside underneath the bar’s canopy due to the torrential downpour that did put a little dampener on the barbeque we’d been promised.
Handing over our gifts, there was something of a settling in period with the family clearly not used to outsiders being invited in and us obviously trying to comprehend where we were. The language barrier didn’t help and we were cursing the day that the Spanish granted the Portuguese such a big portion of South America.
However, through Pedro we managed to begin to engage in conversation, our audience solely consisting of children under the age of 10 yet this proved to be the breaking of the ice and we were soon being handed beers and performing party tricks for our growing audience.
The kids kept coming out of the woodwork with more and more turning up each minute apparently putting their shyness to one side and gaining confidence from their friends to go up and be entertained by the ‘outsiders’. And through the children, everything seemed to come together perfectly – the parents, seeing our willingness to entertain and good nature suddenly wanted to know more about us. The men of the family, all of whom looked very much like you wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley, almost came up one by one and were great blokes and genuinely appeared to be pleased that we’d come.
We took a lot of comfort in that, as well as a quiet sense of enjoyment – there’s something quite gratifying in being accepted, not least by this group of people who on paper we have nothing in common with and when we arrived not knowing how they would take us. And so the party went on, the barbeque, now under the bar’s canopy was churning out various dark meats all of which we let Jimmy try first to confirm whether we’d be getting organ or flesh and we continued to entertain, while our beer bottles were never allowed to be empty.
It was a great night, one of the best. We were walked out of the favela by a couple of members of the family and it was a shame we weren’t able to stay longer. The fact is, and the same is true for so many other countries we’ve visited in the last year, that despite their relative poverty they gave us everything they had and asked for nothing in return.
To put it in perspective there’s no better story than this, we turned up almost unannounced with a pack of nappies that we’d paid a couple of quid for and received such a great welcome and evening in return. It doesn’t baffle me anymore, it just makes me think that a lot of people, particularly back home, could learn a few things.
And with that our time was almost up – we had another flight but that would be back to Manchester yet I can’t think of many better places to end our trip than Rio de Janeiro, somewhere that I very much plan to return in the future. We checked-in our baggage for the final time, with Jimmy’s whole 7kg of clothes and fake Umbro holdall still getting plenty of laughs and left South America behind but certainly not for the final time – the whole continent has made a huge impression on all of us and, as far as I’m concerned it’s more a question of when I can come back, not if I will come back…
Colourful Rio, we’ll be back…