31 July 2010
I am loving being in Rio. I guess it has to do with the warm weather, the beach and the surrounding mountains. It all feels more natural and relaxed. I can see why it has a reputation for ‘fun in the sun’. I write this from the botanical gardens. They are a real oasis of green and shade. I walked this morning from the hostel and around the lagoon (Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas), as far as the gardens. The path around the lagoon (which is more like a lake) is about 7.5 kms and a great favourite for walkers, joggers, bikers and skaters.
The amazing thing about Rio is that almost wherever you are, there is the backdrop of the giant stone edifices that are the mountains surrounding and interspersing the city. Often, there is also the sight of water, beaches and forests. That is not to say there is a shortage of concrete. This is a city of about 9 million people. But the buildings and the people are embedded in natural beautiful surroundings. The Tijuca Forest, of which the Botanical Gardens form a part, and which extend to the top of the Christ mountain, is the largest urban forest in the world.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that people don’t hassle or hustle you. There are a few hawkers and traders on the streets and beaches, but they are very passive. I’m sure I’m imposing stereotypes, but it feels like everyone just ‘gets’ that there’s more to life than work and money. Of course, Brazil has had at least a decade of strong economic growth, so I’m sure that helps. I’m also sure that the millions who still live in favelas are far from content, even if things are improving.
The cafes here are also interesting. First, there are more juice bars than coffee shops, which makes sense in a place where the temperature seldom drops below 15 degrees. But also, the cafes are so unpretentious – scruffy even. Just small holes in the wall and plastic chairs on the pavements. It’s almost as if the important thing is the people, the company and the food/drink, not the trappings.
I should mention that I am competing with buzzing things for my drink, which is called Guarana Antarctica, a classic soda in Brazil made from berries from the Amazon. There is certainly no shortage of buzzing, biting things in Rio, and it must be worse the closer to the tropics and the rainforest you get. Yesterday’s tour was breathtaking. I count myself so fortunate to have the opportunity to see such beautiful places in the world.