Dudes, Rio is nuts. I can't believe I'm back home already. Everyone survived my week away - almost too well actually. Dave and Levi are best buds and have had lots of adventures in my absence. I've been trying to woo Levi back to me as I sit in a haze of overwhelming awe at the incredible opportunity I just lived through and utter sleep-deprivation from catching an 11 hour red-eye.
I didn't quite know what to expect when the plane landed at Rio International - it looked warm and sort of industrial (aren't most airport locations?) so when we (and Esta from Stop the Traffik in Holland) finally got picked up in the van by our host for the week, Ebenezer and started to rumble our way out of the concrete through the city I slowly started to get that tingle of excitement/nerves you get when you realise you are totally out of your comfort zone and loving it. I'M IN FREAKING BRAZIL. Gemma and I mumbled some 'oohs and aaahs' as we spotted the colourful buildings and beautiful architecture - all the while creaking our necks for the first sign of the 'Christ the Redeemer' statue. Ebenezer must have caught on to what we were doing, smiled knowingly and said in his broken English: 'just wait...where you sleep...it is right under Christ. You will like very much...'. I nodded and smiled, nipping Gemma in the arm as if to say both 'did he just say that?/eeeeek I can't wait to see this place'. We picked up the rest of the team that had arrived the night before at a hotel downtown and started the ascent to our accommodation and what I can only describe as the scariest drive of my life.
The roads were at 45 degree angles upwards, narrow, cobbled and fast. We spent 10 minutes navigating a 16 seater bus around a hairpin bend at one stage. Couple that with 32 degree heat, a bus load of people we had never met and that post-long-haul flight feeling, I was starting to feel dizzy.
At last we arrived to the accomodation: the most beautiful, slightly run-down old convent situated at one of the highest points in the city. When we got out of the van, nobody spoke - it was completely breathtaking.
From the front of the building the view cascades down to the city with a landscape I've never experienced before. It's houses, mountains, trees, favelas, all on top of each other like matchboxes and play gardens - Christ the Redeemer hangs above the convent to the right. It is quite a sight to behold.
At the back of the building, it's similar but the city sprawls to a halt as the Atlantic crawls along the shore, curling around Sugarloaf Mountain and twinkling in the sun. Our room faced the back - we woke up every morning, pulled the curtains back and just laughed. The views were so ridiculously hard to believe.
I'm not going to get into all the details of the conference for now (but I will eventually when I have time to process, so brace yourself) so I thought I'd just post a few highlights.
Christ the Redeemer: I don't know if there is a word in the English dictionary to describe how mammoth this statue is (sure, mammoth is a good word - but it's BIGGER THAN MAMMOTH). I almost found it hard to look at when standing right beneath it - it felt like it was gonna fall right down on me it was so big. The train/tram ride up to it was amazing too - it was really wild and jungle-esque and had some really incredible lookout points. An absolute must. Thankfully the clouds didn't roll in until we were finished looking around. When they did, it was kinda creepy - we were genuinely inside them, watching the city below sweep in and out of visibility.
The detail on the buildings and grafitti/art is stunning. Rio certainly isn't quaint. It's brash and rough around the edges, but the colours of the buildings (lots of yellow) soften it up, and the tile-work and design is really beautiful.
We spent a day at the end of the conference exploring the beaches, hitting up Copacabana and Ipanema beach. It was cloudy but warm so I obviously didn't put suncream on and got myself a nice sunburn souvenir (when will I learn). Copacabana was quiet, and I went for a dip in the VERY COLD ocean. We had coconut water out of big-ass coconuts (which wasn't actually that nice. Water with a hint of coconut, really - I don't know what I was expecting but whatever - it looks cool in pictures) and I managed to haggle down a man selling hammocks from 190 Real to 70 Real (less than £20). Copacabana, famous as it is, is a bit tawdy and riddled with sellers walking up to you every 10 minutes, which is quite grating. Ipanema seemed to be a little bit more relaxed and less full on - I wish I had spent a bit more time there.
We went to an amazing Brazillian BBQ restaurant that had a massive salad bar and I had the BEST beef of my life. The convent meals were mostly a combo of rice, beans and beef so it was nice to get out on the last days and have some veggies to, you know, regulate the old digestive system.
I'm not sure it's quite fair to agree with the stereotypes of Rio being a criminals playground, but I definitely didn't feel 100% safe all of the time. The landscape and the sights are second to none and I feel incredibly lucky to have had a chance to explore.