Here it was, the one and only Rio de Janeiro! The exotic place you dream of, the place you read about or see on TV and imagine the time you’ll get to walk its streets, dance its samba and greet its Jesus up on the hill. And here we were… living yet another one of our dreams.
With Rio it was love at first sight. The weather that didn’t go below 15 C even though it was winter. The perfect location, with great beaches, high hills and the largest urban forest in the world, all beautifully intertwined with the cosmopolitan 10 million people metropolis. Beach volleyball and so many other outdoor sports, crazy night life, great shopping, fancy dining, heaps of cultural and artistic events, volunteering and also incredible business opportunities, great spiritual opening, touristic and non-touristic locations, we felt Rio de Janeiro had something for everyone! And the people… the incredible cariocas (as the Rio inhabitants are dubbed) who would offer to help even before we bothered to ask, who are kind and sociable, open and generous, so full of life, smiles and pure happiness… To them life is not about looking at what you don’t have, but about doing your best with what you do have and really making a celebration out of your short time here on planet Earth. We loved being amongst them and were much inspired by their way of welcoming each day with a smile!
Because of the 5 friends we had made on the bus from Paraguay we ended up landing in Eco Hostel, 39 Sao Clemente Street, and quite soon found it the homiest place we had stayed in for the past 4 months. It was a bit ironic because the rooms were huge, 12 beds, and we were used to just the 3 of us in a room for most of our trip thus far. Initially we thought we might not enjoy the lack of privacy… but soon realised it was more of a “fun room” rather than a “lack of privacy room”. That was of course due to the roommates we had, who were awesome people, so we soon decided we’d stay there for the full week we intended to be in Rio. In the first few days it was pretty crowded, as there was a group of Dutch Architecture students staying there, but soon enough it became so calm we felt we were really at home. Eric, Julia and Samuel (the staff) surely made us feel that way too!
We were so happy with the price as well, it was 25 Reais a night and if you paid in advance for 4 you’d get the 5th one free. Botafogo was said to be one of the safest neighborhoods in Rio and the location was excellent: 3 minutes to the Botafogo beach (no swimming possible there though) and less than 30 minutes walk to Praia Vermella (Red Beach) and Copacabana Beach. By bus is was less than 15 minutes to Copacabana and 20 to Ipanema, and the transportation was very convenient, with plenty of bus stops around and 1 minute walk to the Botafogo Subway station. Shopping wise it was great too, with one of the cheapest supermarket chains in Rio (Mondial) just 5 minutes away. As a bonus, we got to see Jesus from our balcony any time we felt like it!
And this is how the first week in Rio passed, in the company of our 5 new friends, Michael, Brigitte, Katie and all the other great people we met in the hostel. It was with them that we experienced our first Caipirinha, our first Samba and Funk party in Lapa on a Friday night, our first football game watched with the locals at Copacabana beach. We were having such a great time that it became obvious one week was not going to be enough to do all we wanted in Rio. The decision to stay for another week was made almost without thinking!
Slowly then our friends started leaving, some back home, some towards new adventures. Meanwhile we had gotten in touch with some of the Couch Surfers in Rio and we attended their weekly meetings, so making new friends was not at all a challenge. Carlos invited us for beach volleyball one Wednesday evening, and we soon became addicted! We played till midnight the first day, then met up the next day for the CS meeting and played again till late into the night. That was also when we met Eduardo, Diego, Nathan and Thiago, lovely people we got to share good moments with during the rest of our stay. Thiago ended up hosting us at his place for a couple of days as well, and we really appreciated his hospitality.
That was also when we met Morgan and Maurice, two special guys we’d end up spending most of our time with and who would become our very dear friends. Morgan is from a lovely part of France and his name – which means “in love” in poetic language – is not English as everyone thinks, but actually French (he repeatedly highlighted this fact, so it feels important to share it with you guys). We became friends right away, and that was not at all surprising as he is as cool, fun loving and adventurous as we are :D. We spent a lot of time together playing beach volleyball, partying in Lapa, visiting the Mangueira Samba School or just meditating on the beach after delighting in some delicious Acai (our favorite one was called Superbomba – now that’s a name!). He left Rio one week before we did, as university was still waiting for him in Germany, but the special relationship between us will not fade away so easily and we’ve already set our next “date” in France :-).
Maurice (Hol) came to Rio for a 6 weeks house swap; that’s to say a guy from Rio went to stay in his home in Amsterdam, while he is staying in the guy’s condominium in Rio. A pretty cool arrangement, we thought! We had heard of house swaps before, and now here was proof it actually works. Of course you need some trust to make it happen, but it can turn out to be a pretty amazing experience. During our last 4 weeks we spent a lot of time with Maurice, again playing beach volleyball, having picnics on the beach and up a hill, trekking up Pao de Azucar, meditating and even visiting the famous Ilha Grande. Boca had a special connection with him that started with their common love of Freud (:-p) and continued with many insightful conversations in and around Rio. He loved Rio so much that he changed his original plan of going back to Amsterdam after the 6 weeks were over, and instead decided to rent a room for another couple of months in his favorite area in Rio, Santa Teresa. How long he’ll actually end up staying in Brazil… nobody knows :).
New friends were not the only ones we spent great moments with in Rio. One great surprise we got one day was an email from a dear friend in Singapore who was letting us know he’ll be in Rio for a couple of days with his girlfriend. It was just so good to see Andries and Masha away from ‘home’… Felt as if they brought a piece of Singapore to us and it reinforced the feeling that this world is so so tiny, and friends can be reunited in the most unexpected places. Gave us hope and enthusiasm for future such reconnections.
The decision to stay
Our initial plan had been to spend one week in Rio, one in Salvador and another in Fortaleza, then make our way to Bolivia for a month and get back to Cusco (full circle) on the 31st of August for Vipassana, a 10 day silent meditation retreat we had signed up for. We soon decided we would skip Fortaleza for time and money constraints (transportation in Brazil is ridiculously expensive!!) so that gave us more time in Rio. Silviu and I needed a visa for Bolivia, and upon inquiring we realised it would be so troublesome and expensive to get one that we wondered if it was worth the effort at that moment. Plus, the prices for flights to La Paz had gone up so much since we had last checked that flying there was also not an option anymore. So we decided we’d skip it this time and hope something would change in the next few months. That’s what they call wishful thinking, but we were all for it!!:D In any event, that then meant we had about 6-7 weeks to emerge ourselves in the Brazilian way of life.
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