Robin in Rio

August 30, 2005

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I was out till late last night with Ryan and Jessica. We attended a huge street party in Lapa. THIS is what I didn’t get to do when I was in Rio alone last year. There was olundum drumming and bossa nova and people crowded in the streets and fresh caipirinhas and dancing all night long. And my son sending me home in a cab at 2AM.

Rio a city aptly named Ciudade Marvillosa – Marvelous City. You can feel it breathe, heave like the vital city that it is. It is winter and it is hot – not too bad today as it´s overcast, but I can go out at night wearing sleeveless tops, shorts, and sandals, and not get cold. Love it!

I´m having an entirely different experience in Rio this go-around because I’m in Copacabana among the tourists. Last year I stayed in Santa Theresa, where I will move later today. We’ve decided to stretch our stay here to a week. And so to save a money, I will move up the hill. It will be interesting to see if my experience of Rio changes with the neighborhood.

I now understand all the readers who wrote last year to tell me that they didn’t experience Rio as a dangerous city in the way I had. Even one of my American female friends told me she had a blast when she visited Rio, partying until late in the night. What I am learning this time in Rio, is that your perspective depends on what part of Rio you are living in.


Copacabana – I can walk about safely with a minimal amount of watchfulness. Especially if I gesture, dress, and look Brazilian.

However, there WAS this incident our very first night in Rio, not two blocks from my hotel. As we stood at a street corner waiting for the light to change, a bus lurched to a stop. Inside the lit interior 0f the bus, people were standing, fists flying, shoving, jumping over turnstiles, pouring out of the bus, chasing some hapless soul down the street. Probably someone who got caught picking the pocket of a Brazilian on the bus. It served as a reminder, just a couple hours after our arrival, that Rio is a city that can at any moment break out in song OR a shooting.

Today I’m in bohemian, artist-centric Santa Teresa among the old houses that crawl up the hills, the streets that snake around and around. This old bohemian hood, it’s houses walled off, guarded by rottweilers, is surrounded on two sides by favelas. I ask Louis about the fireworks I hear going off. “Oh that,” he says. “That means that the drugs have arrived.” What about the occasional firecracker?” I ask him. “That’s to signal inhabitants of the favela that the police have arrived.”

I don’t carry my laptop in this neighborhood. Nor anything that I don’t mind giving away at gunpoint or a shard of glass.

I ask Adrianna why an end isn’t put to this terrifying hold that the favelas have on the city. She says that the police don’t do anything because they know that the favelas are as well armed as they are, maybe more so. “How can that be?” I ask. “Some say that there are insiders in the military who are selling arms to the favelas.”” Adriana, a woman who has lived in Rio all of her life tells me that the fear is always there. She says that just two weeks ago favela lords duked it out from different ends of the ????? Tunnel, a heavily used road through the ?????Mountain from Leblon to ?????. “Brazilians caught in the tunnel panicked, abandoning their cars and running for their lives.

There you have it. The Marvelous City. Heaving with vitality and set to go off at any moment.


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