Ports of Call

Rio de Janeiro

World famous explorer and part time pirate, Floyd Devine, recently visited the lovely country of Brazil. While it is widely rumored that the intrepid traveler was fleeing from the law, his ex-fiance and The Devine Times collection staff, our editor firmly maintains that “I didn’t do it, you didn’t see me do and you can’t prove anything”. Regardless, Mr. Devine did manage to send us a few photos and some written material on Brazil via a rather sickly looking carrier pidgeon, which we regretfully had to put out of it’s misery shortly after arrival. Here then is Mr. Devine’s thoughts on the great country of Brazil.

“Brazil is a really big place. You wouldn’t really think of it as being so big when you’re hanging around the water cooler discussing soccer. Something we don’t really do in the United States anyway, but you get the point. To give you an idea of its size, think of the United States with all the nasty bits trimmed off. You know, California and that really cold bit across the top (we’ll keep the Northwest though, they have good coffee). What you have left is mountains, high plains, magnificent waterfalls and sandy beaches. The natural diversity of Brazil rivals that of the United States and the only big difference is that they have a huge jungle instead of the really, really, really cold bit (like the part we trimmed off the Northeast of the United States earlier in this article).

Whatever your looking for, that doesn’t require snow mobiles or skis of course, Brazil has it. From the Amazon River and the dense jungles that surround it to the incredible waterfalls of Foz de Iguaçu, there is adventure waiting. Any first trip to Brazil, though, has to start with the world capital of string bikinis and all night Samba, Rio de Janeiro.

The capital of fun, Rio has something for everyone. If you want to party all night long with women in string bikinis, the numerous clubs of Ipanema and Copacabana start late and end early (the next day that is). Any type of entertainment or fine dining you want can be found in Rio. That isn’t your cup of tea, then head out to see the sites. Take a taxi or the little train up Corcovado to the base of “Christ the Redeemer” and you can see all of Rio or take the cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf mountain and check out the view from the other side. Walk the miles of beaches full of women in string bikinis in Copacabana, Ipanema and Barra de Tijuca or walk through the Botanic Gardens. Cathedrals, convents, old forts and historic communities like Santa Teresa all waiting to be explored. Just keep an eye on your wallet and don’t hop a bus unless you know it’s going to the right place and you’ve got a strong heart (the phrase “Death on Wheels” comes to mind).

Places to stay in Rio are numerous and cheap rooms can be found if you look hard enough. A good place to start is the official state government tourist site of Rio. Rio is a resort town, so the prices near the beach in Copacabana and Ipanema are going to be high. Expect prices in the $200 (or more) a night range for a place facing the water. Go a block or more back and you’ll be able to get a place easy walking distance from the beach for less. As far as cheap hotels go, I like the Augusto’s Copacabana Hotel in Copacabana and the Arpoador Inn at the corner of Ipanema Beach. Augusto’s is very comfortable and centrally located, but it is on a side street a couple blocks from Copacabana beach so don’t walk around late at night with a lot of money on you. The Arpoador Inn isn’t as nice as Augusto’s, but it is inexpensive and sits right on the corner of Ipanema Beach at the turn to Copacabana. It is a very safe spot and very convenient not just to the women in string bikinis on Ipanema Beach, but to numerous restaurants and bars and is walking distance to the Hippie Fair (arts and crafts) held Sunday’s in Ipanema’s General Osorio Square.

Getting around in Rio is easy. I don’t recommend renting a car on your first trip to Rio. The streets are wild with crazy bus drivers and even crazier “Cariocas” as the locals are called. It is also very easy to get lost and accidentally wind up in a part of town that is not, shall we say, tourist friendly. Let someone else do the driving the first trip. There are numerous “Tour Guides” who speak English and know the town, taxis are common and the Metro running from mid-Copacabana to Downtown, Maracana stadium (soccer again) and the outlying suburbs (don’t wanna go there) is clean and efficient. Unless you get really good information, don’t take the normal city buses. You may just wind up in one of the colorful (read armed gangs and drug lords) favelas. There are air conditioned tourist buses that run along the beach for a bit higher price and will take you to the nearby shopping centers and the Southern area of Barra de Tijuca, where more shopping, dining and beaches full of women in string bikinis can be found.

Now that you know how to get around, where should you go? The obvious answers are the beaches full of women in string bikinis, Sugar Loaf mountain and Corcovado with its “Christ the Redeemer” statue, but there is a whole lot more. Rio used to be the capitol of Brazil and many of the historical buildings are open to tour. In Centro, you have the Municipal Theater, the conical Metropolitan Cathedral with its catacombs, the Museum of Modern Art, a Naval Museum at the entrance to the Navy Arsenal, The old viaducts of Lapa and up the hill, the artistic community of Santa Teresa. Just to mention a few things. Around the city, you can tour the famous Maracana soccer stadium and its museum, climb the Duque de Caxias Fort in Leme for a beautiful view of Copacabana Beach, visit the Botanical Gardens in Jardim Botanico or tour the Tijuca Forest in the surrounding hillsides (don’t enter the woods at night!). There are several other forts, churches and governmental palaces. How about a hydrofoil ride to Paqueta Island in the inner bay. A short drive into the mountains is the Imperial Palace and museum at Petropolis, former home to the Portuguese and Brazilian Imperial families. Quite a list, eh? And there is a lot more that I didn’t mention.

Dollars aren’t as universally accepted as they used to be, so you will need to change your money to the Brazilian Real. The exchange rate has been hovering around 3.0 to 4.0 Real to the dollar. Most hotels will change money, but I’ve found that the best rate is in the ATM machines. Citibank, HSBC and Banco de Brasil all have ATMs that accept foreign cards, just look for the symbols for your network on the machines. If the machine doesn’t have international network symbols on the front, it won’t accept your card. Also, look for an ATM in a public place with guards around. Unfortunately, crime happens in Rio.

Speaking of crime, it happens. Rio is a huge city and there are lots of unsavory characters out there looking for a chance to victimize you. People ask me all the time if Rio is too dangerous and shouldn’t they go somewhere else. I say no, go to Brazil. I’ve traveled all around the world and Rio is worth seeing. Just take precaution not to leave valuables lying around your room or on the beach, and minimize your exposure (don’t wear a lot of fancy jewelry around on the streets). Walk around only with the money and credit cards you really think you’ll need (leave the rest in the hotel safe) and just be aware of your surroundings. I think the reason the string bikini is so popular is that the crooks know you’ve nothing to hide, so they leave you alone. Be careful not to walk in alleys or small side streets at night and stick to the public areas if you’re not familiar with the area. I lived in Rio for years, vacation there at least once a year and I’ve never had an incident. That’s no guarantee, but smart tourism will help keep you safe in any city in the world.

I could write a book on Rio, but suffice to say, it is a place you have to experience for yourself, even if the string bikini thing doesn’t interest you. I hope this little bit of info helped, and I’ll be putting out more travel info on Brazil and other cools places in future editions of The Devine Times