My trip to Rio was an unusual one for me. Normally I travel during a school holiday while masses of other people do the same throughout Latin America. This time, my school paid for my colleague and me to travel to the AASSA Educator Conference in Rio. They took care of the visa, the hotel, and even reimburse us for about $30 per day toward meals (once we figure out the reimbursement process).
Sadly, because the conference was held about an hour outside of the tourist highlights in the Barra de Tijuca neighborhood (mostly famous for its shopping centers) we really only had one day to explore. So as soon as our flight touched down, my colleague collected his suitcase (I had my trusty backpack since I prefer to travel carry-on only), and we went out to find our tour guide to show us as much as we could see of Rio in one day.
We started with a stop at AM/PM mini market to store our luggage under a blanket in his backseat. We grabbed some cappuccinos and breakfast sandwich croissants and quickly ate them at the cute bistro style tables they had inside the minimarket (certainly nothing like the AM/PMs I’ve visited in Portland).
From there we drove to the Sugar Loaf Mountain. Because it was probably only about 8AM at this point (and raining) we felt like we had the place to ourselves. We never had to wait in any lines and we didn’t need to fight for a good view. The 395-meter summit offers fantastic views of the city and when the clouds are feeling benevolent you can even see the Christ statue. My guide said that many people take one of the many climbing trails to get to the top but I think most tourists appreciate the two cable cars to make their way to the top.
My view from Sugar Loaf of the Christ the Redeemer statue in the distance
Next, we headed out to buy our tickets to see the 40-meter tall Christ the Redeemer, but once we got to the ticket office the lady didn’t want to sell us tickets because it was so cloudy and rainy that we wouldn’t be able to see anything. After a quick glance up to confirm that indeed we couldn’t even see the statue at this point, we decided to go to a local farmer’s market in the street nearby.
Everyone was so friendly at the market. There were fresh fruit and vegetables (I really liked seeing one vendor who had prepared all of the veggies so they were ready to cook for those busy Carioca citizens. My friend loved the vendor who sold a variety of spicy peppers, but my favorite stand was a food vendor who made little tapioca cakes with various fillings. Yum!
From there we drove to the Santa Theresa neighborhood. It was fun to wander around this bohemian neighborhood. Our guide helped us find a store that only carried handmade artisanal products (I could tell the difference after visiting many markets over the years!) and I bought myself a magnet for my collection.
Tip: You can also catch the city’s last remaining streetcar in the Santa Theresa neighborhood if you prefer to explore the cobblestone streets from a distance.
We stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall café that served organic acai bowls. This is a famous snack in Rio so I was very happy to try this gelato like super food with granola sprinkled on top. My guide said that most locals eat it no more than once a week because while it is healthy it also has a lot of calories. This was also the first time that we got to try these delicious cheesy bread balls (my hotel served them every day with breakfast and they never got old).
After reinvigorating ourselves with a little espresso and a few quick snaps of the local street art, we headed to the Selaron Steps. These steps were made famous (or so my guide told me) when someone writing for the Lonely Planet came across 1990 by Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón decorating a stairwell with tiles from all around the world. Nobody had asked him to decorate the stairwell or paid him to do so, but he was a little crazy (I’m told) and wanted to bring a bit of beauty to his city. After awhile, people just began sending him tiles from everywhere. Now tourists from all around the world go to find a tile from their city and pose on the Selaron Steps.
Tip: if you don’t care to wait in the line to take your picture with the name “Selaron Steps” you can do as we did and start at the top of the steps and work your way down. We were able to avoid a half hour wait and many tourists this way.
Finally, our guide took us to this church that looks like something out of a science fiction novel. It was the Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, designed by Architect Edgar Fonseca in the late 60s and 70s and was inspired by Mayan pyramids. It is unlike any cathedral I’ve ever visited.
We had hoped to visit Copacabana or Ipanema on our way to our hotel but by this point, it was 3 in the afternoon and we needed to drive about an hour and twenty minutes to find our hotel in Barra. Also, the rain was picking up so it was not great beach weather (the rain seemed to be an afternoon tradition the week I was in Rio)!
I hope I can return to Rio (and hopefully many other cities in Brazil) one day. If I can, I would love to see more of the beaches, the botanical gardens, and explore the nightlife. Who knows, maybe one day I will work in Sao Paolo at the Graded School and be able to pop over to Rio on random weekends!