Archive for the ‘rio’ Tag

Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro

With a local guide, I took a tour of the neighborhood Santa Marta, a densely populated, narrow strip of houses that crawl up a hillside in Rio de Janeiro, rising above the upper middle class neighborhood of Botafogo. This is one of Rio’s many favelas, in a city where class differences and economic inequality are in plain sight, and make for a tense atmosphere throughout the city. Santa Marta has been slowly integrated into the city’s infrastructure, facilitated by the construction of a funicular line that made getting to the upper levels of the neighborhood much easier.  I recommend this for any visitor to Rio interested in learning about the city beyond the beaches and tourist sites, go with a local guide, and preferably in a small group. The tours typically start near the bottom of the funicular and start with the ride up to the top, slowly winding back down to the base.

The neighborhood was brought to the world’s attention during the filming of Michael Jackson’s video for his song ” They Don’t Care About Us”. Residents still speak fondly about Jackson, and I met one shop owner who proudly remembered her role as an extra in the video. While the attention to the neighborhood faded, it was one of the first favelas to be ‘pacified’, and it looks like some areas are showing marked improvement, with shops, restaurants, and community centers setting up near the base. A recent paint job carried out by residents has turned this into a pretty photogenic site, but again it’s cosmetic. Still, parts are still in bad repair, life can be especially miserable after a heavy rain, and many obstacles remain for residents of the neighborhood.

Tribute to Michael Jackson

Sewer repair by city workers

What’s Brazil without a nice splash of colors?

The colorful and the chaotic

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Sao Paulo, September 2016

A flashback to a year ago, when I took advantage of Brazil’s visa waiver during the summer months of 2016, and made a trip to South America. . .

I had the chance to explore the major cities of Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, and Sao Paulo, each of them with their own distinctive personality. Rio has its famous beaches with big city flair and tension, Brasilia is world-famous for the Niemeyer design and its successes and failures as an urban environment, and then there’s Sao Paulo. It’s exactly what you would expect of a metropolitan area of more than 20 million people, in a country defined by people coming from all corners of the world. It’s drab, and you can’t really tell which direction you’re looking, since there are skyscrapers extending forever everywhere you look. That’s probably the defining feature of Sao Paulo, lots of concrete. The city is not pretty, but it works and works and works. The center is a frenetic place much like New York or Tokyo, unflinchingly commercial, with horrendous traffic, too busy to be unsafe, with a population proud of the chaos. Rio this isn’t.

The endless Sao Paulo cityscape

About a mile from the center is the financial and commercial heart of Brazil, Avenida Paulista. It’s the city’s showcase, a clean, wide boulevard lined with innovative skyscrapers and high end shops. On Sundays it’s closed off to traffic, and turns into an informal stage and catwalk, with bands playing concerts, rollerbladers, families out for a walk, Mormon missionaries, political protests, and an endless circus of personalities. The city does take a day off on occasion.

Oscar Niemeyer’s Edificio Copan (1952-1966), now draped in this ugly blue covering after pieces of the building started falling off

Pickup football game, downtown Sao Paulo

Sunday on Avenida Paulista, with its distinctive skyscrapers

Protest against President Michel Temer. I visited shortly after the impeachment and removal of Dilma Rousseff from office.

To really explore would take a lifetime, just like the other megacities I’ve visited. But I really liked what I saw, and hope to see the city more in depth next time I get to visit.

 

 

A few Brazil basics

I visited Brazil for the first time a couple weeks ago, spending time in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Brasilia. I came between the Olympics and the Paralympics, and in the middle of the impeachment turmoil. The usual visa regulations were suspended between June 1 and September 18. This made traveling to Brazil quite convenient, as getting a visa is rather cumbersome, in addition to the $160 visa cost. So with that amount of money saved, I took a flight directly to Rio and shuttled back and forth between Rio, Sao Paulo, and Brasilia, before flying out of Sao Paulo.

So this post will cover a few of those typical questions for first-time visitors to the country. I had my share of concerns and honestly a bit of trepidation over the safety aspect of the large cities, since this tends to be the first question that potential visitors ask. I’ve also heard my share of horror stories, but hey, I heard the same sort of stuff about visiting Detroit.

Is it safe? That’s probably the first question, as sadly, it seems like the first association people make when one mentions Rio is crime, and not the beaches, or Sugarloaf, or Christ the Redeemer. That said, I had no problems. It’s worth considering that despite all one hears about the dangers in Rio and Sao Paulo, they are busy and very large cities where millions of people go about their daily lives without problems. That said, there is an edgy feel in central Rio and Sao Paulo that takes some time feeling comfortable in. It reminded me of New York in the  days of the 1990s, where I still felt quite safe, despite a surge of violent crime. Brasilia had a slightly creepy feel in the hotel zone, as it was a Sunday when I visited, and many of the businesses were closed and the streets deserted. While the warning about central Rio on weekends should be heeded, I found the main streets of Copacabana to be pretty safe day and night- I did drag around a bunch of luggage and laptop bag while I was searching for my hotel. There are also lots of people walking around, eating out, drinking, etc. Ipanema felt much more upscale, as did Av. Paulista in Sao Paulo.

Arriving in Brazil. The main international airports in Rio (Tom Jobim Galeao, GIG) and Sao Paulo (Guarulhos, GRU) are pretty far from the city centers, but they’re the main international points of entry into Brazil. It is often a better idea to arrive at the smaller domestic airports, Santos Dumont (SDU) in central Rio, or Congonhas (CGH) in Sao Paulo, these smaller airports are centrally located and well-linked to the international gateway airports. Getting into town, I took the airport bus from Galeao, which goes to the main hotel zones in Copacabana and Ipanema. It’s cheap compared to a taxi, but it will take you 90 minutes to get to Copacabana, and you will need to know roughly where to get off. A good point of reference is the large, fancy Copacabana Palace Hotel which is a few short blocks after the highway emerges at the beach following the last tunnel.

From Guarulhos, I opted for the official taxi when I had my luggage, (150 Reais, or around $46 USD one way to Paulista), but if you’re traveling light, the bus 257 / subway combo is a real bargain (around $3.50 round-trip) and takes about 45-60 minutes to get to downtown. Note that the bus only stops at Terminals 1 and 2, and not the new Terminal 3, which handles many of the foreign carriers. There is a free shuttle between the terminals. The bus goes as far as the Tatuape subway station, which is 5-7 stops from the city center region. Luggage storage is available at Terminal 2, located between the East and West sectors. Lockers are 40 Reais per 24 hours, manned storage is 30 Reais.

Getting around. The taxis are generally honest and go by the meter, or by fixed price from the airport. They are also the preferred way of transport after dark, there are tons of them, and it’s safe to hail them on the street. The subway systems in Rio and Sao Paulo are excellent, and will get you around the main areas frequented by visitors.

I took the city bus from Av. Paulista to Congonhas Airport, and I don’t recommend this option, even if it’s cheap. It takes more than an hour to go the five mile route, it’s often standing room only, and you need to really keep your eyes open to get off at the right place! Take a taxi instead.

Going further afield, domestic flights are relatively cheap, with very frequent flights between Rio and Sao Paulo (~120 flights a day!), and security procedures are rather lax. It’s a convenient, and in many ways, necessary way of getting around a very large country, and an enjoyable experience. You even get a decent snack on the short flights.

Photography. Now I was a bit paranoid about hauling around an SLR camera, so I stuck to cell phone pictures for the most part, and used the SLR when I was part of a group or a tour (the Free Walking Tour of Sao Paulo is recommended). I also used the SLR at places requiring admission (Sugarloaf, Sao Paulo Museum of Art, the Martinelli Building). I did pull out the SLR on a Sunday afternoon walking around Av. Paulista, as there were lots of photographers out and about documenting a protest against the President. Perhaps this was a bit too much precaution, but I still managed to get in plenty of photo opportunities. Carry your camera equipment in a backpack. If you’re on a favela tour, follow your guide’s instructions and tips on etiquette.

More on Brasilia, Rio, and Sao Paulo later.