South America | Brazil

Rio de Janeiro / No Hard Feelings

distinguishing between place and experience

   Seen from Corcovado hill with the eyes of Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro might easily be one of the most beautiful metropolises I've ever seen - a myriad of sandy bays, lavishly green hills, rocky islets and granite monoliths says so.


Brazil's most famed metropolis showed off by being artsy

and beachy and the cool kid among South American cities.

From up close, however, the beauty appeared to me as more of a slab beast, at times so disappointingly ugly that it puzzled me what all the laudatory fuzz was about. I felt dazzled by an optical illusion of sorts: standing between Ipanema and Copacabana, looking at one of these famed shorelines as a whole, I'd see but a marvelous mountain-beach-vista with the man-made structures even adding to it. But, once I'd start walking along the high rises, I'd have a hard time finding one building that wasn't repelling.

"Such heights are not easily squeezed into tight realities."

My wandering along the towering slab monsters prompted me to wonder: was it the city, or was it me? Who was to blame for my disappointment? Maybe the people who had talked Rio up to stellar heights? Such heights are not easily squished into tight realities. Or did people simply not dare to admit that this city isn’t really as pretty as one's expectations? Only few people seemed to confess to it out in the open and even called her a shithole.


Maybe, most of all, it was me, having arrived from Buenos Aires on a 48h bus ride. After all I had left behind a city and people I loved. It was raining here too. As though all this wouldn’t have been enough, my time in Brazil coincided with the beginning of the FIFA world cup, a spectacle accompanied by filthy terrors – gentrification and killings, which the soccer fans seemed to tolerate for a bit of fun, for a game. A comparatively rather benign side effect was the skyrocketing of prices to record highs in the neighborhood of USD 150 for a dorm bed. Back then I didn’t know anybody in Rio, and without a place to stay, and these kinds of prices, I had few choices besides plunging into escape shortly after arrival.

"My harshest criticism towards many travelers and especially the ones armed with blogs – that they don’t distinguish between a place and their experience there."

Everything seemed against Rio and me, so how could I possibly be even remotely objective. What’s more, we’re never neutral and our feelings and notions of a place are only as good or bad as our experience there. Does this mean that a good impression, triggered by say beautiful encounters and chance makes ugly facades look pretty? No. I’m fairly certain that much of Rio’s architecture is plain ugly.

But, I am just as certain that I would have liked the city as a whole a lot better under different circumstances. This might be my harshest criticism towards many travelers and especially the ones armed with blogs – that they don’t distinguish between a place and their experience there. I have no hard feelings Rio – you and me just got off on the wrong foot, and I am sure everybody who loves you dearly has every reason to do so.  

And, sure enough, there were corners of delicacy and artistry and charming allure even for grumpy me to stumble upon. I found my gems hidden in-between, strolling through colorful neighborhoods like Santa Teresa. My favorite vista, however, was walking down from Corcovado Hill, letting my eyes chase the sun rays that ever so mesmerizingly tiptoed through little dirt road twists of Favelas, which crawled up the hills and glistened in the blazing light.

"Rio is a hedonist's apartment."

And well, architecture isn't all, so if you're in it for the sand, sun and fun, Caipirinhas and parties, look no further – Rio is a hedonist's apartment with the beach for a living room, Lapa's nightlife in the bedroom, delicious churrascarias and buffets in the kitchen and a rooftop terrace with some unparalleled angles. And maybe, once you're up there, you can even resist the temptation of turning a blind eye to the galvanizing poverty and injustice that draws through the lives of many.




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