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.