• Bohemian Santa Teresa

    HuntingTheBungle-1569Rio’s world-famous Escadaria Selarón

    We knew little about Santa Teresa when we booked two nights, but we really managed to land on our feet! I think both of us want to move to this eclectic haunt permanently now! The area is a mere 15 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Ipanema and Copacabana, but it couldn’t be more different if it tried. Old-worldy, charming and brimming with rich history, Santa Teresa is often referred to as the “Montmarte” of Rio.

    Our first taste of the winding cobblestone streets and graffitied walls came when we visited the Lapa Steps (Escadaria Selarón) – the world-famous brightly tiled staircase of Rio, which connects Santa Teresa and Lapa (a well known party district). The stairs themselves are stunning, like something out of a film (not just a Snoop Dogg or U2 music video) and do more than provide a backdrop for millions of photographs every year – they mean the world to the locals. In 1990 the artist, Chilean-born Jorge Selarón, began renovating the rundown staircase with coloured tiles as a way of giving back to the community. He lived in a house along the walkway and, often broke and jobless, began selling his artworks to pay the bills. Initially, neighbours criticised the choice of colours he used on the staircase, but as the masterpiece grew, so too did his Selarón’s name. Soon people from all over the world were bringing tiles to add to the work. Sadly, Selarón committed suicide on the staircase in 2013, in the very spot he spent two decades bringing to life.

    “Right here was where they found him,” our tour guide said while pointing to one of the steps. Although Selarón may be gone, his “tribute to the Brazilian people” lives on immeasurably and is visited by huge crowds every year.

    - – – -

    Behind the ageing mansions and bohemian crowds that pour out of Santa Teresa bars at night is another tragedy that still haunts the area. Santa Teresa has one of the oldest tram lines in the world, but in 2011 a derailment saw 6 people killed and more than 50 injured. All tram services have been suspended since the incident and locals blame the authorities for what happened. Many posters around the area remind passers-by about the deaths and want someone to take responsibility.

    Despite some streets being a little unsavoury during the evenings (there is graffiti warning you and local people shouting at you to keep your camera hidden), Santa Teresa boasts a creative vibe that not many other places do. The people are wonderful, the colours are immense and some of the food will make even the hardened vegetarians sway.

    MUST DOs:

    • The Lapa Steps
    • Walk the cobblestone streets and check out the amazing architecture
    • Indulge in local cuisine (one of the best meals we have had so far was a steak dish at Bar do Arnaudo in the main strip. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but GO INSIDE AND FEAST!
    • Stay at Casa Beleza. A beautiful old mansion down a winding street – you’ll get your own private bathroom (or if you’re lucky the honeymoon suite with a view!), amazing breakfasts and two old turtles nipping at your toes. Say hi to Antoine and Bindu for us!

    We are producing these posts as participants in Lonely Planet’s Pathfinders community.

    HuntingTheBungle-1360This may not look like much during the day, but by night bars like this are booming with punters spilling out onto the streetsHuntingTheBungle-1535I feel safe, don’t you? We were warned by our guide not to walk certain streets at night. Even the graffiti told us not to. HuntingTheBungle-1674Boy texts while on his skateboardHuntingTheBungle-1299Men playing cards in the street, Rio de JaneiroHuntingTheBungle-1422Posters alert passers-by to the tragedy that occurred on the tram line in 2011HuntingTheBungle-2136Stu still raves about this dish at Bar do Arnaudo, Santa Teresa – sun-dried steak with pumpkin, rice, black eyed peas and manioc flour. (It really was to die for)HuntingTheBungle-1275Pineapple stall, Rio de JaneiroHuntingTheBungle-1442This street art was painted in anticipation of the World Cup earlier this year. HuntingTheBungle-2682The beautiful pousada where we stayed – “Casa Beleza” – we would highly recommend this for anyone wanting to stay in Santa Teresa. They even had two giant turtles lurking around the gardens!HuntingTheBungle-2172Chelsea’s hit breezy holiday mode HuntingTheBungle-1378Every street in Santa Teresa felt like a work of art  

  • Rio de Janeiro: The Sights

    HuntingTheBungle-1984Chelsea fighting through the crowds at Christ The Redeemer 

    By now we’ve managed to slip into full-blown tourist mode. The cons and sandals have been exchanged for sporty sneakers, the jeans have come off and we’re donning comfortable shorts wherever we go. Our skin is also doing an incredible job at maintaining a red glow from the intense Brazilian sun that we’re still not used to. It’s awesome!

    We decided to kick off our official tourist duties with a visit to one of Brazil’s best known landmarks – Christ the Redeemer. A gargantuan statue of Jesus Christ, we’d caught glimpses of Christo during various taxi rides across the city, but nothing compared to seeing him up close and personal. We had heard tales of men and women weeping at the base of the statue and, as we climbed the stairs, it was easy to see why. Built in 1922, Christo was designed to restore the faith in Rio’s people after World War One ended, at a time when religion was wavering. 30 metres tall, his arms reach 28 metres wide and he weighs a cool 1145 tonnes. Some 2 million people pay a visit to Christo each year (that number is presumably much higher this year due to the World Cup).

    What most don’t know is that the towering monument is covered in stone tiles, many of which have been chipped away by wild storms and lightning strikes over time. In January of this year, he lost parts of some fingers. Despite the hundreds of people waving cameras and selfie poles around while vying for the perfect shot of the statue, it was an ethereal experience – something that everyone who visits the city should definitely do.

    - – – -

    Christo looks over many areas of Rio but perhaps none are more confronting than the favelas, or slums, which are a hotbed of crime, drugs and gangs. We sidled up to a group of equally nervous tourists and had a tour guide take us through the Santa Marta favela, located in Morro Don Marta, southern Rio. For decades, many of the city’s favelas were off limits to gringos or people from rival gangs (including police officers). Rio is reported to have 763 favelas across the city and close to 1.4million residents (22% of the population) reside within the multi-layered communities. Santa Marta was the first favela to be “pacified” under a state program in 2008 – there are no longer any guns and it has a strong police presence with security cameras riddled throughout.

    Someone lets off fire crackers as we enter – a sign in the old days, our tour guide tells us, that police were coming. We climb the concrete stairs through a maze of rooms. Washing hangs from every place possible and satellite dishes teeter on crooked rooftops. As we apologetically clamber upwards, it’s difficult to ignore how intrusive we are. Space is limited in these areas – we regularly step aside to let residents walk on the path to and from their homes. Although Santa Marta is considered safe, there are still drug crimes and “homies” who shy away from tourist photography, and you can sense the tension when a member of our group photographs a dealer at the top of the favela. Our guide’s eyes dart from side to side before he settles things with a calm word of Portuguese.

    It is both eye-opening and saddening – a woman breastfeeding her infant daughter in a tiny room with no privacy from prying eyes; children lugging crates of beer to the top of the favela on their shoulders; rubbish strewn everywhere and sickly animals wandering by. But there is also a level of hope – there are community programs and schooling and these people regard tourists as an important part of their future.

    Every child manages a remarkable grin whenever you look their way.

    - – – -

    We expect the lines at Sugarloaf Mountain to be as long as they were at Christ the Redeemer – but we are wrong. We glide through with barely any wait and make our way up in the first of two carriages, crammed in like sardines.

    We sit, and wait, for the one thing we came for – the sunset. And boy, did that sun set really well.

    We are producing these posts as participants in Lonely Planet’s Pathfinders community.

    HuntingTheBungle-2007Christ The Redeemer HuntingTheBungle-1703The entrance to Santa Marta favela, Rio de Janeiro HuntingTheBungle-1734A favela barber smiles as we walk by
    HuntingTheBungle-1736A store within the favela sells residents drinks and snacks
    HuntingTheBungle-1748“CV” represents one of the gangs in the favela  HuntingTheBungle-1740A narrow corridor leads to more homes
    HuntingTheBungle-1722Residents in the favela are given free paint to decorate their homes, so long as they are rendered
    HuntingTheBungle-1798Views from the top of the favela, you can see Christ the Redeemer in the top right  HuntingTheBungle-2260The view of Rio from Sugarloaf Mountain  HuntingTheBungle-2340Obligatory honeymoon selfie
    HuntingTheBungle-2246Carriages carry sightseers to Sugarloaf
    HuntingTheBungle-2679The thing worth waiting for – sunset
    HuntingTheBungle-2078Ipanema beach – where people like to play 

  • Rainy Rio and jet lag

    HuntingTheBungle-1020Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro

    Hello marriage and hello jet lag! We arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday night, newly blinged with wedding bands and nothing short of delirious. Organising a wedding is enough to make anyone hide under a pillow for days, but throw in a 20 hour flight and it’s more lethal than the pisco sours we downed during our stopover at Santiago airport.

    It’s safe to say we’ve been a little tired and, in hindsight, staying up all night partying with some “cariocas” (Rio locals) on the first night probably wasn’t the wisest decision. Also deciding to scoff down what’s widely known as Brazil’s national dish before hitting the party trail on um dia (day one) was not entirely intelligent. The “feijoada” (a stew of beans with pork and beef, served with kale, rice, some other things we still aren’t sure about and sliced oranges, which help with digestion) is a little harsh on gringo stomachs and, we definitely paid for it. Stu is now a lot friendlier with Brazilian toilets and I have a greater appreciation for sliced oranges (if they are served with something – eat them!!).

    Nonetheless, four nights in the Caesar Park hotel (in an upgraded suite thanks to our dear friend Llewellyn) overlooking Ipanema beach from the 22nd floor has served our weary heads well and although we disappointingly slept through many meal opportunities, the good news is we are now back on track!

    We are producing these posts as participants in Lonely Planet’s Pathfinders community.

    HuntingTheBungle-1034Defaced cactus, Pedra do Arpoador
    HuntingTheBungle-1049Rio’s famous caveman weights
    HuntingTheBungle-1056The view from our hotel room
    HuntingTheBungle-1058Stu googling jet lag remedies
    HuntingTheBungle-1086Street market fruit stall
    HuntingTheBungle-1112Chelsea loves a coloured wall
    HuntingTheBungle-1162Ominous clouds over Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon
    HuntingTheBungle-1193An Ipanema beach kiosk by night