Sunday, November 16, 2014

Beautiful RIO!

By my blog's count, I have completed 8 items on my list.  But, the reality is...I'm extremely far behind at documenting my adventures. My ACTUAL count is 25 completed -- exactly my goal for the original 100 I shared!

For the record, I have accomplished some MAJOR, ULTRA, HUGE items from my list over the past two years. Spoiler alert, I'm now FREE of credit card debt (checked that off a while ago actually....), FREE from car payments, have a passport stamp to prove I took a kickass trip to ITALY with B where we visited the Wine Country of all Wine Countries, oh and yeah, B & I GOT HITCHED!!!! But, I'm not going to write about these things today. Oh, I will write them up some day, but today is not that day.

Today, I am writing about an event that wasn't on my original list, but the experience was so cool, I had to add it as item #102, a "bonus" item on my list. I recently (as in, I just returned on Thur) had the great pleasure of visiting the Southern Hemisphere for the first time ever, on a business trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I had the incredible opportunity to present at a conference with one of my awesome co-workers (shout out to CB! Who I met for the first time in person on this trip (she's located in a different office)! My new work BFF!). And during the trip, we also managed to squeeze in some sight seeing, including a visit to the famous art deco Christo (where I learned that I do, indeed, have a fear of heights).

Before I visited Brazil, I knew very little (ok, zero) Portuguese, and I didn't believe B when he told me that it's similar to Spanish (turns out...yes, he's right...and yes, I leaned on my broken Spanish from time to time to get me through). I can now speak a few very basic phrases and pleasantries, like Por Favor (please), Obrigado (thank you), Bom Dia (good morning/hello), Tchau! (good bye)  Ate mais Tarde (see you later), Desculpe (I'm sorry)'s incredible how far you can get with "please", "thank you" and sweeping hand gestures...and that many in the hospitality industry in Rio either speak English or Spanish. *ahem.*

My lack of Brazilian knowledge extended beyond the language. Admittedly, I knew very little about Brazil before my visit.  I still know very little...but at least now I know a little bit more.  Here is a little bit of the knowledge I gained during my trip.

I learned that the famous Brazilian bossa nova tune "Girl from Ipanema" was inspired by the beach just down the road from my hotel, and that Barry Manilow's famous "Copacabana", while actually written about a club in NYC, was conceived and initially inspired by a conversation he had at the Copacabana hotel in Rio. Sadly, I had no time to visit either beach (had to settle for our own little slice of beach outside the Sheraton Rio, see images below, including one of me dancing in front of a huge rock in the ocean), but we did get to drive down the and see many incredible sand castles and lots of national pride and Brazil flags flying on our way to and from the Sugar Loaf mountain.

Rio is the home to both the Corcovado and Sugar Loaf mountains, and apparently, visitors often get them confused. Both offer stunning views, but it is the Corcovado is home to the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue. To visit the Christo atop the Corcovado summit requires a journey via the "Trem", an electric powered train that angles up the Corcovado mountain and through the Tijuca forest, a lush jungle of trees, vines, fruits and wildlife.  The day we visited was extremely cloudy, but we risked it anyway ("no money back if you don't see anything," we were told).  I'm so glad we took the risk -- the Christo in the clouds was simultaneously haunting yet calming and peaceful...and every so often the clouds through which we were literally (yes, literally) walking, would part to share with us breathtaking views of Rio below. Imagine if we had heeded the warning and not taken the trek...imagine if we had missed this...

The next morning, we visited the Sugar Loaf mountain, welcomed by clear, blue skies and incredible 360 views.  Again, I overcame my sneaking fear of heights and stepped aboard a swinging gondola to witness the beauty.  See there?  That's the famous Copacabana beach from on top of the Sugar Loaf mountain!

I learned early on during our trip that the national cocktail of Brazil is the famous Caipirinha (does the US have one? I didn't know that having a national cocktail was a thing).  The Caipirinha is my new favorite cocktail, a delightfully dangerous concoction of fermented sugarcane called cachaca, sugar, lemon and lime.  Vodka can substitute the Cachaca...though it's simply not the same.

I learned of the Favelas, the Portuguese term for "slum", and I struggle to reconcile that opulent hotels and wealthy homes and luxury shopping malls exist quite literally across the street from the poorest of the poor. I've seen this very duality exist throughout big cities in the US, especially in Detroit and in some TX border towns I've visited, and I've seen it while volunteering in Mexico. In an experience that was a little close to home during my stay, I learned of the dangers that the people of the Favelas live with each day, where shootings and gang and drug activity are the norm. During my stay, I was delayed in arriving at our conference one morning, due to shootings in Rocinha, the largest Favela in Rio (and, I think, in Brazil). It was through that Favela that my taxi drove each day to get to the hotel hosting our conference. I learned that the hotel where our conference was held was taken hostage by gangs as a part of a turf war just a few years ago before it was rebranded. (I'll take "Things you don't tell your mother about your trip to Rio for $800, Alex!")  I learned that just across the street from my own hotel in the Leblon neighborhood (one of the wealthiest neighborhood in Rio) sits a smaller Favela called Vidigal. The people living in the Favelas risk their lives daily to gang activity, and often have no access to running water, proper sanitation or even regular electricity.  Hey, at least they don't have to pay taxes (yes, apparently, Favela dwellers live tax free, lucky them, huh...) All of this, I learned. I learned that in the midst such an amazing, beautiful, stunning city is a marginalized, forgotten underbelly of people living, struggling, making it through each day in ways that many of us couldn't even begin to imagine....

In contrast to those grittier lessons, I learned that so many Brazilians are extremely friendly, artistic, and love to celebrate life! Every Brazilian we encountered was so extremely kind and open (save for one cabby, who was none-too-pleased that we were questioning his choice of route - and yes, it was the cabby who was right! Stupid Americans...) I was blown away by the incredible street art that covered so many walls, light poles, sidewalks, and corners of the city -- more street art than I've seen in any city -- and I only wish I had something better than my battery-drained iPhone 4 to capture the creativity.  The food in Brazil...oh, the food!  Again, damned my shitty iPhone and its ridiculously brief battery life, or my camera would have feasted on those delicious images!  My colleagues and I enjoyed incredible churrasco (Brazilian Barbecue) and delectable Moqueca (essentially fish stew) and a slew of other mouth watering meats and seafood. At the opening and closing ceremonies of the conference I attended, we were entertained by festive Brazilian dancers, drummers and musicians, showing the vibrant, jubilant heritage and mindset of the people of Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro, a trip I won't soon forget, one that has provided me with so many incredible memories, and given me new perspective, and sparked so much new thinking for me...Oh, Brazil, I hope to visit you again some day!