Rio de Janeiro: A Counterfeit Paradise

To recap; beautiful people, stunning landscape, near-constant threat of unavoidable violence, sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Interested? Keep reading my (literally) feverish notes typed while I was still in the moment.

My notes from a Rio de Janero Honeymoon have changed a bit since I first wrote this article. For one, I have been back in the states now a month since returning and my perspective has mellowed a bit. The bronchitis my new wife and I contracted has finally gone away, though the medical plan co-payments still show irregularities. My pending legal action against my hotel and of course Orbitz is, well, still pending but you can be sure I’ll tell you about that later. With the distance of a few weeks – and tons of vacation photos – I can better appreciate the beauty. Not having watched a live mugging since getting back in the states must have done that.

Impressions from the Rio Airport

I write this from the GIG Rio de Janero International airport. My, that sounds like an august name. I’m sure that it conjures a exotic portal to tropical goodness. In reality, it’s anything but. If GIG is an international airport, than Charlotte Douglas is a galactic starport. But I forget myself. I turned this computer on to write about my Brazillian honeymoon. I need a distraction from the crazy, screaming hot mess that I find myself in. And, as you can surely tell, our pneumonia [editor’s note: it turned out to be bronchitis] hasn’t brightened my mood one bit. Let me tell you the story of a counterfeit paradise known as Honeymoon in Rio.

Our trip started early in the day on Monday, February 8th. We woke up in the Yucatan paradise known as Aventura Spa Palace, ate breakfast and departed. Jen had been sick for a few days at this point but was her usual cheery self and refused to cancel the trip. Just get me some meds she said and she’d be good to go. Of course that was during our flight from Cancun to Charlotte after some stewardess friends plied us with free airplane bottles and snacky foods pilfered from first class (which we had gratis for the trip south but not north). Their way of saying ‘Happy Honeymoon!’

As I mentioned before, the wedding week was great. The flight back was very nice. We picked up some cold meds for Jen and returned to the airport for our flight. The 10pm departure was hour 17 of travel for us.

After an hour delay cuased by our 767 “not accepting fuel”, our flight was boarded and we were off. USAir must have dumped the oldest crafts in their fleet and complemented them with the surliest stewardesses they could for this trip. Entirely opposite either of our arrival return voyage from Cancun. An old 767 outfitted with lights that would not turn off, a single widescreen for all of economy to share playing such classics as Wolverine and Amelia. Bright choice on Amelia; a 10 hour flight over waters unknown prefaced with a lost aircraft story. Didn’t, couldn’t know at the time that the plane and its crew would forshadow the entirety of the trip.

Take off the Wedding Rings

Our fellow passengers were the most enjoyable part of the experience. On first glance I thought they’d keep me awake all night with their nonsense. However, the bulk of the plane went to sleep early and it was a peaceful trip. We even learned valuable information like not to wear earrings, wedding bands, engagement rings, or any kind of jewelry worth more than a few dollars. The guide book served to corroborate the returning Cairioca’s warnings and we complied. My new bride gracefully agreed to stow away her rings though she was not too happy about it.

Welcome to Rio!

10 hours on the plane passed with little difficulty. The plane was buzzing as soon as we were roused for breakfast. The meal, like the plane, left much to be desired. I busied myself by looking out the window at the spectacular vista of morning in Brazil. Warm light illuminated a diverse topgraphy. Gentle hills started as bumps in the earth and gradually expanded to full wrinkles of sheer mountains jutting into an azure sea. We were soon welcomed to Rio by the heat and an excited plane.

Taxi Over

We took one from the frist stand, agreed on a price 70 reals – a good price. We were treated to our first hour long tour of the city as we drove to our hotel on Copacabana. We learned of the Favelas– Rio’s slums – their hundreds of thousands (that’s >100,000 in many favelas) of denizens, and the drug gangs that control them. Red Command (Comando Vermelho), Pure Third Command (Terceiro Comando Puro ),  Amigos dos Amigos – Friends of Friends are the 3 he told us about. We later went on a tour of a Amigos de Amigos held favela. More on that in a separate article. The movie City of God – which I have yet to see – supposedly shows the early beginnings of Red Command. It’s now on my to-watch list.That first day was 40 degrees Celsius. 40C = 104F. 104 Farenheit with humidity is incredibly, mind-blowingly hot.Our hotel, the Rio Othon Palace seemed nice from the outset. Hansomly attired bellmen, taxis and porters at the ready, an agreeable concierge provided us early check-in but stated that the room itself wouldn’t be available until the afternoon. We signed in, checked our bags, and tried to walk around outside in the heat. Despite being 100 yards from the beach we didn’t dare go in the water. The intensity of the sun and the waves of heat coming off of the sand saw to that. When you are that hot it is hard to be hungry but we found a shaded outdoor Italian restaurant and ordered a pizza and a few drinks to idle the time away.

Eventually our room was ready. I could go into a tirade here but I will save that for a future article on Why You Should Never Book on Orbitz.In short we paid for a 4 star room and were given a 1 star. I have personally constructed wilderness shelters out of flea and tick infested shrubbery that were more hygenic than this disgusting excuse for a room. Jen cried. We complained. No dice.

Our experience with the hotel eventually ended up being a model of which we experienced all of Rio; By all appearances it ts beautiful on the outside but corrupt and empty once you scratch beneath the surface. A counterfeit paradise.

Good Things About Rio

  • Early AM beaches
  • Stunning Scenery (the beaches! the mountains! the freaking rain forrest inside a city!)
  • Sugar Loaf!
  • Christo Redentor
  • Infectious samba / Carnaval atmosphere.
  • Coconut water from real coconuts
  • Fitness fanatics everywhere – make you feel lazy. Everybody’s always moving.
  • Favela tour (more on this later)
  • Random parades with live music
  • Pretending to be a resident of Copacabana Hotel for a few hours

Bad Things About Rio

  • Muggings
  • !@#$ty hotel conditions
  • Constant begging
  • Group tours necessity
  • “Ladies of the night.”
  • Absolute inabilty to walk or explore anywhere on your own.
  • Having to take taxis to ridiculously expensive restaurants so you can eat without getting shived.

Honeymooning in Rio was like vacationing in a real-world Grand Turismo. Rio was one of the most dangerous place I’ve ever been. That includes Israel, Palestine, NYC, and West Virginia’s Mountaineer stadium wearing VT colors. It was also the most beautiful. (Again including Israel, Palestine, NYC, and West Virginia …) All in all, I am glad we went. I think I’m going to petition for a mulligan on this trip and call a re-do on the honeymoon though.

Rio Plans

February is almost here and we’re headed to Rio de Janero! Arriving one week ahead of one of the world’s craziest parties – Carnaval – this will be a honeymoon to remember!

Brazil Currency is called the Real and roughly $1 US == 1.75 Brazillian Reals. Conversely, 1 BR == 60 cents.

Rio de Janero Itinerary

I surveyed a bunch of on-line itineraries and this rough sketch of plans is influenced by the Rio Carnival, Frommers, and Hostel World. These were helpful as they provided a good outline of events. For example, I learned that we will miss most of the racous and reknown Carnaval parades as they start the night we fly out to return home. However, we may be able to see practices.

While those sites were great for a rough itinary outline, I will get better and more complete data by reading my Lonely Planet guide on my 8 hour flight to Rio. And since nothing ever replaces ground inteligence, we’ll see what the hotel can arrange for us in the forms of helicopter rides, hang gliding, samba lessons, parade practice, etc.

Day 0 – Travel (Monday 2/8/2010)


This will be the busiest travel day I have ever had. Married less than 48 hours earlier, we will leave from our Mayan wedding adventure early in the morning to catch a 90 minue bus ride to our flight out of Cancun airport. A 3 hour flight from Cancun takes us back to Charlotte where we will have to clear US customs. From there we will re-check in for our 8 hour + flight from Charlotte to Rio de Janero just a few short hours later!

3 airports, 5 timezones, 3 countries, 2 flights, countless opportunities for fun!

My expectations for this day are merely to survive! Make our connections, find a cab, get to our hotel, don’t get abducted. Reasonable enough, right?

Day 1 – Copacabana Beach (Tuesday 2/9/2010)

Copacabana Beach

Rio is reknown for its beaches. Time to get up and go relax – recovering from the wedding and our insane travel itinerary. This should let our bodies get acclimatized to the South American summer and Rio’s timezone. Nightlife up and down Altantico avenue sounds inviting but I’m not making any promises. I just want to soak in the ambiance.

Day 2 – Christ the Redeemer Statue (Wednesday 2/10/2010)

Christ the Redeemer

This is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and Rio’s most famous landmark.

Situated on top of Corcovado – ‘The Hunchback’ mountain – this statue overlooks the city. I’ve been seeing panoramic shots of this statue lording
over Rio for years. Now it’s time to scale the mountain and see it for ourselves.

A cogwheel train will take you up the 710 metres to the statue of Christ. The 20-minute ride gives you just enough time to prepare yourself mentally for what is waiting at the top. In the meantime, enjoy the lush scenery and take in some of that fresh mountain air of the Tijuca Forest. But keep your eyes open: every so often you can catch glimpses of Rio way below. Finally at the top of several flights of steps you are beneath the almost 40-metre
tall statue of Christ with the whole of Rio at your feet. The spectacle is truly incredible. The return journey can be combined with a visit to the
beaches at Barra da Tijuca. Mirante Dona Martha Cocktail / Helicopter flight This is another place that offers a fantastic view of Rio, located
alongside the Corcovado. Beach and beachy nightlife the rest of the day!

Day 3 – Sugar Loaf Mountain (Thursday 2/11/2010)

Sugar Loaf.

We’ll hit the beach again early morning. Later that day, we’ll hike another iconic image of Rio mid-morning. Lunch on top.

Sugar Loaf, in the Urca district, is ten minutes from Copacabana. The cable car trip is in two stages: The first goes to Urca Hill, 220 meters high, and then a short walk to the other side leads you to the second station for the next part of the ride, up to the top of Sugar Loaf itself. The top of
Sugar Loaf, 396 meters high, has been landscaped and includes several pathways and a bar. It can be visited in less than two hours. To extend
this into a half-day tour, combine visiting Sugar Loaf with a tour of the centre of Rio. In the centre you can see many beautiful historic buildings
amongst the bustle of an active business centre.

Beach and beachy nightlife the rest of the day!

Day 4 Favela Tour (Friday 2/12/2010)


Rio is indeed called the Marvelous City. But for many, it’s not all that great. We’re going to learn more about the flip side of the beautiful people and the bright lights of the city on Marcelo Armstrong’s Favela Tour.

“In June 2002, the former President of Riotur, Jose Eduardo Guinle tried to censure FAVELA TOUR information. As operators of a very special
tour, it´s our main responsability to inform correctly and be realistic.”

Starting Time
9:00 a.m. / 2:00 p.m. Hotel pick-up in air conditioned mini van. Introduction comments about the context of favelas in Rio city and Brazilian society.

9:30 a.m. / 2:30 p.m. Arriving in Rocinha, welcoming, explanation about the architecture, public services, carnival, etc. Going to a local terrace, pause for pictures of a breathtaking view over Rio, talks about the security, local infrastructure and other aspects of favelas. Driving down through the “Estrada da Gávea”, a former F1 race track. Stop at the Rocinha Handcraft Center. Visiting the commercial area.

10:30 a.m. / 3:30 p.m. Arriving in Vila Canoas, visiting the “Para Ti” community school. This social project is financed by the tour. Besides regular classes, the school teaches local kids initial computer skills and the art of making handcrafts that can also be purchased by the visitor. Walk through the community. Optional stop for a drink in a local “buteco”. Stop at the local square. Informations about the “Favela Bairro” urbanization project.

11:30 a.m./ 4:30 p.m. Return to the hotel through all the south zone beaches. Final talks.

I’m not quite certain if we’ll do the tour in the morning or in the afternoon. I’m not sure if we’ll be feeling very much like touring after the tour. It does feel important, even for a bit, to look under the covers of Rios and gain a little more understanding of what happens beyond the glitz and glamor.

Later that day we may go hike in Tijuca – the inside-the-city rain forrest. (How many cities do you know of that have a rain forrest?) Or we may go hang gliding! Or…

In the morning we may take the old streetcar across the Arcos da Lapa to the quirky hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa. See the Museu Chácara do Céu. Enjoy the view at the Ruin Park, or have lunch in an outdoor café. In the afternoon, go hang gliding. Soar above the beach, feeling the wind,
admiring the mountains and the waves below. Or if that’s a bit too much, take a hike in the rainforest in Tijuca National Park, or stroll amid the
stately palm trees in the Jardim Botânico. In the evening, stroll the walkway round the edge of the Lagoa. Have a snack, a beer, or dinner at one
of the many kiosks. Find a kiosk with a band and enjoy the music and the prime people-watching.

Day 5 Carnaval Starts Today!!! (Saturday 2/13/2010)


2PM – Banda de Ipanema Parade on Ipanema Beach.

Banda de Ipanema, a Rio de Janeiro cultural heritage, is one of the city’s most famous blocos (street carnivals). Attracting over 25,000 spectators
and starting around 5:00pm, the Banda de Ipanema is where you will see parades and street bands playing all over. People of all ages, outrageous
costumes and raucous behavior are all welcome.

Day 6 (Sunday 2/14/2010)

This day will be interesting. We have to check out of the hotel in the morning but our flight doesn’t leave until 10:55pm!!! Not sure if they’ll
let us extend our stay with it being Carnival….

Day 7 (Monday 2/15/2010)

Land in CLT @ 6am.

Any suggestions on where else we should go, what else we should do?