I made it to GIG, found a taxi, and was on my way towards exploring Santa Teresa, and artsy district in Rio de Janeiro. I had arranged the taxi for R85 (the exchange rate was around 3.1 Reais for every 1 USD) after declining to book the fixed rate prepay fare inside the airport for around R160. I was able to message the manager of the apartment I would be using as my base or exploring Santa Teresa from the airport, as GIG actually had free Wi-Fi. She advised that it would take about an hour to reach the apartment from the airport, and it looked like I would be arriving at 11AM (originally I had told her noon, thinking that it would take longer to make it through immigration and get my back).
The taxi driver generally knew where he was going, but got totally lost when he reached the windy, hilly, cobblestone street community of Santa Teresa. Switchback upon switchback and direction upon direction from passerbys later, we finally wound our way to the literal top of the mountain to the Sugar Loft – 11 Rua Dias de Barros. He was not thrilled about the journey, and I’m sure said some choice things to be me in Portugese. Luckily, I couldn’t understand them. I waited for a few minutes at the front gate of the house, and a neighbor informed me the manager, Amelia, would be coming soon. She showed up momentarily and brought me upstairs to my apartment #204. It has a wonderful view of Guanabara Bay, was spacious, clean and comfortable.
In retrospect I would have liked to have stayed an extra night – exploring Santa Teresa turned out to be an unexpectedly charming hidden gem.
I immediately took a shower (20 hours of traveling) and started researching the activity plan for the day. Amelia had informed me that there was an annual arts festival happening in Santa Teresa this weekend where artists opened up their ateliers and workshops for public viewing. Restaurants also were offering special menus and there were special events and activities happening all over the district. I decided to go with that.
I walked down the hill sort of following an obvious direction though a mainly residential community spotting a multitude of beautiful street art and colorful buildings along the way, which ended me up in Lapa. In Lapa, I continued on and found myself in a street fair, where I got lost for a few hours. I bought a few souvenirs and enjoyed various forms of live Latin music, like salsa, samba, and cumbia.
I even tried to get a manicure but it turned out my lack of Portuguese proved quite prohibitive.
I walked around the Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião, noting it’s marked ugliness (maybe it’s pretty on the inside!?). However, the outside killed any desire to check out the inside. So superficial, I know. Here’s the best picture I was able to take given its larger than life scale from the top of the Santa Teresa hillside.
Still in Lapa, I walked around the arches and enjoyed some more music and revelry in a few of the local cafes near the arches. I noticed a working tram/cable car on top of the arches that I later learned you could take for free up the hill to facilitate the ease of exploring Santa Teresa.
On my way back up the hill, I took a different path that led me by more restaurants, bars, galleries also the Escadaria Selarón (Selarón Steps). I literally walked right on to these and was blown away, learning more about them later. OK, exploring Santa Teresa was amazing!
But wait – still not done! Back at the top of the mountain, I continued all the way to the top to the Parque das Ruínas where you could get a full panorama of Rio from the city center to Guanabara Bay. It was all free and open to the public, and even held concerts (with amazing acoustics, I’m sure) and special events frequently.
I then retired for a break before dinner, did some yoga, caught up on emails and took another shower. It was approaching 6PM so I headed out for a brief second walk to check out the public transit system and decide how I would get to Ipanema the following day, and also scope out a few more art galleries along my street. It turns out that the Gloria Metro station was an option for less than 10 Reais, but it was about a half mile away and would be hard to manage with a suitcase. I also could take the tram down to Lapa and then figure something out, but again…a pain with the suitcase. I ultimately decided to Uber it, since they had just had just entered Brazil and were already everywhere in Rio.
For dinner, I decided on Espírito Santa, a restaurant recommended by Amelia and also reviewed highly online. I arrived around 7PM, just after dark, and thought it would be crowded considering the art festival going on. It was surprisingly empty (my first taste of the culture of eating later in Brazil). I was the only one sitting outside on the beautiful patio in he beginning, but by 8 their were at least 6 other tables occupied (all apparently tourists though!). Father up on the hill, I could hear a villa throwing a party with a live band playing in the background. It was a nice scene.
I tried a variety of food and took my time enjoying the experience. I started with collared greens stuffed with shrimp and a graviloa (soursop) Caipirinha made with vodka, which apparently made it a Caipisanta. They were both delicious. I also had a salad with some Brazil nuts while a waited, continuing to draw out the dining experience. My main course was a chicken thigh marinated in a mild spiced curry typical of the Amazon, accompanied by a southern Brazilian red blend wine. I finished with a chocolate gateau bon-bon delight (my words, not the menu’s). This probably ran me 200 Reais ($70).
Full and happy, I retired around 9PM, blogged and caught up with friends for a few hours, and soundly slept until I was awoken at 1AM by the sound of a street parade (drums, etc.) on the street right outside my apartment. Had I known the festival would have continued through the night, I would have made an effort to stay awake. C’est la vie. Here’s to being a tourist and out of the loop. Also, it finally made sense why no Brazilians were out between 7 and 9PM – they were napping and storing their energy reserves for later 😉