What better place to end our five-month South American adventure than in Rio de Janeiro. The home of sugared white sands, Sugarloaf mountain, samba, plastic surgery and the skimpiest of swimwear.
After enduring our final South American bus journey from the beachside of Ubatuba, we arrived in the noisy, concrete jungle of Rio’s central bus station. The streets, chaotic with men in orange suits, tirelessly and noisily drilling holes into the ground in an effort add a 16km extension to the subway system, whilst the relentless Rio traffic struggles to weave it’s way through the endless diversions.
Rio is, of course, preparing to invite the rest of the World into it’s city. The 2016 Rio Olympics are only seven months away and there is a very real sense that Rio isn’t ready. Roads have been torn up but not rebuilt, the barriers which were to be built across the city’s rivers to stop sewage affecting the Sailing events are yet to be erected and the residents of local favelas are refusing to accept hefty financial bribes to relocate so their homes can be demolished.
Arriving at our hotel in the district of Catete the owner explained that Rio was experiencing its deepest resession since the 1930’s. To add insult to injury, the Nation’s capital has the small matter of a corruption scandal and ongoing impeachment proceedings against president Dilma Rousseff. Distraction and depression have resulted in domestic sales of Olympic tickets being nowhere near their projected volumes with only 50% of domestic tickets being allocated.
The recession isn’t bad news for everyone. For the thousands of British and American tourists that come to Rio every month, the 30% loss in value against the US Dollar has made Rio more affordable, especially for people like us looking to “do” Rio on a budget.
One day into our week long stay in Rio and I came down with a violent sickness bug which left me bed ridden for over half of our stay. After four days of bed rest and frantically Googling that I hadn’t contracted the Zika virus we were finally ready to go and explore what Rio had to offer.
Stepping out of our hotel at 9 am the small cobbled street outside had been transformed into a carnival parade with hundreds of students dressed in flamboyant costumes, sprinkled in glitter, dancing to the brass band that followed their march down the street. With no route through other than the one owned by the parade, there was nothing else to do but join the party and dance our way down to the main street. Dancing with those students the Rio in ruin we had read and heard about couldn’t have seemed further than the truth. Rio was very much alive.
In the space of two days, we managed to cram in every inch of the Rio tourist trail from the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema to the dizzying and dazzling heights of Sugar Loaf mountain and Christ The Redeemer. Rio offered up everything we had wanted it to. The colour, the beauty and vibrance had provided the perfect grand finale to our South American adventure.