Rio de Janeiro is unlike any other city I've ever been to. Whenever I travel, I always try relate a new city to one that I've already been to… But Rio's a little harder to put my finger on. I think I've finally decided that Rio is a cross between New York City and Venice Beach… situated in the middle of a jungle. There's luscious green mountains brushed with fog and a concrete jungle interspersed in between. There's also beautiful blue beaches and lagoons sprinkled in there too.
Although I only had 3 days in Rio, I was able to do everything that I wanted to do: see Cristo Redentor on Corcovado and go hang gliding on Pedra Bonita.
A friend of mine in Rio was gracious enough to let me stay with her and show me around the city during my time there. Thank you so much Laïs! On my first day in the city, we walked around while I got used to the idea that I was – of all the places in the world – in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I never thought that I would be there. Never. Nor did I ever think that I would be studying Portuguese… Oh, life. You're just full of surprises.
On our walk, I got to see some architecture from centuries past (my favorite!) and had bolinhos de bacalhau for lunch – a Portuguese dish of Norwegian cod with lots of olive oil drizzled on top. After lunch, we took the Corcovado train to the top of Cristo Redentor, the enormous statue of Jesus Christ that overlooks the city of Rio. The panoramic view of was breathtaking. Although it was a bit foggy and rainy, it was still amazing nevertheless.
The next day, I went exploring the city alone since Laïs was busy. Honestly, I felt really safe walking around Rio alone. The transportation system was easy to understand – much easier than New York City – and I took the subway to downtown Rio. It was beautiful. I forget how much European influence there is in Brazil. I took a tour of the Theatro Municipal, a lavish theater in Floriano Plaza built in the early 20th century modeled after the Paris Opera. The architectural style was eclectic with a mix of rococo, art nouveau, art deco, classical, and exotic. I felt like I was in Marseille, Egypt, and the pages of "The Count of Monte Cristo" all at the same time; it was breathtaking. I would love to attend a show there one day…
During my trip to downtown, I also visited the Livraria Cultura, a famous bookstore in the same district. Picture Barnes & Nobles times four. There, I bought a book of Byron's poems written with English on one side with a Portuguese translation on the other. I also briefly saw the National Library (fun fact: it's the largest library in South America and 7th in the world) and later a photography exhibition in the Centro Cultural da Justiça Federal. It was a pretty cultural day trip.
On my very last day in Rio, I crossed something major off of my bucket list: going hang gliding in Rio. The first 2 days that I was there were rainy and grey – it is winter in Brazil after all – so the wind conditions weren't safe for flying. Luckily, according to the flight instructors, my last day had the most perfect weather for hang gliding. I was so lucky. The jump would be from the top of a mountain called Pedra Bonita, and the landing would be on the beaches below. Can I just say that I was FREAKING OUT? I was going to run off the side of a freaking mountain! However, my instructor went through everything so fast that I didn't have time for a second thought. He said we're running off the ramp now... and so I did.
If you ever have the chance, go hang gliding. Specifically in Rio de Janeiro. It was the most exhilarating and crazy thing I've ever done, and the view...The view from above was indescribable… lush mountains, a bustling city below, a lagoon peaking out from behind mount Dois Irmãos, and the most perfectly blue ocean... It was an amazing experience. Way to end my adventures in Brazil, right? I went out with a bang… I flew off a mountain.
Leaving Brazil is bittersweet… obviously I'm ready to go home and to see my family. But at the same time, I've had such a wonderful experience living here for the past month and a half. I gained a new family, new friends, and new experiences. I think I got everything that I wanted from this trip – everything that I value most in life. I think I'm satisfied.
Salvador, Bahia – with it's distinct culture and people – will always have a special place in my heart. I guess I'm part nordestina now. Here, I've gotten to live in a beautiful and completely foreign language: Portuguese. I've been able to do everything from learning samba and capoeira, visiting museums, going clubbing, to experiencing a Brazilian ballet and orchestra. I've gone to the gorgeous beaches and gotten to spend time with some amazing individuals who are going to be my friends for life. I've gotten the chance to make a small impact on the lives of some children here. Lastly, I've learned howbeautiful and complicated the country of Brazil is.
It's weird to think that I'm going back to my normal life now. Well maybe not normal per say… but back to familiarity. Soon, I'll touch down in Houston and get to see my beautiful family. (Hi Donny.) I get to spend a week with them in Texas before leaving for California; we're taking a family vacation along the coast. Then I'm going to UCLA to be a coach for my leadership program. Three weeks in California… one week(ish) in Houston… then moving into my apartment in Austin for fall semester. I'm nomadic, I swear.
Something that I learned during my time in Brazil, among many things, is that the life I want – a life of travel, adventure, and success – is not going to be easy. Working my ass off to achieve my many goals… that's not going to be the problem. It's being away from my family that's the hardest part. It's not being able to take them along with me wherever I go.
I know that it's my life to live and that my parents and brother will support me in whatever I do. That doesn't make it any easier. I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens. Life has a lot in stores for me, and I'll accept everything that it brings my way with an open mind and willing heart.
For now, thank you for being all that you have been to me, Brazil. I'll see you soon.