My first and (so far) only true Love.
I label myself a classical carioca, genuinely satisfied being born in this amazing city, and proud of my personality shaped by her incredible atmosphere. Oh, you don’t know what carioca means? Is time to visit Rio, my dear friend! Carioca is the native inhabitant of Rio de Janeiro. As a real Carioca, I do believe Rio is a place everybody should visit at least once. Rio is gorgeous, Rio is divine. Yes, I’m that kind of carioca, gently snobbish—as only we know how to be.
Yet to be born in paradise was not enough for me, I’m constantly travelling around the globe. Travel is my second passion. Whenever I have a chance, the destination doesn’t matter, I’m packed and boarding.
One day back in Brazil, spending an afternoon at the famous Ipanema Beach with friends and hydrated with cold coconut water (pause for a complaint: cold coconut water should be sold everywhere in the world…much easier and more delicious!), while watching the sun rising behind the Dois Irmãos, a friend asked me: “Why do you travel so much?” My honest answer was this:
“I think I’m looking for a place as fascinating as Rio”.
So, after nearly 40 countries and years of wonderful travel memories—have I found it? So far, no. But I will keep trying, although in my heart of hearts, I don’t think I will. Yes, I’m a Carioca snob, I know!
But what makes my Rio so special?
Like all of our wonderful memories of home, I conclude the reason is a blend of Rio deliciousness.
Beautiful beaches, tick.
But, wandering around the world I have found many other spectacular beaches. The Maldives have the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen, but where was the background? The lush rainforest, the majestic mountains, the active city? Let’s try Bali: gorgeous beaches, enfolded in nature, incredible rice fields, volcanoes and forests. Truly enchanting, but another style of life, another vibe. Special, yes. Significant, sure…but different. Cuba? Havana is authentic, with a rhythm all its own, and ever alluring. But it would be an unfair comparison considering the development gap. And Cuba does have unforgettable beaches, alas not in Havana. I will keep searching!
Part of Rio’s charm is due to her origins.
Colonized by Portugal, a mix of European influence, built by african slaves…Rio was one of the largest slave ports in the world. Of course this is all taking place where the indigenous were already living for centuries. The outcome? A mix of cultures, a world-class unique gastronomy, house of Bossa Nova and funk carioca, musical styles so distinct and so representative of the local culture. And, last but not least, a democratic feeling of sharing the area, and the wonders in it. Whether you live in luxurious seaview apartments or in the favelas—the beach will be the same for everyone. Private beaches? No, we do not have those here, our beaches are all public and everyone is welcome. You can watch a beach football match, on the same team will be the CEO of a trendy internet company and his office workers, all playing in equal positions. That’s Rio, it doesn’t matter where you come from, your skin tone, your hairstyle—you are all part of the same group. And tourists are always welcome as well! You are also welcome to enjoy the joy of living here, as a tourist will never be an outsider.
Copacabana is also a great example. This globally famous beach, location of the expensive and symbolic hotel Copacabana Palace as well as the venue of the world famous New Year’s celebrations. All the ingredients to be a wealthy neighborhood, right? Except that Copacabana is a mix of lower middle class, emerging periphery habitants, people who grew up in slums, low budget retirees—most living in small kitchenettes or one bedroom apartments, all sharing the area with rich heirs and upscale families living in apartments overlooking the sea.
Exploring Rio, you can also find innumerable foreigners living here from all over the world. Some are just enjoying a sabbatical, extending previously planned holidays, working for foreign companies, teaching or running their own business (often restaurants, hostels, guest houses). I once asked a French guy why he chose Rio, and his answer was: “I found home here, a relaxed cozy place to live Such a blessed land, with caipirinha.” (Caipirinha: Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaça (sugarcane hard liquor), sugar and lime.) And blessings we have; Christ, the Redeemer, this massive sculpture is constantly watching over us, visible from wherever you are. Talking about landmarks, the Sugar Loaf mountain is also there, observing you during your commute to work, with her smooth curves.
“Rio smells like holidays!”
I heard this once and couldn’t agree more. Is part of the locals’ DNA to enjoy the outdoors, be happy for the extra hour of light to enjoy the beach after work, have a beer at the end of the day at a sidewalk bar, play football, beach volleyball, watch the sunset from Arpoador, and enjoy a breakfast out. And we don’t wait for the weekend—every day is a possibility to enjoy this life. As for the weekends, well, we do the same, there is no time to finish.
The art of be a carioca is live your life as you would on vacations. This is the principle of the lifestyle in Rio. Although is common to hear that cariocas do not work (from our envious neighbors!), we do work hard as the cost of living is wildly expensive here. Living in paradise has high rates! But, after our working hours, instead of going home and watching TV or staying inside, we enjoy our beautiful Rio that we are so proud of having.
That’s the lifestyle of My Rio.
So far I couldn’t find this blissful, intoxicating blend anywhere else. Perhaps I’m also a little homesick these days for this lifestyle. A beautiful tune is playing in the back of my mind, calling me to my home:
“My soul sings
I see Rio de Janeiro
I’m dying of longing
Rio, your sea
Rio, you were made for me
Christ the Redeemer
Open arms over Guanabara
This samba is just because
Rio, I like you
The morena is going to dance samba
Her whole body swaying
Rio, of sun, of sky, of sea
In one more minute we’ll be at Galeão (airport)
Rio de Janeiro, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro
Tighten your seatbelt, we’re going to arrive
Shining water, look at the runway coming up
And here we go
Lyrics from Samba do Avião by Tom Jobim
Inspired by Tom Jobim words…an esteemed son of Rio. I do realize, even if I never discover a place as fascinating as Rio during my journeys, the beauty of travel allows me to experience an enchantment that fills my soul when I return, a case of love at first sight—repeated continuously.
Rio, I love you.