Welcome to Rio


This blog entry about the events of Thursday, February 12, 2004 was originally posted on February 15, 2004.

DAY 117:  I woke up in my seat the middle of the night on my overnight bus from Foz do Iguaçu to Rio de Janeiro.  My eyes opened and saw that Lara wasn’t in her seat next to me.  I assume she moved to the two empty seats behind us to spread out and closed my eyes again.

I opened my eyes a couple of hours later and saw that in Lara’s chair was a big Brazilian man.

I thought that maybe he was a pickpocket working me — seeing that I had been speaking English to Lara on the ride so far — and thought maybe he was waiting for me to fall asleep so that he could take some of my stuff.  So I stayed awake and stared out the window until he eventually got up and walked back to the front cabin — he just was the conductor trying to find a comfortable place to take a nap for a while.

Perhaps the paranoia of such an incident spawned from the fact that Rio doesn’t exactly have the cleanest reputation, and I had heard many stories from other travelers that supported it.  Camera or purse snatching via bicycle.  Armed robberies by a taxi driver.  And my favorite, a armed thief who merely knocked on a door in a hotel and robbed a guy at gunpoint when he opened the door to see who it was.

Of course, any of these things could have been inhibited with a little street smarts and common sense.  Coming from the “safety” of other smaller Brazilian cities, it was time to put my guard back up.

THE SUN ROSE AND THE BUS CONTINUED ITS WAY through São Paulo and onto Rio de Janeiro.  The rest of the journey flew by with two more movies — Bad Girls and No Good Deed — until we arrived at the Novo Rio bus terminal 2 km. out of Rio’s city center, with its “Bemvindo a Rio de Janeiro” sign (picture above).  The entire journey took about 25 hours with all our stops — three hours ahead of the other bus that left Foz do Iguaçu at the same time.  Later I learned they had been delayed with a flat tire and a smuggler bust.

Despite the bus terminal being in what Lonely Planet called a “seedy area,” it couldn’t have been easier to get information there.  Two tourist information booths specifically for backpackers were in the main lobby, clearly marked.  Lara and I went to one to find out what accommodations were available since many people told us they would be scarce.  Most places were in fact booked solid, but there was one place, an Israeli-frequented hostel in Copacabana called Shenkin that had some spaces for us in the dorm.  After checking our options with the other information booth, we decided to go ahead and reserve the spots.  The information guy radioed the Shenkin with his NexTel walkie-talkie.

“Where are you from?” he asked us.

“New York.”

“The Channel Islands,” Lara answered.  Sometimes she just says “Inglaterra” (England) to this common question as it was just easier to say than having to explain where the U.K. Channel Islands are and that she’s British but not English.

“Do you smoke?” the guy asked us, translating the questions from the other end of the walkie-talkie.


The guy spoke some more and in the end, he told us we were out of luck.  “There’s room, but they won’t give it to you because you’re not Israeli.”

“That’s a bit racist,” Lara commented.

“But I grew up in a Jewish town,” I said.  It was no use and we had no choice but to go with the only other hostel available from the other information booth: The Botofogo Easy Hostel in the Botofogo district near the harbor with a view of the famous P?o de Azucar mountains.

It was easy to get a taxi there — no in-car robberies at gunpoint — and we checked into a dorm with two triple bunk beds.  The hostel was nice, with a cable TV lounge, a nice eating area, kitchen and a very small swimming pool — it was their substitute for not being near the beach.

Lara and I met an Irish guy named Joe in our dorm who was still recovering from the night before.  He moped around while Lara and I went for a walk in the neighborhood to get our bearings.  We were just three blocks from a major shopping mall and managed to get the last two “Portuguese for Tourists” phrasebooks in a bookstore.  After, we just wandered the seven floors of shops, boutiques and restaurants and had dinner at an Italian place that had a chef that tried to get a rise out of me by telling me his friend was Iraqi, after hearing I was American.

AS THE SUN SET, the Pao de Azucar was illuminated with orange hues and so the two of us went for a leisurely walk on the small beach along the Botofogo Bay.  Lara sang Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” as we watched the joggers of varied body builds and beach soccer players get some exercise. 

Lara was exhausted from the overnight bus journey and just read and wrote in her bed until she passed out.  I spent most of the night on my upper bunk with my laptop, typing up some entries.  I was finished by 10:30 and then went downstairs to the pool to check out the vibe and meet new people. 

Joe the Irish guy and two British girls were about to head out to some Brazilian jazz club to see one of the hostel owner’s perform in a band, so I put on some clothes and joined them.  We took a taxi to the other side of town to the club Scenarium, a rustic, three-story venue built out of an old house.  The cover charge was R$18 — the British girls refused to pay it to “listen to that shit” — so it was just me and Joe who went into enjoy the live music sets.  There were about a dozen others from our hostel inside anyway — I met an Aussie, a Belgian, four Norwegian girls and an American guy from New York who was the younger spitting image of Moe Green from The Godfather.  There was also Zed, the Brazilian from our hostel and we all danced and bobbed our heads to the danceable jazz coming from the stage while sipping on beers, caipirinhas and caipifrutas (made with crushed strawberries and pineapple).

Rio’s reputation of crime so far was just a myth, and as I stood in the club feeling the hypnotic rhythm of the music with my caipifruita in hand I thought, What a great way to be welcomed to Rio.

Next entry: Fantasies From The Thirteenth Floor

Previous entry: Race to Rio

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Comments for “Welcome to Rio”

  • ALL: I’m still LVIZ right now, but things will pick up when I move to the more touristy Copacabana tomorrow with more entries into cyberspace.  Stay tuned!

    Coming soon:  Samba and Soccer!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/15  at  01:28 PM

  • Sounds cool man! Yeah I heard that the Israelis have hostels totally dedicated to their own kind. Real racist if you ask me (especially when you aren’t even from the country in which you own the hostel) but, from how they all stick together, it doesn’t surpirse me.

    Keep on Keepin’ on!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/15  at  04:05 PM

  • Oh yeah—I hear that there are tours of the favelllas (ghettos) of Rio. Are you gonna check them out? Being from The Bronx and owning my own tour service, I wouldn’t be surpised if there is some young Moman equivalent out there who wants to change people’s opinions of those areas from a negative to a positve one…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/15  at  04:24 PM

  • you’re in rio—FUN!!!! who won the race?

    i’m almost all caught up on your blog! gotta finish looking at the pics. read your entries on the plane ride. it was a good way to kill time. had about 800 pages w/me (i printed your blog)!! i think it was 1/2 the weight of my carry on. haha:)

    when is carnival?

    (i’m jealous!)

    ps- i recomend oslo, norway when you get to europe!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/15  at  08:16 PM

  • Hey there erik!
    back from Costa Rica… it was a great trip, now i have to catch up on your adventures smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/15  at  09:24 PM

  • so what’s the deal for the beach?  speedo is a must?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  01:01 AM

  • i want to hear about the brazilian women.  are they hot or what?  go meet some hot local chicks!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  11:58 AM

  • Sing it markyt… “At the Copa… Copacabana…”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  01:27 PM

  • hey Erik, just saw an awesome flick “City of God”- for those who hasn’t yet it’s a must see. Anyways how about some pics from there?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  01:27 PM

  • sim - yes, an awesome flick!

    Td0t - “her name was lola, she was a showgirl…”  I’ll be singing it on Saturday on the beach too!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  02:16 PM

  • Markyt: while ya’ll out there playing Beach Blanket Bingo! we’re gonna be here reading about it cursing constantly in our cubicles!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  02:30 PM

  • SIM: it’ll be ok….i’m actually only going as erik’s personal fedex service…..but i’ll try and have some fun….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  03:23 PM

  • Caipirinhas!...yum!

    Never heard of a caipifruta, but sounds interesting.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  04:14 PM

  • Eric in Rio! have great fun- but watch your stuff real close on the beaches (as I’m sure you would)- the links to pics of pao de azucar & stage only load the very top of the pics

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  05:28 PM

  • SCOTT:  Myth.  Well, there are hotties and notties.  Just like most of the world thinks Americans all look like the cast of Baywatch (and we don’t), the same applies the other way.

    I’ll just say that man, there are a lot of people on the beach who should NOT be wearing Speedos!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  06:11 PM

  • ALL:  MUCH has transpired in my three past days in the NVIZ… I can catch up on my laptop anytime now as I am subletting an apartment half a block from the beach now.  Stay tuned!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  06:13 PM

  • NAVID:  Go upgrade your Powerbook!  It works fine here!  wink

    How’s life back in the ER?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  06:26 PM

  • ERIK: You’re subletting an apartment?! Geez man that’s ace! Is it easy and cheap to do? ...cheaper than a hostel? What a great idea, and if you can do freelance work out there even better. I may have to attempt similar trickery myself when I get out there.

    ...god damn, near the beach as well!!

    Posted by www.super8.co.uk  on  02/16  at  07:03 PM

  • i’m soooo jealous!!

    that’s all.. oh, and not to imply that you’ll be going crazy, but just please be careful with any girls out there… buy some condoms; i’ve heard of all the diseases out there, including some we probably didn’t know existed..

    oh and that goes for u too markyt!!

    again, NOT implying anything


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/16  at  11:26 PM

  • Yo Erik—I just got word that ROLF POTTER is going to be in Rio quite soon to watch the Carnival celebrations…so you may run into him!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  02:42 AM

  • Gringo Erik,
    You should compile your misadventures into a ” A Real Guide to South American Shoestring Venture”
    when you comeback and sell the book. I’ll buy one. Better than Fodor’s guide. Or Frodo’s guide.
    Guess I’ll just print it.
    It’s cheaper.  Your Auntie Astrid wants to read it. Guess, I’ll forward it to he email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

    Tito Tommy
    (Terence will see ya soon)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  09:13 AM

  • MOMAN:  You mean Rolf Potts?  Is that right?  I’ll have to drop him a line then…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/17  at  11:56 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Fantasies From The Thirteenth Floor

Previous entry:
Race to Rio


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