Preface: Recently, on an invitation from our friends at Veuve Clicquot, we ventured 4,800 miles south to Rio de Janerio, or what its Portuguese forebearers serendipitously misnamed River of January. Seeking insight and photographic proof of Rio’s reputation for both vice and enchantment, we discovered a city quivering to the beat of music and culture, particularly with Carnaval, but also one ambitious on renewal. Looking beyond the glitz, Rio brims with finesse and adventure — and no shortage of Samba — further cementing the age-old Brazilian adage that “God created the world in six days and on the seventh day, He created Rio de Janeiro”.
Our 5-part photo essay continues after the jump.
“Take off your watch,” the woman next to me softly demanded as she tucked into her blanket, “and don’t expect any sleep”. So I did.
10 hours later, I woke up in Rio.
Both beautiful and brutal, Rio De Janeiro is a city of impossible contrasts. A dynamic metropolis of 6.3 million Cariocas (residents of Rio) wedged into the backdrop of granite mountains, lush forests and pulsing beaches. Rio is not just Brazil’s second largest city — it’s the most famous.
With a reputation that precedes it, Rio’s sex, samba, and dense favelas (slum like shanty towns) are bolstered by a culture infused with unrelenting passion, burgeoning economy, and wide swaths of modern-day sophistication. The meteoric rise of Brazil — the largest economy in Latin America and by their own account, the 5th largest in the world — is clearly at play in Rio. The future home to both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, not to mention the annual Carnaval — an annual party to end all parties… and sobriety — Rio has proven that unfettered passion and a city oozing with charm can overcome its groaning infrastructure and seedier vices.
…Rio hits you like a dozen 5-hour Energy bottles, throwing a TKO of samba, sex, and partying, never relenting until it heaves you onto the return flight, Carnival mask in one hand while the other brushes off body glitter…
On one hand Rio hits you like a dozen 5-hour Energy bottles, throwing a TKO of samba, sex, and partying, never relenting until it heaves you onto the return flight, carnival mask in one hand while the other brushes off body glitter. But look past its scantily clad denizens, glam and pounding music and you’ll find a city brimming with natural discovery — not to mention a photographer’s mecca — teeming with Avatar-like vistas, and cobblestoned hillside communities bristling with life, sights and delicious eats. On our trip, we saw both.
It’s nearly impossible not to be seduced by the cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city) much less its wonderful people. The city’s passion for life is as ambitious as its terrain and effervescent citizens, all with honorary doctorates in living the good life. Including the ex-pats. Like a battle cry, the cariocas rally to the sound of samba. And no where is this better or more widely exhibited than the annual festival of Carnaval.
Rio is and forever will be a beach town, bohemian and casual, but also exploding with international jet-setters, adventure seekers, and the stylish. If you crave diversity, Rio will not disappoint.
We’ve broken down our photo essay into five chapters. Click to go directly, or, scroll (a lot) through them all.
Rio by Air
With its unforgettable views, there’s really no better way to take in the natural wonder of Rio than via helicopter. The expanse of Rio’s steep mountains colliding with the Atlantic, the residential neighborhoods fringing on Rodrigo de Frietas Lake, views of Sugar Loaf Mountain, Copacabana Beach, and of course the highlight: soaring past the Christ the Redeemer Statue that crowns Corcovado Mountain.
We’ve put together a quick slide show of our helicopter tour.
The origins of Rio’s Carnaval are debated. Dating back to 1723, some think it originally began as a spree of mischief eventually evolving into masquerade balls for the well-heeled. Others believe that resident Africans living in the favelas started the tradition evidenced by the feathered headdresses.
In either case, the celebrations of Carnaval last for 4 days and nights ushering in the restraints of Lent. Though celebrations occur throughout the country, Rio’s is undoubtedly the most opulent and prodigious — sometimes, downright bewildering with two million people packing the streets — with parades and festivals throughout the city ranging from the blocos de carnaval (block parties) on nearly every corner of Rio to the famous Escolar de Samba (samba school) parade in the Sambadrome.
At the Escolar de Samba, participants hailing from more than a dozen samba schools throughout the city vie for the bragging rights of the top spot — something Rio de Janeiro does not take lightly.
Grand Ball at Copacabana Palace
Every year, the Copacabana Palace celebrates the Rio Carnival with a Grand Ball. Touted as the epitome of glamour in Rio, the masquerade is nothing short of surreal — a conglomeration of red carpet, celebrities and Brazil’s well to do’s. Endless costumes, endless spirits, endless everything. The ball is a spectacle.
Leblon & Ipanema
Despite the fact that Leblon and Ipanema are two contrasting neighborhoods, it’s difficult to distinguish the two — the neighborhoods are actually one long beach separated by the gardens and canal of Jardim de Alah with the peaks of Dois Irmados mountains in the background. The lively, upmarket neighborhood of Leblon is distinctive, filled with Cariocas and families seeking out its bustling bars, delicious quick-eats, and exclusive restaurants — or just mingle time with the gente bonita (beautiful people).
Ipanema’s wide golden beaches whir with the activity of the lithe and tanned striving to keep themselves that way. The beach is undoubtedly a sports mecca — you’d be hard pressed to find a more inspiring location for your morning jog — providing a dazzling setting for volleyball, soccer, and cyclists. And though Ipanema translates to “dangerous waters” (don’t swim too far out), the commune of tree-lined streets, culture and yes, girls from Ipanema will leave you slack-jawed.
Below is a short recording of the sounds (and music) from one our walks through Ipanema to listen to as you browse through the photos.
Santa Teresa is easily our favorite neighborhood in Rio — and our homestead for the trip. Perched high above Centro and lined with crumbling colonial mansions, Santa Teresa is a worthy alternative to the high-rises and clamor of Rio’s beach neighborhoods. Quiet, leafy cobblestoned streets furrowed with a perfectly derelict yellow bonde (tram) wind their way through crumbling — yet stunning in their own right — colonial mansions. The mansions, cafes and copious restaurants are occupied with musicians, artists, and writers all taking a moment to take in the fact that they’re in Rio’s coolest district.
Rio in 72 hours is impossible. The aforementioned neighborhoods and plenty more that we didn’t mention, like Jardim Botanico anchored by its stunning Botanical Gardens, the saltwater lagoon of Lagoa, and the galleries and museums of Centro each deserve of a week’s worth of exploration — not to mention the glamour of the city’s natural habitat. But at the end of the day, Rio’s finest asset is its people. Leading a life well-lived, Rio swings to the beat its own samba drum and from where we’re standing, it appears they’ve mastered the art.
And just for the record, my watch made it back.
Photography by Eric Yang