First up, I owe you an apology.
Posting about my second month in Brazil when I’m already 7 months into the trip is pretty unacceptable. Although it seems like only yesterday that I was bronzing on the beaches of Brazil, supping Caipirinhas and shaking my uncoordinated hips to the sounds of Forro, it’s actually been over a month since I packed my bags and moved onto fresh adventures.
Life has a funny way of getting in the way of fun times. And when you’re trying to build a business, testing out new entrepreneurial ideas and failing as often as you succeed… that’s both draining and time-consuming.
I’m glad to say that things seem to be levelling out now though, and after a particularly horrendous few weeks (which will be shared in a not too distant post), I’m now in a position where I can recount a particularly happy memory.
During my second month in Brazil I had the pleasure of playing host to my best friend, Dave. Exploring a place yourself is one thing, but then translating that into playing Tour Guide is a different kettle of fish. You have to put aside your own personal feelings and think what they would most enjoy (and myself and young Dave certainly have differing tastes).
Thankfully our itinerary had half written itself with us having tickets to Lollapalooza in Sao Paulo, and Pearl Jam headlining the Maracana… a double dose of Pearl Jam? YES PLEASE!
But as we were starting in Rio de Janeiro we had to get the obvious out of the way.
Table of Contents
First stop: Escadaria Selarón
The name alone may not fire up any grey cells, but stay with me!
Escadaria Selarón, also known as the ‘Selaron Steps’, is a set of world-famous steps in Lapa, downtown Rio. Created by a Chilean artist, Jorge Selarón, who claimed it as “my tribute to the Brazilian people”.
According to Wikipedia:
The work has featured in many famous magazines, newspapers, travel shows, documentaries and commercials. National Geographic Channel, American Express, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Time and Playboy are just some of the media that the steps have appeared in/on. It has also featured in numerous music videos such as Snoop Dogg’s Beautiful, as well as U2 also filming there
If it’s good enough for Playboy and Snoop (and Michael Jackson in the video for ‘They don’t care about us’), then it’s good enough for me!
Lapa by night is a mixed bag of emotions. It’s certainly lively, got a sweet hipster/bohemian vibe, and the music scene is something to behold, but it also has that gritty element of ‘step into the shadows and you’re never stepping back out again’. It’s certainly worth keeping your wits about you at all times.
But enough with the scary… it’s an awesome place and you should totally check it out when you come (just don’t buy the 3 caipirinhas for R$15… unless going blind is up there on your bucket list).
Next stop: The CCBB (Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil)
Dave wouldn’t be offended if I described him as an uncultured beast, as the cap fits like a charm. That being said, Rio de Janeiro is a city overflowing with art and culture. To avoid it would be to avoid beer in Germany, or the sun in Australia.
If you have more class than a pair of wet socks, then get yourself down to the CCBB. It’s one of 3 in Brazil (the others can be found in Sao Paulo and Brasilia) as they’re among the top hundred most visited art museums in the world.
It features such diverse exhibitions as the Contemporary African Art, Salvador Dalí and India! to name a few. Check out the official CCBB website for the latest schedule.
Unless you’re going to see a movie festival or watch a play then it’s free to see all the exhibitions… FREE I tell you!!!
With the cultural and historical side now firmly under our belts it was onto another absolute must if you’re in Rio De Janeiro…
Next stop: Arraial do Cabo.
It’s another name that may not trip off your tongue, but I guarantee that your tongue will be hanging out of your mouth when you step onto Praia do Farol, Praia do Forno or any of the multitude of heavenly beaches!
140km from the city of Rio, you’ll want an early start to get there in the morning. The 7:00 bus from the Rodoviaria Novo Rio will get you there for 10 am, and costs between R$50-75 (check the official Auto Viação 1001 website for the latest prices/times).
The town itself is pretty small. There’s not too much action, but there are a few decent restaurants. It’s mostly made up of pharmacies, beachwear shops and tour operators. For me, this is perfect as it keeps the focus purely on the beach.
Forno is beautiful, but the real magic happens when you take a boat out to the other beaches. There’s always someone walking around the town trying to sign you up for a tour, and most of the tours visit the same islands. You’ll definitely want to haggle though. I’ve been 3 times, and paid 3 separate amounts, ranging from R$80 down to R$40 each. Obviously the sellers have to make a living, but you can definitely knock 10 or 20 off their initial asking price.
The locals are pretty nice too. On our way back from the beach Dave managed to slam his big toe into a rock. The result was quite impressive!
The friendly neighbourhood gelato store owner leapt to our aid and offered tissue and ice (while secretly laughing inside at Dave’s savage sunburn).
With our vitamin D stocks recharged for the next several years, it was time for the next part of the adventure.
Next stop: Pearl Jam at the Maracanã Stadium
I’m now on my 6th or 7th time watching Pearl Jam live, and it will NEVER be enough. Without a doubt, my favourite band in the entire world. I may not enjoy every single song/album with the same ferocity, but their live shows are a thing of true beauty!
Thankfully both my girlfriend Carolina and Dave are equally rabid fans and so we, along with the other 43,000 people in attendance, made sure it was a night to remember.
The Maracanã Stadium (official title: Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho) is a magnificent stadium. Named after the Maracanã river (Interesting fact: The name “Maracanã” derives from the indigenous Tupi–Guarani word for a type of parrot which inhabited the region… thank you Wikipedia), it was built for the 1950 World Cup (although construction wasn’t fully completed until 1965). Tours around the stadium are available during the daytime for anyone interested.
If there was a roof, Pearl Jam would have lifted it! Opening with the tear-jerking Release, it was clear that everyone would be going home with sore throats.
It passed in a blur. They smashed out all the classics – Given to Fly, Corduroy, Betterman, Alive… and then ended with the timeless Yellow Ledbetter, it was 2hrs 46 minutes of pure joy.
Yes, it was a nightmare trying to find each other again during the beer runs, but TOTALLY worth it! The security guards confiscating my selfie stick was also annoying (360 photography without one is a hassle), but it didn’t tarnish the evening. I’m not sure anything could have.
With our skins bronzed and Pearl Jam in our hearts, it was time to move on from Rio and head to Sao Paulo.
Next stop: More Pearl Jam as they headlined Lollapalooza Festival!
I have mixed feelings about Sao Paulo. It’s a big, interesting city… but I feel it lacks the rough charm (and beaches) of Rio de Janeiro.
But our mission here was not to explore the city. There was no time for that. We had a music festival to attend!
Lollapalooza Music Festival, conceived and created in 1991 by Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell as a farewell tour for his band, it has run off and on ever since. It’s billed as an ‘alternative’ music festival, yet the majority of the acts are fairly mainstream – Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Killers, LCD Soundsystem etc
160,000 people gather over the 3 days at Interlagos, the race track which hosts the annual Brazilian Formula 1 race.
It’s a great venue, as the track provides an easy route to wander between stages, it’s spacious, and the undulating landscape provides plenty of vantage points to take in the full party atmosphere.
What’s not so cool is the logistics of getting there and back.
We were joined on this part of the adventure by another good Brazilian friend, Fernanda, and my old Venezuelan travelling partner Mariana (from the cursing, freezing fame of our Croatia trip – unfortunately these tales were written for another website which no longer exists, but I shall try and unearth them as they were classics).
The journey from her house in the neighbourhood of Vila Madalena, São Paulo took around 2 hours each way.
The journey there was relatively painless. Subways, trains, and then a good 30-minute walk from the train station is fine, as people are arriving at different times and so the crush wasn’t so bad.
The real pain in the posterior comes when you want to leave! 40,000+ people all trying to squeeze out at the same time (there’s no camping option as at many European festivals), into one tiny train station, which officially stops running 30 minutes after the last act finishes is absolutely ludicrous. Health and safety go out the window as everyone pushes and shoves to make that last train.
Nobody wants to leave the headline act early, especially when it’s Pearl Jam, but sadly we found it was a necessity to ensure we could return home (although one of the evenings we had to take a taxi… which we’re still paying off to this day).
But enough with the negative, and on to the many positives!
They utilise a prepay system for food/drink. No longer do you need to carry around pocketfuls of cash, as it’s all done through a chip in your entry wristband. You top up the amount through their website, and then just scan the band when you want a beer/food. This massively reduces the time spent queuing, so no longer do you have to buy 12 beers at a time, knowing they’ll all be gone by the time you eventually make it to the front of the queue again.
Nope… the prepay system makes it much more civilised and hassle-free.
The one downside comes in not knowing how much you have left until you a) scan the band or b) check online (which for foreign folk without a local chip is a hurdle). But the reduction in queue time easily makes up for any hurdles (and they have a few recharge stations dotted around the venue so you can manually top up with cash should you run dry).
I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I only really cared about Pearl Jam. Across the 3 days there were a handful of acts which caused me to raise an eyebrow, but I was fully committed to seeing Edward Louis Severson III one more time (or Mr Vedder for those not on first name terms).
The Chili Peppers were as solid as ever (check out a little Instagram video here). I remember watching them play 19 years ago in Manchester, and they had very little interaction with the fans then. I guess that’s just their thing.
Mr Severson III and the boys are ALL ABOUT the crowd interaction, and this is possibly why my man-crush is so intense (desculpa Carol).
Pearl Jam put in a sterling shift, Wiz Khalifa got the crowd pumping, Milky Chance (I still can’t say that name without smirking) were surprisingly good and other people seemed to enjoy Liam Gallagher.
All in all… a quality weekend!
A double dose of vitamin D and Pearl Jam, it was time for our final stop. Back to Rio to tick off one final must-see item.
Next stop: Christ the Redeemer
I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the western world who hasn’t seen a photo or video of the giant statue, but standing at the base looking up, and then looking out over the spectacular view of Rio… if it’s not on your bucket list then scratch something off right now and stick it in!
Done? Good… now we can continue.
Dave, along with an estimated 5% of the population, is terrified of heights. So what better place to go than 2,300 ft high to view the 98 ft tall statue?
Not much needs to be said about the iconic statue. Get there early to avoid the madness of the crowds, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever have it all to yourself.
Dave (when he eventually opened his eyes and released his death grip on the guard-rail) seemed to enjoy the view.
And almost as soon as it began, it was time to say goodbye.
Having the opportunity to show off a tiny fraction of Brazil was a really rewarding experience. Brazil is a magnificent country (and I know there’s MUCH MORE than just Rio and Sao Paulo – see the post about Hiking in Itacare for a different flavour) and I would encourage everyone to come and sample the madness at least once in their life.
Although this post was about my own journey with friends, I hope it’s given you some inspiration and ideas for your own future adventures.
If you have any questions or comments, then I’d love to read them in the comments below.