Have you ever seen Portlandia? There is this short skit that is all too familiar to the urban, first-world lifestyle involving a technology loop (click to watch)
Here, on the expanse of beaches in Rio, it is the exact opposite! Sure there are those occasional few cariocas walking around with “bobo” phones, as my homie Bertie likes to call it. But, for the most part, you won’t catch the masses bowing slavishly to their electronic extensions every five seconds.
We walked along the beach from posto 11 in Leblon to Parque Garota de Ipanema (where Ipanema ends and Copacabana begins). Spiraling to the top of the paved hill, we thoroughly enjoyed the views, which included the gestalt of the heavily populated sands, the plethora of red umbrellas providing their shade, the buildings of Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana in the mid ground, with Pedra Dois Irmãos, Corcovado and Pão de Açucar jutting from the background – such a beautiful juxtaposition! It’s unfortunately clear that the surrounding rocks have become the lazy public bathroom, but if you walk high enough, the stench is indiscernible.
After about an hour of visual bliss, we decided to make our way back toward our apartment. As we navigated down the narrow steps behind other tourists, we happened to intersect with a group of teenagers, who were walking in the same direction as us. It was me and a teenager walking side by side, followed by three more and Carmela. Upon realizing Carmela wasn’t immediately behind me, I turned towards her, as did the boy next to me. I saw him inching in and I thought for sure we were going to get robbed (even though we intentionally didn’t bring anything with us save for a few Reais). Suddenly, he shouted something in Portuguese and I essentially ushered Carmela in the opposite direction. They walked off and we took a moment to regroup. The smell of urine seemed to grow more potent. Paranoid that they’d be waiting for us (the direction they went was the only way out), we decided to walk immediately behind another group to exit the site and everything was fine.
This time we took the sidewalk back towards Leblon as we replayed the scenario in our heads. Though it was a pretty tense situation (we later found out that past posto 8 towards the Parque Garota de Ipanema is where all the favela kids hang out), it was probably nothing more than kids being kids. The difficulty and uneasiness came mostly from not knowing the native tongue. Additionally, by the beach, the rich and poor are all one people, and with those kinds of views, there is no prejudging.
We stopped for some green coconuts, taking cues from a carioca, who took it to the next level by having it split open to eat the meaty part as well. We lingered a bit longer with a Brahma and eves dropped over the Americans sitting next to us. They were trying to make light of how they were robbed by some guy with a knife for their cameras, and iPod. “Go ahead, take my P90X”, they laughed.
We definitely don’t want to scare our readers, especially our parents. Yes, this is paradise, but we realize that caution is paramount in priority. Regardless, this place is undoubtedly well worth the risk.