Reveillon da Decada de Ouro I

05Jan11

On Christmas Day I found myself in the airport washroom of Rio de Janeiro. I wanted to change into my summer clothes because blending with locals is the way to financially survive and completely enjoy Brazil. Suddenly, I realised that the washroom stalls were much smaller than the ones at the Sao Paulo international airport. I couldn’t fit into the stall with my bag, so in the middle of the washroom, I pulled off my jeans, took off the sneakers and changed into my shorts and Havaianas. I was ready now to take on Rio!

My experiences in Brazil are somewhat unusual and full of “things not to do if you’re visiting the country for the first time” “things not to EVER do in Brazil”. I managed to board the overcrowded public bus from the airport after my second try (No. 1 thing-not-to-do). Only in Rio and perhaps Calcutta, bus drivers drive as if they transport sacks of potatoes and not human beings. During the trip, the bus suddenly stopped on the road, I lost the balance standing up, trying to hold my bags, and making space for a woman to pass by. Within a split second, my body rushed towards the woman facing me, and I buried my face into her bosom… I have officially arrived. Bemvenido ao Brasil!

View of Ipanema and Leblon from Arpoador, Rio de Janeiro

Everyone’s passionate about something in his/her life, and for me that’s definitely been travelling. However, if there is a country that I’m addicted to, then it must be Brazil. This was my fourth trip to Brazil in five years, and my third time in Rio de Janeiro. Each time the journeys brought very different experiences. Due to the unfortunate circumstances, I didn’t spend this vacation with one of my closest friends. The plans had to change, and I ended up being alone in the city for almost two weeks. My accommodation was situated in a colonial, residential street close enough to touristy neighbourhoods of Ipanema and Copacabana, yet far away from tourists. Above my building there was only the Christ Redeemer statue of Corcovado overlooking the city, and from my bedroom window I had a view of Sugar Loaf Mountain, another Rio landmark.

View of Sugar Loaf Mountain at the Dawn from My Bedroom

However, it wasn’t until my fourth vacation day, that I realised where I actually was. As I was heading to Ipanema in a taxi, I looked at the ever-changing, mesmerizing, biggest floating Christmas tree in the world, the pearl white beaming Jesus Redeemer and the little distant lights of favelas scattered through the surrounding hills as fireflies. It was at that specific moment, I realised it was Christmas and that I was in flip-flops and shorts in Cidade de Maravilhosa (the Marvelous City). From that night on, I didn’t feel anymore as an outsider in Rio, but rather as a Carioca, one of the locals.

Floating Christmas Tree in Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, Rio de Janeiro

When in Rio de Janeiro, do as sexy Cariocas do… and so I did. I dressed simply, sometimes even roamed the streets shirtless but always wore dark shades to allow my eyes to wonder, used predominantly hand gestures to converse, mastered the local pick-up techniques (No. 2 thing-maybe-not-to-do) and explored by bus a different neighbourhood each day, sometimes even without a true sense of direction (No. 3 thing-not-to-do).

Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro

The porters in the building got to know me, especially once I locked myself out of the apartment, and the locals would start chatting with me in busses or on the streets. Strangers were curious about me as much as I was curious about them, and they would initiate conversations that began in my exceptionally limited Portuguese, continued in my broken Spanish and finalized in English. Not only that, but because of many famous Serbian football and volleyball players, I was surprised that everyone knew how to properly pronounce my surname.

Although alone in the city, I never felt that way. I stepped out of the taxi one night to get into a club, just to bump into two acquaintances from Buenos Aires. I went for a walk along the beach, just to come across people from Toronto, Montreal and New York. It looked like the whole world was here in Rio de Janeiro with one reason in their mind… Reveillon!

…to be continued.

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