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A Visit to Brazil: The Family from Ipanema

Rio is an energetic, vibrant place, full of beauty and nature. But we face the kinds of problems any developing metropolis does – with pollution, traffic congestion, poverty.
Eduardo Paes

Rio de Janerio is a city blessed with amazing beauty and scenery. It’s also a city in a difficult struggle.

South for the winter

After completing four weeks of Spanish classes in Santiago we headed to Brazil to meet up with our friends Jacques and Valeria. We met them years ago when I taught a project management class in Rio. Shortly after that they came to Seattle with their two elementary school age daughters for a year and a half for a fellowship at the University of Washington. We “adopted” their family and showed them American life and the Seattle area. We’ve kept in touch since and now it was our turn to finally visit them.

We arrived in Rio during the Carnival season and like many of the locals, promptly left for quieter environs. Crowds and noise can turn the city into a zoo during Carnival.

We stayed in a beach community several hours to the west where we explored a sixteenth century

The village of Paraty

town, spent a day on a ship that took us to a variety of islands where we swam in the warm waters of the South Atlantic, and used our meager Spanish skills to try to communicate with Portuguese speaking residents. We also glanced at weather reports for the Pacific Northwest where they were predicting snow.

Back in Rio we managed to see some of the main sites including:

  • The Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado, a mountain overlooking Rio. This statue was voted one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The statue itself is very moving. The view from the mountain is normally amazing—but was blocked by clouds on our visit.
  • Sugarloaf, an iconic rock overlooking the bay and the city. We reached it by cable car although you can do part of the journey by hiking. With temps in the 80’s accompanied by tropical humidity, we opted to ride.
  • Ipanema. Our friends live in the fashionable Ipanema district, just blocks from the beach of the same name. We were able to swim on the beach of the same name, visit a Sunday crafts market known as the Hippie Fair, and drink coconut water out of freshly cut coconuts. Incidentally, the 17 year old Brazilian girl who inspired the 1962 song The Girl From Ipanema is now in her 70’s. Time passes.

The disappointing part of our trip is that Rio has been caught up in serious public safety problems. During carnival the news showed footage of gangs and teenagers attacking tourists. Before and during our trip we had been warned about crime. And just a few days after Carnival the Brazilian Military was put in charge of security for the state of Rio de Janeiro. The local police now report to them. This isn’t the first time they’ve had to resort to this measure.

We had a blast visiting Brazil and catching up with our friends and getting to know one of the previously elementary school age daughters as an adult. (The other is away studying engineering in Stockholm.) It’s sad to see one of the great cities of the world is suffering. We hope and pray that they can resolve their problems so it becomes a safer place to live and visit.

A Related Story

We took the mountain cable cars to and from Corcovado. But years ago Austrian Felix Baumgartner BASE jumped from the Christ the Redeemer statue. Thanks to my friend Domingo for telling me about this feat. And no, don’t try this yourself.

6 thoughts on “A Visit to Brazil: The Family from Ipanema”

  1. Thank you for sharing your travels! I’m living in Tacoma now (snow flurries out the window at the moment but not much is sticking) and liking it, but itchy to travel again soon.
    While volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, I was able to go to Brazil 5 times and see several cities in the interior. We always ended our visit with a few days in Rio and I do love it and find/found it sad that life there is so brutal. So amazingly beautiful, and the people so lively but with difficult lives. Boa viagen!

    1. Jane
      I bet Habitat for Humanity would be a great way to experience Brazil. We’ve worked with Habitat in Tacoma, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and upstate New York, but not overseas…yet.

    1. Cathy
      Glad you can join us. It’s fun hearing from people who have been inspired to do their own journeys or just enjoy hearing about our experiences.

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