This place is ridiculous. I have been here for just three days, and it’s so good that I have to leave. If I don’t leave now, I might not ever part with Rio de Janeiro. I fear that I’ve found paradise, perhaps my future home, and I’m too scared of the “S” word right now. Settling.
My first morning in Rio, I went for a run down the infamous Copacabana Beach. I was welcomed with 15-foot waves that pounded into Avenida Atlantica. In some parts of the road the waves deposited sand up to 3 feet deep, and sections of this four-lane highway were closed for the entire workday. I forded through 100-foot-wide sections of beach that were completely inundated.
All week there had been record amounts of rain, flooding streets and wrecking havoc throughout Rio. Landslides swept through steep-sided “favelas” (urban slums), causing more than 200 deaths and the burial of more than sixty houses. During these rains I was on the coast just south of Rio, sleeping in a small “pousada” (Brazilian bed and breakfast), snoozing beneath a leaky roof. For the first time in my travels, I was carrying an umbrella and a backpack lined with waterproof plastic bags. To get to the grocery store, I had to ford through knee-deep puddles. Schools were closed and bus trips were canceled. My voyage to Rio was actually delayed because of the risk of landslides on the route. Between these rains and the surging seas, it was all so obvious…extraordinary things are happening in Rio.
I ran to end of Copacabana beach where I slowed to a walk so I could more properly appreciate my surroundings. I stepped to the edge of a flooded walkway. In the distance I saw big-wave surfers. On my left was a granite rock tower 400 feet high, and sure enough there were several bolted climbing routes to the top. Behind the high-rise hotels of Copacabana, favelas descended to the sea. It is here where some of the world’s greatest music was born. I ran back along the beach, and considered that surely on this street, six years from now, the world’s greatest runners will be running the world’s greatest race, the Olympic Marathon.
The next day, I would run in a national park just a 20-minute jog from my hostel. As I gazed at massive granite climbing walls in the distance, I was certain of one thing. Rio is the greatest city in the world for outdoor enthusiasts. With world-class running, competitive beach sports, 15-pitch rock climbs scattered along its coast, accessible diving, sailing, and surfing, this is the city that my climbing friends and I have always dreamed of. And unlike the outdoor capitals of the U.S. like Boulder, Bellingham, Santa Cruz, and Jackson, there is some real music and diverse culture going on here.
That night I went to Lapa, the old social center of Rio. I was greeted by masses of Cariocas (Rio locals) in the street, playing drums in samba circles, and drinking cheap beer from street vendors. Hours flew by as I partook in the revelry, and at around midnight I joined the parade of those who had a little bit of extra cash to cover the door charge at the plethora of local clubs. I chose Clube Dos Democraticos, a dance hall founded in 1867 (see site), purchased a caipirinha and integrated myself into a table of dancers from Recife. Four hours of live music later, and I was in a dollar-fifty collectivo back to my bed. Public transportation is so easy here. I just had a great night out, some nine hours of fun, all for under twenty bucks.
Rio is without doubt, the most beautiful city I have ever seen. Imagine a combination of Yosemite, Hawaii, and New York, congregated in the tropics. With a booming economy, arguably the world’s greatest Carnaval, and a host to the upcoming World Cup and Olympics, it’s time for the giant cities of the west to admit their inferiority. Rio de Janeiro is the new capital of the world.