“Are you sure this is Rio?” No sign of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado, Sugarloaf Mountain nowhere to be seen, a definite lack of spectacular vistas. This was Rodoviaria Novo Rio, the main bus terminal, and our guide book’s description had summed it up perfectly. Seedy. This was one of Rio’s faces not displayed in the glossy magazines. Our faces, on the other hand, must have shown disappointment; tired and confused after our long, cramped bus journey.We’d arrived at the start of Rio’s 13th annual Gay Pride Parade. Not intentionally, but this was how it had worked out. As our taxi slowly made its way through the crowded streets of Copacabana we stared, speechless, at the throngs descending onto the beach along promenades awash with colour. Funk Carioca (dance music originating in Rio), techno, house, electro and pop music boomed from gigantic speakers loaded onto ‘trios electricos’. Feeling rather conservatively dressed we joined the million or so people, the flamboyant paraders who’d ‘come out’ for this mammoth event. It was a case of ‘anything goes’ – the sculpted, tanned bodies of Rio’s beautiful people scantily clad in resplendent costumes. Costumes which screamed ‘Gay and Proud’ for the world to see. With Brazil’s problems of homophobia well documented, their spirit seemed all the more poignant. Free flowing cerveja Brahma ensured that this particular party would continue throughout the night.Next morning, as the sun rose out of the Atlantic Ocean and the last of the revellers dusted off the sand from their sleep deprived bodies, we were ready for another of Rio’s faces – that typical British pastime, a day at the beach. Copacabana, a crescent shaped, 4km stretch of soft sand is one of the world’s most famous beaches. And rightly so. This is Rio’s hedonistic face. From girls in the tiniest bikinis to the musclebound men strutting their stuff along the water’s edge, there’s never a dull moment on Copacabana. With the sounds of Barry Manilow swimming around in my head we were constantly bombarded by beach vendors selling all manner of tourist tat. We were actors on a giant stage, entertainment was free and relaxation impossible. Ending the day with a welcome caipirinha on Avenida Atlantica we watched joggers, roller balders, promenading families – all of Rio out on display.From the hedonistic to the bohemian, the following day we boarded the only tram still in use today, for Santa Teresa. This area of Rio, located on top of Santa Teresa Hill is, understandably, a magnet for both tourists and artists. The tram journey turned out to be an experience in its own right. Known as bondinho, or the ‘little tram’, locals hang precariously onto the sides even though there are vacant seats. If you don’t sit, you don’t pay. After crossing the Lapa Arches we climbed into the hills high above the beaches for which Rio is so famous. Its winding, cobbled streets lined with beautiful old mansions, quaint cafes and arty stores. This was another world altogether. Backed by a forest full of monkeys and with the silence broken only by the sound of birdsong, we wander. Wander and browse. It feels right, it’s that sort of place.Rio de Janeiro has it all. Sunset views from Sugarloaf Mountain where harbours appear dotted with a myriad of fairy lights, islands in the bay darkening as the sun sets over Ipanema. Cidade Maravilhosa the locals call it. Marvellous city. One thing is for sure. Rio has captured our hearts and will forever be a place to return to.
Story written by Linda Knight | Since 2006 Holiday Velvet offers Rio de Janeiro accommodation.