Monday, January 24, 2022

[RIO DE JANEIRO] Ipanema or Copacabana?

So, you want to go to Rio and can’t decide whether to stay in Ipanema or Copacabana? Don’t turn this into an existential crisis when it shouldn’t be. The two beaches are literally right next to each other along the same Atlantic Coast, with Arpoador wedged in between. In any case, the distance is a mere 20-to-30-minute walk along paved avenues if you dislike taking a stroll along the beach. 15 minutes if you are a brisk walker. 5 minutes or less on Uber. And so, where are you going to stay? But first, BRAZIL!!!

As I already mentioned many times, Mexico and Brazil are the only two countries on my bucket list. I was able to live in CDMX for half a year in 2016 so that has long been accomplished but Brazil just seems so far away from everything, which is why I always crossed it out of my itineraries. Now that I found myself back in South America, I braved the six-hour flight from Bogotá and finally here I am. When I think about it, I still can’t believe that I am finally here. Speaking Portuguese. With a Brazilian accent. With Brazilians.

Well yeah, as nerdy as that might sound, it’s all about the language for me. I learned Brazilian Portuguese via immersion when I started working part time a decade ago in a Spanish-speaking call center in Makati while finishing my BA. Since majority of the customers calling were from Brazil and we had only a few agents for that language, it was normal for Portuguese-speaking callers to call the Spanish line and try in vain to communicate with us in Portuñol. As such, I’ve been speaking the language for more than a decade now, but it is actually my first time to visit the country. Suffice it to say, I really miss this language!

After being on the road for four months now, the original plan was to stay for a month in Rio to just chill and recuperate, but stubborn me decided that an extended five-day stay in a decent three-star hotel would do, after which I will be moving around the country until the end of February. For Rio de Janeiro the city, I only have a few non-negotiables: Copacabana, Ipanema, Pão de Açúcar, and Cristo Redentor. That’s an itinerary enough to fill four days for each destination, but the two beaches I merged into one.

Why? Well, as I said, they are right next to each other. Bloggers seem to be in unison saying that Ipanema is somehow more upscale while Copacabana is more for the masses. Having gone on a busy Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t really tell the difference in terms of demographic for the mere reason that half the city’s population seemed to have descended to the beaches that weekend. Both were jampacked. No masks. No social distancing. Super spreader event much. I hope they are all vaxxed for their own sake.

Anyway, the throngs of people made it hard to deduce how the beaches and their surrounding environment are like on a quiet day. Copacabana seems like a longer stretch of beach and there were many restaurants and some free real estate left on the sand. Ipanema, on the other hand, just looked like an evacuation center that afternoon. You can almost no longer see the sand. Instead, you just have giant umbrellas and people. I guess that’s the reason why I didn’t stay long, aside from the excruciating January heat of course. Merely stepping on the sand with your flip flops feels like walking on fire.

I didn’t get to visit Arpoador despite it being sandwiched between the two beaches. If you swim from Copacabana to Ipanema or vice versa, then there seems to be no missing Arpoador, but if you want to take a stroll along the beach you will reach a roadblock at the center unless you enter the fort there, which I believe is controlled by the military and requires an entrance fee. This is why you have to make a small detour to the avenue connecting the two beaches should you decide to take this path.

As for the beaches, they never end. The sand is fine and the Atlantic Coast along with Rio’s many hills in the background make a lovely sight. For some reason, helicopters also seem to be flying around all the time in this city. Some of them are used for advertisements. I also heard that Rio is the only city on Earth where Uber offers a helicopter ride. Isn’t that cool? Anyway, I only lasted half an hour at both beaches. If you decide to come, make sure you bring enough sunblock and your sunglasses with you.

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