It seems ridiculous that a traveler would ever take a holiday from travelling itself, but seeing the world is a tough gig. Sometimes you have to set an alarm for the morning or even walk up a large set of stairs. A blistering hot shower is rarer than a football hating Brazilian and picking out any of the mysterious pastries from the bakery is pure lucky dip. With this weighing on or minds, we set out for the old colonial town of Paraty for some chill time, arriving at the super convenient hour of 4 am. Avoiding some aggressive commotion which I am certain was an organised dog fight, and a little anxious about having our entire lives on our backs, we thankfully found our hostel after a short stroll through Paraty’s beautiful but fucking dangerous uneven cobbled streets. That morning as we explored the town it was slightly easier to navigate the jutting stones which make up Paraty’s picturesque colonial avenues and have no doubt claimed a fair few elderly woman’s ankles in their 300 year life; the many old churches and forest green water of the harbour appropriate distraction from the careful placement of each step. We considered accepting an offer from the many boat owners around the pier who tried to sell us a ride round the harbour with them, and of whom at least one simply tried to sell us weed. One charismatic chap came right out with his price (for the boat ride of course) which saved the awkward initial negotiation, and we quickly talked him down to a tidy $20 per person for four hours cruising around the harbour. This turned out to be a fantastic move, not only could we lounge on cushions atop the boat as we crawled across the sleepy bay, our driver stopped at essentially our own private beach, a seaside restaurant for a beer, and beside a quaint rocky island for a session of diving from the boat’s bow.
Ilha Grande, a large island which boasts some of the best beaches in Brasil was the second stop on our intercity break. With tremendous luck, we arrived at our hostel five minutes before an almighty downpour which would have turned our baggage into smelly sludge. While the wet season weather behaved predictably during our three night stay, it held off just enough to allow some magnificent and more importantly cost free hikes throughout the lush Atlantic rainforest and along rugged white beaches. A small bar on the island’s main settlement was our host for the two semi finals of the world cup, where we witnessed our hopes for an orange final wiped out with a nail biting penalty shootout loss to Argentina, and watched in immobilising awe as Brazil went down in flames 7-1 to Germany. In our small Gringo-infested settlement, there was no sign of the rioting or disruption which was predicted for that nightmare scenario, just a lot of disgusted, crushed and shocked faces.
Not wanting either Germany or Argentina in the final but having to back someone for enjoyments sake, we decided before game day in Rio de Janeiro we would have to support the men from Deutschland. However once arriving on Rio’s famed Copacabana beach, where huge screens in and outside the fanfest had been erected, the unbelievable swarm of Argentinians which dominated every corner of the beach found us wishing for the sake of the after party for a blue and white victory. Argentinian jerseys stretched the entire length of the beach like colourful sprinkles decorating the yellow sand, an atmosphere of punchy chants bellowing into our eardrums from all sides with midday fireworks screeching towards the hot sun overhead pits of jumping bodies all synced in excited song; it became impossible to wish for anything but a win for the Messi faithful. As the anticipation grew towards kickoff, we could have never guessed the tense stillness which would fall over thousands of concentrated faces once the match commenced. Occasionally an Argentinian chant rose from the quiet, but for the most part, a collective study of the screen held the crowd in a spell, every touch of the ball or whistle blow glistening with supercharged importance. And as the game pushed towards extra time with no goals yet scored the tension mounted until it was as if the screen was delivering a eulogy to uneasy listeners. Only a minutes before the match was to go to penalties, the death blow, a goal to the Germans. For us, it meant nothing, we were simply in awe at the response of the people for whom it did, for if you weren’t watching the action on screen, you wouldn’t even have known a goal had been scored. Hypnotic, eerily creepy silence. Not a groan or a shout anywhere within earshot, almost as if the Argies were expecting to concede. Over a hundred metres away, straining our view across the statue-like heads of the crowd, a pocket of celebration; German flags waving amongst leaping fans who must have been experiencing the most enraptured high, yet the sound of their joy would not even reach us.
With the world cup over, the focus was on Rio the destination, this city of the world that captures the imagination of travelers year round. And there is a reason for it. The whole downtown area emits a constant confident buzz like a girl who knows she’s hot. You can walk along mosaic footpaths underneath skyscrapers that could belong in any city, yet the bustling population that swarms around you are full of people in flip flops and short shorts. The knowledge that a block away are beaches like no other is just plain awesome. They nestle between mythical towering cliffs, which drop dramatically onto sprawling hot sand only half visible through the throngs of beach goers; fighting the aggressive surf on the water’s edge, flinging their bodies across the sand in a game of beach football, or lounging horizontal like bathing seals, exposing all but a slither of flesh to the engulfing warmth of the sun. A cable car ride up to Sugerloaf mountain makes you appreciate why the city’s harbour is a world wonder. Guarded over by Christ de Redeemer, who’s towering outstretched pose seems to claim the city as his own, the skyscrapers and urbanisation tucked between stacks of rainforest engulfed mountain and giant rock hills that rise like behemoths from the flat ground. A jutting harbour sprinkled with beaches which retracts and flings itself from the mainland at random, sometimes opening up to cradle huge sections of sparkling blue ocean. We watched the sunset from our vantage point up among the paparazzi; countless phones and cameras jutting around for their own unobstructed eye of the mighty vista. A few days later, the journey of my Kiwi mates from home came to an end just as this glorious section of my travels have, the world cup leaving my bank balance bruised but still fighting. Momentarily lost, I booked into a hostel in one of Rio’s favelas, hoping to experience a completely different side of Rio. I never actually expected it to be so drastically opposed to the postcard Rio that we had become so smitten with, or leave such a profoundly memorable impression in my mind.