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  • Dawnelle Salant

At 4 o’clock on Saturday night, we meet Bruno, the host of our AirBnB experience, at Largo do Marchado metro station. He is taking us to a football game at Maracana Stadium. Because football is such a huge part of Brazilian life, I want to experience it as a local, and thanks to AirBnB, I can. This is something I’d never do on my own, so being able to participate in an experience like this, and not be a tourist here, is much more appealing. (This is similar to the New Year’s Eve experience we did in Buenos Aires.) It’s a small group, there are only 7 of us total, which turns out to be a really good thing. The crowds on the metro are insane - we are going to a Flamengo/Botafogo game, two of the biggest teams in Rio. Flamengo is a fan favourite and the leading team in the country. Everyone is dressed in red and black, and the metro is pulsing with the voices of the fans. They are singing, ok - maybe yelling - one of the team songs at the top of their lungs. It’s like Carnaval all over again - when Brazilians are passionate about something, they don’t hide it.


When we arrive at the stadium and make our way out of the crowded metro station, Bruno warns us to put away our cell phones. Fans congregate outside the stadium to drink beer and sing more songs and it’s not the safest place. We make our way directly to the entrance where we are briefly searched and then let in. Although we have tickets, there are no assigned seats, so Bruno leads us to our section and we get good seats with amazing views. Three quarters of the stadium is filled with black and red clad Flamengo fans. Directly across from us, a small part of one section is filled with white and black clad Botafogo fans. Bruno tells us that they are not hopeful and don’t bother coming to games anymore.


All around us, the fans sing. They sing at the top of their lungs, to each other, with each other and to themselves. This is the most excited group of people I have ever seen in my life. (Even more than Carnaval). No one sits. They sing, cheer and high five one another even though the game hasn’t even started. Up behind us, some fans have giant flags on long poles and they wave them back and forth in time with the music. Bruno points to the section behind us and up to the left. A giant flag has appeared and it takes up the entire section. They aren’t passing it along the crowd, but rather moving their arms back and forth, making ripples in the material. I thought Canadians were crazy about hockey - but I have never seen sports fans like these.


The singing doesn’t stop - not for a second. It’s International Women’s Day and they ask for a minute of silence on the screens - and no one complies. The singing carries on - right until we board the metro to go home.


The game is fast and exciting. In front of us, two fathers with children still in diapers are watching the game. The little boys, who are maybe 2 years old, are on their fathers’ shoulders watching the game like they’ve bet $1000 on the outcome. They cheer, clench their fists and screw up their faces when a shot is missed. I’ve never seen kids so involved in a game - it’s like they know what is supposed to happen, they understand the rules and are waiting for their team to score a goal. We have several cold beers and popcorn, and just take in the atmosphere. I feel completely safe here, but coming here on our own would have frightened me. I wouldn’t know what was going on, where to sit or even which entrance to enter through.


What I like about football is that it’s fast and it has a time limit. They don’t stop the clock for anything, and before I know it, we are at half time. The singing hasn’t stopped once. In fact, I think it’s getting louder. In the second half, Flamengo scores 3 goals and the place erupts. The fans are out of control in their excitement, the songs get louder, people are yell singing into their phones, pointing at their faces reflected back at them with the erupting crowd behind them. This carries on for minutes after each goal. It’s amazing to see a group of people so diverse so united in one common love. Maybe it’s because all the Flamengo fans are sitting in one area, but I feel safe here. Fights would have broken out by now at a hockey game. Yes, the fans are rowdy, but they are rowdy with love. Love for the game, and love for their team. This is a must do. I feel like a local, like I belong here in this crazy world with these crazy fans. Rio is becoming home. Sure, I still can’t speak the language or understand much, but I'm just immersing myself in the process of becoming a Carioca, I don’t think as much, I just enjoy.




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  • Dawnelle Salant

The next morning we do a boat tour of the city which allows us to experience Rio from the waters of Guanabara Bay. It’s nice - I don’t think it is a must do - but it’s nice to see the city from a different perspective. The most interesting part to me is passing by Santos Dumont airport. This is Rio’s domestic airport and it is right on the coast. We are lucky to see four or five planes taking off and landing, and each time, I hold my breath because it looks like the planes are going to end up in the water. It’s a very short runway! We pass by Ihla Fiscal, which is a tiny piece of land with a single building on it - a palace that looks like it came straight from a Disney movie. It’s light green, surrounded by palm trees and has an almost Arabic look; the top of the windows round to a point and the turrets are topped with pointy white cones. It’s almost ethereal, but maybe it’s the heat from the relentless sun beating off the concrete.


We pass under the Rio-Niteroi bridge, which is the sixth longest prestressed concrete bridge in the world and the longest in the Southern Hemisphere at over 13 kilometres long. The boat cruises past Niteroi, the city with the highest quality of living in the state of Rio de Janeiro. As we float past the Oscar Niemeyer Museum of Contemporary Art, everyone gets out their cameras. I’ve heard that this was an interesting building, but I’m blown away. It looks like a spaceship - a sort of white dome that appears to be floating over the water. Overall, we spend about 2 hours cruising around the bay. It's nice, but one of those things I don't think you need to do in Rio. We have plenty of time, so it was nice, but this is not a highlight of the marvelous city, in my opinion.




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  • Dawnelle Salant

The next day is bright and sunny again, finally, so we head out to cross a few more things off our Rio list, as the time for my mom to leave is quickly approaching. We take the metro to Largo Do Machado, and make our way to the water. Although Flamengo is not a beach where people swim, due to pollution, it has great views of Sugarloaf and the city. We walk towards Botafogo in the heat, seeking shade as usual, and take in the views. It’s hard to believe that this gorgeous beach to my left is a part of the city. The 4 lanes of back to back traffic on my right seem like such a contradiction to the lazy atmosphere of the beach where people lounge in lawn chairs and kick footballs around. I watch fit men work out at one of many exercise stations along the waterfront, and I marvel at their energy. In this heat, I find it hard just to walk, and here they are giving it their all, dripping with the same amount of sweat I produce just from standing there.


When we get closer to Botafogo, we stop for a cold beer on a path next to the water. It’s just a little stand selling $2 Brahmas, but they come with a lawn chair. We sit and watch what looks like a children’s sailing lesson; small, individual sailboats are flapping around in the wind, and every few minutes it looks like one is actually going to tip right over. I sit there and think how lucky I am that I have all this time in Rio to just take it in - not rush around to all the main sights, but time to just be - in Rio. I take a one minute video of the ocean, sugarloaf and the sailboats. I figure I can watch it when I’m home, and pretend I’m right here where I am right now.


Our next destination is Pista Claudio Coutinho - a place that a friend who grew up in Rio told me about. It’s so non-touristy that our taxi driver doesn’t even know it and has to ask for directions. Pista Claudio Coutinho is basically a trail that meanders around the bottom of sugarloaf mountain. It starts at Praia Vermelha, a small beach just off Sugarloaf which is packed.


We start up the trail and are immediately immersed in the cooler air of the Atlantic Rainforest that is miraculously part of the city. I see a dangerous snake warning and find it hard to believe that wildlife like this lurks within the city. Rio is so diverse, it’s one of the things I love about it. Along our walk, to our right,we see the ocean crashing up against the rocks that make up the famous landmark. The white water crashing against the dark gray rocks is mesmerizing. On our left, the forest climbs Sugarloaf, completely making you forget that you are in the city. We see a woman rock climbing just off shore, up a huge, sheer cliffside. I feel dizzy just watching her.


The shade of the nearly perpendicular Sugarloaf, the breeze from the ocean and the wind make this hike both refreshing and energizing. There are lots of people here - but not too many that it’s crowded. There is also a military presence, so it’s very safe. . I see one young guy skateboarding in a speedo, lots of families and some couples. It’s the perfect place for a walk in the city, but also escaping the city. On the way back, my mom notices a marmoset. A tiny monkey, the marmoset sits on a fence post and stares at us. It’s so small - not much bigger than a North American squirrel - but much cuter. It jumps to the next post, its movements quick and fluid. It stares at us again before running off into the bush. We see one more, high up in a tree, but thankfully, no snakes.


Our final plan for the day is Mureta da Urca - the wall of Urca, a popular place for locals to have a cold beer and watch the sun set. Urca is the area that Sugarloaf sits in, and we rush around to the other side and take our place on the wall. It’s packed - it is Friday night, but I imagine it's this busy every night. The view is perfection. We are looking over the bay, Sugarloaf behind us, and in front, Christ the Redeemer, backlit by the setting sun. It gives me chills, even though I’m covered in sweat from the walk and the heat of the day. Everyone is rushing to get their photo taken while the light is still fabulous, and I help some girls next to me with a group photo. They offer us their Brazilian flag sarong for our photos and they turn out perfectly.


I spend every second trying to capture the magnificence of this sunset. The water, filled with boats makes an incredible foreground with the sun turning the water yellowish. Behind the water, there are just enough low buildings to remind you that you are in the city. Beyond that, the rolling mountains that Christ stands on complete the background in an extraordinary manner. A helicopter hovers near the statue, and I am envious of the view they must be having. There are just enough clouds to catch the light of the sun and draw your eyes towards Rio's most famous icon.


The atmosphere on the wall is one of both relaxation and thrill - enjoying an icy cold beer while watching the sun set over this spectacular view makes me grateful for every second I get to spend getting to know this city - the real Rio.




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Hi there! I'm Dawnelle - travel photographer, adventure seeker and digital nomad currently exploring  South America. 

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