We reached Rio De Janeiro around dusk; the weather was fairly overcast and slightly drizzling, but as we drove along the coasts of Ipanema and Copacabana, there were hundreds of people still enjoying the beaches. Traffic, as with the case with São Paulo, had hit a snarl as we drove towards our lodgings.
The Airbnb we stayed at was in the Ipanema neighborhood, two walkable blocks from the sand and directly across the street from a bar owned by the Delirium Brewing Company — a great spot where Clayton, Brett, and I would enjoy one last beer each night. The apartment itself was owned by a young Swedish-Brazilian couple and had the look of an atypical hotel: everything appeared outdated and sterile, like that from a Holiday Inn from the 90’s. Still, it had its amenities: a parking garage, a pool and hot tub, laundry in the unit itself, and each room had a balcony overlooking the city and ocean.
After dropping off our luggage, Brett, Clayton, and myself went to Galeto Sat’s — a small restaurant in the Copacabana neighborhood that served rotisserie chicken and cheesy-garlic bread. On prior trips, both Brett and Clayton would go here and rave about the food. I may have had some doubts, but it was absolutely some of the best food (namely that buttery, cheesy garlic bread) I’ve ever had. Pure fucking decadence. The staff were friendly and kept pushing Cachaça shots on us. We quickly finished dinner and attempted to hail a cab.
Now fully raining (the first time since we’ve been in Brazil), we drove back to Ipanema and went to Empório 37, some bar near our apartment. The bar’s resident DJ kept on playing 90’s Alternative hits as the attentive wait staff (girls who I can only imagine aren’t even pushing 21) kept bringing us beers. The place was also, to the best of my knowledge, crawling with prostitutes — scantily-clad women, even for Brazilian standards, who kept on eyeing the random male clientele and then approaching them for a drink or a dance. Clayton and I started singing some Foo Fighters or Smashing Pumpkins song (I forget which one, but it was definitely a throwback to my Q101 days), and that caught the attention of two British dudes who were in Rio for work. We were, after all, speaking English so I’d figure these two oil company execs found some commonality in us. They came over and kept buying us rounds of beer, discussing how America is fucked if we elected Trump as president.
One of Brett’s friends from Rio met up with us later that night, and as a freelance art director, he explained to me how a lot of creative folks are moving from the city and into São Paulo. It was an interesting perspective of how artists and designers work in Brazil, and how São Paulo is starting to become the industry’s creative capital of the country.
The next day, we returned the rental car to the airport. Wandering around the park near the rental spot, Clayton and Brett were so enamored with Rio’s sunset that they felt compelled to take photos with their phones (personally, I took enough photos at this point and wanted to relax and have a beer, so I just followed them around). This caught the attention of three homeless men sleeping in the park, all of whom were in their 50’s and all of whom took a sudden interest in Clayton and Brett’s phones. They started following us, and one of them was carrying a stick. We walked faster, and they followed suit at the same pace. The three of us began to run and crossed the highway nearby, and we eventually lost them. As I’d later learn from Brett, we were in the shady-ass part of Rio, and though we escaped our potential muggers, we were soon inundated by beggars and crooked cab drivers.
Failing to get a reasonably-priced taxi, we walked several blocks to Bar do Mineiro, yet another restaurant Brett and Clayton had been to in years past. I had feijoada, a typical Brazilian dish (historically eaten by the poor) of beans, meat stew, rice, and farofa. It was delicious, and for the first time in this trip, I had an authentic Brazilian meal that I’ve only heard about in one of Anthony Bourdain’s travel show.
Later that night, we took an Uber to the Leblon neighborhood and met up with yet another of Brett Harmon’s Brasilian friends, an oil company executive whose socialist ideals and relationship with Rio’s DJ/music community reminded me a lot of my friend Brett Burton. We had several drinks at this hip taqueria restaurant, and considering it was a Thursday, the general scene of Leblon was reminiscent of New York’s Meatpacking or Chelsea districts.
The next day, we went to Fogo de Chão, a churrascaria restaurant that endlessly serves meat on swords. Fogo de Chão has several chains across the world, including New York and Chicago, and though its name lend itself to a tourist trap, it was by far the most fulfilling meal of the entire trip. I had the meat sweats. It dawned on us later that it was Good Friday, a day that strictly prohibits Catholics from eating meat, but whatever; consuming a near infinite supply of meat at a churrascaria was one of my goals in Brazil, and considering that the country has an incredibly significant Catholic population, I was taken aback by the number of patrons eating meat at the restaurant.
After filling up on assorted beef and pork, the three of us traveled to Pão de Açúcar, aka “Sugarloaf Mountain.” As one of Rio’s largest and more recognizable mountains, we took a cable car to the top. Otherwise shrouded in clouds, we were fortunate enough to see all of Rio De Janeiro, including the famous Christ the Redeemer statue off in the distance.
Later that night, we went to the Botafogo neighborhood — pretty much the hipster, Williamsburg-like enclave of Rio De Janeiro. We ended up at Caverna, an edgy cocktail bar that played a lot of indie rock, had a Street Fighter 3 arcade machine, and served a lot of artisanal appetizers. I spotted a girl drinking a cocktail out of a glass skull (roughly the same size of an actual adolescent’s skull), and I thought to myself, “I should have one too. Why the fuck not?” Well, that was a mistake: I immediately regretted the sweet-tasting concoction of 4 shots of rum, Cachaça, honey, and berry juice. It tasted like Jungle Juice and was just as potent.
Slightly hungover the next day, we spent our remaining morning just hanging out at the beach of Ipanema. I managed to cross off yet another item on my Brazil trip checklist: drink a coconut on the beach. Afterwards, the three of us gathered our luggage and headed to the airport to catch our flight back to São Paulo.