Disclaimer – As always these are just my impressions after a very short visit, I reserve the right to be consistently wrong.
I’m leaving Rio pretty baffled, it’s been easily the most alien city I’ve visited this trip, so very different from everywhere else, and mostly in ways I can’t put my finger on, frustratingly.
Mexico City, Oaxaca, Bogota, Asuncion, Montevideo, etc all share a common Spanish background and you can feel it, even if the Spanish influence mostly now feels quite distant and muted in these cities, they are still coming from the same place historically and culturally.
Not so with Rio (or I assume other places in Brazil), its Portuguese heritage meant it started off from a different place and unlike the other places I’ve been the cities in Brazil sort of developed in a vacuum, quickly losing touch with Portugal but also lacking any other similar places to grow along side of. It seems like Brazil is a cultural island, it’s its own thing just from having nowhere else like it.
Rio and Buenos Aires are the largest South American cities I will likely see this trip. They are about the same size and same age. Rio is the second largest Portuguese speaking city in the world (after Sao Paulo) and Buenos Aires is the second largest Spanish speaking city in the world (after Mexico City). They are almost completely different though, Buenos Aires is so European, in its museums and wide avenues and culture around dining and wine and such things, Rio on the other hand is not… it’s not European, it’s Rioan? (I invented that word, it’s mine).
Where people in Buenos Aires are sipping wine and chatting late into the evening in endless bistros along epic avenues, people in Rio are sliding their way around mountains on confusing narrow streets and seemingly just laughing and dancing and partying. Multiple times I saw blocks get cordoned off and a party would just appear, until dawn, where you couldn’t fit one more person on that one block long temporary playground.
I have so little idea of Rio, it’s been a week and I really still feel like I just landed. The city is massive but hard to see, divided up into many pockets, tucked around the massive vertical towers of granite mountains that rise nearly straight up all around the coast. It’s almost impossible to get a view of most of the city at the same time, everywhere you look it’s a different view.
The city is objectively dangerous, currently having the same safety rating as Kabul, Afghanistan, but I guess not anywhere I visited? I was pretty cautious the first day or so but quickly adjusted and realized Rio feels about as safe or unsafe, generally, as any other South American large city.
The people as well, much more different, as I experienced them, than people in the other countries on this trip, louder, laughier, showier. More…. American almost, but in good, fun ways.
The city also has, from what I saw, about the lowest reverence or interest in history, arts, museums, etc, as compared to any mega city I’ve seen. There just aren’t really dozens of museums and galleries stuffed with artifacts. I saw a few exhibits and learned a few things but was mostly struck by how little there was of that sort of thing.
I’d like to go back someday, mostly I guess because I don’t really feel I’ve been there in the first place.
I loved Rio, as I do most places, I am just kinda out of novel ways to relate that. I’ve been trying to post something daily, mostly so I remember things down the road but it just isn’t going to happen.
I leave Rio with as little understanding of a city as any I’ve spent a week in, the city itself is really unique and between the rain and spending a few days on Piqueta Island I really do not have a grasp of what Rio is.
I may not understand Rio well but I saw some cool stuff. I saw a couple on a subway platform randomly start dancing a samba, eventually dancing their way onto their train once it pulled in, to smiles and applause from the rest of us. I’ve decided that will be my image of Rio until the time I learn more.