Most visitors to Rio do their sightseeing by checking out views from Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf, or the deck of their hotel overlooking Copacabana or Ipanema Beaches. Well that’s all fine and good, but did you know that some of the best view properties in Rio are rarely visited at all by camera-toting tourists? What are those brightly colored buildings clinging precariously to the hillsides, anyway? Aren’t they the slums – the favelas? Aren’t they ridden with crime and poverty and machine guns and drug lords? Actually, favelas are neighborhoods with people and kids and schools and stores and restaurants and businesses, much like any other neighborhoods. Sure, they have a crime-ridden reputation which is based partly in fact, but which is widely exagerated by films and media. Yes, they can be dangerous, and you wouldn’t want to go wandering into a favela on your own. But if you so desire to see “the other side of Rio”, then book a favela visit with an experienced and reputable outfit, such as Marcelo Armstrong’s Favela Tour.
Of course, there are the views of Rio you don’t get elsewhere.
But the best experience is to wander through the streets and alleys and get a glimpse of every day life in a favela. I did just that, and was charmed by the colorful buildings and people who make the favelas their home.
Ok, so you’re in Rio de Janeiro, and you’ve missed Carnival. You still want to experience the music and see the costumes, but without spending days and nights sitting on a concrete stadium bleacher surrounded by crowds and a giant party. Out of season, but are you out of luck? What to do?
Well, depending on the time of year, it could be worthwhile to visit a Samba school. I didn’t do that, as I was in Rio only a week or two after Carnival, and the schools were just re-forming and classes re-grouping to begin preparation for next year’s celebration. So there wouldn’t be all that much in the way of performance going on. But that’s a link worth following anyway.
Any time of year, however, there is an excellent option at the Plataforma Theater in Leblon. There are many websites, reviews, and youtube links which refer to this venue/show, so Search away. Or if you’d rather just take it from me, here are the details:
Plataforma I Rua Adalberto Ferreira, 32 Leblon Rio de Janeiro Phone: 2274-4022
In researching links for this article, I discovered many are of the opinion that this folklore show is just a big tourist trap. Well, I am of the opinion that shows attract tourists with good reason, and nothing about this show had me feeling trapped. In fact, quite the contrary, it had me dancing for weeks following!
I didn’t have dinner there, but that is an option. I just went for the show. What a show it was! Amazing mulata dancers, Capoeira (a mixture or martial arts and dance), and of course Samba, accompanied by a cultural journey of Brazilian music….and live singers! The grand finale is a parade of colorful feathered Canival costumes, and apparently this particular show is the venue for the winners of the 2009 Carnival Schools Samba Contest. The Samba Schools are judged in the following categories: * Samba Song * Harmony * Flow and Spirit * Theme of the Year * Overall Impression * Floats and Props * Costumes * Vanguard Group * The Flag Bearer
They all looked pretty fantastic. Here’s a slideshow of some favorite costumes:
And of course, what blog about a Samba Show would be complete without a video clip, just to give you an idea of the rhythm, energy, and pulse of the evening!
And before I abandon the subject of Carnival, I feel compelled to share a link to some pictures of the real deal, Carnival in action, by my good friend, great photographer, and Brazil enthusiast, Mark Whitley. Take a browse around his website to see more travel and people pictures from Brazil – for years his images have inspired me and fed my dreams to visit this colorful country!
As for dinner, well, Rio is full of excellent dining options. ZUKA is my choice to mention here, because the food presentation was a Carnival in itself. Don’t panic that the website is only in Portuguese – the staff speak and understand english, and the menu is bi-lingual, but it is anything but a “tourist menu”! The food looked as good as it tasted, so of course, I’ll finish my short review in pictures instead of words: