Lying in the centre of Brazil, the city of Manaus is difficult to escape by land due to the treacherous road, so flying or boating are the two realistic options to travel towards the coast. Wasting no more time, I boarded a plane to Rio de Janeiro for my last week in South America.
The setting of Rio is spectacular. The city rises and falls with the obelisk mountains, and where the slopes are steep for houses, thick green forest covers the land. Pristine golden sand outlines much of the coast, and locals and tourists flock to the beaches throughout the day. It was a relief to feel a cool ocean breeze and more reasonable weather. Whereas night time temperatures in Manaus never seem to drop below 23 degrees and the humidity is always high, Rio felt refreshingly cool.
Brazil’s notorious social divide is boldly visible in Rio where money and poverty sit side-by-side. On the southern shore, the famous Copacabana beach stretches for several kilometres, shadowed by some of the most expensive real estate in South America. Walking for 10 minutes further west from Copacabana reveals the favela Vidigal, which sits on a slope underneath the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) Mountain. Grimy houses are stacked onto the slanted ground in a chaotic manner. Whereas affluent areas are divided cleanly by modern streets in a grid-like manner, the favelas hold no organisation. The only uniform trend are the blue water tanks sitting on the roofs, which provide am emergency supply when the privatised water companies cut them off. The streets meander through the neighbourhood organically, where space is not given away easily.
Vidigal is one of the pacified favelas in the city. This means it came under the Pacification project in the run up to the Olympic games, where police took a forceful stance on the running of the shanty towns. There are places tourists can stay in Vidigal, and several bars that can be visited. It meant I felt relatively safe walking around the neighbourhood by myself, but I didn’t want to push my luck and get lost.
The Pacification project came with varied success in different areas, and although it seemed crime was generally reduced, the increased friction between gangs and the police produced spurts of violence throughout the city. Infamous favelas like the “City of God” (Cidade de Deus) remain strongly self-governed and violence is not uncommon on a daily basis. There is still no government presence in many favelas where militias and drug groups rule, and local economies are sometimes run with their own currency to boost local spending.
Along with various travellers I met in the city, we walked around the city freely, visiting various sites along the way. The city’s most famous attraction, Christ the Redeemer, is a 30 metre statue of Jesus Christ sitting at the peak of Corcovado mountain that overlooks the city. Most visitors take the train to the top, although a lesser known walking route exists. The start of the path commences in the gardens of Parque Lage, and works its way up the mountainside through the dense Tijuca forest. We were greeted at the base by gesticulating security guard, who was adamant that we shouldn’t go up (from what we vaguely understood from his Portuguese). When another Brazilian passed by, she fortunately translated to us that 45 people have apparently been assaulted in the last two days along that path. So we took the train instead.
The more vibrant central areas of the city are always filled with amazing energy. Caipirinhas flow like water in bars and in the streets at night. It’s not surprising when a large bottle of Cachaça (the spirit) can be bought for 9 Reais (£2), and sugar and lime (the remaining ingredients) are some of Brazil’s most produced goods.
After 5 days, I took a bus to Sao Paulo, my final stop in Brazil and departure point from South America. Unfortunately it rained the entire time I was there, so I was left with a pretty gloomy perspective of the city when I was leaving for the airport. Fortunately I had further lands to look forward to. I was crossing the great expanse of sea to South Africa, via a quick stopover in Angola.
I browsed the film and TV entertainment on board the Angolan Airlines plane. Within the “African Culture” section, the only option was a sitcom called “How to find a husband (episode 4)”, which actually provided very little education on the subject at hand. I guess I would have to get some further culture when I arrived at the new continent.
The plane departed in the night’s darkness, and I attempted to start reading a book. Frustratingly the light button on my handset wouldn’t illuminate the bulb above me. I furiously clicked at the button, but nothing happened. I then looked around, noticing a bulb two rows ahead and to the right of me was flickering on and off with my click. There was a woman beneath looking visibly distressed at the strobe light show I was putting on above her. I pressed the button once more to turn the light off, quietly put down the handset and closed my eyes to sleep.
I woke to the wheels skidding onto the runway, and exiting the plane to a muggy Angolan sunrise. News of a fierce storm in the Western Cape in South Africa, so after a few hours sitting in the quiet airport, we were guided onto the airlines largest carrier; presumably the only one that would land in the strong winds. The journey carried us over the endless desert of Namibia, before the mountains of South Africa were in sight. After some uneasy turbulence, the controlled landing was met by plenty of applause from the relieved passengers. I gazed outside my cabin window, which was now being attacked by hail. Welcome to Africa.