The flight took 12 hours from the UK. We followed the West coast of Africa for most of it before crossing the Atlantic. This was my first time in Rio and I knew that I wouldn’t get this chance for very long time to come. It was Christmas 2005. Snowfall and cold weather was what I had left behind. Blue skies and beaches was what I imagined lay ahead.
The taxi ride from the airport took about 25 minutes. I was immediately struck by the slums. Upon leaving the airport, the Favelas were soon apparent dotted either side of the made arterial road into the city. The occasional wasteland, a welcome break from the carpet of shanty town housing, were full of young children kicking mishapen footballs.
I strained to look out of the window of the taxi, searching for the famous landmark of Christ the Redeemer, as we entered the city. Suddenly it came into view. Small – much smaller than I had anticipated – but majestic and proud, the statue would look over me throughout my time in this city.
We passed through a tunnel on the way to Copacabana beach when I heard my first Rio gunshots. It was probably a car backfiring I remember thinking. It wasn’t. The reports on the nightly news highlighted Rio’s problems with guns only too well.
Copacabana is where I stayed. Right on the famous boulevard. At the top of this beach you pass a headland before arriving at Ipanema. Along one side of Copacabana are bars, restaurants and hotels. One of the more famous is the Copacabana Hotel. A big beautiful looking, colonial style affair, the hotel is a throw back to another era and another time. In many ways, I felt this stunning building was a little incongruous to the rest of the Avenida Atlantica which seemed a little run down and rough around the edges. After dark , the working girls of Rio can be found in bars within 50 yards of this palatial setting. I must admit to feeling a little awkward trekking around this city with expensive photography gear. Around Copacabana, the high number of visible police is a double edged sword. Reasurring and panicking visitors at the same time. The police are here for a reason though as Rio is a city of extremes.
Uber rich live and rub shoulders with the super poor. As your taxi stops for a moment at a red light, two boys walk out
into the road and go through their juggling act for umpteenth time that day. 20 seconds to impress the tourists enough to get some form of tip. Across the road from the Copacabana Palace, I saw two more boys rummaging for food and scraps in the bins. Yet Rio is also an idiosyncratic city. In a landscape of such stunning beauty, it is the poor who live and breathe the breathtaking views of the city from the hilltops, albeit from the squalour of
the slums. The rich, in contrast, remain in the low lying areas of Ipanema and
Barra di Tijuca hemmed in by the Atlantic Ocean and the sprawling Favelas.