Back to Backpacking: A Day in Santa Teresa

29 Feb

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First thing in the morning, J.J. and I got up, packed up and headed on our way to check in to our hostel in Rio, leaving Tal and Jonny to one last day alone at The Sheraton.

We weren’t able to check in when we arrived so we headed upstairs to one of the common areas to make use of the hostel Wi-Fi and take care of some odds and ends: applying for Australian visas, doing some banking and research of upcoming places on our travel hit list.

As we waited we met an Australian couple from Melbourne who were also headed to Australia next, then India and Nepal so it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw them again on our travels.

Finally we were able to check in. We followed the woman down to the reception area of the hostel where she scanned our passports, took our photo and asked us for our nicknames. I said she could call me Kait or CK, and without knowing the meaning she immediately said she liked CK better. If only she knew…

We were given our sheets and took them up to our 4th floor sweat-box of a room. Like many hostels we’ve stayed in that have AC, it didn’t turn on until 8pm and it was only 1pm.

A cold shower and fresh change of clothes later we were on our way to Santa Teresa, a well-known artist neighbourhood located on the top of Santa Teresa hill, and much like the artsy neighbourhoods from Buenos Aires, I fell in love immediately.

The streets are winding, uphill and downhill and are all made of cobblestone. The stucco walls that follow the sidewalks are covered in amazing graffiti art. There are artists on every street corner showcasing their work and willing to tell you about the individual pieces. The shops are not chain stores but rather filled to the brim with creations from local artists, everything from art work to jewelry to furniture to knick-knacks.

Our first stop was to the cultural centre to get a map and find out about riding the streetcar through the neighbourhood. The cultural centre itself is this pink building that was sort of run-down looking from the outside but had a lot of character. Inside was completely different. Clean white walls, high ceilings, tons of windows allowing for lots of natural light and spotless wooden floors that appeared to have been freshly varnished which led into a few uncluttered rooms showcasing either vintage cachaca labels and bottles or model streetcars.

Cachaca and streetcars may seem like an odd combination of things to have in a Cultural Centre in Rio unless you know that cachaca is a popular Brazilian alcohol that is made from fresh sugarcane juice, tastes a bit like tequila and is used to make Brazil’s nation cocktail, the Caipirinha. As for the streetcar models, there are tracks that run throughout the cobblestone streets of Santa Teresa only currently there are no operating streetcars due to a recent accident that killed 5 passengers and injured another 57 after the driver lost control, derailing and flipping the bonde (streetcar).

After a lengthly chat with the man running the cultural centre we were on our way to the Santa Teresa ruins, Parque das Ruinas, which boasts a breath-taking view of Rio de Janeiro. Cameras in-hand we spent the next 2 hours shooting the city from all different vantage points. Looking out in one direction reminded me of being at Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Centre in NYC while another direction showed off the water, Sugar Loaf and the constant incoming and outgoing of planes from the airport while another direction still showed off the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in the distance.

Unfortunately for us, the ruins close at 7pm so we were unable to capture the sunset views as we’d hoped but we were getting hungry anyway and set off to find a patio where we could grab a Caiprinha and something to eat. We found this amazing place called Cito Café that had a patio located up a flight of stairs, offered Caiprinhas made with different fruits as opposed to the traditional lime Caiprinha, and full or half sandwiches made on fresh ciabatta. Amazing drinks, amazing food, amazing ambience and reasonably priced to boot!

When we were ready to leave we hailed a cab as Rio is unfortunately not known for being the safest of places at night and we had 3 of 4 of our cameras on us. We drove back to the hostel through the lively neighbourhood of Lapa, without incident, and enjoyed a nightcap on the hostel patio before calling it a night in our by-then-cool dorm room.

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