Take a group of 40 MBA students, add upcoming thesis stress, marinate in two years of exams, assignments and group projects and deposit in Rio. Remove from heat and enjoy the wildest party of your life!
So there we were in a plane landing in Rio. Arriving there, the anticipation you feel is incredible, you just know you are gonna have fun. So the question is, what to do on your first night in Rio? Get your wobblies on of course! Now, Rio is an expensive city so we prepared ourselves for the worst but with the Rand/Reais exchange rate factored in, boy a night out don’t come cheap. But we were on a mission and if we could get through two years of lectures, we most certainly could get ourselves sozzled. So decision made, a bunch of us headed down the road from the hotel to the Mud Bug pub, a sports bar in the heart of Copacabana that plays live Jazz, Blues and Rock music. We were in for an eyeful; when they say Rio brings the heat, they weren’t kidding. The men and women of Rio ooze sex and passion and when the lights go down and the music goes up you will see no one making excuses for being hot-blooded. I found myself staring at couple after couple snogging passionately or groping on the dance floor. The atmosphere was heady and despite the pricey drinks after a while no one cared and the Mud Bug became our regular joint after that famous night… and its accompanying hangover.
Besides Copacabana, another area you just have to see in Rio is Ipanema. The beach, just as picturesque as the Copacabana, draws volleyball players, runners and general hunky athletic types that would not look out-of-place on the cover of a Mills and Boon novel. The streets are lined with high-end boutiques, cafes and restaurants and men and women clad in beach-wear patrol the streets looking like they haven’t a care in the world. Once again I caught myself staring at the gorgeous populace and realised they weren’t shy to stare right back, something I am so not used to but rather enjoyed.
Not only is Ipanema famous for its comfy flip-flops and beaches, it was put on the map in the mid 1960s by bossa-nova artist Antonio Carlos Jobim who composed the Grammy award winning song Garota de Ipanema or The Girl from Ipanema. In honour of the song we had dinner at its namesake restaurant. What can I say about this restaurant…it’s menu is..well…great if you don’t mind having a liquid dinner and deep-fried everything is your cup of tea. Despite the unappealing food, just being in Rio made up for the lack of nutrition and by the end of the night a few group members (guys) found themselves decorating the poles at the restaurant entry, much to the delight of the dinners inside.
Our third day in Rio was spent at a favela doing volunteer work with a local community. The intensity of the day left us famished and in need of an evening of light-hearted Brazilian fun so we headed to the bohemian area of Baixo Gavea. The area is packed with al-fresco diners, clubs and pubs playing live music and the most exotic people on earth – there must have been a model convention going down.
We had a great meal of the usual rice with black beans, feijoada or meat stew, cooked veggies and the standard caipirinha.
The area really gets going after dinner time and the vibe was intoxicating…
On our fourth night, despite a long, hard day of beer-tasting at the Cervejaria Bohemia, our group was determined to paint the town red and show Brazilians that South Africans know how to party. I had arranged to meet a friend of mine from home and she agreed to show us Brazilian nightlife in exchange for good old SA magazines and rusks. She took the entire group to Lapa, a neighbourhood in central Rio famous for its nightlife and historical monuments like the Carioca Aqueduct.
The area is concentrated with restaurants, bars and clubs playing a mix of samba, rock, pop and hip hop music. At night the Carioca Aqueduct is illuminated with magnificent multicoloured lights and, being surrounded by enthusiastic street vendors, serves as the perfect spot for greasy food and warm-up drinks.
The great thing about Lapa is that all the historical buildings, converted into clubs and restaurants, are maintained on the outside, creating an urban hotspot with old-world charm.
No Rio experience is complete without a night of Samba, the symbol of Brazil and the Rio Carnival. Thank goodness we had a Carioca (local) in our midst because the choice of samba clubs awaiting us in Lapa was incredible. Add to that the mix of beauties spilling onto the streets and hanging over the balconies and I was completely overwhelmed. We ended up at Rio Scenarium, ranked first in Rio nightlife on TripAdvisor and one of the top ten bars in the world according to the Guardian (London).
The four storey club looks like a vintage museum and is bedecked with antiques and curiosities lining every wall and ceiling and plays everything from live samba bands to Brazilian club music.
Besides the incredible music the other great thing about this place is the dance floor packed with couples who know how to move and aren’t afraid to show it. There is nothing quite like a man who can dance and even though I am a married woman I will say this, it’s true what they say about Brazilian men!
The ground floor band plays typical samba music that gets Cariocas to their feet and brings foreigners (also called Gringos) to a standstill. The few ladies brave enough to give the samba a go had no problem attracting an eager male partner. I decided that the men weren’t flirting, they were just being polite and acting in accordance with their cultural norms, really I swear!
After a while we found ourselves gravitating upstairs past the restaurant to the hip hop and dance floors which became packed after midnight. I don’t know what it is about Latino club music but it just keeps you going and going. By the time we got out of there I could barely stand despite wearing responsible latin dancing shoes. If you choose one place to go big in Rio, go to Rio Scenarium!!
Our last night rolled around all too quickly. We headed back to Lapa, our lecturers chose the famous Carioca da Gema samba club to wrap up the elective. The place is also an excellent pizzeria but I was so sad to be leaving Rio I honestly can’t remember what the food was like. I do, however, remember the music. It was light samba performed by Nelsinho Felix, a Carioca with long dread locks and a smooth voice (I have added in a clip of his at the end of this post, it’s well worth a listen).
For some over achievers in our group the fun wasn’t over. Those who had handed in their final thesis stayed on in Brazil or jetted off to Peru and the Amazon. But with two weeks to go until hand-in and a mountain of work still to do, for me the fun was over. I count myself lucky that I had the chance to visit this intoxicating place which far exceeds its sultry reputation. Rio is everything it promises on the postcards; sun, sand, sea, sights, music, food and tons of sexiness! Cariocas watch out, this Gringo will be back and armed with feathers, sequins and spray-on tan for Carnival!