The whole world has been led to believe that Christmas is lots of snow, lights to provide warmth and hope, and a fat man dressed in red fur bringing good cheer to one and all.
Well, this couldn’t have been further from the truth, since theologians, historians, wise guys (I mean, wise men) and shepherds agree that based on historical data and Gospel descriptions with shepherds in the fields, the baby was born around the year 4 BCE and between June-September. Ok, by this we take Christ out of Christmas – and what do we have? No, Virginia, not just “mas” or “mass”. Funny girl. We have the winter solstice – where all the snow, lights and red fur fit like a glove. That’s of course for the Northern Hemisphere.
I’ve always been a supporter of Christmas in July for the Southern hemisphere when cooler temperatures can move us to wish to be “closer” to family and friends while not sweating like pigs in the shade.
We had the chance to go to Rio this week and have got great news for you: it’s still marvelous and beautiful. Even the Christmas decorations – specially at night – make the city more beautiful.
Christmas in Rio is full of contrasts – for a Carioca – it’s cheap – R$ 10 and a pair of shorts allow you to spend a whole day of fun. For tourists it is going to be a little pricier – just a night at Copacabana palace goes into the thousands of reais. But you can always try to rent a couch in the home of a community (favela) dweller for a few hundred bucks.
Of course, some frustrations and throw-your-arms-up in-the-air moments appear: the Sugar Loaf cable car was running only half way up to Urca Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado – a tourist magnet – lacks basic infrastructure and newsflash: they don’t know how to deal with large numbers of tourists under a 110-degree Fahrenheit sun, not a pleasant experience. I loved the easy access areas for the disabled, pregnant women or the elderly – the lines for the van to take them up to Jesus had a wait of only 2.5 hours instead of the regular 5-6 hours for common mortals. A driver told us that there is a van service in Copacabana that takes tourists there nonstop and at lower fares but we learned about it only after we got there. Piece of advice: befriend a local Carioca online before your visit – but choose well: it’s got to be a street smart Carioca. If you get someone who can’t tell the difference between their left or right foot, you’re doomed. Bazeeenga!!
We hired a taxi driver to pick us up at the local Santos Dumont airport and stay with us for the rest of the day. We pre-arranged a daily fare and, of course, the driver at the last minute watsapped us saying she would be busy and referring us to another driver. Other drivers we’d contacted before had plainly stated they didn’t like driving tourists around, or didn’t know how to set a daily fee, or didn’t feel like driving on a hot day, or all of the above. (chuckles).
Food at the botecos (casual pubs) is inexpensive and home made – Galeto’s at Praça da Bandeira is a very simple restaurant but food tastes like the one your mom (if she knows how to cook) would prepare for you.
The best part of the day is always the beach – people can and do spend their whole day under a giant parasol eating and drinking whatever the beach vendors have available – from prawns on a stick to Arab cuisine.
The feeling I had was that most of the foreign tourists were Latin American – don’t cry for me, Argentina – followed by Europeans. Of course, you’d expect that such a touristy global city would have locals speaking English as their second mother tongue. Unfortunately, that’s not so. Many people may know some of the basic “sale” “bargain” “ripoff” English to get by, but I still feel that fluent people are found in larger numbers in São Paulo, which is not to say they’re counted in the millions, by the way.
What else can I say? Christmas in Rio? Hell yeah. Just don’t forget your sunscreen and your portable AC around your neck. Oh, and drink gallons of coconut water.
Cheers and have yourself a merry Natal.