Dramatically set amidst long beaches and dramatic cliffs that rise directly from the ocean, Rio de Janeiro is the original home of Portuguese Royalty in the New World and centuries later, still a city of immense international importance. It’s citizens have seen it all in recent years: a corrupt government, rampant poverty amid an intense economic crisis, the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Both of these international sporting spectacles have come under harsh scrutiny for their lack of planning and unfulfilled economic promise, igniting the city in opposition against establishment forces. Yet behind the tough facade lies a city of six million brash and beautiful Brazilians who are eager to demonstrate their loving pride for la cidada maravilhosa: the marvelous city.
Along the North side of the island we encountered untouched nature: striking rock facades protruding directly from the rolling green hillsides, deserted beaches without a soul in sight, and flocks of majestic birds headed out for a morning fishing trip. Following a swarm of similar boats on the same tour, our driver pulled into the pristine waters of the Laguna Azul and we all eagerly jumped in. Here the water was so clear it seemed unnaturally photoshopped, as a tiny island jutting out from the shore captured the current and provided a prime spot for fish to congregate.
Paraty is undoubtedly paradise. Stefje and I made it our mission to see as much of the islands and beaches that surround this amazing locale, so we hooked up with some other members of the hostel for a boat tour through the bay. In the distance the overgrown islands demonstrated the area’s spectacular propensity for life. Year round sunshine and winter rains ensure that nature dominates here, sprouting up thick forests, fruit trees, and palm branches spreading shade over every square inch of land.
We engaged in one of my favorite activities for getting to know a neighborhood first-hand: strapping on a pair of walking shoes and pounding the pavement one step at a time. Vila Madelena is São Paulo’s best for nightlife, with dozens upon dozens of bars coming alive in the evening hours. Yet during the day it was a curious case study as well, as just one block could include a brand new restaurant, a boutique shop, an apartment building, and an art gallery, each occupying no more than 10 meters of storefront.
We were still hundreds of yards from the view when the mist began hitting us in the face. As we approached, clouds of spray flung from the water hitting rocks far below ensconced the platform, leaving everything constantly deluged. Yet whenever the winds shifted and the views cleared, the result was a visceral experience. For 270 of the 360 degrees around us the falls dominated, dropping 1.5 cubic tons of water every second.
As spirits began fading and legs began aching, the tables turned and the trek down the mountainside commenced. Morale was understandably buoyed by the mother of all views: our first glimpse of Lagoinha do leste. What a paradise it seemed! Protected by the cradle of a semi-circle of mountains, with a set of dunes in front and not a road in sight, the crescent-shaped beach is one of Mother Nature’s masterful works. An endless string of head-high waves broke steps from the shoreline, setting off a race to see which overheated hiker could take the first cold lungs. We body surfed the waves and dried out on the beach, kindling a feeling of deep relaxation amidst the solitary environment.