Guns & Butter: Rio de Janeiro Travel Guide

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This is a special edition of the Travel Guide as it commemorates one the most fantastic travel experiences, Rio de Janeiro Carnival. (Carnaval en Português)

Though the experience was different, the formula for what to do when I arrived in this new city remained the same: Guns & Butter.

  • A trip is composed of two factors: Labor And Lazy
  • Anything on the line (Production Possibilities Frontier for my fellow economists) is an efficient use of your time depending on your tastes and preferences.
  • Anything inside the line is inefficient as should be avoided.
  • Anything outside is aspirational but may be impossible to do given the constraints of time and resources.
  • The opportunity cost (what is given up) for relaxing and being Lazy is gained by being adventurous in the form of Labor and vice versa.

Capture

 

Let’s start the guide with the Carnaval Parade and I’ll explain to you via an excerpt from my book, why it requires Labor:

Nothing is more emblematic of embellishment than the Carnaval celebration in Brazil. Carnaval is a festival that takes place every year to mark the beginning of Lent. To commemorate the transition from excess to abstinence, the country hosts street parades, exclusive balls, and round-the-clock beach parties. The climax of the splurge is the Carnaval Samba Parade held in Rio de Janeiro, a competition where rival samba schools vie for the title of best school by designing their own costumes, decorating elaborate floats, and perfecting their dance choreography as part of an overall theme. It’s fair to say that it is slightly more risqué than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Ninety thousand people watch the event live at the Sambódromo, while hundreds of thousands throughout multiple countries tune in from home. Celebrities from around the world pay top dollar for luxury suites to partake in the revelry. In fact, in 2011, three-time Super Bowl winner and fellow Michigan alum Tom Brady sat front row in a VIP box and, by all accounts, had a fantastic time.

Before going to Rio, my best friend, Michael Jeries, (hereon referred to as Mikey) and I researched parade ticket prices hoping to find great seats. To my amazement, I discovered that instead of just watching the parade, tourists can actually be in it! By corresponding with a local samba school in Rio via e-mail, writing in both Spanish and English, hoping the combination would magically translate into Portuguese, I somehow arranged for a courier to drop off the costumes at our hotel the day of the parade.

Our school’s theme was global warming, and the costumes we purchased were supposed to be Eskimos. What we received was some over-the-top outfit consisting of a skintight white gown with requisite pieces of flair along with a bunch of silver balls and feathers coming out of the head dress. Unable to make sense of the costume, we questioned if what we had purchased was authentic. Reminded of the saying “When in Rio…” Mikey and I put on our dresses and headed to the Sambódromo, hoping that we were not victims of an elaborate prank. Somehow we located our school and breathed a huge sigh of relief when we came across other participants also cloaked in this odd interpretation of Eskimo garb.

A few caipirinhas and a couple Skol beers later, we mustered the courage to dance in the middle of the Sambódromo, doing our best imitation of the samba while trying not to cost our school, Portela, the title. We also, más o menos, sang along to our school’s theme song, “Oh so agua so ao…so Portela!” Our school finished a respectable third, undoubtedly a result of our efforts.

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rio de janeiro carnival

rio de janeiro carnival

rio de janeiro carnival

rio de janeiro carnival

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rio de janeiro carnival

So that’s Carnaval. Still have energy to go on? Let’s switch our focus to the other side of the spectrum, Lazy. In Rio, that can only mean one thing: the beach.

Two of the most popular beaches in the world are Copacabana and Ipanema. Ipanema is a bit nicer but a bit more expensive. It’s funny that this is the case because they are directly adjacent to one another with only a bluff of rocks keeping them apart.

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Copacabana Beach
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Ipanema Beach
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More Ipanema
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The Beach can still turn into Labor by day during Carnaval
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The same is true by night

One thing worth mentioning as evidenced by the pictures is that Rio experiences a lot of rain during the two most popular times to visit: New Years and Carnaval.

rio de janeiro carnival
Though the sun does come out eventually as do the interesting food vendors.

rio de janeiro carnival

The food worth trying on the beach besides the Khaled’s treats include the grilled cheese and the fresh coconuts. Stay away from the shrimp as I’ve heard many horror stories. Furthermore be wary in Copacabana beach for obscene charges for beach chairs. Always ask before sitting down and assuming it will be cheap.

rio de janeiro carnival

rio de janeiro carnival

After too many days at the beach, it’s time to explore Rio by visiting the must see spots. We actually booked our sightseeing tour cleverly on the day we were departing, thereby affording us more time at the beach. This included stops at the following by level of difficulty:

  • Sugarloaf Mountain
  • Tijuca Rainforest
  • Christ the Redeemer

Sugarloaf Mountain 

Sugarloaf is easy because it’s a cable car to the top and back. Enjoy the view and take pics.

rio de janeiro carnival

rio de janeiro carnival

rio de janeiro carnival

Tijuca Forest

The amount of Labor to Lazy in exploring the forest is up to you. A driver can take you to all the nice spots for photo opportunities. Conversely, you could run, hike, bike throughout the forest. Just be sure not to get lost come nightfall as was the case for a few tourists who needed rescuing.

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rio de janeiro carnivalT
Tijuca waterfall
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Close enough

rio de janeiro carnival

Christ the Redeemer 

By far the most iconic landmark in Rio, Christ the Redeemer is worth the pilgrimage.

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Capturing that perfect postcard pic makes it the most Labor intensive.
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The view from the top makes it worth the trouble of fighting the crowds.

What I didn’t do: 

I didn’t go on a Favela tour. The tour takes you through the poorest parts of Rio and gives visitors a glimpse of what life is like for the many impoverished residents of Brazil. The history, culture, and story behind favelas are worth researching and understanding. I’m torn as to whether one should sign up for a tour. On the one hand, it could be an eye-opening experience and the proceeds from the tour goes to helping those living in the favela. On the other, it seems discourteous to treat the lives of others as something of an attraction. I leave it to you to decide.

What I missed:

Going to Rio during Carnaval means sleep is not a luxury nor is time. I wasn’t able to do a few notable things that I will have to go back and try.

These include:

  • Hand gliding
  • A soccer game at Maracana Stadium
  • More partying at Scala Balls

A word on safety: 

I had zero issues when I was in Rio. We went to the beach, the bars, and the parade and had no trouble. I will say that I was on high alert and was aware of my surroundings.

rio de janeiro carnival
Hand glide if you have the time.
rio de janeiro carnival
See a game Maracana Stadium if you’re lucky to be there when the national team is playing.
rio de janeiro carnival
Scala Ball
rio de janeiro carnival
Or just stick to street parties and bring your Mickey gloves

 

 

 

4 COMMENTS

  1. Nice report. I was just there in Nov but with my wife and 3 year old so a slightly different dynamic! I’ll live vicariously thru you 😉 We had a good time also thiugh, beautiful city and it’s dangerous reputation from what we saw is essentially BS. We went almost all over the city at various times of the day and night. I’d rather be there than some parts the U.S. on a dark evening.

  2. I love this trip report! I have also lived vicariously through it just like the previous commenter. 😉 I have always wanted to visit Brazil. Maybe it’s time to burn those AA miles for off-peak awards while they are still available.
    Nice clothes, it takes a very secure man to post those on the internet! I actually feel the same way you do about Favela tour. It seems weird and in some ways patronizing to go on tour of poor neighborhoods (in any country). I would do it with a local friend, but it just feels invasive to do it with a bunch of other tourists. I wouldn’t dissuade others from doing so, but it isn’t my cup of tea.

    • Thank you!

      Just make sure you have a Visa! We were supposed to go for New Years but back then I didn’t know visa requirements was something to consider.

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