I finished 2014 on a new continent, spending eight days with my mom and sister in Brazil. We were in Rio for Christmas and then spent a few days in other parts of Rio de Janeiro province.

I need to get going on my Brazil posts before Joburg steals my attention again. So here are my top 10 moments from three whirlwind days in Rio.

1) Santa Claus at the Copacabana.

Moment 1 - Santa

Christmas in Rio, baby.

We stayed at the Atlantis Copacabana Hotel, conveniently within walking distance of both the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. On my first morning in Rio, 23 December, we walked up and down the Copacabana’s famous mosaic sidewalks and checked out the scene. Santa was a highlight.

2) My first caipirinha

Moment 2 - Caipirinha

A favela caipirinha.

That afternoon we took a tour of two favelas with Marcelo Armstrong’s Favela Tours. I had mixed feelings about the tour as a whole, but the caipirinha I bought in Villa Canoas favela was the most delicious beverage I’ve ever consumed. The caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink, is made from a sugarcane brandy called cachaça and most bars use a mysterious brand of cachaça called 51. I don’t know what makes caipirinhas taste so good but I think the 51 has something to do with it.

3) Rosinha

Moment 3 - View from Rosinha2

Instagram of Rosinha.

Moment 3 - View from Rocinha

Closeup.

I had a hard time getting my mind around the size and construction of Rosinha, Brazil’s largest favela, which our guide said has somewhere around 150,000 residents. Favelas are technically informal settlements, but the complex architecture and infrastructure are mind-boggling. (Read more about favelas.) I wish I’d had more time to spend in Rosinha and get a feel for what life is really like there.

Moment 3 - Rosinha street

A Rosinha street.

4) Rio from above

Moment 4 - Rio from above

Cloudy Rio from Sugarloaf Mountain.

On Christmas Eve we took an all-day tour of Rio with a popular guide named Ederson Almeida. We hit all the major sites, including Sugarloaf Mountain and the famous Christ the Redeemer statue. Even under heavy clouds we were blown away by the stunning views of Rio from various overlooks, especially Sugarloaf.

We also had a lot of fun with Ederson, who is a passionate and amusing person.

Moment 4 - Heather and Ederson

Ederson and I on Sugarloaf Mountain, with Copacabana Beach below. (Photo: Susanna Mason)

5) Jesus

Moment 5 - Christ the RedeemerInstagram of Christ the Redeemer.

Christ the Redeemer is Rio’s most iconic landmark and we figured there was no better day to see him than Christmas Eve. But as our tour with Ederson progressed, we started to worry that we would never catch a glimpse of Jesus. The clouds were thick and Jesus was perpetually shrouded.

But the clouds cleared a bit around mid-afternoon and Ederson rushed us up the Corcovado. There he was, in all his glory.

Moment 5 - Christ the Redeemer2

Jesus was mobbed with people posing for funny selfies. I enjoyed photographing the people as much as the statue itself. 

Family at Christ

Of course we also had to pose. (Photo: Ederson Almeida)

6) Art made from junk

Moment 6 - Getulio2

The artist.

Still on a high from seeing Jesus, we rode into the Rio neighborhood of Santa Teresa and visited a legendary artist named Getúlo Damado. Getúlo’s studio is an old trolley car by the side of the road. His medium is trash.

Moment 6 - Getulio

Getúlo’s family.

I could have spent hours looking through Getúlo’s art and asking him questions. Unfortunately we only had a few minutes, but my sister and I bought several of Getúlo’s ridiculously affordable pieces.

Moment 6 - Getulo3

The guy on the left with the blue ears is now hanging on my boyfriend’s wall.

If you go to Rio and want to find Getúlo, he’s at Rua Aurea at the Montreal Supermercado.

7) Santa Teresa and Lapa

Moment 7 - Santa Teresa and Lapa2

Cat in Lapa.

Moment 7 - Santa Teresa

Crazy house in Santa Teresa.

Santa Teresa and Lapa are adjacent to one another and two of the most popular neighborhoods in Rio. Again, I wish we’d had a lot more time there but I loved the short time we did spend. The Escadaria Selarón, a long set of stairs connecting the two neighborhoods that has been turned into a massive work of art, was particularly cool.

Moment 7 - Santa Teresa and Lapa

One section of Escadaria Selarón.

8) The Metropolitan Cathedral

Moment 8 - Metropolitan Cathedral

Inside the cathedral.

Moment 8 - Metropolitan Cathedral3

The pulpit.

We quickly visited the Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião, the seat of Rio’s Catholic Archdiocese, at the end of our tour. This is the craziest Catholic Church I’ve ever seen — it looks like an alien spaceship.

Moment 8 - Metropolitan Cathedral2

I assume that’s a statue of Saint Sebastian. I didn’t get any good photos outside the Cathedral but there are some great shots on Google.

9) Christmas Eve in Rio

Moment 9 - Christmas in Rio

Eating buttery roasted corn at 10 p.m. next to a lake with a giant, garishly lit Christmas tree. Because, Rio. (Sorry for the bad phone pic.)

Christmas Eve is a big deal in Rio. At around 9:00 p.m. my sister and I walked down to the lake in the middle of the city, admiring the Christmas lights along the way, to see the massive Christmas tree on the lake with lights that transform into trippy new patterns every minute. Families hung out on the sidewalk and vendors sold roasted maize and caramel popcorn.

Unfortunately we didn’t realize that midnight on Christmas Eve is much like New Years Eve in other places, with fireworks everywhere and people celebrating in the street. We were already back in our hotel room by then and I was fast asleep, to my family’s dismay. I’ll be ready next time.

10) Sunset on Ipanema

Moment 10 - Sunset on Ipanema

Wow.

The sun finally emerged on Christmas Day. At dusk, we joined the hoards and walked down to Ipanema Beach to catch the sunset. It was spectacular.

Moment 10 - Sunset on Ipanema2

Wow.

More Brazil posts to come.

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