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Ah, Rio! She is full of passion and intensity, of beauty and seduction, of excitement and danger. Like the sirens of old, she draws you in with her beautiful song but, sailor beware, get too close and she’ll destroy you!
We arrived back at the lovely Villa Leonor (Update November 2019: sadly, now closed) in Santa Teresa after our Visit to the Costa Verde to find the rest of the residents arming themselves for an attempt to tame the wild evening streets. The promise of excitement and drama overcame our weariness from the day’s movements so we quickly unloaded our things and made our way into town.
As we headed into Lapa on foot, we came across a large dark house looming menacingly on an otherwise busy road. It’s windows were boarded up and it was shrouded in a sinister darkness that was as powerful as the rank smell that emanated from within.
Our host explained that the building was over-run with squatters. The city had switched off the electricity and water in a futile attempt to get the residents to leave. It hadn’t worked.
We walked by and, as if on cue, we quickly found ourselves surrounded by a group of young, shirtless kids. At first we thought they were beggars, but then they started tugging at the handbags of two of the girls in our group.
We were being mugged, but it wasn’t happening like the guidebooks said it would.
For a start, we were a large group full of big men (and me), so it was easy for us to start peeling the tiny grabbing hands off of the girls. These street children looked more scared of us than we were of them and it wasn’t long before they ran off.
It was only afterwards that we discovered there had been a ringleader, that he had been armed and that he had threatened our host with a broken bottle. Luckily, he made off with no more than an old mobile phone but it was enough to give us all something to think about. It had been a busy, well lit street with plenty of passers by and (it turns out) a policeman standing around the corner.
We all decided the best thing to do was to get back to the safety of the hostel but no one really wanted to do that so we continued into Lapa in search of some alcohol to steady the nerves.
It wasn’t hard to find.
Lapa on a Friday night is like one giant party. There are stalls all over the roads selling everything from jewellery to drinks and the cars struggle to get through the mass of people spilling out into the streets, looking for a good time.
The main square is covered with more stalls selling all manner of booze-based beverages. We pulled up to a particularly delightful one that specialised in fruity caipirinhas (Brazil’s national cocktail) and sampled the various flavours on offer – real juice from strawberries, pineapples and passion fruits combined with very generous portions of the local liquor cachaça – more than enough to take the edge off.
Suitably calmed, we set off to a salsa club. Unfortunately, we are yet to accumulate the salsa skills so we were relegated to watching our American friends get their groove on and fight with Captain Jack Sparrow for the attention of the Lovely Local Ladies.
Local Ladies suitably seduced, we hit up Estrela da Lapa (R$12) to see some live samba. The band sounded great – with a ukulele player rocking out a proper rock god solo on his tiny little instrument – but, unfortunately, we arrived right at the end of the set so the rest of the night was canned samba. There was still much dancing to be had, but after the long day’s travelling and the evening’s excitement, we called it a night at a pathetic 2am.
Out on the street, looking for a taxi, it was quite clear that the party had barely started.