If Sao Paulo was better (or, rather, easier to navigate) than we expected, Rio has been truely amazing, beginning with the bus ride there.
The ride from Sao Paulo took almost exactly 6 hours, including a stop for lunch. There are three companies that drive passengers from Sao Paulo to Rio, and we went with Expresso Brasil because it had a bus leaving the closest to when we arrived at the station. We didn’t make reservations, we just showed up and bought tickets on the spot. Some guide books had recommended getting reservations, especially on holidays, which this was (Corpus Christi, which is a real holiday in Brazil) but we just checked the departure times the night before on the bus company websites (so we knew which company to chose based on when we got to the bus station). The price was about R$62 each.
I had read a little bit about the ride before hand, so I was prepared for the price and duration. I was not, however, prepared for two other things. First, how beautiful the trip would be. Having been in the state of Mato Grosso (which means, roughly, dense brush or forest) during my mission, I had a been conditioned to think of the Sao Paulo-Rio region as a completely developed, urban area. There’s a lot of that, of course, but between the two cities there’s also some tropical looking forests, farm lands, and ranches. And the entire area is completely green. Despite the frosted-by-age-and-lack-of-cleaning bus windows, much of the ride is breathtaking.
The other thing I wasn’t prepared for on the drive was motion sickness. Most people have probably seen pictures of Rio’s famous Sugar Loaf Mountain. What they may not have realized before, however (and what I had never stopped to consider), is that that mountain isn’t isolated. In fact, the entire city is surrounded by hills and mountains of all sorts, which in turn means a road that twists and winds all over the place. I still hadn’t considered this fact as we approached the city, and I was busy reading a travel book about Europe. All of the sudden I thought I was going to throw up. I stopped reading, but the roads continued to wind and it took awhile for the felling to pass. It also wasn’t helped by the fact that the restroom in the back of the bus had begun to smell quite terrible at this point (which I’ve found to be typical on long distance bus rides).
This experience also reminded me how corporeal sensation and intellectual trancendence are often at odds for me while traveling. On the one hand, traveling presents amazing, often even sublime stimuli, but, for one reason or another, also simultaneously renders me physically uncomfortable. That, of course, impedes my ability to fully appreciate the trancendental or existential signficance of my experiences. I’ll probably have more thoughts on this later, but after 4 or 5 hours on the bus, it seemed like an interesting topic.
Anyway, we finally got to Rio. The ride into town gives passengers a grittier look at the city than the ride out of Sao Paulo, and the bus station is both smaller and more run-down than Sao Paulo’s huge Tiete station.
As soon as we got off our bus we began looking at instructions on how to get to our hotel, which we had recieved for the owner via email. However, almost as soon as we started doing that a man approached us and asked, in English, if we wanted some assistance. I said yes, but I was skeptical because I heard and read so much about theft in Rio, and I thought it might be some sort of scam. However he was a well-dressed middle aged man with a pre-teen daughter, and he seemed to be sincere, so we decided to trust him.
Trusting the man proved to be a very good decision. He helped us figure out where we wanted to go, found the bus we needed to take to get there, and asked both the bus driver and the money-taker (Brazilian buses have one of each on board) to keep an eye out for our stop and to tell us when to get off. He also found a bus worker who was similarly nice, helpful, and conversational.
In the end, none of these people were out to get us (or any of our money) and needless to say our first impressions of Rio were very positive. We eventually made it to our hotel safely and have been enjoying Rio since, but I’ll have to save our next activities and a decription of the hotel for later, as they have far exceeded even my high expectations.