When I planned the Rio section of our trip, I decided to book our lodging in advance because I knew the town got a lot if tourists and I didn’t want to get stuck in a souless but expensive chain hotel in a sequestered tourist zone.
So I chose The Maze Inn, which has turned out to be the most unique, exciting, and enjoyable place I’ve ever stayed.
Technically, the inn is located in a favela, or Brazilian slum. However, while most people associate favelas with extreme violence and the drug trade, The Maze is located in Tavares Baatos, which is actually quite safe due to it’s proximity to a police/swat station.
Still, the nice man at the bus station from the last post warned us that the area we were going to was relatively poor and that we should take caution. And he was a Carioca (i.e. a person from Rio), so I was once again a bit nervous.
When we got near the area of the inn the bus driver and money-taker told us to get off and we then began our search for the kombi, or VW van that we had to catch to get the rest of the way. We also had to find an ATM that accepted visa, as we needed to get money to pay the hotel.
Luckily, it only took us a few minutes to find both. We knew what street we had to get the van on, and apparently it was right by the bus stop. I also asked someone on the street where a bank was, and that ended up being close by as well.
We got our money and then came back for the van. Before we arrived I hadn’t been sure what exaclty to expect with the van. I’d seen vans used as public transportation before in Brazil, but they’d always been semi-legal (but very useful) alternatives to buses that drove a little crazier.
In this case, however, the van is a legit service that simply drives people up and down the neighborhood/favela. The van costs R$2 and when we got in I asked the to tell me when we passed the inn. They gave me a confused look because, as it turns out, the inn is actually located about 100 yards past where the van stops and turns around.
Despite not knowing what I was talking about, the van took us to the top of a very steep hill. The road that the van takes is similar to that really curvy road in San Fransisco, only much longer and with relatively fast vehicles driving both ways down the center of the road. The neighborhood was pretty typical of my past experiences in Brazil. In some ways I was even surprised that it was described as a favela; if it is one then pratically everywhere I had ever lived during my mission was also a favela (both are true, I suppose). On the whole the area has poverty, but there appears to be a range of financial stability among it’s residents, and some appear to be doing just fine. All of the houses were built out of tijolo (a kind of hollow brick that is ubiquitious in South America). When I think of favelas I typically think of wooden shanty towns that are basically gang war zones. This is anything but that.
On the van ride up I also sat next to a man who was on his way home from the grocery store. He was an author and professor who lives near The Maze Inn and we talked about his upcoming visit to New York.
When we got to the top if the hill I figured the inn’s name, “The Maze,” was a result of the wild and crazy hill-side road that lead to it. However, once we got to the top of the hill someone told us to go up to a group of buildngs and turn right. From where I was standing, that looked like it simply led into a solid wall, but we walked over there anyway and discovered a very small alley that was only about four feet wide. We followed the alley for about 100 years. Along the way we passed people’s homes, a few small businesses, and a labyrinth of even smaller alleys leading off to ever more hidden places.
Finally we found the The Maze, and at that point I figured it’s name was taken from the little alley we walked down to find it (note: the alley was well marked with arrows pointing the right direction). Initially, we missed the inn; the entrance is marked by a mosaic of floor tiles that says “maze” and in the fast-disappearing twilight we didn’t see the sign. A neighbor pointed us in the right direction, though, and we entered the inn through q fairly non-descript iron gate.
We were greated by an English-speaking Carioca who offered us drinks, introduced us to Bob (her husband and the owner-mastermind behind the inn), and showed us to our room.
Once we were inside The Maze I realized that it’s name didn’t come from the street or the alley, so much as from the building itself; the place is quite literally a maze. It was built by Bob himself over the last two decades. On one website I read sothine describe the architectural style as “Guadi-esque” but that’s probably an understatement.
To enter, guests climb through a small stairway up into an anteroom. Next, they pass through Bob’s living room, which also has a bar, a stage, and a veranda overlooking Rio’ beautiful and iconic bay and mountains.
Passing through the living room/lounge, guests acende several narrow, twisting stairways over a couple more floors. It’s taken a while to memorize which of these stairs lead to our room, as some go to the quarters of Bob’s family or permenant guests.
Eventually, guests pass through a picturesque courtyard, up a tiny, spiral wooden staircase and to the guest rooms. Ours is on the corner of the top floor and one exterior wall has been sculpted to look like a huge face. The eye is the bathroom window. It also has a window with a stunning view (we could have paid a little more for a room with a balcony, but since we’re doing this trip cheaply we didn’t and have availed ourselves instead of the two amazing common-area balconies).
Overall, the architecture of the building reminds me a little of pictures I’ve seen of buildings on the Greek islands, a little bit of Luke Skywalkers home when he lives with his aunt and uncle (before they’re killed by the empire) and a little bit of some crazy architectural experiement.
The rooms are simple but attractive. They’re decorated with original paintings by Bob. The inn provides towels and soap too. I’ll post some pictures when I get a chance, but for now it’ll have to be enough to say that the place looks amazing, has the best views in the city (much more so, in fact, than the ritzy hotels by the beaches), and is run by an incredible family.
Bob, the owner is actually British. In the 1980s sometime he was on a boat from England to somewhere else in South America. His boat, however, broke down in Brazil and it happened to be during carnival. He fell in love with Rio and finally decided to stay.
Bob is quite the host. The inn provides breakfast and so far we’ve spent our mornings listening to amazing accounts from his past (things like his first wife becoming a famous model in 1960s London, working on the movie “2001,” and lots of other things).
These days Bob has used his adopted home to become bolster and host an amazing jazz scene. Every first Monday of the month The Maze hosts a jazz night that attacts hundreds of people. Fortunately, we happened to be in town for June’s event and it was amazing (I’ll describe it in a future post). More generally, the inn also constantly seems to be filled with various musicians and other artist-types. It’s definetely a cool place to be, and what has been surprising to us is how warmly (and immediately) we’ve been taken into this community.
I could go on indefinetely describing the inn, but blogging on an iPod touch is slow going so I’ll save more specifics for later. Also later, I’ll mention some of the challenges and difficulties if staying at The Maze because, while it’s a hip, one-of-a-kind place, it is still located in a favela where the standard of living is lower than in wealthier or more tourristy areas.