Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Around Brazil – Lapa, Rio de Janeiro

The options for Nightlife in Rio de Janeiro have long been famously excellent. The meat markets in Ipanema; the Gentleman’s Clubs of Copacabana; masked balls around the Lagoa; blocos passing along the avenidas; samba in the Sambodromo; chorinho in the street; and lately baile funk parties in the favelas. Rapidly growing in popularity, the district of Lapa has a mix of them all.

The turn of the century buildings in Lapa, tucked under the arches that carry the little yellow bonde tram up to Santa Teresa, had long been neglected and never made part of Rio’s glamorous nightlife scene. Over the last 15 years or so though, Lapa has turned itself into possibly Rio’s favourite nightlife area. As with other semi-abandoned districts close to the centre of our world cities – Hoxton in London and San Telmo in Buenos Aires spring to mind immediately – the large colonial houses and warehouses were too central and too spacious to remain dormant.

The antiques market of Rua do Lavradio in Lapa was perhaps responsible for germinating the revitalisation of the whole area, stemming from people simply selling old furniture out of the front of their houses. The Saturday market developed into a typical carioca street fair, with samba and choro bands providing the entertainment. Cafes and bars sprang up as well and began to stay open after the market finished for those still in the party mood, which is usually quite a few people in Rio. The logical next step was to turn the huge empty spaces into larger bars and clubs. The Scenarium Club opened initially in 1999 as a space to house furniture and antiques for rental to the theatre, television and cinema worlds, before opening as a fully fledged cultural centre in 2001. 

Monday, 1 November 2010

Around Brazil – Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro

Tijuca Forest - Trail to Tijuca Peak
Rio de Janeiro has many surprises hidden away but perhaps one of its most impressive secrets is either completely hidden or visible from just about every part of the city. The Parque Nacional Floresta de Tijuca is the forest covering the mountains that dominate Rio, with the city centre, the Zona Sul of Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, and Barra da Tijuca all sitting between the slopes of those mountains and the waters of the Atlantic or Guanabara Bay.

As an escape from the city within the city, Tijuca Forest is perfect. Access is easy whether driving yourself, being part of a tour group, or taking the metro to Saens Pena and catching a bus or minivan up the hill to Alto da Boa Vista. The climb up the winding roads through Usina, behind the Jardim Botanico or past the Itanhanga Golf Club in Barra da Tijuca takes you into the cooler mountain air almost immediately, as the humid city air becomes clean enough for mosses to grow on damp tree trunks. 

The whole area was originally cleared of trees, cut down for timber by the colonialists in order to build the developing city of Rio de Janeiro, and later to make space for coffee plantations. The idea of replanting it is reputed to have come from Dom Pedro II, with a Major Archer charged with the task in order to save Rio’s water supply. Major Archer passed on the replanting task to 6 men who had not quite been freed from slavery, and worked from 1874 to 1888 before abolition meant they were joined by others. They planted 100,000 seedlings between them. The park was later turned into a recreation area with bridges, fountains, lakes and leisure areas for turn of the century cariocas.