Brazil in one night: Pedra Bonita Part I

Lee Kaplan-Unsoeld
April 16, 2016
Barra da Tijuca

                Though it happened almost two months ago, and many other amazing things have happened since then, the night that I hiked Pedra Bonita has stuck in my mind for some time. It was one of those nights that didn’t seem like it was going to be anything special, but has proved to be one of the most amazing nights of my time in Rio de Janeiro.

                It started with a very long bus ride from Rio to Barra da Tijuca, a very wealthy suburb of Rio that many people compare to Miami. I was headed to my friend Marina’s pre-birthday celebration, she works for my study abroad program here and was nice enough to invite us all to meet her friends and join in on the fun. Not fully understanding the distance from my house in central Rio and Barra, I embarked on my mission, armed with a street name and the name of a bar she might be at around 8.

                After wandering around Rua Olegário de Maciel for a while, I found Marina and her friends at Void, a “general store,” as they call it, that sells swimsuits, shoes, sunglasses, watches, coffee, cookies, cigarettes, surfing and skateboard accessories, and cold beverages, and forms a popular part of the nightlife scene. I bought myself a cold beverage and met all of her friends, a mix of 20 year olds, well dressed, most of them fluent in English, and all of them very welcoming.

                Only about 15 minutes after meeting everybody there, the guy sitting next to me, Felipe, mentioned that he was planning on hiking up a mountain called Pedra Bonita, and casually asked me if I wanted to come. A little caught off guard since I had just met him, I said, “Sure, when are you planning on doing it?” Felipe, without missing a beat, said, “Well, I’m still trying to get my two other friends to come, but I think we would start around 4 in the morning.”

                I missed a couple beats. I have done a lot of hiking in my life, but rarely have those hikes started at 4 in the morning, and the ones that have never followed a whole night spent out on the town. But,  people had warned me about the tendency that Brasilians have to stay up the whole night, and I figured that hiking up a mountain to see the sunrise with some new Brasilian friends would be a great way to experience a part of that culture.

                So, after Marina and most of her other friends went home to sleep, Felipe, his girlfriend Luisa and I went to eat at a restaurant called Hell’s Burguers (that’s not a typo, that is the way they spell “burgers”), and then get some juice. It was a great opportunity to speak some Portuguese with Brazilians who could help me translate when the words weren’t flowing properly, and a great opportunity to see the night life in Barra without the pressure to party. We needed to conserve our energy for the morning.

While sitting at a table drinking juice, all of a sudden we saw a man without shoes running down the street, and soon thereafter we saw a police officer following him. The officer looked like he had adrenaline pumping through his veins, and when he caught up to the man, he threw him against the wall and started searching him.

Unsatisfied, he handcuffed him, jerked him around some more, and started to walk him away, presumably toward a police car, when a group of people who had seen the way that he was treating the person confronted him. Tensions were high from the start, and the officer started yelling, and the people confronting him started yelling back, and we sat across the street, feeling the tension ourselves despite our safe distance from the confrontation.

When it was all said and done, the police officer started walking away, still shouting at the people who had questioned his treatment of the person. We talked about cultural differences, not between America and Brazil, but between Barra and central Rio. Felipe explained that a confrontation like the one we had seen, with upper middle class people questioning a police officer, would only happen in a place like Barra where people felt comfortable questioning authority figures, knowing that the officer was less likely to challenge them or physically harm them than people of a lower socioeconomic class. People like the person who was beat around by the cop unfortunately tend to not know their rights very well, and will very infrequently question the authority of an officer. They know they can get away with it, and unfortunately they usually do.

As our conversation about police and social power dynamics drew to a close, we started to talk about how we were going to organize our hike, as 4 a.m. was rapidly approaching. The plan unfolded as follows. First we would go to Luisa’s house, further into the wealthy depths of Barra, so that Felipe could grab his backpack, then we would backtrack all the way back to Rio where Felipe lives, in the Leme neighborhood, so he could grab his camera. Then we would wait for his friends Daniel and Pedro to come get us in a taxi to head to the hike.

We hopped in an Uber to go to Luisa’s house, which ended up being in a gated community that looked like California, and I hung around the pool with her dogs while she and Felipe said goodbye to each other inside. We caught another Uber all the way back to Leme, which lasted about half an hour, and took us through a part of Barra that was filled with luxury shopping malls, expensive car dealerships, and high rise condominiums. English names emblazoned on neon signs glared at us through the dark windows of the car, and Felipe and I talked quietly about the influence of large corporations in Brazil.

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Lee Kaplan-Unsoeld

<p><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 20.0063px;">I am a sociology and cultural anthropology student from Olympia, Washington, who has been lucky enough to study abroad in Spain, Costa Rica, and Chile. I am now headed to Brazil for my final semester of my undergraduate studies, and could not be more excited to learn a third language and enjoy some of Brazil&#39;s natural and cultural beauties. In addition to traveling, studying people and learning languages, I like to read, write, rock climb, play violin and drums, hike, swim, do yoga, and enjoy quality conversations that run late into the night. Please join me on this blog in processing some of the crazy stuff going on in my life, and in Brazil.</span></p>

2016 Spring
Home University:
Saint Martin's University
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