Notes from ‘Molly Goes to Rio de Janeiro’

When it is time to research I put the blinders on and this blog is temporarily ignored. Now that the process is complete, I want to share a few more thoughts on the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Unrivaled Natural Beauty

There are, in a way, two Rios. The Rio of Ipanema and Copacabana is set among the granite cliffs. These include the Corcovado where the statue of Christ the Redeemer is found, and Sugarloaf Mountain. The latter is right down on the water with an excellent view of Copacabana and the smaller beach area Botafogo.

The Corcovado rises dramatically from the city and divides it. I watched several videos of the Santa Teresa Tram and in one, the cliff face rose vertically from the neighborhood–a giant wall establishing the boundary.

The cliffs are another reason there is so much green. There is a lot of unusable land. The Tijuca Forest and other protected areas provide a background of green.

Down at sea level, there are the Botanical Gardens and Parque Lage. It is a green city on this side, and part of that, I think, is the heat. There are several microclimates in Rio because of the cliffs. One reason that the lush forest is probably appreciated and preserved is to have an escape from the heat.

The other Rio is what you expect from a city: more or less a concrete jungle. This is where you’ll find some of the older parts of the city as well as the Maracana Stadium. It is, essentially, the ‘downtown’ of Rio and most of it lies north of the Corcovado.

The Favelas

I want to be careful here. The favelas of Rio are different from each other. Some might be considered middle class as far as the city is concerned, but as our friend in Rio said, “To Americans, all favelas are poor.” A little less than a quarter of Rio’s population dwells in a favela, or 1.5 million people. 95% of these structures are brick, concrete, and reinforced steel, so there’s one surprise that may dispel the view of favelas as slums or tenements. These are permanent structures and their residents work to maintain and improve them.

That is not to say the favelas are without problems. Another video I watched was posted by someone who hired a car to take him through the favela of the Santa Teresa area. Given the data above, it was about what you’d expect. One of the most noticeable things in the video was a large amount of garbage on the streets. There were huge dumpsters waiting to be carried away, but there was also a large amount of bagged trash simply sitting on the curbs because the dumpsters are full beyond capacity. I only mention this because garbage collection seems like one of those things we take for granted. It really is something to appreciate.

Another surprising and notable housing statistic is that 30% of the population isn’t connected to a formal sanitation system and this includes some of the wealthiest parts of the city.


I grew up playing soccer and just about everyone I knew in the sport had a pair of shoes known simply as “Sambas.” Samba is a type of music and dance and it is an integral part of the Brazilian culture. When it emerged in the early 20th century, the President of Brazil encouraged its popularity. He saw it as a unifying cultural force.

A few decades later, Brazil’s national soccer team emerged as an international phenomenon, winning the World Cup three times in four tries between 1958 and 1970. One particular player on all three of those teams was Edson Arantes di Nascimento. The world knows him better as Pelé. The Brazilian teams of that era played a flowing style of soccer that was both individually brilliant and unrivaled for its aesthetic. They style became known as “samba,” of course.

Samba continues to be a major part of life in Brazil and particularly in Rio. The flamboyant costuming seen each year during carnaval represents the different schools of samba. The schools compete in a number of categories during carnaval, costuming among them.

Beaches Aren’t For Sunbathing

One sure way to mark yourself as a tourist in Rio is to lay out on the beach. That isn’t why carioca go to the beach.

Not that you’d have the chance to lie down, the beaches are packed! And everyone is doing something whether it’s playing soccer, volleyball, doing yoga, or practicing capoeira. That’s to say nothing of surfing and other water sports.

‘Carioca,’ incidentally, is how the residents of Rio refer to themselves. It is a reference to what the indigenous tribes called the first settlers. It translates from the tribal language as ‘house of the white man.’ Regardless of heritage, all the people of Rio are now carioca.


All I want to add here, that isn’t in Molly Goes to Rio de Janeiro, is there is a lot of meat in Brazilian cuisine. I don’t mean a lot of meat dishes. Many Brazilian staple recipes include two or more types of meat! Arby’s new slogan “We have the meats!” is an apt description of many Brazilian dishes.


As a disclaimer, one thing I haven’t mentioned is the emergence of the Zika virus. Whether this affects the attendance of the Olympics is something to be seen. It does give pause, but I will say this: the city and its culture are a strong lure. If there were no public health concerns, I would not hesitate to travel there with family, and I’m absolutely sure it would be a wonderful experience.

Part of this is the music. I love a lot of the music going back to some of the greats like Sergio Mendes, but also more modern musicians like Sabrina Malheiros and Bebel Gilberto.

Perhaps the strongest part of my attraction to Rio, and Brazil in general, is every person I’ve met from Brazil has a palpable zest for life. They seem to have boundless energy and an unrivaled capacity to capture and express joy. It’s a quality that makes everyone around them feel good. It is intriguing, to say the least, to consider what you might find in a visit.



1 Comment

  1. Molly Goes to Rio de Janeiro | A Book Review - Kids Travel Books June 11, 2016 at 12:53 am

    […] to know more about what the author learned about Rio de Janeiro while researching the book? Go here. (Side note: I appreciated that he mentioned favelas in the book, so it was interesting to read […]

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