Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rio de Janeiro and the Cariocas

I don't know about you, but when I think of Rio, I imagine a tropical paradise - a city of passionate people, with samba music playing in the background, and beautiful tan-skinned women and men walking around in bikinis or breezy linen outfits. I figured it was about time I did a post about this legendary city in Brazil. 

The people of Rio refer to themselves as Cariocas, which is derived from the aboriginal term "Kara'i oca" which means "White Man's House," probably referring to the original Portuguese settlers of the area. Nowadays Rio is known as one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, with the population divided as 53.4% White, 33.5% Pardo (Brown), 12.6% Black, and .5% Asian or Amerindian. 

Like most very large, culturally rich cities, Rio is very hard to characterize within a single blog post. Rio is famous for its incredible beaches (Copacabana and Ipanema in particular), the spectacular celebration of Carnaval, samba and bossa nova music, and that well-known religious artifact, Christ the Redeemer high up on the hill. Sports are very popular in Rio, which is home to five traditional futebol (soccer) teams, one of which (Flamengo) reputedly has the largest group of supporters of any team in the world. Additionally, the Brazilian martial art capoeira (which to my eye looks more like a combination of kickboxing, aerobics, and gymnastics) is very popular in Rio. There are also many opportunities for surfing, volleyball, rock climbing, sailing, and frescobol (a type of beach tennis). 

Rio sounds like a magnificent tropical paradise, but in fact, it does have a dark underbelly. Crime rates are disproportionately high, particularly homicides in poor areas dominated by drug lords. "As of 2007, the homicide rate of the greater metropolitan area stood at nearly 30 victims per week, with the majority of victims falling to mugging, stray bullets or narcoterrorism." (source: Wikipedia) Additionally, there is a great income gap between the very wealthy residents of Brazil and the large populations living in slums and shantytowns. A large portion of the city's poverty and crime exist in the North Side of the city.

Despite the crime and poverty, Rio has a lot to offer visitors - beautiful beaches, great music and nightlife, and incredible natural beauty. Enjoy the bossa nova music!


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