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06th Aug 2016

JOE Backpacking Diary #18 – The Road to Rio is complete

Joe Harrington

After four months of travelling, I’ve arrived in Rio for the Olympic Games.

My name is Joe Harrington; I’m travelling through Central and South America for eight months, here’s what happened on week 17.

Next Stop: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

I took a bus from Huaraz to Lima (€35) in Peru to catch my flight to Rio and, as always, things didn’t go according to plan.

I found a really nice-looking hostel near the airport called Pasado Del Rey, so I aimed for there when I arrived in Plaza Norte in Lima. The taxi said it was €5 to get to my hostel so I hopped sharpish.

That part of Lima is considered dangerous so I didn’t want to be aimlessly wandering at night.

I got to the hostel and it looked nothing like the one I saw online; the place was an absolute mess. It was late and I was tired so I took one for the team. The one-man team. Me. I’m the team.

It turns out that there are two Pasado del Reys in that area, they are about 500 metres away from each other which is very confusing. I just picked the wrong one. Thank you app. Not!

That app is great though, do download it if you’re going traveling. You can download cities so you can view offline and it has tonnes of information about bus stops, bars, doctors, restaurants etc.

The following morning’s airport process was so smooth and I was on my flight destined for Brazil at 12pm. I ended up beside an American guy called James on the flight. A very interesting guy. He married a Brazilian woman, they lived in the north of Brazil before moving back to the States for a few years. They’re living in Cusco in Peru now, where they’re running a travel company.

James told me a lot about Brazilian culture and tried to help me with the language. The switch to Portuguese is tough lads, it’s a little bit similar to Spanish but very different at the same time. I’m watching cartoons in Portuguese at the moment because the characters speak slowly and simply which is exactly what I need.

I set down in Rio at 9.30pm and hopped into a taxi to my Airbnb in Flamengo, which is just a few metro stops from Copacabana so it’s a great location. The taxi drive was interesting, passing rough neighbourhoods where army tanks – yes, tanks – and heavily armed guards were stationed near. The police and army presence is massive for the Olympics.


I arrived at my Airbnb at 11pm and was greeted by the host, Bruna, who quickly introduced me to the whole house; her boyfriend Dudu, their guest Icaru and her mother and father. These people are my new family for the next three weeks, I thought. They couldn’t have been more welcoming, Bruna and her dad Ivan speak English so that’s a massive help.

I have been warned so many times about safety and security in Rio. Bruna and others gave me tips like; never take out your phone or wallet on the street, don’t wear watches, always protect your pockets in crowded areas, don’t accept random help from strangers and don’t walk by yourself at night. She added that being held up at gunpoint “almost never happens” but her mentioning it freaked me a little.

As you can imagine, my first morning exploring the city was a bit tense. I just didn’t feel relaxed, which is something I haven’t felt since the start of my trip in Guatemala City. I hate the feeling so much. I sorted out a subway card (€1.50 per trip) and headed straight for the Copacabana.

All the way there, the lyrics “Tooooo the Copa, Copacabanaaaaa” were playing over and over in my head and now it’s doing to the same in yours. Sorry. I’m truly sorry.

The beach is stunning. White sand, beautiful people, volleyball, football, surfers and music coming from all angles. The buzz is really electric there. I strolled down the shore and eventually came across the Olympic rings and the beach volleyball arena for the games. What a setting for an Olympic event.

The city is pretty expensive but I’m still in cheap backpacking mode so I decided to go to my local supermarket instead of eating out. The prices are pretty much the same as home but I found this decent Italian sausage (calm down, you child) and pasta which would cover two days’ dinners. The high life, wha?!

The next day was all about work really, I had to plan my events and map of the city and arenas. Rio is enormous. I did a few reccies to different venues this week and they all take the bones of 90 minutes to get to and that’s before the proper Olympic traffic arrives. Patience is key here, and it’s going to be for the next three weeks.

I visited another famous beach that evening, Ipanema. That place and Copacabana are the most famous destination and I can understand why because it’s stunnin’ hun.

I grabbed dinner that night with a Cork woman called Andrea Grainger, who is one of the venue managers at Deodoro X-Park where the BMX and canoe slalom events are taking place. She’s lived in Brazil for 10 years so she gave me a great insight into how the country has changed in the last decade.

She also ordered my food, it was unreal. I asked her to write it down for me so order this if you’re ever in Rio; esfiha de carne e esfiha de queijo, Meio repolho e meio arroz com lentilha e molho and refresco de caju.

Andrea invited me along to see the X-Park the following day to see the setup there which was very sound. It also gave me a chance to take a test run to Deodoro where a lot of events are taking place.

The transport in Rio is actually pretty good. The subway is clean and seems relatively safe although it does have two ‘women only’ carriages which come into effect at night time. That would suggest it gets a lot more sketchy, especially for women unfortunately, when it gets dark in the city. The subway took me to central and then I changed to the train on the Japeri line to Deodoro which was also very good. There are so many information posters plastered around the place that you can’t really go too far wrong.

The X-Park is a very cool place and the pace of work there was 100 mph as their first event was only a few days away.

Andrea was cool as a breeze though, greeting everyone and talking in Portuguese slang like she was brought up in downtown Rio and not Cork city. I got a free lunch, sound for the munch, and a guided tour of the whole venue. The planning, building and management of the place was incredible, it took seven years to get to this point. What an operation.

I headed back in to central after my tour and decided to check out Lapa area. Lapa is famous for its arches, its parties at night and the Escadaria Selarón.

It’s the most touristy spot I’ve been in the last four months but the steps are beautiful and fascinating to study. There’s so much detail and character in each flight that you could  spend a few hours there exploring.

I got my obligatory photo at the very top as the step turn. I love the Brazil flag in the background.

As I was waking back to the subway near the Theatro Municipal, I stumbled upon an artist finishing a phenomenal mural in memory of the Brazilian F1 driver Ayrton Senna.

Senna died at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 at the age of 34. He’s considered one of the greatest drivers of all time and a complete gentleman off the track. If you don’t know about him, you should watch the film Senna, it’s amazing.

I got back on the subway and my next stop was Copacabana beach where I wanted to do a little experiment.

I’d seen hundreds of people taking photos in front of the Olympic rings over the previous few days so I wanted to play a game.

These people queued for a significant number of time to get the snap. Straight after I asked them if they could name the five colours of the rings. Some were good, some were not so good.

I’ve set up a little #IrishInRio community here in Brazil over the last few days and we currently have about 50 people in our group. I met with a couple of Tyrone girls – Emma and Aisling – for dinner on Thursday night and we’re all planning on meeting up over the course of the few weeks. It should be nice.

If you are coming over or you know someone here, find me on Twitter @ImJoeHarrington and I’ll add people to the group.

The games start on Saturday with the Irish hockey being my focus over the weekend, they could produce something special. I’ll be covering the boxing, golf and athletics next week which I’m also very excited about. It’s going to be an amazing few weeks. Fingers crossed for a few Irish medals and some great moment from the boys and girls in green.

If you’ve any tips on Rio, please get in contact with me on Twitter or Instagram. My username on both is: @ImJoeHarrington.

Read about my trip through central and South America by clicking here.

The National Dairy Council has partnered with the Irish Institute of Sport to share how top Irish Athletes are built by protein but powered by dairy. To learn more about the importance of dairy in sports nutrition, click here or see the hashtag #poweredbydairy

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