By Ethan Cregan
I sat on Ipanema Beach, insisting that I would not go. A party in a favela? Count me out. Many beers later, the driver urged our group to get out of the car. Hesitating, I reached for the door handle. Outside, men holding helmets in their hands shouted at us in Portuguese.
One of the men made eye contact with me and stepped forward, putting his helmet on. No need to say anything, I just got on and we sped up the swerving streets. He knew where to go.
I sat on the stranger’s motorcycle, weaving through oncoming traffic in the narrow streets of Vidigal. The motorcycle my friend was on hit another bike. He laughed about it.
Working our way up the mountain, I was amazed by my surroundings. This favela functioned as its own city. The streets bustled. Coming to a stop, the carioca asked for “five reals” (barely a dollar) for the ride.
The party was in a stadium used by kids for futebol games when it wasn’t holding raves. Next to the bar a guy stood behind a folding table mixing up and serving caipirinhas—a Brazilian cocktail made with cachaça, lime, sugar, and ice. With fresh alcohol in my system, I was ready for the night. Caipirinhas have a way of doing that. There was an abundance of beautiful women, hardly surprising in Brazil. A DJ and band alternated music. These people knew how to party.
Several men at the party were carrying AR-15s while partaking in a few caipirinhas of their own. Since no one else seemed to care, I sloughed it off. Guns and alcohol usually don’t mix but maybe the laws of stupidity do not apply south of the equator?
One of my best friends in Brazil, Pierre, and I were talking and scanning the crowd when we spotted a very attractive young woman. After a few drinks, I talked Pierre into approaching her. Nervously, he made his way over and gave his best pitch. I never felt better than when she shook her head at poor Pierre and motioned that she wanted to dance with me. America trumps France yet again. She was an absolute smoke show and knew how to dance better than any girl I’ve ever met. After an hour or so her friends decided to leave and she went with them. As she pulled away she started repeating something to me in Portuguese but I couldn’t understand. I still wonder what she was saying. It’s probably better that I don’t know for sure as my imagination is likely better than the reality.
Pierre went to investigate a table where a man was selling some sort of drug. It was an inhalant that the user huffs from a bottle. He decided it looked too dicey for even him to try. Instead of huffing we opted for another round of caipirinhas. As the night raged on, I knew I was having some of the most fun I’d have in my entire life.
After the party, it’s tradition for internationals who attend to hike to the top of the mountain for the sunrise. The mountain was Morro Dois Irmaos, a peak featured in many photos of Rio.
The trail was long and steep. Dawn was upon us. We passed monkeys, following our “guides”—three, still drunk, Brazilian boys who mostly just flirted with the girls of our group. The effects of all the alcohol we consumed had pretty well dissipated during the trek to the summit and I was left with an incredible sense of contentment as I took in the sweeping view. Mountains, beaches, warm weather, and happy people. God did well. There is an energy in Rio that I cannot describe. Anthony Bourdain said that everyone looks like they are on their way to get laid or coming back from it.
Strolling down the narrow, winding road of the favela, we headed toward a secret beach our new friends knew of. Vidigal was coming alive with the new day. The world that lived on the side of a mountain filled me with wonder.
We enjoyed a dip in the waves and relaxed on the sand after a long night on our feet. How lucky those guys are to have their own beach that tourists stay away from only because it is near a favela. I soon caught a ride back to my flat and passed out in the balcony hammock warmed by the morning sun with a smile on my face. What a time to be alive.