Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Hostel Life

Almost a month into my stay in Brazil, and things are starting to get in shape. I arrived at the airport to be met by a charming Brazilian couple, was taken out for a few drinks and made it to my hostel-come-home for the next three months. I started my training as a receptionist the first week, and now I am working four shifts a week in exchange for accommodation – just as well, since house prices are soaring in Rio at the moment.

Being the well-seasoned traveller that I am, it is interesting being on the receiving end of the travellers’ trail. The Casa’s policy is to welcome each guest at the door and do our utmost to make them feel at home (to get our reviews up on Trip Adviser, of course). Needless to say, I rather like the social part. There is a constant coming and going of people, different stories, different places, blurring into one mass of contented travellers (well, there was an episode with a dead rat on the doorstep with a rather melodramatic reaction, but let’s not mention that)…

 The view from the breakfast table.

These cheeky critters love to poke their heads through the window and grab banana out of your hand at breakfast time.

Gauchos, the restaurant up the road. Amazing food on a terrace perched precariously over the favela of Prazeres.

Jamming on the terrace of the Casa

 My digs are somewhat humble – we call our staff area the ‘Favelinha’-  little favela. I am sharing a room with five other girls- with have Sara, the American juggler/ mushroom hunter, Alex, perhaps the only blonde Kiwi samba dancer in town, Natalia, the Argentine singer with one helluva voice, Miriam, another Argentinian and our artist in residence, and Suzie, the latest addition  and my friend from University. Miriam has also brought along her new Brazilian lover, Luis, who is walking the house dog Nina and being the general dogsbody of the house, doing maintenance and buying food for the Casa’s legendary breakfasts.

The work itself is what one would expect – selling beer, counting cash, checking guests in and out, data entry, painstaking writing out of finances on paper (which comes in handy during those all-too-common power cuts), telling guests what to do and how to get around the city (though I still don’t know myself), and attempting to keep the place tidy (not one of my strong points, I admit…). And, of course, being a great help by finishing off the cake at breakfast.
The view from the terrace. Not bad really.

The house itself is beautiful. I had stayed here as a guest two years ago and fallen in love with the view from the terrace. From up here we can see the iconic Sugar Loaf Mountain, the city with its stunning backdrop of mountains, rainforest, islands and sea, and our great friend up in the high, Mr Jesus Christ, hanging on top of the mountain behind us.  Our Casa is located high in the hills of Santa Teresa, one of the few bairros (neighbourhoods) of Rio which is not built up with unsightly skyscrapers. Instead, Santa Teresa retains its old colonial charm, with cobbled streets, beautifully decaying colourful houses and a plethora of bars, caf├ęs and restaurants with live music wafting out most evenings.

The defunct tramlines of Santa Teresa

There used to be a picturesque little tram running up the hill, which would have been a cheap and convenient mode of transportation. However, due to an accident last year in which the tram driver and five passengers died, it runs no longer. Instead the transport on offer is the van or the bus, both equally perilous forms of transport which rush at top speed down the endless hill honking at all to get out of their way. Standing on the back provides equal, if not more, enjoyment than a rollercoaster. The pavement is home to parked cars, the largest dog turds I have ever come across, putrefying rubbish and squished Jaca fruit with its insides mauled by ants (fallen fruit is one of the greater nuisances in life for favela dwellers – mangos rain hard on corrugated iron roofs). Needless to say, walking around here is more of a constant game of dodge.

Jaca fruit with its insides squirming

One final thing to mention – the weather (the true Brit that I am, there is no way that I can let this pass without comment). It has been raining pretty much incessantly since I arrived, with the sun poking its head out occasionally. Rain brings power cuts – we were without light for five hours on a Saturday night, so my shift was spent lighting candles. Rain also brings floods. In a hilly city such as Rio, this can be pretty hideous. It was pummelling it down a couple of weeks ago, and waters were rising. In order to resolve the situation, it was decided that the drains should be opened. Floodwaters rapidly soaked up the rubbish and human excrement to form a delightful cocktail. The smell was not all too pleasing when the guests returned home.

There you have it - a snapshot of life in the Casa.

  Sipping ice-cold coconut water on Praia Vermelha, with Sugar Loaf Mountain in the background

The Selaron staircase, Lapa. The Chilean artist Selaron spent 20 years collecting tiles from all over the world to create this huge staircase in homage to the Brazilian culture that he adored. He was found shot dead on his own staircase in January, and rumours went shooting round the city - was it a suicide or was he murdered by a rival artist? Although it seems to have come straight out of one of the magical realist tales of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, it is true. Read what BBC had to say here.

Sunset on Copacabana beach

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