One of the more colorful spots in Rio I checked out is called Santa Teresa. People compare it to Montmartre in Paris, with its steep cobble stone streets, and winding alleys that eventually take you a great views of the city. The architecture is eclectic with colonial churches mixed with colorful buildings. It is pretty much a street photographers dream for a photo crawl. There’s one little problem though, Santa Teresa is close to some pretty bad favelas, and borders Lapa, another colorful but rundown neighborhood.
I’m not a huge fan of guidebooks, and have yet to buy one for this trip. I prefer to ask people what their favorite spot is, or ask how to get somewhere so I can practice Portuguese in favor of looking at a map. To get to Santa Teresa I took the subway to the Carioca Station in Centro, and then started walking in the general direction of the hill. I passed through a great little furniture store street this way (Rua do Lavrádio) that I’m sure is not in the guide books (or maybe it is, but I wouldn’t know because I don’t read them).
I made it to the Arcos da Lapa — an old aquaduct that now serves as an overpass for the bonde trolley — when I busted out my blacked-out Nikon D-80 and started snapping a few photos. Immediately I noticed two teenagers take a lot of interest in me (hey, isn’t it a school day?). I make eye contact, and started climbing the hill up to Santa Teresa. About a hundred yards up the street I turn around, and notice one of the kids has walked over and is looking down the street to see where I’m headed. Shit, not so good. This is a pretty quiet neighborhood with very little car or foot traffic. I walk on hoping to spot some tourists, and I do eventually at the Selaron staircase — a beautiful mosaic tile staircase. At this point, the hoodlums have stopped following me, so I shoot some more photographs albeit with some unease. I continue my climb, breaking a sweat at this point, as the stairs and streets are quite steep. When the cobblestone street I’ve been walking crests, I turn around, and, sure enough, my new groupies are there. At this point it is pretty clear what their intent is, so I put my camera away, and am delighted to hear the rumble of a air cooled VW kombi coming up the hill. I flag the driver down, and hop into my extraction vehicle — whew — close call…
After the Kombi picked me up I was able to take a rest and enjoy the scenery. A little bit further, I hopped off near the tram tracks of the historical Bonde — a San Francisco style trolley with wooden benches that goes about 10 mph tops, and screeches maddeningly loud at ever turn. At one point, the trolley pole came of the electric wire, and left us stranded for about a minute while the conductor shook the pole around a bit. The neighborhood is absolutely gorgeous, and not to be passed up, but it would be wise to go in group or guided tour, and keep your camera hidden when not taking a picture.
Here’s a video of the Bonde I found on the web. You ride for free, if you hang off the sides, and the seats are 60 centavos (30¢).