New Year’s Day in bohemian Santa Teresa

All the guide books say not to go to Rio’s Centro (city centre) on the weekend, but if you want to check out some of Rio’s bohemian, more rough and tumble suburbs such as Santa Teresa, which are supposed to be best visited on the weekend, you get there from the city centre.

So New Year’s Day this year fell on a Saturday and the day we had set aside to leave the beachside suburbs of Rio and head for the hills. Straight to the Centro in a cab (don’t use the metro on the weekend) where you catch the Bonde, the historic tram that travels up to Santa Teresa, a neighbourhood perched on a hill overlooking the city and favelas (slums) that spread down the adjoining hillsides.

The guidebooks are right, Centro is not where you want to be on the weekend, it is deserted and the only people you see are beggars and the homeless, so we hot foot it to the Bonde tram station and sit on this antiquated tram till it is ready to leave.

Travelling on the Bonde is a priceless experience, it costs $R 0.60 (ie 35c), it screeches as if the brakes haven’t been oiled in 100 yrs ( the train driver we realised half way through the trip wears ear plugs), a policeman accompanied our journey, local children jump on and off the tram along the way and you are treated to an amazing view over the city while winding through the cobblestoned suburb.

This is a apparently a high crime area so be careful on the tram and walking around, we had no troubles but it was very quiet being New Year’s Day.

Leaving the city centre the Bonde travels over Arcos da Lapa, a 64m high narrow aqueduct from the mid 1700s that carried water from Carioca River to the city centre, a few passengers suffered vertigo here and then it climbs screechingly up the hill passed Lapa, one of the musical capitals of Brazil, to Santa Teresa.

Santa Teresa is named after a convent established in 1750, in the 19th century it was home to the elite who travelled on the Bonde to work in the city, in the early 20th century, these wealthy residents moved south and many of its architecturally stunning buildings fell into disrepair. It is now a hub for the arts scene with many artists moving into the area in the 60’s and 70’s.

We took the tram to the top and then wandered around the cobblestone streets, the buildings are beautiful, colonial houses some in a total state of neglect mixed with mansions that have been renovated, terraces, graffiti, and then a smattering of restaurants, bars, art studios and boutique shops.

A cafe lunch in the covered patio at Jasmin Mango, near the tram stop topped off this great day!

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