The last few days in Rio felt like a marathon. Barely sleeping, we tried to cross everything off our list while Jose rushed to finish his mural at the surf school. While he worked, I tried surfing a couple of times, which is the most physically challenging thing I've ever done. I think I stood up for a grand total of around 7 seconds. My instructor gave me a helmet, which the language barrier kept me from questioning the necessity of. Fortunately, no photos exist of that incident. It was much more relaxing to watch kids half my age (and less) navigate the waves in a way that only comes from spending every afternoon in the ocean.
To take an extended break from painting, Jose took me on a tour of Rocinha. Despite being a pacified favela, keeping a camera around my neck wasn't the smartest option here. I could never have imagined a place like this with so many lives pressed together. Most of the alleyways were narrow enough that I could run my hands along the walls on each side, or reach up and touch the huge bundle of power lines just above my head. Homes were squeezed in between stores, up against schools, above restaurants, and stacked high on top of each other. Some were so tightly packed that the sun couldn't make its way through and we had to be careful not to trip over doorsteps and holes in the concrete. But then around a corner we'd find an amazing mural or kids playing soccer or a home with every surface painted aqua blue, right down to the grout in the tiles along the gate. We also climbed up to the ecological park, home of the very intimidating (not in appearance but in reputation) pacification police headquarters. Again, I was promised monkeys by Jose, and after searching for over half an hour we decided to leave and I started to pack up my camera. At that moment six little squirrel-sized monkeys appeared in the trees right at the exit of the park.
Leaving the surf school on our last night, fireworks burst over the favela.
Later that evening, Jose, Brett, and I bar-hopped with their volunteer coordinator in Copacabana. We met the physical therapist to a major football club, a hulk of a man whom we watched drink a bottle of red wine before he began giving out chiropractic adjustments and reflexology readings. From there we found ourselves in the bar of a brothel, undoubtedly the most uncomfortable and bizarre experience of my life. 3:30 AM had us rushing back to the hostel to get Jose sent off to the airport. Brett and I then headed up the favela to climb the Two Brothers mountains for sunrise, which we were running late for (literally running, since we were spotted jumping a fence to get onto the trail). Hiking is not my thing, and definitely not after staying up all night drinking, but somehow Brett kept me going and we made it just in time for what was without a doubt the most incredible view I've ever seen.
By the time I could finally force myself to stop taking photos, clouds had suddenly rolled in, some of which were well below us on the peak, so we descended the top half of the mountain without being able see beyond the trees around us. We were literally inside a cloud. I hadn't planned on sleeping, but the entire hostel was still quiet by the time we got back in. I napped for about an hour before being woken up by Jose, who was not on a plane over the Amazon like he should have been due to an extremely late bus. In order to match his difficulties in trying to get home, my body decided to become extremely ill around 4 AM on my flight back into the US. Not cool.
Anyways, still the most amazing thing I've ever done.