Rio de Janeiro and Brazil

What I expected: My husband and I always meant to visit Brazil. His mother was born in Germany but grew up in a large family in Rio de Janeiro. There were many relatives still living there. Some we had met on their visits to the U.S. and some we only knew by name. But now some were elderly and there was even a new baby. Maybe it was time to go. We'd heard all the old stories, but we'd always thought Rio was far and maybe even dangerous. What we found: We finally made the trip this summer (their winter). Aunt Celia's first words to us when she and Uncle Jack met us at the airport were "You went to Africa before you finally came here?!?" Nonetheless, there were hugs and smiles and aunts, uncles and cousins drove us all over. We saw Ipanema and Copacabana and marveled at the views from the tops of Sugarloaf Mountain and Corcovado. As they drove, they pointed out the homes where relatives had once lived, offices where they worked and we even visited the cemetery where my husband's grandparents were buried. Rio is magnificent, even with clouds and some rain. It is a city of mountains and beaches, bays and rain forests, fancy hotels and the shabby rainbow-colored houses of the favelas. After less than a week filled with sightseeing, family dinners and visits, we moved on to other parts of Brazil, promising ourselves we would return to Rio. Our travels took us to see the amazing waterfalls of Iguaçu, up to the Amazon where we stayed in an eco-lodge, on the immense Amazon River, walked in the jungle and adopted a monkey. Last, we flew to Salvador da Bahia where we walked in the old streets of Pelourinho, savored the African influence in the music and food and enjoyed the best caipirinhas (an alcoholic drink) of the entire trip. We now wish we had not waited so long to visit Brazil. We plan to take our two adult children with us or, at least, to encourage them to visit on their own. Brazil has a special spirit we thoroughly enjoyed. It is a photographer's paradise, and as such, we have an album full of photos to enjoy until the next trip. Elaine Feuer-Barton, Encinitas Pictured: Ipanema
Vanderlei Almeida / AFP / Getty Images
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