If you think Disney World is a magical place, clearly you haven’t been to Pedra do Sal. Pedra do Sal is truly phenomal. There is no other way to describe the spot. People of all races, social classes, genders, sexual orientation, and any other categories that segregate us, come together in order to listen to live samba, dance, drink, and enjoy each other’s company. Not only is Pedra do Sal a hot spot on Monday nights, it also holds a heap of historical significance. Pedra do Sal wasn’t always a place brimming with great vibes and culture … it was once a market for enslaved people. Multiple murals are seen across the area of black leaders with “vende-se carne negra” (sell black skin) written next to them.
Today, this history is commemorated through live samba, a beautiful musical genre rooted to West African religious tradition and the slave trade. Every single Monday night, Pedra do Sal is crawling with tourists, locals, and anyone else who happens to be in the area, celebrating the significance of this spot.
For myself, Pedra do Sal was where I was able to immerse myself in the beautiful and vibrant culture that is Brazilian culture. I fell in love with Brazil on my first night at Pedra do Sal. It is everything I imagined Brazil to be: live samba, dancing in the streets, Portuguese-style buildings, and everyone having fun.
I thought I had already seen some of the most beautiful sights the world has to offer when I visited my family in the Dominican Republic … that was until I went hiking in Rio de Janeiro.
One Saturday morning, two friends and I had decided to wake up early in the morning after a night of partying until 4am (when in Rio, you party like the Cariocas). We gathered at the metro station where we uber’d to Pedra do Telégrafo. Surely we were insane for wanting to hike up a trail that was an hour away from Copacabana at 9am while running on only 4 hours of sleep but, as a wise man once said, YOLO.
Once we arrived, we began our trek. Five minutes into our hike, my body reminded me that it had been months since I had exercised and to make matters worse, I hadn’t fed my body anything that morning. Moreover, I powered through and 45 minutes later, we reached the top of the pedra.
Once at the top of the mountain, I simply stood in silence, taking in everything before me. The exhaustion I felt, the cramps I endured, and the heat that made everything feel twice as horrible, was suddenly undone as I stared at what awaited at the top. In that moment, I felt complete serenity and purity. The ocean was calm, inviting its guests to enter it; the waves that were once angry and aggressive, laid still as visitors took pictures; the sky pushed its clouds away in order to allow the sun to shine its maximum. This was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever laid my eyes on.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Rio de Janeiro!” Upon hearing these words from the pilot, I quickly opened the window and looked at what would be home for the next 4 weeks.
I did not know how to feel at that moment. I was excited to call a place that was foreign to me “home”, I was scared to be completely alone for the first time since beginning college, and I was anxious as I did not know what to expect. On the car ride to my homestay family, I sat in silence as I absorbed the scenery around me. I saw smoothly paved highways, brand new cars, and favelas from a distance looking down at them. I knew then that my study abroad experience would not only include studying Portuguese at a private institution, it would involve learning and witnessing the ways in which social inequality affects different peoples in Brazil.
Once I arrived in Copacabana and met my homestay family, I stood at the window staring at the world in front of me. I was living in a beautiful apartment that faces Copacabana Beach and a favela, a favela that is currently being occupied by the military. I knew this month would definitely be interesting.