Far from home, I find myself clinging dearly to traditions, especially on special occasions like Eid. Over the years, I’ve found myself in strange lands during Eid, from global cities to obscure towns, and in every instance I’ve tried to celebrate the occasion, in whatever small way I could.
Rio – the concrete jungle that sprung up amidst mountainous rainforests, is fondly referred to as Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City). Standing atop one of the many mountains scattered around the city, it is apparent why. The views proffered were some of the most breathtaking. In my last article for the Rio series, I highlight some of the city’s most unique and unforgettable views.
Rio is a city of varying extremes, encapsulated in wild rainforests and beaches, a metropolis of skyscrapers and shantytowns; a cosmopolitan city, steeped in history – something I’d come to realise after a month in this beguiling city.
I explore its many aspects through a series of articles on the city. This is the second of three.
Rio is unlike any city I’d been in before: not just geographically, where the urban sprawl gives way to fine, sandy beaches and rainforest covered hills with sheer drops down to stunning lagoons, but also culturally as it exudes a vibrant yet laid-back vibe.
Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s second largest city, is famous. But perhaps not for the more conventional reasons. Set on the tri-border with Brazil’s Foz do Iguaçu and Argentina’s Puerto Iguazú, the city isn’t quite on the tourist trail like its neighbours. Instead, it seems to have gained notoriety as one of the region’s busiest hotbeds for counterfeit goods. With rumours that the city had harboured the likes of Osama bin Laden, it has long held the imagination of screenwriters, featuring on popular crime shows like NCIS and Miami Vice. For our family of three, however, the lure lay in the prospect of experiencing a new culture within close proximity to our base in Foz do Iguaçu—a 15-minute bus ride to the border.
I found myself, seemingly all alone, staring up at the ancient and mystical Moai. I had met an Englishwoman the day before, a sculptor, who insisted she could “feel the magic” when facing the Moai. As I stood in front of a 30 foot statue, I felt an inscrutable power. Perhaps it was incredulity I felt, stood where I was with the waves crashing in the distance, but it was mystical. The feeling was palpable.
Nothing had prepared me for the sheer scale of the falls themselves. I heard it before I could see it. The roar was deafening. As I stood on the edge of the Devil’s Throat, the tallest cataract, I faced a veritable wall of water, cascading down in twisted, frothy jets. It seemed otherworldly, larger than life. I had never seen anything quite like it. The throngs of jostling tourists melted away as I stood, drenched and utterly spellbound, staring into the cloudy abyss.
Despite the late hour and the shuttered shopfronts, the square was alive and pumping. Diners mulled over their meals while children raced around an elaborate fountain, turning a deaf ear to their parents as they ran through the frigid spray. Couples sat entwined under trees as more gregarious groups of friends spread out over park benches. All conversations were centred around the communal mate, as friends shared their gourd around, topping up from steaming thermoses of hot water. We followed the thumping beats of live music to find a group of octogenarians, their faces sallow under the street lamps, but expressions vivid, demurely doing the tango. It was tango danced like I’d never seen before. Groups of onlookers cheered and some even joined in. And in that instant, I was utterly captivated.
I slowly made my way through town in the late afternoon glow, photographing kitschy little boutique shops and old, crumbling buildings harkening an era of grandeur. Diners gathered around tables set out on the cobble-stones, the sharp clink of cutlery cutting through the sounds of laughter and conversation. I migrated towards the buzz of activity by Puerto Viejo the small yacht harbour, where throngs of young people sat around amidst clouds of cigarette smoke, drinking and talking. Someone had put on music, prompting the congregation to sway to the beat. I found myself a low wall and sat down to absorb the vibrant atmosphere. The sun dipped over the horizon, setting the sky aflame and prompting a stupendous round of applause. My confusion must’ve been blatantly obvious as the artist seated besides me leaned over his easel to explain that it is Uruguayan tradition to applaud the setting sun. A fitting response to the climatic finale of my time in Colonia del Sacramento!
In a serendipitous twist of fate, I found myself living in Buenos Aires. With little over a month and accompanied by my young family, I set about immersing myself in all that this beguiling city had to offer.
The Barrios of Buenos Aires has been split into three parts: Monserrat & City Centre, Palermo & Recoleta, and La Boca & San Telmo. This is the third and last installment in the series.