Colombia has a lot to offer for travelers

The beaches of Cartagena are some of Colombia's many highlights.

The beaches of Cartagena are some of Colombia’s many highlights.


(I’ve never been to Colombia but this guest blog by Gabe Campbell makes me want to go there.)

There aren’t too many countries around the world that have been stigmatized as much as Colombia. Closely associated with a violent cocaine trade for decades – an association no doubt made worse by Hollywood – it was avoided and even put on travel advisory lists for years.

Things have changed, though. While there are still some areas of Colombia that are best avoided, and kidnapping can be an issue, there are plenty of safe areas. So long as you use proper precautions and you’re aware of risks in certain areas, you can make a vacation out of this fascinating South American country.

For those who are intrigued by this idea, we’d note that Colombia isn’t just OK. It actually has a lot to offer the modern tourist, including some of the following highlights.

The Colombian Coffee Region, also known as the Coffee Triangle, is a part of the Colombian Paisa Region in the rural area of Colombia.

The Colombian Coffee Region, also known as the Coffee Triangle, is a part of the Colombian Paisa Region in the rural area of Colombia.



Coffee Plantations

As you may be aware, Colombia produces some of the finest coffee in the world, and you don’t have to be a connoisseur to appreciate this as a sort of attraction. While you can certainly spend time learning how coffee is made and sampling some of the best there is, “coffee tourism” will also take you to some of the more beautiful parts of the country. The coffee region of Colombia, which some refer to as the Coffee Axis, happens to include lush hills, some national park land and incredibly charming venues from which the plantations are run (and shown off).

San Andreas Scuba Diving

While not technically in the Caribbean, Colombia is one of the closer mainland countries to the famously beautiful sea, and as such it has some similar diving and snorkeling opportunities. That is to say, there are places on the coast of Colombia where you can enjoy translucent turquoise water, high visibility, warm temperatures and an all around terrific diving experience. Cartagena is a popular starting point for a lot of people looking to go on diving expeditions, though we’d also point out San Andreas because it actually is in the Caribbean. For those who aren’t familiar, this is a beautiful archipelago located a fair distance offshore, in the Caribbean Sea between Colombia and Nicaragua. You can stay on the islands, and the scuba and snorkel opportunities are wonderful.

Casino Activity

Here again, Colombia doesn’t get quite as much attention as some of its Caribbean neighbors to the north. That is to say, you don’t hear about casino destinations in Colombia the way you might hear about the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas or the Hard Rock Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, there is a thriving gambling industry in Colombia. In fact, it’s doing the country quite a bit of good. A U.S.-based site posting the latest stories and updates about casino culture in the Americas pointed out that Colombia gambling revenue has raised $2.5 billion for healthcare. That implies a thriving industry, and if this is your sort of thing to do on vacation, destinations like CASINO Cosmopolitan, Casino Rio, and Casino Rock’n Jazz are just a few of the venues where you might be able to take a break and enjoy yourself.

Mud Baths

The idea of a mud bath might not typically be on your list of things to look for in a fun or relaxing vacation, unless you have your eye on a specific spa. But in Colombia this is one of the more unique and memorable things you can do. Basically, in the country surrounding Cartagena, there is a very small volcano called El Totumo. And the inside of the volcano (which is in fact an active one) is filled with mud, rather than boiling lava. The mud is naturally heated, and while it’s not piping hot, it’s said to make for a relaxing time. According to some Colombian lore, the volcano used to be far more dangerous before it was blessed by a priest and — perhaps more plausibly — the muddy consistency of the heated pool within carries some mineral health benefits.

Múcura Island is a stunning choral island offering beautiful beaches and sights of stunning mangrove trees.

Múcura Island is a stunning choral island offering beautiful beaches and sights of stunning mangrove trees.



Isla Mucura Swimming

Given what we said before about Colombia resembling a Caribbean paradise in some areas, it follows that there are plenty of great swimming spots around the country. Southwest of Cartagena however, and just a short distance offshore, lies Isla Mucura – which was actually singled out by CNN as one of the top highlights of Colombia, and a particularly nice place to swim. ”Otherworldly bioluminescent plankton” are among the highlights mentioned in the CNN piece, which certainly makes it sound like a charming place to swim to us.

(Gabe Campbell is a photographer, blogger, and artist in Raleigh, North Carolina. He travels whenever he gets the opportunity to, and hopes to combine those interests into an original online travel magazine in the near future.)

Going solo: Traveling alone doesn’t have to be lonely or scary if you take these tips

Me alone in Vang Vieng, Laos, where the majestic karsts kept me company.

Me alone in Vang Vieng, Laos, where the majestic karsts kept me company.


“When you travel alone it’s never crowded.”

I left off the source of that great quote because it didn’t come from Mark Twain or Paul Theroux or any other great travel writer. It came from a guy I had a beer with at my guesthouse in Jamaica way back in 1982. I can’t remember his name or even his country but I found that comment so astute.

Just four years before, I had traveled around the world alone for a year and what he said hit home. I remembered. No matter how crowded a bus was, a street, a museum, a bar, when I was alone I never felt confined. I never felt trapped. I could always break away. The idea of traveling to find freedom and then locking yourself into an itinerary, let alone a tour bus, seemed a complete defeat of purpose. It’s like flying in an airplane and never looking out the window. Traveling with another person means you’re never truly away from home. Home is right next to you. The purpose of solo travel is to find yourself, not your friends.

This is my 40th year of international travel and I’ve traveled alone to most of my 102 countries. I traveled with girlfriends a few times. I traveled once with a platonic female friend and that turned into a travel tale from the Third Circle of Hades. I have never traveled with a guy, nor would I. Why?

I also have professional reasons to travel alone. As a travel writer, I want to write my own views, not those of someone else who browbeats me into veering away from my first impressions. I keep a journal everywhere I go. Try telling a travel partner to wait 90 minutes while you pound out an essay about your ride through an Indonesian jungle the day before.

There are drawbacks, of course. Traveling to beautiful places, inevitably you’ll find yourself in romantic places. Alone. I’ve never felt so lonely than one night on the isle of Crete when every traveler I drank with in the beach bar that night had a girlfriend. I was the 21st wheel.

Dining out on local cuisine with my B&B hosts in Liechtenstein.

Dining out on local cuisine with my B&B hosts in Liechtenstein.


I was once on assignment on Hawaii’s Big Island and walked out to my hotel’s beach-side restaurant for dinner. It was Valentine’s Day. I totally forgot. Every table was filled with cooing couples sipping wine under torchlight while I was speed dialing every friend with no benefits I knew, just so the others didn’t think I was a complete loser. Bringing a girlfriend, you not only never feel lonely but you take your relationship to romantic heights not possible back home.

It’s cheaper to share rooms. Another set of eyes is good for directions. Another brain is good for ideas.

But to travel alone and relying solely on your own eyes, brain and instincts shapes you as an adult. It steels you for future roadblocks in life. It builds confidence you can’t get from how-to books or jobs. I’m terrible with directions. I can get lost in an elevator. But I know I traversed Slovakia’s High Tatras mountain range, drove around Iceland, traveled the length of Laos and hitchhiked behind the Iron Curtain. All alone.

With the high tourist season upon us, I thought I’d give some handy tips on solo travel. I hope they all make sense and don’t impede your own personal freedom. Some may not make sense. Use it as a guide, not as a bible. I’ve written 10 for men and 10 for women, based on surfing other websites and talking to female travelers who don’t need company to eat out in the Third World.

Clip it. Put it on your refrigerator while packing and safe travels.

My money belts, new (above) and old. I never leave home without it.

My money belts, new (above) and old. I never leave home without it.


FOR MEN

1. Money belt. This is for anybody, even those on an American Express tour bus but it’s even more important for solo travelers as you don’t have a partner or group to watch out for you. It’s a long, wide, thin cotton pouch with two zippers where you put all the things you can’t afford to lose: passport, second credit card, ATM card, large amounts of cash. In the old days I put plane tickets in there. It clips around your waist inside the waistline of your pants. The only way you can get robbed is if they knock you out and strip you. Through 40 years, I have yet to be ripped off.

2. Don’t engage people who approach you. Every person who tries starting a conversation with me, especially in poor countries, wants something at the end of the conversation. It’s almost always money. The longer you talk to them, the more they think you’re indebted. However, if you approach a local, no matter where, you’ll likely wind up with a friend. People all over the world love talking about their country, their culture. Once in the Seychelles Islands, I asked a local in a bar about the best beach. He turned out to be one of the island’s top chefs. Shortly into the conversation, a raggedy man asked if he could talk to me. He mumbled something in French then I heard “money” in English. I returned to the chef and we wound up exchanging postcards for years.

3. Sports bars. It’s easier to meet locals when you’re alone. For some reason they take pity on you, mainly because they’d never do it. Every major city has a sports bar where you can catch locals watching local sports they can’t watch in person. Ask them about their sports, their town, whatever. They’ll engage you. Many sports bars are pubs filled almost entirely of expats. Still, it’s not a bad place to get Westerners’ views of the country you’re traveling through. One Brit who’d lived in Mongolia for two years told me in a bar in Ulaanbaatar that domestic violence is so bad there, if you take out a woman and just don’t hit her, she’ll go out with you again.

Drinking with Cubans in Havana's Savor Tropical.

Drinking with Cubans in Havana’s Savor Tropical.


4. Dating sites. I’m not a fan of these. Women lie about their weight; men, women tell me, lie about their age and height. (How do you lie about your height, guys?) But I did it once. Before the 2012 London Olympics, I joined a site and targeted London women telling them I was a traveling food columnist for my Denver Post newspaper and wanted a local guide to find London’s best gastropubs, a big trend at the time. If they wanted a free meal in exchange for some gastronomic insight, write me back. I made a point to say I wasn’t looking to hook up. I wound up meeting three wonderful women, two were sisters (Sorry. Not twins.) and I not only had great meals and wrote a good column but made a couple friends along the way. You don’t have to be a food columnist. Just tell them you want insight into local cuisine. You want food, not romance.

5. Do not ask taxi drivers where to meet local women. That’s a disaster. I did it twice: In 1983 in Mexico City a guy dropped me off at a brothel. And it wasn’t just any brothel. It was a brothel specializing in obese women. Yes, it was targeting chubby chasers. In 1997 a guy in Rio took me to a massage parlor. I was wondering why all these guys were sitting around the lobby in bathrobes. I bolted both times.

6. Don’t read during meals, not even your cell phone. I went to Sri Lanka three years ago and was devastated when my aging cellphone conked out after I landed. I couldn’t text friends. I couldn’t post on Facebook. However, with nothing to engage me, I was able to engage locals. I was in the cool, green hill town of Ella when a Sri Lankan sitting nearby filled me in on the Cricket World Cup playing on the TV above us. Meanwhile, at the next table, I couldn’t help noticing two couples didn’t even exchange words with each other. They were all looking at their cellphones.

Me and two new Icelander friends in a bar in Reykjavik.

Me and two new Icelander friends in a bar in Reykjavik.


7. Drink. Yes, drink. You’re not driving, or, you’re probably not. Get shitfaced a couple nights. Let the inhibitions fall and clink glasses with locals. As a travel writer, it’s easy for me. The best place to get a pulse on a city is a bar. I often talk to bartenders, people who talk to lots of locals. If you ask one question about a country to a group of people at the bar, you’ll usually start a lively conversation or maybe a debate. The best travel quote I got all last year was in a bar in Reykjavik. Poleaxed by the larcenous prices I’d seen everywhere in Iceland, I asked them, “With fish 35 euros, beer 13 and cocktails 20, how the hell do you guys take out women here?” They all raised their glasses, laughed and simultaneously said, “We don’t!”

8. Sit with a foot or arm around a strap of your bag or backpack. Without another set of eyes, you’re a target for thieves. Stay awake. If you do nod off while sitting in an airport or train station, you should be able to feel someone removing your arm or foot to steal your bag.

9. Don’t swim at empty beaches before asking locals about it. The south coast of Sri Lanka has really underrated beaches. After a couple of days in Goyambokka, with one of the most idyllic beaches I’ve seen in Asia, I decided to explore. I cut through the jungle to the west for 15 minutes and found myself on a deserted, perfectly shaped half-moon beach. I was alone. Why? I found a man working on a house and he said the beach has a bad riptide. He said, “But if you get past that first wave, you won’t feel the current. Then when you return, swim sideways a few hundred meters and …” If I’d gone in alone without asking, I might not be writing this.

In the High Tatras in Slovakia.

In the High Tatras in Slovakia.


10. If you’re hiking, tell the hotel or guesthouse or a friend at home where you’re going. If you don’t come back, they’ll at least know where you went. I lived in Colorado from 1990-2014 and one day in 1994 a Colorado outdoorsman named Aron Ralston went hiking in Utah’s remote Blue John Canyon. A dislodged 800-pound boulder pinned his arm against the wall. He couldn’t get out. He had told no one where he went. He sat there for six days. What did he do? He cut off his own arm. What he wound up with was a well-received book called (what else?) “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” and an appreciation of the before-mentioned rule.

FOR WOMEN

1. Carry a whistle. Of all the self-defense devices, this seems the most popular. Mace and pepper spray, in many countries where they’re most needed, are considered concealed weapons and illegal.

2. Dress like an expat. That’s a fine balance. Don’t dress like a tourist. No white fedoras. No Nikes. No souvenir T-shirts. But don’t dress completely like a local, either. Don’t dress head to toe in native garb. You’ll look like you’re trying too hard. Dress conservatively and comfortably, like what you’d wear at home. Thieves and men look for naivete. Expats who’ve lived abroad awhile are street smart.

3. Don’t get drunk. This sounds obvious but living in Rome, I’ve seen some cases where a woman gets too drunk and some “kindly Italian” offers to walk them home. He’s not interested in discussing Dante’s “Inferno” once he gets you there.

4. Day tours. If you want to meet other solo travelers, take a day tour that attracts them. Many major cities have free walking tours, a great way to introduce yourself to a place and make friends. I even take them.

In the High Tatras in Slovakia.

Even I tried yoga, in Varkala, Kerala state, India.


5. Take a yoga class. Yoga is booming all over the world. If you do yoga, or have ever been interested in yoga, find a class where you’re visiting. You’ll find local women who might put you under their wing and show you where the good places to go.

6. Have a Plan B for accommodations. I’ve read stories of women who get to an AirBnB or a CouchSurfing spot and the owner wants to show them more than the city. If you feel uncomfortable, have a second accommodation’s phone number handy to call for a quick change.

7. Cut back on the jewelry. Jewelry is a big fence item. Don’t draw attention to yourself with anything flashy. If you’re rich, don’t show it. This is especially true in Brazil where armed hold-ups are done in broad daylight.

Meeting a sambar deer in Sri Lanka.

Meeting a sambar deer in Sri Lanka.


8. Hide extra cash. I read this and didn’t quite understand it, nor did I want to understand it but I’ll trust women will understand it: Put extra cash in a tampon applicator and put it back in its wrapper. I do understand that will definitely hide the money.

9. No earplugs. While walking the streets, don’t wear earplugs. You need to be more aware of your surroundings, of people approaching you from behind. You must hear everything. The U2 tape can wait.

10. Doorstop. Many women carry cheap little doorstops and wedge them under their hotel room door for extra security. Some hotels are so cheap, a well-trained cocker spaniel could break in.

Reeling Rio de Janeiro still dancing to a samba beat

Me at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a lake in the middle of Rio featuring some of the most expensive real estate and a 4.5-mile bike path.

Me at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a lake in the middle of Rio featuring some of the most expensive real estate and a 4.5-mile bike path.


RIO DE JANEIRO — I’m jogging along Avenida Vieira Souto which stretches along the sand of Ipanema Beach like a mile-and-a-half-long g-string. Believe me, in Rio de Janeiro, that image is a recurring theme. To my left is some of the purest sand of any beach in the Western Hemisphere, every grain leading to a warm Atlantic Ocean. To my right is the prettiest skyline in Latin America. A series of glittery, high-rise condominium buildings, five-star hotels and high-end cocktail lounges stand watch on the vibrant lifestyle all around me.

Joggers, rollerbladers, cyclists, we’re all pounding the pavement on a well-marked path alongside the busy thoroughfare. Dreadlocked salesmen stand next to handmade jewelry and racks of sarongs, sporting everything from the Brazilian flag to Che Guevara’s bereted head. It’s 8 p.m. in August. It’s winter in Rio and it’s getting dark. Lights of a jagged mountain ahead of me flicker like fireflies as the fading sun disappears behind the majestic mountain, which with its pointy peak and steep incline, if bigger and sporting snow, wouldn’t look out of place in the Alps’ foothills.

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach


Locals tell me not to come to the beach at night. Yet many of those locals seem to be on the beach right now. If thieves ever tried robbing anyone, there’d be so many witnesses there would be a line out the courtroom door. Maybe the thieves would steal the coconut that I’m drinking after my two-kilometer run. In what must be one of the greatest refreshment stands on the planet, the Rio government has kiosks spaced along the jogging path filled with chilled coconuts. If you have a more refreshing taste after a jog than cold coconut water, market it and retire young.
Coconut stands serve chilled coconuts with a straw.

Coconut stands serve chilled coconuts with a straw.


I’m in Rio working for the Olympic News Service at the World Rowing Junior Championships. They’re held on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a huge, beautiful lake just seven blocks north of Ipanema Beach. I covered sports for 39 years all over the world. Nowhere, not the Pyrenees in the Tour de France, Wrigley Field in June or Wimbledon with strawberries and cream in hand, have I covered an event in a more beautiful setting. Surrounding the lake, besides a 4.5-mile-long jogging and bike path, are some of the most exclusive high-rise condominiums in Brazil, priced at $2 million-$3 million ($5,000-a-month rent). Small, pointy mountains that dot Rio’s landscape like sand castles provide an artful backdrop right out of an Oriental tapestry.

I arrive as Rio is bristling from a PR nightmare. An Associated Press report says every body of water in Rio is polluted. Corruption in Brazil’s government has been exposed all the way to president Dilma Rousseff who is clinging to her job. She is the Brazilian Richard Nixon. However, I have news for all the bashers out there.

I love Rio.

I love its pulse. I love its vibrancy. I love its toughness. I love its softness. I love its skyline, its beaches, its weather. I even love its food. This is my third time in Rio and it’s like no other city. Besides having the most beautiful urban beach in the world, Rio de Janeiro seems to be always in rhythm. Music is everywhere. I don’t like music much, yet I can feel the locals, called, not ironically, Cariocas, constantly swaying to a distant beat. Rio is Havana with a democracy. Samba. Bossa Nova. Cariocas seem too mellowed out from constant sun, gentle waves and music to worry about pollution, corruption and crime. Every lyric of “The Girl from Ipanema” still runs through my brain on a 24-hour loop. No song outside The Beach Boys’ in Southern California better represents an area than “The Girl from Ipanema” represents Rio de Janeiro. A beautiful girl in a string bikini walking to the beach without a care in the world. To me, Rio is still that beautiful girl.

Locals tell me life in Rio today is difficult. Middle-class rent is more expensive than in London. Last year’s World Cup didn’t produce the economic windfall everyone hoped. Maybe next summer’s Olympics will make it happen. Nearly all the facilities are finished or on schedule.

Juice bars are on nearly every block in Rio.

Juice bars are on nearly every block in Rio.

Acai and acerola juice.

Acai and acerola juice.


But for visitors, Rio is the perfect injection of pure energy. I didn’t have a spot of jet lag after my redeye from Rome landed at 7 a.m. Instead, I checked into my hotel four blocks from Ipanema Beach and three from Copacabana Beach and did what Cariocas do most every morning. I headed for a juice bar.

If this is Brazil’s lone contribution to world cuisine, Brazilians can rest easy. They contributed well. In Rio, they take smoothies to the level of haute cuisine. Go to a juice bar in Rio and you think you’ve walked into an indoor garden. Behind every counter is a mountain of fresh fruit, ranging from pineapples to bananas to papayas to guavas to indigenous fruits I can barely pronounce such as cupuacu (koo-poo-ah-SUE), from the Amazon Jungle; acai (a-SAY), juice made from an Amazonian berry; and acerola (ah-say-ROLL-ah), a real sweet tropical cherry. Pick out the fruits and the clerk cuts them up and puts them in a blender with ice. Soon, wa-la! You have the best smoothie of your life. No smoothie mix in this town.

I walked down Ipanema’s bustling Rua Visconde de Piraja to Polis Sucos, one of Rio’s more popular juice bars. I ordered an acai and acerola juice which came out in a big 12-ounce plastic cup with the thick, reddish-purple fluids slowly slipping over the edges. Cold. Creamy. Sweet. Smooth. Healthy. It tasted like the sweetest purple grape you’ve ever had stuffed into a sweet cherry then liquified with crushed ice. It was absolute heaven. Coupled with a tchai light, a sliced turkey sandwich covered in white cheese and tomato and served on flatbread, I couldn’t have had a better welcome to a city if my room had a throne.

Brazil isn’t known for its food. No one walks around hankering for “jerked meat,” especially not out loud. Rio isn’t known for its restaurants. You don’t go to Rio to eat. But if you know where to go and get the right advice, eating can match drinking as a Rio highlight.

Me at Carretao, a rodizio where I ate meat off giant skewers for two hours.

Me at Carretao, a rodizio where I ate meat off giant skewers for two hours.


My best friend in Rome, Alessandro Castellani, lived in Rio for four months writing soccer and recommended a rodizio called Carretao. Normally, I treat chain restaurants like chain letters. But also recommending Carretao was a colleague in Rio, Mauricio Savarese, a fine journalist in Sao Paulo who knows soccer, politics and Brazilian food with equal brilliance. A rodizio is a Brazilian all-you-can-eat carnivore fest. Two rules: Don’t eat lunch and don’t bring a woman. They don’t eat enough. They’re a waste of money. Go ahead and bring a vegetarian if you want to watch them get nauseous. We sat down at a huge round table in the Copacabana branch and waiters carried giant skewers covered in sirloin, pork, chicken, ribs, parmesan-covered beef, Brazilian sausage and a few other forgotten meats for which my mind, like my stomach, no longer has room.
Escondidinho

Escondidinho


A couple nights later, we went to the Academia da Cachaca. On the menu is a dish from northeast Brazil called an escondidinho. Among its ingredients is cassava. Cassava is a starchy root similar to yucca, an aptly named vegetable as that’s exactly what cassava and yucca taste like. Cassava is absolutely indestructible in droughts, floods or locust invasions. Hell, locusts won’t even eat it. Its durability is a reason why it’s huge in the Third World. Estimates indicate that it provides the basic diet for half a billion people. As my University of Oregon professor in Latin American Geography described it, “It’s mushy, it’s fattening and has absolutely no flavor. But it keeps you alive.” I’ve had cassava on trips to the Amazon and in cheap diners around Brazil. It tastes like mushy lard.

I wanted nothing to do with a deep-bowl dish that included cassava. However, Mauricio insisted I at least try a bite. It didn’t look bad. With carne seca (the aformentioned “jerky beef”), onions, cream cheese and pecorino cheese, it looked like like a beef souffle. The one bite was a terrific mix of lumpy, salty beef and onion with the cassava providing a rich, creamy texture and the pecorino a crusty, cheesy topping. I immediately ordered my own bowl and, of course, a caipirinha.

Caipirinha

Caipirinha


The caipirinha is Brazil’s national drink. It’s as simple as a hammer and just as deadly. It’s made from cachaca (Kah-CHAW-saw), a distilled liquor made from sugar cane juice that’s not nearly as sweet as you might think. But two ounces of it with a teaspoon of sugar in a tumbler or a tall glass filled with crushed limes and ice cubes, and you have the best drink with which to watch a sunset. It is also not bad with which, in Rio, to watch a sunrise.
The bar at Londra.

The bar at Londra.


I saw no sunrises on this Rio trip but I did sample Rio’s famed nightlife after my last day of work. Rio’s club scene is like a long, pulsating snake. It wraps around the city with beats in every corner. On my first trip in 1998, I went to a samba club in a bad part of town and wound up knocking over a table full of drinks that weren’t mine. Dancing Brazilian was not on my Rio to-do list. But there I was in Londra, a club in the high-end Hotel Fasano, an Italian-themed hotel (thus, the name “Londra,” the Italian spelling of London) across the street from Ipanema Beach. In Londra, you go from Italy to Great Britain in Brazil. You leave a lobby of overstuffed white couches and brilliant white lighting to a room with British rock albums and photos of British rock stars lining the walls. On the back wall hung a giant Union Jack.

The music, of course, was dreadful. The problem with nightclubs is the music is the same from Barstow to Bangkok. It’s BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! With the occasional BOOMBOOM! thrown in. Yet Brazilians have so much rhythm, so much freedom of expression, they make it work. I saw one long-haired blond man in his 30s with an untucked white dress shirt dipping and swaying and grooving to every single stilted beat. It was like he choreographed his dance to the music that afternoon. His dancing was so lithe and happy, a pretty young, curly-haired brunette ran up and joined him dancing right in front of the bright, back-lit bar. Her intentions, with her wide smile and wilder hands and eyes, would only be misconstrued by a Tibetan monk. Yet the man smiled, held her face softly and was a perfect gentleman. He finally broke away for some more moves. Apparently, he was more interested in dancing than sex.

Ipanema Beach at night.

Ipanema Beach at night.


I returned to the hotel at the reasonable time of 4 a.m. In Rio, if you’re not out until at least 9 a.m., you’re not trying. However, dropping my head to my pillow, just before going to sleep, I realized I made a mistake. I left my credit card at the club. It was five blocks away. I then went back to the first warning I heard: Don’t walk on the beach at night. I was not walking on the beach at night. I was walking on it at 4 in the morning. Still, I saw people walking along Vieira Souto. None looked capable of helping top Rio’s 2014 number of 1,207 homicides.

In another two hours the sun would come up. In Rio, the sun has been setting for a long time. But this is one city that is always very hot.