Editorial, by Stone Korshak
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – When I first traveled to Rio de Janeiro in 2002, it was my next ‘adventure travel’ trip after Cuba – which was basically illegal to go to as a U.S. citizen then. I note that only to point out how exotic a location it was to me at the time, a long way further than the Caribbean islands or even Mexico.
Then in 2002-2004 the Fernando Meirelles film “City of God” came out and captivated the world, and in 2004 I made my first month-long stay to Rio as well (to write). The cost of a modest one-bedroom temporada apartment in Ipanema then was around R$950/month, and the currency was around R$3/US$1.
What Rio offered then was a unique foreign travel experience with stark economic contrasts and social drama, and a vibrant culture of music, food and art, all set along an incredible beach life and backed by memorizing plush green mountains.
I spent eight months here between 2004 and 2007, getting more familiar with the city, and moved here in 2009. Without realizing I was jumping on a bandwagon, Rio suddenly felt like the place to be, especially as the 2008-2009 global financial crisis hit ‘back home’.
Like a lot of events, when in the middle of it – without context – you don’t see the forest through the trees. In this period Brazil went from a fringe interest destination to an oil-fueled developing economy, set to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
Now all that is over.
Since living in Rio I’ve made a number of expat friends who have been here longer than me, and their perspective is always welcome. Last year one of them, a guy around 65 years-old who actually grew up in Rio but was educated in the U.S., told me he had never seen Brazil in such a bad economic state.
Talking with my contemporaries on the rua (street), no one really believed that. How could it be worse than during the dictatorship, or worse than the run-away inflation of the 1990’s? Time will tell, but the state of Rio de Janeiro is in a financial crisis, and it’s not clear the federal government is in a position to help much.
Yet I believe people will continue to come to Rio. Why? Because it’s Rio de Janeiro, and the same thing that brought me here over ten years ago will continue to draw people’s interest. Although my sense is Brazil has to recalibrate their sales pitch to be appealing to a new generation of foreign interest, and some of this is already happening with the lower currency over the last year and a drop in real estate and living costs.
At the end of the day there are still 200 million people living in Brazil, around seven million in Rio de Janeiro (with a new Metro and refurbished Port Zone), life will go on here – as will foreign investment. For the largest country and economy in South America, the wheels will turn, and the amount of foreigners living here is a small concern for Brazilians.
For the foreigners that call Brazil home, watching the international media taillights fade, we can feel like the lucky ones that get to stay. Almost all my friends who have left over the past 7.5 years wish they could still live in the Cidade Maravilhosa, and almost everyone who ever visits Rio pines to return.
After all, we have Carnival (February 24th – 28th this year).