The Copacabana beach was wide with fluffy sand. At many entrances from the beach to the boardwalk, beach chairs and sun umbrellas were available for rental. Volleyball nets and futbol goals were setup up and down the beach. Long tubes sprinkled the sand walkways with water to prevent people from burning their feet on the hot sand.
Vendors walked up and down the beach selling swim suits, sun glasses, hand bags, and other novelty items. Waiters approached from small beach side shacks selling beer, drinks, or snacks. Periodically, people built giant sand castles for photo opportunities and donations.
The water was cool, but not cold. Kylie and Alyssa both tried their luck at surfing. With waves lower than one meter, the danger level was low. There were some rip tides and some days the warning flags were up, but overall it was a pretty benign swimming beach.
There were no body image issues here. Everyone walking up and down the beach sported swimwear. Old, young, abs, and flabs, people of all types bore all.
While the beach was front loaded with skyscraping resorts, the back streets were full of 10 story apartment buildings. There were no large supermarkets. Every few blocks there were neighborhood cafes and markets which had two-three isles of fresh and plentiful fruit and various necessities.
Close to the beach were shops selling touristic items (suits, bags, and whatnot). Back farther were every day stores. Drug stores, building goods, butcher, etc. These were not big, at most the size of 1 car or 2 car garage.
Up the hill, not to far were some favelas. The favelas of Pavão-Pavãozinho, Cantagalo, Ladeira dos Tabajaras and Morro dos Cabritos were within 1km of our residence. While seemingly benign, at night we would occasionally hear gunfire. Called “slums” by some people, in reality they are low income neighborhoods that abut the wealthier communities. Many of the people in these neighborhoods fill the service positions in their neighboring wealthier communities. Although many of the communities were started by ex-slaves, their numbers were bolstered by a waves of people leaving the country-side in a rural exodus in the 1970s. (Like the United States, Brazil used slave labor to build their economy. Even though slavery was abolished in 1888, the descendants of slavery still suffer. It is even argued that economic slavery still exists. A more thorough explanation of slavery in Brazil can be found here).
We didn’t tour the favelas, but we caught quite a few glimpses of them.
Although we never felt in danger there was a security presence everywhere. Most apartment buildings were gated with a concierge present behind the gate greeting people and making sure that only residence were coming in. Also, most stores had security guards by the door. Armed police with flak jackets were present in all monuments and every few blocks. Many of the favelas, especially the ones close to the beachside communities are under tight supervision of police militias.