Earlier this month, Passion Passport team member Elliot Vernon joined PayPal and twenty influencers — both local and from across the globe, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, India, Japan and Mexico — in Brazil to get to know the 2016 Summer Olympics host in the true Carioca “native of Rio” fashion. He shares his impressions and highlights of Rio below, as well as on Instagram with the #RioByPayPal hashtag.

“Feeling kinda nervous, halp!” I was waiting to board my flight to Rio via Atlanta and was texting my friend (and travel confidante) Joe.

“You should be,” he replied.

“Jerk.”

“No, really, if you weren’t, I’d think you were a sociopath.”

The truth is, I’d forgotten about the pre-travel jitters — that mix of nervous butterflies and excitement before a new experience. I hadn’t traveled internationally since my Bucket List Initiative trip to Korea (read more here) back in 2013, when I first became involved with Passion Passport, and my renewed passport had arrived only that morning.

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Upon arriving in Rio, I was immediately struck and enchanted by the meeting of natural and urban senses. In my hometown Chicago (sometimes referred to as Urbs in Horto — Latin for “City in a Garden” — flowerpots are deliberately placed throughout downtown, and Lake Michigan always tells you which way is east.

But Rio is different. None of the plants are placed; rather, they have a will and determination of their own, growing with indifference to the city around them. On the drive from the airport to the hotel, we passed mountain after shrubbed mountain. Even the vast favelas seemed to enshrine and pay homage to the earth, adapting around it. As tall, sprawling, or urban as anything manmade was, nature still seemed to run the show.

Ipanema Beach

Of anywhere, the coastal beaches seemed the most “tamed” land. On the first day there, I joined my new friend and Canadian fashion/travel blogger Alex to follow the coastline.

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As I walked, my eyes couldn’t help but follow the zigzag patterns of the tiled path, occasionally broken by vendors sitting with their wares. About a mile down from our hotel, we reached Ipanema Beach, which stopped us in our tracks. (Hopefully the lyrics are going through your head now: “The girl from Ipanema goes walking…”)

Even connected with the other beaches, it was easy to see why Ipanema makes such an impression. There’s a mysterious blue haze veiling beach-goers from the outside world. Even the mountains seem to take a backseat as if behind a television screen. As we continued, the haze dissipated, allowing us into its secret world of silky sand, the thud of volleyballs, and the gentle call of the sea.

Sugarloaf Mountain

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As our first official stop with Crux Ecoaventura (our guides on the ground), Sugarloaf Mountain was a perfect introduction to Rio. Situated on Guanabara Bay and famous for its cableway, each successive ride convinced you (and all your fellow riders) that, “Yep, this is definitely the best spot to take a photo!” And then you’d hop on the next glass globule transport, each one proving you wrong until you reached the top.

Related:  The Tim DeNoodle Tour of Bondi Beach

Museum of Tomorrow

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Fittingly, the new Museum of Tomorrow looks out onto the waterfront, its pool seemingly melting into the sea. In fact, the entire structure feels futuristic, as is Santiago Calatrava’s signature. The exhibits, combining science and art, take on an almost Socratic method to provoke thoughts on sustainability, ecology, and man’s effect on the planet.

Christ the Redeemer, Corcovado Mountain, Tijuca National Park

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And of course, no trip to Rio would be complete without a visit to Cristo Redentor (“Christ the Redeemer”) in Tijuca National Park. Even for those who aren’t religious, this iconic, 125-foot statue is something to behold, wrapping visitors in his embrace.

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But for me, the greatest reward was the mountain-terrace views. After several days of exploring the city, Corcovado Mountain (almost twice the height of Sugarloaf) offered a new perspective, with a 360-degree vista above Rio. Encompassed by ocean, greenery, and mountains, six million people never seemed so insignificant.

Nowhere was the dichotomous interplay between the manmade and the natural more apparent — as if the two were in a perpetual game of Tag. In a way, it felt familiar; if Chicago is the City in a Garden, then Rio must be the Garden in the City. It was the perfect stop before departing for home.

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The truth is that while I started off nervous, PayPal erased any doubt or fear about credit cards not working internationally, struggling with conversion rates (for those like me who almost failed algebra), or losing a wallet in a waterfall. I didn’t even think about it. All my nervousness-turned-excitement was focused on experiencing the beauty and warmth of Rio.

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Consumers can use PayPal to pay for transportation, accommodation, attractions, and entertainment, and souvenirs without worrying about carrying cash, exchanging local currency, or sharing credit card details.

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