The focus now is the World Cup, next June and July. “We’re uniquely positioned to help a few clients,” says Frankenberg, adding that it’s not too late to book—yet. A number of Matueté’s apartments and villas in Rio and beyond are still available, and organizing top-end VIP World Cup experiences people can’t find elsewhere is a top priority.
I road-tested Matueté for a day in Rio last month (as the company’s guest), asking for help selecting a hotel and a day to see the city in a way I couldn’t on my own. My trip planner steered me toward the intimate Santa Teresa, which turned out to fit perfectly with my predilection for quirky, romantic small hotels, and set me up with a terrific, experienced guide who has been with Matueté since nearly the start, as well as the mobile phone numbers of two staffers who would be able to help 24/7.
I mentioned to Frankenberg that I like to exert myself, and he suggested a 20-kilometer bike ride—Rio’s roughly 60 kilometers of bike paths, mostly along its glorious beaches, turn out to be a brilliant way to explore the city—followed by a climb up Sugarloaf. Many Brazilians I met on a three-week trip around the country didn’t know it was possible to do this, and my guide told me it’s something about 1% of tourists do—but local climbers love it, going up dozens of routes, from the beginner-friendly one Matueté typically uses, to challenging ascents up sheer rock faces.
Sadly, my big climb got rained out, but my guide improvised smoothly and got us up on the cable car, then partway back down on a hiking path. And the bike ride was still a go, as he had an extra rain jacket in his backpack and was game to get wet.
From there we drove uphill to a favela—an outing about which I was dubious, being uncomfortable with the idea of “slum tourism” after some experiences that felt like being taken to a petting zoo. This one turned out to be the opposite, as it wasn’t to see the slum but to see an amazing art project that took root there—and represented Brazil in the 2007 Venice Biennale. Local kids started the project, a 320-square-meter model of a favela made of bricks and other found materials, and one has stayed on as director, even as his Morrinho Project has achieved NGO status and art-world glory and its leaders have traveled the globe. He gave me a private tour of the uplifting mini-cityscape.
The day concluded with an outing to hear salsa at a Monday-night street party in Pedra do Sal—the birthplace of samba, near the port, where African immigrants from Bahia first settled Rio in the 17th century—with Matueté staffers. This wasn’t the high-end clubs of Lapa, but a congregation of locals swaying on the streets, sipping Brahma beers in cans and caipirinhas in plastic cups. The energy, reality and vitality of the scene, and the feeling that I was just about the only tourist there, turned out to be a far greater luxury than any perfectly-mixed cocktail at a swanky nightclub.