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Brazil

Brazil – Rio (City & Beaches)

rain 20 °C
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After a couple of really good days we booked onto a full day city tour. They always end up being a hassle free way to get around to the main sites. We got the hotel reception to book this one. It ended up being not the best tour we have ever been on, but we still got to see most of the things we were after.

First stop on the bus ride around town was the cathedral. Built, in the 70’s, it looked like it had come from the 70’s. Not the most attractive building we have ever seen, but it does get bonus points for some originality. It has a 96m diameter at the base and shaped like a large cone. The bus hung around here for 10 minutes and we were happy enough to move onto the next site.

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The drive around the city streets were good though as we got to drive around some of the older central districts in Rio which had much more character than the high rise areas down at Copacabana.

We then had a few changes of bus on our way up the 710m peak of Corcovado, which is the standing ground for the Christ the Redeemer statue. A well known symbol of Rio these days, we had seen it sitting above the city on the way from the airport and again from the streets of Copacabana. My initial impression having seen it from a distance, was that it was smaller than I expected. But then again when I saw the Statue of Liberty from a distance I thought the same thing.

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The numerous bus rides up the mountain took us through the Parque Nacional da Tijuca which is the largest urban forest in the world at 120 sqkm. During the 1800’s almost all of the natural vegetation in this area was cleared for the coffee farms that were the prime export of Rio. The buildings up here still possessed the imagery of wealth from those days. The national park was replanted post the coffee plantations and now it definitely has rediscovered the jungle feel.

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A view out of the forest

When we were finally at the peak, the statue loomed high above us. It’s 40m high so at this point it’s a bit more impressive. It was extremely packed up at the top though, everyone doing their impression of the statue and laying on the floor to get the ideal angle. I joined in with the photo taking.

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Just a few people around

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While the statue was good to see, the views from this point was the most impressive thing. Looking down onto Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, the Lake and Joquei Clube, and Sugar Loaf in different directions. I certainly took my time to stand there and look out over the city and take in those views!

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We took another 3 busses back down from Cristo and took a quick stop at the Maracanã Stadium which is the home of football in Rio. Before the redevelopment that is currently going on in preparation for the 2014 world cup, this stadium used to hold 200,000 people for a football match. The biggest game in town is always the Fla-Flu match between Flamengo and Fluminense. At the moment with the redevelopment, which is putting in safety regulation seating and other FIFA specifications, the stadium is decreasing its capacity to 85,000 people

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The bus then took us for lunch at another buffet style pay per kilo place in the city. Lunch was included in the tour price, so I stocked up my plate.

The final stop was Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). It was around 4pm in the afternoon when we took the first cable car ride, so I was thinking that we might get some good sunset views as this is THE place to see the sunset in Rio apparently. There was a fair bit of cloud gathering at the peak though, so we were hoping that wouldn’t spoil the views.

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After a change of cable car, the top has the usual assortment of café’s and souvenir shops. The views were great though. There was a bit of cloud around to begin with but as the sun got lower the cloud made the views better. Unfortunately being on the tour we had to leave before the true sunset, but we were happy enough to have taking in some more spectacular views for the day.

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The next day we decided to walk over to Ipanema beach to spend a little while there. As it turned out we ended up spending the whole day on the beach again. Its just too easy to sit there and let the hours pass by with a bit of swimming and snacking from the beach sellers. It was a little cloudy and the ocean was definitely rougher. The water was still beautiful though

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Walking back at the end of the day, Copacabana was a lot less rough, I think its protected a bit by Ipanema. Most things we read said that Ipanema is the best beach in town, but Tanya and I both agreed that we preferred Copacabana. There were still some really impressive waves coming in and the surfers were out in force. We sat on the sand and just watched them for another 20 mins.

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Our final day in Rio was washed out, but we couldn’t complain as this was the first bit of rain we saw since leaving the UK. It also taught us a valuable lesson… Although we are in South America, rain still means rain. Going out in a shirt, shorts and flip flops still isn’t the best idea. We walked for miles in the rain in the direction of a shopping centre near the racecourse. Our philosophy, given it was a rainy day, was to spend it indoors keeping dry. Walking about 2 hours in the rain sheltering from the more torrential downpours didn’t really do much to help that philosophy. And to top it off the shops were a bit crap when you can’t exactly fit anything into the bursting backpacks…

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Rain Rain go away…

Our flight left at a reasonable time so we took the bus out to the airport now that we were completely comfortable with Rio. 18 Reals vs 80 Reals when we arrived, much more accommodating on our budget. I also picked up a pair of Havaianas on from teh supermarket near our apartment. Half price compared to UK and a good reminder of Rio for the rest of the trip.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – In terms of destinations for starting our world trip goes, Rio Rocks!!! Loved the sand, sea and sunsets. The favela tour was really interesting and the postcard views that we took in are already setting the bar pretty high. Oh yeah, regarding Portuguese, knowing a little Spanish doesn’t help much.

Tanya – I was not initially too excited about visiting Brazil, however waking up the next day and walking through a bustling markets that had set up in the square just outside our apartment lifted the feeling for me. This little square was also host to football games at night, dog walkers showing off their dressed up silly purebreds, men playing cards or chess and children playing – and this was before we got to the beach. Brazil exceeded my expectations, the scenery is stunning! I found it hard to believe there was a big city and 6 million people nestled between these enormous mountains, inlets and miles of beach.

Posted by dbgomes 08:09 Archived in Brazil Tagged brazil round_the_world Comments (1)

Brazil – Rio (Beaches and Favelas)

When my Baby Smiles at me, I go to Rio

sunny 31 °C
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It took us a couple of days to realise, but Rio is freaking awesome!!!!

This is some of what we read in the lonely planet before we got to Rio:
‘There’s no sugarcoating it, Rio sees a devils share of crime and violence. Don’t start off wandering around touristy areas in a jetlagged state, you’ll be an obvious target. Don’t walk along a beach at night. Beware of bogus taxi’s and especially any that already have another person in them’

After reading about all of the ‘Dangers’ and realising we were getting into the international airport after sunset, we were both expecting the worst with the taxi operators and thinking that we would be going hungry for the night given we were getting to our hotel in Copacabana in darkness. As it turns out we think that the information while sensible, is probably a little harsh. Our preconceptions have certainly been proven to be wrong.

So after realising that we would be getting into Rio after dark and our apartment was in upper Copacabana, we thought that spending 80 Brazilian Reals (about 40AUD/30GBP) on a taxi to our door rather than 8 Reals on a bus was better than walking around Copacabana with our big backpacks and being an obvious target. Although we weren’t too sure about taxi’s either and when we got approached by a bloke in the airport offering us a taxi, we were already a little defensive. After getting some cash at the airport and hiding it deep in our bags, the same bloke found us again so we agreed on 80 Reals (which our book said was the upper limit of what to expect to pay for a prepaid taxi) even after we tried to get the price down to 60 for a while before giving up.

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Oh no, sunset, we haven’t left the airport yet

After loading the bags into the taxi, I was a little worried when the driver pulled over in the taxi on the side of the road after leaving the airport. I was looking out the window waiting to see someone come out of the bushes to mug us within minutes of leaving the airport. Turns out he just needed to adjust something on his instrument panel. As we drove along I said to Tanya, ‘I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore Toto’ because the car journey was like no other I’ve been on. And that includes some crazy drivers in Greece and Italy that I’ve seen. Road rules don’t really exist, there are all people just wandering down the middle of the lanes on the highway selling food and drink to cars that are stopped in traffic next to lanes going full speed. The three lanes on the highway actually had 6 rows of traffic driving down them. Drivers were cutting in front of each other to get into the fastest moving lane. It was an experience in itself for sure!

The thing that really struck me when I stopped watching the traffic was how big Rio seemed. It was certainly bigger than I was expecting. Then again it does have something like 6.5million population, so I don’t know what I was expecting.

Thankfully, our taxi was not dodgy, and instead dropped us right at our apartments. We were staying in Rio for 6 nights so we ended up booking a private apartment to give us a bit of space for washing clothes etc. As it turned out we also had a little kitchen and dining room, so we ended up doing a few meals our self at the apartment so that we could try and stick below our budget.

At this point we were still very wary of our location deep in Copacabana and especially with it being night, but we hadn’t eaten since our lunch on the plane journey. After getting directions from the man at the desk to the closest restaurant, we walked cautiously through the local streets. We went to a ‘pay by the kilo’ restaurant, which are quite common in Brazil. They serve all kinds of food in a buffet style and you pay by the weight of your plate after filling it up. It was really nice, and we got back to the apartment without any trouble ready to explore some more during daylight hours.

So our plan for our first day in Rio was always going to be spending a day at the beach. With only a bit of cash on us and nothing valuable except our camera (following the advice of the lonely planet again), we headed straight down to the famous Copacabana beach strip first thing in the morning. WOW, this is what we came here for…

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Copacabana beach wasn’t jam packed (like Ipanema later in the week), but there were still a fair few people already sun bathing and walking along the beach. 4.5km of curving beach with high rises all the way along with towering granite peaks and hills behind. It’s safe to say we felt like we were on holiday!

After taking in the scenery in both directions, we hired an umbrella and chair from one of the many points on the beach and set up our position on the soft sand. We started to do a bit of people watching, which is quite something along the Brazilian beaches. Bikini’s don’t leave much to the imagination, and that’s the case for women of all shapes and sizes. The blokes are all pretty buffed and happy to walk around in a pair of small budgie smugglers. There were lots of people running along the beach and fitness is obviously pretty key to looking good down at the beach. There are gym stations placed every 50 meters along the path which were always in use when we walked past them.

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Sun bathing is taken to the next level here! They have electronic displays along the beach which show the sun intensity and also what factor sun lotion you should be using depending on your skin colour. Although I’m sure that the lighter skin tones are there purely for tourists, as the locals are amazingly tanned. There are also cooling mist sprayers dotted along the path for those hot afternoons.

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We settled into the beach ritual of sunbathing (well Tanya kept to the umbrella a bit more than me) for a while then going to cool off in the ocean before getting some sort of refreshment from one of the sellers patrolling the beach. These guys sell everything from hats, cigarettes, sarongs, skewered prawns, snacks, drinks, icecreams, bikini’s (or should I say floss). You never have to move off the beach all day! We brought a sarong to sit on, plenty of drinks and icecreams but by far the best thing were the fresh coconuts. Nothing more than the top of the coconut chopped off with a straw to drink the sweet water inside, definitely a highlight of the day on the beach.

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The waves were pretty good, and I enjoyed a fair bit of body surfing over the day. I also took the new waterproof camera into the water to make it earn its keep, and I was happy with the results, although these were the best from a few hundred that I took…

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After walking back along the beach and up to our apartment we couldn’t have picked a more relaxing way to start the trip, it was awesome!

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The next day we got up a bit too late to do a full day tour of the city, so we booked onto an afternoon Favela tour which we wanted to do anyway. We went back down to the beach and looked around the local shops to pass the rest of the morning.

We got picked up from our apartments at 2pm by Eduardo (that wasn’t his name but it was something like that) from the tour company who was taking us into a couple of Favelas that surround Rio. We hopped into the minibus and ended up being with 4 other blokes, 3 American and 1 Canadian. As we drove to Rocinha which is the biggest of the Favelas in Rio, Eduardo gave us an insight into the fact that most modern Favelas started in the 70’s when rural people moved to the big cities for work and more wealth, but when they couldn’t afford housing, they invaded the vacant land and set up homes. Under squatters rules in Brazil, once they had lived on this land for 5 years, they could not be removed. As more people and more generations came along, more houses were built on top of the existing places and the Favelas continued to grow. The Favelas are now associated with gangs and druglords who rule the streets.

The information that Eduardo gave us was really good, and he definitely tried to emphasise how the social demographics of Rio create the situation. The government tried to relocate the people to new areas created, however these new places were far outside the city and far from the peoples work. Understandably, no-one wanted to move to these places and subsequently the inner city Favelas are still growing.

Eduardo stressed to us the only thing was to avoid taking pictures while in the Favelas, except where he tells us its ok. At that point we got to the start of Rocinha which has some of the best views in Rio. We pulled up on the main street and hopped out of the minibus. We were introduced to some local people who were selling their works of art including paintings on old vinyl records and cds, creative 3d art made with matchboxes and old trash – if only we had more room in the backpacks. On the road and Eduardo explained some more about the buildings. Another interesting thing he pointed out was how the buildings are all cement and people expect them to be made just from tin and wood. He said they will start out like that, but actually many of the people who build all of the buildings in the nice part of the city live in the favelas, so they are skilled people who make their houses into what we see. We were allowed to take some pictures here also, but only of the view back to Rio. From here you can see Cristo Redentor, Sugarloaf Mountain and Lake Rodrigo de Freitas

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We then drove round to another spot higher in the Favela where we stopped again and walked through a car garage onto a rear terrace, here you could see just how big Rocinha was.

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We looked out over the unorganised sea of buildings as Eduardo explained more about the way the Favelas work and how Rocinha has built up over the years. It was a pretty impressive sight from that terrace! It was interesting to see the Favela stretching right next to some of the most expensive properties in Rio with the high-rises and millionaires golf course.

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We left the terrace and got out of the bus again deep in the Favela to walk through a few of the streets with Eduardo. He said we could take a picture of the electricity cable as this symbolises the Favela perfectly. The residents have hooked themselves up directly to the transmission cables and telephone cables to get their free electricity and phone as there is no proper infrastructure in Rocinha.

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It was again interesting to see doctors and opticians on the streets in the Favela. Its always associated with poverty, but Eduardo said that actually most of the citizens are working class along with a fair bit of money being around with the drug gangs. This means that professional people from outside the favela will set up businesses in the favela.

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We left Rocinha to go to a smaller Favela of Vila Canoas. This Favela is quite old and a lot smaller than Rocinha but the main difference is that the government has made steps to improve this Favela. There is basic infrastructure with sewerage and electricity meters as well as no problems with drug gangs here. We pulled up on the main street and on one side are big houses with high steel fences around them and on the other side the first houses and shops of Vila Canoas. Eduardo again pointed out that most of the people in the Favela work in the houses opposite and its convenient for both parties for the workers to be close to their work places.

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We visited a school which is partly funded by the proceeds from our tour. The children were playing in their afternoon recess and didn’t pay much attention to us wondering through their school. We then wondered through the labyrinth of alleys and passageways. We could take photos where we liked here as there are no troubles unlike in Rocinha.

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We left Vila Canoas looking at the Favelas in a different light. On the way back to the apartment we were driving along Ipanema beach so we got Eduardo to drop us off there so we could walk back while the sun was setting. The sunset along here was amazing…

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As we walked back into Copacabana we realised that maybe our initial apprehensions about Rio were a bit over the top. The beach was lit up and there were still people playing football and volleyball on the beach. Walking back to the apartment it was dark but yet there were families and lots of people walking round the streets. After such an enlightening day we both agreed that actually Rio is awesome!!!

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Posted by dbgomes 17:50 Archived in Brazil Tagged brazil round_the_world Comments (3)

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