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Gone walkabout

Brazil May 2014

BRAZIL | Thursday, 5 June 2014 | Views [1727]

After returning to Australia for 6 months over the Summer we have hit the road again. With no actual plan we land in Sao Paulo, Brazil - a city that has nearly  the same population as our entire country (22 Mil) - and it was proving to be a bit of an obstacle to our relaxed idea of travel so we stayed the night in the airport until the buses opened at 6 and were whisked away by 7 am. 

After 36 long hours we head for the coast to a lovely Colonial Coastal town called Paraty. Ankle breaking cobblestoned streets that double as giant drains when the tide comes in paired with really lovely beaches.

A great day out at Trinidade where a hike along the beach took us to huge natural rock pools. A few beers in the beach bars with our South African friends watching Brazilians party finish off a lovely day. 

The whole coast line between Ubatuba and Rio is called the Costa Verde and is quite a spectacular drive. Our lack of Portugeuse is no real hindrance, even fluent Spanish speakers are struggling so our non verbal communication and our  Spanglish gets us by. Its amazing how easy it is to order a beer anywhere in the world.

Next stop is Ilha Grande, a huge protected Island with no motorised transport. The hundreds of stunning white sand beaches, clear clean water, even surf are connected by beautiful challenging trails through the Atlantic rain forest. The trails are magnificent and there are many large & small chunks of crystals to be found along the paths. We even get to swim in a beautiful waterfall.

We spend five days exploring trails, trying to improve our fitness, swimming, reading, taking a boat and enjoying a Caprinha or two ( the national drink of Brazil…consisting of Lime, sugar, ice and the local white rum called cuchaca). Our pousada (Guesthouse)  has a great breakfast which includes mountains of cakes so we stock up for the day and although Brazil is twice as expensive as any other country we have visited we use some our old tricks and avoid the expensive waterfront bars, by buying beers in the supermarket and enjoying them on the beachfront, following the locals who are watching futbol on the TV screen at the bottleshop under our window.

 

Time to leave this little paradise and head for that long dreamed about, top of the bucket list city of Rio de Janiero. Travel is a funny thing, everyone has their own expectations and the internet has presented us with so very many opinions and warnings. I love to get hints and tips but am always reading between the lines when people “Advise”….I think if you have always wanted to visit somewhere you must do it, don't listen to dangers or annoyances but keep them in the back of your mind and stay street smart. We have been robbed in the safest locations and in Rio although there is definitely a very very sleazy and dangerous side, most tourist areas are well policed and protected. We fall in love with the scenery, the energy the Vida loca.

Arriving at our Air bnb apartment, we meet Christopher our American host who is starting up a sportswear company in Brazil. We soon discover he has a perfect market, we walk two blocks to Copacobana and witness hundreds of Carioca (local Rio inhabitants) enjoying their jog, walk, futvolley, you name it they are on the beachfront enjoying it. We walk, share a bucket of beer and pinch ourselves …we are in RIO. 

Rio has always conjured thoughts of parties, festivities and scarcely cladded beautiful people parading on the beaches. But, things are not that rosy here in Brazils Carnivale capital. With the 2014 soccer World Cup a few weeks away and the 2016 Olympics around the corner, a growing unease of social unrest is unfolding. So much money is being spent to host these sporting events, that most people feel there is nothing left to provide essential public amenities for the people, especially those in need, the poor.

I ask locals on their thoughts on the upcoming World Cup and I get the same response. " a waste of money" and if Brazil don't win, run for cover!

The divide between the rich and the poor is highlighted when you look at the urban sprawl of Rio from one of the magnificent lookout points. The famous white beaches, the endless coastline and waterways, the city high rise buildings. Then look around all the hills and you see thousands of small ugly brick and concrete boxes housing millions of poverty stricken locals . 

So we  decide to get a closer look at this side of Rio and hire a local guide named Rodrigo. He is 24 and recently started his small tour business, taking people into his home territory, Rocinha, a typical Favela, perched on the side of a hill overlooking the sights of the city. A few years ago it would be unsafe to venture into these areas, but since the police “pacification” campaign the favelas are a much safer for the outsider. Rodrigo takes us to his mother and fathers house, through the hidden lanes, passing locals going about their day to day lives. we walk through a narrow lane only 1 metre wide and come across 2 guys playing samba on home made drums made from old 20 litre oil cans. The rhythmic beat of the drums draw a small group of young girls from their hidden doorways to start dancing to the beat. It is mesmerising. Music and dance plays such an integral and historic part of these people lives.

 

Rodrigo explains the recent violent history of the favela. Drug lords were, and in some way still today, in control of the favelas. Gun battles were common amongst gangs. If you got in the road of the drug lords you could end up in the “microwave”. Rodrigo distinctly remembers seeing smoke come from the hillside during his youth. Somebody being executed placed inside a stack of tyres and set alight. Not only was life tough in the favela, it was very dangerous. 

This contrast’s so distinctly with the magnificent twin lookouts of the Corcovada, or Christo as he is fondly named and Sugar loaf. We set off by Public bus the first morning to see Christo it is a brilliant day but by the time we ascend the mountain by train the cloud has blocked the wonderful view. So we take funny photos, stare open mouthed at the huge Statue guarding the city and wait and wait for the cloud to lift.

 

It didn't so we head back to Copacabana and by the time we go to Sugar Loaf there’s not a cloud in the sky, its balmy and a perfect Rio evening…..perfect for sunset.

We explore the city on the great public transports systems. There is a free walking tour of the city (they are never free but you pay by donation or tip) and wander past beautiful old buildings, see the Arches and Lapa steps ( a chilean artist spent his last 20 years covering the steps outside his home, he was found dead on the steps covered in paint thinner .

That night we decide to head back to Lapa, the suburb in Rio famed for the night life. Here, people congregate in the square and along the streets outside bars and bottle shops, all drinking copious amounts of beer and capiriahanas (local rum lime and sugar) . The atmosphere on the streets starts to build as the night goes on. Musicians start everywhere, and we are soon inside a low key restaurant watching old time Brazilian “musos” playing cool music. Before we know it the locals get up from their tables and start to dance. Samba is the dance here. Its a really fast Latin dance. They are good dancers, I mean really good, and so natural. We haven't got much choice but to join in. Didn't quite have the same moves as the locals but got away with it some how. When they started the Conga line around the restaurant we joined in before retreating to our table, both of us sweating heaps and ordering more beer to quench our thirsts. Brazilians really know how to party, and they do it regularly, always coming back for more! We manage a beach day, people watching at Ipanema our local beach and keep pinching ourselves ..We are in Rio. 

The food here is interesting. There are a lot of per kilo buffet restaurants so you pay for what you eat. Keeps you honest and you are less inclined to waste food, just choose what you want. Oh and by the way they eat cake for breakfast…….lots of cake everywhere. 

Our 24 hour bus South to Foz to Iguazzu is uneventful and we manage to catch some sleep.  We have had a taste of Brazilian culture and experienced the passion of its people, its an immense country but every bit as expensive as Australia to travel in, we have experienced what we wanted to and although it would be amazing to stay for the world cup the prices are prohibitive. After checking out the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls (we will talk about the falls in the next blog) we cross the border into Argentina knowing it's going to get colder as winter looms. Hope we've got enough warm clothes!

Tags: beaches, christo, corcovada, foz de iguacu, iguassu falls, ilha grande, paraty, rio, rio de janiero, sugar loaf

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