7th Apr 2010 - 17th Apr 2010
Boobs, Bums and Beaches......Brazil!!
We're in Rio de Janerio!!!
Hi all. Apologies for the delay in communications, we have been having an amazing time here and havent had the chance until now to tell you all the stories. So let me begin.
The night on the airport floor was sleepless, for me, the only good thing was we finally used the roll mat I've been begrudingly lugging around - Amy found it very comfortable and slept like a baby, safe in the knowledge that I was on thief watch. As we flew into Rio we saw lots and lots of flooding but didn't really think anything of it until we landed and saw on the news that there had been a week of torrential rain which had caused widespread floods and landslides. What, with the earthquakes in Chile, the mudslides in Peru and now the flash flooding in Rio we felt like we were on a natural disasters trip! Maybe we should inform Argentina we're on our way!!! Our first impressions of Brazil were great. The city itself made such a change to Peru and Bolivia, no stray dogs, tarmac roads, normally clothed people, and Western shops and restaurants. Amy summarised it perfectly, "its like a completely different country!" - Quite! Once in the hostel we checked into our room and caught up on some much needed sleep. It was nice just settling down with Amy, but in a way, Sleepy Joe was missed!
Day 1 in Rio - Copacabana beach. If you've ever felt body conscious on Scarborough beach, Copacabana is not the place for you....and to be honest i'd probably miss out most of Rio! Forget the worlds most dangerous road or paragliding, undressing here was the most daunting experience we've had, the people are gorgeous! It appears there is a peculiar material shortage in Rio because for some reason bikini bottoms are virtually non-existent but do look like they would make good shoe laces. Hiccup and you could lose the thing! Amy didn't seem to mind it but I found it all quite vulgar and just didn't want to look.......!! The atmosphere on the beach was brilliant. Lots of games of volleyball, bat and ball, football matches, 'keep me ups'. I was itching to join in but felt safer keeping at least a 10 meter distance from these hunks so that Amy couldn't draw a direct comparison. Our beach day was rudely interrupted at about 4pm by a monsoon so we scurried back to the dry haven of our hostel and spent the night drinking 'Caipirinha's' - our new favourite Brazilian cocktail.
Day 2 in Rio - Ipanema Beach. Different beach, same scenario. We had another day just chilling on the sands of Rio and enjoying the waves. I had given Amy free reign of the vendors on the beach as her birthday present so she enjoyed shopping around for bikini's/ dresses/ jewellery and all the rest. She soon became a vendor magnet, politely saying "non obrigado" (no thankyou) with the mouth, but screaming "show me show me" with the eyes, or maybe they weren't listening at all and were just drawn in by the blonde hair, either way they were a permanent fixture for the day. It didn't rain till 4.30pm today, but rain it did. This time armed with pancho we escaped once more to the hostel.
Day 3 in Rio - Christ Redeemer attempt. We had already heard before we came, and saw once we arrived, that the iconic 'Cristo Redentor' statue was covered with scaffolding (or as an American guy said to us, "JC has got his clothes on") because they had found a crack in it whilst doing repairs but none-the-less we thought we should go up for the view. After an hour long bus journey (the traffic in Rio was a nightmare because of the flooding) we arrived at the bottom only to be told that there had been a mudslide blocking both the tram tracks and the road up and there would be no access for 10 days. First Macchu Picchu, now 'JC'!!! (We're going to Iguassu Falls next so we are expecting drought!) On the way back we stopped off at Lapa and got a picture next to the 'Escadaria Selaron' - a big set of tiled steps made famous by its appearance in a popular rap music video.
Day 4 in Rio - Maracana Stadium. What I had been looking forward to since I arrived. Today we got the opportunity to watch a football match at Maracana Stadium - the worlds biggest. We had met some Israeli's in the hostel so we were a group of 8. We got the metro to the stadium and as soon as we got off you could feel the atmosphere. The match was the semi-final of the Rio state cup, Flamengo vs Vasco - an intense intercity rivalry. Inside the stadium and we were awestruck, the place was huge and the atmosphere electric. We were sat on the second tier in the middle of the pitch, the white seats for the neutral fans. To our left was the Vasco supporters, the right Flamengo. The hardcore fans stand in what is called the 'popular' and it was a bigger event watching them enter the stadium than it was the teams. They came out with huge flags on poles and then they had huge flags which they pulled down over themselves. The attendance was not massive, but still, the noise made from the fans was crazy. Fireworks and flares, glitter and streamers, all added to the buzz. It was brilliant. The match finished 2-1 to Flamengo. The metro back was an experience in itself. It was like a scene from the film 'Football Factory'. Just as we got on the carriage a group of about 20 hooligans came running on followed by the same number of police who surrounded them once inside. They were loud but didn't seem too threatening. But as we approached the first stop it became clear there was a massive group of the opposing fans waiting for them - the platform was a sea of red. The doors opened and all hell broke loose, but the police controlled it very well. Huddled in a corner we got quite a good view, but Amy was very scared. We disposed of the hooligans at the next stop and the rest of the journey was very pleasant. Off the metro and Amy met the second love of her life (presuming I'm the first) - a snack from the street vendors called "churros". Its like a long, tubular donut filled with hot melted chocolate - quite incredible.
Day 5 in Rio - Sugar Loaf Mountain. The clearest morning we had experienced so far so we set off to enjoy the best view over the city at 'Pão de Açúcar' (Sugar Loaf Mountain), another icon of Rio. A cable car up to the first mountain and another up to Sugar Loaf. The views were amazing, and we'd picked a great day to do it. The mountain is covered in jungle too so we also got the chance to see more monkeys - again very good at pickpocketing, or stealing food from your plate! In the evening we went back to Ipanema beach to have some beers and watch the sunset. We stayed there for dinner and then into the night. Good day all round.
Day 6 - Ihla Grande. Today we headed out of Rio and down the coast to an island called Ihla Grande. We'd timed it so that we could be here for Amy's birthday. The transfer was worthy of a Bradford family day out. 15 seats, no boot, and 14 people all with backpacks. I thought the driver was going for some kind of Guiness World Record as a side project. It felt quite full with 8 of us, so when we stopped off at the last hostel and 6 new recruits turned up it got silly. All the bags were removed, all the people in, and then the bags were crammed on top of anyone in an aisle seat. We were buried in a sea of backpacks, so it was quite ironic and borderline hilarious when the driver pulled over after 2 hours to see if anyone wanted to get out for a drink - how were we supposed to do that! When we arrived on the island (and for any viewers of "Lost" it was just like 'the island') the trauma of the transfer was forgotton - we had arrived in paradise. White sandy beaches, blue seas, surrounded by the backdrop of amazonias jungle. "I think we are going to like it here". We checked into our hostel, an 8 bed dorm overlooking the bay. That night we enjoyed a BBQ party at the neigbouring hostel.
Day 7 - Ihla Grande. We headed off on a boat trip to see the 'Blue' and then the 'Green' Lagoons. The boat ride was good and there was a very lively atmosphere. When we arrived at the 'Blue' Lagoon (not an awful lot more blue then the rest of the sea) we got off and did some snorkelling. This was brilliant - I mean the fish were good, but watching Amy was better. She produced swimming strokes which I have never seen before...in fact I'm pretty sure if she named them she could claim them as her own. And you really have to see the face thats pulled when she somehow manages to get her mask filled up with salt water - on regular occasions. Goggles skew-whiff on the face, snorkle up the nostrel - "J, J, I've got salt in my eyes I've got salt in my eyes" - clearly whilst trying to tread water myself I would be able to resolve the situation - and besides I was too busy laughing to be of any use at all. I actually viewed it as somewhat of an acheivement that within the next 10 minutes of being in the sea Amy became the first and only person on the boat to lose, yes lose, the snorkle! So as our fellow snorkellers and seagoers enjoyed the tropical fish, turtles, and other exciting sealife, I spent half an hour searching for a black plastic tube! How exotic! The 'Green' Lagoon was blue also - but gave us the chance to spend a good amount of time seeing the fish. We even had time for Amy to teach me some of her unique swim strokes. We both had a good laugh and boarded our boat - back to Ihla Grande. That evening we enjoyed a nice meal with some people we had met on the trip.
Day 8 - AMY's BIRTHDAY!! The 8 bed dorm didn't seem quite fitting for birthday celebrations and present givings so I surprised Amy with a double room in a nice hotel on the beach. We packed up and moved over there. It was a brilliant present of choice because I got to enjoy it too!! We then headed to 'Lopes Mendes' beach (the 2nd best beach in Brazil and in the top 10 in the world - or so it was advertised) and it was amazing! Just because we didn't feel self conscious enough getting into swimshorts and bikini's (respectively) we decided to hire out a surfboard and really make ourselves look stupid. But we had a LOT of fun whilst doing so. Amy produced a rare moment of photographic genius and managed to capture 5 shots of me looking like I'm standing up on the board when I hardly managed to get up at all. Back at the hotel and we enjoyed the luxury of our own room and the balcony. I got hold of a birthday cake and some candles and displayed all Amy's birthday purchases on the bed. We had beers and crisps on the balcony watching the sunset (very romantic) and headed down the beach to a fish restaurant we had picked the day before. A lovely meal, a lot of Caipirinha's and a funny stumble home!
Day 9 - 16th April, officially Amy's least favourite day of the year - made equally worse with her stinking hangover. I on the otherhand, no longer under the control of the phrase "...but its my birthday week" was quite jovial. We enjoyed an amazing breakfast in the hotel, our last slice of luxury before heading back to Rio. The transfer took longer on the way back but we had one less person in the van and I think less luggage because it was a much more comfortable experience. In the evening we went to a street party in Lapa with our friends from the island - a group of 10 (safety in numbers). We had been given safety warnings about Lapa on a night but also told it was an absolute must so Amy took off all her jewellery and I kept the money in a safe breast pocket on my shirt. Our friends did the same. All we had in our pockets was maps and some of the guys had lighters. As it happens it was a good job we did - on this one stretch of the street party a girl came up and danced with me while her accomplice raided my pockets. These pickpockets would rival the monkeys at the eco-lodge in Bolivia! When we got through this patch it turned out 3 of the other guys had also been raided, their pockets stripped but only of the maps and lighters. Apart from this experience it was the best night out of our trip so far. Lapa is absolutely buzzing and the street party was something neither of us had ever experienced before. It was also nice to know that there was now a good few favela kids with a sound idea of how to get around Rio!
Day 10 - Favela tour. A 5.30am taxi back to the hostel last night resulted in a very long lie in, which was only brought to an end by our 11.30 meet for the Favela tour. I had read and heard a lot about the favelas in Rio so was really looking forward to going inside one, although a little nervous. The favelas are basically the slums that surround Rio, of which there are approximately 700 - accomodating over 1.5 million people. They are controlled by gangs who make their money from drugs. The violence that is often associated with the gangs comes when they clash with the police. We were dropped off at the bottom of a favela called 'Rocinha' - the largest favela in Rio with a population of 200,000 people. Rocinha is controlled by the gang ADA (Amegos dos Amegos - friends of friends). From the bottom we each jumped on the back of a motorbike and got a hair-raising ride to the top, through all the narrow and winding favela streets. We were then guided through the favela back down to the bottom. Gangster graffiti was everywhere, bullet wholes in the walls evident, young kids with weapons and drug dealers were common place yet bizzarely it felt very safe. As the guide explained - contrary to media portrayals the favelas are not a dangerous place to be unless your a policeman (the police are considered the biggest gang in Rio!!). In fact there are serious punishments for anyone caught stealing from the 'gringo's' because they bring so much money into the favelas, and take the most drugs out! The guide would tell us where and when we could take pictures and the whole trip really was quite an experience. We did quite a lot of walking but were fuelled with adrenaline. Back in the safety of our hostel we went out to Ipanema for some food and then back to the room (which is where I write from now) to catch up on some much needed sleep.
The plan from here is as follows - Tommorrow we have tickets to go and see the FINAL of the Rio state cup, Flamengo vs Botafogo except this time we are going to get a minibus there and back instead of chancing it with the hooligans on the metro. From there we are going to Iguassu Falls, the Brazilian side first and then the Argentinian side. From here we head to Buenos Aires, possibly our finally location in South America!
I hope this essay hasn't bored you all! A lot of days have passed and a lot of stories to tell.
We have absolutely loved our time in Rio, it's the longest time we've stayed in one place and we really feel like we have got to know the place!
Missing and thinking of you all.
J and A
(The sexiest gringo's in Copacabana!)