Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Day 251 - Last day in Rio!

Rio De Janeiro - Ibis Hotel

Today's plan was to head to Santa Teresa, a suburb on a hill near the centre of town. We had read about the tram that goes there, so we went to the tram station to find it was closed. We thought it was because of Carnaval, but we later discovered that six people had died last year when the tram rolled and the line had been closed ever since.

We then tried to get a taxi, but the driver wouldn't take us and told us to walk there - so we did. Getting to the base of the hill was easy, but there was a long climb up the winding road to the top of the hill. Of course, we passed a street party on the way as well!

We walked back to the hotel, went out for dinner - we finally managed to find a decent restaurant near our hotel on our last night in Rio - and then back to the hotel to pack for the long trip home.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day 250 - Beatles in Brazil

Rio De Janeiro - Ibis Hotel

Our late night last night needed a sleep in, but once we finally managed to get up we decided to attend one of Rio's famous street parties, Sargento Pimienta - or in English "Sergeant Pepper" - a Beatles themed street party.

We thought we knew where it was, so we hopped on the Metro and disembarked at what we thought was the closest station. An hour and a half later, after walking along a very nice, but suspiciously empty path along the waterfront opposite the Rio Yacht Club, with views of Sugarloaf, we finally spotted the edges of what must have been the party crowd.

The party was huge - thousands of people were there, all dressed in their Carnaval attire (we had our wigs but had removed them because of the heat), drinking and dancing (mainly drinking) to the strains of Beatles tunes played by a Brazilian band on top of a truck. We stayed there for a while, listening to some of the strange pronounciation of Beatles lyrics, before deciding to leave and head for Copacabana (via the nearest station to the street parties - which meant we had walked three metro stops from where we had originally got off!).

We sat by the beach and had a drink (yes, more caipirinhas), then back to Centro and a restaurant near our hotel for dinner.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Day 249 - Parade time

Rio De Janeiro - Ibis Hotel

Today we hopped on the southbound train and decided to follow the crowds. Everyone got off at Ipanema and headed for the beach, so we did too, stopping off at the Sunday "Hippy Market", which was really just another tourist market. Everything here was quite expensive and noone was particularly interested in serving or bargaining.

The beach was packed, never before have we seen a beach so crowded, it was difficult to see a patch of sand (or pale skin for that matter). We walked the stretch from Ipanema to Copacabana, stopping for lunch beachside on the way before heading back to our hotel for an attempt at a nap, as tonight is our night to visit the Sambadrome, the event goes all night, starting at 9pm and finishing around 6am.

We walked to the Sambadrome, there were plenty of police everywhere so we felt completely safe. Talking to other people in the stands, we found some of them had horrid trips of over two hours trying to get there so we were lucky we were close enough to walk.

There are six samba schools on each night and they perform for 80 minutes each with an interval between each group, and each school has 8 floats with thousands of participants, the floats vary from being massively  over the top to more ordinary.  Every school is started with a fireworks display, the money spent on the whole extravaganza is mind boggling!

To our surprise the dancers came in all shapes, sizes and ages, as well as the types of dancers you'd expect, all decked out in their amazing costumes, there were also older and less fit people who did little more than walk around waving their hands in the air, and some that looked like old ladies who'd just come from church.

Initially the spectacle was amazing, the colours, sound and movement creating a magnificent display, and some of the floats were incredible, but after sitting through about four schools it all started to blend in together, and the musical theme for each school is a single song repeated over and over and over and over and over and over ...... so after about 5 hours or so, at 2.45am we decided we had seen enough and walked back to our hotel, alongside some of the performers still in their costumes. On the way back, we had to make our way  through a very large crowd of possibly gay men, based on the numbers of male couples making out all over the place .....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Day 249 - Redeemed

Rio De Janeiro - Ibis Hotel

Off to see the famous Christ the Redemeer statue this morning. It is massive, 30 meters high and can be seen from many parts of Rio looking down over the city. We started off with the metro, then a bus to get to the train that goes up the mountain to the statue. We arrived at the train at 9:30am to find a sign saying the next available train was 11.20 - you have to be joking! Standing around the entrance were taxi and mini van drivers hassling for your business so we took a mini bus to the next stop. From here we had to buy our tickets for the statue and get on another bus to go to the lifts and then finally take some escalators to the top. By now there were many tour groups and our early start had turned into quite a marathon of travel. The views from the top were extraordinary giving a really good idea of the layout of Rio with the bays, mountains and islands.

The statue is as amazing as you would expect, it must have been such a huge feat to have it built and erected all those years ago.

We then caught the train to Copacabana, we were feeling a little left out because almost everyone was dressed up in some way, so we each purchased a bright wig, which made us blend in with everyone else rather than than the opposite!

Copacabana was more of what we expected with beach side bars and restaurants on both sides of the road, so we walked along the promenade along with thousands of other people, and enjoyed an afternoon in the sun and dinner by the beach, before taking in the huge street party near our hotel, we later read in the news that 2.2 million people had attended the party that day, with only a handful of public urination arrests (but obviously not enough, because by the end of the day it was smelling pretty bad in some areas, and you had to be careful where you stepped!)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Day 248 - I go to Rio

Salvador to Rio de Janeiro - Ibis Hotel

We arrived at our hotel at 6am so were very lucky that we could check in so early. After a nap we headed off to pick up our tickets for Carnaval. They have a strange system where the only way to collect your tickets is to line up at the office, needless to say it was very busy and the set up quite crazy but eventually we had our very, very expensive pieces of paper in our hands.

After depositing them in our safe we decided to walk to the Sambadrome, where the parade is held to check out whether it was feasible to walk there on our own. Everyone hears so many crazy stories re safety and muggings so we are always on high alert to try not to put ourselves in tricky situations. Walking down the street three men walked towards Mike split to each side as one said "mi amigo", and went for M's shirt pocket - which was empty - lesson learned from Zambia!

We arrived at the Sambadrome to find lots of people working on the set up and absolutely no security! We wandered through Section 9 where our seats were to be, then walked onto the runway, walking the full length to the end, bizarre!! It's difficult to imagine any other place where you could enter a major event site two days before.

From there we caught the train to Impanema and walked along the beach front, it was a little dissapointing as the buildings facing the beach were very old ugly highrises, not the bars and restaurants we had expected, these were all a few blocks back.
We caught the metro back to where we were staying, and visited the Rio De Janeiro Cathedral, which from the outside looks nothing like a church. After that we headed out for a dinner, but every single restaurant in the downtown area that we wanted to go to was shut at 8pm on a Friday night! In desperation we ended up eating at our hotel, though if we had gone further afield (e.g. to the beach area) we could have found something..

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Day 247 - A lazy beach day

Salvador - Mar Brasil Hotel

As Carnival in Salvador commenced today, our room at La Villa Francaise had been reserved before we made our booking, so we moved to a new hotel on the beach near Farol Itapua, which was also near the airport, as we were flying to Rio very early the next morning.

The atmosphere here was totally different to Barra - no crowds, just a nice beach with beach umbrellas, and stands where drinks and food were available. We walked along the beach for a while, and almost went for a swim, but by the time we returned to the hotel, changed into our bathers, and returned to the beach it had become overcast and the water wasn't as inviting as is had been when the sun was beating down.

We spent some time on the beach drinking caipirinhas, then a little more time by the hotel pool, before trying to get some sleep for our very early morning flight (3am).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Day 246 - A small taste of Carnival

Salvador - La Villa Francoise

We explored more of the area around out hotel today, taking a walk further along the beach, and to the nearby fort. The street was a hive of activity, as Carnival officially starts in Salvador tomorrow, so stands were being constructed in preparation.

In the evening we headed back into Pelourinho to see a traditional dance show, we arrived early so we sat in the square drinking caipirinhas as the sun went down.The dance show was OK, it managed to hold our attention for an hour or so, but we've both decided that we probably don't need to see any more traditional dance shows - ever!

We took the bus back to Barra, but progress slowed to a crawl as it came to a huge street party. As we were walking distance from our hotel, we hopped out of the bus and made our way through the crowd, past groups of people dancing, drinking, singing, and just having lots of fun, we had no idea this was going to happen tonight, but it gives us a bit of an idea of what to expect in Rio.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Day 245 - On the buses

Salvador - La Villa Francoise

Our hosts at our hostel gave us a rundown after breakfast on what to see and how to get around Salvador, so today we tackled the local buses, made a little more difficult than usual as we didn't have a map.

We were hoping to stop at the local market first, but although we asked the bus driver to let us know when we arrived, we ended up going too far. A little confused we left the bus, decided to skip the market and we walked the rest of the way to the Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim. This was an interesting church - the outside fence was covered with coloured wish ribbons, and inside it had a room where people would leave letters, prayers,  photos and even replicas of body parts as offerings to help the recovery of a loved one from sickness.

We braved the buses again, this time hopping off at the market we had planned to visit earlier, but of course it was closing by this time so we didn't look around. Back on the bus to Mercado Modelo in middle of town, a quick lunch and some souvenir shopping, then onto the elevator to take us up to the historic centre. .

The old town (Pelourinho) had cobblestone streets, churches, squares, and old restored buildings - and this also meant there were lots of tourists and lots of souvenir shops (which of course K couldn't resist). There was also a lot of work going on setting up seating and stages for Salvador's Carnival which was to start on Friday.

We finished the day back in Barra where our hostel was, we walked along the waterfront and had dinner looking out over the Atlantic Ocean.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Day 244 - Just travelling

Manaus to Salvador - La Villa Francoise

Another day of travelling, Brazil is a large country so flying is the preferred option, of course with flying a lot of time is wasted waiting around at airports. This was a two stage flight, stopping briefly in Brasilia before continuing to Salvador, and we finally arrived at our pousada around 10pm.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Day 243 - Back to civilisation

Manaus - Go Inn

The last day of our jungle trek and another boat trip, this time to visit a local family to see their two room house (which sleeps 9 people), and see how they prepare the locally grown crops for their own use. The family sleep in hammocks in one room while the other room is the kitchen area. We were able to try some of the fruit grown at the house, learn about how cyanide is removed from the manioca root that is part of their staple diet, and also endure the screams of one of our fellow travellers who stepped on an ants nest.

We were due to head back to Manaus after lunch (which included the piranhas we caught yesterday, though the fish were so small and thin that once they were cooked all that was left was skin and bones!), however we were delayed as the dirt road that we travelled on to get there was washed out, which meant a different route back. We boarded a very large boat with an upper deck and chairs for our two hour ride back along the Amazon, before jumping into a van for a while, then another boat ride past the meeting of the waters (as rain poured onto K via the side window) and finally back to our hotel in Manaus.

Overall the weather was much more pleasant in the jungle than in Manaus, as the rain helped to keep the temperature down, and plenty of deet also meant that we survived with only a few insect bites, only time will tell whether our anti malaria meds were worth taking - but they haven't failed us yet in any of our other trips..