Unfortunately I'm now writing this blog in grey, drizzly England...but don't worry I'm not going to write about that...just a catch up of my last few weeks in Brazil....
I think the last thing I wrote about was arriving in Ubatuba so I shall carry on where I left off!...I spent 2 nights in Ubatuba in a really quiet hostel near another beautiful beach! It was a really relaxing 2 days, just lying on the beach and swimming in the sea! Oh, and eating ridiculously fatty yet incredibly delicious crepes on the beach! While I was lying on the beach watching the world go round I started making a mental list of my observations of Brazil so far...unnecessary turnstyles everywhere, weird way of paying for food and drinks in bars and restaurants where they give you a check list thing to mark what you´ve had and then you pay....not the best idea in a club where everyone is getting drunk and losing the bit of paper and thus having to pay an extortionate fee (please note this did not happen to me), skimpy swimwear, weird food, weird language, mosquitos, beautiful beaches, so so hot = more sweat than you could imagine (nice), drinking acai, eating cheetos (their version of wotsits, healthy I know!)....I´m sure there will be more...
Then I went to Paraty, one hour from Ubatuba. Paraty (pronounced "Par-a-CHEE" in Portuguese) is a beautiful colonial town with lovely cobbled streets (not so lovely when tripping up in your flip flops). I found a really nice hostel right by the beach and spent my first afternoon there walking around the town, it really reminded me of Trinidad in Cuba. I joined in the hostel dinner on the first night and met a load of people from Leeds! It was quite strange hearing a strong Leeds accent after all these months! The next day was a great day, we got the bus 10 km out of town to an amazing waterfall that you can slide down like a proper waterslide! There are photos on here which will explain it further! The weather was beautiful and it was so much fun!
It poured it down on my second day there but we´d planned to go on a pirate ship to do a tour around all the islands. The tour is apparently a "must" for any visitor to Paraty so we decided to do it anyway and it turned out to be a hilarious and suprisingly fun day. There was a big group of us that had decided to go ("Team Rum" as we later called ourselves) and we had a choice of boats to go on....due to the horrendous weather there was an abundance of Brazilian boat owners wanting to take us out. However, we chose to go with "Fabio" as he'd been recommended to us. Fabio, or Fabs as he became known to us, was amazing. He was larger than life, literally, he was enormous. He played his guitar and sang for us the whole trip, only stopping to give us various facts on the islands we were passing....usually along the lines of "this is the most beautiful island in Brazil" or "this is the most expensive island"....we were sure he was just picking a random number and random adjective and stringing them together to make an interesting "fact". So, the day progressed, and the weather didn't get any better, despite one of our group's constant declarations of "It's definitely clearing up now", but this didn't dampen our spirits...again, literally, we sat under cover in the boat drinking rum, true pirate style! I think my favourite quote of the day was from Tom, my hilarious English friend..."....and there we were, sitting around drinking rum with two 21 year old Americans like it was the most normal thing in the world..." haha...We stopped off at several islands which I could tell would be absolutely beautiful if the weather was good. At each stop we took advantage of the upper deck of the boat and jumped off in to the sea...continually...it was so much fun, and surprisingly tiring. It was also pretty scary to start with as it was so high up!! While we were happily jumping off the boat, climbing back up, and jumping off again...etc etc....Fabs went off to engage in some "spear fishing"...I have an image of him ducking under the water, bum in air in his speedos, engraved in my memory forever. The fun didn't end there....after the constant jumping in the water we all got a little cold and fed up so we took refuge inside the boat. Inside the boat there were a couple of kids wearing life jackets and they seemed to be having the time of their lives....so we decided to join in....and the kids were right, it was fun! Who would have known that wearing a life jacket, running in to each other and blowing whistles could be so much fun! I'm sure the rum helped.....On our way back to our hostel after the incredible boat trip, we decided to carry on with the "jumping off things" and jumped off a bridge in to a muddy river....the locals were doing it so why not..."when in Rome etc...". So, finally back at the hostel, cold and wet....and there's a power cut!! I had a cold shower in the dark and then sat down to relax, thinking we had a boring night ahead of us....that wasn't the case! We found some ipod speakers, a supply of batteries, some candles and a beach house and had the funniest night ever! Infact, the funniest day ever! Who would've known that rain and no electricity could make for so much fun. Long live "Team Rum"!!
The next day it was raining, again. I didn't want to waste my last day in Paraty though so a few of us got the bus to "Trindade", just outside of Paraty...beautiful beach and cool little hippy town...but crap weather! In the evening, after another power cut, we went to a Jazz festival that was on in Paraty, brilliant! There was a rockabilly band playing all songs that we knew so we just danced like idiots all night! My 2 American friends, Devon and Mickey, were the tourist attractions of the night....their dancing attracted much attention and photo-taking from the locals!!
So, after 4 nights in Paraty, I went on to Ilha Grande, a beautiful island just South of Rio. Kobi, an aussie girl I met in Buenos Aires came to meet me in Paraty and we went to Ihla Grande together. So we left Paraty in the morning, and a bus and ferry later we were in Ilha Grande....still raining....in fact, it was awful when we arrived, I felt like I was at Glastonbury or something. As there are no roads on the island, just dirt paths, by the time I got to the hostel I was soaking and covered in mud. The hostel was an experience in itself. It appeared that every other backpacker had the same idea as us...a few days relaxing on the island before heading to Rio for carnival....as a result, the hostel had totally messed up the bookings. On our last night there, Kobi and I had to share a single bed, while dozens of other people slept in the kitchen, tv room, balcony...anywhere! The booking system wasn't the only bad memory of that hostel....the worst thing about it was the terrifying woman that worked there!! I walked in the kitchen one day just wanting to cook some "3 minute noodles" (they became my staple diet towards the end of my trip) and she just screamed "QUE PASAAAAAAA?!" at me! I'm sure she had a good heart but she scared the hell out of me. Anyway, hostel aside, Ilha Grande was beautiful. I spent 3 nights there....beaches, walks etc. Lopez Mendez, a beach on the other side of the island (a boat trip or long walk away), was beautiful - the clearest sea I've ever swum in. Paradise. The boat trip there wasn't quite as relaxing as the beach itself. I don't think I've ever been in such big waves in such a small boat before. I think we all actually feared for our lives at one point. Just a normal day in South America then!
So, with my trip coming to an end, I left Ilha Grande and headed off to Rio. It felt quite weird knowing it was my last stop before going home, and weirder still I was on my own. It was the first time in months I'd been on my own, not knowing who I was going to meet in Rio. As it turns out I met loads of great people in Rio, and also met up with members of the "Paraty Team Rum" so a brilliant time was had by all. I got to Rio a couple of days before carnival started so that I could do all the touristy things before the madness of carnival. I almost managed to accomplish this.
I don't have as many photos of Rio as I'd have liked as I was too scared to take my camera out a lot of the time. Rio isn't the safest place at the best of times, but during carnival it's even worse. Two hostels around the corner from mine were robbed at gunpoint, a couple of tourists were held hostage, my American mates were robbed by a girl in their hostel, someone had their entire big backpack stolen, a diabetic girl from my hostel had her insulin ripped off her belt, a couple of people had their cameras stolen....so I think I did quite well to only lose some suncream, a bottle of water and some pasta!!! So, scare stories aside, Rio was an incredible place. There was a great group in our hostel in Botafogo, so between them and my friends I made in Paraty, I had an amazing time. Amazing, yet exhausting, especially as our hostel was about 400 degrees and didn't seem to have heard of air conditioning. My one week in Rio cost what a whole month in Ecuador did, but despite this the room I stayed in was the worst room I stayed in in 5 months....tiny tiny room, 12 people, triple bunks, and no air conditioning! I wanted to hit everyone and everything in that room by the end of my time there.
So...Rio....on my first day there I got the train up to see the "Christ the Redeemer" statue...incredible views from the top, across the whole of Rio.....and in the afternoon I went to Copacabana beach! It has to be done! On my second day I packed a lot in....in the morning I went on a favela tour. I was against the idea of this at first as it seemed a bit wrong, but the money you pay for the tour goes in to helping families in the favelas so I decided to go...and I'm glad I did, it was so interesting. A car picked us up from the hostel and took us to the bottom of Rocinha Favela, the biggest favela in Latin America, with 200,000 people living there. From there I got a motorbike ride to the top of the favela...very fun and very dangerous as he swerved very quickly between buses without a helmet in sight. We then had a 3 hour walk down through the favela. We were told that we could take photos, but that if we saw anyone with a machine gun or a walkie talkie to put our cameras away!! After the favela tour I got the metro over to Lapa to see "Escadaria Selaron"...the famous steps by Chilean artist Selaron, as featured in one of Snoop Dogg's music videos, amongst other things. The stairs were so cool, and we met the artist himself. He lives next to the stairs and he's so proud of his work that I think he loves just sitting there chatting to all the tourists that come to visit. We went in his studio and bought some of his artwork, which he signed, and took the obligatory millions of photos, before heading back to our hostel. In the evening we sampled our first taste of the carnival, one of the pre-carnival "blocos"...a bloco is basically a street party. There's usually a band who move around the streets and the crowd follows. After the bloco we went back over to Lapa to see Manu Chao in concert. Brilliant day.
My third day in Rio and official start of carnival...spent the morning on Copacabana beach then went to the first of many blocos...this one was in Santa Teresa. Such an incredible sight - thousands of people filling the streets, all wearing great costumes. When this bloco came to an end, wen went over to Lapa to another one...it's ridiculous, there are blocos going on everywhere all the time. 24 hours.
Day 4 - major bloco day! Went to my first bloco at 9.30am...thousands and thousands of people there!
Day 5 - All bloco-ed out!! Carnival is incredible but I think there's only so much you can take. On my 5th day in Rio I just enjoyed relaxing at the hostel during the day! As you can go out anywhere at any time in Rio, there was always several people sleeping on the sofas in the hostel...either having just got in, or having a much-needed siesta! In the evening we went to the Sambadrome. The Sambadrome is where the actual carnival parade takes places and the tickets are usually quite expensive. The hostel was selling some cheap tickets so we decided to get dressed up and go, and it was amazing. The place holds nearly 90,000 and everyone was all dressed up and the atmosphere was brilliant. The costumes were amazing, and some of the floats were so high they had cranes there to help the dancers off them at the end!! It was like nothing I've ever seen before...I don't think the West Indian Carnival in Leeds will quite cut it with me anymore...
Day 6 - yet another bloco....
Day 7 - Lots of plans for the day but none of them worked out! Literally everything shuts down during carnival in Rio, the whole city stops...which is great if you want to party, but not so great if you just want to do normal things like eat or shop.
Day 8 - We decided to get the cable car up Sugar Loaf mountain to watch the sunset, which is meant to be amazing as you can see all across Rio, the Christ etc...unfortunately for us it was so cloudy we couldn't see a thing!!
Day 9 - Carnival over so can do things again! We got a cute little tram to Santa Teresa, "Old Rio". The tram took us up to the top of the area and then we walked back down the little cobbled streets taking tons of photos of the cool buildings, the grafitti, and all the Beetles and campervans! We then walked back down in to Lapa and visited the Metropolitan Cathedral - a huge cone-shaped building that looks like a space-ship...with amazing stained-glass panels inside!!
Day 9 was my last day in Rio, and my last day in South America, everyone waved me off in my taxi from the hostel.....the end of the best 5 months ever...