Rio, our final destination, begun with one of our busiest days. Taking a local bus to the bottom of Cristo Rendentor and being approached by a mob of minibus drivers we set off for our first viewpoint. The Cristo Rendentor is the famous towering statue of Jesus which overlooks the city and is shown in every postcard of Rio.
The view from the top was breathtaking and diverse; you could see both the coast and city centre aswell as Sugar Loaf mountain in the distance. After posing for pictures and trying to avoid the millions of tourists being in our photos, we returned to Ipanema in search of a healthy lunch which ended in McDonalds!
Panicking that we would miss the sunset, we hurried to Sugar Loaf mountain to take the cable car to the two viewpoints again revealing the beauty of Rio. Reaching Sugar Loaf, Emma and Jamie decided to leave the view until their final day and were unsure about going to the top due to the highly inflated price which Laura persuaded them was worth it!
Despite sunset occuring everyday, the other tourists felt the need to applaud as it set! As the sun sunk and slowly the lights appeared all over the city, both romantic and sensational, it was one of the best views from any city we have ever seen - we did not expect this in Brazil.
Descending in the cable car to the middle station, we watched a short film about its history where we learnt it has been used in a James Bond film and the world record for tight rope walking has been set there by a man with no harness! Hugely inspired by everything Rio has to offer, we also wanted to sample the nightlife, cramming it all in before Emily's departure. Being Saturday night we were told Lapa was the place it all happened - the samba street parties, good music and restaurants. Our dinner venue, seemingly small from the outside, was actually four storeys. After catching up on the latest from the Olympics due to the huge plasma screens situated around the restaurant, we ventured back out to hear the live music filling the streets. Thoroughly enjoying ourselves until we noticed a group of dodgy-looking guys (who were probably just drunk like everyone else) circle us and stare as we stood out being gringos, especially Laura's blond hair and pale skin in comparison to the locals. Terrified, Emma clung to Jamie and demanded we made a swift exit not wanting to find out if the dangers of Rio were true!
Thinking the previous day had been action packed, we had no idea how busy this day was going to be. Getting an early start three of us (us and Jamie) wanted to see Rio's divide between rich and poor so set off on a favela tour. Favelas, or slums, are commonly considered the most dangerous and poorest areas of Brazil and unlike other major cities where they are positioned on the outskirts, in Rio the 650 favelas are immersed within affluent areas and the city centre. The Government choose to turn a blind eye to the living conditions and, as a result, have no true idea of how many people live there, although it is believed 20% of Rio's population inhabit them.
Altough they can be seen on maps, they are not named and it is ironic that most plumbers and electricians descend from favelas and this is how they gain access to the cities water resources without paying. There is little robbery within the favelas, as there are no laws as drug barons run them rather than the police who have no authority. As a result of this the murder rate is significantly high. Rocinha was the first of two favelas we visited and is the largest in the whole of Brazil. Everything there is inverted and is situated on a hill overlooking the coast so the poor have a better view than the rich in the same neighbourhood. After meeting an artist who utilised rubbish as his materials, we walked to the local market which only opens on Sunday so we were lucky to have picked a good day. Shocked when walking through the market, our guide warned us that after a hand signal we were to stop taking photos as drug deals were occuring in the streets around us, emphasising the change of culture. The corruptness of Brazil's police was highlighted when were shown a private bank that two armed off-duty police had tried to rob but the drug barons in the favela were able to prevent. Entering deeper into the market, we were amused at a bunch of multi-coloured chicks that had been dyed and looked like toys to be sold.
Ending our first favela experience, we tried a sugar cane juice which we both found too sweet before moving on to Vila Canoas (the second favela)where en route our guide pointed out the favela from which the actors from City of God (Laura's favourite film, set in a favela) lived and still do today. This particular favela showed the division between rich and poor to a greater extent as one side of the road lay big expensive houses whilst the other had shacks and cramped, run-down housing. Visiting a local school project, funded by the tour, we found out that tragically many children leave school by age 9 to drug deal and their life expectancy is only 22 as they are normally murdered before this. It was an eye-opening experience to see the living conditions in the favelas rather than just hear the bad press that they receive. Both of these favelas are ranked 3 out of 8 on the danger scale (8 being the most dangerous) but we were informed this could change overnight.
The Maracana football stadium was our next stop of the day. Taking the metro there was surprisingly clean and efficient. Wanting to leave plenty of time to get to the Fluminense vs Atletico MG game which we thought started at 4pm, it was obvious when we were the only people outside the stadium that we were extremely early and upon further enquiry the game actually began at 6pm (a 3-hour wait!)
Sitting in the most rowdy stand we definately had the best atmosphere where the local fans adorn the seats with 30m flags and show their devotion for Fluminense banging on drums, cheering and setting off flares, completely unlike English football. We entered the footie spirit donning balloon hats and face paint of Fluminense colours, which led them to a 1-0 victory. Before the game we entertained our long wait by kicking balls into a net and being rewarded wth medals. Fluminense have few fans in comparison with Flamengo, who also play at this stadium. The match we attended had only 25,000 fans compared to 70,000 who normally attend Flamengo games but the noise was still overpowering.
Making another quick dash across the city, Laura, Emma and J got ready in 10 minutes for a favela funk party (on a tour) in Rio Das Pedras favela at Castelo Das Pedras (Castle on the Rock). The club was heaving with 4,000 people all out to party. Making it slightly safer for tourists to be mixing with locals, there was a VIP section upstairs where we witnessed an incredible dancer whilst Emma fell asleep on Laura's shoulder! (the demands of the day were taking their toll at 3am) We were all fascinated by the gyrating people especially the dance off on the front stage which demonstrated who could really "shake their booty!" Going downstairs to the dancefloor Adriano, a favela fella, gave Jamie thrusting dance lessons leaving the two of us in hysterics despite J's embarrassment. Our day concluded at 5.30am with the three of us completely shattered but happy to have made the most of our day.
Still desperate to cram more into our South American trip, we decided the most sensible activity would be to jump out of a plane at 10,000 feet. On arrival at a private airport, we were greeted with two portugese forms which upon questioning their relevance, we were told not to worry as they stated the skydive has a possibility of death. We hoped the company was just covering their backs as we signed our lives away! After a speedy briefing and finding out we would be jumping separately, Emma took the plunge first leaving Laura lots of time to think about family and friends she may never see again! After Emma waited on the runway for the plane to be wheeled out and oil levels checked, she clamboured aboard after a translator ensured she knew how to sit before jumping.
Meanwhile back at the deserted office, there was a knock at the door. Laura opened it and was slightly disturbed by the sight of a large policeman wielding a machine gun and felt relieved when he left without murdering her! For anyone that hasn't skydived, the feeling of freefalling for 40 seconds is completely indescribable especially with a view of all of Rio's sights and a coast to coast view completely unrivalled. Our dvds and photos only begin to capture the experience which will stay with us always. We had to laugh whilst playing back our dvds and realising the video man had managed to capture the sky, often without us in it!
Finally arriving back at the hostel two hours later than planned, we joined the others at Copacabana night market where Laura took great pleasure in selecting two huge canvases for her house and for a change Emma left empty-handed. As it was Emily's last night we took the opportunity to splash out on a tasty meal overlooking the beach. Deciding to be creative and unsure of what they fancied, the boys and Emily created a steak and chips pizza before listing every peculiar food and talking of starting their own restaurant. We won't hold our breaths!
Our last three days were spent majorly chilling on Ipanema beach and soaking up the last rays of sun trying to forget the weather in store for us in England. Whilst Laura and Dan happily sunbathed, Emma and J played like little children in the sea, surfing waves and trying to avoid being crushed ending in some nasty bruises. Jamie, wanting to enjoy paradise to the fullest became obsessed with Asai, a frozen berry dessert with granola, making friends with the local seller who was impossible to miss with his booming voice and megaphone!
Finishing in Rio was the perfect way to end an amazing two months of culture, activity, socialising and chilling. It is great to walk away from this chapter with so many fantastic memories which we can re-live together in years to come. Only best friends would be able to withstand the intensity of travelling and we have proved that the more time we spend together, the closer and more compatible we become.
And now for our highlights:
Best Country: Brazil Best City: Rio de Janeiro followed closely by Buenos Aires Best Activity: Skydiving Best Hike: Inca Trail Best Hostel: Milhouse (Buenos Aires) Best Restaurant: Pizzeria in Ilha Grande Best Food: Dulce de leche Best Dessert: Dulce de leche pancakes Best Currency: Brazilian Reals Best Sight: Iguazzu Falls and Macchu Picchu Best Party: Castelo Das Pedras Best Alcoholic Drink: White Russian Best Moment: Completing the Inca Trail Best Day: Favela tour, football, favela party Best Word: Chocoladge Best Avoided Disaster: Putting out the lodge fire Best Shower: The Mango Tree (Rio de Janeiro) Best Cab Driver: Monty in Paraguay (or whatever his name was!) Best People: Brazilians Best Mode of Transport: Boat / Power Shower under Iguazzu Best Beach: Lopes Mendes / Ipanema Best Animal: Alpaca, Llamas, Condors, Guadelope the monkey Best Book: Don't Tell Mummy by Toni Maguire Best Impulse Moment: Mounting a dinosaur Best Random Moment: Seeing Tash and Keisha in Argentina Best Drug: Coca cakes Best Transport System:Argentinian Metro Best Purchase: Emma's leather bag, Laura's canvases Best Dancing: Tango Best Quotes: "If you don't let me in I swear I will s*** all over your floor...right now!" "Fire! Fire!"...."Why all the fuss over a fly?"
Worst Journey: Uyuni to Potosi Worst Flight: Nazca lines Worst Drink: Pisco Sour Worst Toilet: Uros homestay Worst Moment: Finding out about the National Strike after the Inca Trail Worst Hostel: Jerusalem (Potosi) Worst Language: Portugese Worst People: Bolivians Worst Country: Bolivia Worst Weather: Sao Paulo and Paraty Worst Food: Salt flats Worst Item of Clothing: Alpaca jumpers
Most Hilarious Moment: Emma getting locked in the toilet and climbing through the window Most Frustrating Moment: Finding out our flight to the jungle was cancelled Most Amazing Moment: Freefalling Most Disappointing Moment: Searching for the non-existent shul Most Organised Moment: Laura keeping track of money Most Scary Moment: The Nazi cab driver Most Hurried Moment: Buying Havianas before going to the airport Most Horrifying Moment: Having to check in the dulce de leche at the airport Most Confusing Moment: Emma explaining extensions to the Bolivian hairdresser Most Laura Moment: Having a manicure in Sucre / Asking to be airlifted off the Inca Trail Most Emma Moment: Setting the lodge on fire / Getting locked in the toilet
Five words to sum up South America:
ONE HELL OF AN EXPERIENCE......
and now back to reality!