Across the Brazilian border we settle into our bus seats and get comfy for the long ride ahead. For hours there is no movie, no snack and no drinks. We become glad we had lunch before we got on.
After 6pm we begin our wait for dinner, knowing that we may have to wait until 9 or 10pm as is the custom for dinner in Argentina. 10pm arrives and we pull into a gas/cafe stop. Most of the bus piles off. We don't as we don't have any Brazilian reals for food anyway. But we find out that it's the one and only food stop and that the bus won't be providing us with food now that we are on the Brazil side of the border. What a rip! They could have at least told us when we bought our tickets, then we could have come prepared with either our own food or Brazilian reals.
So we sit on the bus, tired and grumpy and hungry. Next thing we know the bus assistant comes on to tell us we must get off the bus. So we gather up our gear and reluctantly pile off and watch as our bus pulls away to refuel. Luckily we find an ATM in the gas station and get some reals with which we have an unappetising dinner of pastry encasing mystery meats. Back on the bus 40 minutes later and at 11pm at night, the bus assistant in all his wisdom, decides now is a good time to play a movie for us. WTF.
We wake around 8am and have nougat for breakfast. We doze on and off. At some stage during the morning we are given a second movie. It's in English but the sound is down so low that we can't hear it anyway! Typical. We watch the landscape pass by, paddocks that are battling between being forest or farm. Some are a graveyard of tree stumps. Our lunch consists of a chocolate bar and peanuts and that's the last of our bus snacks gone.
Eventually around 2.30pm we arrive into the Rio bus station. We decide to sort our tickets to Paraty now, so set about liningup for tickets. The line is painfully slow moving. Welcome to the Brazil pace of doing things. You'd think the people in front of us are doing something far more complex than buying a bus ticket for the time it takes. And then it turns out the company we lined up at doesn't go to Paraty. But they do write down the name of the company who does. After a bit of searching through the station we find the right bus company and get our tickets for Saturday, $104 reals total.
With that sorted we head out of the terminal and get a taxi to the hostel, which stings us 45 reals. Our driver has good English and points out various things to us. A 3km long tunnel, a salt water lagoon, the Christo statue (dating from 1932, designed by a Brazilian, built in France, 32m tall) and a gap between two mountains that they blew a hole through, some years ago. We also ask him what all the silver balls of tinfoil are in the back seat of his car. Turns out the taxi drivers save all the tinfoil wrappings around their lunch sandwiches during a year and at Christmas the family uses them to make Christmas wreaths and decorations. We never expected that answer!
Our hostel, The Mango Tree, is pretty nice, with lovely friendly staff, with a nice wee garden bar out the back, guest kitchen (probably the best equipped ever!) Our dorm is also nice enough with 6 bunk beds. We settle in and then head to the nearest supermarket a couple of blocks away. We also suss out how to get to the big sights we want to see, wander down Ipanema Beach a bit and whip up some dinner. The pesky mosquito's at the hostel are its only downside.
The next morning we tuck into one of the best breakfasts yet - toast, yoghurt, bread, buns, fruits, watermelon, bananas, ham, cheese, juices, cake, hot drinks. We are fixated on the toast and toaster - our first since our first hostel in Quito! With margarine and marmite it's heaven.
We head out and catch a local bus to the Statue of Christ. But once there we find that it's cloudy and not expected to clear at all. So we about turn and bus off to Botofoga where we walk to the gondola to get up Sugarloaf. It's 44 reals and the cable car takes an age to come. The view when we get to the top is amazing! Beautiful beaches, lush forest covered mountains, high rises and islands dotting the coast. Stunning.
Back down on the ground we tube to Lapa where we hunt down the Escadaria Selaron, famous tiled set of steps. In 1990, a guy by the name of Selarón began renovating a dilapidated stairway that ran along the front of his house. At first, neighbours mocked him for his choice of colours as he covered the steps in fragments of blue, green and yellow tiles - the colours of the Brazilian flag. It started out as a side-project to his main passion, painting but soon became an obsession. He found he was constantly out of money so sold paintings to fund his work. It was long and exhaustive work but he continued on and eventually covered the entire set of stairs in tiles, ceramics and mirrors.
There are 250 steps measuring 125 metres long which are covered in over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world. Including little old NZ! No sooner than the stairway is 'finished', Selarón starts work on another section, constantly changing it so that it is an ever evolving piece of art.
The following day sees us giving the Statue of Christ a second go. Today is meant to be the best in the next couple of days for weather and clear skies. We took bus 584, recommended by Lonely Planet, but it takes such a roundabout route to get there it takes much longer than the bus we took yesterday!
But we do get there eventually, around half nine. Our tickets for the cable car are for the 10.40am cable car and when the cars arrive there's mad pushing and shoving but we all get on and everyone gets a seat.
At the top it's pretty packed, so we take our clichéd pictures and take in the view before heading down again. At the bottom we grab a bus back to Ipanema. We make a boob and jump off the bus way too soon, at the far end of Ipanema beach, so enjoy a walk along the beach, dipping our toes in the waves and marvelling at guys running in nothing but tight undies! You'd never get away with that in NZ, at least not without some pointing, staring and ridicule!
We stop along the beach for a drink from a coconut. The vendor swiftly whacks off the top with a machete and in go a couple of straws. We chill on the beach sipping on refreshing coconut and taking in the goings on around us on the beach. As the wind picks up we head back to the hostel and spend the evening relaxing in the hostel, which has great common areas, particularly the TV lounge. We meet a lovely Canadian couple, Nigel and Idele, and chat to them all evening.
Our last day in Rio sees us being picked up at 10am for our favela tour. We squeeze into a mini van full of gringos - anyone who is not from Brazil. Our guide, Daniel, has good English and is a great guide. We head through Rio's mental traffic out west to Rochina, the largest favela in Rio.
At the bottom of the favela we jump on the back of motorbikes or moto-taxi's and whip up the one and only street in the favela wide enough for vehicles. Up the winding, climbing road we go, whipping out round other bikes, cars, people, arriving at the top a couple of minutes later. At the top we head into the narrow streets and alleys of the favela, only wide enough for two people to pass one another on foot.
The favela started developing in the 1920's with people from north and northwest Brazil moving to Rio for work. There are now around 200,000 people living there and development is now growing upwards as the favela is unable to spread outwards any further, due to geographical features.Houses are becoming three, four, five stories high. Around 80% of residents own their homes and the rest rent, building floors on top of existing buildings.
In the last 10 or 20 years a private power company has provided power to the favelas. The poles are now a web of cables, from people attaching their homes direct to the power cable, getting power for free. A private water company provides running water, and for those homes that are not connected to water supplies, the water company leaves the water running from taps at certain points around the favela for 30 minutes every 3 hours so people are able to fill bottles, buckets and so on full of water for their needs.
Our first stop inside the favela is at a house where we climb to the roof to take in the vast tumbling, sprawling favela below us on the slopes of the mountain. There's an artist studio within the house and we admire the work for sale. From there we head down hill, stopping for some children who play a samba tune on buckets and tins. Our next stop is at a bakery and then at a couple of tables in the alley where two women are selling jewellery including braclets made with telephone cable wire, very ingenious. Our final stop is at a daycare centre where the small babies and toddlers are having a midday nap.
The favelas are run by drug gangs but have low crime rates so as to not attract much attention from police. Also much of the crack cocaine is bought for use outside the favela by the richer people in Rio, those in the favela simply cannot afford such drugs, and as our guide says, you don't sh*t on your own doorstep. The drug guys make heaps of money, millions, but pretty much can't leave the favela as they're an easy target on the outside. They also like to keep it safe inside the favela so tourists continue to visit as we spend money directly in the favela - buying art, food from the bakery, jewellery from the women, donate to the children playing music and the nursery. This money then helps these people, families and business owners develop the favela.
The favelas are illegal and pay no taxes to the government. Even though the favela residents pay no tax, the government isn't able to kick them out and bulldoze the favela as there are simply too many people to relocate. Some 20% of Rio's population lives in favelas - some 900 favelas in total.
However with the 2016 Olympics coming, the government wants to control the favelas and stamp out the drug dealing. Options such as taking the favelas by force or erecting a wall around them are being bandied about. Watch this space to see how Rio deals with the favelas.
After our tour is over we are dropped back at our hostel. The weather is still good so we grab togs and towels and tube to Copacabana beach. But the weather is quick to turn and at the beach we sit on our towels, before throwing in the towel and heading back to Ipanema for some jandel shopping.
We nab jandels, for nix, less than £10 each pair. We also get some cachasa to take home and make caipirinha's with. Back at the hostel another job has come up, this one at the Tasman District Council, so I set about working on my CV again, while we spend another evening chatting with Nigel and Idele.