DAY 1 - 7 RIO DE JANEIRO 18TH JULY - 25TH JULY
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
DAY 1 - 7 Rio De Janeiro. 18th July - 25th July
So I arrived in Brazil finally, only 24 hours later than expected. So after three flights, 3 buses and a taxi journey I arrived at my hostel Che Largto at 21:00. Brazil is the only South American country that was ruled by Portugal gaining independence in 1822. I am starting my trip in the former capital city Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro City (Rio) is on the southern coast of Rio de Janeiro state. According to the lonely planet guide book Rio is the city full of sun, sand and samba - the three "S's". Although, this was not my first experience - I was met with a massive language barrier - I thought a phrase book would be enough- I was completely wrong. - NOONE and I mean NOONE speaks even a little bit of English (other than the man behind the reception desk at the hostel). After a long journey I decide to have one beer (it was quiet nice) and go to bed - although I seemed to be staying in the parting hostel so I ended up just lying in bed waiting for the next day.
Finally, the next day came the sun was up and Brazil looked amazing. I was located in a neighborhood in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro city called Ipanema, famously known for its elegance. I decided to go for a walk around town and to the beach - the first thing that struck me about Rio was the variety of nature. The Ipanema beach stretches 8km with two mountains at the western end of the beach - later I found out they were called "Dois Irmaos" - two brothers. Everyone in Rio seem to being doing spot whether it be running along the beach from or playing football, volleyball or a game called footvolley (Brazilian game - combination of football and volleyball). The beach path all day was full of runners and people drinking juice. Beer is also sold everywhere as well as the traditional Brazilian drink Cachaca. Everything in Ipanema seem "glitz" and "glam" - it is the richest area in Rio.
I decided to take a tour into the less so prosperous area of Rio to a Favela (slums) called Vidigal. Favela Vidigal is one of the most visible in Rio, looming over Leblon beach - 10 minute walk from my hostel - from a hill known as 'Morro dos Dois Irmaos' (Hill of the two brothers), where homes of all shapes and sizes compete for space, accommodating approximately thirty thousand people in the process. We were told by the guide we were not allowed to take photos unless he said so. There were people on the streets living in poverty with guns and radios. The guide told us that these children were have a kite competition and the others were practicing in a band for carnival. Later I found out from a local the people of the favelas play the drums and fly the kites to let the rest of the community know were the "GINGOS" (foreigners) are. These areas are controlled by drug gangs. Although, these areas are high in poverty, the government are trying to clear up the mess for the Football and Olympics - but the locals tell a very different story. For example they knocked down a favela community to build a new transport line - all of the community have been moved further away from the areas of tourism - not improving their way of life at all - but who knows what's true - ive only been here one day and I have heard about eight different versions of the same story.
Despite, this disturbing poverty in the favelas, Rio had a lot more to offer. The next day I decided to venture out to see the sights - starting with one of the wonders of the world Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer -the big Jesus thing). The night before I met a French girl so we went together - we had to get the metro and then a bus to the bottom of the statue and then joined a queue to take a quaint train up the steep hill - Corcovado Hill (2,300ft high) to see the big man himself. The height afforded us a 360 degree view across the city from the Maracana stadium to the beach fronted suburbs of Flamengo, Botafogo, Copacabana and Ipanema. Granite peaks poked out of the horizon as far as we could see, favela's crawled up any hill space available. After taking photos with the huge statue - I over heard a guide who said that the statue is the fourth largest in the world (130ft tall and 98ft wide). The statue is covered in soapstone and reinforced concrete that protects the icon of Rio and Brazil from all types of weather - and I think it took 8-9 years to build.
We then decide to take another bus to a historical region in Rio called Santa Teresa. I got some lunch - sounds boring but I has an Acai (a smoothie made with Amazonian fruit) - its really nice. Brazilians are obsessed with fruit - so many I havn't heard of; might be my lack of Portuguese though. The easiest way to see Santa Teresa was on a rickety, yet amazing, old tram through the cobbled streets - check the video out!! This tram took us all the way down to the next tourist point of interest and now famous lapa steps. The brainchild of a funky, madman artist named Seleron, the numerous Lapa steps that connect the suburb of Lapa to Santa Teresa have been tiled in colours representing the Chilean artist's love for everything from Brazil to football to himself. It really is an amazing sight as you walk up the changing colours of the steps. As his phenomenon has grown more people have sent him tiles from their countries and now you can find tiles from almost every country. I had the great opportunity of meeting Seleron myself - he gave me one of his titles. In his best English he explained that he loved Rio as the art here is always changing and that he wants to keep adding to the lapa steps until he dies.
After, we took a quick walk to the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral - although I am not interested in religion this cathedral was an architectural masterpiece. The bells were situated on the outside of the cathedral. Also the Cathedral was in the shape of a pyramid. It is 245ft high and can seat 20,000 people - with four stained glass windows around 200ft tall.
Finally, we tried to catch sunset at the top of the famous sugar loaf mountain - but the queue was so large we made it up at dark. - but it was still amazing. After taking two cable cars we stood 1,299ft over the harbor sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean. The guide said that it gained its name the sugar loaf mountain as it resembles the traditional shape of the concentrated refined loaf sugar. Although, it is expensive to get to the top - the view is breath taking and worthwhile.
We took the bus back to Che Lagarto to have dinner and drinks in the bar. Get lag was killing me so I had another earlyish night - not that this hostel every sleeps. I got woken up in the night by some guys in my dorm deciding to have a party and play the guitar at 5:30am. Thank god it was my last night in the hostel; the next day I was moving to another area in Rio called Copacabana.
I woke up early in the morning to have breakfast - Brazilian breakfast consists on cake, ham and cheese toasties and at lot of different types of bread and again lots of fruit juice and different fruit. I was excited about moving hostel today. I got the metro into the next region and then head with my backpack and my map to find my new home for the next three nights. Today was the first day I didn't feel tired. After 30 mintues walking around the town I finally found th right road and checked in. On the plane to Rio I met a girl called Patricia - she had invited me to go to lunch with her in Centro; so I dumped my bags and got the 20 minute metro ride to the centre of Rio. She took me to a traditional Brazilian restaurant - whereby you pay for food by the kilo - amazing idea!! There has been one thing that I have found odd in Rio and this is the way they don't really want your money. Wherever you go whether it be a bar or resuturant you recived a piece of paper and they mark on it what you have and then at the end you have to take it to the cashier and then you have to pay - the catch is that in Rio - maybe the rest of Brazil (ill let you know) - they do not advertise the prices (might just be to tourists but still) so when you get the cashier you a have no idea what you are spending.
After lunch Patricia took me to her work - she works for the government so she was allowed to take me into the parliamentary chambers. Rio used to be the capital and parliament used to be held in the chambers -but I was not allowed to take pictures. I returned back to the hostel and met two English girls, four English guys, two aussies and a girl from Holland - we all decided to hit the streets of Lapa for the infamous lapa street party. Rio is one big party (even if it is pissing down with rain - see photos) There is something crazy in the bones of the 'cariocas' (citizens of Rio), nothing is held back and everyone seems to live for the moment. We all ventured to the samba district of Lapa and got a taste for that spirit first hand. The old streets were filled with hundreds of merry makers backing on to the numerous bars and samba clubs. Street stalls sold caipirinha's and cervezas to the masses and music rang out from every corner. You did not have to go to a bar or club, as samba would bap out from bands all over the place creating a carnaval atmosphere even after the big festival had finished. There was a young, friendly crowd enjoying their music and dancing with the quick feet movements. So Brazilian men tried their hardest to teach me some samba - there were not happy with my progress. Although it was raining hard and we were all very cold the party continued. I was gathered by a samba band under the lapa arches when we all decided to go to the lapa steps for a photo in the rain. Back under the lapa arches many children from the favelas had come down to try and make some money pick pocketing. One girl tried to grab my rings but she couldn't get them off my figure it was quiet funny.
After two hours sleep, One of the aussies called Louise and the girl from Holland, Sanne and I decided it would be a great idea to go to the main shopping centre, Rio Sol, catching a free bus just 5 minutes walk from El Misti House hostel. It became evident after 30 minutes that we should be in bed as we were tired and hungover so we decided to head back. This was pretty much the end of my Rio experience as on Sunday it rained alday - Rio is great in the sun but there is not much to do when its rain. I did go to the local hippie market on Sunday morning - I was there for around 4 hours not really sure what I was doing as I only brought a bag! In the evening I went out with Louise, Sanne and the other aussie, Sophie for some dinner. Sanne and I decided to travel together from Rio to Ilha Grande to Paraty to Sao Paulo which was good; we planned to leave early Monday morning so we got an early night.
So my final thoughts on Rio: Its an amazing place - the energy from the people is amazing anything goes. The scenery is amazing beautiful beach surrounded by gorgeous mountains and friendly people. I would defiantly return to Rio de Janeiro - I would be interested to go during the carnival week. The one thing that was getting on my nerves was the lack of English speaking citizens; I know I cant speak Portuguese but the World cup and Olympics is coming to this city and not even 1 in 20 people speak English.
So that is all for my first week of travelling in South America and Brazil my next stop is to Angra dos reis to get the ferry across to Ilha Grande.