Rio de Janeiro

Rio from Sugarloaf Mountain

After spending Christmas in Brazil we moved 10k south to the main city staying in Botafogo, an area located in the East side of the city within walking distance to most of the main parts that we wanted to see for New Year.

Sugarloaf MountainRio is very very hot. It was hot over Christmas in Recreio but in the city the temperatures neared 40c with a 85% humidity. Sweat was a common theme; I spent most of my time in shorts and flip-flops, sounds great in theory but limits what you can do, sadly running was not an option for me.

Botafogo is a nice area of the city, and you can see both Sugarloaf Mountain and Cristo Redentor. We decided to head up Sugarloaf Mountain first as it was just a short walk from the hostel to the cable cars. It turned out to be a good choice as the views across the city are spectacular. We timed it quite well and got to see sunset from the mountain, but also caught a warm rainstorm.

I was keen to take a tour of one of the Favelas, the slums that Rio has more than its fair share of. They can be dangerous places but during the day organized tours run through them without any issues.

Rocinha FavelaThe tour started with a drop off near the top of the Rochina Favela which has a population of 70,000. Rochina means “Little Farm”, it was a big maze of streets and people, very few roads run through, the residents just wander around on foot. The streets are residential mixed with shops, small cafes and schools; a fully functioning society lives up there.

Notorious for drugs and gangs, the government is making efforts to “pacify” and clean them up. It was interesting to see but due to a mess-up by our hostel, we were put on a crap tour with a guide who was rather disinterested, just seemed to walk us through at speed, stopping mainly in places he had lined up to sell us something. Annie complained and we got a fair refund, so it was not all bad.

Hang Gliding Over RioWith amazing scenery [Annie says the city has the most beautiful natural setting she has ever seen] and clear blue skies, we decided to splash out a bit and try Hang Gliding from one of the mountains over the city. Heading out late in the afternoon, we were driven up the mountain before arriving to what is like a mini airport. Loads of Hang gliders being prepared by various companies, I had a look over the runway’s edge, spectacular view ahoy! A quick five minute lesson on how to hold on to the guide and how to take off, we were running towards the edge, looking at the horizon and following strict instruction not to stop or jump. What a rush; spectacular views of the city; the beach; it was great fun and really quite calming. I did have a little concern about landing, though it turns out the passenger doesn’t need to do much as the instructor does the work for you.

Rio from Cristo Redentor

What is billed as an essential stop in Rio is Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer in English), the statue that peers 2,300 feet over the city on Corcovado Mountain. You can see it most of the time from the city. We were warned about the queues, two hours for tickets and then two hours to get up and therefore decided to set off at 7am to try and beat the tour groups. One metro and one local bus later, we arrived at the train that runs up and down the mountain. There was what appeared to be two queues and a big neon sign saying “no trains available” but nothing was explained any further. As more and more people joined the queue, news came back that tickets for the train are already sold out for the next two days, bummer.

An alternative route to the top is using the minivans that were available just a short walk up the road, sounds fine! Walking up and joining the 15 minute queue, we paid our way and started the ascent. That would have been fine if not for the fact that the van does not take you to the top but instead it drops you less than half way up in a chaotic mess of cars and people. Joining another queue, this time 30 minutes long, we got our tickets and walked to the next queue for the second minivan, which over the last half hour had tripled in size, gah!

Us at Cristo RedentorWe waited in what turned out to be a frustrating hour long queue, with tour guides pushing their groups to the front. We had a calm exchange with one who seemed to think we were stupid and would not accept the fact we saw him skip in, asshole. Boarding the minivan and continuing to the top, we arrived to find hundreds of annoying tourists surrounding the statue, all trying to get a photo of themselves with their arms out mimicking Christ. We pushed our way around, got some photos and got the hell out of there, all to start the queues in reverse to get back down to the bottom. It wasn’t only us who felt the frustration – a riot nearly broke out when a tour guide pushed his luck too far on the way down. A horrible excuse for an attraction and a waste of six hours.

Rio was picked as our final destination in South America, where we would see the year out. New Years Eve in Portuguese is called Réveillon, which translates as “Waking”. The city becomes full, the streets are closed and the party focuses on Copacabana Beach. We saw the preparations days before, roads were closed and large ships are moored in the bay where the fireworks will launch from. Two and a half million people were expected to line the beach for the firework display and concerts, it is one of the biggest parties in the world.

Did Someone Say White?Our hostel gave us tickets to a night club with an open bar, considering the price we paid for a dorm room, that’s the least they could do. We headed down early with our Metro tickets, to help with crowd control we had to pre-purchase these days before, selecting a time slot as no tickets were on sale on the day.

What we did not know until arriving in Brazil is the Brazilians wear white as part of Réveillon which symbolizes purity, peace and renewal. Travelling rule 101, do not pack anything white as it will just discolour… Arriving at the nightclub, we didn’t quite blend in.

Réveillon 2014 Fireworks on CopacabanaHeading down to the beach for the main event, I was surprised that it was not as busy as expected, probably due to the size of the beach. We easily found a space to watch the fireworks and enjoy some drinks.

Unlike home, there is no countdown to the bells; the fireworks just started which always seems a little odd. The display was very good, after it finished the Brazilians head in to the water for a dip, in our merry state we decided to join them, good fun but I now need a new watch as mine did not agree with the antics.

After a few more beverages at the club, we started the walk back to Botafogo, I did wonder if the beer scooter would get us home but did not need to worry, as all the roads are closed, it was just a mass of people walking down motorways usually choked with traffic. In what seemed like no time we were back at the hostel for some much needed rest.

Time to depart Rio, Brazil and South America, what an amazing three months. Now we begin heading towards Asia, with a few stops on the way.

Christmas in Brazil!

Recreio dos Bandeirantes Sunset

Our next stop, Ubatuba, was picked on the basis that there was a bus available that could take us there, and also that accommodation wasn’t too expensive (and a little bit because it had a funny name). So when we arrived there, we had no knowledge of the town, no map, and absolutely no idea how to get to the hostel. We were completely at the mercy of our host, Vinnie, to show us around. Fortunately, he was the most accommodating hostel owner we’ve met, and after picking us up from the bus station, he quickly whisked us off to a remote and beautiful beach for an evening swim in lovely warm waters. An excellent welcome.

Ubatuba is a coastal town between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. We had 2 days there to swim, surf, and generally relax. Our first attempt at surfing on the hostel board was less than successful. It was a short board, probably designed for people who can surf, i.e. not us. Not long into my attempt, it hit my nose and gave me a nose bleed, whilst Paul sank pretty much every time he sat on it. We agreed then we definitely needed lessons.

Day two, and we decided to try paddle boarding. This is something I’ve been really keen to try, and Vinnie kindly arranged a lesson for us with his friend. It was much harder than it looked, especially as we had to contend with the tide and waves, but great fun. By the end of the lesson we were happily coasting across the sea, whilst our poor tutor desperately tried to keep up, swimming behind us.

Other than watersports, Ubatuba didn’t have much else to offer. Paul did have the biggest burger of his life – what they call here a lanch – and we found an amazing gelateria, but after exploring and getting very lost, we were quite confident there wasn’t much else to see. However, it was a great pit stop between the two biggest cities of Brazil, and we were ready to move to Recreio for Christmas.

Due to lack of planning on our part (apparently we never learn), the only bus we could get to Rio left Ubatuba at midnight and arrived at 5am. This meant we had to sit around Rio bus station for 2 hours before trying to navigate city centre buses out to our hostel. The buses suggested by the hostel didn’t seem to exist, so we had no choice but to take the advice of a grumpy tourist info lady and take 2 buses, guess at where to get off and then walk. Normally, this would have been a reasonable journey, but given our lack of sleep and the incredible heat, we arrived in Recreio grumpy and ready to collapse. As our room wasn’t ready, we chose to collapse on the beach instead.

Recreio is about 40 minutes out of Rio, a spot famous for its excellent surfing beaches. We had planned to be surfing on Christmas Day, and sure enough, we were. We were a lot more successful this time, mainly because we were using giant foam boards. Although the waves themselves weren’t huge, the biggest battle was getting into the water, as they often crashed right on the shore and totally wiped you out before you even started.

SurfboardsOur hostel in Recreio was a lovely laid back surfers hostel, and after our morning surf the hostel owners made all the guests a Christmas lunch.

Sitting outside in the baking heat eating your lunch with a santa hat on was quite a surreal way to spend Christmas Day, and a million miles away from the usual layers and cold. More than anything else, it just felt like a normal day.

Paul PaddleboardingWe also had another chance to try paddle boarding, this time on a lake. With no waves to contend with, plus having the right equipment (our first lesson was on windsurf boards), we now feel like pros.

After a week in coastal towns we’re now ready to return to the city. Our last 5 days in South America will be spent in the bright lights of Rio de Janiero. I can’t wait.

São Paulo

Paulista Avenue

After 70 days in South America, I felt sort of comfortable fumbling my way through Spanish conversations we were having in Argentina, Chile and Peru. To finish off our year and the continent we headed to the former Portuguese colony of Brazil, first stopping in São Paulo.

Having no idea what hit us, the language barrier is back and in full force; numbers are mostly the same, greetings and the basics of yes and no work fine, outside that it’s a whole new ball game and English speakers are a rare find.

Flying in and landing, this is the largest state and city in the country with over 11 million living in the city and 40 million in the state, it’s massive. Getting around is easy as the city has a fantastic metro system with plenty of lines. At rush hour it gets crazy busy, trains crammed to bursting point just like the London underground.

We picked a hostel near the city’s largest park, which was modelled on Central Park. They like to compare the city to New York: a bit of a tenuous link but I can appreciate similarities. The park was good for a morning jog to burn off the beer calories. Beer is finally once again superb here in Brazil, first sight I saw in the supermarket was imported bottles of Punk IPA and 5am Saint. I was disappointed to find out that the Brewdog bar opening date has slipped in to 2014, no chance of visiting that then.

Learned the rules of Beer Pong, got quite lucky at it #travel #beer #brazilOne other pub that stands out was the Cervejaria Nacional, listed in a TimeOut article I was impressed with their range of beers brewed onsite in their microbrewery, their IPA and Ale were both great, a welcome change from the national stuff.

Heading out on a group pub crawl on the famous Augusta Street, we got to play beer pong with some locals, visit a few places including a bar with some arcades on free play, though most of them had faults and needed some TLC. The night ended in a local nightclub, the next day wasn’t an easy one.

As with Santiago, La Paz and Lima, we were keen to go on another walking tour, this time run by SP Free Walking Tours. We ended up doing both the four hour downtown tour and the next day the shorter Paulista Avenue tour, both were a lot of walking but a great way to get the backstories about the city and its people, highly recommended.

SP Free Walking Tour

Beco do BatmanA final part of the city that we visited was the Beco De Batman lane, famous for its street art/graffiti.

The nearby neighborhood was filled with artistic cafes, shops and just had a right cool vibe to it. The lane was initially a little dodgy looking as some crackhead was stumbling out of it, once he shifted on we had time to wander up and down and grab photos of the impressive work. Lovely.

As usual, full photoset including many from the lane, are hosted on Flickr.