Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sun Sand Samba (5-8 April 2011, Days 117-120 of 127)

They say Rio De Janeiro (Pop 6.1m. Est 1502) is the worst city situated in the best location.

There is no denying the location. It is the most scenic of any I visited in the world.

A city amongst huge clean sandy beaches with clear green-blue surf surrounded by granite cone mountains popping out all over the place with lush green hills in between.

Unfortunately, downtown is grubby, a wild mish-mash of architectures, smelly and at night and on weekends, downright dangerous.

There is also the massive, almost contradictory separation between rich and poor. The mercedes and manicures of Ipanema contrasting sharply with the "Favelas (Shanty Towns)" a few kilometers away.

Despite all of this, Rio is a party town and has a permanent holiday town feel about it. It is also the only other city I know apart from Sydney that has beautiful, swimmable surf beaches within 8km of the CBD.

I arrived at my last Interpid hotel in Rio De Janeiro called "Hotel Toledo" at 12:30pm on Tue 5APR after 4.5hrs of travel from the hotel in Abraao on Ilha Grande (1hr on a boat to Concencao Jacarei and 3.5hrs in a private van from there to Rio).

Toledo is in the middle of Copacabana Beach and only one block back from the beach. Copacabana has a population of 750,000 in an area the size of Bondi - 50% are over 60 and most retired.
Rio De Janeiro was discovered in January of 1502 by the Portuguese who thought it was on a river (versus a harbour) so they called it "River January" or "Rio De Janeiro". It was colonised by the French in 1555 during the time they tried to claim Antarctica but the Portguese kicked the French out in 1567 bringing almost 3 million black African slaves with them over the next 2 centuries to work their sugar cane and coffee plantations. Once the gold boom hit in the 1700's Rio became the port of choice to ship Gold back to Portugal and it boomed and became established.

Rio De Janeiro is pronounced "He-o Je-nero" by the locals or "Cariocas" since, like Queenslanders, they like to abbreviate everything and have an accent that sets them apart from the rest of Brazil. Cariocas are also very laid back and celebrate constantly - so they should - they get 65 public holidays per year!!! Yes you read right - this is not including weekends or the 20 days of annual leave. 6 of the 65 public holidays are bank holidays and the rest mostly religious. Rio also has no ethnic neighbourhoods (like Little Italy etc) - it is very uniform and most have a mixed black African / Portuguese background. Unfortunately it is still dangerous at night and there is a lot of theft from the beaches - you take nothing!

Unfortunatley when we arrived it was cloudy and hazzy and about to rain. Most people had no choice but to take the City Tour including Sugarloaf and Christ The Redeemer since they were leaving the next day but I decided to take the Favela Tour since I still had 4 more days and the weather forecast was for sun.

At 1:30pm Daniella from "Be A Local Tours" came by and picked me up in her van. We picked up another 8 people from two other hotels and headed to the "Rocinha" Favela or shanty town.

This is the biggest one in Rio and Brazil with approx 300,000 people literally living on top of one another in between two granite mountains called "the Brothers" only 5km from Ipanema Beach, the ritziest beach of them all.

A Favela is like a gated community run by drug lords but with a puppet community leader and group who make applications to the government for funding or ammenity improvements.

The Favelas are not as violent as they used to be with many residents setting up small grocery shops, bakeries, hardware stores, DVD hire etc in the many narrow alleys that weave their way up and down the mountain.

The houses are mainly brick with one person "buying" the roof slab of their neighbour to build on top. This is because rent is too expensive having almost reached the average monthly wage of 380AUD.

Most residents work for the rich of Rio, cleaning, gardening, driving or working in the construction and hotel industry. Most families have an average of 5 kids but this is decreasing.

There are 1,200 Favelas in Rio State and 850+ of these are in Rio. One in three people live in a Favella in Rio.

Favelas are very narrow, poorly ventilated, subject to mud slides that bring dwellings down, are beset by tangled uncovered live overhead wiring and full of garbage. On the upside, people are running their own business building better houses and opening up day care centres from the proceeds of Tours such as ours so that single parents can work.

When we arrived at the bottom of the Rocinha Favela, each of us hitched a ride on a motor bike with a local adolescent male resident, who took us to the top of the Favela through the much wider commercial streets. What a ride. Weaving in and out of traffic, sights of people pendling their wares and an incredible view unfolding, of thousands of homes stacked up, one on top of the other, against a huge granite cone.

Once at the top we began walking back down again through many narrow hillside streets full of houses. Our first stop was an Art School were local kids who normally grafitte downtown, learn to paint. They even had a gallery where they sold their wares. Second stop was a pastry shop were most of us enjoyed a typical Brazilian pastry. Finally we visited a day-care centre for kids up to 6yrs old. This was one of 60 sponsored by "Be A Local". We even got a street-side drum concert by a bunch of 13 year olds - it will be in the movie version of "Ai Caramaba 2011"! In many ways this was an elightening tour since it gave us an insight into life inside a Favela without dwelling on the downside.

I got back at 5:30pm and couldn't wait to hit the beachfront for a run. It had rained during the afternoon and by now it had stopped. Copacabana (4.5km long), Ipanema and Leblon beaches (5km combined) are a runners paradise. Dedicated running tracks, no cars to swipe you and plenty to look at!!! At around 6:30pm the huge roadside flood lights come on and you can continue perving! I have never seen such a variety of people running and out on the beach. People of all ages and all colours. Everyone tanned. And the view. Wow! Giant granite cones in the distance, huge apartments, roaring surf, tiled pavements, palm trees, sidewalk bars and cafes and the clean beige sand, slightly darker than Sydney Beaches.

Once I got back it was time for pre-dinner drinks before our farewell Intrepid dinner at 8pm. We enjoyed some chilled 2007 Tannat from Brazil with some sardines in a tomato salsa on crackers. Lovely. Our farewell Churascarria (Bar & Grill) was quite up-market. Older male waiters in balck and white fussing around us, serving up succulent skewered meats - all you can eat for only 25AUD. The buffet even featured sushi and tabuli. We had countless wines and all recounted our favourite experiences of the last 5 weeks for most of us. It was Alberto's brithday so he taught me "Happy Birthday" in Portuguese. I then enjoyed delivering it much to the pleasure of the whole restaurant! It was a great last night.

I was excited. I rose at 7am on Wed 6APR with nothing but sun outside. My run was slow but fantastic. So many people out there. So much traffic. The water simply shimmered in the sun. It was already 28C and muggy. Rio is just above the Tropic of Capricorn and is unbareably hot in DEC/JAN. I ran all of Copa and all of Ipanema and loved it.

By 10am I checked out of Toledo and caught a cab to my new hotel "Apa" one block back and 3 blocks to the left. I farewelled my fellow Intrepid travellers and lead but would meet Maurren that evening.

At 11am I was on a bus to "Pao De Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain)". I caught the 511 bus going to "Urca" and caught two sets of cable cars. The first goes to "Morro Da Urca", the first of the twin granite peaks at 215m. After several photos here over blue skies and waters it was one more cable car to Sugarloaf itself at 396m.

What a view. No wonder Rio is such an icon.

You could see all the beaches and Christ The Redeemer in the distance, on the other side of the city. I spent almost 2 hours here just soaking up the view and the cool breezes.

After my descent I caught a bus to "Centro" or downtown. What a mess. Tons of traffic and lots of people. Neoclassical buildings stuck between daggy metal and glass 1970's skyscrapers.

The Parliament and Opera House buildings were very classic. There were also many pedestrian only streets that were fall of vendors and bad smells. Most plazas were very old and run down but had palm trees in them - the "Rio" look!

Oddly enough the city's main Cathedral was a modern cone shape, 106 in diameter, 96m high and holding up to 20,000 people. It is located in the commerical district opposite the head office of Petrobas which is itself designed to remind you of an oil platform.

Nearby was a modern expression of Europe's ancient Italian aqueducts, white in colour and with a small light train on the top that takes tourists to Santa Teresa which is the arty part of town.

I walked from the Cathedral to the Aqueduct and then to the famous "Escadaria De Selarion" which is a set of 215 street steps that have been decorated by an eccentric Chilean artist with over 2000 coloured mosaic tiles from over 20 countries since 1990. Looks a treat. It is in a suburb called "Lapa" which is home to Samba - I would be coming here with Maureen later tonight.

From Lapa I then ascended a long winding road up to a musuem in Santa Teresa overlooking parts of the city. It was very breezy up here but the view was not as good as I expected. Hot and tired, I then caught a cab back to my new hotel.

I met Maureen at Toledo at 6pm for our last pre-dinner drinks after approx 60 of them - so sad.

It was then off to a busy local corner pub-restaurant in Copa for our final dinner. It was great. A big Dorado (Sweet Snapper) and prawn "Moqueca" (Brazilian Paella) washed down by the local malty, honey-sweet, dark "Malzbier" with hardly any after taste. Maureen and I recalled 83 days of adventure, sites, experiences, drinks and gossip! Hard to believe it was all over.

We then caught a cab to a club called "Rio Scenarium" in Lapa. This is a bit of a Samba institution in Rio and one of the oldest. It is a huge neoclassic 4-storey building full of brick-a-brack and antiques with a big stage and dance floor and lots of intimate two person chairs and tables.

Maureen and I were seated right next to the Musos table next to the stage and the view was great.

Samba is very relaxing and almost remiscent of Jazz. We sat through two sets whilst sipping on ice-cold Malzbier.

The first set was instrumental only, featuring 4 musicians playing Sax, Clarinet, Guitar, Drums and Triangles.

The second set changed to 7 new musicians playing guitar, sax, flute, bongoes, elec violin and a singer. It was much faster and richer in sound and also featured several Bossa Nova treats and some Merengue.

There were mainly locals in the place and dancing with an older couple really ripping up the floor. Samba is great to watch - it is more precise with less of the sexiness that you see in Tango.

We enjoyed ourselves very much and it was a great way to finish 83 days of South American adventure! Back at Toledo it was only a temporary good-bye!

Even tough Maureen is a retired "permanent traveller" she will be taking a break back at her home in Hope Island Gold Coast in SEP11 and no doubt I will visit her to personally deliver "Ai Caramba 2011 - The Movie"!

It was 7APR and I was on my own again! No more Intrepid. I would re-live the 5 weeks that I was alone before Intrepid.

By 8am I was on the 583 bus to "Cosme Velho" where there was a Gog-Train to take me 3,824m up to the top of the 710m peak of "Corcovado", upon which stood the iconic "Cristo Redentos (Christ The Redeemer)" with outstretched hands over the city of Rio De Janeiro.

This is the largest Art Deco Sculpture in the world standing 40m tall on top of a 10m pedestal with arms spanning 30m. It was designed by Carlos Oswald and sculpted by Paul Landowski. It was opened on 12 October 1931. It is made of 635 tons of reinforced concrete and has no accessible interior - there is however a small chapel inside the marble base upon which Christ stands.

I was amongst the small group of people to go up first that bright sunny day so the photos were free of gringos.
What a view!!!!!!!!!!!!
This has got to be one of the world's most outstanding views on the planet. So breathtaking, so surreal, so much to look at and observe. You can see the entire city.

I decided to stay until noon so I could get another set of photos with the sun overhead. They turned out better than the morning set except for the Christ, who was better in the morning with few people around.

In the 4hrs I was there a bazillian people must have visited - and this was in low season! I cannot imagine what it would be like in DEC/JAN. Having had my fill of photos and film (unfortunately no cozzie shots since the place is considered a church!!!)

I descended and caught the 583 bus to Leblon beach. I then walked the length of Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches photographing sand sun and water! I reached the hotel at 4pm and was buggered after 8hrs in the sun! I cleaned up and blogged over several glasses of 2008 Chilean Rose. It was then time for in-room vego dinner, a movie and more Chardonnay to celebrate my conquest of Rio in sunny conditions!

The next day was my rest day - no more touring - just running and swimming on Copa!

I completed my 10km run by 9:30am before it got too hot and then prepared this post until 2pm at which time it was off for a swim.

The western end of Copa was the most calm so I walked 2.5km and swam 4 laps totaling 1.5km. The water was a beautiful 24C but there were a few passing waves and leaves.

Totally refreshed I headed off to the hotel, showered, shopped and sat down to another vego meal to a movie in my room.

The Copa back streets are nicely paved and clean. Shops could be a bot better looking but those of Ipanema are very ritzy - like Double Bay or Toorak.

I planned another run and swim at Copa tomorrow (Sat 9APR) before catching a cab at 11am to head to the airport for Santiago De Chile, arriving at 9pm to overnight for my 10am flight to adventure island!

It was hard to believe - my next run would be on the most isolated place in the world - Easter Island!

NEXT BLOG: covers Easter Island and the Moai due 13APR.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: 1) Thanks to Intrepid, overall for a good trip. It went without incident, lateness, cancellations or extra cost due to poor planning. There are a number of "optional" tours that should be added to the overall pricing and I will spell these out in an overall feedback summary that Maureen and I have prepared. I will put the finishing touches to this at Easter Island or on my way home.

HINTS & TIPS: 1) If you are in Rio for more than 2 days and it is cloudy when you arrive, do not bother taking the tours. Go to Sugarloaf and Christ yourself. Public buses go there regularly and you can pick exactly when to go depending on weather. The best time to see both is when they open at 8:30am to avoid the crowds and get decent shots. 2) Do not worry about bringing antibiotics or antihystamines with you. All South American countries sell these over the counter and the generic brands are cheap! It is ironic but headache tablets with paracetamol need a prescription so bring plenty of those. Brazil seems to have the most number of chemists - at least one on every block and big too - some are mini supermarkets - must be for all that good living they do!!!

INTREPID: 1) One night in Rio borders on the ridiculous for such a famous city with heaps to do. This is why I stayed on my own for another 3 nights. Intrepid must extend to 3 nights and include the City Tour in the pricing (not optional). 2) There are a number of other "optional" tours which must be made mandatory with pricing adjusted. These will be spelt out in a separate overall feedback summary that Maureen and I have prepared. Main example is Machu Picchu bus and entry.