Sun and sand and beautiful and lovely....

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
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Trip End Mar 16, 2009


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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Saturday, February 7, 2009

Of all the South America cities we'd visited to date or, in fact, the world, Rio without a doubt had one of the worst and best reputations amongst travellers. After a little warm-up in Sao Paulo we were ready to tackle the "Cidade Maravilhosa" (Marvellous City) that so many loved and so many hated. As usual and thankfully for the last time, we arrived by bus to be greeted by thousands of travellers at the bustling Rio station. It did not take us long to scrap the idea of finding cheap public transport between the chaotic masses of people so we hopped into the first available taxi we could find to escape the madness.

Surprisingly our local taxi driver was also a seasoned traveller and had previously travelled to South Africa amongst many other interesting destinations. We thought driving a taxi must be a real lucrative business in Rio and started getting a little worried that this could be an expensive trip but sighed in relief when he told us his wife used to be a travel agent which allowed him to fly on the cheap, phew.

The driver told us some interesting stories about Rio and when we asked about the safety aspect in and around the city he told us that many of the stories we might have heard where probably blown out of proportion and with a little caution and common sense we would be fine. But he did add that it would not be a good idea to be walking around alone at night in certain areas, not even he was brave enough to attempt that.

Since we planned to spend a full seven days in Rio we decided to find a self-catering apartment which surprisingly worked out much cheaper than a hostel. Very unlike us, we left the booking of the apartment to the last minute and were lucky to eventually find an apartment slap bang in the middle of Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, the best of both worlds. On our drive through some of Rio’s back suburbs, heading towards the beach we got our first glimpses of the beautiful Christ the Redeemer statue! Perched, majestically high up on a dome shaped mountain, looming over the city like a silent guardian, it was hard not to get goose bumps at this magnificent sight.

With the carnival still a few weeks away, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the warm-up to the big event was already in full swing and as we pulled up to our apartment we could hear the a rhythmic samba beats pounding away in somewhere in the streets of Ipanema. It was as if the music was drawing us to it so we didn’t waste much time unpacking and searched the streets to join the party. We didn’t have to search for long as the parade had just reached the main strip on Ipanema beach and was making its way to Copacabana.

It was basically a big free for all party with a row of trucks, some decorated and other simply carrying music equipment with hundreds of people dancing to the samba beats. It seemed all you had to do was to join behind the float that played the best music and simply dance along. There was a great vibe and despite the hot humid weather everyone seemed to be having a blast and what also made it more enjoyable, was that moving alongside the party were hawkers selling ice cold caipirinhas, beers and snacks - now that’s what I call a party! We followed the mini carnival for about an hour before we veered off to the beach to relax and enjoy the rest of the afternoon sipping caipirinhas in the afternoon sun with thousands of beachgoers.

The annual Brazilain carnival which is held 40 days before Easter is a week long event where floats, built by various samba schools, compete for the ultimate prize. The samba schools are judged on costumes, flow, theme, band music quality and performance which culminate in the Sambadrome on the last day of carnival. The real fun, however, happens during the week long build-up to this event when all across Rio local samba schools parade in their neighbourhood and “blocos” (blocks), dressed in costumes or special t-shirts with themes. Sadly we were going to miss the main event, but it seemed the parties start way before the carnival so we were sure there would still be loads of fun to be had!

The two most popular beaches in Rio are Copacabana and Ipanema. Of the two, Ipenema is regarded as the more upmarket stretch of beach which runs for 4km and ends in the posh shopping district of Leblon. Ipenema is one of the most expensive places to live in Rio and hosts top hotels and restaurants. Due to this it also has a much higher police visibility, meaning it is far safer than many other beaches. As beaches go its hard to beat Ipenema’s sheer beauty with its clear blue, but warm waters, powdery white beaches and the spectacular backdrop "Dois Irmãos" (Two Brothers) rising up out of the sea.

Copacabana on the other hand is just as beautiful with if 4km stretch of pristine beach lined with palm trees and framed by its iconic black and white Portuguese paving. With four slum areas flanking Copacabana, it means the beaches are often frequented by some of the cities poorest, at times bringing with it the potential of petty crime. We found it very little difference between the two and especially enjoyed the little restaurants and bars long the Copacabana beach front and the spectacular views of Sugar Loaf mountain. Ryan also appreciated the beautiful Brazilian girls on the beach - although the bikini is a French invention, the Brazilians perfected it!

Over the next few days in Rio we took in most of the major sights many of which are weather dependant. We managed to get our timing just right for our unforgettable visit to the iconic “Cristo Redentor” (Christ the Redeemer) statue, atop of the 710m Corcovado. The view from this vantage point are unparallel and it is hard to describe the awe we were overcome with when looking up at this ultimate symbol of Christianity.

We paid a visit to another of Rio’s famous landmarks - Sugar Loaf mountain, at arguably the best time of the day, sunset. Although not as spectacular as Corcovado, it allows an amazing view of city, its beaches, mountains and of course Rio’s icon Christ the Redeemer which is lit up at night. To reach the top of Sugar Loaf you need to take two exhilarating cable car rides between the ground and the two peaks. Without a doubt the best time to do this is on a clear day at sunset as views are simply spectacular.

Included in our sightseeing around Rio was a visit to the Ipanema flea market; an attempted walk through the city centre, which we cut short due to the scorching temperature and sticky humidity; a trip on the famous bond (tram) up to Santa Teresa; a walk through Leblon’s upmarket shopping district and a walk around the Lagoa Rodrigo.

Evenings were equally matched with fun filled visits to some of Rio’s famous samba clubs in the city centre where we attempted to groove to the local rhythms. Most notably was Carioca da Gema was one of Lapa's pioneer samba clubs when it opened in 2000. This small, warmly lit club still attracts some of the city's best samba bands, and we found a festive, mixed crowd filling the dance floor.

In all regards Rio was undoubtedly the most spectacular destination we could have chosen to spend our last week of this unforgettable trip. Rio encompassed everything we enjoyed so much on this trip: spectacular sights, sounds, tastes and people. Our time in Rio flew by so quickly and we wished we could have stayed longer but our next adventure was about to start!

So to end our trip on a high note we decided to celebrate our last evening in Rio-Style, and truly make it a night to remember. We spent a few days doing a little research on Rio’s various hot spots and eventually planned what we thought would be a perfect night of indulgence and delight in Rio’s top nights spots, Leblon, but as we’ve learnt so many times, you can’t always plan everything.

So this is how our last night of our round the world trip panned out. We started the evening at an authentic little Cuban restaurant for sundowners consisting of freshly made mojitos and some scrumptious snacks. For dinner we had made reservations at one of Leblon’s top restaurants called Carlota, which is synonymise for having a long queue at the door of patrons wanting to sample their fine cuisine. Apparently Condé Nast Traveler chose the restaurant as one of the 50 most exciting restaurants in the world, just what we were looking for! The menu and wine list were to die for and we took the better part of an hour to decide what to eat. We slowly worked our way through some delicious starters and savoured every little bit. Together with a great bottle of wine and what must have been our second best meal of the trip we slowly dined the evening away. After a small little desert and espresso we reluctantly left the restaurant as we could see a solid queue forming at the door and didn’t want to deprive anyone of great food we had just experienced.

After dinner we strolled back over to the Cuban bar for the only way to end a great evening, with a fine single malt and Cuban cigar. By this time the local band had begun playing and the bar had a wonderful atmosphere. For a short while we felt like we were back in Havana, sipping mojitos and listening to great live Cuban music. One scotch lead to another as we reminisced over the wonderful adventure we had over the past 14 months, it was sad that all this was coming to an end but at the same time we were looking forward to getting back home to family and friends and possibly starting a little family of our own.

If that’s were the night ended it would have been unmatched but it was about to get a lot more interesting. We left the Cuban bar in high spirits and whilst looking for a taxi spotted a lively little bar across the street filled with a very local looking crowd. It really was just a bar counter with a few bar stools and some plastic tables and chairs out on the side walk. We thought, why not, we’d seen Rio’s finest samba clubs, bars and restaurants but never really had a drink with the locals.

We squeezed in at the bar where two elderly ladies were kind enough to give Inge-Marie a seat and in our best Portuguese said “por favor possa tenho bebida local” (what ever the locals are drinking please). This turned out to be something called Marakuja, a frozen slush puppy type drink tasting a little like passion fruit or granadilla with a kick. The great news was they only cost a few R$1 so we decided to buy everyone at the bar a round. Very soon we were chatting to everyone at the bar and were even surprised to find out that some of them could speak a little English.

We had a great time hearing about the local customs and that the bar was sponsoring the “blocos” (block) for Carnival and told us about their theme and t-shirt designs. Before we knew it we were both wearing their carnival t-shirts which they had kindly given us and had become part of the community. After a few more strong icy drinks and animated English / Portuguese discussions we probably realised it was a good time to get home, after all we still had to catch an early morning flight to Sao Paolo. We bid our found farewells to everyone at the bar, promising to return some day and share more stories and passion fruit drinks. Embarrassingly I must admit we were not entirely sure how we made it home, but fortunately did.

Next morning all hell broke lose as we realised we had somehow overslept and only had less than an hour to get to the airport. How could this have happened?? We hurriedly threw our last few things into out bags (luckily having packed the bulk of our few belongings the previous afternoon) and raced downstairs to grab a taxi, which at 8am on a Saturday morning is not the easiest thing to find. One thing we were annoyed about was that the rental agent was meant to meet us at the apartment to refund our US$200 deposit and he had not pitched up. We however did manage to get a taxi and like in an episode of 'The Amazing Race’ we had our taxi drive speeding to the airport to ensure we didn’t miss our bi-weekly connecting flight to Johannesburg.

With minutes to spare we made the flight and finally breathed a sigh of relief when we took off. Eish, that was close we thought!! We could only look back and laugh at the great evening we had that almost resulted in us missing our flight home, why didn’t we set our alarms, how did we manage to wake-up just in the nick of time, find a taxi and make our flight. Never in our entire trip had we cut it so fine!

Once in Sao Paolo we were in need to some recovery food and headed straight for McD’s. After my night with the locals I thought my Portuguese was smoking and showed off by ordering our meal in Portuguese only to find out when I got back to the table I had botched the order and now had to eat a fish burger which in my fragile state was the last thing I needed. Reluctantly I wolfed the fishy concoction down and then tried to get to the bottom of there the rental agent was with our deposit. After a few phone calls I returned to where Inge-Marie was waiting very confused. Apparently the agent was there on time and banged on the door for almost and hour, no one answered he said. Only rational explanation is that he must have been at the wrong door!!??

After a long wait at the airport we finally boarded our final flight back to Johannesburg, back to reality, back to the real world, back to a home, friends and family. A few minutes into the flight I peered out the window looking back as Brazil was fading into the horizon and saw the most beautiful sunset of the entire trip. The entire sky had turned a crimson red as the setting sun light-up the underside of the wispy clouds stretching out behind us. It reminded me of how blessed we were to have been able to experience so much of God’s wonder and best of all I was able to experience it with my favourite person in the world, my best friend, my beloved wife.
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Comments

Farayi on

Great Finish!!!!!!!!! Bravo!!!!

14 months of non-stop travel was a major major feat. Unbeatable!

Congrats from Farayi & Juliet

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