Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl…

We arrived in Rio de Janeiro excited but slightly apprehensive as it was our last stop before flying home. We didn’t get too much time to dwell on it though as when we walked into our hostel we bumped into some friends from Bolivia, Chris and Zoe. It was their last night travelling before their return to England, so we had a few caipirinhas with them before they left. Our hostel (Bossa in Rio) was really nice and had a great happy hour, so we quickly made some new friends while acclimatising to the sweltering hot weather.

View from our hostel
View from our hostel

We were in Rio for five days but had a lot to squeeze in during that time, so the next morning we were up early and headed to see one of the big attractions, Christ the Redeemer. We went with an Aussie couple called Nathan and Kate. Christ reminded us of Big Buddha in Hong Kong and although it’s a very impressive and symbolic sight, it was the views that won us over. As with all these sights, it was full of tourists but we managed to elbow some of them out of our way for some great shots of Rio.

Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer

The afternoon was spent wondering around Leblon and Ipanema, some of Rio’s more affluent neighbourhoods. We had planned to watch the sunset from Ipanema beach as apparently it is amazing but unfortunately after about half an hour of watching the beautiful people on the beach, the weather suddenly turned and huge rain clouds came over ahead. We ran for a bus in the pouring rain and made the most of our hostels happy hour instead.

The bad weather continued the next day so we took a walk to the Santa Teresa steps, beautifully tiled stairway by a Chilean artist. It was raining so we took a few pictures and had a quick lunch before heading out for the afternoon.

Santa Teresa steps
Santa Teresa steps

We had booked ourselves onto a favela tour with a tour group called ‘Don’t be a Gringo, be a Local’…quite apt. I was really looking forward to having a walk around a favela within the relative safety of a tour. We were taken to the biggest and most famous favela in South America called Rochina which houses over 69,000 people. We started at the top which provided amazing views over the whole favela and Rio and then slowly made our way down through the narrow lanes.

Rocinha Favela
Rocinha Favela

On our way down we were treated to some live Samba by some of the local kids. They were part of a Sunday school and had been encouraged to do something for money rather than just beg so they had put together a small band…if you can call it that…some old plastic tubs and saucepans. Some of the younger kids joined in and started dancing for us. It was all very sweet and obviously planned for our visit so we rewarded their efforts with a small donation.

Samba
Samba

The favela is like a city of its own, it has its own hospitals, schools, shops and even internet cafes. This particular favela has not been pacified yet but is starting to go through the process. Most of the favelas in Rio have now been pacified, which basically means that the drug lords have been kicked out and they are now run and supported by the police. Most favelas have seen massive improvements in terms of sanitation and some have cable cars or lifts being built (not for tourists but for the locals).

Rocinha Favela
Rocinha Favela

When we came out of a particular bad lane, having walked through sewage and god knows what else, we were greeted by four massive police men carrying machine guns…not a sight I expected but apparently all part of the pacification. Our guide told us that the majority of local people have welcomed the change and are working with the police to improve their living conditions. It was a truly interesting experience.

Rocinha Favela
Rocinha Favela

The Aussie couple we met, Kate and Nathan were great fun and one night Nathan let us into a big secret. He had arranged for Kate’s sister to fly into Rio and travel with them for three weeks and Kate had no idea. Alice was arriving during happy hour so we settled down for a few drinks and when she walked through the door, Kate’s face was a picture…what a brilliant surprise!

We celebrated Alice’s arrival by heading out to the infamous Lapa street party. The whole neighbourhood came alive with live music on the streets, cheap caipirinhas and an amazing atmosphere. We watched some of the locals strut their stuff and show off their samba skills and I decided to have a go. Well, I can tell you that samba is one of the hardest dances I have ever tried. It obviously has a rhythm but I couldn’t find it so I sort of jumped around on my feet trying to wiggle my bum at the same time…not a pretty sight according to Sam!

Lapa Street Party
Lapa Street Party

It was a great night and we managed to come home with our camera and wallet still intact. One of the couples we were with had their iPhone stolen from their pocket unfortunately, and it’s notorious for theft and muggings.

Lapa Street Party
Lapa Street Party

Feeling slightly worse for wear the next day we headed to Copacabana for a walk along the famous beach and possibly a dip in the sea. Unfortunately the weather didn’t co-operate so we settled some lunch followed by some Havaiana shopping much to Sam’s delight. We returned to Lapa later that night for some more samba and the strongest caipirinhas I have ever had. They were served in pint glasses and were very cheap.

Copacabana Beach
Copacabana Beach

Sunday was a bit of a wash-out unfortunately…two nights out on the trot were taking their toll so we had a lazy day in the hostel. By the evening we were feeling much better so a group of us headed out to a local restaurant which was recommended by our hostel; Bar Do Maneiro. It was a great little place which offered traditional Brazilian food at a reasonable price. We each shared some bean and meat stew, which we later found out was made with pigs ears, tails and other meat delights. It was delicious though and I am glad I didn’t really know what I was eating. We also ordered the fish stew which was delicious and we couldn’t resist ordering a plate of crackling…Mmm. It was a great last night for us.

Bar Do Maneiro
Bar Do Maneiro

We packed our bag for the very last time, careful to protect the three litres of cacacha we’re bringing back and headed out to our final tourist spot, Sugar Loaf Mountain. We had wanted to go up for sunset as the views over Rio looked incredible. Because of the changeable weather this wasn’t possible so we headed out around lunchtime and had a couple of hours soaking in the amazing views, even finding a couple of loungers to relax on.  We also enjoyed watching the planes come in as they have to bank quite sharply over the water in order to land on the short runway of the local airport.

View from Sugarloaf Mountain
View from Sugarloaf Mountain

Although we had a lovely day, trying to get Sam to smile in any of the photos was hard work. He is definitely not looking forward to coming home so he was a bit miserable all day. I had fun though and even though I wish we could continue our travels together, I am excited to be coming home to see all my family and friends.

Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain

What a city and country to end our 15 months of travel…a definite must see for you all and one that we’ll be coming back to. We’re now at Frankfurt airport waiting for our flight to London and the only thing that is keeping us going (apart from a Starbucks coffee) is the thought of eating bratwurst and ordering some champagne!

Coming soon…the round-up of our trip

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Having a Grande time in Brazil

After two flights, a quick bus ride through Rio and a further five hours on a bus we were finally in Paraty; just another ordinary travel day. We’d been told that Paraty was a must see and we were not disappointed. It is a picturesque seaside town with cobble stones, colonial buildings and has hundreds of surrounding islands.

Paraty streets
Paraty streets

We booked a boat tour of the islands for one of our three days and had a great day taking in the various islands and beaches. Being typical travellers, we opted out of the lunch option on the boat (v expensive) so instead enjoyed our packet of peanuts and beer whilst everyone else on the boat tucked into fresh shrimp and salad…it wasn’t our best decision.

Paraty boat trip
Paraty boat trip

The rest of our time in Paraty was either spent on the beach, walking around taking pictures of the beautiful cobble stoned streets or drinking Caipirinhas…when in Rome! Paraty is one of two places in Brazil that produces cacacha, the spirit used to make the famous Caipirinha. We found a Cacacharia and immediately started sampling the local stuff which is so much nicer than the cheap cacacha you see everywhere else.

Beer O Clock
Beer O Clock

We could have stayed longer in Paraty but we’d booked our transfer out and our next stop was Ilha Grande, a beautiful island that has been in our plans since the beginning. As this is our last few weeks, we decided that we were done with buses so booked a transfer which would take us door to door for the remainder of our trip, including Rio. The boat dropped us right in front of our hostel on the island and we were excited to dump our bags and start exploring.

View from our room
View from our room

The hostel (Aquario Hostel) was a bit of a let-down unfortunately. We had a nice room, overlooking the sea front but the staff were a bit moody and the whole place just felt a bit shabby and dirty. Oh well, Ilha Grande is a big island so we spent our days out on the various beaches and our evenings in town doing you know what…drinking caipirinhas.

Happy Hour
Happy Hour

On our first night we met another English couple, Laura and Philip and we decided to book a boat trip together. We chose a smaller boat (max 15 people) which took us to a couple of beaches, a couple of snorkelling sites and included a BBQ lunch.

The beer man
The beer man

The only disappointment that day was that there was nowhere to buy drinks so all we had was warm water. That was until a local man in is kayak arrived with iced cold beers just as we were about to sit down for lunch. Talk about timing.

A relaxed Sam
A relaxed Sam

One of the main things to do on this island is a beach called Lopes Mendes. Everyone we had met told us that we must make the effort to go to this beach. There are two options; the first is to walk there and what they describe as a relatively easy 2-3 hour trek, the second option is to get a boat there.

Jungle boogie
Jungle boogie

As we were in holiday mode, we had discussed getting the boat there and back but then I woke up one morning and it was fairly cloudy and I had one of my moments of madness and suggested that we should walk there. I have never sweated so much in my life. Sam kept telling me was a good thing but I just kept wishing we had paid the £10 and got the boat.

Beach number one
Beach number one

The walk started badly as we took a wrong turn and ended up walking an hour in the wrong direction. Once we were back on track it took us a further 2 ½ hours of fairly tough climbs in incredible heat…not what I would call relatively easy. Sensible as ever, we walked it in our flip flops!

The walk took us through some quite thick jungle but then opened up onto smaller beaches along the way. When we finally reached Lopes Mendes it was really busy but we could see why it was a must see. A beautiful white sandy beach as far as the eye could see stretched out in front of us and this was one of the best beaches we have seen in South America.

Lopes Mendes
Lopes Mendes

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great so the pictures do not do it justice at all. We found spot to collapse onto, grabbed a couple of beers and just relaxed for a few hours watching the surfers. Of course we got the boat back and we ended the day slowly sailing back to the main town.

Poser
Poser

Our last day on Ilha Grande was spent on the beach, fearing this would be our last beach day for some time we sweated our way through it. It was so hot that we were constantly in and out of the sea, playing frisbee and I think Sam walked up and down the beach about 20 times as it was too hot to lie still. Sounds terrible I know. Last stop Rio.

Caipirinhas
Caipirinhas

 

Until the next time…

Brazil…the beginning of the end

From Uruguay we travelled across the border to Brazil with three lovely (and mad) Irish girls, Maeve, Cliona and Mary, who we’d met in our hostel. The journey started with a bit of drama…Cliona had left one of her bags at the bus station containing hundreds of dollars, and it was unlocked…oh. After some tears, frantic phone calls and a very helpful local lady at the border, she was eventually reunited with her bag seconds before we had to leave on our connecting bus (lucky).  Disaster averted. This was our last overnight bus (whoop!) so we thought we’d travel in style and treated ourselves to cama seats (full recliners). Once on board we sat back, relaxed and enjoyed a dinner of dry chicken and plastic tortilla.

After a good night’s sleep we were finally in Brazil…our last country of this trip and which takes the tally up to 21 visited in 15 months. We were both really excited about Brazil as we had heard such good things from fellow travellers. However a depressing thought was at the back of our minds…just four weeks until we have return to a cold and rainy London.

A few weeks before Brazil we decided that we wanted a stress free month so we booked as much in advance as we could including hostels, transfers, buses and any flights we may need…more time for the beach.

Our first stop in Brazil was Florianopolis (or Floripa as the locals call it), a large island with over 40 beaches, famous for its amazing surf and a chilled out vibe.

Barra de la Goa
Barra de Lagoa

Happy with our hostel choice, we quickly admired the sea view from our window and headed out to explore the small fishing village of Barra de Lagoa. We were starving after our 14 hour bus ride so treated ourselves to an amazing seafood lunch, prawns three ways; breaded, in garlic and grilled, fish in a prawn sauce and crab cakes. It was great to be eating fish again after all the red meat in Argentina.

Mmmmm, seafood
Mmmmm, seafood

It was still a bit out of season so for the first few days we pretty much had a beach to ourselves…it was heaven. In the evenings the hostel offered free caipirinhas in the bar which were delicious and a great way to meet people or just admire the amazing view from the balcony.

View from our room
View from our room

The Irish girls were staying in a different hostel so we arranged to meet them on the beach for Sam’s birthday. They had bought him a Brazilian flag sarong which was great and his only birthday present. Before you ask where his present was from me, let me remind you that he spent £150 on a football ticket not so long ago…that was his birthday treat!

Girl's night out...and Sam
Girl’s night out…and Sam

In the evening we headed out for another delicious seafood dinner and Sam got to enjoy his birthday with four lovely ladies. We ended the night in an English bar called the Black Swan and were joined by a few more people…more girls, one of which asked Sam if I was for keeps (rude). I evidently had far too many caipirinhas as I can’t remember a thing, but I do believe Sam said that I was.

The next few days were pretty chilled out and involved applying sun tan lotion, playing frisbee, eating acai berry smoothies and relaxing in the hostel bar. I have to say the acai berry things have been a real highlight…they are absolutely delicious and apparently very healthy (bonus). They blend frozen acai pulp with bananas and serve it with chopped bananas and granola on the top…it’s like a frozen yogurt type thing and makes a great (and cheap) alternative to lunch…see…healthy!

Acai
Acai

We discovered (well Sam actually) that the Black Swan would be showing the Arsenal match on the Saturday so of course it was decided that we would go into town and watch it. What a dull game it turned out to be but luckily the rugby was on at the same time which kept us more entertained. After a few buckets of beer we headed back to our hostel and straight to bed…what lightweights we have become.

Our hostel was always very busy with lots of people coming and going and we got chatting to a couple of Irish lads, Tom and Darra and an English girl called Candy and immediately hit it off. We spent our last few days and nights hanging out with them and even had a mini beach party when the Irish girls joined us for their last night.

Beach party
Beach party

Florianopolis was a fabulous start to Brazil…we’re tanned, healthier (thanks to the acai) and really looking forward to seeing more of Brazil.

Until the next time…