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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Our time in Bolivia started with a visit to Copacabana and Lake Titicaca. We had heard really good things about the place from people we had met in Cusco, especially one of the islands on the lake called Isla Del Sol. The lake itself is the largest in South America, and it separates Peru from Bolivia. The border crossing was simple enough, although there were a few Americans on the bus that had a harder time getting across than us, with one girl even getting refused.
We had an afternoon recovering from our overnight journey and relaxing in the sun before meeting some friends from Peru (Jo and Tommy) for dinner. We went to a great restaurant that I would highly recommend called La Orilla. A good fillet steak or amazing fresh water trout with a glass of wine for under £5 can’t be bad, and a great way to welcome in a new country.
The next morning we got up early to get a boat to the north of Isla Del Sol, which took about three hours. Thankfully it was a nice day, so we took in the sights before arriving at the tiny port. Most people on the boat were booked on as part of a tour, but we had decided that we would explore the island on our own. We knew a rough route to take us down to the port in the south of the island, and we knew we had a maximum of about four hours to walk it. We saw loads of animals along the way as most of the land is used for farming, and we even had a dog for company for the first couple of miles of the walk.
The walk itself had some stunning views over the lake with the snow-capped Andes in the background. It was a hot day, and at over 3800m above sea level some of the hills seemed more like mountains. We had a quick break in the middle of a farm where in our best broken Spanish we asked for directions. When we were pointed up one of the bigger hills of the island, Katy didn’t seem too happy, and we soon found ourselves having another break. Forty minutes later we stumbled across another farmer who told us we had been going in the completely wrong direction, but for a small fee he could get us back on track. By this point Katy wasn’t in the mood for bartering and just told me to pay the man. We got back to the south port in plenty of time though, and thoroughly enjoyed our day on the lake.
We only had two nights in Copacabana before heading to La Paz. It’s a very busy city, and a stark contrast to our last few weeks. It’s a bit of a strange city as it’s a big, but with very little to do. We struggled to find restaurants at one stage, and it wasn’t really what we expected. We did get to meet up with an old friend that we met in our first week of travelling in Beijing, Slaven. Since Beijing we also bumped into him on a desert island in Cambodia, and it was nice to catch up again after so long. We enjoyed a few drinks and a full English breakfast whilst watching some of the Sunday morning football.
La Paz is famous for its markets, and specifically anything related to alpaca. I thought we had actually bought enough alpaca clothing to last us a lifetime, but Katy was adamant that we needed more…constantly reminding me that parts of Bolivia get as cold as -15° at night.
The markets also sell alpaca foetuses that local witches use to cook up potions and spells. Funnily enough though, Katy wasn’t interested in buying any of those as souvenirs.
Before we left La Paz, we went to check out the local attraction that is held every Sunday. Cholitas is local wrestling, where women in traditional clothes take on the men. Not really being a fan of wrestling I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was a surprising evening. We took Slaven along with us, and not long after taking our seats in the front row were we covered in drinks being thrown out of the ring. At one point one of our fellow gringos was dragged into the ring, and I was just relived that it wasn’t me. It was all very cheesy, but a great night out none the less.
Next on the agenda was the Amazon jungle. We had been thinking about doing a jungle trip in Bolivia for some time, as it is supposed to be the cheapest place to do it. It wasn’t until we got to La Paz though that it was all booked and confirmed. We decided to go with a cheap return flight with a company that is run by the Bolivian military, called TAM.
Katy isn’t the best flyer in the world and flying usually involves her squeezing all the blood out of my hand during take-off. This flight however was very different, with almost a full panic attack taking place. It didn’t help that the plane was about fifty years old, only held about forty people and was held together with duct tape (no joke). The main problem however was that after take-off we were flying perilously close to the surrounding mountains. Eventually though things calmed down and the panic attack was over, and forty minutes later we landed in Rurrenabaque.
The first night was much colder than we expected, and we went out for drinks and dinner with another couple from England we met on the flight, Zoe and JK. There are several tours you can do from here, but we decided to go with the Pampas tour which involved more animals and less trekking…much to Katy’s delight.
Our tour left early the next morning and we were joined for the very bumpy ride by four Aussies, Jess and Leigh and Kate and Andy. It was a three hour jeep ride to Santa Rosa, and we were all relieved to get out and stretch our legs before having lunch. Soon after we were on the road again, and we then made our way to the Beni River for the next leg of our trip; a three hour trip on a motorised canoe. Our guide, Juan, pointed out some of the many different types of wildlife on the way while we got to know each better and all wishing we had bought along a cerveza or two.
The lodge we stayed in was rickety to say the least, and we were staying in a dorm that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a few weeks. After dinner and a cold shower, we then headed up river to spot alligators and caimans. Our torches lit up their eyes in the dark, and it was a bit unnerving seeing so many of them so close to the boat. When we headed back to camp, we made a quick pit stop in a river bar (if you can call it that) to pick up some wine. The camp only had power until 10:00pm, so we had a couple of hour playing cards and learning how much Aussies cheat.
The next day we headed out into the marsh lands looking for anacondas. The weather had got much hotter since the previous day, and it finally began to feel like we were in the jungle. Our guide, Juan told us that two weeks before he had found a seven metre anaconda not far from where we were. As we were up to our knees in swamp it was making a few of the girls a bit nervous, so after a couple of hours of searching they gave up and started playing cards under a tree, leaving the boys to do the searching. Ten minutes later we found one. It wasn’t quite seven metres long, but it was good to finally see one after searching for so long.
On our way back to the boat Katy suddenly screamed and began jumping up and down and flapping her arms. I looked around to see dozens of wasps surrounding her and decided the best thing to do was run (obviously telling Katy to do the same thing). It turns out she had walked straight through a wasp’s nest and ended up being stung about six times. Not a very happy Katy afterwards, until we smothered her wounds with tomato sauce to ease the pain.
That afternoon we went piranha fishing in a quiet area upstream. First of all we caught some sardines as bait, and then we went for the piranhas. Katy did well and had one of the bigger catches of the day, perfect for our dinner later on that evening. On the way back to camp we headed back to the river bar where a game of football had been organised by some Irish lads on one of the other tours. We spent an hour or so running around beer in hand, trying to avoid all of the mosquitoes. It ended with the guides, English and Aussies beating the rest of the world 6-5.
The next morning we were supposed to be up at 05:00am to go and see the sunrise, but the previous night after quite a few bottles of red wine we all decided that we would rather have a lie in. Instead after breakfast we went to swim with dolphins (among other things) in the river. After seeing people fishing for piranhas just metres away, and a host of alligators and caimans sat on the river banks, we were all a bit nervous. Juan ensured us though that the dolphins would protect us. I’m not too sure how true this is, but either way it got us into the water.
That afternoon we had the long journey back to Rurrenabaque. It had been an amazing few days in the jungle where we saw parrots, howler monkeys, black caimans, alligators, anacondas, piranhas, pink river dolphins, macaws, eagles, vultures, hoatzins, parrots, cassowarys, rhinoceros beetles, spider monkeys, capybaras and vampire bats. Unfortunately we didn’t see any sloths or tapirs, but we were both very happy with the trip.
That night we all met in the Mosquito Bar along with Zoe and JK for a few drinks. It turned onto a bit of a rowdy affair before we all left (or got kicked out) for some much needed sleep. The next day we had our return flight to La Paz, or so we thought. The airport is tiny, and doesn’t really have a departure building. Instead we were all congregated on the edge of the runway waiting for our plane to arrive. As it came in to land it suddenly veered off the runway almost hitting a group on people on the grass verge. Everyone watching was pretty shocked as it looked like it was very close to being a serious accident.
The plane slowly came to a stop next to us, and there was some sort of fluid leaking from one of the engines. The locals didn’t seemed too concerned about this, and just left us to play cards under the wings so we could shield ourselves from the sun. Eventually after a couple of hours of trying to either fix the problem or organise another flight, we were told that the flight was cancelled. I think we were all quite relieved by this, as the thought of getting back on that plane was a bit worrying. So instead we decided to stay another two nights and enjoy the sunshine. Before we could even get off of the tarmac though, the bus back to town actually broke down as well, and we all had to get out and push. It was ridiculous, but kind of summed up Bolivia.
We found a bar that had a nice swimming pool, and spent our extra day catching up on some sun. We knew the next day was going to be busy because as soon as we got to La Paz, we had an overnight bus booked to take us to Sucre. This actually turned into a very stressful day. First of all our flight was over an hour late leaving, then it took an age to get our bags off the plane. Then as we got a cab back to our hotel to pick up our bags it was diverted as roads were closed. I also had to run to the ticket office to pick up our bus tickets. When we got into another cab to take us to the bus station, as he went to leave the battery died, and we both had to get out and push the cab, again.
Eventually we got to the station with about 15 minutes to spare, but the attendant wouldn’t let us put our bags on the bus. Instead he told us to wait outside the bus and he would come back. Well we waited there until the bus driver closed the door and started driving away. I was shouting at him to stop but he just ignored me, so instead I stood in front of the bus to stop it from leaving. Eventually the attendant came back and took our bags, and we got aboard. We had to laugh about it, but it was not the easiest day of travelling…another one to add to the list.
As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link (more will be added in due course):
Until the next time.