Rio and Iguacu by Stephen

Published: June 13th 2011
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30th April.

When Isabelle told us that she was intending to travel in Central and South America for 6 months I had the idea that Pam, Phil and I would travel out to see her. My experience of long distance travel over the last few years has been the ferry to Guernsey, so Central or South America seemed a long way to go! We first of all thought we might go to Trinidad but that didn’t fit with Isabelle’s timetable so in the end we decided on Rio de Janeiro.

Mark and Christopher had also told us about Iguacu Falls and both said that if we ever got the chance to go and see them then we must do it. Rio seemed near enough to Iguacu (well at least the falls are in the same country) so we booked to go there as well. I could hardly believe that we were going to go, but there were the tickets.

So that is how Pam, Phil and I were at Manchester airport on Saturday afternoon ready to board the flight to Paris. The flight was on time and the French air traffic controllers managed to resist their urge to strike and we duly arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport later that afternoon. There was a shuttle bus to our hotel and Phil found the right stop, but it still took us a while to get the correct bus to our hotel which was the Radisson Blu.

The hotel was very comfortable and had a swimming pool but we didn’t have much time for that sort of thing. We had a very tasty and large glass of Belgian beer before our meal and then it was off to bed for an early night before an early start in the morning.

1st May

We got up at 6 am and took the shuttle back to the airport and checked in for our flight to Rio which was due to leave at 10.30. The plane left on time and the flight was 11 hours and the time difference between Paris and Rio was 5 hours so we landed in Rio at 5 pm Brazil time – just as the sun was setting. We had a taxi to our hotel which was on Ipanema beach and there was Isabelle waiting to greet us.

Caipirinha is the local Brazilian cocktail and it consists of cachaca (white rum), sugar and limes over crushed ice. Isabelle ordered us one each of these and this was the first ( but certainly not the last) caipirinha that we had on the holiday. I could never remember how to pronounce the name of the drink so in the end I just called it a Cipriani.

Our room looked out over Ipanema beach. We could hear the crash of the waves as they rolled in. During the night it seemed as though there was a storm outside, but it was actually the sound of the waves breaking and eventually Pam and I got used to it.

Another early night.

2nd May.

A lovely sunny morning. After breakfast we decided to get our bearings with a walk along the sea front of Ipanema and then along Copacabana beach. We stopped at a beach café and I had some Coconut milk out of a real coconut. There were plenty of “men of business” wanting to sell us things. We could have bought an umbrella or a sarong with Copacabana on, but I didn’t think that I would be suited to wearing a sarong and it wasn’t my colour anyway, so I declined the offer to buy.

Pam and Isabelle decided that the Botanical gardens would be a good place to visit and we walked all the way there around the lake behind Ipanema beach. There was a much used cycling and/or jogging track right round the lake and it was all measured in 100 metre units. If had still been running that would have been ideal for distance measurement. The gardens were about halfway round the lake so we walked about 5k to get there and were ready for some lunch when we arrived.

I’m not much of a gardener but even I found the gardens fascinating. Trees and plants which had to be grown indoors in the UK just thrived outside. Orchids were like weeds growing on trees and I saw a humming bird and toucans and there was a long long avenue of palm trees – the tallest I have ever seen. How old must they have been?

We got back to the hotel and Phil and Isabelle tried out the swimming pool and we all tried out the bar on the roof of the hotel. The pool was about as big as large bath so not much swimming was done. The barman on the other hand had no other customers and in addition to our beers we were served mango and grapes which made rather a strange combination. Pam and I much appreciated the man’s private enterprise (particularly using the hotel’s old fruit!) so we rewarded him with a “kerching”

That night we ate in a kilo restaurant called Frontera. You are given a ticket as you go in and then you help yourself to the buffet. Then you give your plate to the cashier and they weigh it and then you are charged by your weight (of your plate). We had a competition to see whose plates weighed the most and Pam’s plate was the least heavy. I am not going to reveal the name of the winner. The other thing that I noticed was how expensive the wine list was - even those wines from Argentina and Chile. I thought this was just peculiar to that restaurant but actually the prices were fairly standard at that level through our visit.

3rd May

Weather was a bit overcast and we took a taxi to Maracana stadium. The pitch was all dug up and the stands were being taken out and replaced so all there was to visit was the shop and the footprints of the famous Brazilian footballers. The work was going on in preparation for the World Cup in 2014.

We took a metro train into the central area of Rio. There wasn’t much time in the centre because we had booked a favela tour for the afternoon. The roads were very busy so we ended up walking around the pedestrian areas to the harbour until we got a taxi back to Ipanema.

The favela tour was advertised as being completely safe and as were drove through the very posh area of Rio that borders the favela we were visiting, I hoped that was the case! Our tour consisted of about 12 people and we visited two favelas. One was the largest favela in Rio called Rocinho and then we also visited another called Vila Canoas.

In Rocinho we stopped first at a craft market where the locals were selling pictures and other arts and crafts they had made. The guide said that we should “show interest” in the works on display. The guide said we could not take pictures except of the view of the city below and we were only allowed to walk along the length of the craft market and not any further. Pam and I did show interest and we bought some artwork of Rio from a young man called Alex. As we drove further into the favela there were plenty of shops and bars selling all you could think of – ladies fashions, live chickens and ducks ( presumably this wasn’t a pet shop), grocery stores and all sorts of other shops. There was a constant roar of motor cycles around us. We stopped a few times and looked and photographed the overview of the whole of Rocinho from the highest point. It looked like a ramshackle collection of huts clinging to the mountainside.

Vila Canoas was a smaller favela. We visited an educational centre ( partly funded by the proceeds of the tour) and walked through the narrow streets and passages past residents homes. There was a more relaxed atmosphere here and we could photograph basically what we liked. Our guide stopped us at a bar. We bought some caipirinhas at the bar and these were the best tasting on our holiday. They were also the cheapest. I think we paid R$ 3 each, whereas the going rate in the tourist areas was about 9 R$.

I was very glad that we did this tour. I had thought that favelas were terribly poor and deprived areas with no basic amenities and terrible poverty. I don’t think they are like that at all. There are like a separate community with their own rules and code of conduct. Yes there is poverty, but there was water and electricity and plenty of shops and business going on. The artwork we purchased from Alex will be a special reminder to us of the favelas we visited and of our visit to Brazil.

4th May

I got up early and tried out the hotel gym. I did 20 mins on the exercise bike and some “stoutness exercises”. Then I went in the sea but that didn’t last long as the waves were so large.

After breakfast we took a taxi to the train which takes you up Corcovado to the Christo Redentor statue. At the train station there was a man trying to sell us a mini bus tour up to the statue. We decided to take the train despite this man’s very persuasive attitude. The guide book says sit at the rear to the right of the train for the best views of Rio so we sat at the front on the left. Nevertheless, we were entertained on the way up the mountain by a samba band which produced a very jolly atmosphere.

At the top, we climbed the remaining stairs and there was the statue. The guide book says that the statue is a picture of serenity and strength. It is certainly very impressive but I couldn’t forget Karl Pilkington’s comment when he said the statue’s beard looked like Jimmy Hill. For me though I really felt that I had been to Rio de Janeiro when I was there.

There were plenty of gift shops at the top and I purchased one or two presents. There was a chapel underneath the statue, with a couple of people in but otherwise, it was not a religious place. Lots of tourists like us taking photographs. There were photographers available to take your picture holding your arms out like the statue. We took our own!

The day was a bit misty and cloudy. The views over the city were tremendous and I got lots of photos but the photos were not as good as I hoped because of the mist. Maybe I’ll have to go there again!

We returned to the hotel and it was then time to decide where we were going to watch United v Schalke. Eventually Phil decided that the best place would be the Irish sports bar near the Frontera restaurant we went to on the Monday. This was a good choice and we had several screens to watch match from and all of them showed a resounding United win 4-1. I ordered a pint of Guinness and the price was R$20, ie about £8 so I didn’t have another to celebrate the win. Actually the Guinness tasted OK and had not suffered from its 6000 mile trip.

I was thinking that we might have bottle of champagne to celebrate the win, so we found a nice looking French restaurant nearby. The food was excellent but Moet & Chandon was R$ 300 so I gave the champagne a miss. We had a bottle of Brazilian wine with our meal instead.

5th May

This was to be our last full day in Rio and the weather in the morning was bright and sunny. I went to the gym and was surprised to see that Isabelle was there before me doing some cycling and some weights. After the gym I went down to the beach and actually got in a bit of swimming because the waves were not too big.

After breakfast we got a taxi to Sugar Loaf Mountain and took the cable car to the top. The views particularly of Copacabana beach were stunning. We bought some Cokes from the café at the top and Phil and I were plagued by two high flying wasps who wanted a drink. They were so persistent that eventually we left the Cokes for them.

I don’t have a very good head for heights and I didn’t really like travelling on the cable cars. I don’t know whether it was a joke or not but halfway down from the mountain the cable car stopped. Everyone (except me) started to laugh. I had visions of being stuck in mid air and having to be rescued from the top of the cable car like some James Bond movie. Anyway, the cable car started again so panic over!

Pam and I got a taxi back to Ipanema and then walked on to Copacabana beach and found an open air restaurant for lunch. The waiter sat us in the middle of the restaurant and I was very glad he did. We enjoyed the samba trio who played for us, but they didn’t get to us with the hat because we were in the middle. Then all the street traders descended and if we had wanted we could have bought sarongs, several pictures, umbrellas (the people on the next table bought four!) necklaces, hats and T shirts. Sometimes we forgot that we were actually in a restaurant having lunch there was so much going on.

I did a bit of swimming in the sea on Ipanema later, but the waves were a bit rough again so we retired to the hotel bar. On our last night in Rio we went to the Frontera restaurant again, where they charge you by the weight of the food on you plate. We had a competition for whose plate weighed the most and the same person won again!

6th May.

No time for lying in bed because we were up early to get the flight to Foz do Iguacu. We arrived in Foz about 12.30 and got a taxi to our hotel which was Das Cateratas in the Brazilian National Park. The officials on the gate to the national park would not let our taxi into the park until we had bought our National Park tickets. When we had bought the tickets we couldn’t find the taxi with all our luggage in! The driver had just gone for a comfort break so we were OK after all.

The taxi took us to the hotel and from there we could see the falls. We dropped our baggage and rushed out to have a look. What a sight and what a noise. One of the most impressive sights I will ever see. We went the full length of the walkway right up to the huge waterfall called the Devil’s Throat. And as we were walking, there were the most beautiful butterflies and there were lizards and lovely little mammals called Quatis. Wow!

We got back to the hotel to plan the next day. Our hotel was right in the Brazilian side of the fall and we were a 50K drive to the Argentina side. So we booked a Forest Trail Tour for the morning and a power boat ride up to the falls in the afternoon, which you can do from the Brazilian side as well as the Argentine side.

After we had sorted that, there was time for a swim in the large hotel pool and a couple of beers before we had our dinner in the evening. The hotel had a very colonial style with beautiful gardens and grounds. All the time you could hear the roar of the fall in the background. The guests seemed initially to be mainly American but I heard plenty of German and French as well. Anyway, we were extremely comfortable and well looked after and I would go there again if I got the chance.

7th May

We met out guide for the trail tour which was a 9k walk through the forest to see the flora and the fauna. I was OK with the flora but I was rather concerned about the fauna I might meet. There were jaguars in the forest and snakes in the grass and alligators in the river and I didn’t fancy encountering any of those creatures.

We set off an a good march and kept this going for the 2 hours it took us to get to the banks of the River Iguacu. There were some lovely butterflies to see, there was a large grasshopper and I think it was a sort of guinea pig that scampered across our path, but other than that we saw no fauna at all threatening or otherwise.

When we got to the river bank our guide took us up to an observatory platform which overlooked a muddy area of water. At first I thought it was not very interesting but then I saw some birds flying about and catching fish etc. There seemed to be a lot of logs floating about in the muddy water. Upon closer inspection one of these “logs” started to swim and I realised that it was an alligator. There were actually some real logs in the muddy water as well, but I was not going down to find out what was a log and what was an alligator.

Then we got on a motor boat in the river which was very smooth and wide (about 1km). We went to a jetty and picked up a cameraman and a lady with a microphone and they were making some documentary for Foz television. Our guide offered us the chance to carry on down the river in kayaks. Phil and Isabelle got in one straight away, but I was not so sure after what I had seen in the muddy swamp. Whilst Phil and Isabelle were paddling happily away our boat did an about turn and went to the bank. There was another alligator waiting on the bank. This one was bigger than the others we saw and was about 5 feet long. I took some photos. The alligator must have already eaten because it didn’t seem interested in us at all.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for a day, we then had our afternoon boat trip. This time we were going right underneath the fall and we were going to get very wet. The boat started off some distance from the falls but eventually we got there and yes we did get soaked as evidenced by the DVD. I don’t think our boat went as far into the falls as it could have and maybe that’s because it had to stay on the Brazilian side whereas the Argentina boats were able to follow round the falls with more freedom. That’s only a very minor complaint. I very much enjoyed the boat ride.

Then we got back to the hotel, had a beer at the poolside and enjoyed our meal. The meal was served buffet style and you could eat as much as you liked, which suited some of the people in our party very well! We had some last caipirinhas in the bar and then retired to bed. What a day!

8th May

This was the day we were returning home. The main issue we had to decide was where were we going to watch United v Chelsea which was the Premiership decider.

As it happened we had a long wait for our plane at Rio airport and that wait coincided with the match time. Phil and Isabelle found a restaurant at the airport who were happy to put the match on their television for us. Pam, Phil and Isa sat and enjoyed United’s 2 – 1 win, whereas I spent most of the second half pacing round the airport because I was too nervous that Chelsea might score.

After the match Isabelle left to catch her bus and we three carried on waiting at the airport for our flight. The flight back to Paris was a bit bumpy but we arrived there on time and caught our plane to Manchester. At the baggage carousel we were surprised and pleased to collect our bags which we had not seen since we left them at Foz do Iguacu. The taxi from the airport dropped Phil off at his house and when Pam and I got home we were both tired and so crashed out on the bed.

For me, I really enjoyed our visit to Brazil and yes, I would go back, particularly to Iguacu. We flew with Air France and not once was there any delay on problem with the flights and all planes left on time and arrived on time. I thought the service on the aeroplane was excellent as well. I was very pleased to see Isabelle and I hope that she enjoyed a week of relative comfort and some nice clean sheets as a change from some of the hostels she was staying in.


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