Sad to leave the tranquility of Parati we hopped on yet another bus to head to Rio. The bus drove along the coast road so there were some pretty spectacular views, shame about the kid puking two rows behind! We arrived at Rio bus station, and after a brief domestic about whether we were on the right bus (we were!), we scrambled off to find ourselves in the world famous Copacabana district (cue much humming of the Barry Manilow classic).
We had booked into a hostel that lauded itself as the best hostel in South America, as voted in the Telegraph. Well, we´re not really sure what the criteria is, but it can´t have included comfortable accommodation (the mattress was covered in plastic) or hot water and in our humble opinion it was pretty much the worst place we stayed in during the full 7 weeks. The Lonely Planet review actually says "backpackers endure basic accommodation in exchange for a great party atmosphere" but considering we prefer great accommodation and a basic party atmosphere it wasn´t really the place for us. Mid-stay we bailed out to another hostel up in the hillside, leafy suburb of Santa Teresa and thankfully this
was far more our style, albeit with a few too many mozzies for our liking.
Dreadful accommodation aside, we managed to fit in some of the Rio standards with a day tour to Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf mountain, the Maracana stadium, the carnival parade avenue and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Christ the Redeemer is the iconic image of Rio. It is a huge 38m high statue of Christ, arms outstretched, atop a 710m high peak from where there are apparently great views of Rio. We say apparently because the cloud cover was so thick when we were there that we struggled to see the statue let alone the view!
Next stop was the Maracana stadium, the major sporting venue in Brazil. Initially with a capacity of 200k it now houses approx. 90k, which is still pretty impressive. We only saw the stadium from the outside and briefly visited the hall of fame, where Brazilian football legends including Pele and Kaka have left footprints. Naturally this called for a cheesy photo so we have one of Joey standing in the imprints of Kaka - hopefully some of his skills will rub off on Joe in time for the
next season. We then called in at the Metropolitan Cathedral, which seats 20,000 people. It´s a modern cathedral that looks like a darlek from the outside but has some impressive stained glass windows on the inside. The tour then took us to the carnival parade avenue, which in all honesty is just a long concrete road flanked by concrete seats and not that nice to look at when it isn´t full of 4,000 samba dancers in exotic costumes. To be honest, most of these things were probably just fillers between Christ and Sugar Loaf but they were interesting to see.
The piece de resistance was Sugar Loaf mountain, another Rio icon. There are two peaks, the first at 280m and Sugar Loaf itself at 396m, from which there were stunning views of the city - and this time no cloud so we could actually enjoy the view. You reach the peaks by cable car and there are viewing stations at each peak from which to take plentiful photos. We were on Sugar Loaf as the sun was setting so got to see the city vista by day and night.
We visited both Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, but at
that point it wasn´t really beach weather so we strolled along the promenade with the other beautiful people and watched the surfers and volleyball players - with Joey keen to join in. Whilst in Ipanema we also visited the "Hippy Market" where Joe managed to procure a cheap fake Brazil top.
As noted, our second hostel was in the Santa Teresa district, which has a smaller town feel away from the hustle and bustle of the beach districts. It even has a cute little tram to wind up the hilly, cobbled streets, which we rode to the top for more views over Rio. We did some relaxing for the last couple of days in Santa Teresa, as the weather eventually became much more Rio like, and tried out some Brazilian culinary specialities, which were delicious but enough to feed the 5 thousand. We also sampled the local drink, Caipirinha, in various different flavours.
One of the few good things about the rubbish hostel was the Capoeria show they hosted. A group from the favelas (slums) came to demonstrate this cross between dancing and martial arts, originally developed to fool the Portuguese in to thinking the locals weren´t training
themselves up to fight. The performance was really good, particularly two young boys who were already very skilled at it, and afterwards we were coerced to join in with a few moves ourselves (hmmm!).
We liked Rio but had high expectations before getting there that perhaps weren´t fully met. The weather was pretty rubbish our first couple of days and combined with the average accommodation and the expense of everything in Brazil (essentially UK prices unlike the rest of the continent) it put a bit of a dampner on things. However, the last couple of days were much better with glorious sunshine (30 degrees in the middle of winter) and lots of relaxing at the Santa Teresa hostel.
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