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Published: August 4th 2010
The weather improved with each day we spent in Rio, leaving us free to explore and enjoy what has turned out to be one of our favourite cities of the trip. For us, Rio has it all. We stayed in a hostel in Ipanema, a really safe, central and fun area of the city. Our first adventure to Rocinha, the biggest favela in South America. We got there on the back of a moped, or on a 'mototaxi' as they're known here. Kids lined the perimeters of Rocinha, armed with fireworks, which they would set off if any rival gangs or police tried to enter. We were brought up to the top of the favela and shown around the streets, shops and even inside some of the houses. The slums are built on the side of a mountain with fabulous views over the city and conveniently located right next to the super rich areas in Rio. Although the location is great for the thieves and the drug dealers doing business with the wealthy, it brings with it it's fair share of problems. Just two months previous, massive rains caused landslides that claimed the lives of over two hundred people living there.
The streets smelled putrid; I felt sick with the stink of rubbish and waste that filled the air. Up to this, the government had done little or nothing to help the people living in the favela, but now, because all eyes are on Brazil for the World Cup and the Olympics, they are slowly intervening. New schemes are being introduced to control the size, activity and the safety in Rocinha. Only time will tell how successful these interventions are.
We went up to the 'Christ the Redeemer' statue for fantastic views over the city and climbed the famous 'Seleron Steps'. There is so much to do and see here that the days just flew by. The nightlife in Rio is brilliant, with the rich and the poor socialising alongside one another on the streets by the arches of Lapa. And what better way to recover the following day than soaking up the sun on the white sand beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema.
As we lay on the beach, we watched hang gliders fly in to land on the sand and Paulo fancied trying his hand at a bit more flying. After my experience of paragliding in Colombia, I decided to
hold back on this activity. The flight took off from Rio's Tijuca Forest, right in the heart of the city. Although the take off was somewhat similar to paragliding, once in the air, the sensation was completely different; it really felt like flying. It was a lot smoother and faster and being in a horizontal position made the flight a lot more enjoyable. While gliding around, high up in the sky, Paulo spotted the Maracana Stadium, the biggest soccer stadium in the world. With the league back in full swing after the world cup, we booked tickets to watch Flamengo, (one of the big teams in Rio), play against Avai. Only a couple of weeks before this, the goalkeeper for Flamengo had been arrested for murder and was in custody awaiting trial. The latest news from the papers was that he had requested a TV in his cell to watch his team's games!
Although the football wasn't the finest we've ever seen, the crazy fans kept us entertained for the night. The banging of drums and chanting of songs echoed continuously around the stadium for the entire duration of the game. Roars of abuse were constantly directed at Flamengo's manager
and these got louder and more animated as the clock approached the ninety minutes and the score remained an unimpressive one all draw. The local fans may have been disappointed with the game but we thoroughly enjoyed it.
We were sad to leave Rio but with less than two weeks left in Brazil we wanted to see more. Ilha Grande was next on the cards and we made our way south to this paradise island. The pace of life was so laid back there and with no cars on the island it was peaceful and quiet. It felt as though we had left South America behind us and were back in Asia. The island is lined with beautiful beaches and the interior's hillsides are covered in forest with lots of walks and trails leading to hidden waterfalls, natural swimming pools and secluded beaches. We spent our days walking, swimming and relaxing on the beach and our evenings drinking caiparinhas and listening to live bands playing in local cafes. It was amazing.
We left Ilha Grande for Salvador, to meet up with a friend on her last night before flying home. The Pelourinho is the historical centre of town and we
checked into a hostel there. Armed military police guarded the entrance to our hostel and warned us on arrival not to walk around town after dark, to take a taxi even on the shortest of distances. 'The Pelo', as it's known, is not the safest of places at night and not wanting anything to spoil our time in Salvador, we moved to the beach side neighbourhood of Barra the following morning and visited 'The Pelo' on day trips from there.
Salvador is a Caribbean style Brazil, with bustling colourful streets banging out soulful and reggae tunes all day and night; where buxom bossomed, balloon bottomed bodies are celebrated, encouraged and on show! The men are constantly working out on the beaches, jogging, doing press-ups and practicing Capoeira. It seems as though the men are the ones who put in all the effort at maintaining their looks while the women proudly flaunt their larger bodies and confidence oozes from them with every jiggle. The city is a lot of fun with Tuesday being the big night. Free live music plays in the inner courtyards of the Pelo and the cobbled streets fill with both tourists and locals alike, sharing caiparinhas and
beers around plastic tables and dancing behind roaming bands of drummers. The men dance their moves together to impress the women as they shake their rears like no one else in the world can. We had fun just people watching and of course had a little dance ourselves too.
Not far from Salvador lies the holiday village of Morro de Sao Paulo, a fun party town that we thought would be ideal for our last few days in Brazil. Sand streets ruled by wheelbarrows and pedestrians are deserted by day but fill up with cocktail stands in the evening and remain there long into the night. Music bangs out from drums and people dance in the plaza before heading on to the beach to party til dawn.
It was here that it finally hit us that the time had come to start our journey home; up to this we were in complete denial. We never thought the day would come that our adventures would be over. Looking back, we have done so much, but the time just flew by too quickly.
We made our way back to Salvador where we packed up our bags, ready to catch the bus to
the airport. Although this is the end of South America, it is not the end of our trip completely. We still have a three weeks left in Portugal where, no doubt, more adventures await.
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