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Published: January 17th 2018
Landing into Chile, Santiago gave us the first taste of our fourth and final continent on this trip! Struggling with jetlag, most of our 4 day visit was spent trying to adjust to the 14 hour time change from Australia. When we weren't sleeping, we managed to participate in a couple of walking tours which was a great way to learn a bit about the colonial history of Chile and the recent brutal dictatorship. Just as we were becoming fluent in Spanish we then had to change to Portuguese as we flew across to Rio de Janeiro!
"The City of God" but it feels like God is a long way away from here. Muggings. Kidnappings. Murder. Rio has a reputation for being one of the world's most dangerous cities and it certainly felt like that to us.
Driving from the airport into the city, we caught our first glimpses of Rio's infamous favelas - shanty towns located within and on the outskirts of the city with very high levels of poverty and crime. We would have loved to visit one of the favelas to see life on the inside of one of these communities and to experience the "real"
Rio. Having researched tours into Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil, we learned that 3 tourists have been shot there in the last 12 months. Bearing this in mind, and having been warned by our AirBnB host that it is too dangerous to visit, we opted for safety instead! We can only imagine what life is like with the poverty, drugs, gangs, guns, murders, etc.
Visiting the bohemian neighbourhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa one Sunday morning was not our greatest move! Despite being popular tourist areas, we found ourselves alone apart from dozens of homeless people sleeping in the streets. Luckily nobody seemed too bothered by us and we had a great morning. Returning midweek to the same areas it was completely different - packed with workers and tourists - so definitely more advisable to stick to business hours!
Despite the poverty, safety concerns and "smell of piss" (no need to ask who is writing this paragraph) that is obvious at every turn in the city, it is definitely a place that we recommend to visit. It was great to learn about the history of the city and how it became the only South American city to
be the capital of a European Empire for a time. There was a great buzz at Copacabana beach - with thousands of people soaking up the sun, sports enthusiasts, music, caipirinhas and much more! The views from the Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ The Redeemer statue were beyond incredible. We also had some great encounters with the locals; the most memorable being a man who befriended us in an hour long queue in the supermarket - giving us sweets and chatting away to us in Portuguese to pass the time....of course we understood every word!
Leaving Rio, we travelled along the Coste Verde or the Emerald Coast to Paraty. Green hills rolling all the way to the ocean, it was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the city we had left behind. With its cobbled streets and colonial buildings, it looks and feels as though time stopped for Paraty in the 1800's. During Brazil's Gold Rush era, it was a thriving port town, used to ship gold from the nearby mountains. However, it became redundant when a road network was developed between São Paulo and Rio - leaving it with no purpose or investment. Whilst it received
some rejuvenation from the coffee trade, nowadays it is completely dependent upon tourism. As an UNESCO World Heritage Site it really is a gem in Brazil but it isn't without its skeletons. It was an important port also for the import and sale of slaves from Africa during the colonial period and under the quaint cobbled streets lie the remains of those who died on the journey across the Atlantic.
Paraty was also a reminder of the dangers of Brazil. One day there was a funeral of a young police man who was shot in a nearby town. Another night, a man came into a restaurant we were dining at, grabbed a steak knife from the table beside us and went to confront the manager who he had been having an argument with moments earlier!
São Paulo was our home for Christmas (unfortunately nobody thought to tell Santa our location so we assume our gifts are at home in Clare!). São Paulo is the 3rd largest city in the world and the economic capital of Brazil. The city and its population thrived initially on the coffee industry. Thanks to mass immigration over the years, it hosts the largest community
of Japanese outside of Japan (approx 500,000) but this pales in comparison to an estimated 6 million Italians! Founded by the Jesuits, they named the city after St Paul. However, for all its development, the gap between rich and poor is very evident and in a city with an UBER app for helicopter taxis, there are huge numbers of homeless people in sight.
In case we had forgotten that we were still backpacking, a 16 hour overnight bus journey from Sao Paulo to Foz do Iguaçu (the Brazilian side of the Iguaçu Falls) would quickly set that straight! As we travelled through the night and into the morning, the green countryside and rain reminded us of home!! The Iguaçu Falls, one of the World's Seven Natural Wonders, lie on the Brazil / Argentina border and can be visited from both sides.
On the Brazil side, we were treated to amazing panoramic views of the waterfalls and got completely soaked in the process! But it was completely worth it. Nothing can prepare you for the size of the falls. With 275 in total, they are indescribable. Lucky for us, we get to experience them twice. Hola Argentina!
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