Enjoying the Copacabana Sun With a View of Christ in the Clouds

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South America » Brazil » Rio de Janeiro » Rio de Janeiro
October 27th 2009
Published: November 9th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

Oct 19, 2009

Waking up super early to catch our flight meant that we wouldn’t be indulging in our delicious breakfast at Hostel Bambu. We were quite disappointed but catching our bus to the airport was more important. The buses in South America were pretty much on their own program so none of the locals knew what time the airport bus came. That meant that we would be leaving our hostel really early to catch a bus that came at a random time. It was pouring with rain and after waiting 40 minutes, we were on our way to the airport.

There were a couple of things that worried us before heading to Rio: weather and safety. Justin checked the weather forecast for the next 5 days in Rio the night before. I was pretty bummed to hear that all 5 days were cloudy, with 80% chance of showers and maybe partial sunshine on 1 of the days. Knowing this, I didn’t expect much sunshine once we got there and was quite sad that we only had 1 potential day to go to the beach. About safety in Rio, we heard that it was notorious for theft. We met a lot of really nice travelers at Hostel Bambu who had experienced the not so great side of Rio. One German guy was walking at night at Ipanema beach (not the smartest thing to do in the world!) and while he was surrounded by a bunch of men, he got his ipod, camera, money and a bunch of other things stolen. Another guy we met who was from Whistler, Canada, got a gun pointed to his head and took his money and somehow managed to negotiate keeping his camera. He, too, was out late at night. Lesson learned: no staying out late at night by ourselves…especially with our things.

We flew with TAM airlines and were pleasantly delighted with the breakfast meals, which consisted of hot cheese and ham sandwiches, candies and snacks here and there. Since we’ve never heard of TAM before, we were a little afraid that it would be a bit sketchy flying with them but it was completely fine. They even provided a little sleeping package consisting of an eye mask, ear plugs, lip balm and other things.

To our surprise, it was actually very warm and sunny once we landed in Rio and we were so ecstatic. We took the blue ‘Real’ bus from the international airport to the Botafogo area (much cheaper than cabbing) where we made advanced reservations for El Misti hostel. Although the bus was air conditioned and the seats were comfortable, the ride was very bumpy.

Our drive from the airport into the city was interesting to say the least. Once getting out of the airport area, we went through the slums or the favelas area. This was something I didn’t expect to see in Rio and it was such a shocker to see such a huge gap between the slums where the entire area were old brick buildings (and warned by Justin’s Grandpa that those areas were very dangerous, especially at night) and the city, which was surrounded by beautiful landscapes and beaches.

The bus dropped us off at the Botafogo shopping mall (yay!) and we were very very lost. We had no idea in which direction El Misti hostel was at but we guessed correctly and found it in matter of minutes. We were greeted by a really nice girl named Maya and she took us to our dorm room. 9 people can fit per room and the bunk beds were 3 beds high. Since I was at the bottom, I prayed and hoped that the whole contraption didn’t fall on me. It scared me the most when Gabriel, the French guy who was sleeping above me, would move around and make the bed creak!

In our dorm room, we met a really nice man from Argentina named Mario. He spoke perfect Spanish and English, and a bit of Portuguese. He had been in Rio for a couple of weeks already and said how much he loved it. It was nice to be able to speak English with someone and be able to talk about recommendations about the city and just talk in general.

Checking out the area around our hostel, we were in search of a place to eat. Eventually, we headed into the mall and as I stared at every shoe and clothing store, we eventually found the food court on the 6th and 7th floor. After lunch, we couldn’t resist the McDonald’s dessert stands and shared a McFlurry. Justin went up to order the McFlurry, and the girls working there giggled and laughed. We didn’t know if it was because they didn’t understand him but I thought it was because they thought he was cute. Hehe. He even got a happy meal toy which was a bobble head Yoda (from Star Wars) on a space craft that could be placed on the dashboard of a car and made noises.

Since Justin and I were pretty tired from the day, we decided to plan our week in Rio, and watched The Amazing Race on youtube. We started to watch Season 11, which was the all-stars season and Season 15, which was the current season that had been airing recently. We had heard that in the all-stars season that the contestants went to Punta Arenas, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina. Since we were there not too long ago, we were a little curious about what they did when they were there. As we watched the show, we mentioned how we remember where those specific places were and how if we were on the show, we’d rock it. Hehe.

The hostel conveniently had a chef who cooked dinner. As long as we signed up for it and paid a small fee, we were good. The dinner special for that night was pasta, meat, salad and rice. It was a buffet style so we had our fair share of food! The nice thing about this hostel was that there was a bar as well. Seeing that almost all of the others in the hostel had a drink containing lime, we wondered what it was and ordered some, too. The drink was a Brazilian specialty called Caipirinha. It was made out of Brazilian liquor called cachaça (made of sugarcane juice) with ice cubes, wedged pieces of lime and sugar. Deliciously made, it was kind of like a fusion of a lime margarita and a mojito. It was a great night.

Oct 20, 2009

Our breakfast at El Misti Hostel was a feast. It had a pretty big variety and was probably the best free breakfast we’ve ever had at any hostel yet. They served fresh papaya and mango juice that they had kept refilling because everyone drank it all, coffee, and tea for drinks. As for food, it was similar to Hostel Bambu where they had a George Foreman grill and we made our ham and cheese grilled sandwiches. We probably ate about 3 of them each because they tasted so good. They also served really good warmed cookies (I got addicted to them), corn bread (that Justin got addicted to), brownies, a little variety of fruits and other little snacks. We were very excited about having breakfast for the rest of the week!

Recalling from our time in Foz, our camera almost failed to work on the day we went to the Brazil side of Iguazu Falls and the Bird Park. I was glad our persistence paid off and the camera finally started to work that day as it would’ve been a shame if it wasn’t working. We promised the G that we wouldn’t get it wet that day and of course we took many pictures and some videos at the Devil’s Throat and got the G completely soaked. Well, yesterday, the G decided it needed a break and didn’t work at all. We tried everything…switched batteries, played with the dials and buttons, blew on the inside of the battery compartment…nothing seemed to work. We even emailed the Canon store to figure out the problem, and got a reply back from one of the customer service experts with a nice email that told us some pointers but said that if it still didn’t work then we’d have to send the G back to the Canon store. We were so desperate that we started to look for a Canon store in Rio (surprisingly there weren’t any in Brasil except in Sao Paulo) to buy the G11, which literally came out a few days ago. The advance of the G11 over the G10 was that it had better capabilities of taking night photos, took videos in HD and the screen folded out making self-taking pictures a lot easier. We emailed Amazon to see if they’d send it to Brasil for us if we purchased it online and Justin wanted to get his parents to send it to Brasil from the States as a last resort. Even though we still had the little camera, we thought it was such a shame not having a great camera since we were seeing so many amazing places. We definitely wanted to have the G for the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, and Machu Picchu in Peru.

Hearing that the G wasn’t working, Mario and Gabriel from our dorm told us about a market/bazaar in the Uruguaiana area where cheap electronics and clothing were sold. We thought we’d give it a shot and off we went with Mario to the metro station.

It was a good thing that Mario went with us because the metro station was so hidden that Justin and I would’ve never found the place. When we bought our tickets, Mario told us what to say in Portuguese to the ticket lady. He was so helpful in everything we did and we felt so lucky to find such a nice person willing to help us.

The marketplace was huge, full of people with tons of goods being sold. Everything from soccer jerseys, cameras, to electric fly zappers was available. We looked around for cameras and saw typical point-and-shoot cameras from $700-$1200 US! Normally in Canada or the States, the same camera would cost roughly $100-$350! We were so surprised with the expensive prices that we decided not to buy a camera.

We looked around for a bit more and I told Mario that I was looking for some Bermuda shorts. Well, he looked above and beyond to find some shorts for me and I felt so bad because he was trying so hard but I didn’t find what I was looking for. When we did find some potential ones, they didn’t fit me right and I didn’t want to buy something just because they were available. I’d like to think that I wasn’t picky but looking back, maybe I was a little…

Mario wanted to see one of the museums downtown and Justin and I wanted to go back to the hostel and do some more research about the G. We went our separate ways and before going to our hostel, we went into the mall for some lunch and another ice cream dessert! We also discovered that one of the best free things to do in Rio was to go to the 7th floor of the Botafogo mall and see the view of one of the beaches and Sugar Loaf Mountain. It was so beautiful that we enjoyed just being there.

At the hostel, we did some more research on the internet, replied to emails, and figured out our options for buying another camera. Justin fell asleep and persistent me just had to keep playing with the camera. After 40 minutes of pressing different buttons, changing batteries, blowing in the battery compartment, adding pressure to the sides of the camera and shaking it in utter frustration, IT WORKED! It was a miracle! I couldn’t believe it was working as I kept pressing the on and off button a million times and seeing the lens pop out. Justin must’ve heard me turn the camera on and off because he woke up as soon as it started working. We were both very happy and fortunate that it was working…for now. We decided that we wouldn’t buy a new camera until the G stopped working….but we’d cross that bridge when we got there.

This day was supposed to be the worst of the week and it turned out to be sunny and really hot for most of the day. People from our dorm came back from the beach, sunburned! It would’ve been a great day to do a lot of the other touristy things we had planned for the rest of the week. We hoped the weather for the rest of the time in Rio was as good as this day.

We went back to the mall to look around for some Bermuda shorts for me, and a travel agency. I still didn’t find the shorts that I was looking for and the pair that I did find cute was very very expensive. I had a champagne taste on beer budget. Justin and I were looking for cheap flights from Cuzco, Peru to either Guayaquil or Quito, Ecuador. We’ve used kayak.com and expedia.com for multi-destination flights that’ll get us from Peru to Ecuador, Ecuador to Colombia, flights within Colombia, then Colombia to Panama. The string of flights that we wanted was a hefty $600+ so we were thinking of avoiding it by bussing parts of it. Peru to Ecuador by bus seemed pretty promising but lengthy. A bus ride from Cuzco to Lima takes 24 hours! So we’re trying to find a flight that’ll bypass that to save some time. For sure we’d like to fly from Ecuador to Colombia (potential danger crossing the border by bus) and Colombia to Panama (no official crossing and guerrillas in the Darien Gap were known to kidnap foreigners). The travel agency had prices for 4-day trips to Machu Picchu for $1200+. This “deal” deterred us from entering the agency.

Afterwards, we decided that we’d have dinner at our hostel again while watching more Amazing Race. We had beef stroganoff, some salad and pasta. And of course, we had some Caipirinha. We were pleasantly surprised to hear that tonight’s drink was on them. Apparently, the very first Caipirinha drink was supposed to be a welcome drink (which we never got the day before), so that was pretty sweet.

Oct 21, 2009

Waking up early, we wanted to tackle the day and do as much as the weather would let us. This day was supposed to be the 2nd best day of the week with partial sunshine and some cloud.

Our first destination was to see the Santa Teresa mosaic stairs. We took the metro to Cinelândia. Since there were a lot of affordable places to eat in the metro area, we went to Mr. Chen’s for some fresh banana juice and yakisoba (a Japanese dish that consisted of fried noodles with veggies, meat and sauce). Walking in the direction of the mosaic stairs, we saw an aqueduct that was used to transport water back in the day. There were some beautiful churches, another pretty plaza with interesting tall trees and little restaurants.

Reaching the mosaic stairs was amazing. The stairs started off as a tribute to the people of Brasil. The tile colours were originally only green, blue and yellow, which were the same colours of the Brazilian flag. The idea of continually changing and exchanging tiles began and housed different tiles from all over the world. There were some tiles from the States and ironically, we noticed 2 in particular that were right beside each other. One said ‘Georgia Peach’ and the other said ‘Ohio’. Justin’s brother is from Ohio and his wife is from Georgia!

We walked up and down the stairs for a while, took some photos and were off to our next destination: Christ the Redeemer.

Justin got really good at Portuguese and asked the ticket lady for a combined metro and bus ticket. I was thoroughly impressed and we went on the metro and took the bus to the base of the mountain where Christ was. Upon our arrival, it was still sunny, but thick clouds prohibited viewing Christ the Redeemer. We decided to wait it out to see if the clouds would roll away but no luck. We debated whether to go to the beach or not but our indecisiveness lost us some time.

The normal way to get to the top of the mountain was by train or by a taxi. Justin and I tend to do things the hard way and we took the crazy route and WALKED up the mountain. 2L of water: check, map of mountain: check, the only 2 gringos crazy enough to walk up a +700m mountain: priceless. Our walk started on steep cobble stones. The higher we walked, the more we were able to see how lavish the housing was. Some of the houses were massive with gates in front of them and some of them even had guards. The lush green environment was beautiful and overlooked most of Rio de Janeiro. We noticed that some of the trees had giant oval, spiky capsules that looked like a weird shaped fruit. Half way to the top, we saw glimpse of Christ and got really excited that the clouds were clearing away…or so we thought.

Getting to the top was a little dangerous because cars and buses would zoom past us and there wasn’t a sidewalk for us to walk on. It took about 1.5 hours for us to walk to the main entrance of Christ the Redeemer. What we didn’t know was that we had to pay an entrance fee and then from the entrance was another 15 minute drive up to the real entrance of Christ. Luckily, with the fee of the ticket, we got a ride the rest of the way.

Since we were higher in altitude and the sun was going down, we noticed a drastic change in temperature and it was pretty cold. Excited to see Christ, we took the elevator to the top of the mountain. It was very cloudy and foggy up there. We saw what was the base of Christ, but where was he? Well, the clouds were so thick that he was hidden behind them, even though we were only a few meters away from him!

There were many other tourists who were waiting for the clouds to roll away. At one point, the sun came out in the background and Christ’s head was seen clearly. Everyone gasped and got so excited. There was a bit of a cheer as everyone hustled to snap a photo while they got the chance. But that one moment was short lived as the clouds covered Christ again and everyone started to laugh at the chaos. Cameras were ready for pictures as everyone waited in anticipation for the next viewing of Christ. This repeated several times and it was actually kind of fun. How often can you say that you saw Christ amongst the clouds?

In between cloudy moments, Justin and I found a big lizard and a beautiful bug that shimmered blue-green and had an orange body. We also were asked by a foreigner how we liked the G10 and he mentioned that he used to have one, loved it but had some mechanical problems with it. It was great to know that we weren’t the only ones having problems with the G.

We saw Gabriel at Christ the Redeemer and we decided to take the train back down to the base as it was getting dark. Back at the hostel, our chef was very excited about his pizza party night and we all signed up for dinner. He made about ten different varieties of delicious pizza. Some had steak on it, lots of cheese, some veg, avocado, all sorts of pizzas. We really should’ve had a Caipirinha but we decided to have some beer with dinner.

Since we were in Rio, we had become obsessed with watching The Amazing Race, and watched a few more episodes. We were getting really excited because we were getting closer to the end of the season.

Oct 22, 2009

The weather really wasn’t as bad as the forecast was telling us. Since we hadn’t been to the beach yet, we decided that today was going to be a beach day! This was something I had been looking forward to since the beginning of the trip. Sun, sand, and tanning! There were two famous beaches in Rio: Copacabana and Ipanema.

Since Copacabana was walking distance from our hostel, we decided to walk there. Walking in our flip flops, we got lost yet again. We couldn’t match up the street signs with the streets on the map. A nun saw that we were completely lost and she tried her very best to help us. We pointed up to this HUGE, steep hill and said “Copacabana”. And then she questioned herself and pointed in the other direction and said “Copacabana?” Oh boy, now we were lost again. She was a very sweet nun and talked to us in Spanish, which Justin and I were both completely lost in translation. She kept talking, putting her hand to her chin, and sighing. It sounded like she wasn’t quite sure where Copacabana was but we said thank you and decided to go up the humongous hill.

Eventually, we found the beach and were very happy with the weather. It was a great feeling to take our sandals off and feel the hot sand on our feet. This was my first time at a beach on the Atlantic Ocean! We could see both Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain from where we were sitting. At first we relaxed, laid on the beach and even napped under the sun. Looking up, there were birds that almost looked like pterodactyls. There were a number of others there and a few people who were selling cold drinks, snacks, and jewelry.

After a while, we got super hot and craved some sort of dessert. Justin ran all the way to a McDonald’s-like place to get some chocolate milkshakes. It was a nice treat on the beach.

Justin’s dad (and supposedly Justin’s Uncle Bill) requested us to take pictures at the beach. What kind of pictures? Think Brazil, beaches, bum bums…yes. We were on a grand mission to take pictures of bums. We snuck some photos (which we’re sure you’ll appreciate, Jimmy!) of people and actually had fun!

Before we left, Justin took a dip in the water. It wasn’t too cold but the waves were pretty large and in charge so he couldn’t go out too far. I was being quite the paparazzi and taking loads of pictures of Justin in the water from the shore while he wasn’t looking. Hehe.

Before it was dark, we were back in our hostel and watched some more Amazing Race, had dinner.

The night wasn’t over yet. We had reserved tickets to see a soccer game at the Maracanã, South America’s largest stadium. At one point, it held 199, 854 people for the 1950 FIFA World Cup but due to a whole area collapsing (in 1992), it significantly decreased its seating numbers to 88, 992.

We weren’t sure which side we wanted to cheer for: Brazil’s Fluminense or Chile’s Universidad de Chile. There was a huge Brazilian crowd cheering for the Fluminense with their jerseys on, and waving their red, green and white banners and flags. The Chilean fans were on the other side of the stadium wearing blue, red, and white, waving around flags and using giant inflatable clappers. Both sides were trying to cheer over the other and the energy in the room was pretty intense.

At first, the Brazilians were doing much better, scoring the first goal and overall, just rocked. There were some immediate injuries, which looked quite dramatic but were in pain. After some potential shots and penalty kicks, the Chileans started to do better and tied it up 1 - 1. We thought this would encourage the Brazilians to kick it up a notch but they lacked a bit of energy but still managed to score another goal soon after. 2 - 1 for the Brazilians. There were a ton of head butts, potential goals and even a bicycle kick by one of the Chileans! The Chileans tied it up once again with a score of 2 - 2 and for whatever reason, the game ended with that.

Oct 23, 2009

I woke up to my legs and arms bleeding. I guess in the middle of my sleep, I had been picking at the scabs of my million mosquito bites. I didn’t realize how ridiculous I looked when I wore a tank top. I had one on my face, one on the center of my neck, two on either side of my upper chest, a few on my shoulders and tons on my arms, legs and feet. How many did Justin have? Zero. So, I drowned myself in bug repellent and hoped for the best.

We loved the beach so much that we wanted to go back so off we went to Copacabana Beach in our bathing suits. The hill to get up there was a lot easier this time round and I was glad I wasn’t as exhausted as I was climbing up it the day before. Across from the beach was one of the more expensive hotels called Copacabana Hotel. We almost bypassed it but saw a huge crowd there and people screaming. There were also a ton of paparazzi. Curious, we figured it was a famous person (probably someone we didn’t know because they were from South America) but still wanted to see what was going on. We heard a lot of people say ‘Maya’ and I thought of Mya, the singer. We talked to someone else and found out that it was Mariah Carey! How random was that. The crowd was going crazy and when we got closer, we saw signs and pictures of Mariah Carey. She was in Rio for a live performance at the Oi Fashion Rocks event. We stayed for a few minutes to see if she’d come out but she never did. Justin then said that it wasn’t a big deal to him because he’s talked to her before…I was thinking WHAT? I thought he was being sarcastic but he really wasn’t. He worked in security for the Superbowl in 2002 and as he was clumsily moving things he bumped into someone behind him. As he turned around to apologize, he realized that it was Mariah Carey! He said that she was really cool about things and was really nice.

We relaxed on the beach again and worked on our tan! We could already tell that we were getting darker and loved it! Once in a while, we’d hear the screams and cheers of Mariah fans in the background in hopes of seeing her soon. Justin took another dip in the water and right when we started
A snackA snackA snack

What Justin thought was a bag of peanuts...it was actually something else...see next picture.
to pack up to go back, the Mariah fans screamed at the top of their lungs. We knew at this point that she must’ve made her appearance (we just missed her!) and she was probably off in a limo or car. As we passed the hotel, the crowd started to disappear. All I could think of was Justin’s love for Shakira and if it was Shakira instead of Mariah Carey at Copacabana Hotel, then I was pretty sure we would’ve never gotten to the beach.

Hearing that being at Sugar Loaf Mountain at sunset was a must, we decided to do just that and headed over there late in the afternoon. We were surprised at the price of admission (R$44 per person, US$25) but it was still worth it. We waited for the next ropeway to go up Urca Mountain. About 60 people could fit on the tram and to be honest, it was a little rocky to begin with. But gliding up towards Urca Mountain was so beautiful and the lookout of Rio was just incredible. Once we got out, we took some pictures in the area before going up a second tram to Sugar Loaf.

From Sugar Loaf, Copacabana beach, Botafogo, and much of the city were seen. The one thing that we did want to see was Christ the Redeemer, which should have been right in front of us in the mountains. Knowing our luck, thick clouds covered Christ and we couldn’t see him. It was a little disappointing but the view from Sugar Loaf was amazing and the sunset was breathtaking.

Justin and I were still trying to get used to taking night shots with the G. It wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to do but with our hand gorillapod (a tripod that can wrap around different objects), we were able to take great night shots of the city. We even played with different settings and used the Tv setting to blur the car lights on the streets! We enjoyed the view for a while before we got cold and headed back down since it was super dark.

Since we were late for dinner at the hostel, we had some at a local place near our hostel. I had steak and eggs and Justin got a chicken dish. We split an Antarctica beer (our fav beer from South America so far) and went back to the hostel. We had an early morning flight to Brasilia so we researched how to get to the hostel and went to bed.

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