Thongs, Crocs & Copters... Thank You Brazil


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South America » Brazil » Rio de Janeiro » Rio de Janeiro
November 20th 2011
Published: November 26th 2011
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Brazil


After many issues at the airport in Frankfurt where I almost missed my flight despite getting to the airport five hours before take-off and after days of flying I am finally in South America in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And I am terrified! The one place on my entire trip i was actually nervous about going to was Brazil. From most of the travellers I met that have been here, almost everyone of them said they were robbed, mugged or something along those lines. Unfortunately I have not prepared for the last leg of my trip as much as I hoped I would have and have no idea where I’m going to, how long I will be places, or what I’m going to do. Although it sounds like a nice way to travel, it does get stressful having to figure this stuff out every night. Luckily, Nicci has a friend coming and I will leave the next two weeks up to them! Let’s see how they do.


<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">RIO DE JANEIRO

Since I landed during the night, this was one place I was taking a cab to my hostel where Nicci had landed that morning. Surprisingly I got through passport control with no problems since Americans or one of the only nationalities that has to get a visa before hand and it was expensive. So I went to an ATM but my card wasn’t working and it was all in Portuguese. It turns out not many people here speak English, but luckily I met a nice American couple (thats right) that just ended five weeks in Brazil and didn’t need a Lonely Planet Brazilian Portuguese Phrasebook so they gave it to us, but more on that later. It turns out also that most of the ATMs in Brazil don’t except foreign cards so its real hard to get money out here. It took me nearly 15 ATMs before I found one that worked. When I walked into the hostel, Beach Backpackers, Nicci was waiting in a common area. After dropping my bags off we walked around the corner to grab some pizza and called it a night, we both we jet lagged.

Well after nearly four days of catching flights, I also ended up catching a cold. The next morning we decided to just walk around the city to get over our fears and to find an ATM. We took the metro, which is basically just one line, to a little beach you might have heard of, Copa - Copacabana (in tune please). Alright, so its not little at all, we walked it for about 45 minutes and didn’t even walk the entire thing. Nicci gawked at the older guys in speedos while I politely asked the young girls in thong bikini’s to cover up a bit more. Actually, we both were very disappointed as we were expecting many more young beautiful people there, especially since it was a nice day, but that just wasn’t the case. We also decided to walk to Ipanema Beach which is where we discovered where those beautiful people were hiding. Ipanema also has a complete section that was completely packed with people and that was obviously the gay section which was evident by the many rainbow flags and speedos. Decided to go to bed early cause Nicci’s friend Laura is coming from London early in the morning. However, after I fell through a bed breaking it and a crazy group of Brazilians that checked in very late, it was hard to sleep and I went downstairs instead a drank some beers with some British guys staying in our room.

I woke up and could hardly breath cause my nose is completely stuffed and I developed a sneeze. What a way to meet one of Nicci’s friends. Nicci and Laura spent a few hours catching up over breakfast and the three of us came up with a game plan for the next two weeks while Laura is here. This is where that nice American couple came into play as they told us what parts of their trip was the must do stuff and then they gave us the phrase book. We walked to a nearby mall for lunch and I had a McCheddar Burger from, you guessed it, McDonalds. Afterward we walked around, tried to book flights but failed due to foreign cards, and had to switch rooms.

That night we went to a huge weekly festival in Rio called the Lapa Street Festival. While I was waiting on the females, I chatted up our four new Brazilian roommates who said they would try to look for us at the festival tonight. By ten o’clock we were off to get our drink on but we were told by several people and the staff not to bring cameras or wallets, just enough money to drink (you see why Brazil is intimidating). Lapa was a bunch of small stands that lined a street of bars each pumping their own type of music with tons of people everywhere. Right away we started drinking Brazil’s national drink the Caipirinha. This is made up of cachaca (taste like rum and very strong), ice, sugar and lime. Basically, after just one glass we were all very buzzed. We walked around a little and had some meat on sticks before getting back to the drinking part. We saw another guy from our hostel, a homosexual from Iowa or something. Just as a quick side note, the major cities in Brazil are very accepting of homosexuality and it shows. Anyway that guy was on a date with a local guy and they both decided to show us around. Suddenly, some street performers started teaching the girls to samba and how to bang the drums and slowly more and more people started to join in till it was a huge party. Most of the night was spent here and even our roommates showed up and found us. Next thing you know, it was 5am and Laura’s money pouch was taken from her purse (not even one day in Rio, lol). Luckily, she didn’t bring much money with her that night and we jumped into a cab and called it night. A great night.

Well according to our game plan from the day before we were supposed to wake up and do a tour of a favela but the girls couldn’t get up. I was finally able to wake them by one in the afternoon when we went to get something to eat, some of us feeling better than others. Went back to Ipanema today for a market before taking naps most of the afternoon. We spent the rest of the night re-planning our trip.

Got up early the next morning for what should be a busy day of sightseeing. Started by trying to book plane tickets again and once again, failing. We caught the local bus to see Christ the Redeemer. Despite tons of tour guides at the bottom offering everything, we took an old time train up the Corcovado. This is were you get that great view of Rio you see in postcards and movies except one problem, the one day we decide to get the views it was so foggy you couldn’t see anything. Either way, Christ was massive and I took the opportunity to do some Where’s Waldo shots up there considering the statue is one of the New Seven Wonders. On the train ride down a samba group started playing and Nicci showed off her lessons from a few nights before. We were supposed to do what was going to be one of my top highlights of the trip, a helicopter tour of Rio but because of the fog and the price of a ten minute ride, we decided to try our luck the next day. Instead we went back to Copacabana and Ipanema. On the way back we ate at this good Tex-Mex place and I finally got my taco fix. We went back to the hostel to pack our bags for the next few days journey and went to bed.

Wouldn’t you guess it, our last day in Rio and the weather still didn’t clear up, so once again we adjusted our two week plan and decided to wait again. Instead we did the favela tour. A favela is the slums or poor areas where the huts and people are packed in right on each other, unusually up the sides of hills. Drugs and crime are out of control in these areas and police usually don’t bother going anywhere near due to their safety. However, since Rio will host the Olympics and World Cup within the next few years, the government decided to try and clean up these areas. The police have started raiding them and killing or arresting the drug lords that run them and have cleaned up about 19 in the last year so far. The problem is there are hundreds of them in Rio alone and once cleared of drug lords, community projects must be put in place. There I was, standing at the bottom of a favela which turned out to be within a five minute walk of our hostel. We picked the Favela Santa Marta since this was one of the ones “cleaned up” and even before that, Michael Jackson shot his video “They Don’t Care About Us” from there. This is also where Beyonce did a video and the scenes from Fast Five were recently filmed here. Instead of just doing it on our own we joined a tour group for a one and a half hour walking tour. A cable car took me halfway up and we walked down from there. I see why the police would have problems here, it was more confusing than a maze cause you also had stairs to deal with. We saw the area were Michael Jackson did the video and now has a huge postage stamp painted on a wall and a bronze statue there. It was very interesting to see the slums and I never really felt threatened in anyway. In fact, after talking to many people, even the ones that are still controlled by drug lords, they are very welcoming to tourist cause they like to show off their way of life, just don’t take photos or even bring a camera there. Our favela though was basically their own neighborhood within Rio, it even had a bank, internet cafe, satellite dishes everywhere and stuff like that. It also had bullet holes in the walls which always reminds the tourist this is no joke of a place and is a rough life. Now we are off to catch an 18 hour bus south to Florianopolis.

<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">FLORIANOPOLIS

On the bus I met two other girls from London that are are traveling the same route as me through South America so we decided to join up. Now its me and and four girls from London. I love traveling. Anyways my hostel, Submarino said they would even pay for a taxi to pick us up from the bus station. Nice start! Within a few minutes, the owner of the hostel showed up on his motorbike to wait with us till the taxi arrived. Great start! It was a very nice hostel to begin with with a cute submarine theme everywhere. We ate at a place they recommended where its a buffet but you pay by the kilo. It was kinda funny though cause a group of dogs started following us and every time we went into a store they just waited outside. We took out some kayaks the hostel let us use for free. After laying out for a little bit the five of us had a few drinks and made a BBQ dinner of hot dogs and steak with salad and corn before drinking more.

It was unfortunate that we had to leave the next morning cause we really loved the hostel, a great staff goes a long way and we are going to make sure we give them a good review on the sites we use. Now we are off to Iquazu Falls, one of the top tourist sites in South America. But before we left we decided to spend a few hours that morning at the beach and doing some shopping. The girls got tans while i just looked at the girls in thongs. Once again we cut it kind of close time wise, but we got on another overnight bus, what was supposed to be 13 hours this time turned out to be 16.

IQUAZU FALLS

<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">After checking into the Green Hostel in Foz do Iquazu, we quickly washed up a little before walking to the supermarket and McDonalds. After returning to the hostel, I took a nap and the girls worked on their tans by the pool before we had a nice traditional dinner out together. We went to a Churrascaria (a Brazilian steakhouse) called Bufalo Branco. To this point, this was the best meal I have had on my trip. Basically, its all-you-can eat steak. They have waiters walk around every 1-3 minutes with a different type of meat and you just say if you want some. Filet mignon, rump steak, lamb, thick flank and much more. To top it off, they had a huge salad bar and amazing dessert. I had to have three Sprites just to keep the food going down and in one meal, probably gained back all the weight I have lost. It was worth it.

Iguazu Falls is 275 different waterfalls varying in size from 200 feet to 270 feet and is also voted as one of the New Seven Wonders. I decided to book a tour to the Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls since everyone says its the better side and has 80% of the waterfalls. So off we went on this tour and had to cross the boarder which took forever since it is some public holiday in Brazil. After getting on a small train we reached the first viewpoint and the most known part of the falls, Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat. This is the biggest of the waterfalls and has a mist that can rise over 500 feet. So being such a historic place, what do I do? More Where’s Waldo pics! Everyone loved it there. I had at least 10 groups of people ask to take pictures with me from a 6 year old kid to a 90 year old man that didn’t speak any English. Back on the train to see the Upper Trail and Lower Trail when it started to rain on us. Part of the tour includes a jet boat that takes you under some of the falls and gets you soaking wet. The last part of the tour was a jeep jungle safari where the guide was pointing out many types of trees, which you could hear creaking which sounds like a squeaking door opening. This makes me wish I knew more about trees and birds cause I have met so many people on this trip that loves that stuff and I couldn’t tell you the first thing about either. Afterward another overnight bus, 14 hours this time to Campo Grande.

PANTANAL (one of my top highlights of my entire trip)

Well Campo Grande wasn’t the actual stop, it was a layover spot for us to go into the Pantanal. The Pantanal is one of the worlds largest tropical wetlands. Due to being just south of the Amazon River & Rainforest, it has much of the same vegetation, fauna and animals but just isn’t as dense thus a better chance to see the wildlife. During the rainy season, 80% of this land is under water. Luckily I got there two months before this so I get to experience more of the wild life. We just wanted to see a wild Jaguar which some other travelers said they saw there. I stayed at Lontra Pantanal Hotel which plans seven activities over three days and two nights.

The first activity was a night safari on one of the hotels boats down the Miranda River. They gave us cool camouflage lifejackets and off we went. As we watched a absolutely beautiful sunset we saw loads of caiman (basically a mix between an alligator and crocadile) all over the sides of the river. The next most popular animal we saw was a Capybara. These turned out to be my favorite as they look like giant guinea pigs. They are the largest living rodent in the world and are about 5 feet long, 2 feet high and weigh about 150 pounds. They have slightly webbed feet so they are good swimmers and the babies might be one of the cutest things ever. We saw tons of bats and giant birds like the wood stork and the sky was filled with stars. This was our best chance to see jaguars which come out at night to hunt and drink the water but we did not get to see any here. When we got back the hotel grounds were covered with giant frogs. Everyone here was so tired we all went to bed early cause we have a 6am start the next day.

Today’s activities started with a three hour boat trip down the same river, but this time during the day. Most of the animals we saw were the same as the previous night, mostly caiman and capybara. Added to the list here was the Green Iguana which blends into the trees but somehow our awesome guide for the entire trip was able to spot everything with ease. I was very impressed by him. We saw many other rare and special birds, I just can’t remember all the names. We also saw three types of monkeys, the howler monkey, capuchin, and the marmoset. The other excitement of this activity was the fact we saw jaguar prints which were less then a few hours old and we all got out of the boat (surrounded by caiman) to get photos.

Right when we got back to the hotel, we were given tubes and taken down the river to float back. Well not all of us were given tubes since they didn’t have enough, only the girls. The guys got water noodles. This was terrifying cause there was zero visibility in the water and the amount of caimans we were passing that were sliding into the water. If that wasn’t enough, there were millions of piranha everywhere and also giant snakes. The girls were scared cause the very bottom of their butts were in the water. Besides my head, my entire body was in the water! It ends up four different fish had a taste of me but nothing to bad, just the fear when I felt one nibble.

After lunch and a nap we went pirana fishing right outside the hotel where we got out of the water when tubing. They gave us these large bamboo sticks with strings on them and little pieces of meat as bait. Within minutes all the girls caught one. As you might have guessed, anything that requires patients is not my type of thing, and after 10 minutes of not catching anything (I almost caught one but it fell off), I got very frustrated and gave up. The girls ended up catching three good size ones each which were later added to the dinner menu. According to Nicci (who loves to try different foods) they actually offer very little meat but were still pretty good.

After a little fishing we all got on a jeep which took us about 30 minutes down a long road to do a three hour walking tour through the forest. The first animal we saw our guide said was the rarest, it was a giant anteater. As he climbed a tree to get away from us we saw huge jaguar nail marks on a tree (but once again didn’t see any jaguar). We saw more of the monkeys which loved to howl at us, some had babies. Next we came across two armadillos which loved to have their photo taken. One of the guys staying at the hotel was a bird watcher and he pointed out many different woodpeckers but more exciting were the giant hyacinth macaws (huge blue parrots) and several other types of parrots. He also was good at spotting several toco toucans (toucan sam) with their large yellow beaks. More monkeys spotted all along the way as well as a good number of termite nests, deers and giant eagles. I’m sure there is much more that I’m missing but I was so overwhelmed with what I saw I can’t really remember everything. When I got back to the hotel, the guide pointed out a baby green anaconda (the largest snake in the world) but this one was much smaller than you see in the movies. It turns out though that when its full grown it can even hunt the caimans!

<p style="margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica;">The other big activity was a jeep tour to a ranch where we went horseback riding. Ten of us from the hotel went and we all had a two minute lesson before our two hour tour with our crappy construction helmets. We went through fields and jungles. Didn’t really see more wildlife but was a nice end to a great few days.


BONITO

Staff at a hostel make all the difference. I stayed at Hi Hostel in Bonito and it was a nice hostel but the staff behind the desk there were useless. First we booked a room for three and despite knowing it was two girls and one guy they said none of their rooms were coed. Something they should have told us beforehand. Then they tried to split the girls up and when we argued that we should be together they demanded to see our confirmation number despite having the record in their system. When we showed them the number they just disregarded it. Also every price we were told turned out to be so much more once we got there. The most important thing was a transfer to the airport the night we leave. Our flight is at 3am but the airport is about 6 hours away but the transfer bus leaves at 7.

Despite the city now getting off on the wrong foot, we walked into town to get something to eat at a place with live music then did some quick shopping. The next day we rented bikes cause we were told there is a cheap public river we can snorkel and swim in that was about 15-20 minutes by bike. We packed a lunch made by chef Nicci and that 15-20 minute bike ride took over an hour. The only good thing is that along the way they have phone booths with different animals and we took a photo at each one we saw. Finally we reached the Balneairo Municipal in the dead heat and sun. Spent the day swimming, tanning and talking. The night was then spent drinking and playing cards.

Our last day there was spent at a cave called Gruta do Lago Azul. It is a massive cave with a crystal blue & clear lake at the bottom. Funny cause the guides made me wear a hairnet and a helmet despite having no hair. Once again the hostel staff messed things up for us but i’m not going to get into it cause I do not want to get angry. In the end we did get a flight back to Rio that left at 3am.


RIO, AGAIN

We got back to Rio and spent our last night with Laura at the Lapa Street Festival again. We debated bringing our cameras this time but decided not to cause it just wasn’t worth it. Sorry. This time though we did watch how much we were drinking but the party did go on till 5am again. However we were able to get up the next morning cause there was still one more activity I really wanted to do while in Brazil. One of my “Goals Of The Trip” (which I will update again soon) was to ride in a helicopter. Before I left almost eight months ago, I looked at all the places I wanted to go and figured a helicopter ride over Rio would probably be the best place. I have never been on a helicopter and although I wouldn’t show it in front of the ladies, I was a little nervous. The weather was finally nice enough for it, somewhat cloudy though but the visibility was great. As I ran up to the helicopter which just came back from taking some other people, I was directed into the front seat next to the pilot. Next thing you know it we were airborne and flying over two of the most famous beaches in the world. When I looked to my left about 20 seconds after lifting off I noticed a cloud decided to stop directly on the Christ The Redeemer statue. JUST MY LUCK! We paid a good amount of money for a 8 minute helicopter tour and that just happened to be the only 8 minutes that a cloud blocked the one photo I waited eight months for. ARE YOU KIDDING ME! It turns out though the helicopter was still awesome and we did get many good photos, just none with the statue & city in the same shot. I don’t regret at all doing it as it has also been one of my highlights of the entire trip.


WRAP IT UP

The blog entry that is. I’m sorry I wanted to go back and rewrite some of the “I did this, and then I did this, then this...” but due to the great time I am having in Argentina, it doesn’t look like this is going to happen so I will just post what I have. Sorry

Brazil turned out to be twice as much fun and not half as scary as I thought it would be. Maybe it was the two hot British girls I was traveling with or all the booking and research they put into it why I just tagged along but a good time was had by all. I will have to make it up to Nicci and Laura though sometime soon, hopefully when I visit the UK.




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