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Published: October 27th 2016
8 Sept. thru 27 Oct. 2016
Brazil, a country of 200 million people where the divide between the Rich and Poor is very evident. Favelas dot the hills around the city of Rio and we are warned by many people not to enter , otherwise we will not come out alive. I personally, have no problems with these warnings, I wouldn't go to Compton or Watts in Los Angeles either!
Our Brazil experience will be different from the month in Argentina. I have arranged 3 house swaps (Homeexchange.com) that will take us from Rio to Buzios and back to Rio. However, just to be a little different we also spent 4 nights in a Paraty hotel.
Our first stop in Rio is Barra da Tijuca, its in the western zone of Rio de Janeiro and is known for its beaches. Tall apartment complexes line the road across from the beach. Supposedly, these all grew in the last 30 years. Surfers ride the waves, but for me it's a time to try and finally kick the cold that has been dogging me for the past month. It's not bad enough to keep me inside, but
certainly I do not feel 100% . A swap at the Sheraton Barra in a nice apartment that has good sea views and the added extra of a gymnasium is just the place to kickback and relax after our mammoth Argentinian road-trip. Our host and his wife, take us out for a day and show us the many highlights of Rio, ending up with an afternoon meal on top of one of Rio's many museums. Then, it's time to discover Rio on our own. A later swap sees us in an apartment in between the Copocabana and Ipenema. I will list the Rio highlights in no particular order.
The Corcovada – The last time I had visited Rio was in 1976 and to be honest I can't remember much about it, other than waiting in line for several hours because of a broken down funicular. Today, you can book your tickets for a specific time, online and the funicular has been upgraded. A 39.6 meter statue of Christ the Redeemer with outstretched arms dominates the peak and after a few shots of the Christ lying on your back it's time to take in the view of the
The Old Port – Refurbished for the Olympics, but not much happening the day we ventured into the center.
The Sugerloaf - Cable cars run from a headland between Copacabana and Botofogo to the top of Sugarloaf mountain. It offers great views of the city, however there was quite a bit of swirling mist the day we went up. If you are over 60, show your passport and get the trip for ½ price. Malcolm didn't brave the trip from station 2 to 3 and felt he was high enough up. I had to do it, however the mist didn't make for the best photographic experience.
Samba Clubs – We were given a list of three venues recommended by the owner of a recently opened cafe next to the Corcovado funicular. We attended two of them and they were fantastic. Carioca de Gema, a small intimate club where you can eat bar snacks, drink and watch real samba music with top bands. We arrived at around 9.00pm and left around 1.15. A fantastic evening, and worth a second visit. You pay for all of the drink, food and the
entrance fee when you are ready to leave the club. We ate, drank 5 beers each, and listened to an amazing Samba band for the ridiculously low sum of US $70.
Our second club visit was to Scenarium an extremely large 3 story club filled with curiosities and 2 bands playing on different floors. Our table is close to the stage and next to 2 reserved tables of six each. Casually dressed older guys, about our age, drift in and are all warmly greeted by waiters, bar-staff and the maitre'd and occupy the two tables next to us . Various whistles ensue and waiters turned up with beer, scotch and pronto! It is reminiscent of a scene straight out of the Soprano's. Malcolm and I are making quips about Bosso and the Mob when the nearest wise guy leans over and shakes our hand and speaks to us in Brazilian English. We're a little more subdued after this interaction, however they seem to like us,. Later as an assortment of women arrive, we are introduced to girlfriends and continue to get the odd handshake throughout the evening. A great evening out, however I think we prefer Carioca
Bip Bip – A bar close to the beach in Copacabana. Supposedly musicians get together in this small bar to jam. Our first visit on a Saturday evening is a bust, no music, however we return on a week night and several musicians are sitting around playing. The venue is small and people stand around or sit in the street, you help yourselves to beer from the fridge and pay for what you consumed when you leave. However, strict rules about talking apply when the musicians are playing. The night we went, the music was low key and dominated by a flute.
Copocabana Fort – One of the many forts that defended the Rio Harbor, it sits on a small headland between the Copocabana and Ipenema beaches. Well worth a visit and houses a museum as well as a couple of pleasant restaurants.
Buzios - Our hosts had stayed with me in Fiji about a year ago and picked us up from the Barra apartment for the 3 hour trip north. Our condominium was very central and once again we had wonderful sea views. Buzios, was made famous because
Brigitte Bardot stayed in a little fishing village in in the 60's. You would think she had a house there, however I am lead to believe from Alfonso, a journalist turned hotel manager, that it was after filming Shalako, released in 1968, with Sean Connery and Yul Bryner . She took time off with her Brazilian Boyfriend and spent several weeks swimming nude in the waters around the fishing village. Today, the road that hugs the seafront is named after her, Orla Bardot. Anyway, it is now a town of about 30,000 people and because of very clever marketing became a hangout for the Brazilian jet set as well as sprinklings of others such as Jagger. Today, the demographic is a little more mixed. It's all about the beaches and there are 23 of them, littered with bars, sun loungers and umbrellas. Yes, if you are into crowds and beaches, then this is the place for you. We were kept very busy by our hosts and did some kayaking, touring, a birthday celebration at one of the nicest hotels, and were even taken to a special cove without the Buzios crowds. The restaurants, nightlife and the caipirinha cocktail (made with
cachaca, suger and lime) all deserve a mention. And believe me, after 5-6 caipirinha's it's time to crawl home....
Paraty - The bus ride down to this historic town is worth the price of admission, with the coach winding it's way through the mountainous region south of Rio and hugging the coastline, around the many bays and inlets. Paraty was founded by the Portuguese in the early 1600's as a port to transport Brazilian gold to Rio. The trail to the mines in the north took approximately 3 months to negotiate. When the gold was finally returned the Portuguese had to run the gauntlet of Dutch privateers that wanted to relieve them of the gold. When a second trail was cut directly to Rio , then Paraty became the center of the suger cane industry, the production of cachaca (very potent spirit), coffee and a staging area for the distribution of slaves in Brazil. Paraty finally slipped into obscurity and the only way to reach it was by sea, however a coast road was built in 1973 the town was rediscovered by tourists.. The town is a time capsule with many of the buildings date into the
early 1800's, it is surrounded by mountainous rain forest and the bay has more islands then “them there, Bay of Islands”. The water is warm and clear; we hired a small boat to take the two of us out for the day and visited bays , beaches and even bays with an abundance of turtles. However, we share all this with lots of other tourists.
It's time to leave Rio, probably the right time to go and I think we have seen enough. Our final stay has been in an apartment in between Copocabana and Ipanema. On our daily walk to the beach we regularly walk past the entrance to a favela that dominates one of small peaks above a tunnel. Anyway, at its main entrance are an assortment of police cars and heavily armed policemen. It seems there was a major shoot out between the police and narcos, resulting in 2 narco deaths. This all happened prior to us arriving. On the day we are to leave, I look out the window of the apartment to see several police armed with automatic weapons making their way up the street.
Yes, it's definitely time
to leave! However, while we have always remained aware, we have always felt safe and I must say the people of Rio have all been friendly.
Adeus Rio and Brazil!
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