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Published: January 25th 2005
Thousand Windows of Rocinha
One of the largest Favela in South America - Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro
To all our adoring fans, we are
still alive, and well too. The reason for the dearth of Travelblog entries over the past few weeks is that we've been busy, very
busy in fact.
I will begin with the most exciting and interesting article first to keep you interested, and fill in the gaps with the other places we've been to at a later date, for those who insist on 100%!c(MISSING)overage.
In one line though (current status):
We're in New Zealand, with a van. Weather and people nice.
Rio de Janeiro
I've titled this article "The Marvelous City" because that is the translated name given to Rio de Janeiro by those in the know. I can confirm that the title is a true and accurate description of Rio (I will henceforth call it, simply, 'Rio' from now on) in the humble opinion of PeteSarah the Travelbloggers. I will also (henceforth) attempt to aptly describe the marvels which were experienced by us in our too-short time there.
City of Beauty
Rio is a city, most will rapidly realise, of stunning beauty. The beauty comes from its setting, and the respect afforded this setting by the Cariocas (the people of
Grafitti of the Gangs
Grafitti in the favela showing a policeman with four arms but no eyes or brain
Rio) - they seem to keep the place clean and tidy and the buildings seem to be at one with the nature in which the city is nestled. Even the favelas (slums) that cling to the steep sides of the hills above the affluent areas cling in a way that seems to be at one with the surroundings. Well, that's just my opinion.
It also struck me on one occasion, whilst looking down on the city, that it really is dwarfed by the gigantic rock protuberances that are a defining feature of the place - the tallest building comes not close to the outcrop next to it in neither height nor mass.
The people are also generally friendly and above all, passionate about many things - but mainly just passionate about life!
So, what did we get up to?
We arrived on the morning of the 25th January and took a taxi (reasonably priced) to our hostel - all the time taking very good care to watch out for dodgy-looking types and that (we've all heard the Rio horror stories). Our hostel (the Botafogo Easy hostel) turned out to be an excellent one, and one of the best we've
View of Rio from the Sugarloaf
The bay and Corcovado can be seen.
encountered so far on our travels. It's a bit pricey but in this case, you get what you pay for, and all the people there were friendly and relatively like-minded - so we were already at an advantage when it came to having fun!
So, we met some of the fellow residents and proceded to Ipanema beach along with the crowd - the weather was fine and bright. After a couple of hours on the beach the sky clouded over and the heavens opened - it was to be the prelude to 3 days of solid rain and utterly cloudy skies.
That night the rainstorm kept us up at night - it was setting off the car alarms in the street it was so heavy, so we weren't off to the best possible start.
Anyway, over the next two (very rainy) days we managed to buy Brazil football tops for Sarah's young brothers, Eoin and Ruairi (hi guys!) and visit the Museum of Fine Art which was good, but nowhere near as good as the one in Santiago de Chile. The night of the 26th we ended up in a Samba club called Democratica which was mostly attended by Samba-skilled
A match between Vasco and Botofogo at the Maracana stadium
locals. Fortunately we'd all had enough drinks to unashamedly join in the fun and do our level bestest (with varying degrees of success) to Samba like a Carioca. It's actually not that difficult as long as you're relaxed, and a very big plus point for me was that we managed to get away with not treading on anyone's toes or crash into anyone!
The Favela Tour
At 2pm on the 27th we embarked upon one of the most enjoyable (if a little emotionally draining) parts of our South American oddysey. South America is a continent of many contrasts and riches; we were about to visit first-hand the contrast between the rich and the poor of Rio, where slums sit 20 yards from hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year American schools (and cleverly nick the electricity).
Our guide picked the group of us up at the hostel a 2pm and we headed to the foot of the favela (Rio has many by the way) in our car. Once there, we all boarded motorbikes (the taxi of the favela) and were positively zipped up the winding main street right to the top - probably about 200m higher than where we started to be presented with a
Sarah & Pete with Christ
Rio's Most Famous Landmark - Cristo Redentor, Corcovado
fantastic view of the beach and city below. It was like being in Bolivia again with all the tiny shops selling all sorts of difficult-to-identify foodstuffs and bric-a-brac.
It was explained to us that generally it was fine to take pictures of most things, but you should ask - just in case you accidentally take the mugshot of one of the drug-dealers (who run the show locally). They, for obvious reasons, don't really like having their pictures taken - and generally carry guns and perhaps the odd grenade too, just in case you run around a corner.
To explain, the Favelas generally have everything you would have in a normal town - just a little more grimy. You will see hairdressers, fast food shops, grocery stores - everything you have at home - just it's done in the style of the favela: a little more ramshackle. The streets have names and the houses have numbers (so they can deliver pizza to your door) and the postal service functions (just slightly differently). You can even buy houses there from estate agents. The main difference is that the streets are pretty narrow and the drains pretty, well, open. Rubbish will pile up
At the Copa Co!, Copacabana....
View of the famous Copacabana beach from the Sugarloaf
all over the place and when it rains heavily, it ain't so pretty at the bottom of the favela. Also, you have to realise that as long as you are with a guide (who knows the dealers) and you don't take pictures (of the dealers) you are safer in the favela than anywhere in Rio, even with your $800 digital camera around your neck. The drug-dealers control the streets, and act as police, keeping law and order (well maybe just order) - it's in their interest that the police don't have to come sniffing around.
In fact, if you're really interested there is a film about one particluar Favela in Rio - The City of God (Cidade de Deus). It's called the "City of God" and is a must-see film about how around 25% (around 45 million people) of Brazil's citizens live.
So, we headed around and down through the twisting streets passing many a sight on the way - the dealer guarding a corner with a firework (warning signal) shaped like a rocket-launcher - shortly followed by the chicken shop (our guide shouts "kill one for them!") where we were shown the neck of a chicken cut with a
The Olympic Team....maybe?
Beach volley(foot)ball on Ipanema beach
knife and broken, held down through this killing-funnel type thing.
After that, the art studio of a local artist (we bought a piece that we liked), then the local community culture house (where locals are tought to play instruments and paint and suchlike) followed by the local daycare centre. There we amused the kids without tire with the digital camera - taking their pictures and showing them the result on the tiny screen at the back.
By the bottom of the hill and the main road we were exhausted (emotionally) but our eyes were opened to this place we had not even thought about going to before - and we felt very much better off for having a small peek into this very different world.
Rainy day 3
The 28th we headed to the post-office to send back our recent purchases - the Brazilian postal system seems highly efficient, if a little anal (everything in quadruplicate!!).
Later we headed into the "Centro" in order to take the old tram up the hill, but the drivers were on strike so we headed to the municipal cathedral instead - a gigantic concrete pyramid structure, very beautiful inside.
That cloudy afternoon we
Spare a thought for the poor chicken
Live chickens alongside those still for sale in the favela
also took a chance to visit Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) - the most famous Rio landmark and possibly one of the most famous symbols in the world. With great fortune the clouds parted at the exact moment we reached the top and we were afforded fantastic views of the city below - it's really breathtaking. Everyone who's been to Rio will agree, I'm sure, and the photos do not do it the slightest justice.
In the evening we decided to sample a Brazilian speciality, the Churrascaria (our particular one was named "Estrela do Sul") where the deal is that you go in, sit down, and all the food you can eat is brought to you. The menu is literally in your face as the waiters bring on (in an endless stream) mouth-watering meat of every kind, cooked to perfection. For the vegetarians amongst us (shame on you) there was also a more-than-satisfactory salad and buffet bar. What a great concept!!
Birthday day day
I awoke with a slightly groggy head and the words "get up, the hang-gliding people are picking us up in 45 minutes" (or words to that effect). 45 minutes later we were in a paid-for
The ugglier side of the favela
taxi to the landing-site of the famous Rio hang-gliding thingy (not too sure what to call it). Our company was 'Super-Fly' who whisked us to the top of the pinnacle where the take-off ramp is located and set up the glider. Shortly afterwards (after 3 quick, sprinting steps into nothingness) we were airborne over Rio and climbing a thermal - Sarah took off on hers shortly afterwards, and we soared above the city (my glider reached the base of the clouds) and proceded to swoop and dive (not too much diving) to finally land on the beach. It was one of the most fantastic experiences of my life and perfect in every way. I would recommend doing it to anyone visiting the marvelous city.
That afternoon, after calling home, we proceded to the beach for an hour and had coconut and a bit of a play in the surf. That evening we had a BBQ back at the hostel (put on by them) and Sarah produced a birthday cake halfway through and I was serenaded to "Happy Birthday" by the crowd. Much fun.
That night we went with the group to one of the Samba school rehearsals across the water
Kids in the Daycare Centre
One of the kid's quieter moments with Luis our guide
(they take place often in the run-up to the Carnaval) which was great. Dad, you'd love the drumming!
We climbed the sugarloaf in a cablecar, and took some pictures and later took in a football game at the impressive and world-famous "Maracana" stadium - Botafogo Vs Vasco da Gama; it was a 1-1 draw with both sides having their half. Disappointingly, Botafogo sat on their 1-0 half-time lead and conceded in the second half - which almost put me off them, but seeing as we were staying in Botafogo I decided to keep liking them.
We packed, said goodbye to everyone, and took a taxi to the airport. Our flight out of South America took us via Sao Paulo (40 mins, with a 2hr40 stop before flying to Santiago de Chile).
The flight from Santiago took us west all the way to New Zealand where I currently write from, but South America beware and be prepared - we will
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