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Published: January 7th 2008
Sorry for the lateness of this blog, I've been a bit lazy. Still, better late than never.
Rio is an amazing city but I did manage to leave a few times. The first time was just after Brazil's thrashing of Equador when Carla and I headed to Morro de São Paulo in the Brazilian state of Bahia. We caught a flight to the city of Salvador and then a boat to the Island. We met a local who was going on our boat and said, "I hope you don't get sea sick, because someone always does" We were OK but there were a couple of victims as the boat rolled over the large waves. It wasn't the best trip and after a while we started to feel a little sick as well. However, we made it there and our sickness went away when we arrived in what we describe as nothing short of paradise.
We walked up the sandy path and through the village to our hotel. We happened to have to best views in the hotel as from the hammock on our balcony we could see over the palm surrounded village and down to the beach. We wasted
Morro de São Paulo from our balcony
no time in getting into our lazy beach attire and strolled down to one of four beaches. A beautiful little stretch of sand flanked by palm trees with little wooden stalls and restaurants. The great thing about Morro de São Paulo is that although it's a tropical paradise, it's not crowded or over flowing with gringo tourists. You're more likely to hear Portuguese than any other language. Of course I was there as well as a few other gringos who seemed just as happy with the little gem we were in. During the night most people head to the beach and have dinner and drinks at one of the many bars along the beach. We stumbled on the place where our friend from the boat worked. After dinner and some drinks we walked along the moon-lit beach. An extremely refreshing aspect of Morro de São Paulo is the ability of walking the beach, or anywhere for that matter, at night. In Rio it's simply a no-no. There's no major stories to tell from Morro de São Paulo as we mostly just relaxed but we couldn't leave without riding the zip line from the top of the mountain into the ocean.
It was a decent thrill.
One of the main things I wanted to see in Rio was Corcovado in Floresta da Tijuca (Tijuca Forest) on which Cristo Redentor sits. I've seen him from all over the city during my stay but never from up close. It's something I wanted to do with Carla so I had to wait for a weekend but my time in Brazil was running out and the weather was playing up towards the end of my stay so we just went regardless. It turned out to be a nice day and it worked out well. We decided against the very very long hike up the hill so we cheated and caught the little train. After weaving its way up the mountain through the thick Tijuca Forest, we arrive at the top. A short walk leads us to Cristo himself. It's truly a huge statue. At 130ft, he is the tallest statue in Brazil and the 5th tallest in Latin America. As I look up, he reminds me of where I am and how much I've wanted to come to Rio for so long. Not only was it a nice day, it was also excruciatingly hot
and the hundreds of tourists cramming into the small area around Cristo was making it hotter. However the views were amazing. It was possible to see almost all of greater Rio (which isn't easy since its so huge). It was a highlight of my trip to Brazil.
During the week there were a few things I had yet to see. One of them was the Museu de Arte Contemporânea (Contemporary Art Museum) in Niterói. A short ferry across Baía da Guanabara (Guanabara Bay) brings me to the city of Niterói. It's not going to win any charming city awards and Cariocas hassle the city saying that the best thing about Niterói is the view of Rio. I know it's a joke but the view of Rio is actually quite beautiful. Although many Cariocas hassle it, one big factor is that crime in Niterói is a lot lower than Rio so many Cariocas are moving across the bay and becoming honorary Niteróiense (Niterói dwellers). Brazilians seem to have a nick name for all people based on where they come from. So a Carioca is someone from Rio city, a Fluminense is someone from Rio state. Paulistanos are from São Paulo
Somebody buy something!
If the customers don't come to you, go to them. Morro de São Paulo.
city and Paulistas are São Paulo state citizens etc...
The museum was pretty nice with its unusual design but the exhibits inside were... well, contemporary art. I'm not a contemporary art fan and the heap of trash that was stuck to the wall and called an exhibit reiterated why. It wasn't so easy to get there but seemed harder to get back and I didn't want to pay all that money for a taxi so I decided to walk back to the Ferry Terminal. After a short walk there was a nice little bridge leading to a small island which had some great views back towards the museum. Although there was not many people around, there were two families and an old guy on the bridge so it looked safe enough. I pulled out my camera and snapped away. When I was done I looked up, everyone was gone and replaced by 4 black teenage boys leaning up against the railing who had the classic favela kids look. I could see them quitely talking amongst themselves and surreptitiously looking in my direction. I had no choice so I put my camera in my bag, lowered my head and walked
briskly past them. They stood up, looked right at me as I walked past and started to follow me off the bridge. I looked around and when I realised no one was there, a cold shiver spread throughout my body with the thought of the fact that I was about to get robbed. I glanced over my shoulder to see them undoubtedly following me and closing in fast. I broke into a sweat and considered running. I couldn't see I had any other option but it was a long way back to the ferry terminal and they would probably chase me down. Just as I was about to run, like a scene out of a hollywood movie, like a knight in shining armour, a taxi rounds the corner and I hailed him down. I ran across the road infront of another car who beeped at me and told the driver to get to the terminal quick. As we pulled away I could see the gang looking at me as if to say "You're a lucky boy". The taxi driver was looking at them and then looked at me. He didn't say anything but I think he knew what was about
to happen. I didn't want to pay for a taxi earlier but I was only too happy to spend the money after that. So maybe safer than Rio but not totally safe I guess. It was the only time in Brazil I felt in danger and it was through my own complacency. Had I heeded the advice people gave me about walking around in a quiet area, I would've been OK. So my advice for any prospective visitor is to follow ANY advice given to you by locals.
Another time I left Rio was to a small mountain town called Petrópolis. This lush mountain town was founded out of farmland when Emperor Dom Pedro I went though the area on his way to Minas Gerais in the 1830's. He liked the scenery so much he bought some land. He eventually was abdicated of the throne and returned to Portugal but the land was passed to his son Dom Pedro II who built a summer retreat there. Soon after a palace, mansions and a large cathedral were built giving it the nickname "The Imperial City". I walked around the pleasant town and took in all the sights. It was a
nice enough place but only warranted a day there.
Carla was lucky enough to have almost a week off during a long weekend so we exploited the opportunity to leave Rio behind us once again and head west to Ilha Grande. Meaning literally Big Island, this piece of Brazil is truly a tourist destination. Set up to accommodate hard working Brazilians who need a weekend break and international travellers, Ilha Grande is after the tourist dollar (or Rial as it were). However that's not to say that it's overflowing with 5 star hotels, tacky night clubs and crammed beaches. On the contrary, its actually very serene and the little settlement that recieves most of the visitors is quite a delightful little place to wander. We thought it would be a sterling idea to drag a tent and a few sleeping bags along aswell, camp out under the stars and get right into the secluded island thing. Unfortunately I didn't count on the fact that there is no nice lush green field to camp on just a little hard dirt ground in someones back yard which was far from secluded. It wasn't a great first nights sleep so we gave
up and went and got a room.
The good thing about Ilha Grande is that there is plenty of things to keep you occupied, just so long as your willing to be active. Even just lazing on the beach isn't easy unless you want to hike a couple hours to get there. Yet for the active types its great. We did that hike to a really nice beach on the other side of the Island. We also took a boat tour which was pretty much the only way to get to some other places we wanted to go. It was a great day out on the boat dispite being touristy but when you're in a touristy area who cares.
We hung our heads like the rest of the people there at the thought of having to leave as we caught the boat back to the mainland. I spent a few more days in Rio before heading back to England. I went from 38 degree days to 4 degrees in London, it just wasn't kosher.
So after 2 months there I found a great many things I love about Brazil and Rio. First thing to come to mind
is the food. There are countries famous for its food like France, Italy, China and India but somehow Brazil never seems to get the same international recognition and personally I think it should. The variety of local dishes is amazing and quality of food is incredible. Sure for a vegetarian it may not be so exciting but the carnivores amongst us, Brazil is possibly the best country to visit. The best place to sample the local meat is at one of the ubiquitous Churrascarias. One fee gets you all access to the salad and fruit bar, a selection of side dishes and the meat! Waiters walk around the restaurant with big lumps of meat on spits. All you have to do is get their attention and they'll come over a slice off a few pieces for you. There are many restaurants around that also do an all-you-can-eat smörgåsbord with Brazilian dishes. However day to day you can't go wrong with the traditional rice, black beans and farofa (A type of manoic flour fried and mixed with various things) and on the weekends the feature meal is feijoada, a stew of beans and various meats. It takes almost an entire day
to make but its incredible.
Great eating in Brazil isn't limited to fine restaraunts. Walking down the street you're bound to run into an Empada stand. An Empada is basically a little meat pie with any sort of filling you want. Esfiha is also a great snack on the run. A little piece of fried pastry also with any filling you want. Top it off with some Molho de Alho (garlic sauce) for extra kick.
For desert you are also spoiled for choice but one of the best is a street-side made Tapioca. A special fried flour mixed with coconut and condensed milk or basically whatever you want. Its sweet or salty depending on your taste but too much so.
Of course you cant have all this food and nothing to wash it down with. Cachaça is the main liquor which is a type of sugar cane spirit similar to rum. Mix that with crushed lime, ice and sugar and you've got yourself and Caipirinha, Brazil's famous cocktail. I have to admitt the local beers leave a bit to be desired but thankfully there is a place called Devassa that makes its own beer and its the
Veiwed from corcovado
best chopp (draft beer) in town. For the non-drinkers there is a soft drink that is so popular that I believe Brazil is the only country that has its own soft drink that out sells Coke. Guaraná is a drink made from a plant of the same name which is found in the Amazon and it tastes somewhat similar to Mountain Dew but way better. I drank one or two bottles of that during my stay.
Of course Rio is bursting at the seems of stunning scenery and although I'm not a huge beach fan I loved heading down to Ipanema to take a dip in the water and feel insecure about my white imperfect body.
However with all these great attributes, probably the best thing about the country is its people. They are some of the most friendly and welcoming people I've met. But not just to foreigners, they are just very friendly to other Brazilians. Although the Metro can get really crammped especially during peak times, people will always get up to let an elderly person or pregnant mother sit down. This doesn't just happen now and then, it happens all the time everyday. I could
not imagine anyone on the London Tube doing that. Brazilians are also very approachable. They're never shy to help out where they can and have a chat. It's a shame that Brazil and particularly Rio has a bad reputation of dangerous and violent people because the real spirit of genuine Brazilians is lost. No matter how well travelled you are, I think Brazil is just one of those places that will stand out among all others. Saudades do Brasil!
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