Brazil 2019

South America Day 1 – Rio de Janeiro

9th January 2019

Welcome to Brazil
Welcome to Brazil

We’re off on our travels again – this time to South America, starting in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a long journey; our first day, having already got up at stupid o’clock and spent 2 hours on a coach to London, consists of 13 hours of flying plus 4 hours at various airports, finishing with an hour taxi ride.

I have a heavy cold. I can think of better ways to spend the day, like tucked up in bed with a mansize box of tissues watching daytime TV. But at least everything is punctual and I get the chance the read the Tattooist of Auschwitz in one sitting.

We fly via Madrid with less than an hour between flights. After landing, I see the old man get my bag out of the overhead locker, then we get separated by a crazy lady who decides to go the wrong way down the aisle of the plane pulling a suitcase the size of a small hatchback. When I finally catch up with him in the terminal building, he doesn’t have my bag – he left it on the plane. So it’s a mad dash to retrieve it before it gets destroyed/returned to London.

Panic over, we continue to board our onward flight. 7 hours later and with my book complete, I look for an English film to watch. There’s not much choice, but I try Mamma Mia! Here we go again. 5 minutes in, I decide it’s preferable to spend the final 4 hours of the flight sitting in the dark listening to babies cry.

Rio Design Hotel
Rio Design Hotel

Finally, we arrive in Brazil, negotiate the enormous airport and take a taxi to our hotel; Rio Design Hotel. It’s already dark so there’s not much chance for a first glimpse of Rio. We head out briefly in search of much needed refreshments (there’s very little service on an Iberia flight and we are quite dehydrated). We don’t go far, it’s been a long day and we’re tired, but we have our first Brazilian beer at a little pizza bar opposite the hotel, then go to bed.

First Brazilian Beer

South America Day 2 – Copacabana

10th January 2019

Copacabana Beach
Copacabana Beach

We get up and go for breakfast. We deal with yesterday’s dietary deficiencies by consuming a mountain of fruit – mainly mango – the sweetest, juiciest mango I have ever tasted. I also have some sausage and eggs, although there’s a slight delay in proceedings while a women attempts to light her cigarette on the heat source under the breakfast buffet.

Copacabana Beach
Copacabana Beach

Then we set forth along Copacabana Beach. It’s 8.30 am and the prom is already heaving with walkers, runners and cyclists out for their morning constitutional. It’s like an exotic Bournemouth; we have the Overcliff, they have Sugarloaf mountain.

Copacabana Beach
Copacabana Beach

We walk the full 4 km length of the beach, and back again. By the end it is 36 degrees and we’re rather warm and sweaty.

Copacabana Fort
Copacabana Fort

After a pit stop at a beach bar, we round off our morning with a visit to Copacabana Fort, perched on a peninsula with a stunning view across Copacabana Beach to Sugarloaf Mountain. The fort also houses an Army Museum. It’s probably quite interesting (I’m not sure, it’s all in Portuguese) but it definitely has great air conditioning.

View from Copacabana Fort
View from Copacabana Fort

Suitably cooled, we head back to the hotel, stopping at a supermarket to purchase copious amounts of liquids, then head back to the hotel for a cool down and a siesta.

Ipanema Beach
Ipanema Beach

In the evening, once the temperature has dropped to an almost manageable 32 degrees, we set off for to Ipanema. It’s super mega busy. It looks like photos I’ve seen of Benidorm in the 70s when the British discovered the package holiday.

Girl from Ipanema
Girl from Ipanema

We walk along the prom for a while, then can’t resist heading for the the tourist trap of Garota de Ipanema; the bar where the song ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ was written. We have a beer (or two), then go and get dinner somewhere considerably cheaper and less touristy. We return to the pizza bar opposite our hotel and order a pizza and some chips to share. The amount of food that is produced is akin to an episode of Man v Food. The portions are enormous and the layer of cheese is as thick as the pizza base.

Girl from Ipanema bar
Girl from Ipanema bar

Once we have been defeated by dinner, it’s back to the hotel for cheese sweats and an early night. After today’s gentle introduction to Rio, tomorrow we go hardcore tourist and head for Christ the Redeemer.

Rio Design Hotel Rooftop view
Rio Design Hotel Rooftop view

South America Day 3 – Rio de Janeiro

11th January 2019

Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer

Today we’re going to see Christ the Redeemer. One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. In the school summer holidays. I suspect we won’t be alone…

Funicular Railway Waiting Room

The ascent is made by funicular railway. You need to purchase tickets in advance for a specified time. Turn up late and you lose your slot. So we leave ample time for the bus journey to the station. We find the bus stop, the bus is on time and we get off at the correct place; the result being we arrive an hour before our train. It’s very busy, but very efficiently organised – which is kind of good, because I like order and kind of bad, because there’s no chance of getting an earlier train.

Funicular Railway
Funicular Railway

Eventually it’s our turn to board and we set off, or rather up. The train ride takes 20 minutes and ascends 700 metres. At the top, there’s a further climb of 200 steps (or an elevator/escalator combo if you prefer). And there he is. Christ the Redeemer. 38 metres tall, looking down on Rio from the top of his mountain.

Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer

There’s not much to do; just admire/photograph the statue and admire/photograph the stunning view across Rio and beyond, together with hundreds of other tourists. So it’s a kind of spectacular anticlimax.

View from Christ the Redeemer
View from Christ the Redeemer

My guide book says that you can take a trail through the park back down into Rio, but it’s closed. So we descend by train and take a bus to the Botanical Gardens.

Rio Botanical Gardens
Rio Botanical Gardens

The Gardens are beautiful. It’s hard to imagine that you’re in a city amidst the palm trees and lily ponds. There is a spectacular array of plants, waterfalls, lakes and fountains, all watched over by Christ the Redeemer. My favourite bit, however is the cactus garden.

Rio Botanical Gardens
Rio Botanical Gardens – Cactus

A gardener sees us admiring the amazing cacti and invites us to try some. He cuts the top off an ancient Brazilian cactus and he and the old man proceed to eat it.

Rio Botanical Gardens
Rio Botanical Gardens – Cactus Eating

Beautiful though the gardens are, the temperature has reached 36 degrees. We manage two hours, but that is my limit so we set off to catch a bus back to the hotel. The bus route is circular; you can catch it either clockwise or anti-clockwise. We have a difference of opinion over which direction is correct. I’m right (obviously), but while we’re arguing, the bus sails past without us.

Rio Botanical Gardens

The journey back to Copacabana takes ages. It turns out there has been an accident; some scaffolding has collapsed onto the pavement. I feel slightly guilty about how I used to complain bitterly about Risk Assessment in my former life.

Rio Botanical Gardens
Rio Botanical Gardens

We reach our hotel, stopping briefly to purchase the obligatory supplies of drinks and crisps. I like to pretend that crisps are important in replacing the salt I have sweated out. The truth is, I really like crisps. After lunch, it’s time for a cool down in the rooftop pool.

Rio Design Hotel Pool
Rio Design Hotel Pool

Next, a glamorous interlude while I wash underwear in the bathroom sink and hang it on the air conditioning unit to dry. As if life wasn’t glamorous enough, we go to the supermarket to buy dinner. I choose a selection pack of 5 different cheese spreads. Back in our room, I google the flavours; one contains nuts. Who knew you could play Russian Roulette with cheese?

South America Day 4 – Rio de Janeiro

12th January 2019

Love Rio
Love Rio

Today we are going sightseeing in Rio. So, on a sunny summer Saturday, we set of by Metro from Copacabana Beach to the city centre. Not surprisingly, we are travelling in the opposite direction to almost everyone else. We buy Metro tickets, which are quite decorative and thus a good item for my scrapbook. However, at the turnstile, we insert the ticket and it isn’t returned. I look so disappointed that on the following journey, the old man buys 3 tickets so I have one to keep.

Riding the Bonde
Riding the Bonde

First stop is the Bonde, the old streetcar which clambers across the Arcos de Lapa viaduct and up the hillside along cobbled lanes decorated with murals.

Bonde Mural
Bonde Mural

We’re taking the Bonde just for the sake of it, so buy a return ticket, worrying that we’ll look a bit sad when we stay on at the final destination. In fact, when we reach the last station, there is little sign of movement. Passengers simply flick their seat backs over so they are facing forward for the return journey and we set off back down the hillside.

Lapa Viaduct
Lapa Viaduct

We walk back to the base of the viaduct to photograph a tram passing over it, and for the obligatory selfie by the ‘Love Rio’ sign.

Bonde and Metropolitan Cathedral
Bonde and Metropolitan Cathedral

Next stop is the Metropolitan Cathedral; from the outside it’s an ugly concrete cone. Inside, however it’s rather beautiful with four entrances, each facing a floor to ceiling stained glass tableau.

Metropolitan Cathedra
Metropolitan Cathedral

We move on to the Escadaria Selarón; a flight of some 200 steps, each decorated with brightly coloured tiles. I’ve seen pictures and it looks quite spectacular; of course in reality it’s swarming with so many tourists you can hardly see the steps.

Escadaria Selarón
Escadaria Selarón

Luckily, most of these tourists seem averse to actually climbing the steps. Thus, as we ascend, numbers dwindle and at the top, there’s just me, the old man and a water vendor who’s charging 50% more than those at the bottom. We don’t care; we’ve just climbed 210 steps in 36 degree heat. I would have given him my first born for a bottle of water.

Top of Escadaria Selarón
Top of Escadaria Selarón

Next, we visit the National History Museum, which charts the history of the Brazilian people from the first known settlers 25,000 years ago, through colonisation, slavery and independence to the present day.

National Museum
National History Museum

We walk along the waterfront to the Museum of Art, which is somewhat of an anticlimax. The main exhibition is based on Samba; its place in the history, culture and politics of Brazil. But the captions are only in Portuguese, so we have no idea what it says. The remaining floors contain exhibits which cause the old man to go into ‘Call that art?’ mode, so we give up.

Museum of Art
Museum of Art

Just time for one last art stop at the Etnias Mural – inspired by the five Olympic Rings, the artist created five faces to represent the continents. It is enormous and mesmerising.

Etnias Mural
Etnias Mural

It’s been a scorcher of a day and we’ve been sightseeing for eight hours. I’ve had enough of heat and walking and not understanding anything that’s going on around me.

Etnias Mural
Etnias Mural

We return to the hotel and round the evening off with another glamorous session of a supermarket supper followed by washing underwear in the sink. It’s not as successful as yesterday; someone next door is smoking out of the window so my clothes smell of cigarettes and are covered in ash. I consider complaining, but am not sure if smoking in a non-smoking room out-trumps hanging your knickers out of the hotel window, so I decide to put it down to experience and have another beer…

Ayrton Senna Mural
Ayrton Senna Mural

South America Day 5 – Rio de Janeiro

13th January 2019

Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain

It has come to my attention that I don’t apply sunblock right up to my clothes. I have woken this morning with 3 pink rings around my neck and shoulders outlining yesterday’s vest. So this morning I am wearing a T shirt. I feel hideously overdressed in a city where the preferred attire is a bikini which barely covers your nipples.

Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain

It’s our last day in Rio, so we’re going up Sugarloaf Mountain. We’ve left it till last because frankly I hate cable cars. It’s not natural to hang in mid air in a glass box on a bit of wire. And Sugarloaf Mountain requires some serious mid air hanging. First, you take a cable car up the neighbouring Morro da Urca. Then you take a second cable car to Sugarloaf. Basically, you travel a kilometre in a glass box on a wire which hangs between two mountains. They’re not really mountains, to use the correct geographical term (Catherine), they’re granite monoliths. It has to be said that the cable cars traversing these monoliths is a spectacular sight which can be seen across Rio. But it’s still against the laws of nature.

Sugarloaf Mountain
About to set off for Sugarloaf Mountain

We set off for the bus stop, but there is some confusion as the bus Google says we should take doesn’t appear to exist. We wait 20 minutes before giving up and getting on a random bus and hoping it gets us near our destination. This non-scientific approach leaves us with a mile to walk, which we consider a marginal success.

Sugarloaf Mountain
Approaching Sugarloaf Mountain

Tickets for the cable car aren’t cheap; we hand over our £60 (that’s around £10 a minute) and board the first cable car to Murro da Orca. The summit is quite small; just big enough for two cable car stations and a gift shop.

Sugarloaf Mountain
View from Sugarloaf Mountain

We take the second cable car to Sugarloaf, which is slightly larger (a gift shop and a restaurant and, rather bizarrely, as we’re up a mountain, a beach bar).

Sugarloaf Mountain
Top of Sugarloaf Mountain

We circumnavigate the monolith to enjoy the views, take photos and generally reach a point where we feel like we’ve had £60 worth of entertainment. At the rear is an area of rainforest populated by very tame marmosets.

Marmoset
Marmoset

We descend and, just as we’re discussing how to reach the hotel, the non-existent bus appears round the corner. We’re not at a bus stop, so we just smile and wave at the bus driver, who takes pity and picks us up.

Sugarloaf Mountain
Descending Sugarloaf Mountain

That leaves just one item on our Rio ‘to do’ list – swimming on Copacabana Beach. The problem is that having walked the length of the bay on arrival, we have spotted the sewage pipes spewing crap into the ocean. So I have a dilemma; do I want to swim on one of the world’s most iconic beaches knowing that I will literally be paddling in my own poo? Not that it really makes a difference whose poo I’m paddling in.

Swimming at Copacabana Beach
Swimming at Copacabana Beach

We walk to the beach, find a few square inches to lay out our towel, and the old man sets forth into the water. I’m not sure why. It’s a rather sinister shade of brown and has all sorts of rubbish floating in it – more brown flag than blue flag. He emerges with a look of horror on his face, takes a shower, returns to the hotel and takes two more showers, all the time muttering about taking precautionary Imodium.

Copacabana Sunset
Copacabana Sunset

Once I have finally finished laughing, it’s time fish my knickers off the window ledge and pack. In the morning we leave Rio and head for the waterfalls of Itaipu Dam.

South America Day 6 – Foz do Itaipu Dam

14th January 2019

Itaipu Dam
Itaipu Dam

We are up at 5 am this morning to fly 750 miles south-west to Foz do Iguaçú on the border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The old man has survived the night without succumbing to dysentery – a fact he puts down to a combination of luck and having killed the germs by drinking caipirinhas. We have booked and prepaid for our taxi, which sounds like a recipe for disaster. However, 15 minutes ahead of schedule and before we’ve even had chance to worry about what to do if it doesn’t arrive, we get a call to say the driver is in reception.

One advantage of being up so early is that we see the sunrise over Rio en route to the airport. It really is something; the city and its monoliths silhouetted by the bright pink sky, with an illuminated Christ the Redeemer looking down on proceedings. With the obvious exception of its sewage arrangements, we have enjoyed our time in Rio.

Flight to Iguacu
Flight to Iguaçú

The flight runs smoothly and we arrive in Foz on time, with the added bonus of an initial glimpse of the Falls from the plane. My favourite thing about the airport is the CCTV footage of the luggage shown on a screen in the baggage hall. And so we get to watch a rather long film of a collection of men hitting the conveyor belt with a selection of tools in order to try to make it go, whilst our suitcases sit two metres away on the other side of the wall. Eventually, defeat is accepted and the baggage is moved to a different belt.

Iguacu Falls from the plane
Iguacu Falls from the plane

We have booked and paid for our hotel; Bogari twice. The first time we used the booking site HotelQuickly, which sold prepaid accommodation, then promptly closed and kept all the money. Ironically, on our travels round South America, we have been robbed from someone in China. It’s not the best hotel; it has a whiff of drain, and swinging a cat definitely isn’t an option. But we’ve stayed in (much) worse.

Itaipu

In the afternoon we visit Itaipu; the world’s second biggest dam. I’m wearing a new T shirt – £1.80 from Primark. I immediately realise why it was so cheap; the material is very thin. Normally this would be an issue, but we’re in Brazil – having your underwear on show is practically obligatory.

Itaipu Dam
Itaipu Dam

We catch the bus to Itaipu and take the panoramic tour, which involves a bus ride around the complex, across the top of the dam, stopping at various points for photo ops, whilst being told lots of facts. For example; that the dam holds enough water for everyone on the planet to have 4,000 litres each.

Precious Cat

In the evening we have a wander around town, then go for dinner at City Bier. We think the items on the menu are individual portions, so order one each. The old man selects filet mignon and basically gets an entire cow with condiments and I order the chorizo and get a sausage the size of a small country. When we look around, most people have ordered one dish between two or even four people. The old man works determinedly through his steak but I am defeated by my sausage and requested a doggy bag.

City Bier Steak
City Bier Steak

On our return to the hotel, it starts to rain. A lot. I know we’re in the rainforest, so rain should really be expected, but the suddenness and severity of the outbursts takes me by surprise. It certainly doesn’t help my almost-see-through Primark T shirt.

City Bier Sausage
City Bier Big Sausage

We make it back somewhat drenched. I sort out clothes and luggage etc whilst the old man sinks into a meat coma.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road back to the Hotel

South America Day 7 – Iguaçú Falls

15th January 2019

Iguaçú Falls

Iguaçú Falls are on the border between Brazil and Argentina. Today, we are visiting the Brazilian side and the Parque Nacional do Iguaçú. Once I have transformed the bathroom into a Chinese laundry, we take a bus to the Park. Brazilian buses only have a few seats; for the majority it is a standing experience. Signs instruct you to give up your seat for elderly passengers, so when someone taps the old man on the back and offers him their seat, I laugh. A lot. Then I return my focus to trying to remain upright on a rickety old bus hurtling along rickety old roads. It’s quite a workout, requiring balance and core strength. And there’s no air conditioning, so by the end of the 40 minute journey we’ve worked up quite a sweat.

Iguaçú Falls
Iguaçú Falls

We bought a multi attraction pass yesterday. We did this to save money, but when we reach the park and the enormous queue at the ticket booths, we feel rather smug as we skip one huge queue and head straight for the second huge queue to board a shuttle bus into the park. An hour later, we reach the front of the queue, where a lady asks to see our ticket. Apparently we still need a ticket. She then very kindly closes her booth, escorts us to the front of the ticket queue, obtains tickets, returns us to her booth and lets us pass to board the bus.

This has put us right in the middle of Elsa Zimmermann’s tour group. Elsa does not take kindly to this logistical development and rather aggressively rearranges the queue with us no longer in it. Once the charming Elsa and her group are on their bus, we board the next bus for the 10 mile drive to the waterfall. It’s basically a road through the rainforest surrounding by butterflies – hundreds and hundreds of butterflies.

Iguaçú Butterfly
Iguaçú Butterfly

We disembark at the waterfall trail and walk the final mile along the river ending at a walkway which overhangs the waterfall. It’s bit like Niagara on steroids; huge and loud and creating clouds of mist where a rainbow floats.

Iguaçú Falls
Iguaçú Falls

A slight dilemma; the walkway extends right into the mist and in order to validate our tickets, we needed our passports. To ensure our passports don’t turn to papier-mâché, we negotiate the walkway scrum one at a time, while the other stays somewhere dry with aforementioned passports. It’s a spectacular sight – the highlight of our trip so far.

Iguaçú Falls
Iguaçú Falls

We exit through the café where lizards and coatis are competing for scraps and return to our hotel for a siesta before our last Brazilian outing.

Coati eating a sandwich
Coati eating a sandwich

In the evening, after a thunderstorm so violent it makes the hotel shudder, we go to Marco das Três Fronteiras; a theme park at the point where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet.

Marco das Três Fronteiras
Marco das Três Fronteiras

I have convinced the old man to skip the hotel’s organised tour at £20 a head in favour of taking the bus which costs £1 each way. It’s a lot further than we’d expected and we are on the bus long after all the other passengers disembark. I begin to wonder if we’ve been kidnapped by a rogue bus driver, but finally we arrive at our destination.

Marco das Três Fronteiras
Marco das Três Fronteiras

The park is awesomely tacky. We wander round the various three-border themed installations; flags, murals, obelisks, signs. After dark there’s a sound and light show but we decide we’ve had our fill of tack and go in search of the bus back to town and the end of our Brazilian adventure. Tomorrow we head for Argentina.

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