Leg Five - Rio de Janeiro to Paraty to Auckland

Day Thirty Three - São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro Travel day today! We took the super efficient São Paulo subway to the bus station, where we said our final goodbyes to our hosts, Alexey and Laira. Our bus trip was six hours long, and we had semi-cama seats, so were pretty comfortable for the trip.

As we got closer to Rio, the rain started pouring down. By the time we got to Rio, it was like we were driving through a river. All the roads were flooded, and lots of cars were stuck in the water on the side of the road.

We took a taxi to our hostel, which was in Santa Theresa, a suburb on the hill above Centro with cobblestone streets and a tram that runs through it. It's kind of a bohemian suburb - apparently lots of artists have studios there. The taxi driver had never heard of our hostel or the street it was on, so he drove there with our Lonely Planet map in one hand and the steering wheel in the other! The hostel is really nice - huge room with a balcony overlooking central Rio. Fantastic views!

Observations...

  • So many slums leaving São Paulo. All with churches.
  • All the road working guys drive white combivans.
  • Emergency vechicle lights on all the time = boy who cried wolf.

Day Thirty Four - Rio de Janeiro

We started the day with breakfast at the hostel. It's really quite an event. They cook the breakfast for you and serve you a huge plate of food - eggs, ham, cheese, bread, cake, fruit.

We took ourselves on a walking tour of central Rio today. First we visited the national library, Bibliotecha Nacional. We arrived just in time for an English-speaking tour of the library, which was really interesting! Next we visited Teatro Municipal, then a cool cathedral that has these metal statues outside. We bought our special New Year's Eve metro passes. Rio has a special metro system for New Year's Eve to get everyone out to Copacabana. We wandered through a street market that sells everything from loose batteries and extension cords to souvenir t-shirts to crotcheted bikinis. Pretty diverse! Our last stop of the day was Palacia Tiradentes, the old government building, where we were able to walk around the whole building. We were going to take the tram back to our hostel in Santa Theresa, but after we waited in line for nearly an hour with about 70 other people, we gave up and made our own way home!

Observations...

  • It is a worry when I have to give directions to the taxi driver.
  • An odd mix of people on the street who want to help you, and people on the street who want to kill you.
  • It's nice to see planes flying in and out from the airport WE are going to fly out of.

Day Thirty Five - Rio de Janeiro

Today we went on a tour of the main sights of Rio with some other people from our hostel. The van picked us all up at midday. We decided to a do a tour in Rio because the sights are all quite far apart and we only had limited time, so it was much easier to go on an organised tour rather than try and figure out how to get to each place on our own! Unfortunately it poured with rain all day, so our tour was dampened somewhat! We went to Corcodova first, which is the mountain that the famous Cristo Redentor statue is on top of. It was so foggy that when standing at the base of the statue, you couldn't see it at all. Every so often the fog would clear for about 15 seconds, the crowd would cheer and everyone would snap as many photos as possible. So, we didn't see much of the statue, and we definitely didn't see any of the great views of the city that you can see from the top of the mountain!

Next to Maracana Stadium, the biggest football stadium in the world. Then to the place where the main Carnaval parade is held. Carnaval is a huge celebration that takes place all over Brazil in February, but the main parade is in Rio. There are amazing fancy costumes, samba dancers, huge floats etc... We got to see some of the costumes. Then we went to Catedral Metropolitana, which is a very modern building - it kind of looks like the Beehive, and it has these beautiful stained-glass panels inside. We were also meant to go to Pao do Acucar, also called Sugar Loaf Mountain, but since it was still pouring and foggy, we decided to save our tickets for another day when we'd be able to see the view!

Observations...

  • There is no spouting on the rooves here.
  • It rains well.
  • Wives are handy.
  • Fireworks (for the people) sound like bombs going off and have little sparkle.

Day Thirty Six - Rio de Janeiro

New Year's Eve! We headed off on a tour of the largest favela in South America today, Rocinha, which is located near Copacabana. A favela is basically a slum or shanty town. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favelas) There are 1000 favelas in Rio de Janeiro. They are a big mess of houses - the people just build the houses wherever they can fit them. There are lots of little paths that lead through them, because all the roads have been build over the top of. There is lots of crime and drugs in favelas, and obviously poverty is a major issue there. Our tour van dropped us (along with the other 10 people on our tour) at the bottom of the favela, and we each took a motorbike taxi to the top of the hill Rocinha is on. The motorbike taxis are the taxis the people in the favelas use. Wendy's taxi driver was a bit of a Romeo, and he was a crazy driver - he crashed into a bus! Luckily Wendy was holding on and didn't come off the bike, but it was a bit of a near miss!

Once we were all at the top, we spent about two hours walking through the paths of the favela with our tour guide, hearing about what life is like living in a favela. There were lots of little kids following us, and they love having their photo taken and seeing it afterwards. So cute! We saw lots of gang members and drug dealers. Every time we were near a known drug dealer hangout, our tour guide would tell us all not to take photos, because the drug dealers obviously don't want tourists taking their photo! We saw one guy from the gang that controls the favela who had a huge gun slung over his shoulder and a couple of other guns shoved in his waistband. Nice.

Apparently the only way the police can enter the favelas is in big armoured tanks, otherwise the gangs will shoot them dead. All the favelas are controlled by gangs and drug dealers. We were assured that it was quite safe for us to be there, but it was a bit freaky seeing so many gang members and bad guys! We visited an art studio, where some young artists who live in the favela paint and sell paintings of the favela. We bought one to bring home with us. They're really talented guys.

We saw lots of bad things in the favela and lots of good things. Good things - the kids who were so happy to see us, the people selling handicrafts from their stalls, the artists in the studio; bad things - gang presence, drug dealers, falling down houses with kids looking out the windows, huge piles of rubbish, crazy bird's nests of power lines, overflowing drains. It was a really interesting tour and definitely worth doing.

We headed out to Copacabana around 7pm for New Year's. We both wore white tops, like the cariocas (people from Rio) do on New Year's Eve. At Copacabana, there were four big stages set up along the beach, and it was packed with people. We hung out on the beach, watched the bands, watched the people. The fireworks at midnight were amazing - 16 tonnes of fireworks off 16 barges, 2 million people on the beach. We got sprayed with champagne, the whole beach was yelling and cheering during the fireworks. Very impressive. Great place to spend New Year's Eve!

Observations...

  • Rio knows how to party.
  • Everybody is very "clap, clap, cheer, cheer".
  • People WANT to live in the favella. Even come back from overseas to live in the favella. Hmmm...
  • Favellas are scary.

Day Thirty Seven - Rio de Janeiro

Feliz Ano Novo - Happy New Year!

We had a sleep in, then headed off to Pao do Acucar, Sugar Loaf Mountain, which we had missed the day of our tour. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we had great views. We took a gondola to the top and took lots of photos. Beautiful!

We spent the afternoon at Copacabana. We found an unused beach umbrella and settled under there for a few hours. It was pretty hot - 34 degrees. Every so often a man would come past with an ice block cart - we each had four ice blocks over the afternoon!

Observations...

  • G-string bikinis are the most awful, pointless, unflattering things I have ever seen. And as for those mankinis?!
  • People don't worry about the suns harmful rays. Be sunsmart team.
  • Tic Tacs are very big here and I like it.

Day Thirty Eight - Rio de Janeiro to Paraty

We packed up and headed to the bus station. Our whole bus to Paraty was full of tourists, which was a nice change - most of our buses have been filled with locals. The bus trip took four hours, plus a restaurant stop halfway through - it seems a bit unnecessary to have a restaurant stop on such a short bus trip! We saw lots of slips along the roads. Later we heard about the big landslide at Angra do Reis, which we drove past. 40 people died in it.

We stayed at a hostel on Jabaquara Beach at Paraty. The beach itself wasn't as good as we thought it would be - it was a long narrow strip of sand and no surf at the beach. We made use of our hostel's restaurant on our first night - pizzas and caiprihinas - a very Brazilian cocktail. Yum! And we listened to the live band at the restaurant!

We had an awful hot, sweaty sleep after we failed to turn on the air conditioning properly! Oops.

Observations...

  • Argentina cities are grids and are easy and sensible to get around. Brazil cities are a mess.
  • Taxi prices vary ALOT.
  • Police here think they're all hip with their big guns. But they have terrible cars.
  • Saw a bat on the tree at the hostel.
  • Found a crab in our room. Wendy chased it out.

Day Thirty Nine - Paraty

Wendy woke up to find approx 50 mosquito bites on her legs. Oh dear.

We discovered there was no water at all in Paraty - caused by all the landslides in the area. Not good to find out after a hot sweaty sleep! Ew!

We spent the day relaxing on the beach. We found a shady spot on the sand and read books, dozed. When we got back to the hostel, we realised we were sunburnt - so much for our shady spot! Oops!

Observations...

  • The sun here is VERY strong.
  • Why do some people walk around videoing camering everything? Are you really going to watch "view of Rio", "me getting on the gondiler", "my wife buying a postcard". Take a photo!!
  • It's height of summer, mid 30s outside. But everything is so green and healthy.

Day Forty - Paraty

Still no water!

We spent the day exploring the colonial town of Paraty today. We took a horse and cart tour of the old town - very quaint! Cobblestone streets, lots of little cottages, old churches.

It was the hottest day of our trip so far - 38 degrees. We spent the day ducking in and out of the shade - the sun was so hot!

We looked through all the shops scattered throughout the town. There were lots of people in their shops actually making the things they were selling - jewellery, art, ornaments, sewing, painting.

We had dinner at a local restaurant - a very authentic meal of steak, rice, manoic flour and chips. Pretty good.

Observations...

  • Oh my, it's hot.
  • In shops: Checkout 1 - Get receipt made, leave item. Checkout 2 - Pay, get receipt stamped. Checkout 3 - Get receipt checked, pick up item.

Day Forty One - Paraty to Rio de Janeiro

We had arranged the day before to get a lift from our hostel to the bus station. About five minutes before we were due to go, we checked with the receptionist and discovered the hostel's car had broken down... So we quickly arranged for a taxi to pick us up! Our bus trip to Rio was pretty uneventful. We had some great views of the beaches.

We took a taxi from the bus station to the airport and checked in to our fancy airport hotel. So nice to be somewhere where the water worked! We explored the airport, had dinner and repacked all our stuff before going to sleep early before our flight the next morning. Quite nice to be at the airport the night before our flight and know we only had to wheel our luggage trolley out the door and we'd be at the check-in counter!

Observations...

  • Communication is the key to everything.
  • Yay for airport hotels.

Day Forty Two - Rio de Janeiro to Santiago to Auckland

Yay, we're going home! We left the hotel at 5.30am and checked in for our flight. It was a little late leaving, but we were in the air around 9.30am. The flight from Rio to Santiago was pretty uneventful. We ate lunch, read the in-flight magazine, dozed. Finally arrived in Santiago. We had an eight-hour wait at Santiago airport. It's a pretty good airport - lots of shops, restaurants etc... We did some souvenir shopping, ate, bought some duty-free. Our flight was meant to be at 11pm, but was delayed, so we left about midnight. The flight from Santiago to Auckland was 13 hours. We ate dinner as soon as we got on the plane, then went to sleep. We each got about five hours sleep, then watched movies and ate breakfast.

We landed in Auckland at 5am NZ time on Friday 8th January. We're really happy to be back in New Zealand! Our friend David picked us up from the airport and dropped us home. We spent our first day back unpacking, doing big loads of washing and sleeping!

Observations...

  • Thumbs up for home time!