¡Bom Día Brazil!

Early in the morning it was time to say goodbye to my brother after a wicked 11 days together where we had been able to share a tiny slice of this travelling life we had become accustomed to with another person close to us. We’d done a lot and had some great laughs along the way so it was a little sad to wave him off in the taxi.

Later on we set off to the bus station in a taxi as the heavens opened. We were destined for the adventure of crossing the border from Argentina to Brazil for the 2nd time in two days. However, this time we caught the local bus as opposed to a luxury tourist bus. The fun part was that this bus only waited for us on the exit side of the Argentinian boarder and left us to fend for ourselves at the Brazil entry immigration. It was actually relatively easy and we waived down the next bus to Foz de Iguaçu and got to the local city terminal before having to to take another bus to the International terminal. Today was going to be very bus orientated. At the terminal we found a bus going to Rio and went to get our first taste of Brazilian food from the bus station restaurant. It was at that point when I couldn’t understand a word of the menu that I realised my A-Level Spanish was going to be of little use in this Portuguese speaking county. We resorted to the old favourite method of pointing at pictures, seeing what other people had and picking things that had Frango (chicken) in them!

The guy who sold us the ticket said it was a 17 hour bus ride, in the end it took us 22 hours, which included changing buses at Midnight and numerous boardings by some well armed police officers. The highlight of the trip was the stop for dinner which involved the best buffet you can imagine. A few more buses later and after leaving some 26 hours earlier we had arrived in our little bit of paradise in the Island of Florianopolis, off the East coast of Brazil.

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We had chosen a hostel called Submarino and it had a lovely homely feel to it and more importantly it had an amazing little Dachshund (sausage dog) called Jaquiera, who I adored as she was really affectionate. She only had really little legs so had to take a running jump to get up on the bench next to you to get her belly scratched. We spent 5 nights here and felt very much at home lazing around on the beaches of Barra and Mole which were gorgeous.

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On our first night we enjoyed a lovely Sunset drink at a little bar called Bools and Beers, it was our first taste of Caprihinia, ‘THE’ cocktail of Brazil made of Caçhaca (rum like sugar cane drink), lime and sugar. It was lovely, especially when mixed with fresh passion fruit. There was also a small music festival in town which made the town and roads much busier than normal. It wasn’t really our cup of tea as there was lots of strange Brazilian soft rock. Personally, for me at least, the real highlight of our time in Florianopolis and maybe the whole trip was was watching Derby destroy Forest 5-0, I managed to watch the whole thing on my iPad over breakfast and even won a couple of quid on Bryson scoring first.

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We tried our best to have a Saturday night out but failed as it was pretty quiet, but we did discover the ridiculous bar system that seemed to involve way too much people and paper. It starts with the door guy giving you each a piece of paper, you then place you order with a waiter, who then brings your drink and marks it down on your own individual cards and then when you are done you have to find the Cashier in the dark corner of the room, who then gives you another piece of paper to say you’ve paid and you’re allowed to leave. Finally, you give this piece of paper back to the door guy and leave. I think the English system of just going to the bar and ordering a beer works just fine.

Our next stop was one we’d both been excited about since the very start of this trip. We were heading to Rio de Janeiro. We arrived at 7 am and had to wait for our room for a bit so spent the rest of the day wandering around Ipenema and it’s beautiful streets and lazing on the stunning beach, dreaming of a time when we don’t have to live on a strict(-ish) budget. In the afternoon we went to buy our tickets for the footy from the old Fluminese stadium in the most difficult way imaginable.

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Fortunately for us the guy from the hostel gave us a lift and helped us out. It seemed he asked three or four different people who worked there whether they were selling tickets or not, and nobody seemed to know. So he lead us to a practically invisible, small window where a hand emerged asked for a few Real and handed us two tickets to the Fluminese v Vasco de Gama game at the Maracaña the next day.

When you think of Rio you immediately think of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Sugar Loaf Mountain and the city below. So we made our own pilgrimage up the mountain by taking the train to the top. The weather all day had been beautiful however when we when we got off the train we were greeted with a Jesus statue very hidden amongst the clouds. The Brazilians say that Christ uses the times he’s hidden to rest his arms from the stretched out position, when nobody can see him. We sat down and tucked into our packed lunch in one of the most popular and famous destinations in the World waiting for Our Lord to say hello. Eventually the cloud did clear and we got some great photos of the statue and the incredible views of the enormous city that is Rio.

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We even got a glimpse of the Maracaña Stadium where we would be watching the footy that evening. It’s probably the most famous stadium in the world, it’s where Pele scored his 1000th goal, played his last game for Brazil, it’s had crowds of over 200,000, it saw Uruguay ruin Brazil’s dream of winning the World Cup in their own country when they beat them in the final in 1956, it’s where John Barnes scored a Brazilian-esq wonder solo goal and also it’s the stadium that will host the World Cup Final this July. So that evening we headed off to the North of the city on the train with much anticipation of a great evening of the beautiful game. We didn’t see any real trouble, which apparently there can be at the bigger derby (c’mon Derby!) matches. The staff where obviously practising for the World Cup and were amazingly helpful in showing us where to go. We had a couple of beers in the bar opposite the ground and failed to blend in with the locals. Before we went in we went around the front of the stadium where there was an old guy doing incredible kick ups with tennis balls and marbles. He must’ve been over 60 and had more skills than anyone I’ve ever seen. The highlight was him doing marble keepie-ups, then kicking it into his mouth and swallowing it before coughing it back up and carrying on the keepie-ups. Inside it was an amazing stadium and will be great when it’s full for a Brazil match but unfortunately only about 12,000 were there that night, which makes the 76,000 seater stadium seem pretty empty. We were allowed to sit wherever we wanted so went and sat right amongst the Fluminese drummers which was great, they had such amazing songs and rhythms. We spent the first 20 minutes just looking around at the stadium and the crowd before remembering we were at a footy match! The game finished 1-1 with a goal from the local hero Fred. It was a pretty good standard, much better than the Mexico and Argentina matches we went to and there was of course a bit of a scrap (on the pitch) which led to one of the Fluminese players being sent off.

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The following day we spent on the glorious Ipanema beach which is amazingly long and clean. Whilst Eccles lounged and got even browner I went to the best beach gym ever which was at one end among the rocks. It was just a free gym where the weights are just metal bars with concrete blocks and cement filled paint cans, and lots of pull up bars. You couldn’t ask for a much better view whilst working out.

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That night we had read about a place called Lapa that as famous for its Friday night street parties under the big arches. Sure enough when got off the bus the big town square was full of loads of street stalls all selling booze and food. The guys working there made amazing caprinhas and my first drink of the evening was a lethally alcoholic peach caprinha smoothie. There was a group of about 50 people making a beautiful rythym with all sorts of drums, rattles and maracas, they were then surrounded by loads of people dancing to the world famous Brazilian Samba beats. It was a captivating place and I’m insanely jealous (as jealous as I’m allowed to be after this year!) of anyone going out to Brazil during the World Cup. After a bit we could hear some other drums coming from over the road and wandered over to see what all the noise was about. Outside what looked like two garage doors were proper drum groups being lead by a conductor making the first part of the night seem amateur. There were all sorts of drums there but lots of the huge drums you sometimes see at the football and even the little ladies were holding them and playing insane rhythms whilst dancing and singing. It was such fantastic show for free made only better when the garage door shutters rolled up and the drum groups slide back into the bars that lay behind without missing a beat. Tonight was a good night. After visiting a few more bars and nightclubs we headed to a club called Scenarium, that Caroline had been told about. It was pretty huge and inside was fascinating, it was more like an antiques shop crossed with a museum as there were trinkets, displays and even stage coaches everywhere. To top it all off there was a huge dance floor downstairs where some very organised and talented dancing was going down whilst listening to the live Samba band. We decided it was best to not show off our lack of rhythm and just watched from the balcony upstairs!

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The next day we tried to avoid the caprinha hangovers down the beach and stayed in Ipanema realising that it didn’t matter how many more Caprihnas we drank, they weren’t going to have the same effect as the previous night.

One of the popular tourist destinations in Rio is the Escadaria do Convento in Santa Tereza. Odd as it may sound its a staircase and has featured in a few music videos, most notably ‘Beautiful by Snoop Dogg’. However, it’s no ordinary staircase anymore as an artist called Selarón, who used to live in one of the houses on the staircase made it his life’s mission to decorate all of the stairs (about 300 meters worth) with beautifully coloured tiles. Apparently, when he started in 1990, he used to work on them everyday trying to finish tiling the all the stairs in the colours of the Brazilian flag. After 7 years, when he’d nearly finished, he discovered a place that sold imported old European tiles and fell in love with them. He brought all he could and then preceded to change and replace the tiles constantly so the design would be constantly evolving and never be the same. He did this as a way of showing the beauty of where he lived and a personal tribute to Brazil and it’s people. He also said that anyone could send him a tile and he would put it up amongst all the other tiles there, which lead to a fascinating mixture of all sorts of tiles ranging from football crests, flags, town names (lots of English ones) and even one that marked a couple from Oxford’s Wedding Day. Unfortunately the guy had been found dead on the staircase a couple of months previous and they believed it was a suicide as he’d been threatened by local gangs but there were also rumours he may have fallen out with the government about taxes or something. It was a shame because it would’ve been great to meet the guy who’d made a very unique and beautifully enormous piece of ever changing art.

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After the staircase and a sizeable volume of pointless walking we went to watch the sunset from Sugar Loaf Mountain. After two pretty large cable car rides we reached the top and the views of the city at dusk were spectacular but Rio really begun to come to life as the sky went dark and the lights were turned on. From up there you could see the long arch of Copacobana beach, downtown, the harbour and of course Christ the Redeemer, who looked like he was just floating when he was lit up in the night’s sky. It was a great way to see the city.

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On the Monday we decided to go on a favela tour of Rocinha, which is the biggest favela in South America. Favelas are towns where the less well off people live and and are called shanty towns or slums in other countries. They are the places which are always portrayed as riddled with drugs and crimes and definite no go areas for tourists, where houses are built on top of each other in a way that is more about survival than style. We couldn’t decide if we wanted to do a tour or not as we didn’t want it to be one of those awkward place where you go to look at people and their lives like it’s a sort of zoo or something. Eventually after chatting to people in our hostel and getting the Ecco research machine on it we decided it was a good thing to see as it perhaps was how the true people of Rio (Cariocas) live as one third of of its population live in favelas. We picked a guy called Zezeniho and his company because he had love for Rocinha, had lived there and more importantly gave something back to the community with some of the money he made for the tours. He had now set up a DJ school in his flat where the young people of the area could come and use all his equipment to learn how to DJ for free. Our guide for the day was called Dembore and was a cool guy who DJ’d around the area too. It was fascinating seeing how they squeeze so many homes into such a tight space and how narrow and steep the alleyways were. It certainly didn’t feel at all scary and Dembore was really great at explaining how people live their everyday lives. The first thing he did when we got here was took us up a huge hill so we could get a view out over Rio and the whole Favela. It was very impressive how the houses just fitted nicely into the bowl shaped hill and it was absolutely enormous. We asked how dangerous it really was and he said we had nothing to worry about as the last thing that anyone wants to do in the neighbourhood is to commit any crimes that would get a visit from the police. This seemed to be where the problems arose as the police had a really bad reputation of using too much force and violence and would often shoot innocent people or point guns at people when they’d done nothing wrong. The people were left with a choice of having the favelas run by drug bosses which meant they were never bothered or by having the over threatening and forceful police on every corner, of course they preferred the first option. It was compelling to meet the guy who runs it Zezeniho when we went to his flat where the Dj centre was. His arms and legs were covered with tattoos depicting the favela of Rochina and his passion for his home town was very clear and very amicable. He was a great bloke and had seen a way to make people understand that his home favela wasn’t anything like the media portray whilst at the same time he was able to help the next generation of kids in his community. He also had three cats in his flat which enjoyed destroying Caroline’s rucksack. We had certainly been to much poorer places on our trip so far, it’s just the gulf between the luxury areas of mansions and hotels of Ipanema and Leblon and the narrow alleyways of the favela are huge. The people are very proud of where they live and will often chose to stay living there even if they have enough money to move away. To be fair it has everything you could imagine, schools, hotels, hundreds of hairdressers, coffee shops, supermarkets and even 5 different sushi restaurants. It had been a good day and we both came away feeling enlightened and glad we’d gone to see the real Rio.

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We spent a day at the world famous Copacobana beach. It was beyond enormous and quite spectacular with Sugar Loaf Mountain in the background. However, we didn’t like it as much as Ipanema. It just didn’t seem as clean and perhaps a little more touristy. It was great to finally get to this iconic location and just people watch and admire the foot volleyball that was going on not too far away.

Unfortunately for us our flight our of Brazil to Africa was out of São Paulo so we eventually had to call time on our magnificent stay in Rio. We’ve been to many cities along the way and I think we both agreed that Rio was perhaps right up at the top of all of them. To be fair though we had got the São Paulo to Johannesburg flight for a ridiculous £230 so we certainly weren’t about to change it. Everyone we’d spoken to said that São Paulo was enormous and yet there wasn’t an awful lot to do so we weren’t highly excited to be there after a relatively short bus journey. We spent our first day walking miles to the Havianna Flagship store so Ecco could buy a genuine pair of the Brazilian flip flops. When we got there after an hour and a bit of sweaty walking we were greeted with a building site as they were currently having a makeover! So we wandered the streets around there which were well out of our price range nowadays. In the afternoon we walked further still to go and see a bizarre little area called Batman Alley. This was a tiny group of narrow alleyways where graffiti was not only allowed but also encouraged. The result was some of the most stunning artwork I’ve ever seen. There were huge murals on every available bit of wall. Our final act of the day was to go to a pretty spectacular Japanese Sushi restaurant for an evening of eat as much as you can. The fish was gorgeous and we ate and ate until we could no more.

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The day we left I managed to sneak into Hanger 193 CrossFit which was a a great little place with some really welcoming people. I managed to hold my own and left with yet another t-shirt and feeling ready for our flight.

Brazil had been a place we’d both looked forward to since the start and it had really lived up to its reputation and exceeded our expectations. What a great place and although it’s had its critics about construction and planning the world is in for a treat in June when the World Cup begins.

Lots of extra photos beyond this blog. If you want to see them then click here.

We only have one continent left but it’s an amazing one. Next stop AFRICA!

See you soon,

T & C

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