Saturday, 31 January 2015

Day 5 - Rocinha Favela

Today I went on a tour to Rocinha favela. I was quite dubious as to whether I should book this because of the reputation favelas have but I grabbed the bull by the horns and paid the R$75 and caught the bus across town. Rocinha is the biggest favela in all of South America and houses around 200,000 people. It has its own gyms, schools, churches and even a sports complex that children are allowed to use providing they don't skip more than 3 classes at school. Those living in favelas stick together in order to keep the government out as if they interfere too much, residents will have to start paying for utilities. More than anything the locals are curious of us tourists but a quick "ola" breaks the ice; they are happy to have us in the favela as it means more money for the businesses. We visited a stall selling the local favourite of "acai" pronounced akiee, which is crushed berries and ice topped with granola of all things. So refreshing and only around 70 pence!

Walking through the neighbourhood houses are built wherever there is available space. They get free wifi and water from the government and tap into the electricity paid for by Rio citizens so they pay for hardly anything. Because of this there will never be a friendship between favela locals and people of the city, according to our guide. We rode pillion on a motorbike to the top (pink helmet for me!) and drank in the views that others in Ipanema and Copacabana pay a fortune for - R$87,000 for one months rent in some higher end areas! Walking through the neighbourhood it is clear to see that these people live in poverty but they make the most of what they have. On most corners stand heavily armed police which definitely made me feel safer, even after we heard sounds of fireworks, a warning sign for drug dealers that the police are in the area. Dealing does still happen here, it is only natural in a city, however there is nothing untoward in view at all and it is under control. When the favela was pacified three years ago, not one shot was fired as all the drug dealers simply moved to another area before the police arrived. At no point did I feel unsafe and felt more at ease than some places in the centre of town.

We went to a small open air theatre where a group of men gave us a performance of Capoeira, a traditional dance incorporating martial arts. This developed from the slaves in the early days as a way to release tension although the rules dictate that they are not allowed to ever touch each other. I got involved straight away and it's much harder than you think!! After a quick samba class we were all now practically fluent in local culture..! Photographic evidence to follow! We made a quick visit to the local sambadrome where Carnaval preparations are in full swing. 4,000 individual costumes are painstakingly made by hand but you can see that the people here relish it. I even tried on a completely crystallised helmet with extravagant plumes of feathers on the top and definitely felt ready to party! On the bus home we rode in silence with the memories of Rocinha playing in our minds; a place I would visit again in a heartbeat and recommend to anyone. 

Friday, 30 January 2015

Day 4 - Maracana Football Stadium

This morning we caught the bus into the centre of Rio in order to book a bus ticket for the 20 hour journey we need to make in a few weeks to go to Porto Seguro. Little did we know that there are two bus stations, one for local buses and one for long distance journeys. We stopped at the local bus station and soon realised we had made a mistake. This part of town, overlooked by several favelas is rather questionable and we were very uneasy trying to find where to book our ticket. Thankfully neither of us had bags or jewellery on but that didn't stop the locals looking our way; we stood out like sore thumbs. After a tense 10 minutes unsuccessfully trying our best Portuguese - hardly anyone here speaks English, a reflection on the state of education available - we decided to catch the bus back to where we knew. After travelling through a tunnel under the favelas we were in what seemed like a whole different place with hotels, boutique shops, museums and art galleries. It was such a stark contrast and a huge eye opener to the two sides of this beautiful city.

After a ride through this part of the centre we caught the Metro to the Maracana football stadium. This iconic football ground saw a complete overhaul for the 2014 World Cup and it shows. Everything is so modern and sleek and it is easy to see why riots took place over the World Cup when you think of the money invested in such an impressive stadium.

Although I am not a huge football fan it was a great experience learning about the history of the game this country is so mad about and it seems others are keen to learn as well, as there was a steady stream of tourists all with the same idea as us. From here we caught the Metro to Ipanema and after learning from our previous mistake, walked the right way and found the world famous beach. Similarly to Copacabana beach, it is easy to see why it is famous with the white sand and stunning coast, both being lapped up by huge crowd on the beach.

The beach is split in two by an outcrop of rocks which we climbed. In the 35 degree heat it wasn't easy but we agreed it was definitely worth it as we took in the views. Helicopters are constantly flying around this area, presumably carrying the new rich elite vying to see the sights too. As much as that would be amazing - and definitely out of our backpacker budget reach - it was so rewarding after the difficult climb to be able to see first hand just how outstanding this coastline really is. So after all our to-ing and fro-ing across town, we hauled ourselves up the steep hill to the hostel, devoured even more noodles in contended silence and will soon be getting an early night in preparation for another busy day tomorrow! 

Day 3 - Sugar Loaf Mountain

Today has been by far my most favourite day. Learning our lesson from being caught in yesterday's midday heat, we got the early bus to Praia Verhelma where the first cable car station to Sugar Loaf Mountain is. This small area of town is really quiet and secluded, possibly because it has a lot of federal and military bases here. It's a world away from the sometimes grimy Rio we have seen from the other side of a bus window and it's refreshing. Following a quick stop half way up the cable car route at Urca Hill we arrived at Sugar Loaf.

WOW is the only way I can describe this iconic spot. The views cast over Botofogo, Copacobana and Guanabara Bay were out of this world. The shores of the beaches you can see are all shimmering in the sunlight and yachts bob gently in the bay with regular planes going by at such a close proximity thanks to the two airports here. For miles around people are sunbathing, swimming, paddle boarding and kayaking which just adds to the serenity of the overall picture. This relaxed spot is all wood and glass giving it a contemporary feel, a million miles away from the crowded scenes at Christ the Redeemer. A large tropical area surrounds one side of the mountain allowing us to follow the trail through the jungle where for a while we followed a rather large lizard who was hazily flicking its tail in our direction as a warning to keep our distance! 

After a quick stop off at Praia Verhelma beach, we caught the bus to Jardim Botanico which is an extensive exotic garden with thousands of different plants and trees from all corners of the globe. It is so tranquil here you would never guess you are in the middle of such a hectic city. After a pleasant stroll around we called for a few Brahma beers at our local (yes we have a local already, we have even managed a conversation further than "hello" with the none english speaking bar staff!) and headed back to the hostel for a nourishing tea of noodles and chicken nuggets... who said backpackers didnt go gourmet?!

 All in all, my favourite day so far :) 

Day 2 - Christ the Redeemer

Today we have been to Christ the Redeemer. The journey is approximately 10km from the beachfront where we caught the bus and as you get closer to Corcodova mountain, which is situated in Parque Nacional da Tijuca, the houses and area gradually becomes more affluent. Having endured a worrysome journey up the hair pin bends on the mountain, we arrived at Cristo Redentor 710 meters above sea level. Corcovado mountain is named so as it looks like the hump of a camels back; in Portuguese it means 'hunchback.'

Now Jesus himself is quite something, nothing more than a miracle that in 1921 the engineers were able to create this 30 meter statue. However it was the views did it for me. We were blessed to have clear skies so the view was uninterrupted and it really is as beautiful here as it is made out to be. The panoramic scenes from across the city were breathtaking. as you can see right around the metropolis, covering glimmering waters and islands that look like the ridges of an underwater dinosaur. As suspected Cristo Redentor is a massive tourist trap so everyone shuffled around the small terrace, managed to take a couple of photos then were pushed on by the surging crowds. A word of advice would be to visit this iconic Art Deco statue during away from off peak season so your views are not disturbed by a wandering "selfie stick"!

I suffered with a little heat stroke in the queue waiting for the bus which is scary as I have never experienced it before but in hindsight it is a good thing as I am now more aware than ever that drinking plenty of water is essential in this climate! Later on we caught the metro to General Osorio to visit world famous Ipanema beach, however after what turned out to be the wrong decision, we just ended up further up on Copacabana beach! This beach is world famous and it is easy to see why with its white sand stretching for a staggering four kilometers. After a long walk along we made it home in time for happy hour at the hostel and made the most of our two for one caiprinhas before getting a good nights sleep.  

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Day 1 - Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro, meaning river of January, is quite simply the most bizarre and crazy city I have ever visited. Granted I am not the most well travelled of souls but from the moment you step out the airport you will be greeted with a menagerie of rushed Portuguese, construction work noise, countless horns beeping and people coming at you in every different direction. To put it plainly; an assault on your senses. As we took the Onibus from the airport in the direction of Copacabana it is clear to see that this city, in all its beauty, is one that is moving at a lightning speed many will struggle to keep up with. Buildings are being put up faster than you can say the word "vamos" thanks to the 2016 Olympics just around the corner whilst the older buildings are left to decay with peeling decor as their exterior face. What's more, the government seem to know it. The walls are plastered in posters asking "please ignore the mess, we are building a new city"!! whilst grafitti across the city shout "Fifa go home."

In light of all this, this city in the seventh biggest economy in the world, is quite literally booming with life from all corners of the globe. It is hard to pin down exactly what a "typical Brazilian" looks like thanks to their varied history but they certainly live up to the stereotype: passionate and loud with not an inch of self doubt. And it's not just the people who made a good first impression. Behind our hostel we came across a park which lead to an overgrown jungle trail. Hiking as far as my flip flops would allow we were joined by a group of tiny Marmoset monkeys (and yes I only know that after an expensive Google search). Darting through the trees and hopping from branch to branch it was like the Brazilian version of spotting a squirrel running through a British wood and a really amazing experience to see these wild animals up close. 
After a tasty and relatively cheap tea of steak and scrambled egg with Manioc, a Brazilian condiment with a floury texture, we headed back to the hostel and as I sit and write this, I think bedtime is fast approaching. Almost 20 hours of travelling with two flights, one almost missed connection and several mad dashes through airports, this is one weary first time traveller. Boa noite! 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

T minus 7 days

So I'm laid here in bed after a crazy weekend celebrating my leaving (ironic huh) thinking about how this time next week will be the last sleep I have in this bed for the foreseeable future. I would never have been able to predict this rollercoaster of emotions that I've been on and right now I'm slowly taking the ascent to the top, ready to career down into the most exhilarating experience of my life.

Not a seconds thought was given way back 11 months ago when I decided that this was to be the next chapter of my life and about how I would feel a week before we leave. I can never pinpoint the word to describe this mix of emotions running round my head; from one day to another it can change so drastically, likewise the answer I can give people when they ask how I'm feeling. Excited, nervous, scared, overwhelmed, curious, hesitant, crazy, ready... These words all describe some part of how I feel. It is as if they are ingredients to a recipe that's not quite finished yet.

Maybe come 20:05 on Monday 26th of January 2015 I will finally finish the recipe and find that word...