Tag Archives: rio de janeiro

Beach Bumming in Brazil

As the sun sets in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, the sun also sets on our South American adventure and it is now time to re-enter the real world. Well somewhat.

Our last few weeks were spent bumming around on the Brazilian beaches. After the hype and energy of Carnival in Rio, we headed back out to the house my parents had rented for some relaxation, however Carnival still continued in the little town of Ponta Negra. Cars with huge sound systems (really it should be sound systems with cars) blasted out the latest tunes 24 hours a day. Residents of Rio who came to this little village to escape Carnival took over, storming supermarkets, camping in the fields, sunbathing in thong bikinis and speedos and drinking by the river. As we were up on the hill, we were able to get a comfortable mix of joining in with the locals and relaxing by our private pool. Life wasn´t too bad. My brother and I had a fun night at the local fun fair, although we did feel a little old, so went to the bar and watched some slightly uncomfortable Brazilian karaoke. We also celebrated my Mum´s 60th Birthday, where she enjoyed a relaxing pool day, followed by a BBQ of Filet Mignon and many caiphirinias. One of the highlights of the day was the gift my Dad gave to her. Have you ever heard of wing walking and flight acrobatics? He got her a ride, strapped to the top of the plane where she can do different acrobatics should she choose too, at over 10,000 ft in the air and over 100 miles an hour! That is a sight I can´t wait to see!

After Ponta Negra we headed back down south to Ilha Grande, a mountainous island covered in jungle. The boat journey there was picturesque, sailing by other islands with hidden private beaches, yachts floating in the ocean, and mountainous scenery surrounding us.  After the ride, the island didn´t disappoint. Thank god as it was pricey enough after Carnival. There is one main town on the island, which is a little overdeveloped with pousadas built almost on top of each other. When you get out of the town and away from the tourists you are able to really appreciate the island, hiking through the trails, taking in the wildlife and incredible views, and relaxing on the long beaches. We spent a well deserved three nights relaxing and eating some good grub at Biergarten (yeah I know it´s not very Brazilian but it was nice to move away from the typical rice and beans). We also discovered Acai (ass-sci-ee) and have not looked back. It´s a superfood berry found in the jungle in Brazil that is whisked into a tasty thick smoothie that you eat with banana, guarana, honey and granola. However we were a little sad to discover that it is full of calories. We only found this out after eating 300ml per day per person for a week! No wonder why my shorts were feeling a little tight.

In need of some exercise we headed to Paraty, a colonial town made up of colorful houses and cobblestone streets that are a little hard to walk on. Away from town is the famous Penha waterfall. The waterfall is a little unconventional whereby it flows over a huge rock which is fun to slide down. If you´re a local you´re a little crazy and will run, jump and slide down on your feet! We had to see this so met our friend´s James, Ann, Taq and Meg and biked the 9km gradual uphill in over 30 degree heat to go see it. After the bike ride, the cool water was very refreshing and we spent the afternoon acting like kids sliding down the waterfall, followed by some more acai.

A 40 minute bus ride from Paraty is Trindade, a tiny beach side town with dramatic scenery reminiscent of Parque Tyrona in Colombia. The town offers a few restaurants and some hippy shops, but the beaches are what you come for (but beware there are nudist beaches too, just in case this isn´t your thing), and the waterfalls. We stayed at a hostel owned by a Brit (unfortunately the hostel was a little on the grimy side so wouldn’t really recommend) who is extremely excited about showing the locals the area. He ended up taking us to a waterfall where we could hide in a cave, get swallowed up by a rock, and a slide down a small water slide. I think he likes playing like a big kid every day, and it was fun to join in with him. That night we ended up at a bar on the beach looking up at the clear night sky covered in stars.

Ready for some more city life we headed back to Rio for a couple of nights and back to our favorite hostel in the world, Bossa in Rio. I swear this place could be a boutique hotel. This time Rio was much quieter, both for us and the city. One of the nights we headed up into Santa Teresa and dined at Espirito Santa, a lovely little restaurant overlooking the old mansions. Here we had our favorite meal of the trip yet; heart of palm stuffed fish, wrapped in collard greens, and drizzled with banana cream sauce. It´s a dish from the north of brazil and  was to die for! After that and dessert, we were pretty much in a food coma, so went back to our lovely room and passed out. We had grand plans for the following day, until we ended up bumping into our friend Fran whom we spent New Year’s eve with. She is such a comedian and we spent the day laughing ourselves around Ipanema and Copacobana. The beaches in Rio are a whole other story, with men (all without shirts on) exercising at the workout areas, women walking up and down in thong bikinis (doesn´t matter of the size), and both genders always posing. There are stalls set up along the praia´s selling coconut juices, signs with misters to cool you off, and vendors selling colourful sarongs, just in case you feel like covering up. It was definitely some fun people watching.

Sadly after two days our time in Rio ended and we endured our last long bus trip of 30 hours up to Itacare, a small surfer town. This is a town you can get really comfortable in, if you have the time. You can take surf lessons, there are plenty of restaurants and many beaches to check out. At this point our tans were coming along just nicely! Since we were in Brazil, and doing so much beach time, I decided to get a Brazilian…I´ve only had one in the past and forgot how painful it can be. For about 20 minutes the spa lady ripped and giggled at me, as I screamed. Not sure if I´ll be back too soon! But at least I was ready for the beach now!

Also in Itacare you can learn or watch the famous Brazilian dance called capoeira, created by the African slaves. The dance is made up of moves that are somewhat like karate or jujitsu. One night we went to a show and saw them swing their legs up, do somersaults, and move to the beating music. It was an interesting experience, although it didn´t grab me as much as salsa!

Our last beach stop was on Morro do Sao Paulo, which turned out to be a very touristy island with mainly young Israelis who just finished their term of service and are ready to party! We were able to escape the crowds hiking past the fourth beach on the island and chilling out in the hot pools. When the tide goes out, small pools are created between the coral and the water quickly heats up in the 35 degree plus heat. We also walked to Gamboa and on the way found a clay pit. Now men, I know this is the stereotypical dream that never really happens, but about two minutes after we got there a bunch of Argentinian girls came up, started rolling around in it, wrestled and even started climbing on top of each other! True story. Justin got a picture to share with his male friends out there (although he was too shocked to take it while they were wrestling). Back in town we bumped into a friend we met in Itacare and finished off our last night at a beach party, slurping on a delicious juice and vodka drink.

Final stop of the trip was Salvador, Brazil´s third largest city. We checked into a lovely hotel to treat ourselves and took in what the city had to offer, a  UNESCO world heritage site, more beaches, and some good restaurants. Unfortunately, the beauty of the Pelourinho is contrasted by the beggars that surround Praca de Se. Nothing is hidden here and you can see little kids on crack and prostitutes at 7am in the morning. I guess it´s like the Tenderloin of San Francisco. This shouldn´t put you off coming though, as the people are still friendly and there´s so much to see. The first night we arrived (a Tuesday) there was a concert. Apparently this happens every Tuesday in the Pelourinho. We enjoyed seeing the locals dance, and listening to a mixture of music. Just outside of the Pelourinho is the huge elevator that connects the upper city with the lower city. Originally it was built to transport goods from the port, but now is a part of the people´s commute here. From the lower city you can take a bus out to Bon Fim, a church where the locals started tying ribbons to the gate and making three wishes. The brightly colored ribbons look like a skirt surrounding the church. Since it was the end of our trip, we thought it suitable to make some wishes and took part in this tradition. We also checked out the Barra district where the beaches are located (I think we´re turning into beach lovers), and saw some brilliantly made sand sculptures, and took in our last sunset which incorporated an applause from the locals.

Today has been a day of emotions, being the last day, and the day that Justin and I go our separate ways (well for a little while). He is now on his way back to SF and I, in an hour, to London. So now to England where the story will finish…don´t worry, there will be one more blog!

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Carnival

Carnival is a continent-wide celebration that starts on a Saturday and ends on Fat Tuesday.  The most famous Carnival celebrations are in Brazil, with Rio de Janeiro and Salvador de Bahia being the top cities to spend these crazy four days. We chose Rio to spend our Carnival as my Mum wanted to experience it for her 60th Birthday. And boy was it crazy!!

As with everything, there´s always a story, and unfortunately ours was because of accommodation. The house that we had rented, which was meant to be just outside of Rio, turned out to be 2.5 hours away on the bus! Arghh! Fortunately, the location of the house was lovely, on top of a hill with expansive views of curving beaches, the ocean and lagoons, which made my parents happy. Also my brother, Justin and I found a hostel, miraculously, that was in the city, which we stayed at for a few nights so we could get into the vibe of Carnival.

Our first experience was collecting our tickets for Sambodromo. I have never seen such a colourful ticket office, with streamers, and masks and women dressed up in typical Carnival gear. My Dad and Andrew got right in and had a photo taken with one of the women.  You could feel the excitement in the room, ready for the following days of craziness.

I had thought that Carnival was mainly about the Sambodromo, and that the costumes were mainly for the women, who wore head dresses full of feathers and very skimpy clothing. However this is not the case. The streets of Rio are filled with different ´Blocos´, which are block parties or beach parties entertained by bands on huge floats. There are probably about 20 of these that happen each day. People mostly dress up, but the costume tended to just be a hat or a wig, or a mask. To get an idea of what its like, imagine Bay to Breakers throughout the whole of San Francisco for four days straight. It was a PARTY! We went to a couple of Blocos, and a huge beach party down on Ipanema. If I was to come back again (which I proberly will, if anyones interested)  I would research latest Brazilian songs and dances because sometimes it felt like you were an observer, when the crowd started dancing around randomly. However we just got a few more caiphirinas and beers down our neck and carried on dancing.

Also in Rio there are different balls you can go to. We went to the Samba Ball at Scala, which meant a night of dancing for 6 hours again and we didn’t get home till 5 am. We saw three different bands and then the costumed ladies came on at the end to show us their moves. It was so colorful and a night suited for all, even for the older lady that seemed to take a liking to Andrew, and Manuel who kept buying Justin drinks. I think my mask might have scared people away.

As much as the block parties are crazy, and the balls are fun, Sambodromo takes the cake and is something everyone should experience at least once in their life. The dancers and bands parade themselves down the purpose built avenue and bleachers to dancing and singing crowds. The parades start at around 10pm and go until 5am, with each band having an hour to show off their music, different costumes and floats. The music was lively, the costumes were incredible and the floats were unbelievable! If this was done in the western world it just wouldn´t be the same since everyone would be worried about waste. Here they just go all out and you will never see anything so indulgent in your life. If you go, the first parade will be the best, just because of this, however, even as amazing as it is, after the third or fourth parade it does begin to get a little samey. We chose to leave after the fourth so as not to ruin the thrill of it all.

Even though the city offers Carnival, we couldn´t forget about seeing the other sites it had to offer. We headed up to the Christ Redeemer statue and took in the gorgeous views over the city, the surrounding mountains, islands and ocean, drank from coconuts in Ipanema beach, climbed up the mosaic stairs in Lapa, admired the artistic grafity adorning concrete walls and imagined what it would be like to live in one of the beautiful mansions in Santa Teresa during Rio´s hay day. I would have to say that Rio is my favourite city in South America and cannot wait to go back. However now to the beach!