Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Week 1: Rio de Janiero, Ilha Grande & Paraty

After some much needed quality time with our family and close friends we set out on what for us is the trip of a lifetime. Seven weeks, one massive continent, four countries, two backpacks and each other. Our first stop..Brazil!

Despite how difficult it was to get a visa to Brazil, how uncommunicative the consulate was, that they practically required that we name our first born after some famous Brazilian, and that because of all this we had to change our flights and lose a few hundred bucks, Brazil has been more than worth it! It's no wonder Rio de Janiero gets the reputation of being one of the sexiest cities in the world, you just can't help but feel...well sexy. The music is sexy, the language is sexy (though since I speak Spanish it sounds like drunk people slurring Spanish words), the views are sexy and people are extremely affectionate all the time.

Since we took a red-eye flight we were pretty exhausted when we arrived, but we only had a few days in Rio, so after a quick catnap we took to the city by foot and visited our first neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Santa Teresa is at the top of an extremely steep mountain that is paved in cobblestone. To get to the top you take a motor taxi, which is exactly that --a motorcycle taxi. This was the first time either Nate or I had ever been on a motorcycle and though Nate looked like a pro, I looked like a an uncoordinated awkward foreigner not knowing where to put my feet nonetheless my hands. So of course I opted for holding on to the guys hips like I was in a seventh grade slow dance...you know when your arms are completely stretched out and barely holding onto your partners hip, just using your finger tips with a frightened looked on our face. Yup that was me. But we got to the top and to calm our, well really my jitters, we had our first of many European-like meals of baguette, cheeses, and fantastic micro brews at a little cafe called the "Cafecito," I guess they named it pretty appropriately. From there we walked to Parque de Ruinas and saw one of our many panoramic views of Rio. We walked down that same steep hill we motor-taxi'd up and visited the Arches of Lapa, a crazy looking Cathedral called the Metropolitan Cathedral, and an antique fair which occurs the first Saturday of each month. The antique fair was coolest thing I had ever seen. The atmosphere was energetic-- music from every direction, the smell of sweet corn in the air, groups of people doing Capoeira, people selling all sorts of street food and beer, families holding hands and lines and lines of cafes. There must have been over 200 stands with everything you can imagine and more, but the wood furniture, oh the wood furniture...just gorgeous and extremely affordable, too bad backpacking limits your ability to buy such things, however I think Nate is thankful it does or I would have dropped some serious cash. 

Arches of Lapa
Inside the Metropolitan Cathedral
Capoeira by the market

Saturday massive antique fair
After some serious language barriers, surprisingly few people in Brazil speaks English or Spanish, and trying to figure out the metro and bus systems by strictly using sign language, which consisted of us pointing in different directions and spreading our arms like the Christ the Redeemer, we made it to Corcovado. There we took a taxi, which was all too familiar to Guyana reckless driving, up to the top of the mountain where the Christ was erected in 1932 as a celebratory monument in honor of Brazil's independence. It was an "oh wow" moment. But like all "oh wow" sites it was crawling with tourist. We attempted to get a picture of us with the Christ, but you practically had to box your way into a shot and after a day of walking had I started throwing bows I would have gotten into a fist fight, so instead we just enjoyed the beauty and took pictures of the Christ alone enveloping all of Brazil.. It was just magical.

The north part of Rio is ver poor and where most of the favelas are located, but in the south about 30 mins from the airport it feels like a tropical New York City. Public transportation is easy and safe with buses, the metro and taxis, not to mention that there are sidewalks and bike lanes everywhere. People who don't work in tourism are warm if you engage them, but mind there business like in any large city.

Copacabana and Ipanema are gorgeous beaches where most tourist stay, and its no wonder there are songs written after them. Nate and I couldn't get the song "Girl from Ipanema" out of our head. Once you go around the rock bend from Copacabana to Ipanema it's like you have entered something out of a movie. Modern skyscrapers, huge rock formations, art all alongside the beach wall, and just stunningly beautiful people. We loved it so much we spent a full day lounging on the beach people watching.
Ipanema Beach
 On our last day in Rio we visited "Pao de Azucar" which in English is called "Sugar Loaf" at dusk to see the view of Copacabana beach, the Christ and Botafogo Bay as the lights began popping up along the sky line at 396 meters above sea level. Not much can be said other than it was just breathtaking and a great end to our 3 days in the most sensual city in the world. Though we hear the nightlife in Rio is spectacular, most nights we were back at our Air B&B apartment in Gloria by midnight after a few drinks. We were still pretty sleep deprived and getting our footing. So I guess we will just have to come back and dance the night away, World Cup 2014 anyone?

Next, we moved on to what is coined the "Green Coast" and took a scenic bus ride to Angra dois Reis and then a ferry to Ilha Grande which is Brazil's third largest island and home to the famous Lopes Mendes beach. We decided that we would camp on the island for three days and take daily (surprisingly challenging) hikes and boat trips to different beaches. In three days we saw 7 different beaches and beautiful lush jungle in the backdrop. The island has a no car policy and is covered with small ocean-view restaurants, bakeries, and bars all along it. We found a bakery called "Paes e Cia" at which we ate almost every meal, with the exception of our fancy night out were we enjoyed the famous fish stew called "Moqueca de Peixe." The bake goods at this place could have been flown from France they were so authentic and delicious (and cheap). Needless to say, we ate lots of flaky bread with gobs of cheese and ham. It was hard to leave Ilha Grande and we could have certainly stayed a full week there, with all the water activities available, hikes, some ofthe most beautiful beaches we have ever seen and the chill nightlife of live music and drinking Brazil's famously delicious Caipirinha, but we had to move onto our next destination of Paraty pronounced "Para-CHEE."

Our three hour hike to Lopes Mendes Beach
One of the many beaches on Ilha Grande

Our favorite bakery on the island
Car-less Ilha Grande
Paraty was a two-hour bus ride from Angra dois Reis and is considered one of Brazil's most cinematic destinations due to its colonial preservation. The roads in the historic district are all cobblestone, but I had no idea all the different ways a cobblestone street could be made. Paraty had so many different types of stones and patterns that you had to watch your step otherwise it was easy to twist an ankle, truly authentic and beautiful masonry. Unfortunately the weather wasn't the best and though the main attractions are other islands and beaches, we opted to go to a waterfall. What we didn't know was that this waterfall would be the sh*t, pardon my language, but it seriously was. Located in Penha about 15 mins. away, this waterfall was a huge slab of granite that you could slide down tucked away in a extremely lush jungle. It was called the "Pouzo de Tarzan" and it truly looked like where Tarzan would go to blow off some steam. We befriended some locals and got some lessons on all the ways one could slide down the rock, but we mostly opted for sliding down on our bums, since we didn't feel ready to do it on our feet like they did. We must have slid down at least two dozen times, and had the scrapes and bruises to prove it. So much fun! 

Nate sliding down the Penha waterfall
In Paraty we stayed in another Air B&B, but had no idea that we would quickly become so enamored with our host, Fernanda. It was like we had known her for years, we just clicked. Fernanda was half Brazilian and half Portuguese and was a theater set designer. She took us out with all of her friends to a wonderful little bodega in the historic district called "Bodega do Poeta" where they had live music and are famous for their Caipirinhas. It was a beautiful night of language, which is really the only way I can describe it. Some of her friends spoke English, some Spanish and some only Portuguese and the way we all communicated with one another was a fantastically rich experience, so much so that we didn't make it back till 3am. The next day we finally caught up on our sleep and spent hours talking with Fernanda and learning about Brazil and Portugal and us sharing our experiences from Guyana and the cultural differences of America. We finally made it out of the house at 3pm and went to see some indigenous song and dance, which was incredibly powerful, went souvenir shopping, and finally got our first taste of South American gelato. 

Having one of our many long conversations with our fantatstic host Fernanda
Maracatu drummers and dancers from Pernambuco
Brazil has been really good to us so far, now onto week two.

Till next time. Ciao!

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