Having returned to our hotel on the Argentine side of the border, the following morning sees us having to cross back into Brazil for our flight from Foz De Iguazu to Rio De Janeiro where it’s a balmy 31 degrees.
Our time in Rio is short – just two days – so we are grateful for the included city tour. It takes us to the now famous Escadaria Seleron – a set of 215 steps covered in ceramic tiles – created by Chilean artist Jorge Seleron. The steps are located in the Lapa district and ascend to the Saint Teresa church. Seleron started adding tiles to the steps in 1990 and continued for the next twenty years as tiles were donated from all over the world. Interspersed between the tiles are multiple mosaics depicting the artists late wife and child (both died during the birth). The artist was found dead on the steps in 2013. They are now a key feature of Rio tours and even featured in the promotional videos of the 2016 Rio Olympics and a music video by Snoop Dogg.
We ascend through Lapa to the village like Santa Teresa district This area is often referred to as ‘Little Lisbon’ and even has trams like the real Lisbon. From here we can see the favelas on the hillsides where the city’s poorer residents live in densely populated improvised communities that cling onto the many hillsides around the city.
Continuing up the Corcovado mountain we reach the entrance to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. Standing 38m high with an arm span of 28m the statue is 700m above the city. It seems smaller than you imagine from television images. This Is not peak season but the pedestal is still packed with visitors all struggling to encompass the statue in their multiple selfies. If only it didn’t keep disappearing into clouds.
Rio is famed for its carnival season as everyone knows. What we hadn’t appreciated is that there is a dedicated parade area in the city with permanent stands for the two day procession each year. Thousands participate each year making elaborate costumes. Of the groups parading we learn that around 25% of each group are professional dancers with the remainder paying to join them.
The guide mentions the famous Maracana stadium as being on our route. Karon quickly asks if we can visit and so we find ourselves pitch side at one of the world’s most iconic football stadia. The days of 200,000 standing crowds having given way to a more comfortable 79,000 all seater affair after a major overhaul for the 2014 world cup. It’s a shallow wide bowl rather than the steep smaller footprint stadia we typically see in European cities. The colours of the Maracana seats are the same as those at Everton Vina Del Mar’s stadium in Chile (see Chile post).
Back in the city we can’t resist a trip to Copacabana beach where we sit sipping delicious Caipirinha cocktails and watching a seniors beach soccer match. Slow but still with plenty of skill on the sand.
The city was in the middle of it’s 20th year of the Comida Di Buteco festival. The buteco’s are small local restrobars specialising in traditional cuisine. We opt to visit the well established (1957) Adega Perola. The speciality dish they are offering for 20 reals is Podrao De Bachalua or salt cod with quails eggs and onions. Interesting dish but we are still hungry and opt for some grilled fish too.
Our second day was also meant to be a tour. This one we had paid £120 for and so were eagerly waiting our pick up to take us to Sugar Loaf mountain. After 45 minutes we get reception to call the company who claim the agent has booked it for the following day. Since we have a print out of our schedule from said agent with correct dates this seems implausible.
Not wanting to waste more time, we hop a taxi to Sugar Loaf (20 reals/£4) and quickly buy our tickets (99 reals/£20) to the summit. The cable car ride is spectacular. Huge 65 person Swiss made cars speed us to the first stop at Murro da Urca (220m) before hurtling towards the summit 180m further up on Sugar Loaf at 38km/h. The views from both are stunning. Panoramic views of the city and offshore islands. The weather is again being kind with very few clouds to obscure the view. The benefit of doing things yourself is control of the time and so we settle in for a leisurely Caipirinha while looking down on Copacabana beach.
We end our brief visit to Rio with a walk along both Copacabana and Ipanema beaches with another Caipirinha in hand. This one made by one of the many street vendors.
It’s only been a brief visit in a single area of the city so we haven’t seen as much of Rio as we’d have liked. Our impressions are of a fun city for the few with endemic poverty for many. It lacks the sophistication of Santiago or Buenos Aires – and is visually less attractive with fewer older buildings – but makes up for this in energy and vitality. You get the impression the people work hard and play harder.
After the frenetic energy of Rio our tour of Brazil slows down with a few quiet days in the resort town of Buzios. Armação dos Búzios is a peninsula with multiple beaches and an upmarket centre. Famed as a holiday destination for Brigitte Bardot in 1964 – she visited twice that year and has never been back – the town still trades heavily on her name. There is even a life sized statue of her on the waterfront. This is all about mass tourism with endless restaurants serving seafood, crowded noisy boats touring the beaches, and retail outlets selling glamourous beach wear.
We are at the end of our epic two month trip to South America and we have so many great memories. So many that this blog is our aide memoir for future reference. We regularly get asked what have been our highlights and we are agreed one experience stands head and shoulders above all others on this trip – Machu Picchu.
We have finally completed what we set out to do in January 2017. Our epic worldwide odyssey is complete. Where next you might wonder? We don’t know yet but, it will be shorter and under our own steam (no travel agents).
Enjoy your adventures while you can.
John & Karon.