Week 14 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Hi everybody! We’re in sunny Rio de Janeiro. This week we’ve been gearing up for carnival time, discovering some of Rio’s most beautiful views, and failing to discover some of Rio’s other most beautiful views.
This morning we woke up early in Guatemala City. We had to catch a taxi to the airport at 10:30, but we figured that this gave us enough time to have a brief look around the country’s capital. If you ever read any blogs about coming to Guatemala you’ll read that you should bypass Guatemala City because there’s not much to see and it’s not the safest of places. However we were right around the corner from one of its main plazas and it seemed a shame not to explore while we were here.
The Plaza de la Constitución had some impressive buildings, including a large church and the “Palacio Nacional de la Cultura”. It also had a large fountain in the centre. There was a clear effort to cater for tourists, with signs mapping out an ‘historic centre’ route through the city. There were a couple of churches within walking distance, so we went to visit these. The style of the churches and also the feel of the whole city reminded us a lot of Quito in Ecuador. Perhaps this was because it was a large slightly run down city interspersed with big old buildings, or perhaps it was because the street sellers and the ‘menus del dia’ advertised in small restaurants were familiar to us.
After about an hour of exploring, we returned to our hostel to catch the taxi to the airport. The rest of our day was a lot less exciting. Avianca had sent us notice that our flight schedule had been adjusted, meaning that we had an extra stop in El Salvador as well as Bogotá. The first flight was the shortest one I’ve ever been on; it felt like we were barely up in the air before they announced our descent. Usually Avianca gives you some sort of meal or snack on the plane – this journey was so short that all we got was a mint!
After a whole night of travelling, we arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at 8am to be greeted by an insanely long immigration queue. I read somewhere that Rio is expecting 1.5 million tourists for carnival time – I think we met quite a few of them today.
We dropped our bags off at our hostel. Considering we’re having to pay inflated carnival prices, making this the most expensive place we’ve stayed so far, the hostel is a bit underwhelming. It’s in a good location though, so after having breakfast we went out to explore. We’re staying in a neighbourhood called Botafogo. It has a beach and a beautiful view of Sugarloaf mountain, as well as being right next to a Metro station so we can get to the rest of the city. We walked down to the beach and then followed a path along the waterfront to a park called Flamengo. We saw loads of people in costumes gathered for what was probably one of the first ‘bloco’ parties of carnival, but because we were quite sleep deprived we decided to give this one a miss. Our time will come! On the way back to our hostel we got our first glimpse of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, high on the hills above Rio. It was pretty exciting to see such a famous landmark.
Today we woke up to rain, so we revised our plans to something slightly less soggy and went to an Aquarium full of water (although thankfully contained in tanks rather than falling from the sky!). This plan would have been a lot better if every tourist in Rio hadn’t had the same idea – it was really busy. It was really interesting with lots of good displays. The main feature of the aquarium was a huge tank with an underwater tunnel, similar to the Brighton aquarium (my favourite place). This tank had large stingrays and sharks in, which was really awesome.
In the afternoon we went back to Botafogo and went to one of the shopping centres. Ben was searching for a new t-shirt and I had a shopping list as well. We discovered an amazing shop dedicated to Lindt chocolate, and decided to treat ourselves to some pick-and-mix Lindor. My favourite ones were the coconut flavoured; we also tried caramel, mango and citrus.
Today the sun came out and we went to explore one of the most famous places in Rio – Copacabana beach. We caught the Metro to get there, which got a thumbs up from Ben because it had clever signs on board the trains which showed the map with flashing lights to indicate which direction you were travelling and which stop was coming next!
Copacabana beach is a broad expanse of white sand with the city skyline behind and the blue sea beyond. The sand was quite coarse so it felt a bit like walking on salt, and the sea was refreshing and not too cold. It’s quite a long beach, so it took us quite a while to walk along it to the end. The view back was beautiful. We stopped for lunch on the seafront and Ben had coconut water straight from a coconut! I tried the ‘must-have’ cocktail of Rio, the caipirinha. It was nice although it didn’t quite measure up to the amazing purple basil mojito of last week!
A rainy start turned today into a day of admin. It might not be particularly exciting but we are now organised up until the 20th March! One of the main things we booked was the W trek down in southern Chile. It’s a 5 day hike through beautiful scenery, staying at campsites or refugios along the way. It’s lucky we booked it when we did – one of the campsites was already fully booked and the others were close to full as well. It’s nice to know that we have it all sorted to look forward to.
Today we decided to go to visit ‘Cristo Redentor’, the large Christ the Redeemer statue. The statue is one of the modern wonders of the world and is an iconic feature of the Rio skyline. It’s supposed to have gorgeous views over the whole city.
We knew that visiting the statue was weather dependent, so we chose today because it was sunny and the forecast for the whole day was clear. We decided to take the tram up to the top. It was very busy – we had to buy a ticket with a specific time slot on it and then wait our turn to board.
The tramline was quite steep and took around 15 minutes to get to the top. We got some sneak previews of beautiful views as we ascended. Unfortunately as we neared the top the tram climbed above the clouds and the view was lost.
We disembarked and joined the throngs of other tourists in the short climb to the base of the statue. We could see his feet and the bottom of his robes, but the rest of the statue was obscured by cloud. The view was similarly hidden.
We decided to wait to see if there would be a break in the weather, particularly considering the forecast. The area around the foot of the statue was really busy with people all doing the same. More tram loads of people kept arriving but very few people were leaving because they were all hoping that the weather would improve. Christ the Redeemer is quite an expensive attraction so it’s not one you give up on easily!
Unfortunately we waited for three and a half hours with no luck. Typically the only time that the cloud briefly cleared was in the ten minutes that I gave up watching and went to buy a postcard! I came out in time to see the back of the statue but by the time I’d made it back to the viewing deck the clouds had returned. Ben got a nice view of it though which was cool.
It was still exciting to be near such an iconic statue, but it was a shame that we were so unlucky with the weather. As we descended on the tram we came out into bright sunshine again. It was only around the top of the hill that there were any clouds at all! Typical. If we have time we’ll probably try to come back and visit this again another day.
Today we went up Sugarloaf Mountain. Named for its appearance (never having seen a loaf of sugar, neither Ben nor I can confirm whether it is an appropriate description), Sugarloaf is a famous part of the Rio skyline. You can reach the summit via cable car. Built in 1912, it was the third cableway to be built in the world.
The cable car was a two part journey. You stop at Morro da Urca first (220m), where there are a few restaurants and shops. We saw some tiny marmoset monkeys here. They have a really shrill cry but they are very cute. They are smaller than the other types of monkey we have seen, with tufty ears and a ringed tail. There were signs everywhere warning against feeding them – maybe previous experience of tourists is why they weren’t very afraid of humans!
The second cable car journey took us to the top, a height of 396m. The view from Sugarloaf was gorgeous in all directions. I enjoyed seeing Copacabana beach and was slightly bitter at getting a clear view of the Redeemer statue, indicating today would have been a perfect day to visit it. It was fun to look back to Botafogo beach and try to spot our hostel.
In the evening we went out to find a bloco, or block party. Carnival officially starts today, although the main parades don’t start until tomorrow. We ended up finding two. The first one had a large lorry parked up with a samba band playing on top. The street was packed with people drinking and dancing. It was difficult to walk through the crowd, which neither Ben or I enjoyed, so we didn’t stay very long. It was really cool to hear the samba music though. The second party we found was a lot smaller. The samba band were parading down the street, joined by a group of people all singing along. Apparently most of the bloco parties write their own theme songs and then everybody who attends learns it and sings along! There were lots of people with cool-boxes selling drinks to passers-by, rather than having any official stalls. It was a fun atmosphere.
Finally, something very exciting happened this week. We found a new interesting and exotic fruit, meaning that ‘weird fruit of the week’ can return to the blog! This is a kiwano fruit, also known as a horned melon. The outside is spiky. The inside has seeds that taste like a weird slightly sweet cucumber. I probably won’t be eating it again but it was interesting to try!
Next week we’re in Rio still and on Sunday we’ll be going to the main event of Carnival – the samba schools competition at the Sambadrome. I’m super excited!