Week 15 – Rio de Janeiro and Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil
Hi everybody! We’ve had an awesome week in Brazil and have just moved on to Argentina. This week we’ve seen a modern wonder of the world and a natural wonder of the world. We’ve also been to one of the most famous shows on earth. Not bad for a week’s holidaying!
Today we went to visit Ipanema beach. Just like Copacabana, this beach has been made famous by its own theme song, although the Girl from Ipanema would have struggled to walk to the sea today! The beach was insanely busy. We hired a couple of deckchairs and then I didn’t waste any time in going down for a swim. It was such a hot day and the sea was so refreshing. When I rejoined Ben we enjoyed relaxing and reading for a bit. People were walking along with ready made cocktails for sale, and others were carrying kebabs and a small portable barbeque to cook them while you waited! I had a caipirinha; it felt very luxurious to have it served at my chair on the beach!
One of the reasons that Ipanema was so busy today was that in the evening it played host to one of the largest bloc parties in the carnival. We found a restaurant to cool off in and have a late lunch while we waited for the party to start. The streets were chock-a-block with people in crazy costumes. Most people’s costumes seemed to comprise of a bikini, a tutu and some glitter – even among the men, tutus seemed to be one of the most common costume choices. However we did see a lot of variety – I saw a Van Gogh, a clown, a witch, a lot of angels and devils, multiple Wonder women, a rubix cube and loads more. A lot of the costumes consisted of not very much clothing… but then it was super hot, the roadside boards were reading between 31 and 37 degrees!
The main band were supposed to start playing at 5:30, so we went out to find them. I don’t know what happened next – whether we were in the wrong place, the time had been advertised incorrectly or the band were delayed, but we waited for an hour and a half before giving up. People were partying anyway – everyone was drinking and chatting – but without the music it didn’t have quite the same atmosphere!
We got the Metro home from Ipanema and I’ve never been on a train so crowded in my entire life. It made London rush hour look tame! We almost had to start using elbows to get off at our stop. We survived though – and it was funny being on a train that felt like a huge halloween party!
Today was a day that I’ve been looking forward to since starting to plan this holiday. We went to see the Samba parade! We knew that we’d be in for a late night so we had a fairly chilled day in preparation. We had intended to spend the afternoon visiting the ‘Museum of Tomorrow’, but unfortunately when we got there it was closed, I think because of the carnival. We decided to walk over to the Sambadrome early. As we were walking along the main street we saw some of the floats and the costumes lined up along the side of the road, which was quite an exciting preview of what was to come.
The Sambadrome opened at 6, and we’d read that we should get there by at least 7 to secure good seats for the performance which started at 9:15pm. Because of our change of plans with the museum, we ended up arriving at 5! We found a cafe to have a drink until the Sambadrome opened, and then queued up to get in super early.
The Sambadrome is essentially a long road with tiered seating on either side, which as far as I can tell exists solely for the purpose of the annual Samba schools’ parade. There are 12 sectors of seating. We’d read that it was best to be near the middle, because that’s where the judges sit and so it’s where the schools put on their best performance. We had bought seats in sector 8 which gave us a pretty great view. We bought some foam cushions from a enterprising man outside the venue which turned out to be a really good buy – sitting on concrete steps for 10 hours isn’t very comfortable! We found ourselves next to a very friendly couple from Iceland, so we whiled away the 3 hour wait talking about our holiday there last year and swapping stories about Brazil.
When the parade finally started, it was amazing. 13 different Samba Schools compete over two days, with each school performing for roughly an hour. Each school has a theme, and its own song that is played on repeat while they parade. They have large floats and then hundreds of people dressed in thematic costumes. I was glad that we were given a booklet with explanations of each school’s chosen theme, as some of them weren’t very obvious.
We had planned to stay for the whole evening but didn’t realise that it was due to continue until 6:30am! We ended up staying till around 4am. In that time we saw 5 amazing schools. The first had a theme about China, the second was about popular art and culture. The third was my favourite. It was called “Corra que o futuro vem aí” (‘run the future is coming’), and was a timeline of human history and invention. They had some absolutely incredible floats, including one with a typing keyboard (see video below – I can’t explain), one with performers running around a huge globe, and one with people sitting in weird gyroscopic swinging seats, which I think was supposed to represent space travel. The fourth theme was a politically charged one about whether slavery has truly been abolished, and why there is still a lot of modern day poverty among the descendants of former slaves. The final one that we watched was a tribute to a famous Brazilian TV presenter called Abelardo Barbosa. Unfortunately one of their floats broke down, so their procession ground to a halt half way through, meaning we ended up watching the same dancers for around 45 minutes. I felt sorry for them – it was much longer than they’d bargained for, they were probably exhausted!
I loved the atmosphere and the bright costumes and the drumbeats of carnival, it was a really exciting evening. We had decorated each other’s faces with stick-on gems and glitter (well, Ben only agreed to the gems but I still counted that as a win!) and I enjoyed clapping along to the rhythm with the rest of the crowd while the performers passed by.
My plan to wake up at noon and do something with our afternoon failed – today was pretty much spent in bed after yesterday’s extravaganza. Hard-core partiers we are not – gone are the days where I can stay up all night and still function the next day! (I should admit that most of my all-nighter experience was from essay writing in the library rather than partying, but it amounts to the same thing!)
Today we went to visit the Botanical Gardens. There was a large bloc party happening on the road just outside, so we had to battle through the crowds to get to the gardens. The music was very catchy and everybody was dressed up again which was cool.
The gardens were large and divided into different sections. We both really liked the cactus garden – I think cacti and succulents are incredible in their endurance and their adaptations for survival. I also enjoyed the orchid greenhouse and the medicinal plant exhibition, although the labels were in Portuguese so we couldn’t understand the signs teaching us about their uses.
The gardens had some strange artistic installations, including a pergola of dangling palm leaves painted pink, and some mirrors angled up to catch views of the tops of the palm trees. It was a really interesting place to explore.
While we were exploring the garden, we got a view up to the Christ the Redeemer statue and saw that it was unobstructed by clouds. We decided to give it another go in the hope of finally getting to see the gorgeous views from the top. The queue for the train was ridiculous – we arrived at around 2:45 and the next one we could buy a ticket for was 4:20 – so we opted to take a minibus to the top instead. This actually ended up being a really good decision because the driver stopped at an additional viewpoint on the way, allowing us a chance to see Rio from another angle.
Once we got to the top I ran straight to the viewpoint in case the clouds decided to make a reappearance, but I needn’t have worried, it was beautifully clear. It was so cool to see the statue clearly. I liked his pose with his arms outstretched – according to Wikipedia this was chosen because it’s the universal sign for peace, but I also thought it portrayed a sense of being a protector, and also being welcoming. His face seemed quite stern though.
The view over the city was beautiful, and we enjoyed identifying the landmarks we’d been to. After we’d got our fill of the sights we had a drink before heading back down. Compared to our last visit, where we’d stayed for 3.5 hours in the hopes of getting a break in the weather, this time we were done within an hour!
Today we visited a neighbourhood called Santa Teresa. It’s built up the side of a hill so we were planning to catch a tram to the top, but it was closed. In the end we were glad we walked because we saw some other sights along the way. One of these was the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian. It was a very strange church. From the outside it didn’t look like a cathedral at all – it was like a big concrete cone. I thought it was really ugly. It’s modern, built between 1964 and 1979. Inside it was similarly weird, although a lot more striking. The concrete was all still exposed and it had four large stained glass windows running the height of the church. I thought it would have looked nicer if they’d hidden the concrete but Ben quite liked it. It’s also huge – it can seat 5,000 or host 20,000 standing.
The main reason I’d wanted to visit Santa Teresa is for the ‘Escadaria Selarón’. This is a set of steps that lead up the hillside which have all been decorated in beautiful tiles. They were tiled by a man called Jorge Selarón, who was a Chilean artist who lived in Brazil. What’s nice about the steps is that once people heard about his work, tiles were donated from people all across the world. The main stairs are generally the colours of the Brazilian flag, with the side walls mainly tiled in red, but among these you can find random tiles from all over. I found one of Van Gogh, another of some Russian dolls, another with a painting of a field, another from Amsterdam… it was really cool.
The area was really busy and we kept being held up by people who wanted you to stop walking so that they could take a photo on the steps without people’s feet in the way! It was quite funny. It’s one of the strange things about travel photos – like everybody else I try to take photos without the inconvenient cars or people in the way, but that leads to you portraying a bit of a false reality of what the experience was like.
At the top of the stairs we went to visit Parque Ruinas, which turned out to be an old house which has been turned into a park. The brick walls of the house remain and a modern metal staircase runs all the way to the top of the house, meaning you can see the beautiful view of the city from the top. The gardens had benches looking over to Sugarloaf mountain, and in the trees there were some marmoset monkeys. It was really nice.
Today we left Rio de Janeiro behind us. We’ve had a lovely time here, but I think both of us were looking forward to getting out to somewhere more nature focused. We took a two hour flight to Foz do Iguaçu, a town on the southern border of Brazil near to the Iguaçu Falls. Tomorrow we’ll be viewing the falls from the Brazilian side before crossing over the border to see them from Argentina.
Today we left our bags at our hostel and caught a bus to the Iguaçu falls. The falls (Iguaçu/Iguazú depending on which country you’re in and whether you’re speaking Portuguese or Spanish) lie on the border between Brazil and Argentina (Paraguay also gets a look-in). The name comes from an indigenous language of the area and literally translates to ‘big water’. They are the largest waterfall system in the world. The edge is 2.7km and small islands divide this into a number of waterfalls. The actual number of separate falls varies depending on the water level but is around 275. An estimated 250,000 gallons of water flow through the falls every SECOND. That’s a whole lot of water!
After paying for our entry, a bus took us from the visitor centre to the beginning of the trail. As soon as we got off the bus we were greeted with our first glimpse of the waterfall. It was beautiful and very impressive. We began to follow the trail, which followed the course of the river although at a higher vantage point. There were lots of lookout points along the way. It was quite exciting seeing the falls from different angles.
The main highlight of the falls is an area called ‘Garganta do Diabo‘ – the Devil’s Throat. Apparently almost half of all of the water going over the falls flows into this channel. We walked out onto a wooden walkway until we were standing in the middle of the falls overlooking this channel. It was amazing! Watching the water was really impressive – it was so powerful. We got soaked with spray and the sound was almost deafening. We could see rainbows in the spray which were really beautiful.
After seeing the falls close up, we went up to a panoramic viewing platform. The view was amazing. There were loads of coatis around, sniffing around everybody’s bags and scrounging for food. There were signs up everywhere telling you not to feed them but lots of tourists were doing it anyway. They are very cute so I can see why!
We caught the bus back to our hostel to collect our bags and then caught a taxi which took us across the border to Argentina. The border control process was very chilled out – at Argentinian immigration the taxi driver handed our passports through the window to get stamped and we didn’t even have to get out of the car! It was very strange after the strictness of airport immigration procedures. The town on the Argentinian side of the falls is called Puerto Iguazu. We checked into our hostel and were very thankful that they had a pool to cool down in.
In the evening we went out for dinner and found an absolutely incredible buffet, which included an all-you-can-eat grill. Argentina is big on its meat eating. We could choose from steak, ribs, chicken, pork and more. The buffet also had loads of fancy salads and desserts. The food was amazing – I think we both ate MORE than we could eat, to be honest. While we were there we could see a huge thunderstorm in the distance. We couldn’t hear any thunder but there were almost continuous flashes of lightning. It lasted for around an hour and was a really impressive display!
I’ll pick up from the Argentinian side of the Iguazu Falls next week, and then we’re off to Buenos Aires!