A Trip to Rio De Janeiro
Holiday Diary 2015
Arrived in Rio after long flight. Really really long flight.
We (David and I plus friends: Barbie and Ken) were met at airport by hotel driver. Bit of a squash fitting cases into boot due to two large gas canisters. I thought he had brought along his scuba diving gear (silly man) then learned that they were full of natural gas, it was a gas powered car (silly me).
His ticket didn’t open the exit barrier, so he went and parked in deserted car park. He did NOT then draw a gun and ask for all our valuables, he just apologized and went to pay for parking. Clearly has watched different films about Rio to me.
Checked in at Sheraton Hotel. Nice. Discovered I had forgotten to turn off ‘data roaming’ on my phone and had already been charged £26:04 for excess internet. Good old Three Mobile. (Not nice.)
Hotel nice. Our room overlooks beach and has a little balcony. D complained sea was too noisy (such a romantic.) Showered, ate a burger, slept really well. Until 4am.
Wednesday 17th June
Opened curtains and watched dawn break over the sea. Beautiful.
D explained what several of the viewpoints were. There are two lumpy hills called ‘The Two Brothers’, Ipanema beach, Leblon, etc. He told me the small beach by the hotel is called Viagra beach. Pretty sure he was lying.
Rio de Janeiro was named by the Portuguese who discovered it. They thought they had found a river (“rio”) and they arrived in January (“Janeiro”). Good idea, except it wasn’t a river, it just looked like one.
Met Ken and Barbie for breakfast. Friendly staff, good buffet, ate overlooking sea. Tried some pretty tasteless papaya and some very nice melon. Coffee average.
Walked to Ipanema beach. Saw Corcovada Hill with big Jesus statue on it. Saw a ‘muscle beach’ with people working out, doing pull-ups, etc. Lots of muscle. Barbie joined in (went on a swing.) I paddled in the sea (cold). Felt very white and unfit. Saw people playing volleyball. Beach not too crowded. Sun gradually burnt off cloud and it warmed up, though didn’t get too hot. Saw coconuts for sale and some growing in trees. You can buy fresh coconut milk at beach stalls.
David and Ken discussed birds on beach (feathered variety.) Interesting shape, big and black and white. Tried to look them up in guide book but it concentrates mainly on nightclubs. Surprising really.
Lunch by pool. Barbie had coconut milk, served in the shell. Looked really cool but she said was a bit tasteless. I used my best Portuguese (first time I have used it) and ordered a mineral water, still, no ice. I received a water, sparkling, with ice. Considered it a success (they understood the water bit.)
The hotel staff spoke some English but in the rest of Rio, only Portuguese seems to be spoken. Occasionally we found someone who speaks Spanish but really you need some Portuguese or a lot of sign language. They pronounce things differently to both European Portuguese and further North in Brazil. The “d” is soft, sounds like a “j”.
Sun disappeared behind hill disappointingly fast. By 3pm we were sitting in the shade.
Had cocktails in the bar. The traditional Brazilian cocktail is Caipirinha. It’s made with cachaça ( an alcohol made from sugar cane) sugar and limes.Very nice.
Tomorrow we go to Recife to see some Tearfund projects. D and Ken checked the flights (with TAM airline.) They had changed the flight times – leaving 5 hours earlier – and had not bothered to tell us! Interesting decision.
We then spent a week further North, looking at the work that Tearfund is doing in the favelas and rural communities.
You can read my diary at : https://anneethompson.com/travel/brazil/
Wednesday 24th June
Flew back to Rio. Checked into Caesar Park hotel. It’s right on Ipanema beach, brilliant view.
Room is lovely, comfy beds, great shower, complimentary bottles of water as well as all the normal chocolates on pillow, bathroom stuff etc. Staff spoke good English.
There was a fee to check in early, so we just dumped the bags and went to the restaurant for lunch. Checked out the pool – more of a foot spa really. Restaurant and pool on roof, so great views.
I asked about crime/safety in Rio. Was told that after dark (5:30 pm) I should not walk anywhere on my own but in a group, if we kept to well lit busy streets, we would be fine. I did see single women walking on their own, but maybe they looked less like tourists than me.
Thursday 25th June
Walked around corner and ate breakfast at Armazen cafe. This is a chain of cafes, we saw a few of them. They serve good coffee and a range of sandwiches and cakes. The warm apple and walnut cake makes a good breakfast.
We walked up to Rodrigo de Freitas lake. Hired bikes (£15 per hour, plus took our hotel address as security) and cycled around the lake on the cycle paths. It only took half an hour. Fun.
Barbie chose a place for lunch from her Lonely Planet guide book. It had been demolished. Ken chose alternative place but they only did full meals and we weren’t that hungry. Returned to Armazen cafe.
I looked for a cushion cover for my collection (one from each country we visit.) Found a fabric shop with some great graffiti patterned fabric (there is amazing wall art everywhere in Brazil, most of it very artistic.) For 65 Reales (£13) they made me a cushion cover and delivered it to my hotel room that day. Excellent. Shop was Decoracoes on Rua Visconde de Praja.
Got a taxi to old part of city. Drove past Copacabana beach, saw sand sculptures and street entertainers. Nice colonial houses in old part. Also lots of major road work – maybe for 2016 Olympics.
Ate dinner in Satyricon restaurant (rumoured to be Madonna’s favourite.) D had eaten there 5 years ago and still talks about the lobster bisque, served inside a hollowed loaf of bread. Not sure it lived up to his memory.
Friday 26th June
Had booked a tour through the hotel to Ilha Grande (big island.) with Trips in Rio (www.tripsin rio.com)We were told we would drive from the hotel to a village, get a boat to the island, then hike for three hours through lush forest to beautiful beaches. This was all true.
However, they omitted to tell us a few things:
1) Friday is the WORST day for traffic in Rio. It took us two hours to leave the city and about three hours to get back in the evening. Alecs did a coffee and washroom stop ( nice clean facilities!) so it was okay, but it wasted a lot of the day.
As we drove we saw police had stopped vehicles in various places. They carried machine guns. There’s a VERY strong police presence in Rio.
On the boat another passenger had a hand gun. Turned out he too was a policeman. (Owning a gun is illegal in Brazil except for police.)
Also saw more amazing wall art/ graffiti.
2) When we met Alecs, he advised us to go back to room and change into sturdy shoes, long sleeves etc, needed proper hiking stuff.
3) The hike was long and steep. We basically walked/ scrabbled/ climbed for over an hour UP a mountain track. When we remembered to look up, it was beautiful but it was hard going, narrow paths, slippery clay covering rocks, very steep. Needed to concentrate on not falling. We then walked/ slid for an hour down the other side. Finally reached the beach to find the track ended on a ten foot high rock, with a rope. No other way down. Had to abseil down to the beach. Lots of screaming from Barbie, which was helpful as allowed me time to gather my thoughts and watch how to do it.
4) Beach beautiful and had cafe with loo. Only permitted a quick rest, then trekked for another hour and a half to next beach. No abseiling this time ( its surprising what you come to appreciate!)
It was not such a steep walk, though did begin with climbing a 45 degree slope of granite. Not so easy with tired legs and sand slippery shoes.
Made it with no major injuries, though I did slip at one point and jar my wrist. Luckily didn’t slip into one of the trees coated with four inch long spikes ( which they used to use in blow guns as weapons.)
Arrived at second beach. Saw black vultures ( prob waiting for exhausted hikers.)
The third, most beautiful beach, was a further hike, then a return to second beach for boat out. We opted to stay at second beach. Barbie and Ken went to third beach, said was big, beautiful, and they saw monkeys. I can live without seeing it.
5) Getting on boat back to island village involved two floating piers connected by a narrow walkway at 50 degree angle. Bit of a challenge.
6) Boat to island village small, on big waves in open sea. Not wearing life jacket, aware would sink like a stone in heavy boots.
7) Speedboat to mainland fast but cold ( needed a coat.)
I was not overly reassured by ‘lookout’ man who was checking for floating debris because if we hit any we would flip over.
Also somewhat bemused by other passenger, a disheveled elderly man who closely examined our bags and then very slowly extracted a bic razor from his back pack. I was too exhausted to do more than giggle ( slightly hysterical by this point.)
– Old man then slowly shaved his face as we went. Unexpected.
On way back to Rio, car ran over an abandoned cone ( heavy traffic, safer than swerving to avoid it.) Was removed from under car by man with shovel at petrol station.
Satnav kept recommending we leave the traffic jam and take a side road. Alecs said the route would take us through two favelas and might not be safe. I’m glad he didn’t, felt I had had enough adventure for one day.
Saturday 26th June
Compared aching muscles over breakfast at Armazen cafe.
Morning on beach. The hotel provided a lounger, towel and sunshade (for free.)
Along the beach there are various first aid stations. These are numbered and called ‘Postos’. People tend to gather around a specific posto, though there is no ‘rule’, you can go anywhere. They are mainly just good places to meet people. We did learn the following:
Posto 9 was full of beautiful young people. They sat very close together and lots played ‘keepy up’ with footballs at the water’s edge (and were very good at it.)
Posto 8 was where the favela kids are rumoured to hang out.
Posto 10 was where the sporty people went.
Posto 11 was where lots of families with children sat.
Posto 6 had both fisherman in the mornings and wealthy people sunbathing.
There was also an area with lots of rainbow flags and very well kept males.
The beach is interesting, lots to watch. Many vendors walk up and down and you can buy almost anything from your beach chair. D didn’t buy a hat. There were lots of bottoms in string bikinis, some beautiful and some suffering the effects of gravity. A band came and played Samba (nice) then stood next to every chair in turn and refused to move unless given money (or shouted at crossly in mandarin.) They were very persistent (not so nice.)
D and Ken bought bats and balls and played energetic games on the beach. Barbie read. I watched the surfers and wished I was young and athletic.
The only time I have ever surfed was in Cornwall one Autumn. The board kept escaping and hitting me on the head and I wore the wet suit backwards by mistake and had a baggy bit at the front. So not Rio.
Taxi to Sugarloaf Mountain. Cable car to first mountain, where there are two routes: The green path takes you quickly to the queue for the next cable car. However, if after 4:30, it’s better to walk the other route and take your photographs first (because it will be dark on the way down.)
At the top was just a viewing gallery, cafe, toilets and gift shop. Plus amazing views of Rio. The Christ the Redeemer statue was behind a cloud – looked like ascension day!
We discussed plans for the next few days. Barbie wants to go to Copacabana beach.
D complained, “It’s just the same as Ipanema beach only worse.” Hmm, not quite the contented tourist.
Went to Porcao, a churrascarias restaurant. If you are in Brazil, you must go to one of these, they’re very traditional. There was a buffet full of salads (some hot, mostly cold.) You paid a fixed price (plus drinks) then helped yourself to the salad. Then the waitors walk around with massive skewers of freshly cooked meat, whole legs of lamb, great steaks, etc. You were given little round cards with ‘sim’ (yes) on one side and ‘nao’ (no) on the other. If the green ‘sim’ side was showing, they came to the table and sliced off pieces of meat onto your plate. You had little tongs to hold the slice while they cut it. It was great fun.
Suited me because I don’t like too much meat and usually restaurants give me too much and I have to leave it. Suited D and Ken because they each ate a small farm’s worth of meat.
Drank Bohemian beers, chatted, laughed, great evening.
Sunday 28th June
Armazen cafe shut. Walked to a confeitaria. You go to a small kiosk, say what you want to eat/drink and pay for it. They give you a receipt. You take the receipt to the counter, they read it and give you what you have ordered. You then either eat standing at one of the small round tables in the centre, or take the food away. It was quite exciting waiting for the food to arrive to see if we had said what we thought we had. I had a very sweet banana bread and a small bitter coffee. Perfect.
Saw a teenaged boy going through the bins looking for food. Too sad. Rio is full of contradictions, the very rich living alongside the very poor. Took some money and offered to buy him breakfast. When I spoke to him he flinched, like a wounded animal. It is not right, to be so broken when so young. He was fairly spaced out, probably high on something, but he managed to order something at the kiosk and went to collect it.
On Sundays, they shut the whole of the side of the road along the beach. The whole city (almost) turns out to walk. It feels a little like one of those disaster movies where everyone is walking in the same direction, escaping the tidal wave or giant snake or something. Anyway, we joined the walkers and went to Copacabana beach. There were kids, grannies, bikes, dogs, wheelchairs, whole families. Wonderful.
Stopped to take photos: fishermen, sand castles, vendors, palm trees, surfers. Felt something on my leg. Looked down to find yellow sludge across back of my legs. Instantly a man appeared, with cloths, offering to clean off the “dog shit”. D shoed him away. Barbie got out copious quantities of wet wipes. It smelt like mustard. Cleaned up and walked on. On return walk, we saw lots of empty sachets of mustard thrown on the floor. Obviously a scam, if we had accepted help from the ‘cloths man’ we probably would have then been expected to pay him.
Monday 29th June
Coffee and cake at Armazen cafe.
Taxi to Cosme Velho to catch the ‘trem do Corcovado’ up to the Christ the Redeemer statue. Another ride through Rio full of cafes, graffiti, bars and gates around all the first floor offices homes and car parks (which are locked up at night.) Lots of people with dogs (which they are really good about cleaning up after, the dogs here are well cared for.) Patterned tiled pavements (pretty, but takes some skill to walk in heels). Tree lined streets.
There was a queue for the train but not a huge one (June/July is Winter, which might be quieter.) We waited 45 minutes and it cost 51 Reales each. The train has open windows and goes through a hilly forest. We used lots of deet but to be honest I didn’t see any insects at all. It is best to sit on the left of the train (with the mountain behind you) when going up for some cool glimpses of Rio.
At the top station there was either a lift or steps up to the statue. There aren’t many steps and the view is amazing. There’re little gift shops too (perfect for that plastic flip-flop keyring you have always wanted.)
The platform at the top was crowded but not terrible (again, I’ve heard it’s worse in the Summer.) There were lots of people lying down to take photos, so you had to look where you were going. The best place was down a few steps at the front of the statue.
To be frank, I am not sure that I like a big statue of Jesus (not keen on crucifix jewelry either.) It feels vaguely superstitious. There is also something faintly incongruous about having a huge statue of Jesus, who spoke so radically about equality, love, social justice, above a city so full of inequality and crime. However, the views are fantastic and when you come to Rio you kinda have to visit it.
Went to supermarket on way home. Tried to buy brazil nut biscuits for mum. Failed. Do brazil nuts even come from Brazil? Bought her some dark chocolate (cacao is grown here) and some pistachio biscuits (which are Italian. But I tried.)
Went to beach. When you arrive at the beach, men ask if you’re staying at Caesar Park. I thought they were the chair/towel men. They’re not. They’re unconnected with the hotels and are trying to sell you drinks.
D and Ken played bat and ball, Barbie read. I mainly watched people, it’s a busy beach. You could do a whole week’s worth of shopping on this beach. The vendors come round, calling out their wares, carrying heavy bags (they pad the handles with towels but even so, in the heat, walking across the sand, it’s a tough way to earn money.) You can buy coconuts full of milk, beer (draft beer no less, from a huge barrel with a tap) cigars, sarongs, kaftans, swimwear, hats, cheese (which they carry on skewers with a vat of boiling oil and then cook them for you at your beach chair), shrimps (also freshly cooked), tattoos (not sure how they do those – might have just been the transfer sort. Lots of people here have beautiful tattoos, a whole limb covered in intricate pictures), books, ice-creams, nuts (not brazil nuts), sweetcorn (cooked in a tub of boiling water, served in the green leaves with butter).
The sand is full of pigeon footprints, groups of young men kicking footballs, sun-loungers, girls with rounded bottoms in minuscule bikinis, tall waves carrying surfers towards the beach. By 4pm there are long shadows and a cool breeze. By 5:30 it’s beginning to get dark and it’s black by six.
No one stays on the beach after dark, if you walk you stay on the well lit path next to the road.
We ate at Pomodorino, an Italian restaurant. The main courses were nice but the puddings were excellent. I had the chocolate, orange and grapefruit tart. Perfect.
Flew home to a very sunny UK.