A Travellerspoint blog

Air Brasil

sunny 32 °C
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Monday 11.06.07

Somehow my travels in Latin America always seem to involve me hanging off the back of some random vehicle. This time it was a dune buggy i was trying not to fall off, as it raced through the streets of São Conrado. Soon we were tearing uphill along a road through tropical forest, which increased in gradient until the buggy was emitting an incredible rasping din (and several cubic metres of carbon monoxide per minute) as it laboured upward. Finally we reached our destination atop a hill overlooking the entire bay, with views all the way past Ipanema to Copacabana in the distance.

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Here was a spot to launch both hang-gliders and paragliders, and today we strapped giant parachutes to ourselves and ran in pairs off the cliff. From our floating vantage-point the São Conrado bay was incredibly beautiful, surrounded in lush volcanic mounds, a long wide stretch of beach, apartment towers, huge mansions amongst trees and of course gigantic favela Rocinha not far away. We banked and soared high over the water and came to rest perfectly on a stretch of grass next to the beach.

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Drinking soon followed on the beach promenade, coinciding with the pinkening of the skin of my English companions, and then my first swim in Rio. I realised, whilst stuffing my face full of all kinds of meat after dark, that i will miss the BBQ smorgasbord restaurants once I leave Brasil. I'll miss the sushi banquet appetiser, but most of all the rotisserie spits brought to the table with 5 kinds of beef and 3 kinds of pork cuts, and the venison, chicken, sausage and [sigh] chicken hearts.

News came of a 'Rave' party on Ipanema beach at night, so we walked half an hour to get there. Despite the flashing lights, fire juggling, plenty of glowing material and people waving their hands in the air like they were drowning in a pool of Chanel No. 5, there was no music to be heard. It turned out to be a shoot for a movie or soap opera, and pretty much a complete waste of time. I seemed to be the only person to see the funny side of it though.....

Copacabana, once a beachside paradise for the elite is now an overcrowded, overdeveloped and congested place, with one of the highest population densities in the world. 9 out of 10 buildings in Copacabana are at least eight storeys high. All of the boutique bars, shops and restaurants are now situated in Ipanema or neighbouring Leblon, along with the up-and-coming social elite of Rio and those that pretend to be. Copacabana these days is the queen of roadside stalls, typical food, souvenirs, all you can eat, and the ever-present homeless laid out on cardboard. Returned to the people, the area is now saturated with the aged and not-so-famous, who can be seen all over walking their little fluffball dogs (some wearing socks), to the shops for an Açai juice to go.

Posted by Jeremy T 07:44 Archived in Brazil Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Amigos dos Amigos dos Amigos

sunny 28 °C
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Friday 08.06.06

With a couple of local artists from the favela (slum), plus my friend Kyle and a handful of Norwegians, we set off to paint some graffiti in favela Rocinha. Two buses and 10 cans of spray paint later, we finally reached São Conrado, the expensive beachside bairro in front of the great favela. From its high-rise apartments we walked inland past a sprawling market and then rubbish-strewn streets, the atmosphere and smell thickening as we neared. After lunch, we ventured in, led by our local friends, but crime is not usually a problem in the favelas - culprits caught by the gangs are swiftly dealt with, often by death.

Finding a wall not only free of graffiti, but also with permission from its owner, was a tricky task. We also were wary of spraying over the tags of the A.D.A - Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends): the gang in control of Rocinha. We caught a bus, gears crunching all the way to the top of the favela, past scores of broken-down cars littering the road. The favela spread over to the other side of a ridge, and it was here, just past a hairpin that we found some painting room.

For the rest of the afternoon, until darkness fell absolutely, the guys painted their pieces onto the wall, an action which is not illegal in Brasil, and in a lot of cases is appreciated by the local community. Later with beers in hand, we sat with the locals on the street corner nearby, offering near-empty paint cans to the local youths, and it was here I sprayed my first tag, on a fence across the road. From what was being sprayed, it soon became apparent the youths were part of the A.D.A. When offered drugs for free later in the night, and saw various guns proudly displayed by kids no older than 16, we decided it was time we left, careering down the hill in a minibus to safety.

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Saturday we found ourselves waiting an hour for a tram in Lapa bound for Santa Teresa, a bairro on a shoulder of Corcovado. Once aboard the old yellow tram, I hung off the side (because they ran out of seats) as it sped its way over the famous white aqueduct (the Arcos) in Lapa. Barely a foot's clearance lay between me, balanced on the narrow running board and holding on with white knuckles, and the chicken wire fence that ran along the edge. The tram soon had its bogeys on solid ground again, as it lurched up a steep cobblestone-lined road, now missing power poles and overhanging branches by mere inches. We hopped off for a delicious paella in the middle of the suburb, then jumped back on the tram for an equally hair-raising return to the station.

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Posted by Jeremy T 06:07 Archived in Brazil Tagged transportation Comments (0)

When my baby (Jesus) smiled at me....

sunny 32 °C
View Channelling the Cane Spirits in South America on Jeremy T's travel map.

Monday 04.06.07

I've settled now into my job, though it's hardly demanding at the moment. Working behind the bar, i can now make Capirinhas and the other drinks people regularly order. I cook dinner or lunch once every few days, I'm learning some traditional dishes, and just help out wherever needed. It's funny how the times I think of home is while I'm doing really mundane things, such as washing the dishes at 11pm. Of course, during that exact time, everyone back in Melbourne is at work (on the following day). Later, our attempt to hit the night-life in Copacabana ended in failure as the only place open was La Girl, a lesbian bar, and the beefcakes at the door wouldn't let us in. Once again, we found ourselves at a beach side stall downing Capirinhas during the silly hours of the morning. I hit Rio Centro the next day and tried to find a sneaky back entrance to the local airport to watch planes fly overhead, but instead found myself wandering almost into a military area. Common sense took over, and i fled the scene....

Gorgeous weather outside on Wednesday meant it would be a great opportunity to visit two of Rio's main attractions - Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) and Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf). The mountain Corcovado, named after the Hunchback of Notre Dame, towers over Rio and the other volcanic mounds that surround it. A statue had been planned for the granite peak long before Cristo Redentor was built in 1931.

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Some of the most expensive estate in the whole city lies on the foothills of the mountain, yet just across the road sprawls yet another favela on the slopes. Turrets and ornate façades poke out of the trees, as does unfinished concrete and bare brick, side by side under the gaze of Christ the Redeemer. Yet another typical symbol of Latin America greeted us further up the road. A tourism group had hijacked the last kilometre or so of the climb, and we were forced to transfer into their vans, an occurrence that was already factored into the tour price.

There is a buzz around Brasil at the moment to vote for the statue to become one of the 'new' seven wonders of the world. My thoughts on whether the statue deserves the accolade will not be published here, but the view of the city of Rio de Janeiro from the top of Corcovado certainly qualifies for one of the finest sights imaginable. The city extends a full 270° around the mountain, from the airport in the north, Pão de Açucar to the south-east, and west toward the beach at Barra Tijuca. The remaining 90° behind the statue houses a huge mountainous forest, with even more bairros (neighbourhoods) of Rio behind it. Above all this, 38 metres of 100% pure Christ, arms outstretched, watches over the city day and night.

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The way to Pão de Açucar cuts across swathes of traffic, through a maze of streets and past a massive cemetery in Botafogo packed with huge concrete angels perched on a metropolis of concrete headstones, like a swarm of winged King Kongs descending on New York. It is a concrete playground of the bodies of the once rich and famous in Brasil, including the grave of Carmen Miranda, which I'd imagine is adorned with a bunch of concrete fruit.

The only way to summit Sugar Loaf (except by rock climbing) is via two cable-cars, the first to a hill overlooking the wealthy bairro of Urca, the second spanning a huge gap to the top of the almost-bare volcanic mound. As the sun fled from sight, the sky flared up like Michael Jackson's hair during a Pepsi commercial into gorgeous reds and oranges, and the lights of the city below came to life, reflecting off the water, creating a scene of tranquillity which belied the bustling chaos of the city below.

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.........I went to Rio!

Now you should too.

Posted by Jeremy T 05:49 Archived in Brazil Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hips don't lie, do they?

So you think you know Rio.....


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Friday 01.06.07

After a fairly non-eventful week, i was ready for shenanigans on the weekend. The shenanigans started a bit earlier than expected, though they were confined to our sister hostel, less than half a kilometre away. The place was invaded by a few pistol-waving bandits in broad daylight who separated all the people downstairs from their belongings, stole the computers and emptied the till. Luckily no-one was hurt, and although it is less likely the same will happen here because of our more conspicuous location, one can never tell.

Parking a car is an adventure in Copacabana. Either drive straight across the mosaic footpath, taking care not to make pedestrian pancakes, through an innocuous looking metal gate complete with flashing orange lights into one of thousands of underground multi-level car parks, or park at your own risk on one of the overcrowded one-way streets. Parking attendants will soon wave you into an empty spot on the street, and if there is not enough room, they'll push a car out of the way for you. Now this kind of behaviour may leave your car with less personal space than an anchovy, so when driving off, simply batter the other cars out of the way with yours until you are free! Also feel free to run any red lights on the way home, everyone else does it....

We finally left the hostel post-midnight for the nightclub district, Lapa. When our taxi pulled up, there were young people all over the place. Its was as if Pelé had been conducting a football demonstration earlier, and the crowd hadn't been told to go home. Through the throng weaved numerous vendors, most notable among them were the guys selling tequila shots (complete with lemon & salt) and kids using the wounded puppy dog technique for selling gum. Also for sale were the ubiquitous Rio kebab skewers and 50-50 ginger / Cachaça mixes, sold by the plastic cupfull. Drinking one felt like a Molotov Cocktail was being thrown down my oesophagus by a member of the Finnish Resistance. We finally settled on a salsa club, where we let our hips do the talking (slurring) for the next few hours.

The best soda in Brasil is Guaraná Antarctica. To me, it tastes like a cross between 'V' (an energy drink) and lemonade, and costs the same as a regular soft drink. Fresh juices can be bought everywhere, from all the usual fruits, plus sugar cane and Açai which contains, amongst other nutritional benefits, high amounts of dietary fibre and essential fatty acids. Cachaça, the most popular spirit in Brasil is made from distilling fermented sugar cane juice and is the main ingredient in the famous Caipirinha cocktail.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acai

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Posted by Jeremy T 04:29 Archived in Brazil Tagged educational Comments (0)

'O Melhor Baile da Cidade'

A little more Rio randomness....

overcast 26 °C
View Channelling the Cane Spirits in South America on Jeremy T's travel map.

Sunday 27.05.07

Pretty much anything a person could need at any hour can be delivered in the big cities of Brasil by motorcycle courier. This time, it was McDonalds that drove through our place! At 10.30pm i climbed into a waiting van with three Brasilians from Porto Alegre, heading to the Favela Funk Party, held in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, near to the (in)famous Cidade de Dios (City of God) favela. Castelo das Pedras, a gigantic nightclub, towered over the intersection it stood on, like a bullfrog perched on a tiny lilypad. People swarmed all over the intersection like insects, ready to be devoured, and it was the girls who lined up first to be swallowed.

With our 'Rich Gringo' VIP passes, we had access to the top deck to look down on the people dancing below (many from the favela itself), an arrangement I wasn't completely comfortable with. Baile Funk reminded me of the Reggaetón played in Central America due to the crowd it pulled, though the crude words shouted over the top of the beats were in Portuguese. The best fun though, was to be had downstairs, where the locals pulled out synchronised dance moves to the more tribal tracks. 'The Best Ball of the City' (see title) it might not have been, but pulling out some risqué dance moves with favela girls was an experience I won't soon forget.

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Due to excessive drinking and partying Wednesday through Sunday, i think I've given myself jetlag, and now can't go to bed until at least 2am. A few days before, i had been offered a job at the hostel, and Monday was my first day of work. In the evening, we began preparations for a traditional Churrasco (barbecue) meal. I discovered while at the butchers, that here they use almost every part of the cows, pigs and chickens they kill for food. It makes me wonder where all the chicken hearts and cow hoofs go to in Australia....

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Tuesday was spent in part in central Rio de Janeiro amidst throngs of people on a hazy day. I sat on a pier watching old metal barges creaking when stirred from stillness by the wake of ferries, and watching the reflections of beautiful colonial buildings in glass-wall skyscrapers while wandering aimlessly around.

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http://maps.google.com.au/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&msa=0&ll=-22.93816,-43.200645&spn=0.143227,0.315857&t=h&z=12&msid=104152631305037416031.000447a2e508520797dba

Posted by Jeremy T 04:04 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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