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Brazil – Highlights & Tips

After 3+ weeks in Peru, it was off to South America’s largest country, Brazil, for 14 days. It was a balanced trip encompassing the bipolar metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, the island of Morro de Sao Paulo, and then to the stunning Iguazu Falls. Oh, and a quick jaunt to San Francisco in between it all.

- See & Do

Morro de Sao Paulo v181) Morro de Sao Paulo – An unassuming beach town with a cool vibe, endless stretches of sand, and a multitude of options to occupy your time. If you find yourself in Brazil needing a break, this is your ticket. 

2) Iguazu Falls – Though Argentina boasts a more intimate experience, the broad scope of the Falls from Brazil is impressive. Moving between countries is a breeze with the proper visa.

3) Rio de Janeiro – Charming, dangerous, and inviting all at the same time. The music, beaches, and drinks (with or without alcoholic) are fantastic.

4) Salvador – The point of embarkation for a trip to Morro, we only spent an evening in this colorful town, but we would have liked a chance to see more.

5) Sao Paulo – After simply flying into the international airport then boarding a bus for Iguazu, the advice to skip this massive city seemed spot on. There didn’t appear much to see and do.

6) So little time – Unless you plan to spend some serious time, Brazil is simply too large and offers too much to see it all. We would have liked to explore the northern coast as well as a few spots in the Amazon Basin.

 - Transportation 

1) Air – Despite its size, much of Brazil can be accessed by the several airlines in the country. Among the largest are TAM and GOL (supposed low cost carrier). Many low cost airlines come and go as well. We took a one-way flight from Rio to Salvador for $85 each on WebJet (you can only purchase tickets in person) and the next cheapest flight was $215 each.

2) Bus – Coastal areas are accessible by bus, but the distances between hot spots are immense. In many long haul cases (1+ days), the cost of a bus fare is more than a flight. For distances of less than 24 hours, there are several companies offering overnight journeys in seats that nearly recline into a bed.

3) Taxis – To and from airports can be expensive. In daylight, buses operating between transportation nodes and the city center are safe and cheap. Cities are full of taxis, but beware the cost. Be on guard when hiring a taxi as stories of armed robbery and theft of baggage are not exaggerated.

- Food

1) The Misto Quente is to die for… think of a grilled cheese with ham and a fried egg. Yum.

2) Churrasco (Brazilian BBQ) – Starve yourself all day then go hog wild for hours. Yep, this was delicious too.

3) Fried Eggs – Brazilians put fried eggs on everything and it is damn good. Next time you cook up a hamburger, throw an egg on top. You can thank us later.

- Drink

Antarctica on the Beach1) Caipirinha (the national drink) – Similar to a mojito, but made with strong Brazilian liquor called Cachaca. Greg wanted to drink these with breakfast! Many bars offer free caipirinha’s at Happy Hour.

2) Beers – If you are an indecisive person, prepare for the worst. When it comes to cerveza, Brazil boasts an array of options. Brahma, Skol, Sol, Antarctica, Nova Schin, and Kaiser appear everywhere. Bohemia was my favorite though.

3) Wine – Ash would steal wine from a death row inmate’s last meal. Sadly, cheap Brazilian vino is hard to find.

4) Fruit Juices – Appearing on almost every corner, bring along extra cash to indulge your taste buds at least twice per day.

- Culture & Citizens

1) Attire – Women have an updated fashion look while men enjoy t-shirts one size too small. Greg’s zip-off travel pants didn’t fit in so much.

2) Culture – Brazil has many geographic areas with unique influences. But regardless of the area, music (mainly samba) plays a large part.

3) People – Machismo among men was evident as they walk confidently and appear to sleep in a weight room. Most people were friendly and helpful.

- Safety

Christ the Redeemer v91) Hyper paranoia is AOK – Particularly in large cities, armed robbery is a legit worry. Travel in groups, trust your gut, and stay aware. If a situation doesn’t feel right, get out of there ASAP. Better to miss that sweet Thursday overnight in Lapa than to be relieved of your wallet and travel confidence.

2) Rio de Janeiro – The tales of danger here are not overblown. A gal visiting from New York City had three instances of being in harms way in just ten days. The best advice is to stay alert.

- Costs

1) General – Make no mistakes, Brazil is not cheap. In fact, the Real (Brazil’s currency) appreciated 35% from January 2009 – October 2009. Of the 16 most traded currencies in the world, the Real has been the best performer. So well in fact, a Big Mac in Sao Paulo costs more than in New York City.

2) Visas – Every American citizen must procure a visa ($130) to enter Brazil. Most visas allow access for up to five years at 90 days per trip.

3) Lodging – Larger cities have a plethora of options. Dorms range from $12 – $25 and privates from $25 – $45 per person. If visiting around Carnival, you should book months in advance and most hostels have a minimum stay requirement.

4) Food – Breakfast is generally included with your hostel, lunch $6 – $12, and dinner (entre & beer) $12 – $25 per person. Cooking at the hostel will cost you about $8 per person.

5) Transportation – Flights between domestic cities vary greatly from $75 to $350 one-way. A 12 hour bus will set you back around $80.

Despite the current economic climate, Brazil continues to shine and for good reason. It has much to offer by way of bustling cities, lazy beaches, verdant rainforests, and natural wonders. With the 2014 World Cup and Summer Games in 2016, this fascinating country will be known more for its merits than the popular Brazilian Wax.

- Greg & Ash

El Diablo & Iguazu Falls

Out of the way? 34 hours. Travel wary? You betcha. Expectations high? Certainly.

Fresh off a state-side wedding filled with drinking, friends, and more drinking, Ash and I arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil after two days of flying the friendly skies. A short cab ride to the bus depot and we sat idle waiting for our 6:00pm departure for Foz do Iguacu, Brazil. The “sleeper” bus wasn’t so bad, but we arrived exhausted after the 16 hour ride to the Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil border. Still recovering from a cold, Ash rested in the room while I hung out with eight Brazilian Special Forces troops poolside. Despite my worst pleading in broken Portuguese, they refused to storm our room and rouse Miss Ashley.

Iguazu Falls - Brazil - v26Guilt did the trick. “You came all this way to watch the ceiling fan do 120 rotations per minute?” I inquired. With that, we got on yet another bus, this one only 30 minutes, headed for Iguazu Falls. Raincoats in hand, we walked excitedly through the damp rainforest towards a furious sound. And there it was… the first six waterfalls among the 275 in total along a 1.7 mile stretch of the Iguazu River. We were blown away by the fury of water and immense height. Ash basically dragged me along the path as I tried my best to fill an eight gigabyte memory card full of misty photos. Meandering along the wooden walkway offering panoramic views, we arrived at Iguazu Fall’s crown jewel, the Devil’s Throat. Over foaming whitewater, a bridge was somehow built right into the lower base of the mayhem. While gazing at this astonishing vista, we received a proper drenching. Chilled by our wetness and the approaching evening, a retreat to a warm shower was ordered by General Miller.

Iguazu Falls - BrazilStill short on rest, we awoke late the next day, packed our quaint belongings, and then took a short bus ride to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. We purchased one-way autobus tickets (18 hour ride) to Buenos Aires for the following afternoon then located a suitable place to stow our backpacks. Another 30 minute bus adventure and we arrived at Iguazu Falls. While Brazil provides broad views of the falls, Argentina renders the tourist speechless with intimate experiences of several falls, including a view from atop Garganta del Diablo – the Devil’s Throat. Once again, I was drawn in by the scenery as Ash scurried ahead to the viewing platform. Her excitement was palpable as she waved me her way. WHAT A SIGHT. On three sides were tall cliffs engulfed with rushing water. The sheer amount of water, its rehearsed 270 foot drop, and the subsequent auditory sensation left us in awe. No adjectives can describe nature’s awesomeness. But perhaps this video will provide some justice:

Devil's Throat PlatformAnxious to get personal with Iguazu Falls, we splurged ($40 each) for a rollercoaster boat ride into the mist. The inner-tube ringed vessel departed 8 kilometers downstream and we navigated rapids approaching the San Martin falls. The skilled captain positioned the orange boat twice below the cascade of water. Our raincoats were no match. Despite what felt like shards of glass slicing your face, it was a gas! We disembarked near the base of the falls and spent another hour only feet from watery torrents. Suitably enthralled, the bus departed back towards Puerto Iguazu. The following days were filled with random exclamations about our unforgettable experiences. 

Ashley Considers Throwing Greg Over... It is ALIVE!

 

 

 

 

 

$4Because the autobus bound for Buenos Aires didn’t depart until 3:10pm, a quick jaunt to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay was possible. Those who say the Wild West has vanished have not been here. Notably, the border crossing looks more like a traffic jam for a Kenny Chesney concert than a boundary line between two sovereign nations. Rumored to be a bastion for cheap electronics and other goods, we strolled haphazardly though the tented markets. We were offered Nike socks then fishing lures from the same person. Our one purchase was a beard trimmer (for Ashley) from a relentless gentleman carrying a knapsack for $4. He most likely used the battery powered instrument to trim his German Shepherd’s hair a day earlier. What a strange place… no method to the madness.

Depositing our bags underneath the Via Bariloche sleeper bus, our veins were pumping with adrenaline from three days in/around Iguazu Falls. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Poor Niagra!” upon viewing the falls. She was 100% correct. The word “amazing” is abused these days, but there is no better word to describe Iguazu Falls.

Worth it? Hell yes.

- Greg

Tips

  1. The falls experience a wet and dry season, like other parts of the world, that affect water flow. April – July is considered the dry season when the volume of water is diminished and December – February is the wet season. The former offers blue skies while the latter exemplifies nature’s power, though increased chances of rainy weather.

  2. Careful with cameras: you will get wet. It is not necessary to invest in a waterproof camera, but use common sense. When not using your precious digital camera, securely tuck it under your raincoat or shirt.

  3. Plan for one day on each side of the falls. The Brazil side should take about two hours while the Argentine experience can last from three to seven hours. If possible, check out the Brazilian views first as it provides you with a wide scope of the falls. Then get closer on Argentina soil.

  4. No matter what, do not take a barrel over the Devil’s Throat. Death would be certain.

Modern Medicine’s High Blood Pressure Cure – Morro de Sao Paulo

Physician orders. Ash: 134 over 87. Greg: 137 over 82. Our blood pressure had reached dangerous levels in Rio de Janeiro. Doc’s prescription was rather simple: relaxation, rest, tasty eats, and surfing.

Morro's FortSomehow our backpacks beat us to the baggage claim in Salvador and we were off to Mercado Modelo for a two hour catamaran ride to Morro de Sao Paulo. Several reliable (hey, we will take any advice) sources suggested a trip to Brazil’s northeast coast would only be complete with a stop on this lively island. What a gem “Morro” turned out to be… beautiful, deserted beaches, parties, etc.

It also happened to be my 23rd birthday – we can all fib now and then! Ashley’s fantastic parents and Grandma June treated us to an incredible bungalow getaway on Morro’s 4th beach. Anima Hotel’s location ensures your tranquility as access is limited to an adventurous 25 minute van ride or two hour beach stroll. After a soundtrack of insects accompanied our dreams, mornings were met with singing parakeets. It is hard to beat a piping hot mug of Brazilian coffee, a tapioca omelet, and crashing waves to kick off the day.

Incredible Bungalow Beach Road 

 

 

 

 

 

 Being in the tropics, the weather forecast was met with suspicion. On rainy days we caught up on sleep, shopped along the sand road in Vila, or watched drenched visitors dodge muddy puddles over caipirinhas. The bungalows were even outfitted with hammocks from which I could examine the daily life of brilliant red crabs.

Beach #2Sunny days were glorious. Morro’s 2nd beach turns into a festival of art, dancing, sports, food, and surfing. Cold Skol cervezas in hand ($0.90 each), we watched the locals practicing Capoeira as the tide lapped at their tan feet. Confident that my balance and coordination were sufficient, I rented a surfboard for two hours and floated by helplessly as the pre-teens kept snaking my waves. No worries though… my back got one hell of a burn. Another day was spent island hopping aboard a small boat and we even slurped down raw oysters right from a nearby river. Ash was hilarious as she probed her one and only oyster after insisting the tiniest one would suffice. She did enjoy the Jamaican BBQ dinner on the beach over candlelight after Morro’s electric grid crashed for 3 hours. Not even my clumsy glass shattering maneuver with the red wine bottle could ruin it!

Beach parties until sunrise, various activities, and endless stretches of sand truly make Morro de Sao Paulo an island paradise. It attracts hipsters, Israeli soldiers, and honeymooners alike. Perhaps some future event will require a similar prescription.

- Greg

Tips

  1. The Birthday Timeout ferry from Salvador to Morro isn’t cheap ($42 each way), but you can save a total of $10 if you book a roundtrip ticket at Salvador’s port of Mercado Modelo.

  2. The all day surfboard rental may seem like a good deal, but paddling wears on the novice’s shoulders. Opt for the per hour rate of $6 from any surf shop.

  3. Beach #2 may be where all the action is, but if you prefer a quiet night sleep at a cheaper price, check out Beach #3. Then spend all the money you saved on fresh fruit drinks at 2:00am.

  4. The Jamaican BBQ on Beach #2 is a great deal. $15 for all the sausage, steak, pork, pasta, and salad that you can handle. Skip lunch and enjoy an early dinner.

City of God… City of Potential

Charming yet uneasy, picturesque yet unsightly, calming yet unnerving. Rio de Janeiro cannot be described in simple nor agreeable terms. Basso Nova over a caipirinha one minute, evading two would be muggers the next.

ChristoPerhaps the world’s most recognized city, even country, landmark, Christ the Redeemer sees all. If the sheer size of the soapstone art deco statue isn’t enough, the view is absolutely breathtaking. Panoramic views of favelas (slums), forests, skyscrapers, and beaches are within eyeshot. As the sun set over the mighty Atlantic Ocean, the disjointed city below lit up in a blur of vibrant colors.

But Rio de Janeiro isn’t all about the sense of sight. Music is as much a part of the dynamic vibe as the beach and nightclubs.  Besides samba, the people are obsessed with the melodic jazz tones of bossa nova. Ash and I spent an evening in the company of a talented percussionist, bass violinist, and guitarist performing the rythmic music. I’m not sure what it is about live music, but you can’t help but walk away tapping your foot with a smile on your face.

Sugar Loaf & Rio Bossa Nova Jam

 

 

 

 

 

Our last day in the City of God was spent in the sprawling Rocinha favela on Rio’s southern side. This is just 1 of 1,022 shanty towns surrounding Rio. Words are hard to describe the layout, way of life, and ordered chaos that governs the Brazilian slums. Our sarcastic guide, Vitoria, related unflattering facts about Rocinha and slums like it. Drug sales are the life blood and kids are the heart that pumps it. And the allure of mattresses brimming with cash has resulted in the smuggling of weapons including rocket propelled grenades. Even the draw of money is sometimes too much for corrupt police to turn down. The early twenties “owner” of the slum is lucky to celebrate his 25th birthday as rival gangs from competing favelas are constantly in a power vacuum and infrequent raids by BOPE, Brazil’s elite favela police squad, all threaten their livelihood. In addition, the average family size is over nine because more kids mean additional income. In fact, we met a 24 year-old favela Mother of 5 whom happens to also be a Grandmother. The list of anecdotes could crash Google.

Rocinha FavelaOf course, the sensational stories above make the headlines. Despite all the bad, we were able to safely ride motorcycles to the top of Rocinha  then navigate the favela’s twisting alleys. We purchased baked goods, toured a daycare, and spent time in an artisan shop. Most people were everyday people that aimed to simply provide for their family, even if their means are unbecoming. Though the drug lords perpetuate the slum life, they do provide the consistent framework by which the people live.

Ironically, our safety in the Rocinha favela was guaranteed by the same thugs who facilitate the meddling crime in Rio de Janeiro. Without exaggeration, 1 in 4 people regardless of sex at the hostel ran into serious trouble in the Copacabana, Lapa, Centro, or Ipanema neighborhoods. High noon or last call at the club, these visitors were robbed at gun point, bribed for $200 by police, or mugged with the threat of violence. Needless to say, we played our cards tight to the vest. Unfortunately, when it was Stacked Favela Homestime to hit the International Airport, we could only stand on Atlantica Avenue for 15 minutes waiting for the bus at 7:00pm in the rain before opting for a $30 cab ride and safe passage.

Though well aware of it’s reputation as a dangerous place, we chose not to pass judgement until experiencing it for ourselves.  Rio has so much going for it and innumerable treasures to discover.  However, the fear of being mugged or worse was constantly on our minds.

City of God. City of 2016 Summer Olympics. City of Potential.

- Greg

Tips

1) Safety – Don’t underestimate the potential danger in Rio. We had two very close calls (Centro in broad daylight and Copacabana at night) that were avoided by being aware, maybe hyper paranoid. Evaluate cabs before entering, stay in groups, don’t drink too much, and trust your gut.

2) You can hike Christ the Redeemer (3 hours roundtrip) and save the $20 train ride. We opted to skip the summit of Sugar Loaf as we were told the view from Corcovado (where the Christo is located) is better.

A special day!

I want to wish Greg a very happy 28th birthday today.  Our plan for his birthday is to relax, surf a little, eat a nice meal, and hopefully enjoy some sun.  What a lucky boy he is to be spending his birthday in Morro de Sao Paulo, Brazil.

hiking Machu Picchu v95

Greg, there is no one else with whom I would rather be doing this adventure.  So far our trip has surpassed my expectations and I look forward to what the next 13 to 14 months has in store for us.  Happy, happy birthday!  I love you very much.

-Ash

Rio de Janeiro – Sun, Fun & Food

46 hours, 5 airports, 4 planes, and 3 South American countries later we arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

October 2, 2009 - Decision DateOur anticipation to experience this charming, yet troubled city of 12 million souls was initially tempered by our lack of sleep. But no time for too much sleep as Rio offers a plethora of activities: frenetic beaches, busy markets, imaginable views, dancing, and walking tours of local slums.

We settled into our hostel in famed Copacabana. The place was alive with 20 somethings from around the globe. Everyone was drawn to Rio for a similar reason… the charm you read and hear about. We had barbeques, consumed caipirinhas, and listened to travel encounters across continents. Everyone raved about the juice bars seemingly on every corner in Rio. So far, I have enjoyed twelve glasses from an array of fruits. And we splurged a bit at a churrascaria, an all you can eat seafood, sushi, and meat experience. Three hours of deliciousness!

Itacoatiara Beach Ipanema Beach

 

 

 

 

 

Our first adventure wasn’t even in Rio itself, but rather on the opposite side of Guanabara Bay in Niteroi. It took two buses, a ferry, and 2.5 hours to reach Itacoatiara Beach and it sure was worth the effort. It seemed as if we were the only two “gringos” soaking up the rays on this beach too remote for the average tourist. We tried strange sandwiches with the help of friendly sunbathers, watched skilled surfers navigate the 10 foot waves, and enjoyed the natural beauty surrounding the enclosed stretch of sand.

Muscle ManThe weather continued its hot streak, so we hit the packed beach of Ipanema. I have never seen so many beach umbrellas and sun seekers in my life. We eventually found a small area to lay our green and maroon towels surrounded by men in “banana hammocks” and women in so-called bikinis. It seems a government mandate is in effect for all men to workout 3 hours per day, chug Muscle Milk, and otherwise look immensely fit. In order to make visitors feel better about themselves, the municipality installed pullup bars for skinny guys named Greg.

Ever the tourist, we had a drink at Garota de Ipanema where the famous Tom Jobin bossa nova song was supposedly written. So the story goes, The Girl from Ipanema would stroll by the bar to pick up smokes for her mom or head to the beach with friends. She was such a beauty, Jobin was compelled to compose a song after her.

Needing some Americana, I searched out any bar that was televising the Bengals versus Steelers game. We found refuge in an Ipanema pub that served terrible pizza, overpriced beers, and a jerky feed of the game. DISH Network Satellite, fed to a converter box, connected to a laptop, then channeled to the projector resulted in a grainy picture. Following the action via the the football was useless, so we were aided solely by the player’s reactions to each snap. Grinning and bearing the action alongside us was John, an oil man from Texas, that we chatted with until the brilliant conclusion of the Bengals game. Noting our tight backpacker budget, John picked up our tab via an expense account! Can you say… booyah!

Garota de IpanemaChoppy Carson Palmer

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has been such a great mix of Brazilian food, drink, and beaches coupled with the familiar, albeit choppy, sights of home.

- Greg

Tips

1) When arriving at the airport, you can either take a taxi ($35 total) or the REAL bus ($4 per person). The bus is safe, air conditioned, and drops you on Atlantic Avenue in either Ipanema or Copacabana. If arriving at night, opt for the registered taxi.

2) Food and juice can be had for cheap ($6 lunch) on nearly every corner and all have similar prices. While the food may not win any American Heart Association awards, it is reasonably priced in an otherwise expensive South American city.

3) There are many hostels to choose from ($20 – $35 per night for a dorm bed) in both Copacabana and Ipanema. Opt for Ipanema as it is a bit safer, has the better beach, and is less touristy.

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