Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Life in Flip Flops: Ilha Grande

Ooooooohhhhhhhh!! I got to recapitulate 2 weeks worth of travels! Madre mia! Vamos a ver...

Tuesday 13th January 2009

Was it a Tuesday? Whatever - we woke up in Isabela´s appartment in the neighbourhood of Botafogo (very close to the Pão de Azúcar) in Rio de Janeiro. We planned to go to Ilha Grande - a 193 km squared (tropical and virgin) which is 3 hours away from Rio de Janeiro. It has a reputation as one of the greatest beaches in Brazil (one in about 10,000 most beautiful beaches in Brazil...they all are!).

Nico, came over in the morning with some breakfast and in the space of one hour we booked ourselves into a campsite, found the bus times, packed our bags and were out the door to catch the bus to Angra dos Reis - the port village from where we shall take a bus.

We took a three hour bus ride to Angra dos Reis - a small fisherman´s town south west of Rio. From there we hoped onto a local´s fisher boat and enjoyed a sunny one hour ride to this famous tropical island.

On the left is the fisherman´s port - it smelt wonderful! The sign says that it is forbidden to camp outside of a designated campsite. Ilha Grande is a natural reserve and they take its conservation seriously. So seriously that there are no cars and no roads AND they only got electricity installed in the year 2001! Paying by credit card is hard to do. The place is virgin...

On the right, is an example of the type of boat we took.

I took time to meditate about life and digest everything that I have seen, done and have been feeling. Being so grandiose I fell asleep in the sun and woke up to see the shores of Ihla Grande.

Lush moutains with dense trees, turquoise green sea and deserted little creeks of sun tanned sand. How could a heavenly place be so close? I don´t think I actually realised what was there. I think at this point I was simply mesmerised.

We got off the boat and jumped straight into the sea and enjoyed a cool beer before heading to our campsite. We walked a couple of minutes, stopping every two seconds to take pictures, as every sight, every angle was worthy of a photograph - or more like, so beautiful that we wanted to forever capture it and never forget it.

Walking uphill through trees and little muddy paths, we reached one of the greenest campsites I have ever been to - Campsite "Bem Natural". Tired from witnessing nature´s preserved "spectacle", we got to the top of the hill just in time for sunset. We sat down on the terrace, with a celebratory beer and it was right then, right then and there that I could not keep my emotions in any longer. Tears built up in my eyes and the reality of this surreal environment, and my presence within it, hit me and I never felt such tranquil and overpowering joy as that moment.

We met a young Brazilian biologist by the name of Manuel who was walking through the whole of the island in the space of 10 days. He gave us ideas of discovering the island, its hidden caves and waterfalls - as opposed to lazing about all day on the beach. We decided to "do the walk" and discover the natural beauties of the island, instead of limiting ourselves to the sceneries and views.

A little incident happened that night, in the form of high winds and threats of tropical storms. We were anything but equiped for such an event. Thankfully Nathalie woke up (as opposed to my overpowering love of sleep which would have excluded me from any knowledge of flooding tents) and we witnessed our more prepared and organised neighbours covering their non waterproof tents with big plastic sheets. They kindly gave us one, which we attempted to fix it onto the tent with our bags and stones - which nevertheless got blown away by the wind - and we went back to sleep. All that was absoltuly useless to know - it didnt even rain!

We set off in the morning at approx. 10 am, after having decided to hike 11 km until we reach another creek (4 creeks away). Off we went (in our flip flops) for a very hilly and sometimes steep hike through the mountains. The walk was beautiful, refreshing and especially EXHAUSTING! It was very hot and we sweated all the day. Obviously we didnt have much water with us, so between the three we had to ration half a bottle of (now warm) water, in the hot humid weather. I think that from the combination of not having adequate shoes (and therefore hurting my poor little ankles), the lack of water, carrying our overnight bags, and the irregular rocky grounds - it was the hot humidity which caused us most fatigue. Nonetheless - well worth it!!

After god knows how many hours of walk and sweat and joyful torture we reached what I hope was our goal, but was only the first creek. There we guzzled water and cooled down. On the creek there was nothing but fishermen knitting up their nets and painting their boats while a couple of kids played in the sea.

Before heading off we were told about a small waterfall, so off we went for a little dip.

Indeed it was a very little waterfall, but its freshness and great necessity is not to be unrecognised!

We continued again to another creek, which was more beautiful than the last. Here our hunger grew and we began to flop onto the beach for a siesta. But luckily Nico spoke to a fisherman who accepted to give us a ride for free until the next beach. We sprung to the occasion and hoped onto the boat. Here he gave us fresh pineapple slices which must have been the most delicious ones I ever had!

On the photos below are: flowers that grow randomly on many trees, me on our saviour´s boat, the cute floor on the quay before catching the boat, the beautiful beach where we unfortunetly spent only a couple of minutes, and an example of the type of paths we walked on (with my resistant pedicure from Santos over 2 weeks ago).

This is all I have time to write for today. I should really write less but dont want to forget anything! All I can say is that we were incredibly lucky that day, cos not only could we not have made the planned 11km (I think we had managed 4km! In flip flops may I add...) and we received help from many people along the way AND found an accomodation in our final destination (which we did manage to get to in the end, thanks to a speed motor boat! :) We also ate like famished bushmen and did get a siesta on the beach.

That night we stayed at a chinese run hotel where there was a huge buffet and a party going on. We sampled some of their "cocktail" which was a combination of red wine, condensed milk and strawberry. Sounds revolting but you´d be surprised... it was so good that we were hanging aroung the jug, celebrating our luck and dancing all evening to 70s disco! It was a hilarious night filled with kids from some kind of kids camp. Here is the logo of our cool "pousada" (with mine and Nathalie´s feet!) We had a great time and went to bed, exhausted from our day´s effort. As the following morning was overcast, we decided to return to Rio (I think we were all secretly too tired to afront another day´s hike!)
We took a boat and a bus back to Rio on the 14th of January and once back at Isabela´s house - we crashed! Utterly crashed! We couldn´t even communicate properly together! Besides we needed the rest, as we had planned to go to Teresopolis the following day to hike and rock climb the natural reserve park!


Monday, January 12, 2009

Life in Flip-Flops: Rio de Janeiro

Friday 9th January 2009

My first early start was quite a challenge but well worth it and possibly the best way to make most of all that Rio has to offer in the little time we have here. We headed up to the Cristo Rodentor, or Corcovado on a lucky bright day. The sky needs to be clear for the view to be worthy and it so happens that the micro climate in Rio is pretty foggy and rarely has complete clear skies due to the comination of oceanic humid air and the proximity of the mountains. The Cristo itself is at 980 meters above sea level and only a couple of kilometers away from the ocean.

We took a taxi to Cosmo Velho village and from there took a choo choo train up the moutain for 45 reales return. The train took a good 10-15 minutes to climb up and along the way we crossed a natural park with all its natural wonders and gradually reached heights from where the view of Rio de Janeiro is uncomparable. Once on top, we were litterally 'in the clouds'. The sky grew white and unfortunitely we didn't get to see the complete views of Rio, however what was presented before us was breath-taking enough. Perhaps it was a good thing that the skies were not completely clear, or else i would never want to leave!

The Cristo was very interesting to see, but as a touristis site, it was very crowded, sometimes a bit of a battle to get in or out. The amusing site was to see all the visitors doing the exact same thing: posing in front of the Cristo with their arms stretched out horizontaly, whilst a companion was framing the picture whilst lying down on the floor.

We stayed there approx. 2 hours and headed back down with the train, this time accompanied by live samba music all the way down, people were clapping and getting up to dance, which by now is a normal thing to witness. In general people sing and dance a lot here. It is quite common to hear people singing on the streets, in public transports or even in restaurants, not in an offensive way. Anyway, how could merry singing ever be offensive? Especially when there is a lack of European type stress round these parts. Stress, if it was to be present, would appear in different form.
We hoped onto a bus and went straight to the botanical gardens, which is the 4th largest in the world. The plants were exotic and beautiful and the trees were yet gain very tall! It was really impressive and relaxing to be there. We had lunched and a little siesta which was perfect.

There were too many flowers and too high trees for me to put all the pictures up, but here are some to give an idea. On the first picture you can see Nathalie. and also the height of the trees. The other three are pink !

We left the Botanical Park and on our way to the Lagoon, met Silviu, an aerodynamic physicist from Romania. He had a lot of information on Rio and we walked with him to the Lagoon and after an hour's walk, reached the neighbourhood of Ipanema (which is similar to Copacobana, except younger and newer, and probably safer) for some tapas. On the way there I experienced my first Acai fruit juice - Nossa! It was delicious!

Fruits play an important part in Brazilian diets. There are many fruit juice stands with a lot of passion fruit, mango, acai, coconut, pineapple, melon, and surprisingly, black grapes. They love black grapes! After this we headed home at around 8pm and got ready to go out with Nathalie's Italian friends.

That night we went to the neighbourhood of Lapa, a young, dynamic party neighbourhood of Rio. It was great! We were warned that the neighbourhood is not safe and that we need to take extra care of our belongings. Entering Lapa, I immediately understood why. The party was not contained, but neither was it chaotic (for Brazil) - it was on the streets! The place was packed with young people with music blaring out of clubs and bars which were invisible, hidden behind the crowd of young dancers. Beer sellers on the streets (Barceloneans can imagine what it is like - except times 10!) and food stands selling barberqued meat and cheese. We walked up the streets, which felt quite unsafe I have to admit. There was little street lights, yet the roads were full of local people. We clearly stood out.
Nico, an Italian who loves Brazil and Rio showed us around and took us to the entrance of the favella. It was a long and high stairway which definitely did not lead to heaven. It was lighten closer to the Lapa street and gradually grew darker until there were no street lights at all, but big trees and a legendary reputation for drugs and violence, not forgetting abject poverty. Nico assured us that we could take a picture, but I did not want to take my shiny silver camera out and take a picture of these people as though we were in some animal zoo (although now I wish I had). There were a couple of people hanging around the stairs and a police patrol car, so it was supposedly safe, but I didn't feel quite that way. We left those famous stairs and headed to where the party was happening - it was time to dance!
We got some beers and listened to live samba music from bands playing under the 'railway airches' of Lapa. The streets were buzzing and everyone was happy and having a good time. Suddenly the reality of the favellas and all the problems and brewing civil war surrounding Rio melted away, leaving place to music, singing and dancing. I, yet again, attempted to shake my tush - rediculising myself yet again! Those Brazilians definetly know how to dance! Although, we got to admit that it is a completly different rhythm and beat to anything I have ever know. We then went to a salsa club, where I felt much more at ease, we ate from the street stands and headed home - we had to be up early, as we were going to the beachtown of Buzios the next morning...

Saturday 10th January 2009
BUZIOS! Beautiful, gorgeous BUZIOS! The Sant Tropez of Rio de Janeiro - peninsula with over 20 (almost) virgin beaches. The town is residential and mainly dedicated to local fishing industry and tourism. Many have summer beach houses here, and I don't blame them!

We took the 11.15am bus from Rio to Buzios and arrived 3 hours and 56 reales (less than 30 euros return) later. Isabela's family have a beach house there were we could stay at. As soon as we arrived, we dropped the bags off and headed straight for the beach!

The closest beach was that of Geriba. We got tanned and listened to the live music being played at one of the poussadas. They played 70s and 80s classic rock, which made us both very happy to hear.

At night, we went to a bar-restaurant called 'Bora Bora' with Isabela's mum's friends - Carolina and Tina. It was in a beautiful setting, and as the name suggest, decorated to give a relaxing yet funky atmosphere. We were there for pretty much the whole evening and night until a big bright full moon came out to enchant us even more.

We then walked around the centre of the village to witness more shopping (shops close at 9-10pm ish), more live music, more dancing and a bunch of family holiday makers. It was time to crash and sleep. The next day - Sunday 11th January, we wanted to go to town to organise our budget and exact travel plans, but we instead went to another beach - the famous Brigitte Bardot beach (Buzios was popularised by her in the 70s). We had lunch on a terrace, which was extremely pleasant (as always and as everything is). Nathalie headed home and I went to the beach of Joao Fernandinho, a little creek on the other side of the peninsula. This beach is hidden between the trees and is much more tranquile than the other beaches. There I relaxed and perfected my tan with a hint of red.

That night we relaxed at home and took advantage of the peace and quiet in Buzios, in comparison to the city life of Rio de Janeiro. I could easily spend all summer in Buzios - there are so many unspoilt beaches, music everywhere and t is extremely relaxing. I did not want to return to Rio (poor me!) after only two days in Buzios, but there are still many other places to visit and time is precious. We have two more weeks in Brazil before heading to Argentina...

Monday 12th January 2009

No rest for the wicked! Yet another early start for Sherine and Nathalie with a 6.30am taxi ride to catch our return bus to Rio at 7am. We pretty much slept the whole way through and woke up to the noise, pollution and chaoticness of a city. We had some missions to do in town (buy plane tickets, lenses, USB pendrive, dentists...) and at night we met with Isabela's dad for dinner. We had the best pizza in town at 'Barz' and came home. Now we must decide whether we are going to Ilha Grande (virgen island which is fully booked) or Teresopolis (mountains to go rock climbing). We would like to do both before heading to Bahia by the end of the week... let's see what we can manage to do!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rio de Janeiro - January 09

I got on the bus (without a day saver) at midnight from the Rodoviaria de Santos, heading to the Rodoviaria Novo of Rio de Janeiro. I didn't sleep all night for three reasons. The first is that the bus was zooming around the mountains at too much of a high speed for it to be considered safe, leaving me on the edge of my seat for the first 3 hours trying to get used to the idea that my life could end any second. Second, because I was extracted from the homely feeling of Santos and had to take a moment to digest the fact that I am in Brazil and heading to Rio de Janeiro. I thought a lot of my family and friends, and yes - I miss them all! I wish everyone that I have had to say good bye to could be with me, sharing these experiences of life threatening bus journeys! And finally, I couldn't sleep because they put the air con on SO high that I was literally frozen the whole way through - and no, I hadn't packed a blanket nor a sleeping bag. I finally had told the driver after we had stopped on a motorway station and finally for the rest of the journey I managed to sleep - which is the equivalent of one hour. 

Daylight began to break at around 6am as we drove into the city of Rio. It feels more industrial than Santos, and larger - but my mind could not assimilate much more than that in the state that I was in. I was met by Paulo, Nathalie's friends' father, who drove me to his daughter's house in the neighbourhood of Botafago. By 7.10am I was in Isabela's house. She left to University and I passed out on the couch in a very deep (and much needed) sleep. I was woken up and hour later by Nathalie and we began with breakfast and planning our travels. We decided to visit the whole of Rio (obviously), go to the beaches of Buzios, rock climbing in Teresopolis, surf in Itacare in the region of Bahia, the sub-Amazon region of Pantanal to the town of Bonito and to Foz de Iguazu - all within 3 weeks. Tight squeeze! 

Isabela returned from University and took us around town. Her apartment is a 10 minute walk to the beach, where we could see the famous Pao de Azucar. (Right, we are not very lucky with photos - I tried uploading one now and it is not working). We went to the neighbourhood of Copacobana to buy some flip flops for Nathalie - a must in Brazil! An easy 80 percent of the people here wear them, and they are so famous that there are many more models that they created, all colours and all forms of straps. We got a bit lost in there and I came out with some semi-lady like ones for the night. We ate in a restaurant "per kilo", which is a buffet and the price is calculated according to how much is on your plate - which is quite an effective way to watch your weight (watch the wallet first!). We then went shopping in a mall, as I have no decent clothes. There are some very nice things here and I got two tops and a dress for 40 euros. The shops stay open till 10pm, so we went home as they closed and slept early. 

Today for our first day we went to the Pao de Azucar, the view from there was incredible. The coast is dotted with little mountains, connected by gorgeous beaches. I wish I could post a picture because there is just no way of describing how beautiful it is up there. We took a bus from Botafogo to Urca and from there took two cable cars to the top. Spectacular, awesome and breathtaking thats all I can say. From up there you can see the whole of Rio with all its beaches and far out into the horizon. Funnily, there is a thin layer of misty fast moving clouds on the top of the Pao. This gave it a real tropical touch. We spent about 3 hours there admiring the views and the beautiful plants, vegetation and monkeys! Going there is an absolute must and everyone ought to come to Rio de Janeiro just for that! 

We then went down to the Copacobana beach and later, we went out in Leblon - a young lively neighbourhood. Tomorrow we will be going up the Cristo and visiting the Botanical Garden and the Lagoon. We are planning to be out by 9am and as it is 4am now... I am going to bed! 

Feliz Ano Novo 2009!

In the town of Santos in the region of Sao Paulo, I spent a very happy new year. First stop - food!

Claudia's brother's family invited us for dinner in his building, food galore and the most delicious smoked cheese I've ever had. The musical talents of all was released and live Brazilian music was played throughout the night. I, tragically, attempted to join in and display my most utterly useless Brazilian beats on a tambourine. The poor band had to live through two songs and were quite (politely) glad once I gave it up! 

At midnight we walked to the beach, where a huge crowd of people gathered to watch the fire works all along the bay of Santos. It was beautiful and a very rejoicing moment, with tears and laughter and hugs... Conforming with traditions, I jumped over 7 waves and made a wish (as opposed to the Spanish 12 grapes). I can't remember what my wish was but I was so happy that I think I wished for everyone to be just as happy as I was. We left the beach and after little while longer at Claudia's brother's house, we went to her friend's rooftop terrace apartment on the other side of town. 

Santos has two main regions - the canals and the port. There are approx. 7 canals and everything is located in reference to these canals. Where I was staying with Claudia was on canal 3, and the port is after canal 7. The port of Santos is the most important, and perhaps the largest one in South America. It was a major trading point back in the colonial days and still remains a major port on the continent. Santos itself was, I was told, the first town to be declared Brazilian. 

Back to the first hours of 2009. We went to the port side of town, which appears to be growing into a high rise 'uptown' neighbourhood. To be on the rooftop terrace reminded me somewhat of Beirut, except without the threat or the surrounding ruins of war. We had a great time there and I even had my first swim in their pool! 2009 definitely started on a good note. 

I stayed 6 more days in Santos and went out every night with Claudia's friends and family. There is a lot of live music in many places and I got to know fairly well the MBP music, which stands for Popular Brazilian Music, which would correspond to artists such as Djavan and Lenine (I dont know if I got the spelling right). I went to two clubs and in both, everyone dances... no one stands by the wall. There is a constant feeling of celebration and a great capacity to really enjoy the moment. There is no overly self-consciousness and concerns over impressions and displaying one's self. The atmosphere is much more relaxed and focused upon the music and having fun. I can't even begin to imagine what the Carnival must be like! 

Everyone I met in Santos were lovely and Claudia's family especially have a very special place in my heart. After spending 12 days with them in Santos, I grew attached to them and was really sad to say goodbye! Claudia was fantastic, she is a great host and I could never be grateful enough for having invited to her home and taken care of me so well. 

I left Santos on the 6th of January on the midnight bus to Rio de Janeiro - 7 hours and 82 reales (27 euros) later, I was to be in Rio de Janeiro to join Nathalie. 

Yet again I don't have pictures - as they are on Claudia's computer and did not have time to upload them...sorry! 'One day' I will put them all up...I just can't promise when! 

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Last days of 2008

Happy New Year!
Mine was, as planned and ought to be, spent on the beach!
But before that, I am going to try real hard to be brief about my past couple of days...

Claudia´s mother´s birthday last sunday was really great. There was a barbeque and kids running all over the place - and a pool table! So we ate, listened to music and played pool and poker all day until the early hours of the morning. I also got affectionate with the toucan! He likes his beak and head to be stroked, it´s amazing! Birds usually dont come near to humans. I´ve decided that toucans are very intelligent beings.

On monday we went shopping downtown in the malls to find me a dress for new year - I also bought a device to download my photos (halleluya!) and we ate in an arabic self serive fast food. They had great mtabal and even kousa mashi! In the evening we went to see her sister play in a band all the popular Brazilian songs and I am beginning to reognise them. My favourite artist, aside from 'Seu Jorge' up till now seems to be "Djavern" (being only one of the most popular bands in Brazil).

The following day we went to the beach - finally some sun! The beach is very long and has little food carts scattered randomly selling corn on the cob, 'pasteis', ice cream, fruit juices and, of course, caipirinha. The sea was green due to the colour of the earth, and the coast was dotted with green hills. I was told that Santos has the longest garden by the beach - 7 kilometers of trees and flowers all along the coast. Santos is growing as a touristic city for Brazilians, especially from Saõ Paulo (which I will have you note, is a metropolis of 600 kilometers in diameter). That night we went to listen to live music. I didnt get much of a tan - so that mission is still in progress.

I must go out now - I will post more pictures and write about my New Year later. Beijos!

PS: Honestly, writing a blog in itself is a strange experience. Am I writing TO you guys out there in the foreverness of virtual reality? Or am I just writting a 'memoire'?