Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

Rio is in party mode. If you ever want to take part in one of the world´s biggest parties, you must go to Rio for Carnaval !! We arrived in Rio the same day the the party officially started, with the mayor of the city handing over keys to the newly crowned King Momo - the King of Carnaval.

Everyone gets in on the action. People wandering the streets in our neighbourhood, Copacabana, are wearing masks, lays, antlers, and funny hats. Many streets are shut down to cars and it is busy everywhere.

Our first full day in Rio we decided to join in one of the most popular and fun ways to help celebrate carnaval - referred to as a banda, or street party. We left our neighbourhood and walked over to Ipanema to join in one of the oldest and most popular bandas in Rio. Before we knew it, we were in the middle of a busy street, jammed with people, marching down the street in a parade. Everywhere around us there were sweaty, happy, drunk, cross-dressing, masked, flamboyant people singing and dancing to the live music leading the parade. Wow. Chris adourned a sparkling purple wig of Rebeccas choosing, while Rebecca wore a beautiful mask complete with sparkles and peacock feathers. Pictures are not available at this time, as we opted for a disposable camera and haven´t finished the roll yet.

What we do have pictures of, is the next night, when we got tickets and went to the official Samba Parade at the Sambodromo. This is the parade that most people associate with Carnaval in Rio...you have probably seen pictures in the paper or news of this. The Sambadromo consists of a 1 1/2 kilometre long stage. It takes each Samba school approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes to make there way down the stage in front of everyone. The pictures do not do justice to the music, dancing, costumes, floats, and atmosphere in the Sambadromo.
It was truly a memomorable experience.

Our favourite school had an ´under the sea´theme. Each float was proceeded with the best dancers in the school who really knew how to get the crowd involved.

One of the funniest things about going to the Sambodromo, was actually just making our way there and back. We took the public subway, along with many of the dancers. The subway was filled with costumed and boistrous dancers who were warming up for their night ahead.

After recovering from the Sambodromo and Banda de Ipanema, we decided to take in some of the other popular sights that Rio has to offer. If you ever visit Rio, one of the popular and must-do things is to take the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar), which has an amazing view over Rio and the surrounding landscape. We decide to kill time at the bottom of the mountain so that we could time our visit to the top with sunset. We went for a walk on a trail that many people use to access rock climbing routes in the area. It was along this trail, that we finally spotted our first monkeys. They were small little creatures, about the size of a cat.
At various points along the trail, locals (Cariocas) were also fishing. The fishing poles they were using were approximately 12 feet long. They didn´t seem to be catching much but, much like our experience back home, we suspected that catching fish wasn´t the only reason to go fishing.
The cable-car ride to the top of sugar-loaf mountain takes part in two stages. First, you must take a cable-car to the top of Urca mountain. You get off on the top of Urca mountain, and board another cable-car which takes you even higher to the summit of Sugarloaf. The following photo was taken from the top of Urca, looking at Sugarloaf.

The view from the top of Sugarloaf mountain is spectacular. You have a 360 degree view of all of Rio and the surrounding landscape including the city, beaches, statue of the Christ Redeemer (statue of Christ located on a nearby mountain), and the ocean. Unfortunately, when we got to the top, Chris began to suffer from his first bout of food poisoning, and instead of enjoying the sunset with Rebecca, spent most of his time at the top in the Sanitario. Yuck ! Luckily, it was only one of those 24 hr things. It did make for an exciting two-stage cable-car ride back down to the bottom though.
We took our last day in Rio pretty easy. We decided to board a bus which would take us further east along the coast in seach of a small town to recover in.

Brazil Fun Fact #1
Brazilians love their pizza and many would argue that their pizza rivals that of Italy or anywhere else for that matter.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ilha Grande

From Paraty we took the bus along the winding coast to the port city of Angra dos Reis. We caught a ferry to Brazil´s biggest island, aptly named Ilha Grande.
The ferry was a small sized schooner filled with fellow travellers, both gringos (foreigners) and Brazilians. Ilha Grande captured us from the begining. The small port town of Abraào is set at the base of lush green mountains formed from volcanos. The island is car free with the exception of the ambulance, police atv, and a tractor for collecting garbage. Food and other goods arrive alongside passengers on most ferries into town and their arrival is met with a rush of four-wheeled carts at the dock where the locals collect their orders. From there they push their heavy loads through the uneven dirt roads of the town.

Everything fell into place for us on Ilha Grande. Our unexpected poussada retreat was set back from town and hidden up the hill a little bit. The owner, Monica, is a yoga instructor and medicinal healer. Her property boasts coconut, pineapple, and banana trees as well as all sorts of plants that she uses in her practices. She also has a beautiful yoga studio where she teaches classes to the locals when the island is less busy with tourists. During our time there we had our own bamboo cabin, with a semi-outdoor shower and open concept design. We both loved curling up in the hammock on the patio for mini naps and reading. Island life is good!

We did our share of beach lounging around the main town but we also mixed in a couple really great hikes. The first one took us west on the island alongside beaches and even a freshwater pool beside an old aquaduct. The island has a history of being a place to send criminals and the remains of an old prison are still evident but getting grown over with green. We came across an old cobblestone road that must have connected different parts of this sprawling site. Of course, another cachoeira was on the list and this one was up some of the steepest slopes of the hike (and there were many)! We stopped for a little snack of ham chips, ew! They have steak and chicken flavoured too...i don´t think we will be trying those!

Another day, we hiked east on the island stopping at a beach on the way for lunch. We hiked up and accross a ridge and eventually made our way down to Lopes Mendes beach. The sand there is so soft it squeeked when we walked on it and the water so clear and turquoise. The beach is wide and bends around the bay. It is regarded as one of the country´s most beautiful beaches and it did not disapoint. We opted for a boat ride back to the town.

The water was calling to us and we decided to rest our legs one day and rented a kayak to explore a bit of the coastline. We paddled around an island several kilometres out and back along the shore, making one stop at a nearby beach for a swim and a snack.

We had such a relaxing time on Ilha Grande that we were reluctant to leave, but Rio de Janeiro and Carnaval are calling our names.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


We left Sao Sebastiao and took a bus along the coast to Paratay. Paratay is considered a historic colonial town along the coast. The downtown is made up of old buildings with colorfully painted doors and shutters. The streets of the old section of town are lined with round cobble stones that are almost awkward to walk on. The streets are closed to motor-vehicles, and horse-drawn buggies make there way through town, delivering people and goods to different spots.

On our first night in Paraty we found a small french bistro and enjoyed a crepe dinner which was a welcome change from the deep fried meats and cheeses that usually characterize a traditional brazilian meal.

On our first full day in Paratay, we decided to rent bicycles and try to visit some of the waterfalls (cachoeira) that were shown on a map of the area. The paved road eventally made way to a dirt road and then a path. The views along the road were of small mountains, some of which were cleared for pasture. At one point, we stopped and watched a cowboy herd some cattle up the side of a hill, yelling eih eih eih at them! After making our way up the side of a mountain along a series of switchbacks, we understood why we had only seen one other person on a bicycle; everyone else was being escorted around in 4x4 tour jeeps. It was raining and we were covered in mud-hilarious!

On our last night in Paratay we headed into the downtown and were surprised to discover that a a music festival (jazz, soul, r&b, etc.) was just getting underway.

Enjoyed some cervejas and caprihanas(brazils unofficial drink - crushed fresh lime, ice, sugar and cachaça- liquor from sugar cane) before retiring to our humble pousada.

Paratay was good to us but we must move along on en route to Rio.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


We left Santos yesterday and arrived in Sao Sebastio late afternoon. It is nice to be in a smaller town. Fewer crowds and a bit easier to navigate on foot. We woke up this morning and took a ferry over to Ilhabela; beautiful island. Just off the coast of Sao Sebastio, it is a 15 minute ferry ride to the 350 square kilometer island. 85% of the island is protected as a UNESCO world heritage site. Beaches line the coast and there are more than 360 waterfalls. We chose to visit Curray beach, a 20 minute bus ride from the ferry terminal. We went for a swim in the ocean and then decided to try and find one of the waterfalls. We had no idea what to expect or if the 45 minute hike on a narrow dirt path up the mountain would be worth it. We were richly rewarded!

We were the only ones at this beautiful waterfall, about 120feet high. Since we were both just dripping with sweat we went for a dip in the cool freshwater pool at the base of the falls.

Two dogs accompanied us on the walks up and down the trail to the waterfall. We named them Max and Minnie. Minnie adopted us and followed us to the beach and through town. After many attempts at running away from her while she ate garbage we were only able to lose her by getting on the bus back to the ferry. And even then we had to keep her from getting on the bus with us.
Back in Sao Sebastiao, we just finished a delicious seafood meal and are packing up to head out tomorrow en route to Paraty.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sao Paulo, Santos, Surf, and Sunscreen (ouch!)

We arrived in Sao Paulo on Wednesday morning to a warm and sunny day. We took a bus downtown to a hostel which was located near Paulista Ave, the main dowtown street. Sao Paulo is an enormous metropolis that spreads out a long distance. We stayed in the Italian neighbourhood. Our first hostel stay was comfy and in walking distance to downtown, restaurants, and parks. To explore a bit, we took our books with us to the city´s biggest park: Parque do Ibiraquera. We had a leisurely afternoon strolling in the park, eating popscicles, and adjusting to the heat- life is rough on the road! We also learned an important lesson in Sao Paulo: how to order beer: uma cervja por favour (just one because they are big!).

Two nights in the big city was enough for us for now, so we called up our friend Paulo who was an exchange student at York with us. He is from a town called Santos, about an hour away from Sao Paulo. The bus ride there was breathtaking. We wound our way through the mountains, switchbacking on a road that overlooked a valley of lush rainforest. Our first glimpse at this Brasilian landscape has us excited to explore it more in the coming months. Paulo picked us up at the bus station in Santos which is a city of 450 thousand located on the southern coast of the country. Santos is known for its long history with the coffee trade and also for its 8km beach. It is also the largest port in Brasil. We are also staying with Paulo and he has been very hospitable not only in welcoming us into his home but also showing us around town and teaching us some portugese. Yesterday and today we woke up early to get to the beach in time for our first surf lessons! Paulo belongs to a surf school and they took good care of us. We were both able to stand up and catch some waves on both days, hang loose! We both liked it so much that we will be sure to rent boards at other beaches and hope we have the same kind of luck as we did here in Santos.

We will be leaving Santos in a couple days and moving up the coast towards Rio de Janeiro. On the way we will be making a couple stops at some favourite Brazilian beaches. Up next, we have our sights set on Parati.