Puerto Iguazu (Iguazu Falls), Argentina (16 February 2013)

Today, we fled Brazil.

Or at least, that’s what it felt like. Mostly because it was all done via public buses, and with minimal immigration checks.

Our hostel quoted us 40 Rs. (about $20 AUD) to transfer us and our luggage to the Argentinean side of the falls…

Yeah well, we did it for a grand total of 4 Rs ($2 AUD). Take that, fools. And we had a bit of an adventure too.

It was surprisingly very easy. First we took a random public bus from outside the central bus station that had a faded “Puerto Iguazu / Argentina” sign in the window, which dropped us off at Brazilian immigration on the border. As the bus wouldn’t wait for us to complete all the immigration procedures, the bus driver handed us a voucher before disembarking so we wouldn’t have to pay the fare again when we caught the next bus.

After getting our Brazil exit stamp, we hung around and twiddled our thumbs outside  for a bit before getting picked up by the next bus. This one then dropped us at the Argentinean immigration point on the other side of the bridge. Here they checked we had paid the immigration tax (done online the night before), stamped our passport (Hola Argentina!), and scanned our luggage almost as an afterthought. Boarding the bus again, we then ended up at the Puerto Iguazu bus terminal.

It was actually such a relief to finally be in a Spanish-speaking country. Although my Spanish was (and still is) pretty terrible, I immediately felt more confident in speaking what little I did know, rather than attempting the same-same-but-different language that is Portuguese.

After finding “lockers” for our luggage (a random room at the bus station manned by a woman who left everything unattended every so often), we jumped on a bus bound straight for the falls.

First we walked through a forest path to take the railway train bound for Argentina’s viewpoint of the Devil’s Throat. Here the falls were even more impressive – the water thundered down so loudly around you and threw up so much spray that you could barely see anything, or even hear what other people were saying. The sheer might and power of the falls on this side was so breathtaking. It was like a washing machine on steroids.

View of the Iguazu River on the way to the Devil's Throat

View of the Iguazu River on the way to the Devil’s Throat

First view of the Devil's Throat

First view of the Devil’s Throat

The Devil's Throat on the Argentinean side - so much more impressive than the Brazilian side!

The Devil’s Throat on the Argentinean side – so much more impressive than the Brazilian side!

More of the Devil's Throat

More of the Devil’s Throat

More coatis!

More coatis!

Next on our list of priorities was the Paseo Inferior (the Lower Path) where we got to walk above and below some of the smaller waterfalls. Like on the Brazilian side, we had some great panoramic views of the falls in their entirety. But the highlight was being able to get up close and personal to the thunderous Bossetti Fall and get drenched all over again.

Rainbow at the Alva Nunez Fall - one of the smaller waterfalls on the Lower Path

Rainbow at the Alva Nunez Fall – one of the smaller waterfalls on the Lower Path

View of the Iguazu River from the Alva Nunez Fall

View of the Iguazu River from the Alva Nunez Fall

Alva Nunez Fall

Alva Nunez Fall

Argentinean panoramic view of the Iguazu Falls

Argentinean panoramic view of the Iguazu Falls

Getting close to the Bossetti Fall

Getting close to the Bossetti Fall

Rainbow at the Bossetti Fall

Rainbow at the Bossetti Fall

View across the Iguazu River (to the Brazilian side) from the Bossetti Fall

View across the Iguazu River (to the Brazilian side) from the Bossetti Fall

Dos Hermanas falls (The Two Sisters waterfalls) - some of the smaller waterfalls on the Lower Path

Dos Hermanas falls (The Two Sisters waterfalls) – some of the smaller waterfalls on the Lower Path

So in summary, here are the reasons why we liked the Argentinean side of the Iguazu Falls better than the Brazilian side:

  • There were better and more exhilarating opportunities to get right up close to the falls;
  • The views of the falls were more dramatic and had much more of an impact;
  • You could walk around the park instead of having to wait for a shuttle bus (which you sometimes couldn’t get on because they were already full);
  • The boat rides into the falls were cheaper; and
  • You still had great panoramic views of the falls anyway.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do the Paseo Superior (the Upper Path) that takes you above the falls, as we had to catch our overnight bus to Buenos Aires (17 hours!).

Even so, we were waiting for the bus for ages. We were so sure that it was late and were both being rather condescending as to the punctuality of buses in South America… only to find out our watches were still on Brazil time (i.e. one hour later), as informed by the patient bus terminal attendant as we raved on to him about how late their bus was.

How embarrassing.

So yes, when you cross the river, you are also crossing into a different time zone. At least Argentina time is one hour earlier than Brazil time – if it had been the other way around we would have missed our bus completely!

And speaking of buses, check out how awesome our bus was:

Patrice posing for our Rio Uruguay cama bus photo... although unfortunately you can't quite see just how awesome it is from this photo

Patrice posing for our Rio Uruguay cama bus photo… although unfortunately you can’t quite see just how awesome it is from this photo

Never have I had such a comfortable overnight bus in my entire life. It felt like I was flying business class… except on the ground. The seats fully reclined like a proper bed (a true cama service) and came accompanied by blankets and pillows. We were served a fairly decent dinner at 10pm (we wondered why the bus attendant was laughing at us when we had our own food for dinner spread out on our portable tables at 8pm. We didn’t expect to be fed!), and we were constantly served drinks and snacks of shortbread and cakes. We even had the option to have a glass of champagne had we so desired!

For 750 Bs, it was well worth it. Hats off to you, Rio Uruguay (the bus company, FYI)!

Foz do Iguaҫu, Brazil (Iguazu Falls) (15 February 2013)

Today, we went to the waterfall party (Patrice even composed (in the loosest sense) a song about it): the famous Iguazu Falls.

Comprised of 275 waterfalls that separate the upper and lower Iguaҫu River, the Iguazu Falls are said to dwarf even the famous Niagara Falls, thundering down from a height of approximately 80m high. Straddling the border of Brazil and Argentina, we were recommended to visit the falls on both sides for the most comprehensive view – Brazil for the panoramic effect and Argentina for the up-close-and-personal experience. There are countless arguments, discussions and forums amongst travellers devoted to the question of which is the best side to see (particularly if you only have time to visit one) the Iguazu Falls.

And I can honestly say that, in my personal opinion, the Argentinean side kicks the Brazil side’s butt. But more on this later.

Although our overnight bus was late arriving at Foz do Iguaҫu, our hostel was just down the road from the central bus station. So after a quick freshen up, we pretty much jumped on a local bus (#120 for any interested parties) to Parque Nacional do Iguaҫu.

The park was incredibly huge so we were forced to get around by shuttle bus, getting off at the desired checkpoints. Our main priority was the Trilha das Cataratas (Waterfall Trail), a scenic 1km-or-so pathway with various waterfall lookout spots.

Panoramic view of the Iguazu Falls from the Waterfall Trail

Panoramic view of the Iguazu Falls from the Waterfall Trail

We didn’t even have to see the falls to know they were going to be amazing – already we could hear the roar of the water as it plunged down into the river below. The weather was a bit gloomy (actually it was drenching), but the rain didn’t detract in any way from the beauty of the falls. As we walked, we also kept running into these weird racoon-like creatures (called Coatis), which amused us intensely as they tried to get into everyone’s bags to find food as people posed for photos in front of the waterfalls.

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A Coati at the Iguazu Falls

A Coati at the Iguazu Falls

The trail eventually ended up at the Garganta do Diablo (the Devil’s Throat), which is often spoken of as being the most spectacular plunge of the Iguazu Falls. The spray was so forceful that I thought my contact lenses were going to wash out of my eyes! We were also thoroughly drenched in no time (Note to self for next time: as well as a rain jacket, wear a swimsuit and boardshorts, and bring a spare change of clothes in a plastic bag).

Garganta do Diablo (The Devil's Throat)

Garganta do Diablo (The Devil’s Throat)

Around the Devil's Throat

Around the Devil’s Throat

View of the falls from the Devil's Throat

View of the falls from the Devil’s Throat

One thing we were told not to miss was the boat trip along the Iguaҫu River to see the falls up close. And by that, I mean actually going into the falls. Although incredibly expensive for a not-very-long boat trip (we have since learned that it is so much cheaper to do it on the Argentinean side), it was definitely worth it. Our boat took us into the Tres Mosqueteros Falls, where we took a very exhilarating, if very forceful, shower. You couldn’t see anything through the dense spray. Amazing experience and highly recommended.

Up next: Argentina!

Florianόpolis / Santa Catarina Island, Brazil (11 – 14 February 2013)

Chaos – alarm didn’t go off at 5:45am like it was supposed to for our morning flight to Florianόpolis. (Take heed: do NOT buy stupid bastard $10 watches from Big W and rely on it! Ever!).

I don’t know how, but somehow, Patrice magically woke up at 7am and kicked us into gear. Driven by sheer panic, stuffing our crap into our bags and racing down the street for a cab literally took about five minutes. Thank god it was a domestic flight. Thank god the airport was only a five minute cab drive away.

Made the flight with a bit of time to spare (one of the few times I approve cab drivers taking a liberal approach towards red lights), and instead we revelled in the fact that we made it through Carnaval in Rio completely unscathed (… well, aside from that last alarm/flight mishap. But we made it, so whatever).

Three different buses from the airport later, we eventually passed through the city of Florianόpolis (fondly referred to as Floripa by the locals) and made it to Ilha de Santa Catarina (Santa Catarina Island) – home to beautiful and untouched beaches, lagoons, mountains and forests.

We stayed near the Lagoa da Conceiҫão – one of the two lagoons in the island. Our impressions of the place are as follows:

  • Every second person we talked to was a surfer. And went there specifically to surf for months on end
  • Hippie vibe – there was a definite smell of pot every few metres
  • The locals really like their Pink Floyd and other slow rock covers (but mostly Pink Floyd)
  • It was a great place to lie on a beach and do nothing else but that all day.

Yep, Ilha de Santa Catarina was the “recuperation place”. And I had no problem with that at all.

Lagoa da Conceiҫão

Lagoa da Conceiҫão

Accordingly, our time was pretty much spent in the following way:

  1. Slept
  2. Went to a beach
  3. Slept
  4. Went to another beach
  5. Slept.

So on, and so forth.

We took a bus to the small fishing village of Barra da Lagoa on the eastern side of the island. After walking past the sea of restaurants, umbrellas, tables, chairs and doof-doof music, we eventually reached the stretch of beautiful, pristine and practically deserted beach (Praia de Moҫambique) that went on for ages.

We took a bus to the small fishing village of Barra da Lagoa on the eastern side of the island. After walking past the sea of restaurants, umbrellas, tables, chairs and doof-doof music, we eventually reached the stretch of beautiful, pristine and practically deserted beach (Praia de Moҫambique) that went on for ages.

Praia de Moҫambique

Praia de Moҫambique

Praia de Moҫambique

Praia de Moҫambique

Don’t get me wrong – we had our active(ish) times too though. We had heard great things about this deserted and pristine beach (yes, more beaches are involved… but wait for it) called Lagoinha do Leste, which was either a one and a half hour hike (yes please!) or a 20 Rs. boat trip from a small beach town called Pântano do Sul in the southern part of the island.

Pântano do Sul

Pântano do Sul

Pântano do Sul

Pântano do Sul

Pântano do Sul

Pântano do Sul

Pântano do Sul

Pântano do Sul

So we rocked up in Pântano do Sul in boardies and flip flops, ready to begin our relaxing walk through the Municipal Parque de Lagoinha do Leste. The path wasn’t very well signposted so we had to stop at a small supermarket to ask for directions. The woman who gave us directions (in Portuguese, which we barely understood) kept gesturing at our shoes. Did she want to know where I got my havaianas from? Not sure what exactly she wanted, so we continued our search.

And what we found, was this:

Entrance to Municipal Parque de Lagoinha do Leste - the way to Lagoinha do Leste

Entrance to Municipal Parque de Lagoinha do Leste – the way to Lagoinha do Leste

What was supposed to be a relaxing walk (or at least, that’s what we thought) was actually a two hour trek up and down a narrow, muddy, slippery and slidey path through a very hot and humid rainforest. I had to slather myself with my 80% deet insect repellent (known to melt plastic… healthy) to avoid being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Major footwear fail.

Hiking trail to Lagoinha do Leste - a bit muddy and slippery!

Hiking trail to Lagoinha do Leste – a bit muddy and slippery!

But we managed in the end, by half swinging from trees and wobbling across muddy boulders in equally muddy flip flops. No broken bones or split skulls! Huzzah! We passed by a couple of other tourists (all in sneakers or hiking boots), and we embarrassedly hung our heads in shame. But eventually the track ended, and we found ourselves on a beautiful stretch of almost deserted beach. Definitely well worth the hike.

First view of Lagoinha do Leste from the hiking trail

First view of Lagoinha do Leste from the hiking trail

Lagoinha do Leste

Lagoinha do Leste

We decided to take the 20 Rs. boat back (we couldn’t bear even the mere thought of that muddy track again in our disgraceful footwear), and that option proved to be a relaxing half hour journey back. The rest of the night was spent bumming at the hostel, playing drinking games (or at least Patrice was) with the rest of the other backpackers staying at our hostel.

Activities on our last day were somewhat limited because we had an overnight bus booked from Florianόpolis. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do the Ilha do Campeche like we wanted to (it is supposed to be amazing), but instead took a 10 Rs. boat trip up the Lagoa da Conceiҫão, which left from the base of the bridge on the west side.

On the boat cruising up Lagoa da Conceiҫão

On the boat cruising up Lagoa da Conceiҫão

On the Lagoa da Conceiҫão

On the Lagoa da Conceiҫão

On the Lagoa da Conceiҫão

On the Lagoa da Conceiҫão

The 40 minute boat ride was relaxing and very scenic. From Post 16, we did the short hike up to the cachoeira (waterfall). The rocks were uber slippery, as I soon found out (twice). Nearly smashed my phone to pieces. Backside was pretty sore the following day.

Path to the waterfalls

Path to the waterfalls

Patrice taking a quick half-dip. Birthplace of the "waterfall party song"

Patrice taking a quick half-dip. Birthplace of the “waterfall party song”

Waterfall!

Waterfall!

Our day ended with settling down on a 12 hour overnight bus trip to Foz do Iguaҫu (Iguazu Falls). It was on this bus that we found the rumours about buses in Brazil (and Argentina) to be very, very true – it was super comfortable. Wide reclining seats, lots of leg room, a blanket and pillow each… the word “plush” comes to mind. Thoroughly recommend going by bus if you’re ever in South America! Or at least, if you’re in either Brazil or Argentina.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Pt. 3 (9-10 February 2013)

After picking up our tickets to the Samba parade on Sunday (excitement!), we headed to another of Rio’s famous beaches – Copacabana. Perfect beach weather awaited us – blue skies, sun, and very, very hot. Extremely rough waves though. Almost got bowled over a couple of times.

Water pipes spraying cool water onto the hot sand at Copacabana beach so that people could walk on it without burning their feet. Not the best form of water conservation, but it's a nifty idea!

Water pipes spraying cool water onto the hot sand at Copacabana beach so that people could walk on it without burning their feet. Not the best form of water conservation, but it’s a nifty idea!

Copacabana beach

Copacabana beach

Just in case it wasn't clear where we were... (we stole a sign from some Japanese tourists. Because we liked it)

Just in case it wasn’t clear where we were… (we stole a sign from some Japanese tourists. Because we liked it)

We had heard that there was supposed to be a really good bloco going on in the Lapa district that afternoon called Bloco do Carioca da Gema. We had organised to meet up with Ze (our Sao Paulo couchsurfer friend who had come to Rio for Carnaval as well) and his friend Iris to tackle it all together.

So. Many. People.

I have literally never seen so many people partying on the streets at once. It was practically impossible to move. Good thing we didn’t take our bags (I had my money strung around my neck and inside my top) because you could almost guarantee that pickpockets would be working that scene.

There was a float with a DJ on it that moved through the streets, pumping out samba music as crowds of people followed along behind, dancing and drinking in its wake. It was lots of fun, and our first taste of a real, full-on Carnaval street party.

Again, the men were incredibly persistent. I don’t think I will ever cease to be astounded by it. They would just grab you and not let go. All too often, us girls were forced to twist away in some kind of creative manoeuver to escape. The experience made me wish that I was male. I think it would have made Carnaval so much easier.

10 February 2013… and unfortunately, our last day in Rio. Sadface. But I had been looking forward to this day for so long: SAMBA PARADE!

After spending the day at Ipanema beach with Ze and Iris, we dressed to the nines (or at least as much as the limited space in our backpack would allow) in our Carnaval regalia of masks, hats and leis and headed out to the Sambadrome (or Sambόdromo in Portuguese) – the 700m stretch of road that has been permanently converted into a parade ground, with bleachers for the numerous spectators lining its entire length. Almost like an elongated football stadium of sorts.

Ipanema beach

Ipanema beach

Random parade along the street next to Ipanema beach

Random parade along the street next to Ipanema beach

Ipanema beach

Ipanema beach

Took me ages to find lunch at Ipanema beach. I think there was some kind of bloco going on and the queues out of all the snack joints were ridiculous. Found a market instead... only to line up to get a token to get served in a different line. D'oh!

Took me ages to find lunch at Ipanema beach. I think there was some kind of bloco going on and the queues out of all the snack joints were ridiculous. Found a market instead… only to line up to get a token to get served in a different line. D’oh!

FINALLY! Lunch time!

FINALLY! Lunch time!

Ze, me and Patrice enjoying our acai and granola on Ipanema beach

Ze, me and Patrice enjoying our acai and granola on Ipanema beach

Got caught in the throng that was the Lapa bloco. There were so many people that they closed the nearest metro station. It took us two hours (instead of 20 minutes) to get back to the hostel!

Got caught in the throng that was the Lapa bloco. There were so many people that they closed the nearest metro station. It took us two hours (instead of 20 minutes) to get back to the hostel!

Starting at 9pm and ending at 4am, the Samba Parade was the parade to end all parades. Picture a parade that you have been to, put it on steroids, and times it by ten. That’s how it was. Each samba school performed for one hour (and so each had multiple, enormous, jaw-dropping floats).

Ready for the Samba Parade!

Ready for the Samba Parade!

The two Dutch girls we were sharing a dorm with in their Carnaval outfits

The two Dutch girls we were sharing a dorm with in their Carnaval outfits

Words can’t even begin to describe it. So I’m not even going to bother. Check out some of the photos from that night below to get a taste of what it was like.

In short, the perfect end to our Rio Carnaval experience.

Getting ready with costumes for the Samba parade outside the Sambadrome

Getting ready with costumes for the Samba parade outside the Sambadrome

Performers and floats outside the Sambadrome

Performers and floats outside the Sambadrome

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Pt. 2 (8 February 2013)

After our late night the day before, Friday morning was a bit of a write-off. But no matter – off for a tour of the favelas at 2pm.

Favelas are Brazilian shanty towns that are generally set up around the outskirts of urban areas. Initially, they were the areas where the African slaves (who had no land ownership or work) ended up living after they were freed. Later, the favelas eventually filled with the poorer citizens that were forced to move away from the city, as well as with people that flocked to the city from rural areas. Today there are close to 950 favelas in Rio, which account for about 20 percent of the city’s population.

The favelas are also notorious for being controlled by gangs and for violence, drugs and crime. However, the favelas that we visited as part of the tour were quite safe, having since been cleaned up by the government (although only about 30 in total have been cleaned up).

We first visited Rocinha, which is the largest favela in Rio. The name apparently means “vegetable garden”, named after the rainforests that used to surround the area which provided good foraging opportunities. Although it is supposed to be rather safe now, you couldn’t quite forget its violent gang-controlled past (fairly recent at one and a half years ago!) when confronted with the sight of heavily armed policemen at every corner.

Rooftop view of the Rocinha favela

Rooftop view of the Rocinha favela

Rooftop view of the Rocinha favela

Rooftop view of the Rocinha favela

Streets of the Rocinha favela

Streets of the Rocinha favela

Our next stop was a visit to one of the schools in the favelas. This school provides extra classes to the favela kids in addition to their regular school classes. The idea is to give the kids from the favelas a chance to compete for the limited – and thus highly competitive – spots at the universities, which are free. The school generally gets about five kids from the favelas into university per year. It isn’t much, but at least it’s something.

The last stop was a favela called Vila Canoas. This time we actually got to walk through the twisting alleyways with their small but colourful buildings and narrow passages. It reminded me a little bit of the slums in Mumbai, but much, much cleaner, hygienic and spacious (which is saying something). A caipirinha  (for $2.50 AUD!) finished off the tour, which was so strong that I was a little tipsy by the time the van dropped us off.

Inside the alleys of the Vila Canoas favela

Inside the alleys of the Vila Canoas favela

Inside the alleys of the Vila Canoas favela

Inside the alleys of the Vila Canoas favela

To catch the sunset, we took a bus to Pao de Aҫucar (translation: “sugarloaf”), which is Rio tallest mountain at 396m. We took cable cars up to the top, where we experienced a stunning panoramic view of the city below. You could also see a bright white speck on the horizon, which was the illuminated statue of Jesus.

Cable car to the top of Pao de Acucar

Cable car to the top of Pao de Acucar

View of Rio from atop Pao de Acucar at sunset

View of Rio from atop Pao de Acucar at sunset

View of Rio from atop Pao de Acucar at sunset

View of Rio from atop Pao de Acucar at sunset

View of Rio from atop Pao de Acucar at sunset

View of Rio from atop Pao de Acucar at sunset

Afterwards, we continued on to a place called Bar Urca for dinner by the beach, which was a recommendation by our favela tour guide.

Dinner entree at Bar Urca: pastel camarao (fried pastries with prawns)

Dinner entree at Bar Urca: pastel camarao (fried pastries with prawns)

Dinner at Bar Urca:  bobo camarao (the yellow dish with prawns that was like a curry except not) and farofa brasileiro (some kind of polenta with egg and ham)

Dinner at Bar Urca: bobo camarao (the yellow dish with prawns that was like a curry except not) and farofa brasileiro (some kind of polenta with egg and ham)

That night, we headed out to the Lapa district to check out a samba club called Rio Scenarium (also one of our tour guide’s recommendations). The cover charge was rather expensive (about $30 AUD), but worth every penny. The interior was jaw-dropping – three massive floors with some of the most unique décor I’ve ever come across. Paintings, musical instruments, clocks, cars, masks, jewellery and heaps more odds and ends adorned the walls and littered the room… it reminded me strongly of a museum crossed with an antique shop on steroids. Extremely opulent. There was a “nightclub” area, which played mainly pop music, but we much preferred the room with the catchy 12-person samba band, which soon had us attempting to mimic the fast-paced samba dancing favoured by the Brazilians. Not sure if we pulled it off (although Patrice was pretty good), but we definitely had fun trying.

The outside of Rio Scenarium

The outside of Rio Scenarium

Inside Rio Scenarium

Inside Rio Scenarium

Inside Rio Scenarium

Inside Rio Scenarium

Some of the unique decor inside Rio Scenarium

Some of the unique decor inside Rio Scenarium

Some of the unique decor inside Rio Scenarium

Some of the unique decor inside Rio Scenarium

12 person samba band inside Rio Scenarium

12 person samba band inside Rio Scenarium

The club was also great for people-watching. Everyone was dressed in sparkly cocktail dresses and colourful Carnaval regalia of masks, hats and flowers. One girl also kept us pretty entertained with her “soap opera” antics. All I’ll say is that her boyfriend (or who we assumed to be her boyfriend) didn’t look too impressed by the end!

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil Pt. 1 (6-7 February 2013)

Getting up at 5:15am was a challenge, but somehow we managed to roll out of bed and navigate the metro and bus system to make it in time for our flight to Rio de Janeiro.

Known as Cidade Marvilhosa (the Marvelous City), Rio was once the capital of the Portuguese colony of Brazil before it was officially moved to Brasilia. Beautiful and picturesque, sounded by sea, mountains and islands, Rio is now primarily known for its famous beaches (Copacabana and Ipanema), its crazy party-until-you-die nightlife, as well as the larger-than-life Carnaval festivities.

FYI, Carnaval is the world famous festival held before Lent each year, with Rio’s festivities being considered the biggest and most famous in the world (apparently two million people party on the streets each day during the festival). Aside from the multiple blocos (street parties) going on all week, a big part of Carnaval is the Samba Parade, where all the different samba schools compete against one another by having the best floats, costumes, lyrics aesthetics and best music from their drumming band (bateria). This parade is the climax of the entire Carnaval.

Can’t. Wait.

We began our stay in Rio with a walk through the neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, which was close to our hostel. Here were pretty and rather bohemian cobblestone streets, lined with beautiful and colourful colonial-style mansions. Some were charmingly crumbling and others were pristine, but all were set amid lush greenery and flowers.

A house in Santa Teresa

A house in Santa Teresa

A workshop of some kind on Santa Teresa Terrace that makes "sculptures" out of scrap pieces

A workshop of some kind on Santa Teresa Terrace that makes “sculptures” out of scrap pieces

The streets of Santa Teresa

The streets of Santa Teresa

Houses lining the streets of Santa Teresa

Houses lining the streets of Santa Teresa

The streets of Santa Teresa

The streets of Santa Teresa

For lunch we found this tiny little local restaurant with a handful of menu items on offer and a beautiful terrace with a view overlooking the city towards the ocean. We tried some of the local dishes and shared a refreshing coco de agua (coconut water).

View of Rio from the restaurant terrace in Santa Teresa

View of Rio from the restaurant terrace in Santa Teresa

Our lunch at the restaurant: Linguica calabresa (pork sausage) with rice and vegetables

Our lunch at the restaurant: Linguica calabresa (pork sausage) with rice and vegetables

Continuing to walk through Santa Teresa, we found ourselves at the top of the Escadaria do Selarion  – 215 steps from Santa Teresa to Lapa that are paved with over 2000 colourful tiles depicting different scenes and pictures in a mosaic-like arrangement.

Me sitting in the middle of the Escadaria do Selarion

Me sitting in the middle of the Escadaria do Selarion

Escadaria do Selarion

Escadaria do Selarion

At the beginning of the Escadaria do Selarion

At the beginning of the Escadaria do Selarion

That night was to be a relatively chilled night compared with the rest of our time in Rio. We walked randomly through Lapa until we chanced upon a bar playing live samba music. Here we sipped caipivodkas (caipirinhas made with vodka rather than cachaҫa) and beer as we listened to the live music. Unfortunately they were nowhere near as good as the samba band in Sao Paulo, but (unfortunately?) O do Borogodo had set our expectations relatively high!

Thursday was Jesus day. After checking out a local fruit and veg market, we jumped on the 422 bus to Cosme Velho where we then took the 20min electric railway train up Corcovado Hill (the tallest mountain in Rio) to see the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue. The statue was built to commemorate the centenary of Brazil’s independence. It stands at 700m tall (apparently about as tall as a 13 storey building) with wide open arms to bless the city below. So yes, Jesus was huge. Larger than life, you might say. Unfortunately the weather was very cloudy so we didn’t get a good view of the city, but the statue was enormous and well worth the visit.

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Fruit and veg market

Coconut cakes at the fruit and veg market

Coconut cakes at the fruit and veg market

Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue

Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue

The last part of our afternoon was spent at Praia de Ipanema (Ipanema Beach) – one of the two famous beaches in Rio. It was night to chill on the sand despite the weather (we could see lightning flash across the ocean in the distance!).

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach

Afterwards we decided to check out a famous boteco (neighbourhood bar) in Leblon, with was the next suburb over. Tiny but popular, Jobi has apparently been a “Rio institution for over 50 years” according to our guidebook – so surely they must be doing something right! And the food was definitely amazing – the picanha (beef steak) that I had was cooked to perfection. But we made the mistake of ordering a dish each, not realising that each dish was for two people. Oops. Suffice to say, this meal was a bit of a splurge – in both money and amount. So very worth it though.

Inside Jobi - a popular boteco in Rio

Inside Jobi – a popular boteco in Rio

Picanha (beef steak) with batatas fritas (fried potatos) and arroz (rice)

Picanha (beef steak) with batatas fritas (fried potatos) and arroz (rice)

After a quick shower and snooze back at the hostel, we left at the decent hour of 1:30am to check out a nightclub in Leblon called Melt. Upstairs was a live band playing a mixture of pop, reggae and samba music. It was so packed that you could barely move.

It was there at Melt that we received our first lessons in Brazilian “social etiquette”. Given our experience, I feel that these can now be summed up in the following way:

  1. There is no such thing as personal space. Get used to it being invaded
  2. If you are female and waiting in line for entry to a club, you are considered as a “means to an end” for males – they will ask if you can be together so you call all get into the club  (they will be more likely to get in if they are with girls). At this stage of the game, you as the female have bargaining power. Consider how many drinks this is worth to you and see if you can capitalise
  3. If you are male and waiting in line for a club, you must find a “club entry line girlfriend” to ease your passage into the club to avoid being denied entry
  4. Yes means yes, and no also means yes
  5. If you are female – single or not – and breathing, you are fair game
  6. Kissing female strangers on the cheek as you pass by is okay
  7. It is perfectly fine to just start provocatively grinding against a random stranger on the dance floor. If you refuse to do so, you will be considered rude, unfriendly and will be asked “why don’t you like Brazilian people?”. Finally you will be labeled as a racist
  8. Learn how to dance like a Brazilian first, otherwise you will probably get a rather touchy-gropey lesson on how to do so
  9. Making out is apparently how Brazilians “say hello” (as one fellow Carnaval reveller later told me. This appears consistent with my experience)
  10. Public Displays of Affection are not only common, but practically expected (this applies to general everyday life, rather than being limited to the nightclub scene).

So yes, that pretty much sums up what we experienced that night. Although the male attention was flattering, it very quickly grew tiresome. I actually felt like a bit of a prude in comparison. What an eye-opener. But despite all of this, the music was great and we danced up a storm, finally stumbling home at about 5:30am.

Sao Paulo, Brazil Pt. 2 (4-5 February 2013)

As we quickly found out, foreigners that want to get Brazilian sim cards for their phones will be disappointed. We were told over and over again that we need a CPF number – something only Brazilian residents have. Like a social security number or something. Fail. I’d forgotten how much not having a working, calling, texting phone sucks.

Leaving that problem aside for now, we joined the free walking tour that leaves every day from Placa de Republica, one of Sao Paulo’s main city squares. For about three hours, we learned lots of cool stuff about the city and passed by some of the famous landmark buildings. The Circolo Italiano (the Italy building) has 41 floors, the rooftop terrace of which is open each weekday from 3-4pm for free with spectacular 360 degree panoramic views of the sprawling metropolis.

Circolo Italiano (the Italy building)

Circolo Italiano (the Italy building)

View from the rooftop terrace of the Circolo Italiano

View from the rooftop terrace of the Circolo Italiano

Next to it is the Copan building – a massive apartment complex uniquely built in the shape of a flag. Apparently residents have set up their own businesses inside, making it almost like a city within a city. Strictly not the most legal of situations, but Brazil tends to tolerate / turn a blind eye towards such things.

The Copan building

The Copan building

Skyscrapers and more commercial buildings then dominated the tour. Although, Sao Paulo was like a different place – there were so many people around! Where on earth did they come from?! The vibe of the city changed too – I definitely felt a lot safer walking around. Although apparently pickpockets work the busy city squares. No incidents here though for us.

Teatro Municipal (Municipal Theatre)

Teatro Municipal (Municipal Theatre)

Busy streets of Sao Paulo

Busy streets of Sao Paulo

After the walking tour, we walked through more hawker-style market streets to find the Mercado Municipal (the Municipal Market). Housed in a beautiful neoclassical building, the different stalls inside had beautiful displays of fruit, cured meats, cheeses, olives and other yummy goodies. There were also small restaurants and cafes selling sandwiches and other local delicacies, which we decided to stop at for a late lunch.

Mercado Municipal

Mercado Municipal

Fruit stalls at the Mercado Municipal

Fruit stalls at the Mercado Municipal

Inside the Mercado Municipal

Inside the Mercado Municipal

Stall inside the Mercado Municipal

Stall inside the Mercado Municipal

Pastel bacaulao (fried pastry filled with salted codfish)

Pastel bacaulao (fried pastry filled with salted codfish)

Apparently the mortadella sandwich (with cheese and sun dried tomatoes) is a Brazilian delicacy, which is in effect a heart attack on a plate. Too much meat. Couldn’t finish.

Apparently the mortadella sandwich (with cheese and sun dried tomatoes) is a Brazilian delicacy, which is in effect a heart attack on a plate. Too much meat. Couldn’t finish.

If you’re ever in Sao Paulo (or really Brazil in general) you must go to one of the Sucos bars – hole-in-the-wall juice bars that serve refreshing fruit juices (sucos de fruitas) of all different flavours, and for as cheap as $0.70 AUD. Some of our favourites include maracuja (passionfruit), abacaxi (pineapple), aҫai (an Amazonian berry – more on this later), and manga (mango).

Suco (Juice) bar in Sao Bento near the Mercado Municipal

Suco (Juice) bar in Sao Bento near the Mercado Municipal

That night, we met up with a guy that we got in contact with via couchsurfers. He was originally from Portugal but had been working in Sao Paulo for a while as a civil engineer. We went out to a bar in Vila Magdalena called the Mercearia São Pedro.  The bar had (Brazilian? Spanish?) movie posters hanging from the walls, and even a bookshop out the back. Waiters wandered around serving traditional pastels (fried pastry filled with meat, vegetables or fish). We had our first taste of Brazilian beer (Serramalte – recommended!).

Our friend also ended up giving us his CPF number so we could get sim cards. Problem solved! Apparently you just need to have a Brazilian friend/relative/acquaintance to give you their CPF number so you can get a telephone number. The same goes for booking bus tickets etc online using your credit card, which is annoying as we later found out.

On Tuesday morning, we paid a visit to the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (the Museum of Art of Sao Paulo), which houses Sao Paulo’s largest collection of Western art. Lots of European impressionist paintings here, and there was a temporary exhibit showcasing one of Vermeer’s famous paintings – Girl in Blue Reading a Letter.

Afterwards we walked around the wealthy and upscale (read: expensive!) neighbourhood of Jardim Paulista. Most expensive sandwich ever. Well, it was only around $6 AUD, but that’s fairly pricey here.

One of the things I’ve become obsessed with here is the Tigela de aҫai (a bowl of aҫai (pronounced “ass-sai-ee”) sorbet, which is a purple Amazonian berry/fruit). It’s especially good con granola (with toasted muesli). Make sure to try it with strawberries or bananas. I wish they had this at home! The best one we had was in Jardim Paulista at this sucos bar called Suco Begaҫao.

Tigela de aҫai  con granola e morango from Suco Begaҫao

Tigela de aҫai con granola e morango from Suco Begaҫao

For our last night in Sao Paulo, we decided to check out this samba bar/nightclub called O do Borogodo (try saying that five times fast! Or even just once). Quite a few people had recommended it to us. And, luckily, it wasn’t that far from our hostel.

Grabbing dinner first at the Galinheiro Grill (where we randomly pointed to Portuguese words and hoped we got something edible), we found O do Borogodo in the same street the bloco we attended the other day. The bar was small and simple inside, with crumbling brick walls and dim lighting. It was cosy. And with a caipirinha in hand, we then settled down to listen to the live music.

Dinner: arroz (rice), feijão (beans), polenta frita con queijo (fried polenta with cheese), Bolinha de Mandioca e ervas finas (fried balls of spinach and ricotta cheese)

Dinner: arroz (rice), feijão (beans), polenta frita con queijo (fried polenta with cheese), Bolinha de Mandioca e ervas finas (fried balls of spinach and ricotta cheese)

The samba band was incredible. In particular, the lead guitarist seemed to have been blessed with magic fingers. The music seemed technically challenging, but they just made it look so easy. It felt like they were just jamming together ad lib, rather than putting on a rehearsed performance. They were clearly having a ball. About halfway through, a female singer joined in and soon everyone in the room – from people our age to those well over 50 – did too. O do Borogodo still remains one of the highlights from our trip so far.

The samba band at O do Borogodo

The samba band at O do Borogodo

Unfortunately we had to leave early because we had an early flight. Disappointing, but not so much – next stop: Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval!