Whirlwind visit to Rio

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Arrrgghh, another loooong bus ride! We arrived in Rio from Foz do Iguašu at about 11am on Sunday morning 19 February, after 23 hours' straight travelling. Well, this overnight bus journey was one of the better ones we┤d had. There were only about 10 people on board, and 8 of us were Gringo backpackers, so we even got to watch a movie in English!

Our first stop in Rio was the airport. Sounds weird, I know, but the plan was to try and move our flight to Venezuela (via Santiago, Chile) forward, so that we could leave in two days┤ time. We hadn┤t booked any accommodation in Rio for the Carnival period - a real problem as everything gets VERY expensive and fully booked. So we preferred to escape sooner rather than later.

As it turned out, all the flights to Santiago were fully booked for the next week, so we could not move our departure - we had to stick with our original departure date of Sunday the 26th. Oh well, Plan B was to head up the Bahia coast for a few days. So we decided to spend a night and the next day in Rio, to explore this "cidade maravilhosa" (gorgeous city).

We made an accommodation reservation at the airport (US$ 60 for a nice but simple pousada in Copacabana that usually costs US$ 20) and down to Copacabana by bus. The city unfolded as we drove through it... long and narrow, wedged between green hills and the sea, fringed by white beaches. The streets are clean and modern, with plenty of sophisticated shops and equally sophisticated residents pounding the pavements. It reminded us instantly of our home city, Cape Town.

After dumping our bags at our pousada (two blocks from the beach) and flinging on our swim suits, we headed down to the world┤s most famous beach... Copacabana. Along with its neighbour Ipanema, it┤s been immortalised in a song and is synonymous with glamour and beautiful bodies.

And we could see why. Immaculately bronzed women in the most miniscule bikinis lounge on deck-chairs at the beach-bars while muscled hunks pace the beach or play volleyball. The white sands of Copacabana stretch for about 4km, but every inch of it was packed. At the far end we could see the temporary stage where the Rolling Stones had performed just the night before.

We took a dip in the sea (the ocean here is great for bathing - perfect temperature, gets deep fast, though Ipanema is much cleaner than Copacabana); then strolled in the direction of Ipanema. At the far end of the beach we could hear booming music, and when we arrived there, we discovered a band and parade... one of the many Carnival rehearsals taking place around the city at this time.

Soon the band struck up and immediately the onlookers and supporters started dancing wildly... we couldn┤t help but get caught up in the festive vibe and before long we were swigging a beer and boogying away too. Great to get a taste of Carnival action, as we won┤t be around for the real thing. Just before sunset, we finally made it to Ipanema - another long, white crescent of sand covered in bronzed bodies and surrounded by expensive-looking, high-rise apartment blocks.

On Monday morning, we set off to go and explore Rio┤s most celebrated landmark - the Sugarloaf, or PŃo de Aš˙car, a green hill topped by an unusually shaped granite dome. Rather than take the cable car from the very bottom, we decided to walk to the half-way station. It┤s a lovely hour-long, shaded hike that took us along a cute little beach called Praia Vermelha, and then up through tropical forest.

From Morra da Urca, the half-way mark, the cable car up the Sugarloaf takes only three minutes, and the tickets cost about US$10! But it┤s all worthwhile: the views of the city - fringed by green hills and white, crescent-shaped beaches - are spectacular. I have to say, this might be the most beautiful city I┤ve ever seen (and that┤s coming from a proud Capetonian!).

In the afternoon we headed back to Ipanema, for another frolic in its perfect swimming waters and another look at body-conscious Cariocas (as the locals call themselves) parading in skimpy beachwear. And then it was back to work... yes, another marathon overnight bus ride, this time to Porto Seguro on the Bahia coast.
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