Trip Start Jan 18, 2008
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Saturday, June 28, 2008

Brazil occupies almost half of the land mass of South America, and you get an better understanding of the size of the country when you fly over it. Our flight from Foz de Iguzu to Rio was a short hop in comparison with the rest of the country, but it was still longer then many flights from London to central Europe. We flow over the jungles of Brazil, and it was quite sad to witness the extent of the destruction of the rainforest down below. Finally we were flying over the Atlantic Coast, this was our third and last great ocean along our trip. Finally we approached the sprawling city of Rio de Janerio!
Landing into Brazil, the country has a very different feel to the other South American countries. Its a melting pot of European and African culture. The language is different to the Spanish of the rest of the continent, with Portuguese being the official language. Although you hear so much about the poverty in Rio, the Brazilian economy is actually the worlds 8th largest!!
To understand the city and the country with its unique culture, you need to understand a little bit of the history. In January 1502 the Portuguese explorers arrived at the Bay of Guanabara. Thinking it was the mouth to a great river they called the place Rio de Janerio, meaning January River. Actually there is no river, but bordered by stunning rock formations with Sugar Loaf mountain being the most famous, long golden beaches, and the natural harbour of the bay, the city quickly became the country's main city, acting as a port shipping the bounties back to Lisbon. From 1550 up to as late as 1888 3.5 million African slaves arrived into the country, to work on the plantations and take over the roles of the local indigenous peoples. In fact about 40% of all the slaves arriving into the new world arrived and worked in Brazil. This has given the country its unique blend of European and African culture, with Samba and football being the backbone of society.
When Napoleon invaded Lisbon in 1807, the prince regent had to retreat to Rio. He then stayed on after Napoleon left the capital in 1815. As king of the empire in 1816, he declared that Rio become the capital of the United Kingdom of Brazil and Portugal. It was the only New World city to be the capital of a European state.
Known as the Cidade Maravilhosa, the marvellous city, it is one of the worlds most stunning cities.  With its sweeping golden beaches, the stunning bay of Guanabara, the backdrop of lush rainforest and the scattering of steep rock formations around the city, the most famous being Sugar Loaf Mountain, added to this the unique culture and history of the city and its peoples, its one of the most vibrant and beautiful places either of us have ever visited. From the 1920 to the 1950 Rio had its golden age, with European and American elite visiting it as the exotic destination of choice. Then the city started to decline, and the capital moved to Brasilia in 1960. Many millions of poor came to the city in search of work, and soon many shanty towns known as Favelas began to grow around the city, bringing with them problems of crime and danger.  
We arrived into our hotel at the north end of Copacabana beach, in an area called Leme. This is one of the worlds most famous beaches, and we could see why! It is a hub of city life.
On our first night, we decided to explore the cities nightlife. One of the nicest area for restaurants and bars is Ipenema, and headed there for dinner and drinks. The Caricos (as the locals are known) start very late, with most not venturing out until after midnight!! Having had one too many legendary nights out at Guanabara bar in London, it was great to be sipping Caprinas with the locals on the streets of Ipenima.
The next day was a Sunday, so we decided to take the long walk along Copacabana beach to Ipenima Beach. On Sundays the main road off the beach gets closed off to traffic, and it is filled with locals going about their day along the beach. There was even a marathon on when we were there, these poor athletes running in the sun! Walking along you really can appreciate how ingrained beach life is to Caricos. They live their life on the beach, with large groups of friends playing games or relaxing on the beach or having drinks along the beach shacks watching the passers by! There is an amazing amount of games going on on the beach, there is beach volleyball, which was invented here! Then there is football....the locals live and breath it! The other cool game is called footvolley! This was a game invented when football was banned on the beach in the 60's, so the locals adopted the game of volleyball but not using your hands, instead the team keeps the ball up by using their head, chest and feet!...Looks amazingly difficult and you need to be highly skilled to play, yet these games are everywhere on the beach! No wonder they have won the worldcup so many times! We finally arrived at Ipenema beach, hope to the tanned and glamorous....and the masses!! As it was a Sunday the beach was busy. The beach itself is narrower than Copacabana, so feels more cramped! Out on the beach you see it all!! The dental floss bikinis....and often worn by the larger ladies. Then you have the budgie smugglers!...Tof... I am sure they must have seen the infamous stag do video!! You have set a trend spreading fast in these parts of the world!
That evening, I had convinced Marie we needed to experience more of the Brazilian culture, and booked us two seats at the Maracana Stadium to watch two local teams Botafago and Flumenese battle it out. The stadium was built for the world cup in 1950 and at the time was the largest stadium in the world! The stadium got into football history after the incredible final that year, when Uruguay surprisingly beat Brazil in front of the 200,000 fans (both legal and illegal spectators). This figure represents the largest crowd ever to attend a football match in history. After the game, desperation ruled all over the country and several people even committed suicide! Our game was far more subdued and less crowded. It was a league game, and Flumenese were in the final of the Copa Libertadores (The South American version of the Champions League) in a few days so they were resting most of their players. Even with this, Botafago didn't manage to get into the game, and it ended 0-0!! I have to say the quality of the football, especially by the Champions League finalists was not as good as I had expected, and certainly not reflective of the national team. It was still great to go to this historic stadium, and the passionate fans made up for the poor game. I had promised a better game next time she watches a footy will be United at Old Trafford!! (Flumenese actually lost the finals to the team from Quito in Eqiudor. We could hear the cheering and the booing from all the bars on the night of the game a few days later). 
The next day we relaxed on the stretch of beach just outside our hotel on Copacabana. The place was deserted compared to Sunday, so it was quite nice to have it almost to ourselves. After a relaxed morning, we took the bus into the centre of town, just to check it out. The bus was quite interesting, it has a turnstyle type barrier, so you cant get on unless you pay! The centre was different to what we expected. The nice streets of Copacabana and Ipenema are very different to the streets in the centre. We didn't even get out of the bus, thinking it was not the centre, but eventually got off at the main bus terminal....and it was full of dodgy characters...this is the side of Rio most tourists don't see. We decided to head back towards the nicer part of the centre by foot, the busses were far too complicated!! We passed shopping streets, and eventually found the English bookshop we were looking for. We had 11 days in the beaches of Los Roques in a few days, so needed to stock up! We took a bus back to Copacabana, but unfortunately got dropped off at the centre of the beach, but the long walk back along the promenade at night was equally nice, not as dodgy as we had thought, with many locals still having coconuts at the beach juice shacks, and relaxing. Copacabana has a reputation of being a dodgy place at night, but I think it must be the streets further in, because the streets along the beach seemed safer than many parts of London!
The following day, we spent sorting out things on the internet and phone calls back home to catch up with people. As we are not on a prearranged tour of South America, we needed to sort out hotels at the next places, and arrange transport etc, plus start to think of things back home, not long left before we head back!! These months now seem to have flown far too quickly!!Marie was hoping to get on a course for Interior Design in September, so she was sorting out stuff for that and calling them to arrange an interview. It was lucky for us because the weather was dodgy that day, with tropical rain!!!
We then headed to the main tourist spot in Rio, and now officially voted in as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Perched 2343feet above sea level, on the Cocovado Mountain is the 100ft tall statue of Christ the Redeemer, known locally as Cristo Redentor. From the moment we got our cab into town from the airport, you can get glimpses of the statue overlooking the city from almost all neighbourhoods. It was built between 1926 and 1931, and not is the icon of the city, and one of the worlds most iconic images. We got up these on a cog railway which steeply winds its way up the mountain, and you pass through an urban rainforest as you get to it. Once near the top, you can get spectacular views of the city down below. The statue is an awe inspiring sight, its open arms watching over the city far below. You get a very good perspective of the city from up here, and you can see just how engrained beaches are to the city. Bay after bay of golden beaches line the edge of the city. We could even see our hotel from up here. After an amazing morning, we headed back to Ipenema beach to hit the beach. We watched an amazing sunset sitting on the end of the beach watching the locals hit the waves surfing.
Our last day in Rio, we decided to head for a bit of culture at the Contemporary Art Museum, housed in a very futuristic building, designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. The building is in one of the outer suburbs of Rio in an area called Neteroi, which we reached by ferry crossing the bay of Guanabara. Unfortunately for us the day was hazy, on a good clear day (quite rare in Rio) you get fantastic views of the main city centre, Sugar Loaf mountain and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipenema from Neteroi. We just got a hazy outline!! The building itself resembles a spaceship, and looks fantastic perched on a small peninsula jutting out to sea. Access to the galleries is via a sweeping bridge, and it really feels like you are about to enter a spaceship! The building was designed in 1991 and completed by 1996. We were expecting to see some crazy stuff, to the likes of the art displayed at the Tate modern back home....however we were very disappointed. The fantastic building houses some very dodgy works, most of which resembles wrapping paper!!
We headed back into town to do some shopping in the nicer shopping area of Botafago, before heading to an enchanting area of town called Santa Teresa. This neighbourhood developed when the middle classes of Rio headed out of town to avoid the congestion of the industrial city, and settled on the side of the hill with its clean air. The cab journey was amazing, taking on some hairpin turns at a very steep angle over cobbled streets. There is a tram which also gets you there, but its very dodgy. After dinner we headed to an area called Leblon, which has the best samba bars. The one we went was quite strange in that you don't pay to get it, but you pay to leave!!!! Crazy Brazilians!! The place was cool, with live Samba and the locals all giving it some! I made up my own version of Samba, which was interesting to say the least!! It was a great way to finish our time in Rio! The music optimises their culture, the fusion of Latin and African traditions. We loved Rio, it definitely lived up to its billing, it was certainly less dodgy than we had expected.  We will miss the laid back lifestyle, the beaches, the football, and samba stitching it all together! It's on our list as a place to return to sometime in the future!
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