29.08.2006 34 °C
Thursday 24 - Tuesday 29 August
The flight from Salvador to Rio was terrific; comfy, great views from the plane's windows and above all, quick. Arriving in darkness in the downtown suburb of Botafago, we were pleased to see that after the basic digs of rural Brazil, our hostel here was equipped with a bar, pool table and internet access. We soon settled in.
By now the norm in our travels, we spent the first full day just exploring our surroundings; just being in Rio is pretty mindblowing, the city has a life of its own - it's hard to put the general "sunshinyness" of the place into words.
Despite the proximity of the beach, we instead headed to a nearby shopping mall (sad, yes); after much travel some of our garments had reached that make-or-break 'brittle' stage and so a search for replacements was in order.
And so we spent the day just mingling with the beautiful people, admiring the beach and Sugar Loaf Mountain from afar, taking in our surroundings and just generally hangin' out. And loving every minute of it.
Friday 25 August
Of course you can't just admire Sugar Loaf from afar; if you're in Rio you have to go up there. A half-hour stroll from our hostel brought us to the first of two cable-car stations, from where our steep but breathtaking ascent (actually, not breathtaking for Sharon; she had her eyes closed) began:
"Ooh - look at the tiny cars."
The cable-car to the first peak is only half the story; to reach the summit a second exhilarating ride is required...
...but of course the views at the top make the journey worthwhile.
It's not all scary cable-car rides and great views though; inevitably there are a number of cafes and gift shops, but other attractions include a pleasant walking trail and an example of a cable-car (and occupant) from the olden days.
Saturday 26 August
It's long been a dream of mine to visit Ipanema. Today my dream came true. Ipanema - the name conjures up visions of beautiful Brazilian people living a bohemian life against the backdrop of a stunning beach, the sun constantly shining, that song playing in the background...
I wasn't disappointed. Ipanema is simply lovely. Yes, the majority of the folk on the beach are beautiful; toned, bronzed, muscular blokes and tanned supermodel girls abound, but so do ordinary folk - and no-one seems to judge anyone else; everyone just fits in and gets along nicely.
Our hostel, surprisingly reasonable for such a reputedly jet-set location, was handily placed for the beach and the town. The bar (Garota da Ipanema) in which The Girl From Ipanema was written was just a ten-minute walk away.
With the sun beating down, a walk the length of the beach was in order followed by cool drinks in a hip(ish) bar and rounded off by a good meal in one of the many local restaurants.
Sunday 27 August
I was in two minds, but Sharon was adamant. We couldn't come to Brazil without witnessing an example of the beautiful game. The last time I'd witnessed live football was a game between Milwall and Sheffield Wednesday at the Old Den back in 1990, but I was sure that there'd be a world of difference between that match and a local Brazilian derby.
There's no doubt that the Maracana Stadium - one of the largest in the world - is impressive. Today's match was between Flamengo (at home) and Sao Paulo. Away supporters were definitely in the minority.
Gringos like us were seated away from the majority of hard-core supporters, but even so the vibe in the crowd was palpable and at times deafening; it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement, hand-clapping and chanting. Excitement peaked when a few over-zealous Sao Paulo fans infiltrated the Flamengo stands - scuffles ensued, baton-wielding police appeared, and order (of sorts) was quickly restored.
Sadly though, the exhortations of the crowd could not elevate the standard of play and the mediocre match resulted in a disappointing 1-1 draw. We didn't mind; for us, the match was secondary to the experience.
Monday 28 August
Another of those must-see destinations in Rio is the enormous statue of Christ the Redeemer which sits atop the Corcavado (Hunchback) Mountain and overlooks the city. Our last day in Brazil, we signed up for a trip to this famous landmark but we got much more than we bargained for...
Our first stop seemed familiar - we were back at the Macarana Stadium! Still, we got to follow in some famous footsteps:
Next up was a 'stadium' of a different kind; the Sambadromo, a 1.5km long parade-ground which is home to the annual Samba School Parade - a competition between Rio's top Samba schools to showcase the best carnaval costumes, floats and displays.
Oh, if only we had the chance to try on some of those outrageously flamboyant carnaval costumes... OK, you're ahead of me:
Charles Hawtrey and Hattie Jaques in "Carry on Carnaval"
On a more sedate note, our next visit was to a rather unusual cathedral; a concrete edifice on the outside:
but with fabulous floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows inside
Finally we were on the long, winding drive up and up the Corcavado Mountain. Here we'd behold in all it's glory Christ the Redeemer, our last vision of Brazil, one of the most famous landmarks in the world, a lasting memory, a golden photo opportunity...
Oh bugger. Yup, after days of sunshine and clear blue skies, the fog descended. Well, it's the thought that counts.
Tuesday 29 August
And, once again, it was time to move on. Brazil had been great - fun and sunshine all the way. We'd managed to pack an awful lot into a brief time; no mean feat since we'd arrived in the country with no route planned and little idea as to what we wanted to do.
Now, owing to a quirk in our South American planning, we would fly back to Chile for a one-night pause before heading on to another new and exciting country - Peru