Monday, January 17, 2011

Wrapping it Up

Here we have the Cuidad de Samba, where they are building floats and costumes for Carnival 2011! You can see the prototypes in miniature and then a costume. The floats are gigantic.

Buildings of Rio Centro. The one with the gold is inside a beautiful church. The downtown is an interesting mixure of old, colonial buildings, and new structures, with Dallas Texas style fully glass exteriors.
I post these sitting at home after 24 hours of travel -- 14 hours in the air. It was a great trip, but not entirely as expected. Rio is a modern city and it is easy to see why Brazil is expected to be a fully industrialized nation soon.
Over and out from the weary travellers, Cyndi and Judy.

Street Scenes

Last day in Rio...we spent much of the past few days with our fabulous two new Russian friends, Sasha and Leyla (who live in Berlin and Moscow both).

We came across this wonderful woman, dressed in carnival attire (on the trolley). She was starring in a music video for a band from Estonia.

Saucy Samba

Saucy Samba! Here it is in the Manguiera Samba School and on the street in Santa Teresa.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rio Favelas

We booked a tour to the Rio favelas for Monday. We almost missed it because, well, we are now in such vacation mode that we thought it was Sunday today :-). We were on the beach, and I came back to the hotel briefly only to be told the tour guide was waiting for us (5 minutes after the tour was to begin). Oooops. So I ran to the beach to get Cyndi and we went on the tour in bathing suits / cover ups - no biggie because the bikini is standard attire in Rio!

What an interesting tour. There are over 500 favelas in Rio. These are densely populated villages of many multi-story buildings sharing common walls. We went to Rochina Favela, where about 95,000 very low income people live in 1 square kilometer of space. Our tour guide told us that three drug gangs run several of the favelas. If a resident steals something they cut his/her hand off, and on second offense kill the criminal.

The Brazilian government has worked to drive out the drug lords and clean up the favelas.
Brazil is a "big emerging country," one of four - (BRIC --Brazil, Russia, India, China), and the guide explained that this income and social division between the favela dwellers (20% of the Rio population) and rest of Rio is the only thing stopping Brazil from becoming a fully industrialized nation. With its winning bids for both the upcoming Olympicas and the FIFA World Cup and its desire to move foward in the world economy, the government is working hard to clean out the drug component and improve the favela infrastructures.
In our tour we saw some evidence of progress - better services, such as trash removal/internet connectivity and better education for the residents.
Of note, the guide said that the USA is the biggest customer for Brazil's drugs (that come from Bolivia, Chile, and Colombia). How can we in the US be critical of drug providing nations when we are the biggest customer and can't even control our own consumption of illegal substances? This is an interesting problem.

This was a fascinating tour and we felt welcomed by the favela residents - except that we weren't allowed to take photos in the favela run by drug lords. We saw no machine guns and saw lots of children on computers in a school and some public service projects to improve living conditions.

Santa Theresa

Lovely Santa Theresa - a hilly town near downtown Rio. We first braved the Metro (efficient underground public transportation) and then took a cable car to get up the hill to Santa Theresa (only R$ 0.60). We saw street performers, crafts, and lovely houses and fauna. We also saw some great art from recycled materials - a theme throughout Rio.

Samba School

What a trip! We met Fabio on the beach (the handsome man pictured with Cyndi) - he is a very happy "starving" artist living in a Rio favela. He offers to take us to a Samba party in deep Rio. It is the Manguiera Favala Samba School, and they are practicing on Saturday night in a huge warehouse for the upcoming Rio Carnival. How lucky to be invited by a local to this exciting event. It is kind of scary to arrive in this poor area of town but it is so lively and we trust Fabio - thousands of people packed in the streets with makeshift bars and the same number inside the warehouse. The party started at midnight and went until 4 a.m.... but one of us could only last until about 2:30 a.m. :-). Wild, fun, real Rio.

Beach Scenes

The sun is warm and beautiful and doesn't set until about 9 p.m. What more could a traveller from cold Reno want? OK, how about beach service from the wonderful Windsor Excesior hotel that includes a beach boy to set up chairs, towels and an umbrella? NICE. We feel like royalty here.

Saturday at Copacabana Beach in Rio. The multitudes arrive to escape the heat and humidity by playing in the surf. What a lively and wonderful scene, with the famous Sugar Loaf mountain in the background. I thought the crowded beach scene and "umbrella city" would be difficult, but instead, the liveliness of these wonderful locals (and some tourists) brings great joy to our day. What an amazing place this is.

Brazilians are Beautiful

Wow, the Brazilians are such happy, beautiful people. This makes us smile, too.

View from Cristo Statue

Christ the Reedemer

Today we visited the famous statue of "Cristo." What a breathtaking train ride to the top, followed by a spectacular view of Rio. The statue itself is 30 stories high and can be seen from all over Rio. Brazilians love their Cristo.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Rio Reveals itself

Day 3...
We awake 10 minutes before the free breakfast ends (yummy and worth it)...only to discover later in the day that the hotel room clock was 2 hours fast! We've been getting up too early for days, wondering the whole time why they weren't clearing the buffet at 10 am, like we thought...
ahhh, tomorrow more sleep.

the sun comes out!!! fabulous afternoon working hard at holding down chairs on the beach...hotel "service" means a chair, towel, and umbrella that they lay out as you approach (great hotel!). Interesting scenes of people. We were mesmerized by the woman on the beach who was entirely beautiful and alluring at first glance and then on more scrutiny turned out to be a male transexual homeless prostitute (her belongings in a plastic bag serving as a pillow). These people don't wear much on the beach - stories of speedos and string bikinis are true. We keep noticing the beautiful variety in skin color and hair straight to curly.

There are many ethnic classifications from white to black, depending on skin color and hair straightness/curliness. Brazilians decended from Amerindians, Europeans, Africans and Asians. According to Wikipedia, Brazilians are classified as Aboriginal, Black, White, Asian, and Pardo:
"The Pardos are a mixture of Europeans, Blacks and Amerindians. Brazil does not have a category for multiracial people, but a Pardo (brown) one, which may include mixed race, mulattos, and assimilated indigenous people ("caboclos")."

According to us, the Brazilians are beautiful and friendly and their physical features truly reflect the international melting pot that is Brazil.

We need cash! Two banks do not accept our debit or credit cards and the search for a Cirrus network will continue tomorrow. But we are doing better at finding vegetarian options in this land of meat eaters.

At night we wander the lively beach street, full of vendors with very cool stuff from lights to wood carvings and things made of gems. Lots of artists and amazing sand sculptures on the beach. You can get a beer and walk with it. Now we have even less cash ....

We were so worried about Brazil's reputation for danger/petty crime, but we have felt really safe and comfortable so far. We are careful, but pleasantly surprised.

Lots of tour operators and two we befriended - one a Swiss guy who moved here a year ago "just for the adventure." fun people. fun time. no more melt downs. We have arrived!!!

and now that we feel safe, we'll take the cameras out and post more pics.

It is a New Day in Brazil

January 5, 2011
Wow! What a great and needed sleep! Wake up at like 9:50 ..10 minutes before the free breakfast ends. Mom runs down to grab some food from the buffet and tells the staff she will take it to the room. Immediately a young man appears with a tray. She loads everything on it, and he carries it up to the room for us. We really love this hotel and Rio and Brazil today, and still sitting in the room in bed in our pajamas at 12:30, we believe we are now acculturating to the pulse of this place.

Still tired and still rainy but full of gusto for the adventure ahead. But first…turn turn off the computer and lock it in the room safe. We have been told by books and travellers that it is dangerous here, after all, although it is not our experience at all so far.

We had a great, long walk to the end of Copacabana Beach. All along there are funny work out stations with fun things to work the muscles. We tried a few and laughed with the locals as we fumbled (mostly mom). We had a full conversation using gestures with the cutest little inquisitive Braillian girl-child about Cyndi's hat and Mom's tattoos. At the end of all this we had our second treat of fresh coconut water. YUM.

Off to Ipanema Beach in search of food and drink! Crowded restaurants but we found an awesome Japanese eatery with wonderful hostess (Dina) who gave us tips on where to go for vegetarian food and good bars. We wandered the streets and found a hopping bar, but by then it was 11:45 pm and there was a R$ 30 cover for all you can drink until midnight, so we hung out outside and met the cutest young man who told us the best places to go for all you can drink bars ...

home, tired and to bed. We are slowly finding the real Rio and we love it. So cosmopolitan. It appeared at first to be very Westernized and lack interesting culture, but appearances are deceiving. The deeper we go the more fascinating it becomes. And we've not yet left the touristy beaches.

Cyndi had a Great Birthday (In Hindsight)

View from our hotel on Copacabana Beach (left), Rio Scenarium (right)

Getting there (Jan 4th)
On the plane, we started noticing that we couldn’t tell who was Brazilian and who was American, nor could others detect our nationality. Wide array of skin color, hair type – a true melting pot. Language was the only distinguisher. We also discover at this point that Portuguese doesn’t sound similar enough to Spanish to be understandable.
When we changed our watches to Rio time, suddenly it changed from 7pm to 1am, thus beginning the birthday day. Cyndi got a 30 hour birthday!!
All in all the trip was easy, but long, with many birthday congratulations from airline staff, including a gift of a bottle of champagne on the last leg!

Looked like Hawaii. Looked like many other Latin American countries – griminess, poverty. It was also very overcast and occasionally rainy.

Hotel on Copacabana beach. Changed rooms.. got upgraded. Charged for upgrade. Were informed later no charge for upgrade. Beautiful room. Total ocean view on the 9th floor.
Dead tired. Out to explore. Flagged local mini-van to Ipanema beach – only R$2. Same as Copacabana beach. Had coconut. Sliced in cool way to scoop out meat using piece of shell as spoon.

Feeling like nothing sun. nowhere to go. Nothing to do. Brazil first day disappointment. Is this the comedown from previous days of workaholic behavior? Total need to organize, plan and control our environment..just like at home… When will vacation mode kick in?
Walked streets around hotel eclectic group of shops from pharmacies to health food store to art gallery, banks and flip flop shop.

Due to above-mentioned Brazil first day stress and mixed with a bit of PMS, Cyndi has a meltdown and crawls into bed, not before noticing the beautiful roses mom had had delivered to the room. Thanks mom! Mom, insensitive, but trying to uplift the birthday girl’s spirits, welcomes a parade of hotel staff. Please note that Cyndi is in bed under the covers during all of this, occasionally covering her head with the sheet recovering from the meltdown.

Entry 1: Waiter with chocolate ice cream (mom had noted that Cyndi was craving this.)
Entry 2: Maids with good night chocolates. They were so delicious, that mom stuck her head out the door to say yum yum, and the maids promptly handed her more.
Entry 3: Staff member appears with crystal vase for roses, and mom tips her a rose.
Entry 4: 2 hotel staff walk in with a tray of sweets, small gift box and card. We are both surprised! They enter saying, “Excuse me. Sorry.” Clear table by window, removing our purses, etc; and put out white table cloth with plate, sweets, etc. It turns out to be a birthday gift from the hotel.

Feeling like nothing to do in Rio. Rainy. Mellow. And don’t seem to be many activities around our hotel.

Mom goes down to figure out some fun night activities. I get a much needed nap. Vitor at the desk at first says, “ Oh..Tuesday night... there’s nothing to do… “ But wait! Isn’t this high season?! Where are all the tourists? They must be doing something! He does find out about a place with a band in Lapa. And there are supposedly a lot of bars around there.

The hotel arranges a taxi – R$30 flat rate. We get to the neighborhood, and it is super cute…all cobblestony. Closed off alleyway. No cars allowed. I decide I need a cocktail and mom needs a rest. The first place we see is adorable – Santo Scenarium!! The interior is all mirrors, cloth hangings, angels and candlesticks - a totally religious motif and gorgeous. The entry to the bathroom had a podium with a bible in Portuguese. The owner is just the cutest ever.. a gaucho from the south with excellent English. He offers an array of options for mom – the vegetarian – who is hard to please foodwise in Brazil. “Vegetarian? Haha! I don’t know where you can get that type of food! Not in Brazil!” But again, a fine example of Brazilian hospitality. The food is amazing. As we eat, we watch a steady stream of revelers going to the Rio Scenarium with the crowd thickening at the door (pic below). And again are astounded by the array of colors, not knowing which ones are tourists. We are also surprised to see the passion as lovers show obvious PDA. So Latin; so non-American!

Across the street is a charming cafe with a male singer on a guitar crooning Brazilian music. Looking at this place, we wonder, is this the hot bar we saw in the magazine picture mom had given me in Reno as a clue to my secret Birthday vacation destination? It looks very similar, but somehow not quite right.
Went to Rio Scenarium …. 4 stories with great bric-a-brac all over. A blend of antique mall, rock concert venue, with a Rocky Horror elevator – which we rode, of course. Great music. Watching folks dance on the dance floor, we fell in love with this beautiful dance.. wondering what it was.. the samba. Decide we must take Samba lessons.
On the third floor, approaching the balcony, we realized that this place was the same place as the “clue” picture.... we had found –happened upon – via Victor, the “hottest” place in Rio on the first night.

Taxi driver wouldn’t take extra money. Fare was 20.80. Mom gave 20. Driver wouldn’t take extra 1-2 she was trying to give. Again, a fine display of Brazilian graciousness and hospitality.

Day 1 Summary
We did a lot of complaining, wondering if we should leave – go to the Amazon, change hotels at least to more lively location, etc. In writing this today, we are enlightened, understanding that all of that was just tiredness, comedown from workaholic mode, our ridiculous obsession with perfectionism and not yet being adjusted to the pulse of Brazil.

Happy Birthday is called Feliz Aniversario, which is so cool when you think of it in the American interpretation of anniversary –that is, something involving two people. It is a true Aniversario of our 40 years together.