A Travellerspoint blog

Brazil - final thoughts

tchau Tchau

sunny 36 °C
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written earlier today.....

Brazil – our final thoughts
Yesterday was a lazy day around the pool. But after three hours of MORNING(if 1130 to 1440 is morning) sun we were fried. The heat is very intense and we spent the afternoon in our room packing, relaxing and catching up on email (since we had solid wifi). We have an hour delay at the Iguazu – Argentina airport, so we thought we would take the time to share our final thoughts on Brazil.
As you read earlier our passport hassle had tainted our initial views on this country. However, after spending two weeks touring we are overall very impressed with Brazil. The people genuinely try to assist where possible and our travel phrase book and iphone Portuguese application worked wonders. They are always working a scam for fun and business – but a little laugh and hey hey, and they know you see through them. Similar to the middle east, they give a gift at the end of a deal or a good firm handshake depending on how much you paid for an item. Murph/Darcy ,the best we were able to do was get a key chain from one vendor, so we think we may have paid a good price for our souvenirs (ha ha).
One habit we noticed was they do not give right-away for anything, whether it’s driving or lineups or when walking on the sidewalk. This was evident on our flight from Rio to Iguazu. Darwin and I sat in row 2 for the flight and when the plane had stopped, everyone was out of their seat trying to get to the front of the plane. It was amazing. I had to literally stop a woman with my back pack so I could get out. Unreal. At a train queue at Iguazu thyey jump the queue and Darwin stopped this lady -Yet, they walk so slow along the streets and do not make way for folks trying to pass them. This we obviously found unusual.
You could not really tell who was from Brazil as all nationalities and colours were evident. The Afro-Brazilians (Darwin is cringing at the political correctness of this as the sun tan lotion companies have stations on the beach that show the temp and uv index digital and match a sun block level with whether you are negroe / malato, blanco or caucasiun) are very attractive.
The country is beautiful (muito bonito), has excellent roads and good vehicles. The traffic lights are on the wrong side of the intersection (the near side) and you cannot see it turn green. However the crosswalks were located about 20 metres back from the cross street and this is a good thing because they take the corners at a high a speed as possible. This fits with their entire idea that Brazilian driving should qualify them for the grand prix. Even on the freeways police are in look out towers just like a judge for the final flag of the Indy 500. And further, on Avenida Atlantica, the gas stations are set up on the centre median like pit stops complete with the gas attendants uniform.
The density of the cities are not unlike areas of the world that have been long settleds such as Europe and Africa where the temperature is moderate and they don’t have to spend too much time inside. So therefore many of the places are 600-800 ft2 with two rooms a bath and kitchen. The Favellas (slums/ghetto/shanty) it looks like the 400 ft2 range with two rooms and party walls, roofs and floors as the chaotic method of building dictates. In any event the density is way more than we are used to and is likely why their system is more sustainable.
Washrooms (baneiros) for the most part were very clean and you did not have to pay to use public washrooms. However, other than your hotel/pousado rooms, I had to put my toilet paper in the garbage can, and not down the toilet bowl. We think this is an old custom. Darwin could not figure out why you HAD to do this.
There is a huge difference in poverty here compared to home. One of the Norweigan women we talked to on New Year’s Eve had lived in a favella for 6 months, teaching English. She was telling us that most people who live in these areas never leave their own favella. One day she took 10 kids on the bus into downtown Rio and Copacabana Beach and they had never been outside their favella. That is very sad. These favellas all operate differently and have a sheriff (drug lord) for each one. The security and severity of these favellas is dependent on each of these sheriffs. The police don’t even enter these and rarely do municipal bylaw officers check to ensure building codes. Thus, they continue to grow up the hills and are susceptible to landslides as we just saw on the news this past week.

Our top 5 list for Brazil

  1. 5- Iguazu Falls

  2. 4- New Year’s Eve

  3. 3- Paraty

  4. 2- Christmas Eve Dinner on Beach

  5. 1- Itaipu Dam


  1. 5 – Gem hunting

  2. 4 –Paraty

  3. 3-Ilha Grande snorkelling/Xmas eve on beach

  4. 2-Iguazu Falls

  5. 1- New Year’s Eve fireworks

Without question, the guides do make a big difference to get around the country. We highly recommend the phrase book handy at all times and the iphone made a HUGE difference. We felt four days was enough in Rio. Because we did the major tour attractions with Kim/Kev earlier, we could have left a day early. But due to New Year’s Eve, hotel bookings were a minimum of four days. We did not put Christ the Redeemer on our top 5 list because we were a bit disappointed that you cannot get the famous shot we all see from our tours. That photos is taken from a helicopter or the communications hill located further away from the Christ statue and not available to public. We like to take these famous photos on our own, so won’t have this in our collection. But, we did have a clear day for these visits. Had Darwin and I done the tours on our own when we returned, we would have been socked in by clouds due to the rains that occurred when we were there.
We did not see enough of the jungles of Brazil to catch their wildlife, but we also missed the snakes and mosquitos which is ok with us. We thought the jungle tours would have been similar to Costa Rica. Yes the Amazon would have been neat to do, but it is a long way from where we were.
We think our itinerary worked quite well. Ilha Grande is very much a hippy style area. Very laid back and beautiful scenery. From there you travel to Paraty where your accommodations are much better, so you think you have travelled to a five star area. Yet, they have done a remarkable job of maintaining the 16th century colonial town, while providing modern essentials.
We could have travelled directly from Paraty to Iguazu if we did not have New Year’s Eve. But we are sure the flight from Paraty (yep they have an airport) would have connected through Rio anyhow. The drive from Paraty to Rio is 4 hours but it is beautiful scenery and well worth doing.
We liked the fact that we saw the full panoramic view of Iguazu first and then went to Argentina to see the falls close up. One thing we could have changed was to move to the Argentina side after our hike. It is an hour drive back to our hotel in Brazil (plus border crossing time) and we could have used a swim after the hot hike. The Sheraton Hotel is at the Argentina Falls so only 10 minutes away. So we would suggest to Kim that you spend 1 night in Brazil and then 2 nights in Argentina (unless you have to see the Itaipu dam on a separate day. We were lucky we saw the dam the same day we arrived).
That’s about it. The security gate has now opened for our flight, so need to go.
Tchau Tchau (bye bye) Brazil......
Hola (Hello) Argentina....

Posted by winmouse 20:15 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Iguazu Falls

Need to see both sides

sunny 35 °C
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Today was our visit to the Iguazu falls. These falls are 75m high and 3km long with the majority on the Argentinian side of the border. Iguazu has the greatest annual flow of any waterfall in the world. And today, it was above average (due to the recent rains in the area). The maximum flow is 12,000 m3, about the same as Victoria falls (peak flow). The Red Deer River when it flooded in 2005, was about 1500m3 for comparision (average flow is 300m3). Niagara Falls peak flow is about 2800 m3. It is nominted to be one of the modern seven wonders of the world.

Our day started off at 6:30 this morning. Darwin had a great idea to get up and watch the sun rise at the falls. One advantage of staying at the Hotel das Cataratas is the National Park does not open until 8:30, so guests can take full advantage of the trails alone without loads of tour buses. So we took real advantage of it and were first out the door this morning. We walked about 100m and voilla....the falls to ourselves. You will see a picture of the two of us in the photo gallery, that we adore. Just the two of us, with the spectacular view all to ourselves. That will be a great memory. But before we had this view, we had to maneouver around these creatures called Coati. They are Brazil's version of the racoon. They had snouts like anteaters so we were not quite sure what was in front of us (30 of them), but Darwin quickly got them to run back into the trees(with very few colourful words to describing the disease infested little #$%^@^*.)

We walked the Brazilian side of the falls which gives you a great panoramic view. It was overwhelming and breath taking. After breakfast, our guide (nelson) drove us to Argentina so we could see the falls from this side as well. Note to Kim (we did not take the immigration papers we got on the cruise ship. We were okay getting back and forth as we filled out another form in Argentina. However, it is HIGHLY recommended that you take these with you as cutoms could have fined us. Nelson forgot to tell us we needed these papers. He only instructed us to take our passports. It is definitely worth having a guide take you to the Argentina side due to transportation needs and immigration with each country. However, not sure why a tour company would charge for the Brazil tour because it's right at your hotel. It takes about an hour to do this path and no guide is needed. Nelson did not join us this morning, so thought you should know for future reference. If you are staying at a hotel outside of the National Park, then you would need a guide for the Brazil side as well).

It takes approximately one hour to drive from Brazil side of the falls to the Argentina side. Once there we walked the lower circuit (approx 4 km) and part of the upper circuit. We then took a train to Garganta del Diablo (Devil's throat) to see the major cataract of the entire falls called Salto Union. From the Argentina side, you get a close up view to most of the falls. The pictures we posted are just some samples of the scenery. Not sure how to sum this up other than to say, for any nature lover, these falls are a MUST for the bucket list. Our only disappointment was not seeing a rainbow, but these falls were captivating and very powerful. I could not stand at the edge of the outlook at Devil's throat because the platform was a catwalk and besides everyone was pushing each other to get a good view. At one moment I completely froze and Darwin could see that I was very nervous and got me off the catwalk and back to the main walkway (Kevin not sure if you would have made this part of the journey either).

One surprise we did not expect were the immense amount of butterflies in the park. There are over 300 species and we got to see a few up close and personal. Literally - they actually land on your body. It was freaky at first and then a delight. Monica, I posted some photos for you to look at. I thought of our club today taking pictures of these guys. You would have loved taking photos here today. They were everywhere. I started to get more excited about the butterflies than the falls at times.

Nelson then took us to a local fish restaurant back in Brazil for a late lunch. It was beside a local marina. It was a buffet and then they bring you samples of the local lake fish. Darwin tried Dorado (Doug I know you like fishing these fish, but not too fussy on the taste) and some other fish that I could not eat. But they did have Tilapia, which was delicious.

Their marina was interesting. Darcy, we couldn't be marina snobs with our sailboat here. They have garages for their boats, and then folks come to their "garage" for the weekend and have it decorated/beds etc and bar-b-ques out back. Never saw anything like that before.

Back to the hotel for a much needed swim. Tomorrow we are going to relax at the hotel. Since Nelson took us to the dam yesterday, we have a free day tomorrow so hope to enjoy some sun by the pool

Posted by winmouse 16:51 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Foz do Igauca (Iguassu Falls)

Itaipu Dam

sunny 26 °C
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We left Rio early this morning and travelled to Foz do Iguaca. Our flight few over Angra dos Reis and Ilha Grande, where the mudslides occurred a few days ago. Our thoughts were with the residents of this area, hoping all is well. We met our guide Nelson and he suggested we head to Itaipu Dam today instead of adding it to our itinerary two days later. So off we went. Darwin provided Nelson with his Public Works Intrduction from CPWA to see if we could get a technical tour. We watched a short video on the dam and when we were finished, Nelson informed us a security officer would take us on the tour. He was not an engineer, but would at least show us some of the sights. It was amazing. We took lots of engineering photos and will post some later. What a neat experience. Darcy, much better than landfill tours.

We then headed to our hotel hotel das Cataratas. Kim did not tell us just how nice it was..., Talk about walking into a '50's classic hotel. Darwin summed it up - Hotel Coronado in San diego and the Beverly Hills Hotel combined. It is in the national park right at the falls and the pool here is fantastic. We enjoyed a quick swim and then skyped back home to mom/kim/kev and Lorraine/roy (good luck on Monday Roy, We will be thinking of you).

Off to bed early as we are going to visit the falls outside our front door at sunrise and then have tour of the falls from Argentina. this will be a fun day.

Nightie night

Posted by winmouse 16:11 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

New Year's Eve - Rio de Janeiro

rain 34 °C
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New Year’s Eve has finally arrived. We started talking about visiting Rio for New Year’s Eve about four years ago, thinking it would be a great place to visit and different from our times at NYC (heat instead of cold).
We planned to walk Impanema Beach in the morning and then take an afternoon nap before the festivities. However, we woke up to a dreadful rain storm that did not want to let up. So we relaxed in the morning and started to sort clothes for our January 2nd flight to Iguazzu Falls. Luckily we did, as Darwin could not find his medication. Somehow our medication box went missing between Ilha Grande and Rio. Darwin had copied his prescriptions to our thumb drive, so off to an internet cafe to print them off. Then we went to a local farmacia (pharmacy) and voila prescriptions filled immediately. It is so easy to get medication in the southern hemisphere.
The rain started to ease, so we went to the hotel roof top patio to look down upon the beach and check on the setup. We spent the afternoon up there, watching the fireworks barges move into place, roads close, garbage can deployment, emergency personnel set up and spectator arrival. We were joined by two girls for Norway, so the four of us had a great little party until 6:00. Note to Kim – Oceano Copacabana is a very basic hotel. The rooms are not fancy, but if clients want a somewhat affordable room, this hotel certainly has the location. It is in the middle of the beach, so all the firework barges were directly in front of us. We could have stayed on the balcony for the night and watched the action from there, but if it rained all night, we would have been drowned rats. But good for you to know. The Copacabana Palace is two blocks away from us in the opposite direction from the JW Marriott.
Then it was back to the room to shower and get ready for the night. The McDonnell clan tried to skype us but there was not enough bandwidth to connect, so we could not chat. We tried to call back to Kathy’s later on that night, but only had a connection for a few seconds. We did manage to connect with mom Durnie and Lorraine for a few seconds each. Skype is great, when you have a connection.
Off to our restaurant – Rondinella for the evening. Note to anyone travelling for New Year’s Eve. Our waiter Fransisco speaks great English and he was correct when he told us, this corner was the hub of activity. The Metro (subway) stop is two blocks north of this entrance to the beach and there was a constant stream of people arriving throughout the night. The food was not the greatest, but location was the big sell for this spot. The service was great (they left the bottle of Bacardi at the table for Darwin and brought bottles of wine to the table instead of glasses and each table got their own bottle of champagne – forget about this one glass stuff we get back in NA). And, we had a front row table to watch all the action.
It is hard to describe Rio on New Year’s Eve. It is a definite MUST on anyone’s travel bucket list. We actually recommend seeing it three times for various perspectives – one like we did at a restaurant, one from the beach to see the lighting of the candles and throwing of flowers into the ocean to honour Vejema (their goddess of the ocean). This is a huge celebration for Brazilians and the history behind why they wear white on New Year’s. They pay respect to the dead and throw offerings into the ocean (mainly flowers or little boats) and light candles in honour of the lost souls. And one from a balcony, to see the fireworks from across the skyscape. We are happy with our decision to spend it in a restaurant at street level to get a sense of the energy. We were free to leave anytime and wander the beach, knowing we had our table when we returned. Five large cruise ships were anchored along the shoreline to also catch the action. What a great bonus for those passengers.
This is definitely a family event and we did not feel threatened at any time during the night. The hype about safety here is an over-reaction. Now that Rio will be hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, they have an image to uphold. The beach was safe and families were gathered in tents celebrating the New Year. Alcohol was allowed and you did not see police checking packs before you entered the main zone of the beach like we saw in NYC. Even though most people were drinking, it was an orderly evening.
Two main stages were set up (one by JW Marriott and the other by Copacabana Palace)and performers such as the Rolling Stones, U2 and Black Eyed Peas have performed here in the past. This year’s line up was Brazilian bands, so we did not wander to these stages but rather enjoyed watching the local families/tourists wander the streets and beach (Madonna is booked for next year). There is no countdown to midnight. Emergency personnel blow sirens to signal 20 minutes before midnight. Bar staff told us when it was 5 minutes before midnight and then at midnight, a fabulous 15 minute firework display that we have never witnessed starts. It was absolutely stunning. We will try and upload some video we took to this site but it may take awhile as we will need a good internet connection. It was by far the best fireworks EVER.... And then it was over and the streets started to party. We stayed until 2:00 watching the crowds and then headed back to our room.
We applaud the organizers of this event, as it was first class. Having some experience in event management, we were both impressed by the preparation for this spectacle. While on the balcony earlier in the day, we had some interesting observations. Their first aid stations were easily identified with large lit balloons. Stakes were erected along the beach that looked like volleyball posts but were numbered to identify various zones. Garbage cans were deployed every 50-100 feet and police presence was everywhere. All in all a great evening.

New Year’s Day
Slept in today and were happy to see the sun finally shining. It was 34 today and HOT. We walked Copacabana beach and then over to Impanema. Darwin put it into perspective. You need to see Copacabana, but stay at Impanema. What a different atmosphere no more than 500 metres apart. Copacabana has the bars and restaurants along the street, whereas Impanema has the condo towers. No one swims at Copacabana (the smell is putrid) but Impanema is full of heads bobbing in the water. Both beaches are full of umbrellas as you will see in the pictures. Definitely the place to stay if we return. (Note to Kim – we found this great boutique hotel called Fasano (www.fasano.com.br). You should check it out for clients. Other than that, Caesar Park was the main hotel on the strip followed by Sol Impanema which is a Best Western with a great location).

Posted by winmouse 17:15 Archived in Brazil Comments (3)

Copacabana Beach

Location Location

rain 32 °C
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We arrived safely from Paraty yesterday around 18:00. Traffic was interesting at some points but what was more interesting is the fact that don't have squeegy boys at the lights, you have them selling refreshments on snacks on an 8 l ane highway. Imagine these guys walking down the Deerfoot or 401, with coolers on their backs selling refreshments to cool you down while stuck in traffic. that was a new sight for us.

Once we checked into the hotel, we had a cocktail on our balcony and checked out some of the action. This hotel (copacabana Ocean Beach) charges a fortune over New Year's but they are in a fantastic location. We can see everything from the pool balcony. We are right on the beach and we are one block from a supermarket. So off we went to check out the local grub....what a great store. We had these great crackers on our snorkelling day called Social Originals. they beat our ritz and soda crackers... yummy. Found a fresh bar-b-que chicken, buns and salad. So we laid low last night and enjoyed some home styled snacks.

Today we walked Copacabana Beach. Or we tried to walk it. We got half way towards Ipamena Beach and a huge thunder cloud arrived.So we turned around and walked in the other direction to get out of the rain. We really enjoyed watching the set up for tomorrow's festivities. We thought NYC was a big production. Nothing in comparison to a 4.8km wide open festival (not including the crowds on Impamena). We even found the Mobile Command Centre and hope to visit it again tomorrow. To the folks back in Calgary, this is a great site visit for major event set up. What a fabulous set up. They are erecting poles along the beach that to the average tourist looks like a volleyball net pole, but has numbers on it to identify security zones. they also have great first aid facilities set up, police on segways, public works staff in patrolling the areas and we believe undercover cops acting like street vendors. Very cool.

We checked out the famous Copacabana Palace (spectacular hotel) and then made our way onto Atlantic Avenue (main street one block off the beach). It was much safer than we anticipated. We enjoyed bargaining over some local gems and made a good deal with a great family. Caesar and his son Leo were alot of fun, so we enjoyed part of the afternoon with them. It rained so hard this afternoon that we could not see more than 200ft. The weather forecast is calling for the same tomorrow, but hopefully it will be over before midnight.

We hope to make it to Ipamena Beach tomorrow, but it will be a busy day as over 2million people will start to gather here around 14:00 until midnight.

Happy New Year everyone.

Posted by winmouse 15:18 Archived in Brazil Comments (3)

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