Saturday, 13 June 2009

Highlights of the trip

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Friday, 15 May 2009

Rio de Janeiro (Part 3)

Back in Rio for the last three days of our trip, we made our way to the Selaron Steps, named after the artist who created them. Over a 19-year period, Señor Selaron has transformed this backstreet staircase into a tiled work of art. It's featured in numerous music videos (U2, Snoop Dog), films and magazine shoots, and it is now a major tourist pull. Selaron was on hand when we visited and gave us the opportunity to pose with him, and purchase one of his paintings – which we were more than happy to do.

Next, we travelled to Santa Teresa on the tram which crosses over the large Lapa Arches. If you hold onto the outside of the tram, you don't have to pay anything for the ride. However, you might smack into a parked car or a lamp post on the way up. Santa Teresa was very quaint, and we found a very atmospheric bar for lunch.

Yesterday, we went straight to Ipanema beach - one of the most affluent parts of Rio and one of the best beaches in the world. Lunch was at a local bakery where we gouged on more salgados and drank açai juice. The juice is the colour of red kidney beans and tastes like Actifed cough mixture (but in a good way and with none of the drowsiness). Around the city, we saw lots of shops selling nothing but Havaianas.

We headed into Lapa last night to celebrate the last evening of our travels. From the bus, we saw thong-wearing “ladies of the night” lining one street. In a tiny street-side bar, a Brazilian 'samba jazz' group put on a very enjoyable show with a number of 'standards'. Nice. The beer and caipirinhas flowed into the early morning, so we were feeling a bit worse for wear today.

For our last few hours of sightseeing, we visited the cathedral. Although it's a controversial building from the outside, the stained glass windows inside were formidable. Hearing a classical version of Cat Stevens' “Morning has broken” inside was an unexpected treat, at least for Andy. Next door to the cathedral, the Petrobas building has been compared to a rubix cube.

We leave Rio tonight (Thursday 14 June 2009 2300) and arrive at Heathrow tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Angra dos Reis to Paraty

There were no cash machines on Ilha Grande and by the time we got to Angra dos Reis, we were completely out of money. We frantically started searching for a cash machine which would work. The queues for cash machines are phenomenal here and, just because it has the Visa sign, it doesn't mean that it will take your Visa card. The machines are also the slowest we've used in the world. After a stressful 30 minutes and four banks later, we finally struck gold.

Needing an energy boost before catching the bus to Paraty, we tucked into our lanchonete snack of pasties and cheesy croissants. We watched old gents sitting and chatting away on a bench across the street. Everyone was very relaxed and not in a hurry.

As we arrived in beautiful town of Paraty, we got a bit confused while trying to find our hostel in the historic centre. The old town is a laid out in a grid of streets, each lined with almost identical looking stone houses. The streets are known by a couple of different names, so none of the names on the map matched the ones on the street corners. So we thought we knew where we were, but we couldn't match anything with the map. Useless. Luckily we were right about our location, and the hostel appeared round the next corner. Phew. Walking around is also fun when the tide comes in. It covers some of the streets with water, blocking your way.

Luckily the barbecue in the evening sorted everything out. It was cooked by William Wallace, an ex-Brazilian special forces guy with a penchant for putting guests who didn't believe his name in a head lock. Regardless, it was one of the best places we've stayed in, with an atmospheric courtyard and rustic feel.

Paraty has the best-named ice cream bar in the world - Sorve Terapia or Ice Cream Therapy. It's a pick and mix shop where you load up your cone/bucket with ice cream, toppings, wafers and sprinkles then pay by the kilo. Makes you feel good about yourself after a 20 minute session.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Ilha Grande

Literally meaning 'big island', Ilha Grande is an island off the Brazilian Costa Verde coast, 150km south of Rio. It's covered in lush, green jungle and boasts some of the best beaches in the country. Like Papillon, the island has had its own (helicopter) jail brake back in 1994. This resulted in the closure of the penal colony.

Our favourite beach was Lopez Mendez, a long and thin stretch of white squeaky sand with emerald sea. It was awesome to watch the locals surfing on the bone-crushing waves (at least that's what they looked like to us). To get to the beach from the island's main village, we walked through the jungle and smaller beaches for 2.5 hours and then caught the boat back. We had lots of fun playing in the crystal clear water (and not getting sucked away by the rip tide).

We had a lovely beach view from our window. One night a storm rolled in from the mainland. We saw giant flashes of lighting in the dark, followed by heavy rain all night. Some evenings we had candle-lit dinner on the beach and others in the village. One of the most memorable meals was a shark kebab marinated in garlic butter – a departure from the usual salt only food! The least memorable meal, a pasta carbonara, was so inedible that we gave it to the stray dogs wondering on the beach.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Rio de Janeiro (Part 1)

Rio is another truly iconic city with its mountainous skyline and Christ the Redeemer statue watching over everything. This is the home of caipirinhas, samba, and the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. The French apparently invented the bikini, but boy, have the brasileiros made it their own. Even grannies wear bikinis on the beach! The city also has several favelas, made famous by the 2004 'Cidade de Deus' (City of God) film.

Rio has delivered on all fronts, well above our expectations. Where we're staying, it's mellow with a lovely vibe and a thousand things to keep you occupied. We've found a great corner café/bar that does strong Brasilian espresso, fresh orange juice and buttered, toasted bread. The evening meal is a steak with rice and beans. This is a meat-loving country, and chicken is included under the veggie options.

The Brasilian nation is sports crazy, and last night, the Flamengo football team beat its neighbour Botafogo to become the champions. Cars were beeping their horns, there were spontaneous samba parties and people waved flags in the streets.

Last Saturday we headed up the cable car to Sugarloaf mountain. Andy had flashbacks, thinking such a spectacular setting must been used as a film location. Indeed, silver-toothed Jaws tried to kill James Bond on this very cable car in the film 'Moonraker'. It was also possible to catch a helicopter from the top and visit Christ the Redeemer.

Continue to part 2

Rio de Janeiro (Part 2)

Instead, we took the slower approach and queued for our train tickets to see the Christ. The spectacular views from the top were spoiled by the crowds, the coin operated candles, the chapel selling T-shirts and the Christ gift shop. It was very funny though to see lots of Brazilians performing Christ-like poses in front of the statue. Posing is a big thing here. Even really young children pout in the most unnatural 'model' poses.

Sunday saw us visit the Botanical Garden. It was impressive, both for its plant life and for countless couples locked in passionate embraces. We think a lot of young people must live with their parents until they're married, escaping to city parks for privacy. The gardens also had some cool spiders, toucans and fleeting hummingbirds.

Although our Portuguese is limited, the power of mime has seen us through. Phrases acted so far include:
  • 'Do you have any foot spray for Andy's rotting leather sandals?'
  • 'Is this the queue for the ATM machine?'
  • 'Another large beer please.'

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


Well, what can we say about Sydney. It's one of the most iconic cities in the world. We had a lovely four days exploring this very windy city.

We strolled through The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney. We found a bronze pig called Il Porcelino outside Sydney Hospital. Apparently, rubbing its nose brings good luck. Surprisingly, another part of the pig's anatomy was also quite shiny.

The magnificent State Library of New South Wales had an exhibition on Charles Darwin. The Botanical Gardens were beautiful with a large colony of fruit bats and some enormous trees.

Getting ready to be back in the UK, we found a cheap hairdressers to sharpen our appearance. Unfortunately these hairdressers were very good at mass scalpings, whilst customers looked on in horror. Our cuts were no different. Jen staggered out with a whole new look. Andy went to another salon to get his hair fixed. What a disaster!

We've just experienced our longest day ever – 34 hours in length, by flying from Sydney to Santiago, Chile. As the plane took off, Andy was nine hours older than his identical twin brother. However, as the plane landed in Chile, international time zones meant he was five hours younger.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Coffs Harbour and around

Sue and Howard, our friends we made in Nepal, were exceptionally kind and had us to stay for a few days. Their dog Bluff was great company and he accompanied us on lots of local walks. Howard had just bought an impressive new camera and his pictures of the local wildlife - water lizards and fruit bats - were excellent.

On a walk along the beach Howard also pointed out some Grey Nurse Shark eggs, which had become dislodged by a recent storm. We also discovered a dead puffer fish, identical to one we had seen being caught in St Kilda, Melbourne.

Sue had been inspired in Nepal by Andy's Mullet hat and had bought one for herself. Perhaps this is a the beginning of new fashion trend...

Jen discovered an excellent ice cream parlour in Coff's Harbour. She looked like the cat who eaten all the cream as she tucked into a regular sized mango sorbet. A rare treat. A bit further up the coast, Woolgoolga has an old helicopter for a War Memorial.

Read our Mount Warning and Washpool National Park posting.