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.'