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Trip Report Rio and Iguazu Falls - a mixed bag

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I started by flying to the Brazilian airport at Iguazu Falls via Chicago via Sao Paulo. I met my husband in the airport at Sao Paulo. He had been there a few days for work. We had arranged with the Hotel Cataratas to have someone pick us up. He was there waiting when we arrived. The hotel was lovely. We had a large room in the garden wing. I was initially concerned that we looked out over the road, but there is very little traffic, so noise was not an issue. We arrived later in the afternoon so we spent the time we had walking up the trail along the falls. It was gorgeous.

We had dinner in the restaurant Itaipu that evening. The food was ok and very expensive. We were surprised generally at how expensive food was in Brazil. Here, you are stuck, since there aren’t any other options unless you want to transport yourself out of the park.

Breakfast was lovely, and served by the pool. For our one full day, we arranged for a driver to drive us to the Argentinian side of the park, leaving at 7:15am and he picked us up at around 2pm. Hiring a cab would have been cheaper, but you have to take a shuttle to the edge of the park to pick up the cab. That seemed like a hassle. And, more importantly, my husband had twice experienced in Sao Paulo drivers not showing up when they should. He was a little nervous about trusting a taxi. The driver also does tours, so told us what we should do when we arrived. He had changed some money for us, for better or worse, so we had Argentinian currency with which to enter the park. We went straight to the train and did the Devil’s throat walk, getting very wet. I was happy I had brought my rain coat. We then did the lower trail and hopped on the boat over to the island. After this we had some empanadas at the snack bar and did the upper trail. It was fabulous and we didn’t get tired of the views. On our drive back to the hotel we had the driver stop at the helicopter place. The guy at the counter told us that he couldn’t guarantee seats (we didn’t want to both be stuck in the middle), but that the helicopter seated 4 and only one person could be in the middle. One person was in front and three in the back. He said that the first in line got the first pick. We were happy to see we were going to be the first in line once the next group took off. Two English women were behind us. Right before we were to board, one of the women went to talk to guy at the counter and he in turn went to whisper something to the men who were loading the plane. When we were set to board they wouldn’t let my husband sit in the front for “balance” issues. This was a load of crap since the flight before had a big guy in front and two big guys in the back. I was really angry since I ended up in the middle seat. I let my husband have the window since the ride was his birthday present. My honest opinion after the ride is that it is not worth it if you get in the middle. I couldn’t see forward and I had to try to look around the people on either side to get a view. We tried to complain at the end, but the man suddenly couldn’t speak English. Unfortunately for us, the two women were staying at our hotel so we had to see them afterwards.

Our luxury link package included 2 drinks, so on our return we sat on the patio outside the bar for a glass of wine. I was happy to see that the free drink was whatever we wanted, not some cheap thing. We had the buffet at the Ipe Grill and again found the food just ok. We probably should have just ordered a sandwich from the bar.

The last morning we walked up the Brazilian side of the falls again and then had breakfast. We packed and then relaxed by the pool for a few hours. We had lunch by the pool. We had arranged a car to take us to the airport. We left the room with 15 minutes extra to checkout. The only let down of the hotel was upon checkout. A shuttle must have just arrived with a group from the airport. There was a long line waiting to check in. All we wanted to do was double check that the bill was ok, and leave. But, they have this elaborate process of showing each group to their room individually. It took forever. Luckily we had a lot of time before our flight, so even though we left late, we still made it.

We flew to Rio. When we landed we tried to get a taxi. It isn’t obvious how things work. The guy at the stand we went to said 2 minutes and then disappeared for at least 10 minutes. We ended up walking over to a cab that was dropping someone off and he took us. We stayed at the Copacabana Palace. We had another luxury link package. When we were shown to our room it had the wine and cheese part of the package waiting for us. There was enough cheese for a crowd. We arranged to have the included 4 course dinner that night so we didn’t have to figure something else out. We ate at the Cipriani. It was fantastic. The man who served us, or coordinated those who served us, was great. He did a nice job of making us feel comfortable, even though the place was very upscale. Overall, I was impressed with the lack of pretentiousness of the hotel staff.

We were in Rio for 3 full days and the day we left, we left late in the afternoon. On the first day we went to downtown and walked around. It was a nice adventure and we could take the subway. We had lunch at Café Colombo. The neatest thing we saw was the government building for the state of Rio. We had to be led around by a university student, but it was a cool building. That afternoon we went up sugar loaf and hung out for sunset. I got a little cold, but the views were fantastic. We came down and planned to take a cab to Miam Miam in Botafogo for dinner. None of the cab drivers would take us, presumably it was too short a trip? So we ended up walking there. It wasn’t very far, but it was not a pretty walk and we were always a little nervous just walking around Rio without having made a plan in advance. The restaurant was very good and fairly reasonably priced. Thankfully, they called a cab for us. Before going to bed, we had the concierge make us a reservation on the train up Corcovado for the next morning.

On day 2, we took a cab to the train to Corcovado. As usual we got in a traffic jam. We thought we would miss our timed train. We got there and they put us on a later one. We walked up to the loading area and were asked if we wanted to get on the one that was just leaving. In the end we were on a departure 10 minutes before we had reserved. We got on because we were only 2 as opposed to a tour group. Corcovado was much more crowded feeling than Sugar Loaf. And, there was more visible pollution, even though it was 10:30am. We spent the afternoon at the Palace’s beach area and then had some lunch in the beach café right there. The food wasn’t great, but I wasn’t expecting much. That evening we took the subway to Ipanema and walked (a long way) to dinner at Brigitte. It was supposed to be a lovely walk, but they are expanding the subway, which will be a good thing. This meant that the nice park we wanted to stroll through is completely under construction. The restaurant is Italian. We started with the Burrata appetizer. It was really good. I had carbonara that was a nice change of pace from all the beef I was eating.

On day 3 we lazed around the beach and grabbed a late lunch/snack at another beach kiosk. While walking along the beach sidewalk on Copacabana my husband got mustard squirted on top of his foot. At first I couldn’t figure out how he stepped on something that shot it on the top of his foot, but then it registered that someone had done it, and then that someone appeared “out of nowhere” to clean his foot and shoe. Husband kept his hands on his money in his pocket to avoid being pickpocketed. The shoe shine guy tried to get 5 Real out of him, but he only gave him 2, since obviously he was the one who did it. The plan for the afternoon was to go to Santa Teresa. We wanted to go for dinner and were hoping to go early and explore. The problem with this kind of plan is that it was getting dark around 5:30 and we wouldn’t eat until 7:30-8ish. Since you can’t count on getting a taxi to take you a short distance we may have ended up having to walk. I had read the area could be a little dicey. I checked out the trip advisor page and a number of people were claiming to have been mugged in the middle of the day. In the end we opted to just take a cab for dinner and skip the exploring part. We ate at Aprazivel. The place is really neat. You feel like you are in a treehouse. It is built on the side of a mountain and has great views. I got one of the beef dishes and it was really good. The downside is they claim taxis won’t come up there, so to get home we had to use their car service, which was more expensive of course.

We were leaving on day 4, so we spent the morning poolside. The hotel really is an oasis. The service was fantastic. They let us stay in the room until 3pm. We ended up checking out closer to 2 and having lunch by the pool. We took a car from the hotel to the airport. We figured that it would be more expensive, but we had the cash to use and we didn’t want to take any chances about maybe being ripped off in our last hours in Rio.

We flew on United via Sao Paolo to Chicago and then home. Unfortunately for us we had a nice 8 hour layover in Chicago. And, it was here I discovered our credit card had been compromised in Brazil. Someone spent over 11k in one day at Carrefour in Rio. Going back through the charges the last time we used it before they did a small test run was at the helicopter place. So the card got swiped before we even made it to Rio. What was surprising to me is that the credit card fraud guys seem to like to put holds on our card for small, not so strange charges. But, somehow 11k in one day gets through? We managed not to get mugged or pickpocketed while there, and at least while this takes time to deal with, we aren’t on the hook for any of it.

We had great weather and it was nice to get away with just my husband (left our kid back home). But, we spent a lot of time trying to avoid getting mugged, i.e. don’t carry a purse, stay out of risky neighborhoods, etc… I always felt like I had to be on guard. I am glad we went, but I don’t have a strong desire to go back. It will also be interesting to see how the World Cup and Olympics go. Even if they get the venues finished, Rio at least doesn’t have a lot of infrastructure. I can’t imagine what the traffic jams will be like.

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