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Adventure in Brazil : 2011 Trip Report


Jan 8th, 2012, 01:37 AM
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Adventure in Brazil : 2011 Trip Report

It has been a few days since our return from a 16-17 day Brazil trip, and we have just recovered from our jet lag. The journey fatigue is all but over, and normal life is fast returning. It was our first trip to South America, and what an adventure we had ! From jumping off a cliff in Rio with a hang-glider, to walking through the tropical rainforests of the Amazon, to sleeping in hammocks on the choppy waters of the Amazon River, we did more that what we should have dared to do at our age.

Brazil has always attracted us as a country - its samba dances, the lovely beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon river and rainforests - have always beckoned us. When I started doing the planning for this trip several months in advance, it was easy to see that Iguassu Falls and Salvador should be an integral part of the itinerary as well. We are a couple in our 50's, avid travelers of the independent variety, whose primary interests are culture, cuisine, architecture, sights and vistas, etc. But we are not really the beach crazy types, who would love to lie on beaches for days on end. This ruled out Buzios or Ilha Grande from our schedule. So our final itinerary was as follows :

Rio de Janeiro : 4 days
Foz do Iguacu : 2 days
Salvador : 4 days
Amazonia (via Manaus ) : 4 days
Sao Paulo : 2 days

We relied on the Lonely Planet guidebook, and several excellent websites for planning, such as www.ipanema.com and www.bahia-online.net (both websites are excellent for Rio and Salvador respectively). We have to plan our food options quite seriously, as we are vegetarians, and finding veg food in Brazil is not the easiest of tasks ! However, we did draw up a long list of veg friendly restaurants for each city, and we had no actual problems at all. I usually rely heavily on the Fodors Talk forum for my planning tips, but there does not seem to be much activity on the Brazil forum here, so the responses to my queries were few and far between. I had to use another travel site's talk forum to get answers to my questions, but as I am a loyal Fodorite, my Trip Report is still being posted here.

We blocked our seats on Emirates for flying from Mumbai to Brazil and back (via Dubai in both directions). We booked TAM airpasses and reserved our tickets for the internal Brazil flights. And we fixed up with Swallows and Amazons as our tour operator for the Amazon portion, where we opted for a 3-day / 2-night Riverboat trip through the Amazon region (we ended up having the boat all to ourselves). Hotel bookings were all done based on ratings on Tripadvisor, which has never let us down , and proved to be all excellent choices this time too.

I intend to post the Trip Report in 7-8 installments, as time permits. It is as much for the edification of the Fodors readers, as it is for us to go back and read, and cherish the trip of a lifetime. So here goes the first installment.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 02:14 AM
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Day 1 : Friday 16th December :

This was our travel day, as it is a long haul from India to Brazil. Had to reach Mumbai airport at 1:30am after a 3-hour drive from our home city, and boarded an early 4:20am Emirates flight to Dubai. Emirates is indeed an excellent airline, and we fortunately got 3 seats between the two of us. We slept peacefully throughout the 3-hour flight to Dubai.

Reached Dubai at 6am local time. Freshened up in the toilets, had a breakfast of spinach and cheese pies, accompanied by some Indian snacks that we were carrying. Roamed through the airport shops, and bought some dates. Our onward flight to Sao Paulo at 10:15am was on time. This was a long flight, and once again we were lucky to get 3 seats between the two of us. This made the 15-hour flight very comfortable. We slept a lot on the flight, saw some movies, enjoyed the wines and good food, and were well rested when we disembarked at Sao Paulo at 7:40pm local time, just 10 minutes behind schedule.

This was the one part of our itinerary that I was morbidly scared of. We had a tight connection at Sao Paulo. Our outgoing flight to Rio was at 9:40pm on TAM. In between, we had to clear Immigration, collect our baggage, clear Customs, and then walk to the domestic side of the airport to check-in all over again. I had heard horrendous things about Sao Paulo airport's inefficiencies and long lines, and many travelers had advised me that this connection was going to be tough. Although the entire ticketing had been done by Emirates, and they would be technically responsible for a missed connection, I knew that TAM had no more flights after this one from Sao Paulo to Rio, and did not want to spend a night at Sao Paulo airport.

Our flight into Sao Paulo was 10 minutes late, which meant that 10 precious minutes had been lost in the tight connection. We walked really fast as we got off the aircraft, and when we reached the Immigration area, we found that there were hardly any lines at all. Good start, and we sailed through Immigration in 5-10 minutes. Baggage clearance was also not bad, and there was zero wait at the Customs. We rushed towards the domestic terminal No. 1, which was a short walk in the same building, and were there by 8:40pm local time, i.e. within an hour or landing. Not bad, and we started feeling relieved.

The tension was yet to begin. As we reached the check-in area of TAM, we found that it was a crazy mess. Huge crowds, and total chaos. The airport was woefully inadequate to handle the traffic that was visible. Had great difficulty in locating the correct line to stand in, and finally we were checked-in at 9pm. We then had to dash to reach the gates, where another long line greeted us. After clearing that, we noticed an even longer line inside for security ! We were giving up on making the flight. Fortunately, some airport staff proved very helpful, and kept pointing at us and calling us "foreigners" and waving us through to go ahead of every line. This was the start of the warmth that we encountered throughout our trip in Brazil from the local people. Thanks to their assistance, we could make it ahead on time, and could even change some US Dollars to Brazilian Reals enroute to our boarding gate.We boarded our flight on the nick of time !

The flight finally took off about 30 minutes behind schedule, and we reached Rio at about 11:10pm. Baggage was very very slow, and took an hour to appear on the belt. We headed to the Radio Taxi stands in the Arrival Hall, as we did not want to take chances so late in the night with a possible unscrupulous cab driver. Radio Taxis are expensive, and the rate for Copacabana at that hour was almost R$ 100. A little bit of bargaining brought it down to R$ 80, and we hopped in, and were securely taken to our Hotel Windsor Martinique at Copacabana, reaching there at about 1am. We had booked a Superior room, which was speedily allotted; we showered, changed and crashed into bed. Very strangely, we both slept peacefully through the night, with no sign of any jet lag, despite the 7.5 hour time difference from India.

The Windsor Martinique was a nice hotel, with good English speaking staff everywhere. We had no complaints for the 5 nights that we spent here. It was half-a-block away from the Copacabana beach, and a very short walk from Ipanema beach also. The last station of the Metro (which has been extended recently) lies on the same street as this hotel, so is just 5 minutes walk away. There is free internet in the rooms, and a very decent breakfast spread. Could not have asked for a better location.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 03:42 AM
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Day 2 : Saturday December 17th :

We got up at 8am, after a very restful sleep. We had also slept well on the flight, so we were feeling great. It looked like a wonderful clear day, and by 9:15am we were down for breakfast. A sumptuous spread, and well-fed, we left the hotel by 10am.

We walked to Ipanema beach, Posto 8, which was fairly close from our hotel. From there, we walked along the beach on the sand, towards Leblon. We were clad in shorts and flip-flops. It was a lovely beach, with beautiful bodies all around. The water looked enticing, but was a bit cold for us to venture in. There were lots of vendors everywhere, selling an assortment of goods. The most interesting were the bikini vendors, carrying a mound of bikinis hanging around them !

We walked till Posto 9, and then rented two deck-chairs with an umbrella for a combined sum of R$ 10, and settled down. Vendors kept calling on us, and DW bought a nice wrap cloth for R$ 15. I had my first caipirinha of the trip, which was delicious but very wicked stuff ! DW had tender coconut water, which was sweet and refreshing. Against all advice on various talk forums, I did carry my DSLR camera in a concealed bag, and enjoyed clicking pictures with them. It was a lovely day, on a lovely beach, with zillions of lovely bodies all around, and I was not going to miss this opportunity to click pictures ! What threat were people talking about in Rio ? I could see no sign of any threat or danger, least of all on the touristy Ipanema beach on a Saturday morning.

After spending over an hour lounging under the umbrella, doing some top quality people watching, we relinquished our post, and walked to the H.Stern headquarters. Had a short workshop tour, after which we were taken to the shop where a lady showed us lots of earrings and pendants, convinced that we were serious buyers. We played along, and enjoyed the experience, promising to come back the next day for serious shopping. We were also taken on a short "museum" tour of precious stones which was interesting, and we finally managed to break free by 1:30pm.

We walked back to Ipanema beach, but by now the sun was too strong and stifling. So we walked to Leblon on the shaded side of the beachfront. It was a longish walk, made more difficult by the heat. It was time for lunch, and we found the place we were looking for : "Vegetariano Social Club" on Rua Conde de Bernadotte. We had a good lunch of Salads (Heart of palms, beetroot & olives), Pancakes with Tofu, and Grilled Vegetables, accompanied by fresh juice of Passionfruit with ginger. A decent filling meal, followed by a short taxi ride back to our hotel at 3:30pm, where we snoozed for about 2 hours.

When we awoke at about 5:30pm and looked out of the window, we were surprised to see that it had rained cats and dogs during the past 2 hours, and the streets were flooded with water ! And it was bright and sunny when we retired for our siesta. Anyway, the rains had stopped, and the street water was being fast drained, as we ventured out by 6pm. We took a taxi to Santa Teresa, getting off at Largo de Guimaraes.

The neighborhood around Largo de Guimaraes looked quaint and bohemian, with many lively cafes, bars and restaurants around. We snooped around, and then walked up the steps to reach Letras das Cafe - a bookstore cum cafe ! It was on a terrace, where it shared space with an open-air pub, where live music was in progress. There was a local music group seated around a table, generating some fantastic foot-stomping music.

We had a round of excellent coffee at the bookstore, where the owner spoke fluent English, and guided us on the areas to stroll around in Santa Teresa. Then we walked over from the bookstore to the open-air pub, where we joined the crowds of tourists swaying with the music. Music runs in the blood of Brazilians, and they do know how to make you sway your body and tap your feet.

We next walked up and down the "happening" street of Santa Teresa, on both sides of the Largo de Guimaraes. Walked into a lovely store called "La Verede", which had great handicrafts, and popped in and out of other cute shops. Saw a lot of bars with very unusual decor, and many with great live music in progress inside. You do not have to go inside to enjoy the music ! This place was so different from the rest of Rio as we had known from pictures, and my camera kept clicking.

At about 8:15pm, we boarded another taxi to the Lapa area, getting down near the famed Arcos da Lapa. The arches looked wonderful. Too bad that the Bonde had been shut down a few months ago, else we would have loved to ride it over the arches. The place was full of life and activity, as this was the nightlife area of Rio, and it was a Saturday night. We walked along Avenue Mem de Sa, and found the "Carioca da Gema" pizzeria that we were looking for. A very popular place, on the first floor, with nice ambiance and lots of crowds , good thin-crust pizzas and very helpful staff with no language barriers.

When we left at about 9:30pm, it had started to drizzle again. We walked quickly towards the Escadaria Selaron, which we wanted to see. But as we progressed, the rain kept getting heavier. Finally, we ducked for cover in a deserted restaurant. We were only a short walk away from the tiled steps of fame, but the rain showed no signs of relenting. After waiting for over an hour, we finally gave up on the wonderful sight, and decided to move on .

This was Saturday night, and we were determined to visit a samba school. All travel sites had recommended that tourists should go to either "Mangueira" or "Salgueiro". Our hotel had advised in favor of Salgueiro, as it was nearer (and they claimed was "better"). So we took a taxi from Lapa to Salgueiro. The owner of Letras das Cafe at Santa Teresa had taught me the correct way to pronounce "Salgueiro" with a local accent, assuring me that if I said it right, the cab driver would instantly understand ! He was bang on target, and our cab driver understood us completely. The taxi ride from Lapa to Salgueiro cost only R$ 25, and we were there by 11pm. Paid R$ 30 pp at the gate and went in.

It had been a long day for us, after a long day of travel from India, and some fatigue was setting in. But this was our only chance of seeing a samba rehearsal for the Carnaval, and we did not want to miss out. I was told that rehearsals are at an advanced stage by December, and a treat to watch. As we entered the main dance hall of Salgueiro, we were totally unprepared for what we saw, and our sleep/fatigue vanished in an instant ! It was a huge huge place, very well lit up, and there was electricity running through the air !

Shortly after we entered, their musicians took the stage and started belting out great non-stop music. A few tourists took to the dance floor, trying out their samba steps. At about 11:30pm, the Salgueiro samba performers slowly emerged from the shadows, and started setting the stage on fire. They were clad in costumes probably of the last year's Carnaval. There were two male dancers with divine footwork and grace in their movements, along with 12-15 young female dancers, who were skimpily dressed and very energetic and accomplished in their dancing. The crowd was up on its feet, surrounding the dance area, and loving every moment of it.

After a while, post midnight, a large percussion ensemble took stage opposite the main musicians, in a special arena on the first floor. The music that they churned out was even more heavenly, and it was impossible to stand still as one heard the sounds. The samba dancers were now in full flow, and they egged the tourists to join them ! Most tourists happily joined in, followed by great fun, culminating in the samba dancers posing for pictures with all the tourists. It made for wonderful pics, me standing with these lovely ladies draped on my arms, and my DW clicking away pictures !

When this "touristy"" phase of samba was over, the serious rehearsals for Carnaval 2012 started. The performers emerged in the costumes for the next Carnaval, the selected theme song for Salgueiro kept blaring away, and the dress rehearsals started with serious samba dancing. Awesome stuff, and views of a lifetime. This was definitely one of the high points of our entire trip. We had enjoyed every moment of it, and it looked like it would go on through the night. The heart was willing, but alas the flesh was weak, and after 1:30am at night, we decided to call it a day. Very reluctantly, we left the premises, and took a taxi back to our hotel. By the time we hit the bed, it was past 2:30am. What a start to our trip !

On the advice of the hotel staff, I did not carry my DSLR during the evening, but had carried my pocket P&S camera instead. I regretted it. There was no sign of any threatening situation anywhere, and would have loved to use a more powerful camera at the samba school. Who said Rio is unsafe ? Probably some idiot. Junk and nonsense.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 05:51 AM
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very nice report thaks great detail keep it up!
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Jan 8th, 2012, 06:46 AM
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Thanks qwovadis for the compliments. Will try to keep going.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 08:46 AM
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Day 3 : Sunday December 18th :

We had intended to sleep till late, but were wide awake at 8am. Got ready, had breakfast, and left the hotel by 10:15am. The weather was heavily overcast, but no rain. Pleasant weather, as no stifling sun. We walked over to Copacabana beach, and walked along the beach towards Leme. One side of Av. Atlantica was closed to vehicular traffic on a Sunday, and converted into a pedestrian zone. Kids had full control of that highway, on roller skates, on tricycles and on toy cars. A lovely sight to behold.

The absence of sun meant that there were very few bodies on the beach on deck-chairs, but there were many lovely ones playing beach volleyball or Fast-ball. Copacabana seemed to be a more "sporty" beach than Ipanema. We walked a good deal on the beachfront, almost from Aproador to Hotel Copacabana Palace. The latter was a lovely property to stare at. We sat at a stall just opposite it, and had a lovely glass of dark draught beer.

Then we slowly retraced our steps and returned to the other end of Copacabana beach. There were beautiful sand castles carved out everywhere on the beach, and Av. Atlantica was a splendid sight. We proceeded further towards Ipanema, and finally reached the venue of the Sunday Hippie Fair by 12:30pm. It was a huge flea market, with a lot of good stuff on display. We did pick up some good handicrafts, but did not have time to explore it fully.

At about 1:30pm we headed for lunch to the nearby "Frontera" restaurant on Rua Visconde de Piraja. It was a very popular place, packed to capacity. Fantastic lunch buffet spread, where you pay by the kilo. Had a great meal, as there were enough vegetarian items, and enjoyed the place. Then we returned to the hotel, thinking we could use the Metro underpass as a short-cut. After proceeding a long distance into the underpass, we realized that we were not permitted to emerge on the other side without buying a metro ticket. When we explained our mistake to the metro security personnel manning the gate, they were very helpful and understanding, and allowed us through without tickets ! Once again, great Brazilian people, and their warmth towards foreign tourists.

Rested at our hotel for about 45 minutes, and left again at 3:30pm. We took a taxi to the base of the Sugarloaf mountain. Got tickets for the cablecar, and went up immediately. We had intended to first go to Praia Vermelha, and doing the walking trail of Pista Claudio Coutinho. But we noticed that the sky was suddenly very clear, and had been warned to expect rain later in the evening. So we decided to make the most of the excellent weather, and head to the top as soon as possible.

The 2-stage ascent was accomplished very speedily, and very soon we were on top of the Sugarloaf. The weather was crystal clear, there was no haze over the horizon, and the views were spectacular in every direction. There were a few clouds, with the sun playing hide & seek with them, but otherwise the sky was clear and blue. We were indeed very lucky. What can one write about the views from Sugarloaf on a clear day ? It is something that defies words. We still could not believe that we were actually on top of Rio's iconic mountain, and eyeing Rio in all its glory. The views of the Corcavado with Christ the Redeemer, the lovely Guanabara Bay with the tiny boats anchored everywhere, the Santos Dumont airport, the Copacabana beach, the cute Praia Vermelha beach and the shady Urca - everything looked spectacular ! We walked all around the viewing platforms, and clicked pictures from every angle and every vantage point. The weather just kept getting better and better as the evening progressed.

We had reached the top of Sugarloaf at about 4pm, and ended up staying there for a full 4 hours ! It was too beautiful to come down. We would sit on the deck-chairs at one spot for 30 minutes, admiring the views, then shift our seats to a different spot and gaze in a different direction, and continue this game all evening. In between we had some wonderful coffee, and some frozen acai sorbet. Watched the sunset from atop, and the fading light made for some great pictures. Waited some more for the city lights of Rio to get turned on gradually, then clicked more pics, and finally at 8pm we were ready to leave.

We descended to the base, and took a taxi to Botafogo, to Cobal Humaita. Turned out to be a great place - a huge complex with about 10-15 different restaurants housed within its compounds, all overflowing with people. We strolled through them all, and finally selected "The Mother Road - Route 66", a Tex-Mex restaurant which seemed popular. Had a caipirinha which was so-so (the one on Ipanema beach had been great), followed by some excellent burritos and quesadillas. The food was excellent, but the portions were too large to handle.

After dinner we took a taxi back to the hotel, reaching by 10pm. We needed to turn in early to bed, and get a long night's sleep. Rio was a superb city, and we were thoroughly enjoying it. At the end of just our second day in Rio, 3 myths were becoming obvious, and needed to be debunked :

1. Is Rio safe ? This sounded like a joke now. It is as safe or as unsafe as any other large city. We never felt threatened in even the remotest way. Wonder what that brouhaha was all about.

2. Are Rio taxis reliable ? By now we had done almost a dozen taxi rides, and no one had tried to cheat us. This held true right till the end of our entire Brazil trip. I am sure there are a few unscrupulous cab drivers in Rio, as in any other city. No reason to malign Rio taxi drivers at all; our experience with them was excellent.

3. Is there a language problem in Brazil ? We had read so much hype about English being barely spoken, that it was strange to see that there were not much of language problems at all. Almost every restaurant had someone who could speak English, and all hotel staff seemed comfortable in English too. Of course, knowing a few Portuguese words are very helpful, and shows that one has made an effort to learn the local language. After that, the warmth of the Brazilian people takes over, and we had no problems at all.
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Jan 8th, 2012, 01:14 PM
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Thanks a lot for that great report so far!
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Jan 8th, 2012, 03:36 PM
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Definitely looking forward to more. Glad I stumbled upon this!
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Jan 8th, 2012, 11:59 PM
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I applaud you for writing such a very interesting report. I read all of Part I and lived vicariously from what was penned. I have been fortunate to have visited Rio de janeiro eight times during the 2000s, my most recent was in October of 2011.

When you wrote about Lapa and the activities and Santa Teresa and alluded to those very "famous steps," my lovely situations and experiences began to return to me; I'd wanted to have been right back enjoying the vibrant culture and people that is "Rio de janeiro!" Thank you very much!
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Jan 9th, 2012, 07:20 AM
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Encouragement will keep me going...thanks al998, Femi and Eddwarm. Keep the encouragement going ! Next installment coming up soon.

Eddwarm, I envy you for having visited Rio 8 times in the last decade. I doubt if I will ever be able to go there again. Such a marvelous city.
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Jan 9th, 2012, 07:45 AM
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Always enjoy your excellent reports indiancouple. Keep it coming!
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Jan 9th, 2012, 08:02 AM
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Day 4 : Monday December 19th :

For some strange reason, we both got up real early today, by 5:30am. Tossed and turned in bed till 7:15am or so. Finally got ready and had breakfast by 8:30am. Walked about 3 blocks to a Cambio, and changed some dollars into reals, getting the best exchange rate so far (much better than airport).

We had been using too much of taxi in our daily commutes so far, which is not quite our style of travel. We always like to use public transport during our foreign travels, as it is so much fun. You get to interact with local people and observe their daily life. Today we had planned on going to Corcovado, and the hotel was again recommending using a taxi. We enquired about public transport, and were told that there is a City Bus No. 583, which we could catch from around the corner. So we trooped over to the bus stop, and got our bus within 5 minutes. An air-conditioned bus, with ample seating, costing only R$ 2.60 pp, which got us there in 25 minutes. Good and efficient.

The bus dropped us right at the Corcovado cogwheel train station. We had been warned of long lines, but at 10:30am, there were no lines at all. We bought our tickets and rode the train to the top. It was a long and steep ride, with nice views on the way. Roving musicians climb the train somewhere in between, and regale the audience with their music, with expectations of donations at the end. On reaching the top, an elevator ride to still higher up, followed by two sets of escalator rides, and you are finally at the base of the statue. One of the modern wonders of the world, and here we were !

I must admit that the Christ Redeemer statue did not give us the goosepimples that we experienced at the other "wonders of the world" like the Egyptian pyramids or the Great Wall of China, but it was a great sight nonetheless. The statue is more awe inspiring than what you may imagine, and quite powerful once you come face to face with it. The views in all directions were great, and lot of picture clicking happened. The weather was clear, with a slight haze in the air. The views from the Sugarloaf are probably better, except that you can see the lovely Sugarloaf itself from up here ! We spent about 90 minutes up there, then retraced our steps down, and caught the 584 bus back to our hotel.

We lunched at a boutique veg restaurant called Bio Carioca on Rua Xavier D'Silva, very near our hotel. It had been greatly recommended on some travel sites, and it turned out to be the best one so far on this trip. It was a 100% veg restaurant. We enjoyed a wonderful soup of hearts of palms, some brown rice with beans and a lentil dish. There was super acai juice to go with it. It was an excellent meal in lovely settings, with English speaking staff who were very helpful.

We returned to our hotel for our afternoon siesta. The hotel managed to fix the internet problem in my room, so I could check my mails. Called up a few hang-gliding operators listed in Lonely Planet, as this is something I have always wanted to do. They all said that the wind condition on that day was not favorable, and to check back the next day. Of the several operators listed in the guidebook, our hotel recommended Tandem-Fly, and I liked their quote the most. The offered to do the flight for R$ 250 plus a R$ 15 tax, and they would arrange pick up and drop from our hotel. Also, DW could come along and watch for no extra charge.

WE left the hotel at 4pm, taking a taxi to Jardim Botanico. It was a lovely place to stroll around in; very beautifully landscaped from inside. It had waterfalls, lakes, and lots of exotic plants and flowers. We had barely enjoyed the serene surroundings for 30 minutes when the rain came down real hard (it had been clear skies a short while ago !). We took shelter in a greenhouse on the premises. When the rain stopped, we strolled again, but within 15 minutes we had to make another dash to the greenhouse because of rains. Alas the gardens close at 6pm, and we had to slowly make our way towards the entrance. We sat at the Jardim Cafe and sipped coffee, waiting for the rain to subside. Finally, at about 6:30pm it looked clear and we departed.

We walked to the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, which was not far away, and started walking around it. One has to spend one evening in Rio around the Lagoa; it is very pleasant, with families and kids strolling everywhere, and joggers and cyclists in large numbers. After walking a bit, we sat down at a lakeside eatery called "Arab de Lagoa". Had a dark beer while DW enjoyed a pineapple + mint juice. Great place to sit and people watch. We ended up staying there for dinner, having Baba Ganouche with Pita Bread (which was great) with some pizza (average). The weather had totally cleared out by then.

After dinner, we resumed walking around the lagoon. By now the giant floating Christmas tree in the lagoa had been lit up, and it was a very pretty sight. We continued walking till we reached Rua Garcia D'Avila in Ipanema, when DW complained to exhaustion. So we rode a taxi back to the hotel. Reached the hotel by 9:30pm, and hit the bed an hour later. Nice eventful day, with the weather cooperating again, except for a brief spell in Jardim Botanico.
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Jan 9th, 2012, 08:04 AM
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Hi mlgb, remember you vividly from my planning of New Zealand two years ago. Thanks for the appreciation !
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Jan 9th, 2012, 09:21 AM
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Day 5 : Tuesday December 20th :

Once again we awoke early, and lazed in bed till a more opportune hour. Called up the Tandem-Fly pilot at 8am to check on the weather conditions. It looked like a beautiful clear day from our window. The pilot Ronny confirmed that there was no rain forecasted for the day, but that wind conditions for hang-gliding would be right only in the afternoon. I promised to call back at about 3:30pm and re-check.

Had breakfast, and changed more currency at a nearby Cambio. Exchange rate was even better than the previous day. At about 10am we left for Centro, taking the metro to Cinelandia. As we emerged from the subway into Praca Floriana, we gazed at the lovely buildings all around, especially the Teatro Municipal. This place felt like Vienna or Prague, and not like Rio. Excellent colonial architecture.

We paid the entry at Museu Nacional de Belas Artes and went all around. Fairly decent stuff, although no "masterpieces" by the legendary painters. It was stifling heat outside, so the air-conditioned environs of some of the galleries were extremely comforting !

After exhausting the art supplies in an hour, we emerged and walked to Largo Carioca - a very lively place indeed. The quaint old church of Igresia Sao Francisco loomed over the square. Stalls and vendors all around. Had a round each of frozen acai juice (it is really quite addictive).

We walked further to Confeitaria Colombo, and could not help but exclaim OMG when we entered. An exquisite and ornate Victorian tea-house, with large old-fashioned mirrors all around and a wonderful ambiance. We sat down and enjoyed a savoury snack with an Espresso with Chantilly ! This place cannot be missed on any trip to Rio. After finishing our coffee, we ventured out and did window-shopping in the lovely shops in that area. The shops had classy stuff, but were understandably over-priced.

We walked towards Praca XV Novembro, and went for lunch at a veg restaurant called Tempeh (on the 1st floor). The place had a very arty decor, it was pay by the weight, and they had a huge huge buffet spread of veg items. This turned out to be the most delicious and also the most reasonable meal of our entire trip ! Excellent juices to go with the food, and very friendly staff.

It was about 2:30pm when we finished lunch, and we walked to the ferry terminal nearby and bought return tickets for Niteroi. The ferries leave every 20 minutes, and the journey to Niteroi is slightly less than 20 minutes. The ferry ride was quite pleasant, with nice views of Rio and the Sugarloaf. On alighting at the ferry terminal at Niteroi, we made our way to the bus stop and boarded the 47B bus to MAC Museum. The museum was exactly what we had been told to expect, like a flying saucer from outer space ! The views in every direction were great, and we clicked pictures while enjoying really well chilled coconut water.

We had no intentions of going inside the MAC Museum, but had intended to walk all the way back to the ferry terminal along the shore, which offered very pretty vistas. We had crossed some lovely beaches on the way to MAC, and were eager to go there on foot. However, it was 3:30pm, and time to establish contact with the hang-gliding pilot. This time there was good news. The wind condition was excellent, and I should rush back if I wanted to hang-glide ! I promised to return ASAP, and we decided to skip everything and head back, as this was our last day in Rio, and my last chance to hang glide.

We boarded the 47B bus back to Niteroi ferry terminal, rode the ferry back to Rio, and briskly walked to Carioca metro station. Just before boarding the metro, I alerted the Tandem-Fly pilot Ronny about where we were. He suggested that once we reached the last metro stop in Ipanema, I should get into a taxi, which he would pick up the tab for (rather than sending his vehicle for pick-up). As we emerged at Ipanema metro station, we got into a cab. It was already 5pm, and Ronny spoke to the cab driver on my cell phone, explaining to him where to bring us. The traffic slowed to a crawl, and what should have taken 15 minutes ended up taking 1 hour. I was sure that we were too late to make the flight, as it was getting close to sunset, and some dark clouds were appearing over the horizon. Ronny kept in regular contact, assuring us that we could still make it.

We finally met up with Ronny at 6:05pm. He took us straight to the Aeronautical Club office, where I had to deposit the R$ 15 tax, sign a waiver, and freshen up. Then Ronny started driving us up the Pedro Bonito mountain, briefing me along the way. He kept stressing repeatedly that I should run HARD during take-off, and that was the only thing I had to do properly. I assured him that I was in good shape, that I had badly wanted to do this, and that I would not let him down.

When we reached the top of Pedro Bonito, Ronny's assistant started assembling the hang-glider, and Ronny started practicing the tandem run that we would have to do during take-off. Very soon I was up to his expectations, but he kept repeating the importance to run HARD during take-off. Wondered what he was worried about !

Finally, I was all strapped up, with helmet and gear, and hooked on to the hang-glider. We did a last practice run, this time with all the burdens on us. Then he pointed towards the take-off ramp, as it was time for the actual flight. I had expected a horizontal take-off run, and not anticipated on seeing the 2000ft drop until we had taken off. I was very wrong. The take-off ramp was downward sloping, protruding beyond the edge of the cliff, and one could see all the vertical drop as we approached it. OMG, I would have to race downwards on a sloping ramp, and take-off beyond the cliff's edge, with the precipitous fall in full view ! My heart sank. Did I really want to do this at 54 years of age ? Ronny kept insisting that I could still call it off if I felt scared, but under no circumstance should I falter or hesitate once we started the take-off run.

What if my heart sub-consciously caused me to pull back at the last moment ? I was scared, and asked some foolish questions, enquiring about Ronny's accident record (not the right time and place to do so !!). I didn't just have butterflies in my stomach, but there were large creatures growling all inside me.

I managed to steady myself, regained my composure, and told Ronny that I was ready. He waited for a few seconds until he felt the right wind, and commanded me to start the synchronized run. I did not hesitate or falter, but did exactly what was taught in the last 30 minutes. Before I knew it, we were airborne, and Ronny was congratulating me profusely for a faultless take-off ! The scary part was behind me now - the fun part had started. I knew that the flight would only last about 8 minutes, and I was enjoying every bit of it. The rush of adrenalin had blurred the senses, and I was too excited to fully enjoy what I was experiencing. Great to see tall buildings and the lovely beach far far below. Alas, before I knew it, it was getting time to land on the beach. The landing part was easy, and there was not much that I could do wrong. Ronny had explained that any mistake during landing would not be serious. However, there were no mistakes, and we had a perfect landing. Ronny congratulated me, and I felt delighted at accomplishing this cherished desire of a lifetime.

DW joined me a short while later, and I was still in 7th heaven ! Ronny transferred the pictures and video of the flight into a DVD, and arranged for a cab to drop us off at our hotel. We decided to get off a little earlier, at Praia Arpoador. I kept thinking about the downward inclined take-off ramp : it seemed more scary in memory. How did I get myself to do it ?!!

We had wanted to see the sunset from Praia Arpoador,but we were a bit late. Anyway, we had almost seen the sun set at the Sao Conrado beach, where we had landed, which was also very pretty. We started walking towards Copacabana as it became dark. Saw a Pizza Hut on the way, where we ducked in for a quick dinner, as we were both tired. Stuffed ourselves, went back to our hotel, packed up and crashed into bed. We had to get up early the next morning to depart from Rio. What a glorious 4 days we had spent in this lovely city, blessed with excellent weather all through.
indiancouple is offline  
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Jan 9th, 2012, 03:19 PM
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Thank you for a great report - we will be there in 3 weeks and really appreciate your level of detail.
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Jan 9th, 2012, 06:31 PM
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Thank you for the awesome report - love your writing style! Please keep writing...returning to Brazil in December (this time, the Northern Coast - Salvador, Bahia as main focus). Would love to get your insight, particularly around the Amazon Rainforest...unsure about committing to the trip...appears to be a hassle...
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Jan 9th, 2012, 08:12 PM
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Which places in Brazil are you visiting Elizabeth_S ? I am sure you will have a great time. Brazil is such a wonderful country, with fantastic people.
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Jan 9th, 2012, 08:20 PM
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Crisher, the Salvador and Amazon portions will appear later in this Trip Report. Awesome places.

As regards Amazon region, I guess you have two alternate approaches you can take. One is to base yourself at a "jungle lodge" where you can enjoy all creature comforts, and do short day trips on canoes or boats to see regions of the river. The other approach is to stay in a Riverboat or Houseboat, and be continuously on the move on the Amazon, stopping at shore to do some treks through the rainforest or some other activity. In the second approach you will sacrifice some comfort, but see more. This is what we opted for. It involved sleeping on hammocks for 3 days, with hammocks strung across the upper deck of a riverboat, and sharing the toilet with the crew of the boat. Wasn't bad at all, and gave a feeling of adventure.

However, I understand that the first approach is more popular. See what suits you more, then look for an appropriate tour operator, who will tie up everything for you. Really no hassle.
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Jan 10th, 2012, 12:35 AM
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I'm really enjoying your trip report and am very keen to read about the Amazon sector.

Thanks for including so many interesting details.


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Jan 10th, 2012, 03:57 AM
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indiancouple - we are spending the first 4 nights at an Amazon Lodge (we fly from Manaus to Tefe and then boat for a couple of hours!) then 5 nights in Pipa, then 3 nights in Salvador then 4 nights in Rio. We then go to Argentina for 6 weeks so will visit Iguazu and Sao Paolo in March on our way back home. You have inspired us to look into hang gliding (but not hammocks!)
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