I. Boy and Girl in Ipanema
Did you know that Ipanema (of the song, with the girl) is actually a beachy neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro? Neither did we, but we quickly learned our way around it, and many other neighborhoods, during our two days in Rio.
(Note: It seems that almost all of the pictures we took in Rio were of food, so they will show up in our next "Foods of Brazil" post, but we do have a few to share here.)
I really liked Rio, but it was a sometimes-maddening mix of easy and difficult, glamorous and poverty-stricken, great deals and rip-offs. For instance, in Rio we paid the most we have ever for the smallest room ever on this trip, literally a closet with two bunk beds:
But, we were right in the heart of Ipanema, which had a lovely public beach and felt safe to walk around at night. And on our first night in town, we ate at a fairly swanky yet reasonably-priced churrascaria, (about US $17 pp for terrific salad bar and all-you-can-eat meat on swords, including beef ribs--YUM).
We also found doce de leite filled churros, vanilla soft serve cones, and suco + salgado (cup of juice and a savory pastry) for 1 real (50 cents US) apiece, which is as cheap as we´ve seen anywhere in Brazil, in certain neighborhoods of Rio, even rather touristy ones. So we didn´t starve.
And there were lots of cool things to see for free. We poked our heads into countless churches and cathedrals around the old city...
...and even got to tour the beautiful old parliament building (now used for the state legislative meetings, since the capital moved to Brasilia in the 1960s), absolutely free.
And we rode this cable car all around the bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa for a whopping 60 centavos (about 30 cents US) each--highly recommended.
Not everything touristic was such a deal, though. For instance, the famous Christ the Redeemer statue that stands over the city would have cost $18 US apiece to visit on the little tourist train. (Do you know how many meat-on-a-sticks that is?) So we opted instead to utilize the super-zoom on Andy´s new camera...
One outing that was definitely worth the money, though, was the three-hour favela tour we took. A favela is a slum, usually built on a hillside in or near a big city (as was explained to us, ironically in Brazil the rich people live at the bottom of the hill and the poor people have the great views). No joke--we took this picture from a rooftop in Rochima, Rio´s largest favela:
Because the favelas are built up on public land with no urban planning or infrastructure, when electricity, internet, etc. come in, the wires tend to look like this:
This is a great picture not because I am in it, but because you can see 1) how narrow the streets usually are in favelas--no room for cars, and often not even wide enough for an umbrella. Sometimes it is so narrow and the homes are built so high you feel more like you are in a hallway in someone´s house than outside. and 2) you can see a beautiful mosaic someone made on their house, probably out of remnants from another construction site.
There´s so much to write about the favelas--how their security is controlled by drug-trading gangs so there´s very little street crime because they don´t want the police nosing around their neighborhood; how the emerging middle class is staying in the favelas and improving their homes there rather than moving out because of ties to the community. I could go on, but I´ll just highly recommend that you take Marcello´s favela tour if you ever come to Rio.
Our last stop in Rio was the botanic gardens, which had a cool house of carnivorous plants. Also, this bush tried to swallow Andy, but I rescued him.
(Sorry, I couldn´t think of a good title for this part!)
A brief 6 hour overnight bus trip from Rio (good lord, you know you´ve been in Brazil too long when a 6-hour bus trip sounds incredibly short to you), and we were in Sao Paulo!
Sao Paulo is the financial capital of Brazil, and is known for its high culture, so we had to hit a few museums.
The first was the Butantan Institute on the University campus, apparently world-famous for its study of snake and insect venom! Visitors can tour the "serpentarium," which is where we saw this fellow.
We then went to MASP, the first-rate art museum in the Jardins area. They wouldn´t let us bring our camera in, but trust us, we saw some nice Van Goghs.
There was some impressive architecture and sculpture to be seen; the imposing cathedral on the Praca da Se...
...and this incredible monument at the large park where we picnicked the next day. Our limited ability to read Portuguese led us to think it is a monument to immigrants, or to the pioneers who founded modern Brazil? (If there are any Paulistanos reading, feel free to set me straight about this.)
(Speaking of works of art, at said picnic, Andy impressed me by slicing a tomato with a spork.)
And because there is only so much high culture a person can take, we present you with the following two pictures we also took in Sao Paulo.
One last note: Our guidebook said that Paulistanos are incredibly nice, and we found this to be absolutely true!
Our conductor on one city bus made it his personal mission to make sure we got to the venomous snake museum, even though it wasn´t really on the bus route and it was clear we could hardly understand a word he said; he found another passenger to speak English to us, and when we reached our stop he actually got off the bus and walked halfway down the block with us to tell us where to turn.
Other people came up to us on the street and chatted with us, pointed out places of interest, and offered to help if we looked the slightest bit lost. So, a special shout-out to the people of SP.
16 hours on a bus later, and we arrived in our final destination in Brazil, Foz do Iguacu (Iguacu Falls). Seriously amazing, but we haven´t uploaded the pictures yet and tonight are leavin´...leavin´ on the midnight bus to Paraguay...so you´ll have to wait for that story.