Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Fred's world tour week 3 - Rio De Janeiro

Fred's world tour
Week 3 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
13th until 19th of October 2012

In brief:
  1. Partied on the streets of Lapa, drinking Caipirinhas until the early hours.
  2. Explored the bohemian district of Santa Teresa.
  3. Walked down the famous 'Escadaria Selaron' (Tile staircase of Selaron) and met the creator.
  4. Take the funicular to 'Christo Redentor' (Christ the redeemer) and awe at the views over Rio.
  5. Watch the sunset over Rio from the 'Pao de acucar' (sugarloaf mountain)
  6. Delta hang-gliding over Rio and land on San Conrado's white sandy beach.
  7. Run and stroll along the beaches of Flamengo, Botafogo, Copacabana and Ipanema.
  8. Take a motorbike tour of two favelas (hillside slums) including where Michael Jackson filmed the music video for his song 'The don't really care about us'.
  9. Take a beginner's class of samba.

This week started with a short flight from Florianopolis to Rio de Janeiro's domestic airport of Santos Dummont. It was a hairy landing approach dodging the famous hills of Rio but meant I could walk straight into downtown. I was unfortunately welcomed with cloudy skies and more rain later as if its been following me from Buenos Aires. Still, I was excited and rearing to see the highly recommended 'ciudade maravilhosa'. It was named after the Portuguese arrived in January 1502 and they though it was at a mouth of a river hence 'Rio of January'. All hostels were booked up because it was a national holiday so I managed to find a not-so-good hostel in Santa Theresa. It was in fact a blessing in disguise because the other backpackers at the hostel were a great. We all had a disco nap and walked down to Lapa the party centre of Rio which happened to be just down the hill.... a very steep hill. Lapa was crazy, streets closed off, people were partying everywhere, clubs lined the road and stalls selling the very best caipirinhas for £1.5!! With clubs open until 8 or 9am it was hard to stay until the end because I didn't bring my sunglasses unlike all the locals in the know! Five in the morning was late enough for me. I didn't want to waste the next day.
Unfortunately because breakfast at hostels are only served until 10am it means no lie-ins for us. Then again it was a good excuse to kick start the day and 'carpe dium' . The view from the hillside hostel for breakfast was great and this view was only going to get better as we walked uphill and round the bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. Artistic graffiti paintings covered the walls, tram tracks lined the road (currently not working due to tragic death a year ago) and quaint restaurants gave it a great authentic Brazilian atmosphere. From parque de Las Ruinas we caught our first view of the 'Pao de acucar' (sugarloaf) on a beautiful day.; Then we walked down the selaron stairs. These stairs are the creation of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selaron whom has spent decades collecting tiles from 60 countries around the world to decorate this stair case. To this day he sits there next two his own house selling art and continues to add touches to the staircase. He is so at home on the stairs that when I got a picture with him he was picking his toes :-) . to finish the day we cooked our own food and sampled a few tipples at local Santa Teresa bars.

The next few days Mark, Johanna and I did some of the big name sights of Rio. Took the funicular to the Christ the redeemer statue which is currently one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The views were great and I don't think I have ever taken so many photos from one place before. Also what I didn't realise is that there is a tiny, cute little chapel inside the base of the Christ. 

We also walked around the famous beaches of Copacabana and ipanema which was very beautiful and a surreal experience. Including going to the cafe where 'the girl from ipanema' was written by Tom Jobin. Going up to see the sugarloaf by cable car was pretty special. What was even better was seeing the sunset from there and also waiting to see Rio at night all lit up. 

I also managed to convince Jo to come and go delta hang-glide with me over Rio. The flight was short but very special seeing rio from the air and being able to land of the pristine beach of San Conrado. 

On the thursday I spent time seeing the sights at the centre, met up to have lunch with a friend's friend which is always fun. I then managed to cross the bay by boat to Nicerio to see the MAC (museo de arte contamporaneo) a flying saucer shaped art gallery designed by the famous Oscar Niemeyer. 

The boat back dodged some planes landing at the Santos Dummont airport which made for an interesting trip. On my return I saw the impressively modern/odd shaped cathedral right next to the Lapa viaduct arches and I also booked myself in for a Samba class on Friday. Not at the same place I don't think God would approve! :-)

Friday would mark the end of one week in Rio! I didn't think I would stay here this long but i've enjoyed every minute of it. Jose has persuaded me to stay the weekend. Afterall Friday and Saturday nights are the best in Rio. However before that all kicks off I had organised to have a motorbike tour of two of Rio's Favelas (hillside slums). This guy was recommended by Mark the guy from Holland. The operator is an English speaking favela resident with a motorbike and the 'know how' of the area but otherwise that's it. No tour operator licence and no website. This could go either way and thankfully for me it went really well. The first Favela was the most dangerous one 3years ago and it also happens to be the one where Michael Jackson filmed the music video for his song 'they don't really care about us'. The production crew for the video had to pay off drug dealers to get permission to film there! In the last few years Rio's favela 'passifying' initiative has slowly but surely been clearing out the drug gangs from the 300 favelas and Santa Marta is one of them. It was an eye opening experience. It had areas of colourful art, dingy cramped spaces and some very smelly streams flowing through it. The government had installed an elevator to get to the top seeing as its also the steepest favela in Rio. We took that and then meandered our way through, pass the Michael Jackson statue and murial. The rest of the day involved going some good city viewpoints and also a city park with amazing geology.

After this there was the Samba class in downtown. Despite the instructor only speaking Portuguese  I was able to get a grasp of the basics by copying and so it turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable lesson. I'm not quite ready for Carnival yet but maybe soon.
To finish my week we went out and sampled Rio's nightlife once again.

The plan for the coming week is to stay in Rio until Monday then get to the Iguazu fall on the border with Argentina,  Brazil and Paraguay.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Fred's world tour week 2 - Uruguay to South Brazil

Fred's world tour
Week 2 – Uruguay and South Brazil
6th until 12th of October 2012

In brief:
  1. Wondered the cobbled streets of Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay
  2. Got culturally enlightened in a rainy Montevideo
  3. Explored the surfer and holiday-maker's mecca of Punta del Este. (also in the rain)
  4. Sampled the all you can eat Brazilian Buffet for £4 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.... twice!
  5. Survived my first Brazilian taxi ride with two very near misses.
  6. Basked in the crisp beautiful beaches of Ilha de Santa Caterina, Florianopolis.

After more of a static visit to Buenos Aires (BA) it was time to hit the road, backpack on, sense of adventure in one hand and guidebook in the other (thank you to my sister Steph for the book :-). Well I say road it was actually a Ferry that got Louise and I across the waters of the Rio Plata to Colonia. Louise is a Swedish girl from the hostel that's doing a long Spanish course in BA. Colonia de Sacramento is a quaint little village in Uruguay. Full of history, character and old Portuguese architecture. It didn't really take much time to cover all the sights of the old town so we took our time and had a delicious lunch. A 'chivito' is a dish which comprises of a slab of meat (chicken or beef), topped with a slice of ham, cheese, some bread On the same plate there is salad, a cucumber melange, french fries and a fried egg on top. A cheap, traditional and very filling dish.

From there we took the very confi buses to Montevideo the capital of Uruguay. Things have definitely changed since I last took a bus in latin america or maybe its just Uruguay, but there is wifi on board all long distance buses. It was good enough to have a skype conversation with just minor hiccups! In Montevideo we went out for a stroll in the centre of town, admired the lit up colonial buildings and after dinner Louise called it a night. Excited at the prospect of the new city I headed out to the nearest club. To my surprise at half past mid-night the venue was empty on a saturday night! The bar man said to 'come back in one hour and see how it is'. He was right the crowds just started to come at 01:30-2am. I chatted to some locals and a chap from Rio, Jose. Originally Rio was not going to be on my trip because I was keen on coming back some other time with a grasp of Portuguese but everyone including Jose said that it was a must! The beauty of this trip is that I can be flexible to change plans so.... Rio here I come!

Louise and I spent the weekend in Montevideo going to museums, art galleries, inside colonial building and had lunch at the 'famous' mercado del puerto. Museums and Fred don't usually mix too well but when you throw-in horizontal rain with a cold wind and the fact that for this weekend only, all museums were free to enter. Then, you can find me getting culturally enlightened. On the Monday Louise had to get back to Buenos Aires for her language school so we said goodbye and off I went to Punta del Este a two hour bus trip.

'Punta' as the locals call it, is a special place where it seems every Argentinian, Brazilian and rich foreigner has a house or at least a flat for use only during the 2months of December and January. It has a resident population of 18,000 which swells to 500,000 in those months. Not only that but some 400 additional police are drafted in from around the country to add to the 38-strong Punta police to cope with the masses. It basically means that this beach town is currently an eerie urban ghost town. That afternoon it rained some more but we still got some sightseeing and food with some hostal people including Jose the Brazilian from Rio. The next day I invested money on a mini-van guided tour of the sights. I go to learn some portuguese from the other punters and see sights of the area that are pretty unique. Sights such as the houses of the rich, the wavy bridge, the casa pueblo (home of artist Carlos Paez vilaro) and the general layout of 'Punta'. The wavy bridge is apparently architecturally ground breaking for what was thought was a non-feasible design and now they built an identical next to it. 'Casapueblo' is the creation of artist Carlos Paez Vilaro. Initially a beach side white house has grown room by room over the years to eventually occupy and entire southfacing hillside. In case you're wondering I don't think planning permission existed in those times. A third has become a hotel, a third his art gallery and a third remains his home/art studio. Beautiful especially as a place to watch the sunset which is accompanied by a recording of the artist's poetry. Incidentally he happens to be the father of one of the survivors of the Andean place crash that inspired the film 'Alive'.
From here an overnight bus took me to Porto Alegre where I did an open top bus tour, ate twice at an all you can eat buffet for £4, and survived my first taxi ride to a Brazilian club. Apparently taxi drivers at night don't abide by the speed limits, traffic lights, one way systems and have no hesitation in answering their phone while driving thereby narrowly missed hitting two parked cars!

One night at a funky hostel and one on an overnight bus I found myself in Florianopolis. If Rio de Janeiro would have a lovechild this would be it. A healthy seaside exercise lifestyle, an island full of beautiful beaches nearby, sand dunes to sandboard on and a very very good nightlife!
Next stop was Rio and I had two choices; 20hour by bus or short flight for £74... tough choice :-)

on Punta del este beach monument

Guys from hostel
Casa pueblo

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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Fred's world tour week 1 - Buenos Aires

27th of September until 5th of October 2012

In brief:
1) Sightseeing all over Buenos Aires
2) Partied until 5am three times with the crazy locals.
3) Eaten more meat than I could have imagined possible.
4) Played polo on an Argentinian horse & watch a pro's polo match
5) Took two tango lesson and watched a tango show
6) I decided I might be willing to shave my head for charity if I can get enough sponsorship. www.justgiving.com/fredcj

The last week has absolutely flown by. I've had so much fun and feel I've really sampled what BA (Buenos Aires) has to offer.
The year out of specialist training that I’ve imagined doing for so long had finally arrived. Departing was very emotionally charged! Saying goodbye to family and friend with the thought that I wouldn't see them again for 12months was pretty intense. What's more is that I would be missing Christmas with family for the first time in 27 years. The mix of emotions was bizarre. Nevertheless I was excited and raring to go.

My flight landed on Friday the 28th of September which was intentional as I figured what better way to get stuck-in than to go and party on the first night! I prepared myself by having a kip and headed to the best place rated online. To my surprise entry was 9 British pounds and all you can drink from a list of BA's best cocktails. I was on to a winner ;-) . Travelling alone is not for everyone you need to be willing to chat to random people. I sparked conversation with some Argentinians and once they realised I could speak Spanish we had a great time. Its always fun. They educated me on local lingo, traditions and gave me advice on the best places to visit. After chatting we hit the dance floor to a crazy mix of current mainstream music and Latino beats. A 5am end to the night out was unexpected but the club didn't really get busy until 2am. Crazy latinos! :-)

The next day the hostel suggested I do a bike tour of the city. It was a great way to see cool places of the city such as iconic old town of San Telmo and the picturesque colourful streets of la Boca where live tango and handicrafts where a plenty. The tour also took us to the new part of town where land reclamation occurred years ago from the rubble left over after large parts of the city were demolished to give way to the new motorway. The idea was to move the business district to this new piece of land but finances limited this migration. Instead nature came and made the most of it. vegetation arrived, birds followed and then this was later declared a natural reserve. The tour then moved through the port and the heart of the city, the plaza de Mayo. Back at the hostel I chilled with some other residents, got to know them, went to dinner with them and then naturally I had to sample a second night of night life. Saturday nights also are not to be missed in BA :-)

The next day I went to large expanses of parks near the palermo district, where the hostel was, to try and see the sights that the bike tour missed out. A chap from prague, Veet and Louise a swiss girl joined me. We chilled out in the parks and took in the sights. To conclude this walk I went to the Evita monument and to the Recoleta cementery where her body is buried with the rest of her family. Not as 'prominent' nor extravagant as I would have expected.

Tango and polo lessons were the next thing on my agenda. Rain delayed the latter by a few days which wasn't a problem other than I just needed to extended my stay in BA. Tango lesson was interesting. I went to one class first where roles were switched every now and then. This made for an interesting class where I had to learn both steps required by either party. It really enables you to appreciate the other's role. At the end of the class the venue became a 'milonga' otherwise known as a tango dancing venue. Here is when locals and people in the know come in and danced. So passionate, so sensual and co-ordinated. Very impressive to watch. My second lesson focused very much on one role and certain combo of steps to learn rather than ad-lib dancing like the day before. Having grown more confident in the moves the second class was easier and really fun. Soon after this I had to dash across town to La Ventana a sort of Moulin Rouge for Tango but smaller. The tango on show here was very impressive and a cross with gymnastics! Plenty of outfit changes, singers, good live music and impressive display of fine skill with small plastic balls at end of ropes.... google 'boleadora show' to see what I mean. Impressive stuff.

Polo would have to have been my highlight of the stay so far. We drove to an authentic hacienda 1hr outside BA where a polo player showed us the basics of polo and gave us plenty of opportunity to practice. It was great fun and satisfying when you successfully hit the ball on the move. Seems pretty impossible at first but you soon get the hang of it. After the riding we went off to a local hacienda where a practice match between two teams was happening. We got front row seats. Literally sitting on the pitch boundary and moving when horses came close! It was more entertaining because the polo instructor was also playing in this match and so came over to us between each 7minute round to talk to us or explain certain things. Each horse would only get used for max 14mins as they work up quite the sweat in the intense 14mins that they play. Apparently top polo players have up to 20horses each! This enables them to play every weekend in tournaments during the season. Our instructor has 6 so only plays every other weekend on his own horses.

Well that wraps up my first 7days of my world tour. Some very memorable moments.
Next stop Uruguay – Colonia de Sacramento by boat tomorrow, then Montevideo the capital followed by Punta del este.

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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Buenos Aires

So far in Buenos Aires I've done sightseeing all over the city including Evita's grave. I've partied until 5am twice, eaten my head's weight in meat and relaxed in the sun. Tomorrow I learn to play polo on an Argentinian horse, watch a pro's polo match and learn the tango in the evening. Oh and today I decided I might be willing to shave my head for charity if I can get enough sponsorship.... Go to www.justgiving.com/fredcj