Monthly Archives: July 2007

arrival on budda island

Feeling rather jet lagged and a little plane weary despite being favourably impressed by Qatar airlines, good food, soft blankets, impressive selection of recent and classic films not to mention laughing my way through episodes of Scrubs and Fraiser but 7 hours from London to Doha, four hours in the airport and then a further four, or was it five to Colombo is a fairly sizeable travel bite to take all in one go. I arrived in the airport at about 8.30am this morning and was surprised by the speed at which I passed through immigration and baggage although the man in the “nothing to declare” booth insisted on checking my passport. Having already been made rather “ethnic origin” paranoid by the Indian Embassy I decided not to read anything into this innocent request and decided he probably just wanted a laugh at my passport photo! I came out into a very civilised meeting area with all the familes on one side and all the taxi drivers with signs on the other. Found my name and I was off. No hassle, no crowds, so far so good!

Arriving into international airports is usually the most umimpressive and unenlightening way to get a first impression of a country. Although arriving here was a little like stepping into a 1960s photograph with all the guys walking around in crisp white shirts and dark trousers, bikes and three wheeler tuk-tuks zooming around the roads, a unhurried, relaxed atmosphere about everything, old school road and traffic signs in English, Tamil and Sinhala and a warm humidity hanging under a slightly overcast sky.

I am staying in Negombo north of Colombo which seemed like a more pleasant place to orientate myself than in the capital itself. It’s a small fishing and tourist town although currently all the fishermen are on strike today due to rising fuel prices. This explained why all the guys in the street were wearing sarongs, and I might add, doing a far better job of carrying it off with a manly applomb than David Beckham ever managed! I checked into my hotel which is pretty basic but I have a bathroom, hot water, towels, a fan and a mosquito net which is fairly luxurious in my book. I visited the beach briefly, a long plain stretch of sandy beach, strewn with driftwood, backed by palms and small guest houses and hotels and stretching around to the centre of town in the south. Interesting this place is known as “Little Rome” due to the Portuguese settlers who created a base of catholism here which persists on a predominantly buddist island. So I may have come here in search of temples and monks but the first religious icon to greet me has been the Virgin Mary. Oh, and disappointingly a Pizza Hut too.

the moor, the deathly hallows and the indian embassy

Atmosphere at the GlobeBack in the UK and it seems I have coincided with at least a few half days of sunshine it what seems to have been the most unimpressive stretch summer weather for many years. It is very strange to be back, it hardly feels like 4 months since I was last in Surrey and stranger still that in 48 hours time I will be in Sri Lanka.

On Wednesday evening I went up to the Globe with my parents to see a production of Othello, one of the few Shakespeare plays I’ve neither read nor seen performed and it was a fantastic production; Tim McInnerny as Iago and Eamonn Walker as Othello were really outstanding!

Players at the GlobeOne of the reasons for having a few days in the UK other than the pleasure of catching up with family and friends and reading the final Harry Potter book…was to go to the Indian embassy in London and get a six month visa for my trip there in October as I’ll be in Sri Lanka and Nepal beforehand!

6.00am – wake up
7.30am – have a lovely breakfast with my friend Alex in Covent Garden.
8.20am – arrive at India house to join the huge pre opening queue for Visa applications
8.40am - get into the waiting area with my ticket09.50am – get called to the counter and hand over my completed form, money, passport and photos
9.51am – am told I need to go to the side door as there is a problem with my form10.20am – the man at the door returns the form telling me I cannot have a visa. When I asked why, slightly incredulously he said they needed to see letters of employment, I asked why as I needed a tourist visa not a business one and explained I am not working but travelling for a year. He then said I needed to show them letters from my job seekers office to say which benefits I was claiming. I explained I wasn’t because I’m not unemploed but on sabbatical. Eventually he said I needed to get bank statements, utility bills and letters from my prev employers before I would be issued a visa.
10.40am – frantic phone calls to Mum to get her to search through my files, the reception guys at the onealdwych hotel kindly offer me use of their fax machine.
11.20am - documents are faxed through and I run back to the embassy.
12.00pm – I am told I can have a visa but only for 3 months which as I explain is no use because I’m not arriving into India for another 2 months as they start from date of issue. Irritated the guy tells me I will have to try and get one in Nepal or come back to the UK in september and refuses to tell me why I can’t get a tourist visa for 6 months.

Charming! It turns out after a few converstaions with visa companies in an effort to see if I could get an agency to apply for me, the fact my mother was born in Nigeria may have had something to do with their reluctance to issue me a 6 month visa and why I had to get the other documents. Indeed they have put a mark by her name on the visa applaicaiton where I had to state my parents place of birth and nationality. So I will have to try in Nepal. I couldn’t help noticing that among all the people waitng with issues on their applications, the only other three people there with British passports and no apparent conflict were all black. It’s funny but in nearly 27 years I have never felt victimised because of my race or mixed origins until this week in the Indian embassy.

Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsWell several beers with my mate Mark and then wine with all my friends who popped in to see me in Putney that evening soon calmed me down. It has been really nice to see people, if only briefly, although I think thanks in part to facebook it’s been brilliant to keep up to date with everyone I know, see photos, here the gossip so I felt less far away from them all as I might have done whilst travelling. I got to indulge in one of the nicest things about coming home which was retelling all the stories, showing the photos etc. Also it is nice to realise that some of my friends are reading my blog and it’s not just my Mum and Dad!

So having blitzed through Boots and Primark to restock myself with clothes and toiletries and wet wipes for the next 9 months of my trip I busiest my self with the far more pressing task of reading the final Harry Potter book which ,although I was secretly afraid of being disappointed by, I thoroughly enjoyed. It may not be the greatest work of literary fiction but after having become so at home with JK Rowling’s world of quidditch, dark magic, hogwarts, history, gobblins, house elfs, politics and conflicts it was wonderful to disengage from reality and have all the intrigue and suspense built up in the previous six books finally brought to a satisfyingly meaty conclusion. Now if only I get that confusion charm to work on the Indian embassy….

post Brazilian blues

Me surfingJosefina and I, surfing ItacareI’m currently sitting in the spare room of my parent’s house in Surrey and, depsite the fact I left a Sao Paulo drenched in rain and came back to a relatively warm and sunny English day, I feel a little blue to have left Brazil behind me. My final night I met up with a friend of a friend, Caro, in Sao Paulo and went to an awesome Samba club called Tom club with a live band, brilliant singers and some seriously impressive samba dancers showing off their moves on the floor. Now I’ve never been one to shy away from busting the odd move on the dancefloor but even I was wise enough to realise I was probably quite far out of my league. Still Caro’s friend Gabriel persuaded me to dance a few songs with him and I think I kind of got the hang of things.

My final day in Brazil, it rained, and rained and rained. Whether on some weird level the climate was trying to prepare me for all the rains and floods that have been going on in England I don’t know but I got pretty wet. Managed to eventually, after 40 minutes of walking around in the rain find a large music store on Avenue Paulista. For a country so obesessed with music they sure make it bloody hard to find a shop selling the stuff! Or maybe that’s just my bad sense of direction? Well I managed to find ones by Funk Com legusta, Nacao Zombie and Vanessa de Mata and this evening I’ve been having dinner with Mum and Dad, sipping my Gabriella (cachaca with cloves and cinnamon) and listening to samba music in the background. Not quite as good as the real thing, but close enough and it is nice, I confess, to be home. And nicer still to know I’m off adventuring again on Sunday!

I just have to include the following photos I got sent by Josefina as I definitely look like a proper surfing chick, even if I only managed to stand up twice!

In the water
the gang in Itacare

running for the bus and running out of time

Hanging out in Arraial A’juda

It was with a wrench that I finally said goodbye to Itacare, in fact I nearly didn’t make it out of the town at all. After our final night of dancing away until the wee hours in Piri Lampa club we got back to the hostel around about 5.30am. I thought I’d just have a small lie down before getting up to finish packing and get my 7.15am bus with the boys. The next thing I knew Valentin was shaking me awake saying something about it being 7.05am.

7.05am! Shit! I literally lept out of bed as my stomach did that horrible turning over feeling. I scrambled to get dressed and pick up various bits of clothing, bikinis, flip flips and shampoo around the room in the semi darkness, threw it into my rucksack and legged it out of the hostel. Valentin, Rob and I ran the 5 mins to the bus stop at full pelt and just burst onto the platform as the bus was closing it´s doors and driving off! Banging on the door he finally stopped and let us in!

On the boat to Porto Seguro

It was not the best bus journey in the world, hot, sticky, we were all tired, hungry and without any water between us. When the bus eventually stopped for food we tumbled out thankfully to refuel. About eight hours later, two taxi rides and a boat trip the three of us and another Australian girl from Itacare found ourselves on the Brazilian seaside resort of Arraial A’ajuda and checking into a big colonial style orange and blue house. Our own room complete with a fridge soon cheered us up and before long it was well stocked with beers, vodka and limes!

Arraial A’ajuda was a nice place to hang out for a day until my long long long bus journey to Sao Paulo, very touristy and full of lots of Brazilians enjoying their winter holidays but pretty none the less. Sadly the one day I had to chill out, maybe go to the beach, or the water park, it rained pretty much on off all day! Still we went shopping, ate ice cream, lounged around and managed to do absolutely nothing constructive which suited me just fine. We had planned to go out to some bars and clubs on the Friday evening but we were scuppered by Rob introducing us to a drinking game called pyramids. It’s a game of wit, of skil, of memory and most importantly it gets you as drunk as a skunk. By midnight we just about managed to stagger into town for some pizza and then collectively decided that bed was the only possible option!

The next day was bright and sunny so I got up and went for a walk along the long stretch of beach 15 minutes from town while the others slept in nursing their hangovers. Then I got the boat back across to Porto Seguro and boarded the 26 hour bus that would take me to Sao Paulo. It was not as bad as I feared. I got to watch a really good Brazilian film called “2 Filhos de Francisco” which wonderfully had english subtitles. We also got to watch “Ice Age 2″ which was quite funny and not really a film that required a huge understanding of the portuguese language although, I have to agree with the film critic Mark Kemode, it does maybe signify the death of narrative cinema, although contrary to his suggestion I didn’t think a bus of Brazilians would have really understood if I’d stood up to annouce this!

So now I’m back in Sao Paulo until my flight tomorrow night and the main thing consolling my sadness at leaving this country with which I have fallen so much in love, apart from seeing my friends and family (of course), is the seventh Harry Potter book currently waiting for me with my post…and yes, I know just how sad that makes me! Chau!

sun, sea, sand, surf…did I miss something?

img_3084.JPG

Sometimes when travelling you just seem to arrive in the perfect place, with the perfect group of people at the perfect time and nowhere could be truer of Itacare. I arrived in this laid back beach town just after sunset on a warm evening and my initial plans to stay for a day or two quickly went right out of the window. Within two hours of arriving I was sitting sipping passion fruit cocktails in a little street side bar with some new friends, resting my havaianas up on the table and thinking that this travelling lifestyle really is pretty hard work!

On Praia da Concha

We’ve had a group of about 10 of us from 8 different countries which is fairly impressive; Josefina (Argentina), Valentin (Austria), Kevin (France), Marcus (Germany), Lucilla (Italy), Ana (Spain), Fernando (Brazil), Thomas and Anya (Norway), Rob (UK), Lucy (Germany) and myself.

Sunset in Itacare

I´ve been to beautiful palm tree-lined sandy beaches in between stretches of jungle, been surfing ( I stood up twice and had my first “drop” which was absolutely amazing, since when I´ve been falling all over the place), swam, trekked through the jungle to remote beaches, drank from coconuts (tried juggling them too but not so successful), drunk more cachaca than can possibly be good for one person in a lifetime, stayed up every night partying in the clubs, until after sunrise, to Reggae, electronica and Brazilian funk (though not in the same night), gone skinny dipping on the beach at 5am and had a huge black lizard henna tattoo on my arm…and despite all this I feel pretty lively, relaxed and, surprisingly, not that tired!

Kevin with the Favela barmenSo we are off to have pizza tonight, drinks with our favourite barmen in the Favela bar, drinking caiparinhas with passion fruit, and then to dance until dawn, at which point I have to come back, grab my rucksack to get a 7am bus to finally take me away from this little paradise and one step closer to home.

Josefina and I

Today we hired surf boards and walked about an hour to get to the furthest beach in town called Prainha, a pale sand sweep lined with palm trees and white crested waves crashing into the shore. After 40 minutes of getting churned up by the waves trying to stand up on my long board I collasped under the coconut palms with the others, looking up through the leaves at the blue clear sky and wondering if life can really get much better than this…

my lizard

return to the wild

My unique trekking styleI have a feeling my knees may never talk to me again. When I decided to go trekking for three days I think they should have warned me that rock climbing and gorge walking would have been a more accurate description. The day before I had a wonderfully relaxing day with Cris, Cristiano and Birger visiting a nearby natural pool with a huge rocky slope leading into it, covered with water. You climb up the side, edge across on your bottom and then slide at great speed all the way into the pool below, I have never screamed so much in my life. Very entertaining though and we thought we were pretty cool until we saw the local guys doing it standing up!

Chapada trekking, day one

So, the trek began on Tuesday morning and I was very proud of my minimialist, light weight rucksack until I was given my tent, sleeping bag, roll matt, and share of food at which point it became rather more weighty. The first day we walked from Lencois, crossing the river at about calf depth and grade 3 rapid speed before heading out across and up to the first of many peaks. Our guide Flor powered ahead in his battered old flip flops explaining (in Portuguese) that Havainanas were the best shoes in the world so why would he need hiking boots. Then Robert, a guy from Holland who’d spent four months doing physical labour on a Brazilian farm followed and a lovely middle aged couple from Sao Paulo that are trekking guides in their own region. And then there’s me, who hasn’t trekked with a big rucksack at length for about five years…splendid! Actually I managed fine and I loved it. We had the most spectacular views across the park, saw poisonous brightly coloured caterpillars, hummingbirds, palm trees, banana trees, mico monkeys, ate raw sweet potatoes found by Flor, swam in waterfall pools, camped under rocky overhangs, had porridge for breakfast, scaled unbelievably steep paths (I use path is the loosest sense of the word), climbed up rock faces, down rock faces, waded through rivers, slipped and fell heavily on our bottoms (well just me actually), slipped and stepped in the water soaking our shoes (again, just me) and sipped emergency cachaca by the campfire (okay that was just me too but I really needed it!).

Suffering from Vertigo at Cachoeira Fumaça

The second day we hiked for two hours along the river, doing the kind of bouldering I have only previously attempted with a rope and harness, to reach the base of the Cachoeira Fumaca, Brazil’s highest waterfall at 400m. It’s so tall that even the ample flow of water had transformed into a series of drifting sprays by the time it finally hit the pool at the base looking like smoke (hence the name Fumaca, answers on a postcard as to how long it took me to figure that out) Even on a cloudy day it was fairly awe inspiring.

The Flying Dutchman

Then today we trekked around and up to the very top of the same falls. Given the great height, and the tendency for the path to favour the direct route up the mountain, I was exhausted when four hours later we reached our goal. This time it was brilliantly sunny and looking down the dizzy drop to the smoke-like spray, intermittant rainbow and green valley stretching out below even I conceded it was well worth the effort.
View from Cachoeira Fumaça

Then it was a mere two hour walk down, what I guess could creatively be described as steps, to the village of Capon where we got our car back to Lencois. So although I now hurt everywhere imaginable I am clean and feel pretty damn hard, and pleased with myself…in the words of our guide, Flor, let’s boogie!

parque nacional da chapada diamantina

My last night in Salvador a few of us girls went to catch a Capoeira show in one of the schools. I have never seen anything like it, so graceful and so rhythmic. There were about 20 guys and girls including some of them paying the drums and a strange elongated bow-like instrument and they would take it in turns to tag each other in and then fight/dance for a few minutes before another pair came up. Plus a lot of the guys were incredibly gorgeous with the most amazing bodies, well we know because they took their tops of half way through, Eileen and I didn’t know quite where to look!

Despite the lure of the half naked capoeira guys and a strong temptation to go to one of the beginner classes, the next day I decided to head out to Lencois instead and the Chapada Diamantina National Park. I arrived mid afternoon to find myself in a small town of cobbled streets, brightly coloured buildings surrounded by thick lush green forests and plains. Lencois is one of the old mining towns from the days when Portuguese explorers found deposits of Diamonds in the area that are thought to have been formed millions of years ago near present-day Namibia. The diamond boom didn’t last long and now the town and those around the park survive off Eco-tourism running tours in and around the park.

Monkeys, ChapadaYesterday I had arranged to go on one of the standard tours to various sights around the park without really paying much attention to what I was going to see. I have this terrible habit of managing to give people the impression that my portuguese is actually a lot better than it is. The problem is I can usually ask all the questions but I rarely understand the responses! I ended up in this exact sitatution and feeling too tired to go over it until I understood I resorted to my default, “sim, sim, esta bem!” The result was, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of places we in fact ended up visiting during the day.

Our group was myself, our guide Pedro who kept insisting he was Pedro and not saint Pedro when we quizzed him on whether the weather would stay sunny all day, Birger, a guy from Germany with a habit of taking some of the funniest photos, and a lovely couple from Recife in Brazil called Cris and Cris! Cris spoke really good English so was an absolute saint and translated all the things that went over Birger and my heads during the day. We started off visiting a waterfall called Poco do Diablo, the Devil´s pool. The organic matter and pollen that are blown into the water lend it a deep clear red brown colour as it flows over the rapids and finally into a deep pool where the boys went rock diving. On the way down I spotted a tiny movement in the trees and excitedly started pointing and yelling “look, a monkey” clearly thinking how sharp eyed I’d been to spot it. As it turned out there are about six these small grey monkeys that live above the path and are so tame they will even let you feed them bread and fruit. So not such an amazing find then, but they were still very cute.

Gruta AzulAfter the waterfalls we visited a labyrinth of tiny caves in a place called Gruta Fumaca where the ceilings were dripping with hundreds of needle like stalactites and large stalagmites grew up to form large columns from the ground. One we crawled into was less that five feet high so we all had to sit down in the centre to look around. Our guide decided it would be very relaxing and peaceful to turn the oil lamp burner out for a minute to enjoy the darkness and silence for a minute. It was so black that opening and closing my eyes made no difference and it was strangely peaceful until eventually my stomach betrayed me with a huge rubbling growl and everyone started laughing! Next stop was the Gruta Azul which is a small pool at the entrance to a cave that has this amazing intensely blue, turquoise colour and it is so clear that you can’t see where the water begins and the air ends. When a few small fish swam past it actually looked like they were swimming thorough the air!

Morro do Pai Inacio

The final Gruta, we decided to pay extra and go cave snorkelling which was unbelievably cool. Putting aside the facts that I am slightly claustrophobic and generally speaking don’t like swimming in dark water, it seemed like too good an experience to miss. We got life jackets, flippers and snorkels and slid into the pleasantly cool water at the opening of the cave. With torches we followed the guide further in, shining our lights on the bottom which was incredibly clear and catching the odd catfish scurrying out of view. We stopped to look at the rock formations on the ceilings and under the water, swirls of creamy coloured rock and tiny stalactites. The final cave was over 14 metres deep but you could still see the bottom. Shining my torch past a gap between two rocks I saw pair upon pair of tiny red eyes looking back at me, for a spilt second I nearly panicked, convinced a multi-eyed mythical beast was waiting to devour innocent tourists, until I realised it was just the fish hiding from our beams of lights in the rocks! We finally emerged into the first cave and swam through the shoals of white and black fish near the entrance, spotted catfish swam over the sandy bottom and wide-leafed plants grew near the edge of the lake like a green, silver forest, really beautiful.

Our final visit was to climb up to a peak called the Morro Do Pai Inacio half and hour before sunset to see the amazing views stretching over the valley which is filled with these huge sweeping slopes leading up to rocky outcrops with green plateaus on top. Nothing that I ever expected to see in Brazil and really spectacular, I don’t think this country will ever cease to surprise and amaze me! Birger and IWe spent ages up on the peak taking some really silly photos, including Pedro sitting on our feet so we could lean out over the edge and take a photo to look like we were flying over the valley! This one was one of my favourites because I look so ridiculously short compared to Birger who is pretty tall, must be a German thing. We all got back and went for food and drinks, they have some really good restaurants here and Cris introduced us to a really dangerous Brazilian saying saideira (which is definitely the wrong spelling) but it means one more drink and of course you keep saying it over and over again throughout the evening. It’s not just the English that are a nation of piss heads…

samba rhythms in Salvador

Salvador

It was hard to leave Rio, and the group of people I’d been hanging out with although two of them, Charlie and Eileen have now arrived in Salvador which is cool. But time, my liver and my wallet were urging me from the city so I caught a late night flight to Salvador in Bahia, North East Brazil. I arrived at the hostel at 2am in the morning, climbed what seemed like a mountain into my third level bunk and fell asleep. I was woken up in the morning to the sound of percussion and drum beats and after breakfast went outside to discover myself in a maze of cobbled streets, brightly coloured colonial buildings, cafes, capoeira schools and music playing just about everywhere. It is as if the city itself has some kind of internal musical pulse that you cannot escape.

During my first day I managed to make friends with two lovely American girls who had somehow wangled seven weeks of research interviewing women on Ipanema beach about their body image, and a girl from Taiwan. We ended up in a cinema cafe on one of the plazas, watching a really bizarre, but good, moderately incestous Brazilian film called Tieta of Agreste. In the afternoon I ended up going for a percussion lesson, it was just myself and another French lady, it was so much fun. We did two different kinds of samba rhythms, samba reggae and I got to play the big bongo drums and the huge drums which you pound away on with large padded sticks. After an hour and a half though my arms were so sore! In the evening I went with the girls to drink shots of different flavour cachaca in a bar on one of the plazas before ending up sitting on the cobbled streets outside a bar with a huge contigent of English guys drinking until 2am.

Yesterday Eileen and Charlie had arrived and since Charlie doesn’t really ever appear out of bed before the early afternoon Eileen and I went around the shops and explored the historic part of town ending up looking round one of the beautiful opulent old churches. The architecture here is beautiful but it’s not like any colonial city I’ve seen before, it’s so much more colourful and everywhere there are guys selling multicoloured beads and bracelets, women in huge lacy dresses that billow out from their waists with bright red lips encouraging you into their shops or cafes, guys practising capoeira in the squares and random drum beats errupting from anywhere and everywhere at all times of day.

Samba class We wandered down to the local beach in the afternoon and went for a quick swim and then lay watching the tanned old locals in their tiny retro trunks playing ping pong on the beach. We got back just in time for the four of us girls to have a samba lesson. Now I had imagined learning some steps, doing a little light dancing. No chance, and a very good thing I didn’t bother to shower before hand as by the end the sweat was running down my temples. We had a crazy warm up to the bongo drums before we even started and then in two lines started following the samba steps, forwards, backwards, winding your hips around in a circle and just when you begin to think this is actually pretty tiring the drummer doubles the speed! A lot of fun but I haven’t done that much exercise in months! Afterwards I managed to get out between breaths, preciso um caiparinha, and we all came back to the hostel bar, glistening with sweat for a little refreshment.

favela chic

The tiny trunks of Ipanema beach

Rio is such a city of contrasts. One minute you are walking past Louis Vitton shops and stylish cafes in Ipanema and then the same evening you are 10 minutes away down the road in one of the biggest clubs in the favela of Rochina practically next door. Clubbing in the favela was definately an interesting experience, on one level it’s just a really huge club playing brazilian and american music, but at the same time we have all these enormous Brazilian bouncer guys with the groups of travellers to make sure that we got in and out safely, so a little bit out of the ordinary! The next day I also went on a favela tour of Rochina which was one of the most bizarre excursions I’ve done in south america.

Rochina is the biggest and oldest favela in Rio, 80 years old with 200,000 inhabitants, they hook up their own cables to the telegraph poles with the result that every one has a explosion of wires protruding from it; clubs, shops, internet cafes, everything is in the favela. Three main gangs control all the Rio favelas and this one belonged to A.D.A. amigos do amigos. The police are not allowed in so there is usually a group of them a few streets down from where the favela begins. So we drove past the policeman and then we all had to hop on the back of a motorbike (mototaxi) to get whisked all the way up the windy road to the top of Rochina…so much fun! From there we walked in a group, with the guide, past a guy carrying the world’s shinest machine gun (he must polish that thing all day long) and into the maze of tiny streets, rubbish, and mish mash of houses. We saw at least 4 or 5 guys with machine guns, they are the 3000 or so soldiers of A.D.A. that patrol the favelas. Bizarrely by the end of the tour their presence was strangely comforting, apparently very little, if any, crime happens inside the favelas as the drug gangs police them so tightly. Unfortunately though, the occaisional police raids or attacks from rival gangs tend to preciptate gun fights and that is when the locals get caught in the cross fire. We visited the house of one of the graffiti artists, brought banana cake in the bakery, chatted to lots of the kids and went to visit a day care centre that is funded by the tourist money now coming into the area. Really interesting day!

Corcovado

My final day in Rio was finally blessed with clear blue skies and no clouds, so after a morning drinking coconut milk on Ipanema beach, it was perfect to round off the Rio experience with the obligatory visits to Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer) and Sugar Loaf Mountain. Both are pretty spectacular in themselves and also for the views that you have of Rio. From the Corcovado the huge white, grey mosaic out-stretched arms tower on top of a 710 metre hill with views all around Rio. From here we went across town to catch the cable car up to Sugar Loaf mountain to watch the sunset over the centre and the lights start to twinkle along Copacabana beach.

>>Rio Sunset

the girl from ipanema

Rio de JaneiroI am in Rio and I love this place more than I can express although my liver maybe feeling slightly differently about the experience! I arrived in Rio on Friday afternoon and managed to catch a local bus to my hostel in Ipanema which is lovely. It´s kind of the smart beach area, nicer than Copacobana, with cafes and amazing juice shops on all the corners. I nearly didn´t find the hostel as the entire ground floor is a rather funky little bar. I befriended a Columbian girl, Ivonne from my room, and we sat drinking caiparinhas with a friend of hers in the bar. Just to explain the caiparinhas they serve at home are pale in comparison to the Brazilian ones, these are made with cachaca, a rather strong and extremely tasty sugar liquor drink mixed with ice and lemon and pretty much bugger all else. It´s refreshing, pretty cheap and extremely potent. So after sipping my way through about four of these I realised I was surprisingly drunk! So it didn´t take much persuasion for me to go out at 1am to Lapa until the wee hours in the morning. Lapa is a really old part of Rio with gorgeous delapidated buildings and a huge two tier viaduct. On Friday and Saturday nights the streets turn into one huge party with guys selling beers and cachaca on the streets and loads of samba clubs and bars. Really good fun.

Botafogo fans in Rio
On Saturday afternoon I went to the football and my god, you have never experienced passion for the sport until you go to a match in Brazil. They´ve just built a huge, beautifully sleek new white stadium in Rio and the match was the first game to be played there, Fluminese vs Botafogo. The noise was just immense and everyone was jumping around, singing, starting mexican waves, flashing green flares and it´s so infectious. My the time the match finished and our team Botafogo had won 2-1 we were singing and jumping around along with everyone else.

Corinne and I, Rio
We got back in time for a fiesta in the ar which for some reason involved us all dressing up like farmers and wearing straw hats and pigtails…we went back to Lapa and after a few hours drinking in the streets and getting chatted up by various amusing groups of Brazilian guys we ended up in a random hiphop club (mainly because it was the cheapest to get into). I have never laughed so hard and so much as I did in that club. On the dancefoor everyone would gather round in a circle and then guys would go into the middle and do this amazing break dancing, head spins, back flips you name it. Well we´d come in with a group of Irish guys we found in the street who decided after an hour that they could give all the Brazilian gangstas a run for their money and were then doing bizarre Irish jigs all over the club. So we witnessed several dance offs between the locals and the Irish and it was the most bizarre and amusing thing I think I´ve ever seen! Later we ended up in another samba club and at 7.30am six of us were sitting on Ipanema beach, before going to bed, watching the morning joggers go past!

Rio graffiti
Rio is a beautiful city and there are such contrasts between huge skyscrapers, smart hotels in Ipanema, the old historic buildings of Lapa and the many, many favelas sprawling up and down the hills in between the barrios. They also have the most amazing and creative graffiti all over the place. Apparently the most frequent ways for young guys to get out of life in the favelas is either through football or through becoming a popular graffiti artist. Today we went to a artist market in the tiny cobbled streets of Santa Teresea near the Centre. A friend of Ivonne´s from Sao Paulo was in town so he drove us around and four of us went around the markets, had a long late lunch in a great restaurant with pineapple and mint fruit juices…it´s really felt like a weekend, except of course, I don´t have to go to work tomorrow! In fact tonight I am doing a very touristy, fairly foolish thing (considering how little sleep I´ve had this weekend and the balance of cachaca over blood in my veins), I´m going to a party in a favela. It´s all about the favela chic and besides, when else will I ever get to party in a place run by drug lords where they don´t even let the police into the neighbourhood?