I Go to Rio…de Janeiro

7– 11 September 2016

Travellingross Rating: 8 out of 10

Rio de Janeiro is a mega city of the world that I have wanted to see for a while. Having visited iconic cities across the world I was keen to compare. About an hour from the airport to my small Copacabana Airbnb apartment and it was time for dinner. Having read multiple stories of theft, muggings and violence, I was prepared to get robbed so I had a decoy wallet and minimal belongings on my person. But I found the neighborhood around my place fine although full of graffiti. Well, like any city with a few questionable characters and back lanes you wouldn’t walk down in broad daylight let alone after dark. And it’s dark by 6pm.
The beach is as expected – mammoth, crowded and scenic. The weather for most days was cloudy, and I spent the best part of a day venturing to Barra to collect my Paralympic tickets. I like how there are bars/food places right on the beach edge and they make use of all the sand for beach volleyball and other activities. And the sand is so soft.
The main activity for me in Rio was the Paralympics – I bought tickets to athletics, track cycling and swimming all for $60! Here are some random highlights and observations that I noted at the time:
Athletics was at the Olympic stadium and had events going on everywhere you look and takes a while to work out. Great seats just left of the track finish line. One woman from Mali led all the way in the 1500m but then dropped back in the last lap and almost gave up but the crowd cheered for her and she picked up her head and finished the race. Inspiring.
Track cycling was at the Olympic Park (which seriously lacked shade) and was cool to see but repetitive watching heat after heat of 4000m. I thought there would be a variety of categories competing but I guess from a scheduling perspective it is sensible to not do this. Watching cyclists with 1 leg is incredible and makes me never want to complain about exercise again! Swimming was also at the Olympic Park and I had great seats right above the media where the medalists came by for a photo call.
Random observations: Brazilians say coca, not coke or cola. Lots and lots of people with bracers.
The journey to visit Christ the Redeemer statue took all afternoon and had line after line after line. I’m not sure if this is everyday or because it was a Sunday and the first clear weather in 4 days. As I waited literally hours I kept thinking to myself that this better be worth it. Thankfully it was. Fantastic views, iconic statue, and watching people be fools trying to get the best selfie. It was packed. Having accomplished this, I rewarded myself with a night out in Ipanema before a morning flight to Salvador.

 

 

Iguassu Falls: Indescribably Epic

2– 6 September 2016

Travellingross Rating: 10 out of 10

Brazil has long been on my travel to-do list, but getting a visa has always been a hassle and turned me off trying. So when I heard that this year over the few months of the Olympics, Brazil was waiving visa requirements I was hooked. Usually I don’t plan or think of what to do on a break until say 2 weeks out. But this one I had a fair idea about since the beginning of the year. I am still winging it, but I knew that Iguassu Falls was a must-visit after seeing the photos a friend took during a visit some years ago. I have a thing for waterfalls and the more epic the better – Victoria, Niagara…now Iguassu.

But like anything epic, it starts with a journey. 17.5 hours. Including an 8 hour layover. Following a good work rotation where I was actually able to find time to go for a run after work, I was not my usual wiped out self on day 23. I went out for dinner with a friend in Parbo then got picked up at 10:45 pm for the airport. Odd flight time of 1:45 am meant I didn’t even sleep in the city compared to the last few breaks where I have been staying a night or 2 before flying out.
Belem airport was more advanced than I expected. English seems to not be widely spoken though and I quickly remembered that Portuguese is not that similar to Spanish. I got through immigration without a word spoken, and I didn’t even have to fill a form! I am amazed that my bag and I made all the connections including a twenty-minute connection in Rio. With a driver waiting for me at the Foz do Iguacu airport, I was ready to relax.
Belmond Hotel das Cataratas is flawless. I cannot fault a single thing. From the welcome at reception (and free room upgrade!), to the fireplace filled lounge, to the barman carefully explaining the varied types of Caipirinha, to the breakfast, to the views, to the perfect rooms with the little sticker on the toilet paper….I could go on haha. Great recommendation. Although only 2 nights is required to see the sights, I booked 4 because of timing and because I knew I would enjoy the down-time.
The Falls are incredible. Over 270 individual waterfalls occur across this divide between Argentina and Brazil. The photos hopefully tell the story. They say the Brazil side has the view, the Argentine side has the experience. Basically you get drenched on the other side with an immersive experience across a lot of boardwalks, whereas Brazil has the panoramic views and one boardwalk that looks up the main chasm “the devils throat”.  I thought a lot about crossing the border to also visit the Argentinian side but decided not to.
 
The weather was not the best. 2 days were wet and cold (17C). Nice to relax in the hotel with a hot stone Amazonian massage and drink, while catching up on life. The pool is heated but I didn’t swim. I really wanted to do the helicopter trip over the falls and luckily on my last day the clouds cleared and the choppers were able to fly. Fortunately I did not have a flight to Rio until 4pm so I had time. It was only a 10 minute flight, but so good. I did a similar flight over Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe many moons ago and really like the vantage you get from the air and seeing the mist swirl up.
So, I am really happy to be in Brazil. To have seen the Iguassu Falls. And this is just the beginning.