Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rio de Janeiro. February 23rd – March 14th, 2011

Rio is overwhelming, over populated, over-crowded, over exuberant and over the top and yet we loved it. The fact that is was Carnaval also contributed to the influx of people and activity. Before arriving, even when we started planning the trip, one of our goals was not to be in Rio for Carnaval and we are and loving every minute. The city has a stunning setting flanked by the Bay of Guanabara and the Atlantic Ocean, with a landscape that builds up the sides and around enormous granite mountains and flows down to the many world renowned beaches notably Copacabana and Ipanema, giving a topography that looks to have been molded by nature. The 7 million residents who are known as “Cariocas” exhibit the casual, open friendliness that is often associated with Brazil and the tourists which at times triple the city’s population are definitely here to have fun. Our stay extended from a few days to almost three weeks, thanks in part to our meeting Mauricio and his wife Maria, a Brazilian couple who reside in Rio. Our generator was still giving us grief so Tom found an Onan Cummins service distributor online and we called them. Mauricio, who works there, speaks English and directed us to bring in the RV to them. They are more used to the newer diesel generators than our older gas-powered model but nevertheless the two mechanics Daniel and Gladson, with Mauricio providing the translation, over the course of a week, managed to get the generator working like never before and it is now purring like a kitten. Tom is ecstatic. When Mauricio found out we were only planning to stay a few days, he was shocked. “How can you leave” he said to us. “It is Carnaval. People plan for a year to come here and enjoy the experience”. We had all the old clichés. Too many people, too dangerous, too expensive. “Nonsense”, he assured us. “The people who want to party, do so all night and sleep through the day, leaving the major attractions quieter. The government, both State and Federal are working hard to ensure peace and have a campaign in place for reducing crime mostly due to the World Cup Soccer tournament being in Rio in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 and the Carnaval street parades are free. If you want to go to the Sambadromo, the ticket prices vary from inexpensive to outrageous, depending on your seat location. If you do not stay for Carnaval, you will regret it later” We promised to think it over and arranged to meet him and his wife for dinner at a local churrascaria (Brazilian barbeque) restaurant. The meal was different and delicious. It is served by waiters who come to your table with a huge variety of barbeque beef, chicken, pork, lamb, ribs, and sausages of various persuasions on skewers and rib-eye and fillet steaks on platters. Side dishes of vegetables and potatoes are brought to your table as needed. This is an all you can eat smorgasbord and I can honestly say that when we left we could not have eaten another mouthful. During dinner, we exchanged life stories and by the end the result was, two more friends from our travels and we will stay for Carnaval. Also, March is a rainy month in Rio and we will have to wait for clear days to go to two of the main attractions, Pao de Azucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) and Corcovado Mountain where the trademark statue of Rio’s, Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) is located. Both of these attractions are better on clearer days due to the spectacular views. We also decided to rent a car so we can leave the motor home in the RV park with Winston and get around the city more comfortably. But first it’s Carnaval! The name, by the way, is believed to be a derivation of the Italian phrase “carne vale” or farewell to meat. It is 4 days (5 in Salvador) of lavish extravagance, excitement and exhibitionism that for better or worse has come to be a symbol of Brazil. Samba is the signature trademark music and dance and there is huge rivalry in competition between the large samba schools. After months of preparation and practice, the gates of the samba stadium, the Sambadromo, designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer are opened and about 65,000 spectators with tickets are seated along the kilometer long parade street to watch the samba schools shimmy and shake their way, telling a story with their individual music score, dancers, musicians and floats. To give an idea of the size of the schools, the rules of competition are no more than eight full size floats and 4,000 participants per school with a routine that lasts not longer than 85 minutes. It is extravagance at its best and Tom and I were fortunate to attend one of the nights. (Photos will follow, once we have assembled them). Oh and the parades, they consist of 6 schools each night for 4 nights (Sat – Tues), starting at 9pm and the last school scheduled at 3am, with an end at around 4:30 in the morning. We lasted until 1am and called it a night. It took us an hour to get back to our car through the streets of revelers and another hour to get to the RV Park. Even though it was exciting and amazing, this was the latest we had stayed up in a long time but we are glad we stayed and experienced it. And safety. Not once did we feel threatened or in danger. There are more than enough police and military to keep an eye on the activities and knowledgeable enough to know when to intervene. We also managed several visits to the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, the cable car ride to Sugar Loaf and a memorable trip up Corcovado Mountain to the statue. Memorable because the weather would not co-operate with us and with our time in Rio running out, the day was cloudy and rainy so there were no good views. (Photos again to follow). But that did not change our love for Rio. Both of us gave the city our biggest accolade by agreeing that this is one place that we will return to again, if only to see those views from the statue.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Amazon River Barge Photos

The link to the photos of our 5 days on the Amazon is Enjoy

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Salvador to Rio de Janeiro. 1,300 miles.

After leaving Praia do Forte and Salvador, we spent the night at a posto in Gandu before getting to our first beach stop at a praia just south of Ilheus, about 240 mile from Salvador. Ilheus is known for its beaches and being the growing region for 95 percent of Brazil’s cocoa production. Got to love that! Looking at the enormous banana plantations that we passed through, we surmised they also heavily contribute to that crop production also. In addition we passed vineyards although most of the wine from Brazil comes from the Valle do Sao Francisco region. We found a large campground with quite a few tent campers and were able to park facing the ocean. They also have 110 power available and water. We decide to stay two days and after putting up the awning, took Winston to the water. This is open water so plenty of wave action for Tom to boogie board. Winston has a couple of resident dogs to play with and I want to catch up on my computer work (blogs, book etc) and finish our taxes, so we can efile at the next internet café. No better place to complete that task than listening to the ocean and smelling the sea air. After another night at a posto, we want to get back to the coast. It’s Saturday and my birthday. On the way we stop off at the many roadside stands offering wood carvings made by the local artisans and from a variety of Brazilian hardwoods. We bought a large platter that had attractive grain patterns and a trivet. As we drove we went through massive eucalyptus forests that are planted, cultivated and cut. After another stop at the grocery store, it was time to find a beach spot. We followed the coast road to the small town of Alcobaca and were able to park by the ocean. Tom barbequed hamburgers and corn and we ate watching the moon rise over the Atlantic, toasting my birthday with a bottle of Brazilian Syrah. Simple and perfect. Sunday, found us on the road again getting ever closer to Rio. We were again driving through eucalyptus plantations and the people were working even on a Sunday as we passed huge logging trucks. After driving through the large port town of Vitoria, we once again took the coast road from BR101 through the small towns of Anchietta and Piuma to the small beach of Barra do Sahy. We had hoped to park at a campground there that we had seen advertised but arriving realized it was too small with lots of trees and suitable only for tent camping. But there were plenty of parking spots on the beach so we took one that had coconut palms for shade overlooking the ocean and was the ideal spot to finish the day by playing in the sand with Winston. Monday and it is driving again. This is granite and marble territory. We see huge mining operations in the mountains where the granite is carved into about 8 by 10 foot blocks and trucked down the mountain to a cutting and polishing facility. After that process, it is again loaded onto trucks for distribution, most of it worldwide, some to the States. We pass through the town of Campos Dos Goitacazes which is the last large city before Rio. It is one of our longest drive days yet, as we take the coast road to Quissama and finally at darkness find the beach at Praia de Joao Francisco. We have driven over 280 miles and we are tired but on the way we had stopped at a fishmonger and purchased some lobster tails and freshly caught tuna. We can freeze the lobster for a later date but want to eat the tuna immediately. Tom seared it and prepared a wasabi sauce to go with it. That and some tomatoes that we had purchased at a farmers stand were the gourmet dinner tonight at the casa. Tuesday and finally Rio. It is with great excitement that we study the map and plot our way through the city to a campground that we had read about. The book is a few years old now and we hope it still exists. But first we need to negotiate the city traffic. As we cross the huge bridge that spans the Bay of Guanabara, it is cloudy and a little smoggy but that can’t dampen our enthusiasm as we spy Sugar Loaf Mountain and Rio’s trademark statue of Christ the Redeemer, atop a mountain, arms spread wide to encompass the city and its people. On the ocean side there are cargo ships and tankers as far as the eye can see, waiting to come into port. Then we descend and become one of the hoards of vehicles trying to maneuver through the city streets. After getting lost, twice and asking directions we made it to the campground. It still exists. It is small but we manage to get the motor home to a shady spot under some trees where we can plug into electricity and water. There is some cabin-style housing and it looks like some people live here permanently. There are also 3 dogs that are more than a little territorial and they bark and growl at Winston. Time to try out some of the lessons from watching Cesar, the Dog Whisperer. I put Winston on a long leash and armed with a broom, in case things go badly and a pocketful of treats, go outside. The lead alpha dog growls and comes closer. I crouch down and in my friendliest voice tell him he’s a good dog and introduce Winston, at the same time putting a small treat into each of my hands. I hold one to Winston and one to the dog. He sniffs and takes the treat. I then repeat it bringing both dogs closer together. The growling has stopped. I try to pet him but he’s nervous and tries to nip at me. I make myself big and tell him No! I remind him he’s a good dog and he takes more treats. He sniffs Winston, Winston wags his tail. At least now he is tolerating Winston and I leave them, watching from a little way off in case things take a turn for the worse, as they become acquainted. I prepare Winston’s evening meal and a little dry food for the other dog. The other two have retreated and are watching from the main house. As Winston eats, I offer the dry food and it is immediately gobbled up. I get a tail wag so attempt to pet him again. He flinches but lets me pet his head and ears. I don’t think he is shown much affection, poor thing. As I go into the RV, he is lying with Winston and the two are playing a little. I remind myself to give Winston and extra dose of Frontline. Tom has leveled the RV and got the power going. He gets a couple of beers and we toast each other. We have made it. We have driven more than 4,000 miles in the 5 weeks we have been in Brazil and travelled another 1,000 or so down the Amazon but we are here. We will play tourist for the next few days as there are several places we want to see but for now, the RV and ourselves are in a safe place and Winston has a new, best friend.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Maceio to Praia do Forte. 340 miles. (February 9th – 14th, 2011)

Leaving Praia do Frances we drove on BR101 to Estancia, passing through Aracaju and then took the Linha Verde (the coastal road) to Salvador. The Linha Verde is beautiful, following the Atlantic Ocean with gorgeous, well maintained beaches bordered by coconut palms. Our first night we spent in Porto do Sauipe in the old part of town. The newer part of the Costa was built in 2001 with luxury resorts and a world renowned golf course but we could not park there, so we stayed in the old town by the beach. It is only for the night as we need to make up a little time – Rio is still more than 1,300 miles away! Before leaving on Thursday morning, we browsed the local artisan shops and purchased a large, pretty blue quartz carving of a girl dancing. Carvings from Brazilian hardwoods and quartz are extremely ubiquitous and are found everywhere in the area. This one happened to be done by the owner and was very reasonable. Our stop in Salvador was actually about 30 mile from the city at Praia do Forte. This is a 7 mile stretch of white sand beach bordered by palms with warm, turquoise water and plenty of reefs. As we entered the town we were hoping to park on the beach but finally settled for a 24 hr. guarded, fenced lot with water and electricity about a block inland. Also, imagine our surprise to see another motor home, the first we have seen in a long time, owned by a Brazilian couple. Marcia and Wilson are from the state of Parana and are vacationing on the northeast coast. They will follow the path we have just taken before returning home through the central mountain region. They were astonished at our journey and had many questions for us. Praia do Forte is amazingly pretty and we will stay through the weekend and leave Tuesday. We even find the time to browse some of the shops and Tom bought a pair of shorts and a shirt whilst I found a couple of pretty swimsuit cover-ups embroidered with Baiana lace that the state of Bahia is famous for and a dress. Sunday we went to mass at one of the smallest churches we have visited. It is located right on the beach and it was definitely one of the most exuberant, energetic services’ we have attended so far. The Salvador region is where much of the food, religion, dances and music that symbolizes Brazil originated. The Catholic Portuguese culture was blended with the beliefs and ways of the slaves who were brought from Western Africa to produce the hypnotic, rhythmic beat of symbolizes Brazilian life. The Brazilians love of music and dance is in evidence everywhere we go and their exuberance for life prevalent in every aspect of the culture. And so it was in church that Sunday that we heard mass accompanied by drumbeats and a tambourine, played by a Rastafarian man with the congregations voices singing to a Brazilian beat and yet surrounded by the incense and formality of a more traditional Catholic service. Even though we could not understand the sermon or parts of the mass, Tom and I completely loved participating in the clapping and hand-holding that accompanied the music. What fun.