Rio de Janeiro

AHHHH YEAAA   RIO!!

Now this is what has been driving our schedule, the thing that has kept us moving and pressing forward…. RIO.  Rio de Janiro is one end mark, a mile stone for us. It is our last country and city in South America. To this point, we have travelled exclusively over land on public transportation through the Americas. (Save for a short flight from Costa Rica to Peru)

Rio is great anytime of year. However, I calculated and fine tuned our schedule so we were in Rio at the most crowded, and festive time of year……………CARNIVAL! 

Quick side note here. In January of 1502 a Portuguese explorer hacked his way though the jungle and emerged at the bay. He mistakenly thought the water he was looking at was a rather wide river.  He apparently didn’t have much imagination either because he name this place River of January……..Rio de Janeiro!

All accommodations and arrangements for our stay in Rio were Soon Jeongs responsibility.  Way back in Chile she was told by some people who live in Brazil, ‘You had better make your reservations right away.’   In Sao Paulo, just a few days before we were scheduled to go to Rio, we had no reservations…nothing.

Because we were getting desperate, I started to couchsurf and see if there was someone who could host us. I didn’t have high hopes as it was carnival. Indeed most responses were, ‘Sorry I cant host you. I have 6 people here already.’  BUT…Luckyyyyyy…. I did find a nice woman through Couch Surfing who was willing to host us for the 3 days. That was a start. We still had six days with no place to stay.

Fortunately, our Sao Paulo host, Virgillio has some friends who live in Rio. He called them and they were willing to help us out for our visit to Rio. We had a place to stay for the rest of our visit in Rio.   LUCKYYYYYY, Oh we are Sooooo LUCKY sometimes.

There are plenty of things to see and do in Rio. There is the beach, sugar loaf mountain, and the big attraction…Christ the Redeemer, Cristo Redentor in Portuguese.

The beach is ..well there are several really nice beaches in Rio.

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The most famous being Copacabana beach. Lots of sun, waves, sand, and people who are about 4/5 naked. (this is not always a good thing)  

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We went there and people stared a bit at me.  Hmmmm?

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We also took the gondola to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. This is a rock that rises up 1300 feet. In 1912 somebody couldn’t resist the temptation and the first cable car was installed.

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Now you take two cable cars in two stages to get to the top. On top the views of the city and the beaches is spectacular.

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Christ the Redeemer is one of the NEW 7 Wonders of the World.  Standing on top of the mountain right at the foot of the statue… its pretty impressive.   

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From that point on top of the mountain the views of the city are equally impressive.

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When we went there we took a taxi to the top. We did this because we were getting a late start and a taxi was the fastest way up there.   We stayed at the foot of the Crist the Redeemer taking night photos until they closed the park.  When we got to the parking lot, there were no taxis and no cars.  The employees of the park took some sympathy on us and gave us a free ride down the mountain to the bus stop.  LUCKYYYYYYYYYY.

In addition to the usual things one does in Rio, we took a tour of the Favela called Rocinha.  Favela translates into Slum or Shanty Town.

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Rocinha is the largest of the slums in Rio.  It was a very interesting tour. More than 100,000 people are packed into the shanty town built on the hill. Each month around three million dollars of drugs are sold in Rocinha.   Our guide did an excellent job of explaining how the people lived there and how the community functioned. It was a very unique experience.

Of course the most exciting thing in Rio was CARNIVAL. ….

This year Carnival was officially February 20-23.  For the city of Rio, Carnival is always more than a week long. A large percentage of the workforce is off for a whole week and the party begins early.

What most of you see on TV, that is the Carnival samba parade contest.  For the people living in Rio de Janeiro, the big event is the Blokos.  These are block parties.   A Blokos party is where one small samba band will start playing in the street. Then hundreds and sometimes thousands of people will come out into the streets and gather around the samba band. The band will slowly walk though the streets. The crowd that is Tokyo-subway-jam-packed bounces up and down to the rhythm of the music.

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People are drinking, smoking and having a terrific time.  If you let yourself get squeezed into the thick of the crowd, you will pretty much be stuck there, bouncing along with 3,000 other people. 

The newspapers announce when and were the Blokos take place. There are several of them every night and day during Carnival week.  And no doubt, there are the private parties with friends and new friends. Yea, pretty much the whole town of Rio is in one stage of a party or another for an entire week.  This is Carnival.

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We of course wanted to see the samba parade..the one we have seen on TV.  Tickets for this contest went on sale in September.  Soon Jeong and I wanted to walk in the day before and buy our tickets. HA! No way.   But, we were told that tickets for the Saturday night Winners Parade would go on sale on Wednesday.   Several places around town sold the tickets. The official place to buy them was at one bank. We went there and bought our tickets. (USD $100 ea)

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(Prices at other places around town we selling the same tickets for $150~$200 ea) Seats are divided into sections. We got section 11; not the best but not the worst. The price reflects the quality of the seats.

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There are 12 samba schools that enter the contest each year. It is a fierce competition and each of the schools are preparing all year long. The samba school are judged in 10 categories.  Percussion Band, Samba Song, Harmony, Flow and Spirit, Theme of the Year, Overall Impression, Floats and Props, Costumes, Vanguard Group, and The Flag Bearer. 

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These groups have about 100 members in them and their groups must dance down the lane of the Sambodromo in exactly 1 hr.  There is a start and finish gate and they are penalized if they take longer.  

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On Saturday night the 6 winning samba school are presented.  (Loosers are crying in their beer someplace) The Sambodromo opens at 9:00 pm… the parade starts at 10:00 pm.  Yea, you can do the math rather quickly. Hmmmm six groups, one hour each, plus some wait time in between… Oh yea this goes on til the wee hours of the morning.  

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We stayed until about 2:00am then I was too tired to watch more. The three samba groups we did see were awesome.

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Our stay in Rio was great. We loved it. It was a bit too hot for me, (A constant 85~90 degrees night and day) but it was still a great visit.

From Rio we left South America and flew to Portugal on March 3rd.   BUT it was not that easy.  I had purchased one-way tickets to Portugal.  At the airport the check in counter, the attendant would not let us check in because we HAD to have a return ticket out of Europe for visa purposes.  I told there that we didn’t need visas because we could get a 90 day tourist visa at the Lisbon airport when we landed. She said yes, but you have to show evidence that you are going to depart on or before the 90 days. 

Though we tired to avoid it, we were forced to purchase a ticket leaving Portugal.  This was purchased on Soon Jeongs credit card.

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