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Riot for Rio December 19, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Rio.
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I’d hate to think that bad weather is enough to taint a place in your mind, especially when it comes to an iconic city like Rio de Janeiro. However, for a place known primarily for its beaches, the weather ends up playing a big role in one’s overall impression.

            Factor in ridiculously inflated prices ($60 US for a hostel room!?!) Perpetually grey skies, monster cockroaches and a room that leaks in the rain, and I don’t care how optimistic you think you are, we still had trouble falling in love with Rio.

            What Rio did have going for it, however, was its innate natural beauty and terminally insane people. The city was virtually built in the middle of a rainforest, creating a unique juxtaposition between the natural and the manmade. Huge cliffs tower up next to high-rises, thick, teeming forest hide lavish homes and historical monuments. The streets are lined with weeping jungle plants and open-air cafes.

            People from Rio are called cariocas and must be the single-most hedonistic, ass-shaking revelers on the planet. Samba music courses through their veins, thus they’re always dancing, singing, playing an instrument or doing back flips on the street. And I mean always.

            We stayed in Copacabana, the mid-way point between El Centro and the hoity-toity beaches of Ipanema and Leblon, supposedly where all the beautiful people go to play. Our first night in Rio, it rained for 15 hours straight, so we stayed indoors and watched the walls of our room ooze water as if they were bleeding.

            Our second day, the sun was shining so we went to the beach. We watched a dance-party erupt from the small tent renting out umbrellas and chairs, and paid too much for a pair of caipirinhas made by a guy we’re pretty sure was both high and drunk. Jen also lost her sunglasses after a rogue wave knocked her on her ass, putting an end to our day at the beach.

            We spent our remaining four days exploring Ipanema, cursing the rain, devouring fried fish, taking a walking-tour of El Centro, watching boogie boarders get slammed by Rio’s vicious shore break and saying over and over, “This city is bonkers.”

            Despite the camera-toting vultures atop Corcovado, taking the cog train up to see Cristo Redentor or Christ the Redeemer was also a highlight. It was our last day in Rio and the sun was out, so we were very lucky, getting clear, panoramic views of the city in all its absurd glory.

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The Island Getaway December 18, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Brazil Posts, Ilha de Santa Catarina Update.
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Following a genuine debacle of arriving in Brazil broke, bouncing from bank to bank looking for money and finally seeking some help back home, (thank you, Pete, Rachel and Bank of America) we finally had some cash in hand and were back in business.

            During our quest for an ATM machine that would accept Jen’s debit card, we were lucky enough to befriend a helpful hotel receptionist from the United Arab Emirates. He heard our plight and offered to lend us some money so we could buy the phone card we needed to call Pete and the bank. Yes, we were that broke, we couldn’t even afford a $10 phone card.

            Long story short, we got everything sorted out and returned to our hotel where we were able to pay back what he’d lent us, plus interest for helping us out in our time of need. He was so grateful, he then offered to call the place we were hoping to stay at our next destination, and make a reservation for us. Turns out our new friend was a natural-born haggler, so not only did he make the reservation, but he also got us a 60% discount.

            We left Florianópolis the next morning, crossing the bridge into Ilha de Santa Catarina- a stunning island dominated by pristine beaches, beautiful lakes, Atlantic rainforest and peaceful pine forests. Santa Catarina is a major holiday destination for people from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, especially in December when their summer is beginning. We arrived shortly before the droves, however, and pretty much had the entire island to ourselves.

Jen with a couple of caipirinhas.

    Thanks to our hard-bargaining buddy, we had our own apartment with living room and kitchen in Barra da Lagoa for only $35 US a night. Not only was the place spacious and clean, but it was also run by one of the kindest women we’ve ever met. Ida, (who was prone to cussing in the most natural way) along with her husband and son helped make our stay one of the best we’ve had on our travels.

            We spent the majority of our time on the island in awe: of the emerald water, soft-sand beaches, verdant jungle, beautiful homes and simple living. One of our best moments was after a short hike we took along the canal. Night was beginning to fall and we decided to just sit for a moment near the small bridge that links Barra da Lagoa to the rest of the island.

            Small clumps of people wielding nets and towing floatable coolers were out in the lake, up to their knees in water. They all seemed to be looking for something, stepping slowly and scanning the water with their eyes. We watched, marveling at the halogen light attached to one man’s cooler and the practiced way each person seemed to be stalking the lake. On the bridge, young boys with what looked like over-sized dreamcatchers attached to rope, were busy launching them out over the bridge, into the water below. A slim boat manned by two young brothers pulled up and dropped anchor. Their father appeared from out of nowhere, sending out Portuguese reprimands into the deepening sky.

             He continued speaking to Steve and I in a questioning tone, presumably baffled by what goes on in the mind of two young boys. Steve took this opportunity to ask the man what all the people were hunting for out in the lake. Through a combination of broken Spanish, Portuguese and gesture, we managed to discover that it was small, delicious-tasting crab they were after.

            After a while we walked back down the road to our temporary home, grateful that simplicity still exists in the world.