Sunday, April 29, 2012

Vibrant Salvador with lots of Police

After spending two nights riding buses, I arrived in Salvador. I took the local A/C bus into town from the bus station--Rodovaria--just as the LP guide described. I was glad it was air conditioned, because it was now hot and muggy. Instead of going straight downtown we instead ran all along the coastline through a very scenic area called Barra. I would return to visit this area the following day.

As soon as I got off the bus near the Praca de Se which is in the historical part of town called Pelourihino, some Brazilian tourists came up to me to warn me to carefully watch all of my stuff because of the thieves and pickpockets that work the area. They walked me to my Galeria 13 Hostel that was just town a steep cobbled street from the San Francisco Church.

The crowds were huge here on Sunday because of the big May Day holiday. Musicians were playing at small venues like this cafe near the hostel.

Up near the Terreiro de Jesus square, this one restaurant was livening up the entire square and people all around were dancing to the beat.

Earlier in the evening, they had a concert where over 100,000 people attended and the Hostel staff recommended that if we were to go, we should only take enough change to buy food and refreshments and to leave everything else behind because of pickpockets and robberies.

This was born out the following morning when a German woman, said that she and her friend were held up by a group of three guys and one of them put a knife to her throat. They went to the concert with no problem other than massive crowding. But then when they continued clubbing until 2AM, they ran into the robbers. She and her friend escaped by throwing them a plastic bag of Ganga and running like the wind.

In the squares and streets around the Pelourinho area where all of the clubs, restaurants, art galleries, and gift shops are, they have very bright street lights and heavy police patrols every half block. The police were never alone, but rather usually in groups of four. That kind of tells you the potential for danger in this area as well in the other tourist area, the Barra. Here is a typical group of four foot patrol police in the Barra area.

A short bus ride got me to the Barra neighborhood where some beautiful beaches string along for miles and are interspersed by some historical buildings that recall the long history of the Portuguese explorers and settlers beginning in the mid 1500s. Along with that, the slave trade began to provide laborers for the sugarcane export business. The influence of African cultures is apparent in the foods, music, art, and some customs that you see today. The working lighthouse is in the background of one of the beach areas.

View toward the Santa Maria Fort

The tourist shops take advantage of the Afro-Brasilerio arts and crafts by dressing up women to draw in customers to their gift stores. I couldn't help getting sucked in by this pleasant huckster. She is standing in front of the San Francisco Church with a doll I bought from her. The doll has two different bodies to it. The one she is holding is a peasant dress and if you flip the dress over the head, it is another doll with a white wedding dress--guess who gets this gift?

The woman then got a street vendor to take my picture with her so of course I did. Then I bought some trinkets from the street vendor as well. My little way of helping the local economy. I sure hope I don't find a little sticker that says "Made in China". This time the doll shows the wedding dress.

Here is the street vendor who is wearing the necklaces I bought from her.

It's now time for another night bus ride to Recife---as LP guide says it is pronounced "heh-see-fee"

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Florianopolis and Barra da Lagoa in the Rain

Shortly after taking two short bus rides from Florianopolis out to the beach area of Barra da Loga it began to rain and continued for three days and only when I was leaving did the sun finally come out.

It wasn't all bad staying here since the people trapped here in the rain were an interesting combination of Brazilian tourists, Europeans, and some down unders from Australia and new Zealand. When I got here, I was greeted by Mel from New Zealand and Ashely from Australia who had stayed at the same hostel in Foz Do Iguazcu, the Iguassi. We had traveled on the same tour over to the Argentina side of the Iguazu Falls and went to the the El Gaucho Charasscuria to celebrate a great outing with a group of seven of us.

I did not realize they were staying at the same place as me and they not only got here two hours before me, but also left three hours after I did from Foz. Lesson learned: It is better to find out when your bus arrives rather than takes off. Mine was the milk run and theirs was the express.

The Barra Beach Club Hostel sponsored a free capirinha---sugar cane rum, crushed limes, sugar, and crushed ice-- drink every night along with a $15 BR dinner that varied every night from spaghetti, chicken, beef stew in a red wine sauce---the cook was Italian. it was a great way to visit and talk about travel and other things as well.

Before it rained really hard, I was able to hike a bit north to some rocky coves. I also toured the town and saw this fishing boat tied up as well as an ancient fisherman who captivated the school children that were on an outing as he drew up from his net, some anchovies and a larger fish for his evening meal with the help of a younger friend.

I wanted to walk the long white sandy beach, but the weather was too nasty for that. This is the view of the beach on the morning I left as the sun came out.

I just had to go for a quick dip and was a bit surprised to find the water chillier than when I last swam in Paraty.

Before catching the bus back to Rio, I stopped by to say bye to my four roommates--all beautiful blondes --who continually stopped the Brazilain guys in their tracks. At the beach along with Ashley and Mel are Mette and Nichole from Denmark along with Jordan, a 19 year old Gap year traveler from the UK in the pink swim suit. After three days of rain we were eager to warm up in the sun.

This would be a great spot to spend several days visiting and walking the several beaches and islands that surround this area, but I have other places I want to see before my Brazil Adventure ends.

On to Rio and Salvador by bus.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Power of Nature--Iguacu Falls, Brazil-Argentina

This short video captures just a small portion of the immense Iguacu Falls that share the border with both Argentina and Brazil. This is from the catwalk in Brazil that extends just below the first portion of the Garganta do Diablo falls where you look down from the edge of the second portion up to the top.There are more than 275 waterfalls in an area of more than 1 1/4 miles wide and 260 feet high so they are wider than Victoria Falls and higher than Niagara.

I don't have any more pictures of the catwalk area because someone stole my Fuji camera while I was using my video camera. Good thing I have been uploading my pictures to my iPad and Picasa as I have been traveling along and that I bought Alianza travel insurance. Now I just have to get a police report to document my loss for a claim.

After returning to the Iguassu Hostel I met four other travelers who were planning to visit the Argentina side of the falls the following day. Carlos, the Hostel manager, recommended that we hire a driver/guide to expedite our travels back and forth the border crossings and show us through the park as much as we wanted him to do. It seemed like a good plan so I joined them.

Both of the women had just arrived after a 45 hour bus ride from Mendoza, Argentina--Mel is from New Zealand and Ashley from Australia. The other two were Brian and Justin who were from California on a short 5 day holiday before they had to join their Honda Racing team who were competing in an Indy car race in Sao Paulo the following week.

Even with the driver/guide It took us over 3 hours to get into the park at noon. We all went immediately up to the top falls walkway to the Argentina Garganta del Diablo--Spanish spoken here. this is what we saw and heard. We also felt the pulse and spray of the falls.

It is hard to believe that every second of every day there are more than 460,000 cubic feet of water plunge over these falls.

We decided to see for ourselves what it would feel like going into the falls from a boat below. Here we are approaching the Garganta del Diablo as another boat is just coming out. I took some videos with my camera stuck in a ziplock bag and the video looks like I am in a shower. The fifteen minute boat ride for just $25 gave us two "showers" in two different waterfalls with the last one the biggest thrill. A Disney ride doesn't even come close to the sounds and feelings of this waterfall pounding you with water. My OR rain jacket met the test and kept my shirt dry except for a patch of moisture along the front zipper. Hopefully, when I get around to editing my videos, I will be able to show some of that thrill.

Here are some of the other views of the falls:

During the day we got to know a Brtish couple, Terry and Emma who were just finishing up their months long adventures in South America and all of us decided to meet up at the Gaucho Churrascaria Restaurant for dinner.

In addition to a great buffet of salads, side dishes and deserts, the various waiters would continually come by our table with meat ladened metal skewers. The meats varied from beef, pork, lamb, sausages, and rabbit and how they were prepared. We were also offered some hearts and parts few of us tried. The rabbit was wrapped in a cordon blue, chicken was wrapped in bacon, The beef was presented in various marinades along with filet which I asked for the "Rojas" cut of medium rare filet. The waiters just kept returning until we said, "nao mais". The cost was just $20BR or less than $10 USD for this meat orgy.

We had a great time reliving our waterfalls adventures of the day and exchanging our travel adventures in the past and future plans. It turned out that Terry had also had his camera stolen from his pack he had left on the bus when it had stopped for a meal break. The worst thing about losing your camera is that you lose any pictures you have taken that you have not uploaded. He lost his entire journey across the Bolivian salt flats, and I lost just some Sao Paulo street scenes and waterfall pictures. These losses are a good reminder to continually upload your pictures.

The following day I spent getting my police report and buying a replacement Fuji camera. Both the Hostel Manager and the police woman told me I should go to Paraguay to buy the camera since it would be much cheaper. I ended up getting one for $379 BR or about $200. With this one, I plan to make daily back ups.

The Igassu Hostel is the cleanest and nicest hostel I have ever stayed at with a great breakfast which included a hot quiche along with fruits, meats and cheeses for the sandwich rolls, cereal and coffee all for just $18 per night. They have a pool, pool table, bar and WiFi along with a very clean kitchen for those that want to prepare their own meals.

I took the local bus to the long distance bus station for my 4 PM night bus ride to Florianopolis just as a downpour started.  The weather was perfect for my two day tour of the Iguacu Falls.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sao Paulo Visit

After taking the 16 hour night bus from Paraty where it rained all of the way, I found it easy to navigate to the Sao Paulo Saci Hostel by taking the Metro. It was a real crush of bodies during the morning rush hour, but everyone seemed accommodating as I followed the two subway lines that got me to the Hostel.

After freshening up and storing my bag in a locker, I headed back to the metro to take the Sao Paulo walking tour featured in my Lonely Planet guide. The highlight was going up to the viewing tower of the art deco building you see in the photo above--the BANESPA building. The city stretches beyond what eye can see.

Another building that caught my eye was the Edificio Italia building.

Apparently to avoid the crushing traffic jams, wealthy people use helicopters to get around the city. they have over 300 heliports vs. just 60 in New York. Throughout the two days I was there, I heard the constant buzzing of them as they swooped about the city.

While visiting Sao Paulo, the weather was sunny until my next night bus ride to Foz do Iguacu. As I transferred from the Metro to the bus station, it began pouring down and it continued to rain throughout my travel Foz do Iguacu.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Islands and Village of Paraty

It was a bit rainy as I arrived in Paraty (pronounced Para Chee) about 2 PM and quickly found my way to the Che Largarto Hostel and booked into a mixed dorm with A/C. the place was quite lively with mostly young travelers from Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Holland, Germany, and the UK---No one from the USA except me. they had two pools--one to swim in and one to play along with a Sky TV lounge--with futbol the staple.

They not only had a full bar, but also featured a theme dinner with the first night Indian chicken curry and the second Mexican combi. It was a great way to mingle and hear about others' travels.

Before dinner, I toured the walking area of town with centuries old cobblestone roads and sidewalks. The buildings mostly were occupied by hotels--Pousadas-- hostels, restaurants, art galleries and curio stores.

Although bars outnumber churches, there were churches for slaves, freed mulattos, white elite, and a Catholic church for others financed by discovered pirates' plunder. This is the latter, Matriz NS dos Remedios.

Morning brought lots of sun along with a schooner tour of four islands with Paraty Tours for 30 BRs. I am at the front of the schooner just before we left the harbor.

Our first island stop was Ilha Comprida where we snorkeled for about an hour before going to our next spot, Praia da Lula. This was a sandy beach where we swam and sunbathed before reboarding for the Lagoa Azul.

This is where we had lunch for grilled fish smothered in shrimp and sauce while we continued to listen to Carlos, the fabulous guitar player and singer, who played for us during the entire cruise.

Our last stop was the Praia da Conceicao, another sandy beach. Most of the passengers were from Brazil with others from Canada, Holland, Australia, UK, Argentina, and Kenya--again, I was the only one from USA.

We passed this island with a very unfriendly guard dog. It seems like there are dozens of small islands and beaches that are privately owned in this area.

Buses, cars, and horse/donkey carts rule in Paraty, and the carts seem to fair better over the rough cobblestone roads in the older parts of town.

I decided to splurge for a dinner at the Restaurante Porto which was listed as one of the world's top 100 restaurants.  I ordered the scallops with a risotto and vegetable blend with appetizers of a roasted elephant garlic, stewed eggplant and onions, and a hot bean soup topped with scallions along with a bottle of wine.

The appetizers were delicious and then came the main course and I was disappointed to see that they were the small scallops which are tougher than the larger ones I prefer. The scallops were cooked in a white wine reduction sauce that was very flavorful. The risotto had fresh slivers of zucchini that were fresh and crisp and went along well with the reduction sauce.

Maybe some of the disappointment was that the last scallops I had were so delicious with a crispy top and bottom with a barely warmed interior that contained the scallop favors served with lightly sauted pea vines topped by chantrells. My new son-in-law, Josh Beckham---a sous chef at the Bellevue Club--had prepared this meal for us recently which has become my new benchmark for quality cuisine. I guess I am now spoiled.

I finished touring Paraty with a visit to several art galleries and walking over the unique cobblestone streets before preparing for my travels by bus to Sao Paulo.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Rio Favela Tour

The Rocinha favela has some of the most spectacular views in Rio that I saw while joining the Inside Rio Tour Co. After picking me up at the hostel, we started walking from the top down through the neighborhood of shanties cobbled together in a community that is very close knit where neighbors look out for each other.

While drug trade still occurs as shown by this recent graffiti advertising the Columbia-Brazil connection, the drug gangs no longer control this favela. Instead there is frequent police prescence and children are paid to attend school rather than work for the drug dealers.

As we walk down these topsy turvey paths, we can look into the many homes with open doors. few people lock their doors, because everyone watches for one another. if a thief is caught, he is handled severely with vigilantee justice.

Only now are residents beginning to pay for their utilities such as water, satellite TV, and electricity. you can see from the maze of electrical wires that residents have just tapped into electrical wires as they needed to.

The government has recently built this Olympic Sports stadium at the bottom of the favela to encourage the Rocinha youth to practice with the hope that some may be Olympic contenders in the 2016 Olympics hosted by Brazil.

We ended our tour by taking an exciting ride to the top on the back of a moto taxi.

With the rain it is now on to a bus to Paraty.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tour of Rio

Corcovado/ Cristo Redenter

Our first stop was up to the Christ the Redeemer statute on top of the Corcovado (Camel Hunchback). You can get here by cog train, but the waiting lines are very long. Tour groups go to the front of the line which saved us over an hour wait. Unfortunately there was a bit of a haze when we were here.

Corcovado is 710 meters above Rio, and the statute is another 38 m.

We passed through the Lapa bohemian neighborhood which is filled with samba clubs, bars, and restaurants that surround the Arcos do Lapa, that now carries the bonde (trolley cars) to Saint Teresa as well as the Sambodromo Fairgrounds where the Carnaval parades are performed.

We then stopped to explore some curio and art shops, before walking up some of the stairs that Jorge Seleron has worked on for the past 22 years. He has funded this street art by selling his paintings, primary featuring a pregnant woman. One of his tile areas features a pregnant woman.

Our final stop was to Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) which was beginning to be shrouded in clouds.

There are a series of two cable cars that take you to the top. When we got to the top, This was the view we got because the clouds had suddenly formed. We could occasionally see the Cristo Redenter and other peaks poking through the clouds, but little else.