Monthly Archives: August 2004

Last night in Rio

I can’t believe it’s my last night in Rio already, it feels like I only just got here — although in reality, this will be my eighth night here! I had a very relaxing day today, hanging out on Ipanema beach in preparation for what promises to be a gruelling travel day tomorrow — a 5:15am start for a flight on Avianca (Columbia’s national airline) to Bogota, then a 6 hour lay-over there before the connecting flight to Lima, Peru, which doesn’t land until after midnight. Still, the hostel I booked into are sending a taxi for me, so that’s one less thing to worry about on arrival.


The weather was great today, so I decided to do some sightseeing. I went back to the Big Jesus at Corcovado (by taxi this time, without bothering to take the cute little train), and it was definitely worth it — the view on a clear day was amazing. From there, I took a taxi to Pao do Azucar, or Sugar Loaf mountain, and took the cable cars (of James Bond fame) to the top just as the sun was going down, and the view was perhaps even more incredible than from Corcovado! By chance I also ran into a Scots couple that I’d met previously, which was fun.

Big Jesus

I decided I couldn’t wait for the weather any longer today, and took the cute little train ride up the Corcovado mountain to the monumental “Big Jesus” statue (offically “Cristo Redentor”, or “Christ the Redeemer”), Rio’s icon. Predictably, the top of the hill was shrouded in cloud most of the time (not to mention a bit chilly in just a T-shirt), although I got occasional glimpses of the incredible view through gaps in the clouds. I may try to go again on Monday, when the weather is supposed to be better.

This bit of blatant tourism necessitated a rather irritating shopping trip beforehand; I had to go to the Rio Sul Shopping Center and spend $150 on YET ANOTHER 35mm compact camera, an overpriced Canon Sure Shot 80u, because the Olympus Stylus Epic 35mm compact camera I brought with me refused to accept a new roll of film (despite appearing to function normally otherwise). This second camera failure on this trip is particularly frustrating, since I already bust the screen on my Canon Digital Elph while snowboarding in Chile (see blogs passim): Even two cameras are not enough for me, it seems! However, I know that I wouldn’t be happy with the results from disposable cameras, and I still hopefully have a lot of travel memories to capture, so I felt that I really had little choice.

Yesterday I didn’t do very much, apart from wander around a bit, send some postcards and use the fitness centre in the hotel — it was kind of a recovery day. I did manage to book my flight to Peru, though; I fly out of Rio early on 1st September, and may even have a few hours to check out Bogota in Columbia before my connecting flight to Lima.


Well it seems that some of the horror stories about people getting robbed near the beaches are in fact true, as I’ve heard quite a few first-person accounts from folks that have been rolled. I chatted to a bunch of young English and Northern Irish lads at Shenanigans, an Irish bar in Ipanema last night, and one guy had been ripped off THREE TIMES in the space of a week or so in Rio! I haven’t had any dodgy experiences so far, but needless to say, I’m not taking many valuables out with me.

Today was a fairly quiet day, both because the weather wasn’t so great for sightseeing, and also because I was quite hungover when I woke up and was tired all day. I did manage to move hotels; I switched from the ideally situated but very basic San Marco hotel in Ipanema, which was about $40 a night, to the considerably more fancy and central Rio Copa hotel in Copacabana, for around $60 a night. The difference in the rooms for the extra $20 is huge –double the space, a window with a view of a mountain instead of an airshaft, a hugh comfy double bed instead of a narrow strip of foam, and cable TV with lots of English-language channels (including BBC World) etc. Copacabana is a little more seedy and downmarket than Ipanema, but Ipanema is still only a short cab-ride away, and I’m also closer to the Metro now for trips into the Centro.

I ventured away from the beaches today briefly too, and took the tram ride into the Santa Teresa neighbourhood. It was great; the rickety little tram climbs up out of the Centro over an old aquaduct, and clims up through narrow cobbled streets with amazing views. I also rode the tram just as all the school kids were coming out of school, so it was a riot of noise and activity, with laughing children precariously hanging off the running boards and running alongside jumping on and off. On the way back I followed the advice of my guide book to the letter, and stopped off for some supposedly authentic (although how would I know otherwsie?) northern Brazilian food in a famous cafe. The name of the cafe escapes me right now, but the food was good, plentiful and interesting.

I also watched most of the Olympic womens’ soccer between Brazil and the USA; a hard-fought match in which the Americans won 2:1. I thought the Brazilians were unlucky not to win; they played with more skill and imagination, I thought, but lost their focus towards the end.

Well, better sign off — Internet access is comparatively very expensive at my new hotel, running to about $10 USD an hour.

Traveller’s Tales

I’ve recently been reminded of a couple of “schaudenfreude” (spelling?) type phenomena about travelling — or perhaps about human nature — that I’ve observed in the past.

The first of these is the delight that some people take in telling travel horror stories; the cautionary tales about muggings after dark, shark attacks, poisonous reptile bites, theft of bodily organs from hotels etc. etc.

The second is the even greater delight such people seem to take in informing others that they’ve been ripped off or conned, normally by a trivial amount: “You paid 20 (insert strange foreign currency unit here) for that? You were ripped off, that should only have been 5! They saw YOU coming!”

In both cases, the correct response is to tell the offending person to bog off and mind their own business.


I’m in Rio de Janeiro! This is very exciting, for me at least, because it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit. I went to the airport in Porto Algere yesterday fully intending to fly to Recife, but there weren’t many flights out and it seemed too difficult, so I came to Rio instead.

I’m staying in a hotel called San Marco in Ipanema, which is pretty basic — I might upgrade tomorrow to something a bit nicer. Communication is much easier here too, because so many people speak English (of course — so they can relieve us of our tourist dollars and pounds!). There’s actually quite a few Brits here; I met a nice Scottish couple in the hotel bar last night, and there were 3 Brit guys at the launry place I went to earlier. This adds confirmation to my belief that Brits are the new Germans of international tourism.

After I dropped my laundry off around noon today, I spent the afternoon dozing on Ipanema beach, people watching and listening to a latin-oriented jazz mix (by Freeform — nice one mate!) on my Minidisc. Marvellous, and just the remedy for my cold, which was pretty unpleasantly runny yesterday but seems to be drying up nicely today. Now my only problem is sore feet, ripped to shreds from wearing flip-flops!

Tonight after dinner I’m going to an Irish bar, I believe. It wouldn’t have been my first choice ordinarily (why come to Rio to go to an Irish bar, particularly as it won’t be anything like an Irish bar anyway?), but according to the Brits I met at the launderette, this is where the locals like to go! So I’ll check it out anyway.

Language problems

I’m still in Porto Alegre, and am finding it very difficult to communicate with people — Portuguese sounds very different from Spanish (to me at least), and although I have a few basic phrases written down, I have no idea how to pronounce them properly. My usable vocabulary currently consists of 3 expressions: “abrogado,” which means “thankyou,” “tchau,” which means “ciao,” and “bom dia,” which is pronounced “bom jia” and means something like “good day” or “good morning.”

I also have a cold, but failed to buy any decongestant at the chemist because I couldn’t communicate with the pharmacist!

I’m off to the airport now, to try and get a ticket to somewhere warmer where I can shake off my cold.

Brazil proper: Porto Alegre

I finally made it into Brazil properly, after escaping from the grotty border town of Chuy on the 23:00 overnight bus to Porto Alegre. It wasn’t a very comfortable 8 hour ride; yet again I was sitting next to a larger than average guy, and the uneven road surface on the approach to the bus station in Porto Alegre caused me to wake up from a dream that I was in an earthquake in Sheffield, which was very disconcerting. I think I might be done with buses for a while.

After grabbing a coffee in the bus station, I got a taxi to the Lancaster Hotel (another Rough Guide recommendation) and went straight to bed, covering myself with every blanket and duvet in the room, because I was starting to feel like I was coming down with a cold and cough. Hopefully this pre-emptive rest, and the fruit-heavy breakfast I had afterwards, will have averted any illness.

My first daylight experiences of Brazil were a little bewildering, to be honest — I was just starting to get the hang of basic communication in Spanish, and now I’m in at the Portuguese deep end!

Now I have to decide what to do tomorrow, and there are quite a few choices! I can either get the bus to Florianopolis on the coast, fly to either São Paulo, Rio or Recife/Olinda, or figure out some way of getting to Foz do Iguaçu (The Iguaçu Falls, the biggest waterfalls in the World).

Brazil… Kind Of

Well I was determined to get out of Uruguay and into Brazil today, and I achieved my objective — kind of.

After an uneventful 4 hour bus journey from Punta del Este, I finally made it to the border town of Chuy. Following the advice of my Rough Guide to South America, I got off the bus at the Uruguayan customs checkpoint 3km outside the town and got the necessary exit stamp in my passport before walking into the town proper. Chuy is not the most attractive town I’ve been to in South America, despite it’s claims to be a “centro turistico todos el año.”

I was pretty hungry by the time I got here, so I spent my last 150 Uruguayan pesos on a cheese and ham omelette and a beer in a pleasant parillada (where I also got to watch some pre-pubescent gymnasts do amazing stunts on the parallel bars at the Athens 2004 Olympics on TV), and crossed the town’s central street (Calle Brazil/Rua Uruguay) into Brazil. I may have been imagining things, but it seemed slightly more colourful and lively on the Brazilian side; actually it reminded me a lot of another border town, Tijuana in Mexico, near the U.S. border at San Diego.

After a bit of wandering around (wearing a backpack and looking like a dork), I eventually located the bus station on the Brazilian side and realized that I had missed most of the buses for the day. I decided that the best option would be to get the 11:30pm bus to Porto Alegro, in order to make some serious headway into Brazil. Unfortunately the folks at the bus station wouldn’t take either US dollars or Visa, so I had to go in search of an ATM to get some Brazilian reals. And this is where my problems began.

I quickly found a Banco do Brasil with several cash machines inside, but none of the machines would acknowledge any of my cards. Changing strategy, I went in search of a “Cambio” exchange place to change some dollars, but found that, at 3:30pm, they were all closed. Every single one, on both sides of the border. I walked up and down the streets, crossing back and forth between Uruguay and Brazil several times, with the same result: no luck getting money out of ATMs, and no luck finding anywhere to change US dollars into Brazilian Reals. Eventually I tried a duty free shop, and they referred me to a guy selling cigarettes out of a battered old van on the corner. He couldn’t change my (last) $50 bill, but directed me to a casino (i.e. room full of slot machines) on the corner on the Uruguayan side, and thankfully they changed my 50 bucks into some kosher Brazilian money. They didn’t even rip me off, the exchange rate was pretty much right. What a relief! I was starting to think I’d have to sleep in a fleapit hotel in Chuy for the night, which might have left me with insufficient funds for the bus fare anyway!

After getting the money changed, I went straight back to the bus station and bought my bus ticket, then found a truckstop cafe to hang around in for 5 hours until the bus was due to depart. Unfortunately the truckstop was little more than a caravan with a tent outside, and it got too cold to sit there after a while, so I came BACK to Uruguay in search of a warmer bar, which was how I stumbled across this warm cosy Internet cafe. Now I just have 2 hours 50 minutes to kill (hopefully somewhere warm!) before catching the overnight bus to Porto Alegro.

Punta del Este

I’m currently in Punta del Este, which in summer is supposed to be one of the most fashionable and happening beach resorts in the whole of South America. Unfortunately it’s winter here now, so it’s deserted, 10 degrees Celsius, raining and blowing a gale. In fact it feels more like an Easter weekend in Margate!

I got here about 8:30am this morning, after an uncomfortable 2 hour bus ride from Montevideo. I was originally assigned a seat on the bus next to a huge guy who didn’t fit in one seat and kept puffing and wheezing with the exertion of simply sitting still, but I quickly moved to a free double seat at the back of the bus shortly after we set off; thankfully no-one else tried to claim it.

After arriving in Punta del Este and having breakfast in the bus station, I walked around in the driving rain for a while and eventually found an open hotel, the Playa Hotel, which seemed like a bargain since it got me out of the rain and into a bed for only $25 USD. I slept until about 3pm, then got up to explore my surroundings — I had to buy a Uruguayan rugby cagoule to avoid getting soaked through! Still, it was only $15, and at least it’s a functional souvenir of Uruguay.

Well, I think it’s time I started thinking about foraging for dinner. Next stop will be Brazil, where it will hopefully be both warmer and dryer!