Big Waters in Brazil and Argentina

Being in Brazil to enjoy the World Cup or watching from the comfort of your own home is one thing, but, enjoying a guided holiday across South America is a whole new experience.
I enjoyed a guided holiday across South America in December 2014 and it’s now a firm favourite of mine and a destination that I expect to visit again and again. It’s really not like me to want to visit the same destination twice – but South America has become the exception to the rule.
The opportunity to explore and appreciate the customs, the food, the history and the way of life of the people from Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Easter Island was made all the more memorable through Trafalgar’s ‘insider experience’.

 

For this year’s World Cup, Brazil has put its best foot forward with the glistening beaches of Ipanema and the multi-million dollar soccer stadiums. Yet nestled in the hills above Rio de Janeiro, a different dimension of Brazil languishes, the Favelas. Even here the game of soccer has a place. Right in the middle of the Favela there is an open space dedicated to the game.
After a wonderful experience of Rio’s hidden treasure – the Favelas – we jetted off to Iguassu. Having every detail of our journey between Rio and Iguassu taken care of we were stress free and ready to explore this beautiful property with several small swimming pools and Jacuzzi in between the rooms. The walk to the main reception and the dining rooms was intriguing as we listened to the sounds coming from the surrounding dense bush.

The main event here is of course a visit to the “big waters’. Iguaçu in the Guarania language is “big water”, a Unesco World Heritage site and has been shared since 1984 between Brazil and Argentina. And luckily we were able to explore the falls from both sides.

Our first vista of this magnificent natural wonder was from the Brazilian side. I’m not sure why I expected the view to be different from the other side – I have been asked so many times “which side is best?”… Now I know! After a short drive to the entrance of the Parque National do Iguaçu, we took a short bus ride through the national park to the Falls.

My first sighting was nothing less than spectacular. From the very first cataract and they only get better and more impressive as you walk along the path of the many interlinking cataracts (there are a total of around 275). The Falls are completely surrounded by nature reserves and as we walked we enjoyed seeing birds, butterflies and other wild life such as the Coati and Capuchin monkeys.

The snaking walkway gave us multiple close-up views of the cascading falls and the misty spray left us soaked – what a pleasure in the heat of the day as we quickly dried off in the sun.

We opted to indulge in a power boat ride to get a closer look. As we skimmed the very foot of the Falls we got drenched by a passing boat, much to the amusement of their passengers. But our drenching was rewarded with a wonderful sighting of a family of capybaras right at the water’s edge. Our boat afforded us the vantage point of getting close without disturbing these strange looking and unfamiliar creatures. The capybara is the largest rodent in the world, followed by the beaver and porcupine. Its closest relatives are guinea pigs and rock cavies, and it is more distantly related to the agouti, chinchillas, and the coypu.

The pace of the ‘At Leisure’ style of Trafalgar holiday is perfect, giving us lots of time to make some of our own choices of how we wanted to spend our time. The mix of enjoying the natural wonders, having some ‘wild fun’ on the boats and then relaxing around the pool at our resort hotel is the perfect recipe for a ‘well done’ holiday especially with the
choice of restaurants within the resort. For our free night for dinner we decided on Japanese sushi which was delicious. It’s amazing to think that there are more Japanese tourists in South America than in any other country – which explains why we found a Sushi restaurant in the resort.

We moved on to experience the Iguassu Falls from the Argentinian side and I can only commend Trafalgar for the fantastic organisational skills and supreme diplomacy. There were flights, trains and border crossing to navigate and to the unseasoned traveller this would have presented more than a headache. Thankfully we had the best in the business taking us through this experience.

After taking the busy mini train, Tren Ecologico de la Selvawe, we arrived at the highlight of the Falls – Estacion Garganta del Diablo – the Devils Throat station. The two greatest sights were Devils Throat and Salto Dan Martin. As we strolled along drinking in the sights we experienced the thunderous roar of the falls and were soaked – once again – by the spray of the cataracts.

What a magnificent stop – I’m pleased that I can now tick these two impressive and ‘largest in the world’ waterfalls on my “bucket list”!

So which view is best?
There is no way to make this choice as both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides are equally impressive.

At Naipi Spot Panoramic elevators and ramps, available especially for people with physical limitations so that they can also view Devil’s Throat was an absolute plus.

The resting and contemplation spot called ‘Porto Canoas’ has great facilities including a bar, restaurant, restrooms and bus boarding platform.

The Macuco Trail, the longest, is around 7km that leads to the fall called Arrechea, which forms a natural pool beneath it.

After being sprayed with water and having our fill of superb ‘wow’ moments it was time to leave the mighty Iguassu Falls behind us as we began the next part of our journey… Buenos Aires.

#Favelas #Rio de Janeiro MINHA CASA MINHA VIDA

“Minha Casa minha vida” translates to “my house my life” – a very apt name for the Favelas

These mountainside Favelas are as an important part of Rio as the famous Corcovado and Sugar loaf – and just as famous – although a little intimidating for some.

These are the areas of Rio that you won’t find on your tourist map – more like hidden treasures. I definitely recommend a visit to these fascinating hillside areas which at one time were dangerous no-go areas. Don’t try to discover the Favelas on your own. We had a local guide, Francesco, who was an expert on the Favelas and, by the end of our visit with him and the driver, who actually lives in the Favelas, I was sad to leave.

The Favelas could easily be associated with the bad reputation that they have due to them being slums which started as only two shacks on a hillside. These have now grown to a population of 1.8 million – 20% of Rio’s entire population live in a Favela. People’s perception that these ghettos are dangerous areas and full of criminals are not true. Yes, they apparently do have drug lords who openly sell narcotics – but the majority of the citizens are law abiding citizens working in low paying jobs.

It’s great to see how these locals have integrated with the city – the carnival dancers, the drummers and costume makers all live in the Favelas – it would be difficult to imagine Rio without events such as the annual Rio Carnival and the Favelas…

The houses in the Favelas are built on vacant land without infrastructure. Once the inhabitants have stayed there for 5 years they automatically own the land they live on. As the size of the families grow and expand, so they start to add and extend their homes. These homes take on interesting shapes and sizes of their own and some are very colourful. The Favelas are not where the homeless and miserable live – they’re happy, laid back people who take care of each other. This can be felt as you wander through the narrow alleys and walk ways – I felt welcomed and safe.

The first Favela we visited was called Hosenia – the largest Favela in Rio. The size of this Favela could be compared to a small farm – which occupies anywhere between 87k and 250k people – 80% of the people don’t have plumbing and have poor sanitary conditions and
35% take electricity illegally – thankfully this number has come down since the price of electricity dropped.

Our next visit was to a much smaller and poorer Favela, Villa Canoas – small Favela – although they all have sewage, proper services and pavements.

The most heart warming stop was to the local after-care school – in Villa Canoas – called “Para Ti”- translated into English “for you”. This is run by NGO’s and a wonderful facility offering school assistance; sporting and recreational activities and basically keeping the youth out of trouble… The location overlooks the most beautiful part of the forest. This facility is sponsored by Italian families as well as the local Tourism Agency of Rio de Janeiro.

The walk through these Favelas was fascinating – with no street names one wonders how they receive post? There are shared boxes hanging outside some of the houses… a simple, yet apparently effective, postal system.

Our visit to the Favelas with Trafalgar was an interesting and worthwhile experience and since it’s known as a Brazilian trade mark – a visit to the Favelas should be ‘a must’ on your itinerary.

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#Street Art #Rio de Janeiro #Favelas

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What a week end in Rio Baby!

It’s amazing how the vibe changes in Rio – just because the week-end is here. The locals are relaxed and ready to spend time enjoying their city, not just us, the visitors to this amazing place that is so vibrant and pulsating with life.

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A Sports Day, an annual event, which is held on the beach starts early on Friday morning. With the swimmers preparing to compete over various heats and distances across the beaches, the atmosphere is electric and the locals are out in force, enjoying the beach with friends and family.
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The sights on the beach have been interesting – I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite as many tiny triangles in my life time – their bikinis are almost invisible from certain angles! People on the beach are care free and just having fun – tanning is huge here and the shades go from golden dark brown to a shiny shade of black leather… ‘The darker the better’.

The colourful beaches lined with Palm trees along a pavement pattern – a signature pattern made of black and white swirls symbolic of the waves – is a sight you’ll always remember.

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Friday is also the day of the week when a local dish called feijoada is prepared and we’re told it’s the best day of the week to enjoy this. The cuisine in the local brasileiras – cafés – is fabulous and truly authentically Brazilian.
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We were glad to join our Trafalgar guided holiday today – with many visitors from South Africa, and others from America and Australia – most of whom are well travelled and prepared for an exciting holiday across South America.

After a drive around the city as an orientation of our surrounds, we headed up sugar loaf – another beautiful evening with the most spectacular view, only this time with a guide who was able to tell us so much more about Rio and the views from the summit.

Imagine our surprise when we arrived at a prime spot under the shade of the trees on Morro da Urca for our Welcome Reception to enjoy a finger dinner of delicious local speciality eats and drinks and to meet our companions for the next two weeks. Everyone was in good spirits and excited about exploring South America together.

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We couldn’t resist a quick visit to the night market directly in front of our hotel and on the beach front. The wander around gave us time to settle our dinner before heading home (it feels like home already).

Sunday seems quieter, and the weather is being kind to us. After a visit through some of the poorer areas of Rio we headed up to Corcovado mountain – or hunchback mountain. The iconic Christ Redentor statue towers over Rio, it is Brazil’s most recognizable landmark and is situated in the centre of the gorgeous tropical jungle of Parquet National da Tijuca.

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The cog train ride through the dense forest is a bonus – and on the way back, the sound of the local musicians put a smile on our faces and it was great to see the smiles of appreciation on the faces of the local musicians – everyone just have a good time.

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Last night we headed off to Ipanema and the Hippy evening market – followed by a visit to the original “girl from Ipanema” bar for a caperinga… or two. The atmosphere is amazing between rich, poor, locals and tourists… a beautiful melting pot of all sorts. 

Rio de Janeiro “River of January” has quite simply been one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities I’ve travelled to so far! It’s not only the unique setting of the dramatic mountains and the beaches at the very centre of Rio that sets it apart, but also the lovely laid back way of the locals, the warm and friendly people and the beautiful mix of samba and bossa nova that makes it unlike any other great city I have visited or know of.

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The girl from Ipanema

Just like the girl from Ipanema, we were also inspired to make the most of our day in Rio. “The Girl from Ipanema” or “A Garota de Ipanema” is the most played and recorded song in Brazil and the song writers were inspired by a sensual girl in 1962.

The view of the sunrise taken from our hotel room set the mood for the day. We were off to the beach the for a run, joining the many locals running, exercising and working out in what seems to be more like an open air, free for all gym, than a promenade. It was fabulous to see people of all ages & sizes enjoying their exercise routine. Our run was six kilometers along the promenade’s ‘running and cycle’ track.

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After breakfast , it was back to the beach front to hire our bicycles for a ride around the city. We ended up at the Flamingo lagoon, a very popular cycle route with a stop for an ice-cold coconut drink – delicious.

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Copacabana beach is the centre of Rio’s tourist trade. The weather is pretty hot at this time of the year – too hot to spend much time on the beach. We settled for a dip in the ocean – the Atlantic – brrrrr, very cold and a short dip was more than enough to cool down. No wonder so few people were swimming!

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When in Rio, ‘do as the Carioca’s do’

Arriving in Rio wasn’t nearly as crowded or as ‘hectic’ as I was expecting and it was great to see more locals than tourists – not many people speak English – just what I like! After a long flight we were tempted to get to our hotel to kick back, relax and overcome a little jet-lag. None of that here… It’s just too exciting and the people in Rio, known as ‘Carioca’s’ are friendly – they seem to make the best and most of their surrounds and they love to exercise and keep fit.

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On a beautiful day, at 36 deg, we planned to make the most of our first sunset on our very first day in Rio. We headed off to Sugar Loaf which takes in two mountains, Morro do Urca and Pao de Acucar (Sugar Loaf). The summit proved to be an unforgettable experience with views over Copacabana, Ipanema and the scenic Corcovado and Tijuca. A truly spectacular sunset – wouldn’t you agree?

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It was fascinating to hear the stories about the Great Train robber, Ronald Biggs, who was kidnapped from a restaurant, which was then located next to the cable car station. The kidnappers claimed to be part of the Moonraker crew (James Bond movie starring Roger Moore)

The world still ‘carries on’ as we travel…

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We’ve had a set back – as we morn the passing of Madiba, our Tata… South Africa thanks God for the amazing gift that Nelson Mandela brought to our country.
We’ve spent most of today preparing for our trip, packing, checking the whether, making arrangements with the family we’re leaving behind over Christmas and New Year celebrations. With everything that’s happening around is, we decide to give ourselves a little extra time at the airport – just incase. It’s so much more relaxing checking in early and settling down before take off.
We’ll be travelling via Dubai on Emirates – it was the best fare we could find – just on R10 000 in economy class to Rio de Janeiro. It’s great to have access to the business class Shongololo lounge – with a priority pass from our bank, it’s one of the worthwhile advantages.
We’re all set and ready to go… And very excited to be visiting my family in Rio whom we haven’t seen for the past 10 years. We’re expecting quite an emotional and very warm welcome on arrival.