Fish Out of Water: Tales of The Writer's travels through South America: Part 5 Rio

Chapter 19: Journey to Rio

After a well rested night, I woke up early as per usual and decided to explore the neighbourhood. After a friendly greeting from the dogs and our hosts who I have to say are incredibly lovely people I headed towards to a nearby park. Since it was a Monday, the park was nice and empty. I spent the morning taking a plethora of photos of some of the flora and just generally playing around with the camera. While I was taking some photos of the flora and the nearby skate park I came across something which wasn’t South American at all. It was a Japanese monument to commemorate ties between Ecuador and Japan and it was also a World War 2 monument. It was beautifully maintained and the serenity of the park made it a much more pleasant experience.

Some beautiful flora

The local Skatepark

The Japanese WW2 Monument

After going to the park, I headed back to the flat to find that my colleagues had hardly gotten out of bed. It was only after doing some final packing that the other two woke up. As a treat we decided to make pancakes for ourselves and Vinay as it turns out he is quite the little chef. Up till now I had been doing most of the lunch and dinner dishes as I felt that cooking was one of my strong suits. However, Vinay makes some of the best pancakes ever. He utilized the marshmallows and chocolate sauce quite well. After what was possibly our biggest meal ever on this trip we did final checks before taking the hour long cab ride to the Quito airport. The reason why this meal was so large was because Vinay had made enough pancakes to feed the population of Guatamala. I was feeling quite sad to be leaving Ecuador as we didn’t encounter anything bad, apart from death mountain obviously. We encountered really friendly people, enjoyed great food and some truly stunning scenery. Nevertheless we were looking forward to see sunny Rio, or so we thought.

We soon reached the airport to board our Avianca flight from Quito to Rio via the city of Bogota. Bogota is the capital city of Colombia, Ecuador’s northern neighbor. However, there was a small issue. The Avianca crew were not able to properly assign our seats properly for the onward flight. The bags had been checked all the way through to Rio but our own seats were not assigned. They said that we would find out at the gate so we weren’t too worried. To my surprise I found that immigration in Ecuador was remarkably fast. The three of us in separate queue took less than a minute to clear immigration. The flight to Bogota was less than two hours and we arrived at El Dorado International Airport. We cleared transit security and waited for about an hour before the six-hour flight to Rio. The flight took us into the day and we landed in Rio at around seven in the morning.

However as we landed in Rio, we were in for quite an unpleasant surprise. The weather was absolutely appalling for it was rainy and cloudy. It was difficult to see anything on approach. I was incredibly disappointed as we were expecting awesome Rio weather. After clearing immigration and collecting our bags we set forth towards the last of the AirBnB. When we arrived at our flat we found that it was much smaller than anticipated. The kitchen had more utensils than the previous one but it was the size of a shoe brush. This flat also only had two beds and Vinay quickly took one of the beds for himself leaving Ethan and I the jolly task of sharing a bed.

After relaxing for a while we set forth for Sugarloaf Mountain hoping the fog would’ve cleared up along with this rain. Unfortunately, even though we went all the top, the weather continued to be horrid.

The sadly disappointing views from Sugarloaf Mountain

I didn’t get to live out my fantasy of pretending to be James Bond running away from Jaws. This is a reference to the 1979 film Moonraker which was flimed in the city of Rio. Not living out the fantasy was the biggest tragedy, at least to me. After the trip to this popular tourist attraction we purchased some groceries for ourselves. After the grocery shopping we had a relaxing evening before checking out some of the nightlife in Rio. Our host had told us of a neat little bar just round the block from us. It gave us the opportunity to try the popular local cocktail called the Caiprihina. This was a local drink which is made with fresh lime juice, limes, sugar and the local liquor called Cachaça. We also tried a variation of this drink called a Caiprioska where the Cachaça was replaced with vodka. After several glasses later we hit the clubs and got to experience Brazilian nightlife. The club scene is a huge contrast to the scene in Singapore. One of the many things which I do like about the clubs here is that there are spaces to talk so you can actually have a conversation with a nice girl. Another aspect of Brazilian which I like the best is the cost for cover and drinks is significantly cheaper than back home.

After spending several hours at the club the three of us headed back to our hostel where I had booked a tour of the favelas. The other two sadly weren’t joining me for their own reasons. Vinay wasn’t particularly keen and our other colleague Ethan didn’t have the funds to pay for it. Sadly, the tour was at around nine o clock in the morning and we only got back from the club at around two. I therefore had no choice but to suck it up and enjoy only about 5 hours worth of sleep.

Chapter 20: Favelas and sunshine

The next morning I woke up bright and early to walk down Copacabana beach to the meeting point of the favela tour.

My view when I was walking towards the meeting place

Some artwork which I quite liked*

Favelas in essence are slums which were historically built by soldiers in the 19th century. The reasoning for why they were built is an interesting story. The government, back in the 19th century, promised housing for people who would fight in the civil war at that time. However, the government went back on their promise and after the war was finished many soldiers were left without a home. With no other alternative the soldiers built these slums and called them Favelas. The Favela which we went to was called the Favela Da Rocinha. This particular Favela had become more affluent in recent time. It has also become more safe due to Government taking a greater interest in these slums. Over the past thirty to forty years majority of the people lived here in fear due to strict control of the Favelas by drug lords. They ruled these Favelas and not just Favelas in Rio but all across Brazil. For the longest time the government tried many methods to get rid of these buildings. But the people persevered and in the end the government decided to help the population who lived in these Favelas. The government decided to help them as majority of the youth population live in these areas. The government needs them as they are the majority of voting population (this is according to my guide). The government has now built some truly impressive sport structures for the people here. This is in addition to a new metro line, schools, hospitals and most importantly an increased police presence. With all that in mind we set forth towards the Favela Da Rocinha.

Our first stop on this tour was a set of stalls where some of the locals had set up some art pieces. I took this opportunity to take some panoramic photos of the area. After spending some time here we then went towards the centre of town via a small look out point. I noticed that the sun was starting to come out and it provided for some awesome photos.

My first look at the Favela

We got to the centre of town where the guide was showing a myriad of sights but not before a quick snack stop. We went to a small stall to pick up some fresh Acai sorbet. The guide even showed me how he usually has his Acai. He typically has his with granola and some berries and it was very tasty. After this brain freeze inducing snack stop we headed towards a small school. On the way to the school the guide was showing us one of the many powers situated in the Favela. I noticed that there were a lot of wires straying from the main power line. The guide informed me that electricians who lived in the Favela had hacked the main power grid to provide free electricity to the residents. He also told us of a story of a Favela in Sao Paolo where there was an electrical fire due to the hacking going wrong. The city shut off the electric for their own safety but the residents ended up protesting against the city government which was rather amusing.

Some city artwork

Some of the "legal" power lines"

The centre of the Favela and some markets

This school was set up to draw the kids away from a life of violence to one which is more peaceful. The school primarily has an art focus which is not surprising as its name in Portuguese translates to trade guns for brushes. We also found that a portion of the fees which we pay for this tour actually goes towards the development of this school. Our guide also works there from time to time as he feels this charity is a good cause.. The railing leading up to the school was all made with recycled materials ranging from a wheel to garden sheers. After visiting the school we headed towards one of the new sports complexes built for the residents of this Favela. We learnt that the government actually provides these services for free. Their key target audience for these facilities are kids. They offer free swimming and football lessons with an interesting incentive. The main incentive for these lessons is that they are free until you miss a certain number of lessons. This is a good incentive as it promotes fitness and a more innocent and clean lifestyle.

The school in question

More interesting artwork and the sporting complex

The view of the Favela from near the sporting complex

After spending more time looking around the various stalls we headed back to Rio but not on the same highway. We took a dual carriageway which hugged the coast and the views were amazing. The sun was coming up and the sea was blue. This was the Rio weather I was expecting and it really made the day quite special.

After being dropped off back at our hostel, the guide told me that tomorrow there would be a farmers market. The market was about two to three blocks away from our AirBnB and it is worth checking out. After taking down the address of the stall I ran back upstairs to tell my travel colleagues about the excellent weather. I found that they hardly moved from bed apart from when Ethan went and made breakfast for the two of them. After I had a quick lunch we headed for the beach. We decided to head towards the famous Copacabana beach as it had a more spectacular view. We were able to see Sugarloaf Mountain in its full along with clean and pristine blue waters.

After the hell that we had been through with Cayambe and all the trekking through the Andes we finally felt fully relaxed. The temperature was a toasty 29 degrees centigrade and the waters were so nice and cool. The beach was packed, not a surprise since the weather at that moment was beach friendly. Thankfully the three of us were able to find space. While Vinay and myself were applying sun screen to prevent burning, Ethan ran into water as he was itching to go. Soon after I joined him for a bit of body surfing. When I say body surfing I mean attempting to ride the waves using our own bodies. While Ethan was able to catch one, I was fantastically hopeless. Vinay did not go in the water initially as he volunteered to look after all our valuables first. It is quite common on Rio beaches for personal belongings to get stolen if they’re unattended. These is more common on the two main beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. After spending roughly an hour in the water, I got out so Vinay could enjoy the cool waters. I on the other hand was simply listening to some music on my phone and admiring the spectacular view of this city.

The view from the beach

Afterwards we headed back to the AirBnB to cook dinner and get ready for yet another night out. We headed to the same bar for “pre-drinks” before hitting up more clubs. The club which Ethan had suggested we go to after some “research” was one which had interesting clientele and music. We found that a lot of the patrons of this club were having some special cigarettes and the music was something which I had never felt before. It felt very odd, it was almost as if I was in some form of a trance, though that might’ve been due to the lack of sleep mixed with a lot of drink. After spending what felt like a thousand hours in there we headed back to the AirBnB. Tomorrow would be our last day in Brazil and effectively our last of the trip.

Chapter 21: Bom Dia and Adios

I woke up after effectively getting four hours of sleep to do some exercise and make myself a small batch of scrambled eggs. I went out of the flat to go and explore the area. I purchased myself a small drink and stumbled upon an artisan store selling all manner of organic local delights. I went inside to the charming aroma of fresh coffee beans. I still had some Reals left with me to purchase some beans which I knew my entire family would enjoy. I was able to try a freshly prepared sample of these beans which the shop keeper had just prepared. After spending six weeks in this beautiful and crazy continent I finally had the best cup of espresso ever made. After purchasing the beans which are from a neighbouring state I headed towards the farmer’s market.

The farmers market was awash with fresh produce ranging from chilies to fish, vegetables, meats and fruits. I came across some stalls where they were preparing food and snacks for people to buy. I came across a stall selling these cheese-filled pastries which were deep-fried. I did not know the name of these simply delicious pastries until recently, they are in fact called “Pastels.” I purchased one with just cheese but there are other options available with different fillings. I topped it with some of the stalls freshly made hot sauce. I fell in love with that first bite for the taste was a slice of heaven that was drowned in a sea of vegetable oil and love. After the short-lived affair with my new love (this was because the pastry was devoured), I went and explored the area.

Scenes from the farmer's market

Afterwards I headed back to the AirBnB to find that Vinay was still asleep and Ethan had done some exploration of his own. We spent the rest of that packing as we had made arrangements to stay in another hostel. This was because the AirBnB could not be booked for the full period of our Rio stay. We managed to find one that was close to the airport. After packing, I left the flat to try my luck at going to the famous Christ the redeemer statue. Unfortunatly when I arrived at the entrance to the park the counter lady informed me that the weather was atrocious. It was so bad that even if you went to the base of the statue you couldn’t even see the top of the famous landmark. I had taken an uber to the base but unfortunately I didn’t have any data so I had to walk down a long and humid mountain road till I found a cab. Thankfully I was able to capture some final memories of Rio where some of the skyline had patches of blue sky. Eventually I was able to catch a taxi which would take me back to our AirBnB. I got back to the AirBnB and promptly dried my shirt, did final packing and left with the guys towards our hostel.

My views from the mountain road going away from the monument

We arrived at our hostel which was in an interesting part of town, by interesting I mean an area where we could possibly get robbed. Thankfully nothing bad happened but we still remained cautious as usual. We checked in to the hostel and played cards with a view of the sea to keep us company. We got an early night so that we would have all the energy to prepare us for effectively two full days of flying. We all slept well even though two of us were being maliciously attacked by mosquitos. We then woke up the next morning feeling somewhat refreshed and after a shower we headed for the airport. We had to catch a domestic flight to Sao Paolo before catching the long Singapore Airlines flight back home.

The drive to the airport allowed me to reflect upon our time in this continent. It has been a life changing six weeks. The three of us have changed and I felt I have changed for the better. I have become more open and more willing to try and seek out new adventures. One thing is certain is that I have caught a bug, not the Zika virus thankfully but the travel bug. I will miss the people that we have met here, I’ll miss the food, the scenery and I am truly grateful that I had Ethan and Vinay to travel with. We had a good system whereby we were able to rely on each other quite well and it sparked discussion of future trips with the three of us. It is amazing how this idea which casually came up when we were having drinks actually turned into a six-week transcontinental adventure of a lifetime.

As we approached the airport, I was really annoyed as the weather in Rio started to improve dramatically and it was very sunny. Nevertheless we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. After we checked our heavy bags and received our receipt-style boarding passes we settled for small breakfast at a café in the airport. After enjoying a simple café con leche (coffee with milk) I did a spot of plane spotting where I saw a familiar looking plane. It was a Lufthansa 747-8 Intercontinental but not just any 747-8. It was the same 747 that the German flag carrier used to carry the German football team after winning the world cup back in 2014. I thought it was very brave of the carrier to use this particular aircraft. This is because the Germans had defeated the Brazilian team in a spectacular way in the semi-finals.

The interesting looking boarding pass

*The Lufthansa plane in the distance

After spending some time admiring the different aircraft we boarded our flight for the short hop to the Sao Paolo airport. After landing in Sao Paolo wee waited for about eight hours for our Singapore Airlines flight. Eventually we checked in and soon we went through immigration remarkably quickly. Before boarding the Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300 ER I did a spot of duty-free shopping. My family had wanted me to bring back a bottle of the Brazilian Cachaça liquor. The sight of the Singapore Airlines plane along with the massive flag brought a warm comforting feeling. The feeling was that soon we would be back with our families with a lifetime of stories to tell.