Botanical Gardens and Lighting of the Lagoa X-Mas Tree

We weren’t too sure or in the know about either of the Botanical Gardens and Lighting of the Lagoa tree, but having spoke to a few Cariocas, they had said that the gardens are a welcome break from the Rio hustle and bustle and that the lighting of the tree is truly unmissable if you are in Rio at the time. Even if you aren’t in Rio at the time, it turns out that mr.google says that it is the 3rd biggest event now in Rio which draws tourists to this wonderful playground and since starting in 1996 has only grew in worldwide popularity year by year! So yeah, we were pretty excited for that.

As the Botanical gardens was in the same area as where we would be watching the tree lighting and fireworks, we decided to kill two birds with one stone and head their first, spend some time mooching around the gardens, eat and then join in with the festivities. Thanks to Rio traffic though and the lack of the bus we needed, when we needed it, we spent over 1-2 hours just getting there!! Although we weren’t anticipating it, there was a very small entrance fee attached with visiting the gardens, which is R$6 each, like I say….very small. Once you see where the money goes it is certainly money well spent.

We were immediately met with towering palm trees, which created a natural perimeter fence separating the urban jungle, from the (re-planted) real thing.

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The gardens was also the most organised I have ever seen, with a fully detailed map, road names for all of the paths and points of interest all around the vast gardens. Unfortunately for us, it had taken us so long to get there, that we only had 1 1/2 hours until the park closed at 5pm! Which given its size would probably be a flexible 5, but it certainly didn’t give us as much freedom as we would have liked to roam carelessly. So with our little map in hand, we planned out a little ‘logical’ route that would take us on a big loop around the gardens and cover the majority of things to see, it just meant we couldn’t really just sit around and take it all in! As well as having orchards, rose gardens, huge palm trees and wild life, the gardens also had a really nice Japanese garden, which I am not too sure on the reason for, but does anybody need an excuse to make a Japanese garden?! It was a really prim and propa area, with a really big pond full of Koi fish, lotus flowers and a pagoda.

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As we strolled around slightly aimlessly, we were consistently under the shadow of humongess trees, towering above us and creating a natural archway.

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There was also one area of thick bamboo and shrubbery which was home to a little family of marmosets, which once again, we were quite content just watching them play away in their natural habitat and look very confused about why the huge, white thing was trying to point something at them and take pictures.

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It was a real little tranquil hideaway that allowed Cariocas to escape the beeping horns, whizzing motos and touts selling their wares. Although it was all planted and you really couldn’t tell that this wasn’t a wild forest or small slice of the jungle. We would have loved to have spent much longer here and probably will go back there if we had a chance, to simply wind away the hours and enjoy nature at its best, all while under the watchful eye of big jesus (as always).

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Once we had been subtly herded out of the park, we made our way down to Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas to see what all the fuss was about. When we arrived there wasn’t really much going on, apart from a few people sat next to the waters edge and a few others sat in a restaraunt facing the lake. So our immediate thought was that we were in the wrong place, as we had heard on the other side of the lake there was a stage, music, big crowds and hundreds of vendors. We opted to wait it out in the restaraunt, to shelter from the rain and see how things developed, as we were there by 6:30pm and nothing was meant to start until 8pm earliest, which was fine, as we would pass the time snacking and throwing back some beers. Come 8pm, nothing had really changed, although lots of people had turned up and the gathering had turned into quite a large crowd by this point. So we decided to get ourselves a front row seat before the crowd got any bigger. We found out that things did start at 8pm,but on the other side of the lake, on the stage.

Our wait wasn’t too long though, at 9pm the huge tree (worlds largest floating tree) sparked into life and was fully lit up in a deep blue, then immediately after the sky erupted, by this point anyone in a 1km vicinity had flocked to the waters edge and had simultaneously started cheering and celebrating as if the new year had just been seen in! The sky was alight for a good 15minutes, with huge fireworks that eventually smoked out the majority of the lake, but it was quite clear why people chose this side, as the panoramic view of the epic fireworks display was awesome, even whilst we were hiding under our umbrella.

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Once the sky bombardment had finally stopped, there was a vast smokey cloud over the lake and the loud bangs were replaced by hundreds, if not thousands of people cheering and clapping. It was a true welcoming to the xmas period and if anybody knows how to celebrate, its the Brazilians.

—ACastling—

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Meeting the marmosets of Pao de Azucar

We were once again blessed with great weather, the skies weren’t as clear as the day before, but whose going to moan over a few candy floss clouds, especially when it was +35degrees. As the buses in Rio don’t have any structure in terms of timetabling, we joined the other commuters who aimlessly stood around for what felt like forever and constantly wondered ‘Is it coming today?’. We persevered though and after about 20-30minutes our bus finally turned up and we were on our way.

We were quite surprised by Sugar Loaf, as unlike Christo, there wasn’t hoards of people or touts and we were there on a sunny day, so certainly wasn’t affected by the weather. We simply waited for 5mins to reach the ticket office, as some people pay more than others and need to prove they are from Brazil, so they hold up the queue. Everybody is then shuffled onto the cabs which can hold upto 50 people and are very snazzy and new. The only downside was that nobody is instructed to or not to stand on a certain side and therefore when everyody decides they want a front view, it sends the cab into a slight tilt and swing!! Which Cheryl wasn’t too keen on at all. There are two stations to Pao do Azucar, both offering different views and totally different views to that of Christo Rendentor. The first station/stop offers great views over Guanabara bay, across Botafogo, Flamengo to Christo Rendentor and upto zona norte. There is also a club here which is very exclusive and hosts a very exclusive NYE party, which unfortunately, unless we win the lottery, won’t be happening for us, but has very good views over the Copacabana fireworks…….apparantely.

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There is also a blast into the past at the first station, of old cable cars, which to be honest, is quite terrifying and I have big props for the guys who took it when it was running, as I would have been bricking it the whole way up in this thing:

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If your wondering ‘do I need to see the first station’, well the choice is made for you as the cable car doesn’t go all the way up, instead there is two separate lines with (obviously) two separate stations, but walking between station 1 and 2, you also get to take in a little bit of nature and there are several small trails which go into the vast greenery at the first mountain. The second station takes you upto the final stop (station 3…..durrrrrr) which offers the best view points of this attraction and also very nice walks around the top of the mountain. The 360 degree view gives not only beautiful views of inland Rio but also out to sea and the nearby islands. Landmarks such as Copacabana Beach and Christo Redentor can both be seen in their full glory.

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Walking to the back of the final station, there was a really nice trail which again offered awesome views out to sea and along Copacabana beach, as well as taking you through some beautiful nature. As we are both smitten by nature and monkeys in-particular, we were very fond of standing around and watching the little marmosets jump from tree to tree and runaway from the screaming kids. It was great to see them having such fun in the trees and not being interested in human interaction one bit. Which being so active, made it very hard to snap a good photo, as the little buggers don’t sit still.

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We had a great few hours doing Pao do Azucar and it was certainly a lot more relaxed and tranquil than Christo Redentor. As the mountain is not as high, the view obviously isn’t as panoramic, but it still offers great views of Rio and its surrounds and should certainly be on anybody’s to do list for visiting Rio.

—ACastling—

The marvellous city ‘Rio de Janeiro’

Our initial plan when arriving in Rio was to spend the first week being die hard tourists, hitting every major tourist attraction we could (wallet permitting of course). Whilst splitting our time between being tourists and job hunters, as our plan was to try and stay and work in Rio for as long as we could. This plan however was slightly benched as our Portuguese was non existent and the places we had emailed already, wanted only people who spoke both English and Portuguese. We therefore planned to tackle the biggest attractions to Rio in our first week, just incase something landed on our lap and we had to start working.

We therefore gave ourselves a little tick off list of things like Christ the redeemer and the Corcovado train, Sugar Loaf mountain, Copacabana Beach, Ipanema Beach, Botanical Gardens and the Lighting of the Lagoa Christmas tree. This would pad our first week out nicely, although it wouldn’t go well with our wallet, as these attractions aren’t cheap! Luckily I had scored some work for ‘weloverio.com’ writing blog entries to get people excited about Rio ahead of the world cup next year and the Olympics. Therefore luckily for us, some of the costs (for one) were covered, which really helped our budgeting and it meant some money was coming in, all we had to do was visit the attractions and write about them from our own personal experience, simple right?! Not when Rio decides to have 5 days of rain and fog engulfing the whole city! Which meant for the first 4 days we couldn’t even see Christ or Sugar Loaf mountain. this sure as hell didn’t stop the sunbathers though, who were still out in force whilst we shivered and moaned about the lack of sunshine! Although we were in Rio and with that in mind and a STRONG Caipirinha in hand, we were always smiling from ear to ear, after all we have to moan about the weather, were British.

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When the sun finally put his hat on (hip, hip, hip hooray) we were faster out of the blocks than Usain bolt, with camera at the ready and our tourist legs fully warmed up. Our first goal was to see Christo Rendentor/Christ the Redeemer or as my friend Helena called him ‘big Jesus’. We opted to go via the Corcovado train instead of the buses which leave every 10mins, however that meant waiting for 1 1/2 half hours for our train, as you get allocated a slot! But the ride up was totally worth the wait.

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On our journey up, we were also treat to some live samba music, which got everyone in even better spirits than they were already, however that was soon to be dampened when we reached the top! Now although everybody somehow manages to get the famous Christo Redentor pose infront of the big guy, the reality of getting that shot is a whole different story. Especially when the crowd is a mix between a mosh pit and a cattle market! Busy doesn’t even come close to what its like up there!

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We did somehow manage to get some of the ‘pose’ pictures, but it took some hellish patience and a lot of poking people in the face, as nobody kindly stops! Aside from the obvious pose and the statue itself, the views from up there are amazing, a full panoramic view of Rio from above and on a good day, even seeing all the way to Barra da Tijuca (which is far)! Unfortunately though its hard to stand around and relax, due to the obscene amount of people here and plus I really hate crowds, so could only stand it for 30mins tops!

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In the afternoon we retreated back to the beach, only this time the sun was out which meant people were out in their droves sunbathing, not as busy as normal Rio images, but for British people, it was like seeing south shields beach on the only sunny day of the year, everyones there! Our first port of call was Copacabana and then we walked along to Ipanema, to see if that girl in that song was there and she was!

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After strolling around the beaches and sipping Caipirinhas, it was time to hit the hay and get our rest in, as the next day was meant to be a scorcher and we still had Pao do Azucar/Sugar Loaf and the Botanical Gardens to see, rounding the week off with the lightning of the Lagoa Christmas tree.

—ACastling—

2 sides to Iguazu Falls

After leaving behind our beloved Floripa, we arrived in Foz de Iguazu after a lovely 18 hour bus ride with not a lot of room and a lot of traffic on the roads. Due to our delayed arrival our plan of going straight to the falls on the Brazilian side went straight out of the window. So instead we just caught up on some R&R. This left us with only 2 days to see the falls.

The next day we were up early-ish to see the falls from the Brazilian side. We caught the bus to the bus station then changed to wait in the area which is specifically for the bus to Iguazu falls, and it’s pretty hard to miss with its floor to roof sign saying “Iguazu Falls”. Perfect. Tourist-proof.

We jumped on and had a pretty sweaty journey for about 40 minutes until we got off at the Bird Park. This place is a must see if you are on the Brazilian side and is walking distance to the ticket office for Iguazu. We spent about as much time in here as we did at the waterfall as it is a pretty big place, which is very well laid out, has great big enclosures for the animals and it is just pristine. The birds they have are all rescue animals from the amazon and just shows the variety of beautifully bright coloured birds that Brazil has to offer, and it is unfortunatly obvious why they are so heavily trafficked. We saw many different types of parrots that we didn’t even know existed. They were just beautiful.

Beautiful tropical flowers

Beautiful tropical flowers

These guys don't even look real to me

These guys don’t even look real to me

There are also large averies that you can walk through where you get very curious birds coming very close, especially the toucans, and since our stint at the animal sanctuary and our experience with Sam the Toucan, I kind of have a soft spot for them and their curiosity. So we spent some time trying to get some great photographs. Whilst we were doing this, we had one odd looking bird who seemed to like being photographed as whenever a camera was pulled out, there he was with his funny face and scruffy feathers. Ultimute photo-bomber.

We left the Bird Park and walked to the entrance to the Falls, and it was a bit weird, kind of like stepping into Disney. Don’t get me wrong, it was very organised and efficient but also completely Disney-fied. So we bought our tickets, which includes the 12km bus ride to begin the short walk. We got off and started the walk which, again, is pretty fool (tourist) proof. You can’t really deviate from the path and the walk shows the falls from all of the best angles. But you also have food and drink kiosks every 20 metres just incase you can’t survive the next part of the walk without anything sugary or cold. At the end there is a part where you can walk out and over the falls into the mist which is another great angle to see, but not really good for pictures, as you get soaked and will probably break your camera.

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This guy hitched a lift part of the way

This guy hitched a lift part of the way

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The next day we teamed up with 3 other girls from the hostel to tackle the falls from the Argentinian side, which as there was 5 of us, we hired a cab driver for the day, which meant we didn’t need to change buses and run the risk of not getting stamped out of brazil, which apparently can happen! We were all up nice and early, as it took about an hour to get to the Argentinian side of the falls, after doing border procedures etc. To our surprise, we also went back in time as Argentina is officially 1 hour going across a bridge means we are therefore on Buenos Aires time! Which was a huge win for us as we arrived at the park just after opening thanks to an unintentional time travel. As we had heard good things about it, our first mission was to find and book the river trip, which wasn’t too hard given that the ticket office was at the front door as we walked in and the next one would be leaving in 30mins, taking us through some jungle, before belting it up the river, towards the falls and under them!!!

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After getting completely soaked through and taking a shower under the falls, we head off around the various walkways, which lead you to various vantage points and awesome photo opportunities. On the way we walked through lush vegetation and there was certainly a lot more wildlife on this side of the falls compared to Brazil. Including our favourite friends, the Capuchins.

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After spending about 2-3hours walking around, getting drenched by spray from the waterfall and admiring mother nature at its best, we retreated to our ‘driver’ and headed on home. Out of the two sides its hard to say which is best, simply because both offer different things, like different view points and different experiences, but if I was to re-visit just one side, it would have to be the Argentinian side, as it feels more authentic, rustic and charming than the Brazil side.

—ACastling—

Floripa-pa-pa-paaaa

So after our very delayed bus journey, we arrived into a delightfully warm Florianopolis (Floripa) late morning and went about getting ourselves to our hostel, which we heard was two more bus journeys away.

We found our way to the bus station with the help of the tourist information in the big international bus station we just left and with our sleep deprived clouded minds we tried to figure out what the hell was going on. OK, so there are turnstiles everywhere, which ones do we go through, if we go through the ones on the left, will it take us to the wrong part of the station and have to pay again to get to the area we want? Also, us and our backpacks are not going to fit through in one go, how much does it cost? Oh the questions! Either way, we just went for it, and it turns out the system is not so complicated and pretty easy to work out, you pay at the turnstile and that is your ticket, chuck your big bag over as you go through, and then you go and look for the sign with the bus number you want on it. Done, easy peasy.

Luckily for us, some nice Brazilian people started talking to us on the bus (after our bags flew against the bus doors going round the very windy roads and nearly opened them!) They gave us some advice about the bus, the key fact being that the roads are windy, hold your bags, and one girl even said she would walk us to our hostel as she knows the people there. Turns out she was Argentinan so we conversed very basically in Spanish with her as she walked us up. A lovely introduction to Floripa and Brazil in general!

View from our hostel

View from our hostel

We got settled into our hostel, Barra Beach Club which we were recommend by some Texan friends, and had a walk down to the beach. The hostel has beautiful views over a little cove, which is a 2 minute walk, and to get to the bigger beach, its just a 5 minute walk down a winding alley full of bright shops, houses and hostels and across the little footbrbridge, and then you are there.

Our little street

Our little street

little footbridge we crossed every day

little footbridge we crossed every day

Our time spent in Floripa (1 week) we ate great seafood, taught ourselves how to surf (we both stood up on the boards!), sunbathed, gawped at the brazilian bikinis, and samba-ed the night away at our local bar. We loved the vibe of our hostel and of the beach town so much that we were truly gutted to leave. It had a great small town feel with great beginner waves and beautiful weather and we would go back in a flash!

Where oh where could the bus be??

So there we are, sitting at the border for Uruguay all excited about catching our bus into Southern Brazil. We have stamped out of Uruguay and we are sitting at the roadside on our bags with maybe half an hour to spare before our connecting bus turns up. The sun is still up, its not raining and we are in good spirits.

45 minutes go past and we see a bus in the distance, “is it ours?…yep, yep, it is! Perfect!” So the bus pulls up as expected, so all the occupants can get their passports stamped out of Uruguay and we are politley told (from what we understand with our broken Spanish) that this is not our bus, that ours is coming, it should take maybe half an hour more. No problem, we thought.

So we sit back on our bags, still in good spirits and continue to chat away. Half an hour goes past, still no bus….an hour goes past and still no bus and now the sun has gone down as has the temperature. Then a horrible thought goes through my mind, what if they weren’t expecting a pick up there? How can there be another bus when there is only one a night? Oh s#!t we have mucked up here. So Adam tries to use a payphone to get in contact with the hostel who helped to book the bus, but of course the payphone only accepts a card, no coins. Great. We are just going to have to sit it out.

Then, in the distance we see a bus, “don’t get up, you might jinx it” Adam says. So we sit and wait for it to pull up, and it does, but it doesn’t say it goes to Floripa and my heart sinks. Luckily as I’m dwelling in sorrow, Adam asks the guy if this is indeed our elusive bus. YES!!! 2 and a half hours late but it is ours! Phewf! We clamber on, so happy to be in the warmth and not stranded inbetween two countries anymore!

But another problem, one even bigger than the first; they have already served up dinner….oh…we’re so hungry! Aaargghh!

(Luckily, the kind man served us our dinner of chicken nuggets and omlette goop and it was the best tasting dinner in a long time! We must have been delirious.)

Adam has an Accident in Punto del Diablo

We arrived here after a short bus ride from Montevideo and as our kind hostel offered to pick us up, and the bus was late, we saw a mini van waiting for us at the side of the road. The owner dumped our stuff in the back and we jumped in for the short ride to the hostel down sandy, dusty roads with no names.

Again, we got lucky with the hostel we chose, the people working there were so friendly, helpful and chatty and so we got loads of great advice on what to do and see.

Our first afternoon we had a walk along the beach to see the coast line and ended up with 2 doggy companions who decided they wanted a walk. So as we slowly trudged along the sand, they played and chased each other and sniffed everything they could find. Unluckily for Adam, he decided to take his toenail off on a rock (he claims he was pushed, I deny it all…) Either way, it was gross, bloody and pretty bad timing as we were about an hour away from anything. So a quick wash in the sea and wrapping it in tissue had to do for the time being. We continued on our limpy journey, watched surfers catching some waves, changed his tissue dressing, watched more surfers until we came to the little town we were looking for. We were lucky enough to find a little beach bar selling strong cocktails and decided to have one before we continued on our walk back to the hostel.

One thing to do in Punto del Diablo is go to the National Park, which we decided to do on a sunnier day. We caught the bus and got dropped off at the park with our backpack with a packed lunch ready to find a good picnic-ing spot. This walk took a couple of hours (mainly due to Adams everly increasing disgusting little toe) through some very beautfiul scenery which is unfortunatly entirely tarmaced. Still, we had a partly peaceful walk, found our spot to sit and chowed down and were joined by a very brazen peacock and around 40 screaming childnren. Not my ideal of peaceful, it just reminds me of work 😦

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Our walk which ended at the Fort took us through a field with some very suspicious looking cows and got me a bit nervous, especially when one decided to pop out of the bushes at us! After that we were very happy to see fresh Churros being sold outside the Fort, so for our troubles we treated ourselves to one, and it was delicious! In fact it was so delicious, we had another one on the way out!

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Adam, very cleaverly (is that a word?) didnt decide to bring any extra plasters or bandages, so his throbbing toe pretty much signaled the end of the day and we caught the bus home.

Our last day in Punto del Diablo was rained off, which was a shame as we didnt really get to fully experince the beach on a good day or use the pool, but oh well, onto Floripa and sun, sand and surf….well, thats if the bus turns up…