Sol Y Sombre

 

“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”
 – George Washington

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It’s strange to think that this was only a month and a half ago. It seems as if at least half a year has past. In the absence of being able to take my camera out I’ve been sifting through my photos…

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Frustratingly the main things to see and do in this area are outside of the actual city, costing significant amounts in transport or for tours which I can’t afford at this point. Of all the places to be stuck in, that I’ve visited so far, I have the feeling that I’ve drawn the short straw.

I’m getting more than a little disgruntled by standing out like a sore thumb in this dodgy Panama city neighbourhood. I just popped down to the shop to get a couple of apples and a drunk Panamanian ran ahead of me and lay down in a puddle for me to walk over, pretending that I was the queen. Ok, granted that is a particularly amusing example. I found it very difficult to maintain a straight face as I walked on by. When he intercepted me on the walk back and repeated this episode, this time with his friend joining in, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing at how ridiculous the situation was. This did not help, however, as they then continued to crawl after me on their hands and knees until I managed to shrug them off. 

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I can’t seem to find a place to while away the time in the hotel either. I’ve been trying to soak up some last minute sun before heading back to the rain; yesterday, late afternoon, I went up for a dip in the roof top pool (more of a plunge pool really, but I can’t complain for the price I’m paying! Also it’s got a hell of a view to make up for it). There were not one, but two couples making out heatedly in the square metre of pool. That’s what your rooms are for you morons. Get out of the communal area. Anyway, standing there wrapped in a towel, I felt it would look ridiculous to turn around straight away and walk back down, so I determinedly got in the pool and awkwardly swam a couple of ‘lengths’. It didn’t take long before I couldn’t take it any more and retreated back to my cave room.

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Back in the days when I knew people here so felt comfortable taking my camera out, this poor planning error caught my eye. The elevated hands of Jesus in ‘Casco Viejo’ make the perfect perch for the local vultures. Not sure that’s the image they had in mind…

P.S. Warning to vegetarians. Panama city = not ideal. Went scouting round a series of cafés/street stalls/restaurants and could not find anything at all without meat. I thought Brazil would be bad but this is by far the worst place for it yet.

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That’s Entertainment

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I found a cord to connect my big camera to the laptop! Fantastic. Internet connection isn’t so great though so just one photo from the Sambadrome will have to do for now.

Back in Parati: Below are a couple of photos from the boat trip I was persuaded to join in on today (I was dubious about value for money). It turned out to be pretty incredible. Granted, a large proportion of the group became completely smashed as a consequence of the free caprinas on tap! We stopped off at numerous little coves and islands where everyone proceeded to bomb/dive off the top deck! I borrowed a snorkel mask off the staff and spotted a bright orange seahorse! Unfortunately nobody else was interested in snorkelling so my excitement was rather wasted. Apart from the Seahorse the marine life wasn’t very spectacular. There were a few box/puffer fish around but apart from that the fish variety was fairly standard. Other notable moments include seeing how many rungs of the ladder towards the crows nest we could climb before the captain spotted us and me attempting to climb a coconut tree and failing miserably. A great day out though. The few of us left in a reasonable state had to practically carry the others back to the camp site, stopping only for Acai on the way.

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The Island stop off where I found the seahorse!

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Here’s a separate boat that moored next to us at one of the stops. Ours was actually big than this boat, having a top deck, but very similar in appearance.

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Parati town was apparently designed so that at high tide the sea water cleans the streets! It was like a Latino Venice!

Hummingbird Heartbeat

After five hours in the ‘truck’, we eventually reached Parati – a beautiful little colonial village on a coast line dotted with little tropical islands. Setting up tents was not quite as straight forward as I’d hoped as the tents were practically medieval and most were faulty in one way or another. It’s the wet season here so fingers crossed ours holds out! After exploring the town (stopping for and Acai ice cream en route) we went for a dip in the sea. It is without question the warmest sea water I have ever been in. It’s even warmer than the ‘bath like’ Maldives. It’s almost too warm! The surface is cool but due to the mud floor the area really retains the heat from the sun. 

 The locals seem to be far more tourist orientated here, with lots of little street markets selling hand crafted decorations and baskets etc. 

My highlight of the day was spotting a tiny little hummingbird on the walk back to the camp site! No idea what type as have no way of identifying it really, but very pleased that I’ve seen one for the first time!

No photos as of yet, but we’re here for the next four days. In the mean time, here’s one of the Christ the Redeemer statue to mark the end of my time in Rio.

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Smooth Criminal

“In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”
Hunter S. Thompson

It’s always difficult starting from scratch with a large group of new people. Today I left the Art Hostel and headed over to meet the tour group in ‘Lapa’. A few of us headed straight out to Ipanema beach after checking in. Rosie, a bubbly British girl travelling with a school friend, had her camera stolen yesterday from a teenager who actually grabbed the phone out of her hand. We therefore headed to the tourism police where we proceeded to wait for four hours for the office to sign a form which would allow her to claim it on her travel insurance.

Whilst we were there we oversaw a few interesting cases. A large number of people had had their individual bags stolen from the beach. A French couple had been waiting for their form to be signed for four hours. Just as Rosie’s form got to the top of the waiting pile a fairly elderly Italian Lady and her son came bursting into the station in their swimwear. The poor lady, in floods of tears, garbled out a flow of Italian whilst her son tried to explain in English what had happened: They had just arrived and had headed straight to the beach. The son had gone into the sea and two men approached the mother to ‘help her put up her sun umbrella. Apparently one man lowered the umbrella to the floor for a moment whilst talking to the lady. Meanwhile his accomplice was taking all of their belongings behind the screen of the umbrella. They lost everything: passports, phones, clothes…It’s made me feel even more paranoid about keeping two eyes on my possessions  My tactic has been taking out as little as possible (locking my valuables in a locker) and using a plastic bag in an attempt to seem inconspicuous. Also if you twist the bag and hold the top it’s practically impossible for anybody to get a hand in!

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Here’s a glimpse of the largest favela in Rio, which I did a walking tour around yesterday. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to talk a little more about this as it was incredibly eye-opening. For example, 90% of the performers/directors/composers etc in the Sambadrome come from the favelas. As our guide described it, it is the four days in their life when they can “feel like kings”

P.S. Not sure how easy it’s going to be to post over the next month as will be camping – often in the middle of nowhere.

P.P.S. If you haven’t stumbled across Hunter S. Thompson yet I would thoroughly recommendatory him. His wacky, original writing style completely won me over! Try ‘Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas’ or ‘The Rum Diary’.

Shut Up and Let Me Go

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“I have a different brain; I have a different heart; I got tiger blood, man. Do you?”

 -Charlie Sheen

I think Charlie Sheen would fit in here perfectly. The whole city has descended into complete madness. I’m afraid I can’t find a way of connecting my SLR to my laptop as I need to buy a cable but all of the shops are shut. Sambadrome pictures I’m afraid will have to wait 😦 I’ll fill you in more on that mind-blowing experience later!

The picture above is Ipanema beach during the Ipanema ‘Bloco’ (street party). The people were spilling out from the streets onto the beach. Have you ever seen a beach this crowded? I thought Cornwall in the summer was bad enough!

Brazilian men are utterly relentless. They don’t seem to understand what “no” means. The only solution, which occasionally works, is saying that you are ‘otherwise orientated’. A couple of girls in the hostel have just gone out wearing bikinis and hula skirts. I did warn them. It’s practically suicide. I’m seriously worried about them.

Anyway, It’s pretty frantic here so will post more info when I get a moment.

Winning.

P.s. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-21399406 – This was the Bloco I mentioned in my last post!

Dirrty


When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”

Clifton Fadiman

We headed out to one of the biggest block parties this morning. It was as if the entire city had transformed into an overcrowded festival. There were people going to the loo on the streets. I say ‘people’ as it wasn’t just men, and I say ‘going to the loo’ as it wasn’t just peeing. Charming. Any way, it’s perhaps unfair to start on such a low note. The atmosphere was ecstatic. Everybody had some form of fancy dress; masks for the less enthusiastic, full body costumes were the norm. There were stalls and coolers full of beer everywhere and men struggling through the crowds selling metre long tubes of brightly coloured liquid which, through curiosity, we decided to try. Unsurprisingly they tasted highly poisonous and merely had ‘alcohol drink’ as their label.

Parts of the rabble were hilarious such as particularly good fancy dress efforts (the transvestites were superb) and overly vigorous dancing. However the young men were not so entertaining. It would be highly inadvisable to visit one of these parties alone! The Brazilian equivalent to a chat up line consists of the man grabbing the girl as she walks past and forcing himself upon her. Not so great when you lose your friends in the crowd. I’m hoping the Sambadrome tonight will be slightly more civilised; Although at first amusing, I must admit that I’m not entirely taken by the down and dirty 24/7 block parties.

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Here’s an example of some of the debris which accumulated at the sides of the roads. The parties, incidentally, take place all along the main roads of the city centre.

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A standard group of locals. By the way, this is by no means my full costume. It’s supposed to be worn with a long skirt, which I didn’t feel was appropriate for obvious reasons, and the top half!

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I thought this was hilarious: A man sitting on a roof, dressed as a cat, throwing glitter into the crowds. Also somebody was squirting foam from an aerosol in the foreground.

Jesus Walks

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“Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left.” 
 – Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo, however much I love him, clearly had never visited Rio. The official carnival holiday does not even begin until tomorrow and already the streets are swarming with hilarious costumes and roaring music.
Today I’ve been pretty busy, firstly heading out to successfully get my costume (yay!), then heading off on a small tour. The tour was great, just a local  man driving a small group of us around the main sights. First came the statue of ‘Christ the redeemer’ which was, as you can imagine, utterly beautiful. Though, I soon realised where the tourist industry had been hiding! We then headed over to the old ‘San Theresa’ district before stopping at the ‘Lapa steps’ (a.k.a. Escadaria Selarón) designed by Jorge Selarón and apparently made famous by Snoop Dogg in one of his music videos. The steps consisted of a mosaic of tiles, with larger tiles sent in from 160 countries across the globe to be part of the spectacle. What really made it a great experience for me, however, was the flock of ascending locals in fancy dress climbing up to a ‘block party’ at the top of the steps. Unfortunately they arrived after this photo was taken so you will just have to imagine the fairies, cavemen, clowns and transvestites.

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The last stop was the sugar loaf mountain, with, rather foggy, but nevertheless stunning views of the city. Our guide told us a couple of stories of eccentric activities which had taken place there: One American man apparently rode a motor bike up the cables to the mountain…a little sceptical about that one…and Falko Traber, a German tightrope artists walked to the mountain! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKxHyGClRMc

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I was interested the view of the ‘Christ’ by night so Sebastian, my roommate, and I headed out to Botofago beach this evening to check it out. The metro was hilarious – overflowing with excited Brazilians in assorted ridiculous costumes. The statue seemed disappointingly far away following this morning’s trip but was still worth seeing! I’m not planning on heading out to join the marauding gangs tonight. My main excuse is that last night we had an addition to our room: an overweight Brazilian with token handle-bar moustache who, more relevantly, snored, as Sebastian puts it: “as if he were in pain”. So I’m looking forward to catching up on some sleep!

Let’s Go Fly A Kite/ Watching And Waiting

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Making carnival masks!

“There is nothing safer than flying – it’s crashing that is dangerous”.
– Theo Cowan

After the usual, urine related, antics at the crèche this morning, things proceeded to go downhill. Very literally in one some cases.  The major time theft of the day was my hang-gliding expedition. I say expedition as I arrived at 11 and didn’t leave until past 5. Basically I was sat at the top of a mountain in my harness and helmet for six hours whilst crowds of gliders gathered, waiting for the cloud to leave a gap so that we could jump off the mountain. I think it would be fair to say that I’m not the most patient soul in the world, so after many false alarms, each involving rushing to the glider and buckling up only to see another swath of cloud roll in, I was getting increasingly pissed off. I was convinced that we were just going to end up having to drive back down. In the mean time my instructor shared some interesting stories. The two that come to mind are: him taking his dog hang-gliding and his ex-girlfriend turning out to be a man. Both stories accompanied by pictures.

                Of course, the actual flight was incredible. A particular highlight was flying alongside a native hawk! It really did make you feel ‘like a bird’.

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However the two hours which followed were occupied by sitting in solid traffic during my lift back to the hostel. I then rushed to Copocabana on the tube to pick up my costume and the centre was shut and I’m not sure if it will open again as the holiday season starts tomorrow – I paid a deposit. Yet another pointless waste of money it would seem. (Although not all hope’s lost yet –  I’m going to check whether it’s open in the morning – fingers crossed!)

I’m getting irritated by being constantly ripped off here. It’s actually an incredibly expensive city, particularly considering it’s apparent state of poverty.

The icing on the cake was coming back to ask around if anybody had a laptop with a cd drive for me to offload my gliding pictures from, of course nobody did, and then noticing an hour later that I had dark purple açai juice smeared over my face.

p.s. I apologise for this rant. I know that I shouldn’t be complaining but it’s hard not to have a little moan after sitting around for six hours in a heavy ‘bib’ and oversized helmet.

Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

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“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”

– Rudyard Kipling

Rio, depending on the district, smells of food, sewage and sweat, with undertones of tropical humidity. Despite the surprising state of dilapidation that the majority of the city seems to be monopolised by, the landscape is incredibly beautiful. Small mountains and outcrops covered in lush green foliage are scattered around the city and the hills form a patchworks of the multicoloured brick houses which make up the slums.  The metro travels above the ground, so is a great way to get a glimpse of the different outer regions as you fly through. My commute out to the crèche today gave me a little insight into what life might actually be like living and working in the city. However there is still one major barricade: People keep assuming I live here so start jabbering away at me in Portuguese whilst I stare at them blankly, eventually getting the chance to feebly pipe up: “English!” To which they respond “que, entende nada?” Which, being similar to the Spanish, translates as “What, you understand nothing?”  What I find quite amusing is being able to shout “Oi!” at people and for it to be received as an enthusiastic greeting.

I felt rather superfluous at the crèche today. It’s well run and well staffed. I’m not really sure why they’re recruiting extra volunteers. However, it was interesting to see how they go about the day and the toddlers, although admittedly annoying at times (one little boy peed in the ball pit), were generally adorable and, being around two years old, didn’t hesitate to climb all over me.

The afternoon was when things started to go slightly haywire. I arrived back at the hostel at midday to find no update from the airport. In the absence of my luggage I seem to have gone slightly mad and went out on a bit of a spending extravaganza. I headed first to the Botafogo bay area which has views of the Christ statue and sugar loaf mountain. As a bonus the harbour water isn’t great for swimming so the beach was completely empty. After pottering about in the shops I headed down to Copacabana which was the complete opposite end of the spectrum. However, saying that, it wasn’t quite as busy as I’d expected it to be. My ridiculous purchase of the day was a beaded Brazilian carnival outfit which was pretty expensive but I couldn’t resist. They even fitted it to my exact size. In hindsight, I’ve got to go back to collect it tomorrow at some point, which is inconvenient, and it’s heavy and mildly bulky so not ideal for carting around for three months…but it will make for fantastic fancy dress!

P.S. I discovered that they do fantastic fruit juices here, with stalls/shops everywhere. My favourite is açai with strawberry which is mixed with ice, like a slushy.

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Stuck In Guacamole

“Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering; the reality has more to do with losing your luggage”.
Regina Nadelson

I could not agree more. In fact, I have lost my luggage. Well, TAM airlines have any way! NOT a good start. I waited in Sao Paolo airport until the baggage belt stopped. No joy. It gets better: The airport staff didn’t speak a word of English. My kindle having run out of battery before I even got to Heathrow (the major disadvantage of electronic books), I haven’t had the chance to look up even the basics of Portuguese. Luckily an elderly Brazilian man was in exactly the same position as me, also having come from a stopover in Frankfurt, so we were told to see if it arrived in Rio. It didn’t. They’ve told me that they will deliver it to the hostel when it turns up. Brilliant. I’ve been wearing stinking aeroplane clothes, complete with dirty socks and walking boots, around all day. It had better be here soon or this is going to get interesting!

At least these disasters are occurring in small manageable chunks (touch wood). Bite-sized fiascos are easier to manage. I did, at least, have all of my important documents, electronics and money in my hand luggage. The main things I would desperately miss from my backpack are the highly expensive Malarone (anti-malarial) tablets.

My first impressions of Rio were that the ‘favelas’ (Brazilian slums) were completely overwhelming, stretching as far as the eye can see; in contrast, the iconic ‘christ the redeemer’ statue seemed incredibly small! Today has been pretty overcast and rainy so I’m afraid I haven’t bothered with any photos yet.

When I arrived I agreed to go straight over to the volunteer project to introduce myself. The crèche turns out to be around 40 minutes on the metro and then a further 20 minutes walk, which I am now expected to have memorised and be able to do again solo. Hmm. The staff at the crèche are all Brazilian and, again, do not speak English. Ideal. It is so frustrating having such an impermeable language barrier. Don’t be fooled, it is not as similar to Spanish as you would expect. I just spent half an hour trying to explain to the cashier that I didn’t have change for a 50Real note (well that’s at least what I think she was asking about, I really can’t be sure). I was also told that I would have to, as in Papua New Guinea, wear long skirts/trousers for the work. I would have appreciated being told in advance; I can’t really get away with wearing my pj bottoms here. So one revolting dress and a pair of havaianas later, I’m settling down in the hostel which fantastically has free wifi! Yay!