Archive for the ‘Brazil’ Category

Salvador & Morro de São Paulo

Monday, January 4th, 2010

After a great four days in Rio, and having recovered from the NYE spectacle that was Copacabana, Jeff and I spent the next two days plus in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. Salvador is located about 1100 miles north of Rio on a small peninsula that is flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Baía de Todos os Santos (All Saints Bay) on the west. It’s a pretty big city of about 3 million people and was the capital of Brazil until 1763 when it was succeeded by Rio de Janeiro. We’d initially only planned on spending one day in Salvador but due to the cost of flights on Jan 3rd, we extended for an additional day and in hindsight, were thankful for the extra time.

Upon arriving at the Salvador airport on Friday night, we were greeted by a large, gentle man named Lazaró who was there to take us from the airport to the hotel. Jeff booked us on a half-day tour of the city for our first day and the airport transfer and hotel came with the package. On our drive into the city, the disparity between the wealthy and the poor was just as apparent here as in Rio. On one side of the street stood new or newly renovated hotels and homes flanked on the opposite side by slums called comunidades. As we approached our hotel located in the old city, called Pelourinho, Lazaró noted how the government was working to revitalize that part of town. (US$100 million spent since 1992 on the project.) He made it very clear where we should and should not be walking about, even during the daytime. To stay safe throughout the city, tourists are encouraged not wear watches and should keep nothing more than a copy of their passport and a small amount of spending money in their pockets. After receiving our safety instructions and checking into our hotel, Jeff and I grabbed a quick bite across the street and caught some live music in a nearby alley before calling it a night.

Live Music at Restaurant J & K

On Saturday we were up by 10am to meet our tour guide, Ronaldo, for our city tour. Unlike the disorganized mess we experienced in Rio, Ronaldo had a great grasp of the city and actually allowed us to stop at several spots to take pictures and walk around. Along the way, stops included Farol de Barra, a fort/lighthouse combo at the end of the peninsula, the Museo Nautico da Bahia where we received a history lesson on early settlers in Salvador and the means it took them to get there from Europe, and Dique do Tororó, a scenic lake in downtown Salvador.

Dique do Tororó

From there we parked the car and began a walking tour of Pelourinho. Pelourinho was the city’s center during the Portuguese Colonial Period, and was named for the whipping post where African slaves would receive any “punishment”. (Odd they would make this area such a focus of their tourist industry.) The walking tour included stops at various shops tailored to tourists and a view of the famous Salvador elevator, known as Elevador Lacerde, that takes its passengers to the lower city. We wrapped up at about 2pm after visiting the San Francisco Cathedral, one of the most ornate and beautiful Christian buildings I have ever visited.


We spent the late afternoon on our own exploring the lower city and the Mercado Modelo that was full of row after row of booths pushing unoriginal handmade crafts on the tourists. It reminded me a lot of the night market that I saw in Chiang Mai last year. The day ended with a valiant effort to find a vibrant nightlife that saw us visit the Jardin Brazil section of the city where we grabbed a bit to eat and then on to the Barra neighborhood for a few drinks. We didn’t stumble upon anything that I would call “vibrant” but it was fun nonetheless.

Having seen most of the major tourist spots on Saturday, our extra day in Salvador gave us the opportunity to take a day trip to Morro de São Paulo. It’s a small town where most get around on foot and “taxi drivers” walk visitors to their hotels carrying their luggage in wheelbarrows and make verbal “beep beep” or “honk” sounds to help them get by slower moving tourists. The shore of the island is broken up into several beaches of which Jeff and I were able to visit about five. Given the three-hour commute both ways via catamaran, we had just enough time to grab lunch and swim in the warm water before heading back. I doubt my pictures will do the beauty of the place justice… definitely a possibility as a honeymoon spot in the future. After returning home to Salvador, we spent our last night in Brazil enjoying the local fare and some more live music.

Overlooking the Lagoon

From here it is on to Iguazu Falls and Argentina! I’m anxious to finally get a chance to try my rarely used Spanish skills.

New Year’s Eve in Copacabana

Friday, January 1st, 2010

After an early dinner in Ipanema and a quick nap & shower for me, Jeff and I made our way over to Copacabana at about 8pm hoping to beat the crowds and make sure we could find a good spot for the evening. Much to our surprise, the beach was only lightly packed with most either milling about along the main drag or relaxing in lounge chairs on the beach. By and large, the beach was mostly empty.

Copacabana Beach

With a good chunk of time to kill before midnight, Jeff and I made our way up the beach to see what trouble we could get into. Three different stages were setup, two offering live bands/music with the third housing a DJ playing a mix of upbeat Brazilian and American music. Coldplay, U2 and Michael Jackson were some of the American artists I recognized. After making our way up the full length of the beach (2.5 miles) and then halfway back (another 1.25 for the math majors), we sat down near the water to relax and people watch. Unlike last year in Thailand where the crowd was almost exclusively young people experimenting with some mind-altering drug, the Rio crowd was much more diverse. You still had the young & crazy crowd but it was evenly balanced by large families with kids and grandparents in tow.

As the clock approached midnight, the beach started to fill up quickly so Jeff and I waded through the crowd to a nearby beer tent to buy two Skol beers (think Brazilian Miller Lite) which would serve as our “champagne” for the New Year’s toast. We made it back to the beach, near the water with 20 minutes to go.

At the stroke of midnight, among cheers, applause and the uncorking of many champagne bottles (from those smart enough to bring their own), the world famous Rio fireworks display began. For the next 20 minutes the two million people on hand cheered the fireworks show. DC does a great job with their fireworks on the 4th of July but this show in Rio certainly topped anything I have ever seen. When all was said and done, the cruise ships that had previously loomed so large just off the coast were completely concealed by the smoke.

Copacabana NYE Fireworks

After the show, Jeff and I hung around to soak up the scene and walk the length of the beach one last time before heading home. We managed to meet a few tourists, meet a few locals and enjoy a friendly New Year’s kiss with those locals before making our way back home at about 3:30am.

With NYE now behind us we have moved on to Salvador which has provided just as many sights and sounds as Rio. Much more to come but for now, Jeff and I are off to dinner.

Feliz Ano Novo! (Happy New Year!)

The Rio Experience

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

As we begin day 4 of the trip, I can report that the Rio experience has been a bit of a mixed bad of both good and bad although I can blame little of the negative on Rio itself.

The bad started with our friends from American Airlines being unable to successfully transfer our luggage from the first leg of our flight to the second.  This was not entirely unexpected given the sprint Jeff and I needed to make through the Miami airport just to catch the connecting flight.  What was unexpected was AA’s inability and seemingly lack of desire to get us our bags once they made it to Rio.  After five or six calls to customer service revealing the same status of “scheduled for delivery”  (and after three days in the same clothes) I took matters into my own hands by calling the delivery company and squaring things away.  Our bags arrived last night just two hours after I made that call.  Apparently AA reps are not permitted to make international calls.  How can that be?

On top of this, the weather hasn’t been the best.  It’s rained quite a bit which normally I don’t mind but beach time has been limited and the view from the major sites have been hampered a bit.  Nevertheless, Jeff and I are having a great time and as I said, Rio is little to blame for the frustrations.

We kicked off Monday walking around Ipanema during the day, soaking up the local vibe and enjoying our first taste of Brazilian cuisine at lunch.  At night we toured Ipanema and Copacabana beaches with the aid of a Rio native named Tati.  We met Tati through a friend of Jeff’s and along with being an invaluable tour guide and source of local knowledge, she has been great fun to hang out with.

After knocking out some errands in the morning on Tuesday, we spent the afternoon at the beach with Tati and her cousin Simone.  The sun was scorching hot but the ocean water felt great, and I came away from the afternoon with only a slight sunburn.  At night Tati and Simone took us to our first official Brazilian churrascaria where we stuffed our faces with more food than anyone should consume in one sitting.  The night was topped off with drinking and dancing with Tati and a group of her friends at a bar in Lapa with a live Samba band.

Ipanema Beach

Yesterday Jeff and I spent most of the day on our own on a guided tour of Rio with visits to Sugarloaf Mountain and Corcovado, site of the famous “Christ the Redeemer” statue.  While the city tour was quite poor and the organizational skills of our tour guides even worse, the views from Sugarloaf Mountain kept the day from being a total wash.

Doug at Sugarloaf Mountain

Today is our last full day in Rio before moving on to Salvador.  It’s raining now so we’ll try to keep ourselves as occupied and dry as possible in the afternoon before heading out to Copacabana tonight to celebrate New Year’s.  Supposedly the firewoks display is unrivaled throughout the world and is witnessed by nearly 2 million people – a number that boggles my mind.

One last note before we head out… as was the case last year, Jeff is blogging with more frequency, detail and humor so be sure to check out his stories as well: