A Travellerspoint blog

Brazil

Brazil: Part IV

Buzios, Chic or Shock?

Just a sleepy fishing town until it was discovered by Bridgitte Bardot in the 1960’s as she ran to escape the paparazzi, Buzios is now considered one of the most prestigious and glamorous resort towns in Brazil. Frequently dubbed the “St Tropez of Brazil,” Buzios (pronounced Boo-zee-ous) is a peninsula surrounded by over 20 beautiful beaches just a short 2 hour drive from Rio.

I included Buzios in our tour of the state of Rio because it showed up in nearly every search, always with photos of exotically beautiful beaches and in articles filled with descriptors like “chic,” “posh,” “luxurious,” and “stylish.” It seemed like the perfect fourth quarter. It rounded things out perfectly: 1) Paraty- historic town, 2) Ilha Grande - exotic tropical island, 3) Rio de Janeiro - urban center, and 4) Buzios - chic resort town.

After two tense days in Rio, we were both looking forward to getting as far from that city as possible, and we were excited at the thought of ending the trip on a high note in a classy little town that might make us forget the smell of the favelas and the panic inducing drives up and down Avenue Brazil in Rio de Janeiro for hours trying to find a single turn.

Matt was still edgy from the previous days’ drives and wasn’t looking forward to another. I assured him it was a straight shot from Rio to Buzios and was through the quiet countryside. We’d be there in no time. Easy peasy.

This was almost true.

If I hadn’t caused us to make that one wrong turn just before the town of Itaborai.

Seriously. It wasn’t my fault. There was no sign. I had a 50-50 shot. And you know what happens when I have a 50-50 shot.

As we made the ill-fated wrong turn, we noticed that we didn’t seem to be on the highway anymore. We seemed to be driving into the heart of Itaborai. Because we thought we were going the right way, we powered on. Before we even knew what was happening, we were in sit still traffic in the middle of the most horrific looking depressed city that I have ever seen outside the Discovery Channel.

The car in front of us literally had the back hacked off and where the trunk used to be sat the worlds largest speaker, pumping out some foul noise that was intended to be music. As the music made my lungs and eyeballs vibrate, I looked out my window at hundreds of people just loitering about on the sidewalk staring at us.

There are no photos of this event because I was literally terrified. I was certain that if I raised that camera, that was it. There would be a mob rush of the Fiat ECONOMY and Matt and Vicki would be no more.

We were both struck mute with fear and apprehension. We sat perfectly quiet in that car, inching our way through the hoardes of people as they stood in the road and stared into our car as we passed, creeping behind Sergio the Superfreak and his stereo on wheels. The road broke down into a narrow lane, rutted and muddy, and I wondered exactly what we would do if the Fiat broke down?

Neither of us spoke for the excruciatingly LONG 30 minutes that it took us to get to the other end of that town. I had absolutely no fingernails left at that point and am pretty sure I ingested one finger all the way down to the first knuckle.

As we got to the other side of town, my heart sank. As I looked down the road as it continued to narrow and creep down into farmland that we had gone the wrong way and that our only option was to turn around and go back.

I thought Matt was going to vomit.

Another painful 30 minutes back through town, during which I am pretty sure I came very close to developing an irreversible case of trichotillomania in order to cope with the screams that I could not vocalize, we were back to the highway.

After about 15 minutes filled with a variety of colorful expletives expressing just how much we hated the Brazilian road system, we continued on our way.

The rest of the drive was actually quite beautiful, and it made me sad that the miserable hour we had spent fighting our way through Helltown pretty much ruined our ability to enjoy it. The drive was through beautiful countryside, filled with huge rolling green hills and lush farmland.

I had never before seen cow pastures with palm trees!

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The remainder of the drive passed without event, but Matt was feeling worse by the minute and the sky seemed to be mirroring his mood, turning blacker with every mile.

We reached Buzios about an hour later than we expected and, as had been the case everywhere, our maps were simply ineffective at helping us find our way. After driving around that stupid peninsula for a half hour and finding that we had done nothing but make a huge circle and were back at our starting point, God decided to take pity on us. I looked up and saw the Buzios Tourism office right in front of us.

With a really good map in our hands, we decided to calm our nerves over lunch before heading to the inn. It was only about 1:00 and check in wasn’t until 3:00.

We had gotten directions from the Tourism office for the Rua das Pedras. Portuguese for “Street of Rock,” the Rua das Pedras is just that – a cobblestone street that is closed to anything but foot traffic and runs the length of the main town beach in Buzios. It’s lined with high-end shops and eateries and is the place in town where it all happens.

We saw a colorful place on a corner and could smell the most amazing aroma of grilling meat coming from the tall wooden doors. It was like a giant, warm hug pulling us in and saying, “It’s all going to be okay now.”

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We stepped inside Estancia Don Juan and could see the giant wood fired oven where potatoes were baking slowly and grilled steaks were sizzling. We ordered a bottle of red wine. We probably needed two. The smell of the grilling meat was too much to resist, so we ordered the Churrasco Don Juan for two, which included 3 grilled steaks, 2 grilled chicken breasts, a Mediterranean stuffed potato, grilled onion, and grilled sausages.

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Despite the very odd placement of that weiner on the plate, the food was quite delicious.

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Feeling a little less rattled, we made our way to the Cachoeira Inn.

As we drove through what looked like a pretty raggedy little town, I had to ask myself if this was really what Brazil considered “chic.” It looked more Poor Valley, TN than St. Tropez to me.

The Cachoeira Inn, however, was phenomenal. Words and photos simply can’t capture how exceptional this place is.

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The Inn is a home to Matt and Susan Marshall, American ex-pats who call Buzios home. There are 4 outstanding guest suites in the huge multi-level house.

The most amazing feature, though, are the waterfalls and pools. Literally everywhere you look, there is another waterfall plunging into a custom pool of shimmering aqua. Each pool as swings, hammocks, daybeds, or beautiful cushions to lounge on. There are endless nooks and crannies with colorful pillows or soft chairs. The house is aptly named the “Waterfall Inn.”

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The house sat on the edge of Ferradura beach’s rocky shoreline and the view stretched out across the bay. The place was simply extraordinary.

We were greeted warmly with much needed caipirinhas and a platter of food. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I had just eaten 2 steaks, a sausage, a chicken breast, the world’s largest potato half, and a grilled onion, so I did what I always do: I ate. Don’t ask me where it all goes. I still don’t know.

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We settled into our room. We had the Jog Falls suite, which was the smallest room, but it had beautiful wooden louvered windows that opened onto the waterfall and housed an amazing Balinese bed.

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The day was gray and feeling ugly, and Matt kind of was too, so we did nothing more than grab our books and settle into one of Cachoeira’s numerous reading nooks for the rest of the day.

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Because I had eaten enough to feed a family of six that day, we didn’t even head out for dinner.

We simply crashed and hoped the following day would be better.

The morning started off with breakfast in the Inn’s dining room. Fresh squeezed juice, yogurt and house made granola, and fruit were laid beautifully on the dining table. Coffee was set up on the elegant house bar. We helped ourselves and got a slow start to the day.

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Matt still wasn’t well, but he was hanging in there, thanks to his little bottle of crack cough syrup. We were out of the Aleve I had brought along, however. We had seen a pharmacy in town and cringed at the thought of repeating the great game of pharmacy charades, but we didn’t have much of a choice.

We stepped into the pharmacy and, of course, the pharmacist did not speak English.

“Advil?” Matt asked tentatively. Hopefully. Plaintively.

The pharmacist shook his head to indicate he didn’t understand.

Matt and I stepped away from the counter and strategized. I had an idea. We walked back over to the counter.

“Ibuprofen?” I asked. I thought maybe using the drug name rather than the brand name might work. Surely it was similar in Portuguese.

“Ibufan?” the pharmacist responded.

“No. I-bu-pro-fen.” I repeated slowly.

He nodded. “Ibufan,” he said again. This time he grabbed a box. Sure enough, it said IBUFAN on it.

Matt and I stepped away again to consult.

“What do you think?” he asked. “Should we get it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s missing an entire syllable.”

We went back to the counter and re-examined the box. Convinced it was the same thing, we bought it. Matt took it. He didn’t die.

We later discovered it was, indeed, 600 mg Ibuprofen.

Whew.

Pharmacy disaster #2 over with, we walked around town for a while.

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The Rua das Pedras did have some nice shopping. As we walked the cobblestone streets, we heard the sound of waves gently hitting the dock, the slap of water against the boards of the many boat hulls that sat littered about the bay, the clink of cold caipirinhas as a waitress carried them to wooden table draped in a bright tablecloth, the whisper of hangers sliding along metal bars as the many women browsed the numerous clothing shops. It was quaint.

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Until the cruise ship people showed up.

Have you ever seen a town go from quiet, charming seaside town to tacky clamoring noise parade in 60 seconds flat? I have.

As soon as the hoardes started piling off the little boats from the cruise ships with their plastic bags, too white sneakers, and lime green sun visors, it was time for us to cut and run.

We really wanted to visit the beautiful beaches of Buzios, but the day was overcast and not very pretty. Instead, we headed to Rocka.

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I had read about Rocka and for a cloudy day, it seemed like the way to go. Rocka Fish is a beach lounge on Praia Brava where you can spend your day on a daybed with an umbrella sipping cocktails and champagne and listening to music while slurping salty oysters out of their shells.

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It sounded very barefoot-chic to me and I was dying to spend the day pretending I was keeping up with the Kardashians and be one of “those people,” sipping Veuve Clicquot on a white leather lounge as some tanned Brazilian man fanned me with banana leaves and fed me frozen grapes.

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I am not one of “those people” but I had a GREAT time pretending to be one for a day. Rocka Beach was a blast.

Rocka is set on the beautifully rugged horseshoe of Brava Beach. We arrived early enough to score a daybed and were promptly set up with pillows, umbrella, and cocktails.

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As we sipped and perused the menu that changes daily based upon the local catch and freshest produce of the day, Matt noticed the “oyster guy” and had to start off with a platter of ice-cold oysters.

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That was followed by a lunch of grilled lobster for me and a filet for Matt. The lobster was grilled perfectly, with butter and lime juice. Matt’s filet was thick and rare, topped with caramelized onions and sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes.

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The caipirinhas flowed, the music played, the waves crashed, and we had a wonderful day doing absolutely nothing.

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We headed back to town for dinner and decided to have a simple pizza at Parvati rather than following our giant lunch with another big meal.

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When we woke the next morning, Matt was still sick and the day was just as dreary as the previous two days had been. Unfortunately, we would not be seeing the stellar beach vistas of Buzios, because the weather simply would not cooperate.

Matt and Susan had prepared a special breakfast, Matt Marshall’s soon-to-be-famous French toast with bacon and spicy sausage and it was phenomenal.

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We were joined the second morning by another couple. As soon as they opened their mouths, I knew they were from “my neck of the woods.” They sounded as southern as cornbread and told us that they were from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He worked for Chevron and had been working in Rio de Janeiro for about 4 years. When they discovered we had rented a car and driven they just stared at us with their mouths open.

“We never drive,” she said.

“How do you get anywhere?” we asked.

“The company provides us with an armored car and a driver. The glass is bulletproof. We don’t drive anywhere. You really drove? You didn’t stop at any red lights did you? You know the police won’t pull you over for not stopping at a red light in town, right? On account of all the carjackings.”

Matt and I felt like we had narrowly missed getting hit by a speeding train. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

It was our final day and we were kind of ready to head home. Between being sick and having so many problems getting around, Matt had never really recovered since Rio. He’d been in an on-again-off-again foul mood since we had left paradise on Ilha Grande, and I couldn’t blame him. We had made the best of it, but the second half of the trip had definitely been lackluster in comparison to the first half, for many reasons.

Neither of us were sad to be going home.

Our flight did not leave until midnight, however, so there was no hurry. Matt and Susan were gracious enough to let us stay until late afternoon, so we simply took it easy at the Inn and lounged around their many, many, MANY pools.

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We thought we’d give some of beaches of Buzios at least a passing glance, and we headed out to try to see them, but realized quickly that the day was just plain ugly and we were probably going to waste our time trekking out to beaches that would look like nothing but gray sky and gray water. After seeing a couple and being pretty disappointed, we decided our best bet was to hang at Cachoeira Inn.

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When it was finally time to go, we said our goodbyes to the Marshalls and made one final stop at Geriba Beach on the way out of Buzios.

If someone asked where all the beach action takes place in Buzios, you’d have to tell them Geriba. This huge beach sits on the south side of the peninsula as it projects eastward into the Atlantic. Because of its wide-open face to the southeast, Geriba Beach has the best surf in Buzios and attracts the surfing crowd.

It is also home to Fishbone, a gritty, frills-free beach shack that happens to be the hottest beach club in town at night and one of the best lunch spots during the day. It has an outdoor restaurant with a sandy floor and a menu filled with Brazilian specialties.

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Susan had given us directions AND a map and we still got lost as hell. Just one more Brazilian kick in the pants.

We finally found it and made our way down a long sandy lane lined with graffiti art.

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It was our last caipirinha of the trip and we sipped it watching bronzed twenty-somethings laying out on the cloudy beach, refusing to accept the fact that there was going to be no sun today. Dogs lazed in the warm air and surfers ran to the edge of the water with their boards. It was a lively scene.

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French fries appear on virtually every Brazilian menu as an appetizer and I had to have me some. Covered with the house made hot sauce and washed down with the tangy lime chilled caipirinha, I can’t imagine a better plate of fries.

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We had decided to go with the Moqueca de Camarao a second time and yes, I still ate that fish head gravy because I still didn’t know what it was. Sometimes, it’s just better not to know.

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At long last, it was time to head back to Rio. We managed to make it back to the airport with no trouble.

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I have to admit that when I was finally inside the airport, cleared through and sitting at my gate, I sighed a long, sweet sigh of relief.

Brazil had been exciting and adventurous, and it had been filled with some wonderful things, but it had also been difficult. The bad parts were bad enough to make the good parts not seem so good.

Am I glad I went? Yes. I guess so. Now that am back home safe and warm in my own bed, I guess I am glad I went. It was an adventure and it was filled with beautiful sights, (MONKEYS!), great food, (MONKEYS!), and some wonderful moments (like MONKEYS!). It was also a little tough and I wish that better information and travel tools had been available to help us avoid those. The difficulty of the place will keep us from going back, despite the wonderful things that it has to offer. Matt and I are always up for an adventure, but sometimes too much adventure on a vacation makes it a lot more like work and a lot less like fun.

I’m happy to have another exotic place under my belt and I’m proud of us for learning some new things and tackling some new experiences. I didn’t die from the fish head gravy, Matt didn’t die from the Ibufan or crack cough syrup, and we made it home with all of our vital organs, so I suppose we can call it a success.

Next time, though, I might just go to Cleveland.

Posted by vicki_h 19:21 Archived in Brazil Tagged brazil rio_de_janeiro south_america buzios Comments (2)

Brazil: Part III

Rio de Janeiro: City of God, or Hell on Earth?

Rio de Janeiro has a sexy reputation. It’s know as a scintillating city. When you hear “Rio” what comes to mind are hot Carnival nights where skimpily clad dancers fill the air with feathers and sequins. Images of sultry summer evenings are conjured up, where samba music fills the air and cold caipirinhas flow easily as dancers’ bodies move to the music. You think of tiny bikinis and beautiful bronzed bodies on long beaches of soft white sand. It’s touted as a cosmopolitan city, a sensual and rhythmic place, the sexiest city on earth.

This is not what came to mind as Matt and I sat for hours in bumper to bumper traffic, dirty favelas rising up on either side of us as far as our eyes could see, windows rolled up tight to keep the smell of overflowing garbage and bus fumes out of the car. Men with poles on their shoulders covered with bags of snacks ran up and down in the middle of the lanes of traffic selling food to those of us trying desperately to inch our way into the city in the heat of the afternoon.

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Their road system is simply inadequate for the amount of traffic that they have. God help the 2016 Olympics.

As we fought our way toward the city, we both dreaded the moment we actually had to try to find the way to our guesthouse. I had very good directions, but we had discovered that following very good directions was very hard when there were few signs and nowhere to turn around if you missed a street. Besides that, we were actually leaving the safety of the highway and crawling up into the heart of downtown. One wrong move and we’d be in a one of the many favelas that surrounded the city in an instant.

Matt was extremely ill and the hours we had spent in the car sitting in traffic hadn’t helped.

We were doomed and we knew it.

We did everything right. We followed the signs, we followed the map, we followed the written directions the innkeeper had given us….but we still missed it. After turning up and down the same street 3 times and missing it AGAIN, we figured out there was a sign missing somewhere.

On our fourth try, we missed it again and somehow ended up on the highway again. This meant a 40 minute drive in the wrong direction in sit still traffic before coming to an access road that allowed us to turn around and drive the 40 minutes BACK to our starting point.

At this point, nerves were fried.

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We finally made a desperate move up a side street. This might be our road, but it might also take us up into a bad neighborhood. After 2 hours of driving the same stretch of road, we had to do something.

As we crept down a congested neighborhood street, filled with trucks, garbage, boxes, and loitering people, I had to wonder about those that insist on saying that Rio is a fabulous city. It did not look fabulous to me from any angle, and by now, I had pretty much seen it from every angle.

As I sat in the car, I started to wonder if my parents were right. This would be the perfect time for someone to come rushing out of any of these alleys, as we sat trapped in our car, unable to go anywhere to escape. The worst part was knowing that if we were indeed carjacked or kidnapped, we were too old to sell as sex slaves. No, we’d end up digging ditches or carrying cinder blocks. Or offering up a couple of kidneys.

The only thing we had going in our favor was the fact that the word ECONOMY was stamped on our extremely cheap and crappy little car. Surely, any good carjacker wouldn’t want a cheap little car with a couple of old people in it.

As I sat there sweating it out and Matt cursed under his breath for the fortieth time, I saw our turn.

I SAW IT!!!!

After about 2 miserable hours of trying to find a guesthouse we should have been to in about 10 minutes, we were finally there. As we drove into the Santa Teresa neighborhood, I was happy I had chosen to stay here. We had just driven through the hot and congested Zona Sul, where most people stay, down at the beaches. I had not been impressed. This however, was quiet and quaint.

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Despite the razor wire that appeared on every gate and the bars that appeared on every window, this seemed to be the quieter, more decent face of Rio, and for that I was glad.

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Santa Teresa is a charming historic neighborhood that sits on a hillside overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro. A bohemian arts district filled with cafes and galleries, Santa Teresa has numerous historic mansions that have been converted to guest houses. The cobblestone streets are lined with colorful shops, draping tropical foliage, and a bright yellow bonde, or tram, that runs up and down it’s steep hillsides.

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It was a good way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Guesthouse Bianca was a gorgeous old mansion that had four guest suites.

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The owner, Guido, spoke English fluently, and greeted us warmly, showing us to our guest suite, where Matt promptly fell asleep as soon as he touched the bed.

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It was about 2:00 p.m. and I was stressed out and starving. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, but Matt was now completely comatose on the bed.

I wasn’t willing to walk out and about alone, not really knowing much about where we were, and Matt wasn’t going to be conscious for a while.

To keep myself occupied and to forget my rumbling stomach, I decided to explore Guesthouse Bianca.

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What an amazing house this was. Our suite was very large, with a big bedroom, hall, a large bathroom, and an outdoor balcony with a beautiful view of Sugarloaf Mountain.

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The house itself was filled with amazing architectural details.

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The grounds were as beautiful as the interior.

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When Matt woke up he sounded TERRIBLE, but said he was hungry. We took the advice of Guido and walked a short distance down the street to Espirito Santa.

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The restaurant was small and comfortable, with a cozy patio in back.

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We were seated outside and ordered caipirinhas, Bolinhos de Bacalhau (salt cod balls), and Pastels de Camarao (shrimp pastries).

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We probably overdid it on the appetizers, because when my entrée came, I could only eat about half. Maybe it was just because that fish was huge. (Personally, I tend to think it’s because Matt forced me to skip a meal, thereby causing significant stomach shrinkage in my near-starvation state).

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The fish was thick and lightly fried, wrapped in a banana leaf. It was served with rice and a sweet banana sauce.

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Tired, nerves shot, not sure why we were in Rio but hoping for the best, we decided to call it a night as we walked back to Guesthouse Bianca, the lights of the city twinkling in the distance.

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The sunrise over Sugarloaf Mountain was a sight to behold. It made me hopeful that good things would come from our day in Rio.

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There were 2 things Matt wanted to see in Rio: Christ the Redeemer and one of the famous beaches. There were 3 things I wanted to see, the same 2 Matt wanted to see plus the Escadaria Selaron, primarily because it was only about a block from our Guesthouse.

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The Escadaria Selaron is a mosaic masterpiece in the heart of the Lapa neighborhood, a seedy area that borders the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Chilean born artist, Jorge Selaron, has been tirelessly decorating this unassuming staircase that runs along an alleyway for over 20 years.

This was something that I had to see.

As we started walking to it and Matt realized it involved a one block walk down a ridiculously steep street, he decided it was NOT something he had to see.

As he sat at a corner café to wait, I headed to the top of the stairs.

Although the area is not considered one of the best, it was early in the morning and no one was out with the exception of some very nice people that appeared to be on their way to work. I never felt unsafe.

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I finally reached the head of the stairs. I was awestruck. Colorful tiles from all over the world had been placed lovingly by the artist along the stairs and walls of the alley.

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It was huge and seemed to go on forever, tiles everywhere.

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The 250 steps were a riot of color and pattern.

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Running from Rua Joaquim Silva and Rua Pinto Martins, officially known as Rua Manuel Carneiro, the steps straddle the neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa.

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There are said to be thousands of tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world.

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An ever-evolving piece of art, Selaron says the project will not end until he dies.

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Wowed and amazed by what I had just seen, I almost didn’t notice how horrific the steep trek back up the hill in the broiling heat was.

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As I rounded the corner with the little café, Matt looked up from a small table and I could tell he was furious.

Apparently, while I was gone, he came to the sudden realization that he had actually let me go traipsing about a dangerous neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro alone. I’m not sure if he was more angry at me or himself, but despite my assurances that there was nothing actually dangerous about my walk, he reminded me that I lack the self-preserving fear that God gives most people and that walking around carrying an expensive camera in my hand, I may as well have had big sign on my head that said, “Please rob me. I am a stupid American tourist.”

We made up over espresso and baguettes, compliments of Guesthouse Bianca who provided us with a breakfast certificate for the corner café in lieu of breakfast at the guesthouse.

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As we ate, we kept seeing what seemed to be squirrels running up and down the power lines above our heads, but upon closer inspection, turned out to be monkeys. Only in Rio.

Not really wanting to drive through Rio again, but unwilling to attempt to use the public transportation, particularly when we had a perfectly good Fiat ECONOMY car, we piled in and went in search of that famous statue.

We didn’t realize that it was a very short drive from Santa Teresa. We drove through forested hills, following the signs, and actually found it very easily.

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Christo Redentour is the 130 foot tall statue of Christ that sits atop Corcovado Mountain, in the Tijuca National Forest, it’s outstretched arms open to all of Rio de Janeiro.

Erected as a symbol of Brazilian Christianity, it has become an icon for all of Rio de Janeiro. It seems to be the one thing you must see when visiting Rio, and see it we did.

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It was early and the crowds were light. The view from the top was simply astounding.

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We left Corcovado and followed the signs for the Zona Sul.

The Zona Sul is the area along downtown Rio de Janeiro that houses those world famous beaches: Copacabana and Ipanema.

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We had been told again and again that Copacabana is just too sketchy and dangerous and that if we wanted to get out on the beach, to stick to Ipanema and Leblon.

For that reason, we simply waved at Copacabana in passing.

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Ipanema and Leblon are essentially one long curving beach, backed by towering skyscrapers and fronted by crystal clear water and blinding white sand.

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Where Copacabana is described as grungy and chaotic, Ipanema and Leblon are described as cool and chic.

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We chose our destination based on nothing more sophisticated than where we actually found a place to park – all the way on the Leblon side. We parked and walked down the famous black and white “wave” sidewalk that runs the length of the downtown beaches.

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This guy was proof that ANYONE can wear flip flops.

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After walking for a while, we paid $1 to change into our bathing suits in a bathroom. Yes, there are public restrooms on the beach, but no, they are not free.

A cheap $10 for 2 chairs and an umbrella, and we were settled into the sand.

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It was a busy beach with sparkling turquoise waters, fine white sand and a vibrant beach scene. Locals were busy playing action-packed games of beach volleyball and soccer, lounging on chairs soaking up the sun in their tiny swimsuits, or standing around posing and checking every few minutes to see if anyone was watching.

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We were particularly amused by all the beach vendors. You can literally buy ANYTHING from your chair. Drinks, snacks, clothing, hats. It was all there. Forgot your hat? No problem. You can buy another one. Need a popsicle? Just wait and in 2 minutes, someone will bring one to your chair. Lose your bikini top in the surf? Don’t worry, you can even buy a new swimsuit on the beach.

Somehow, I managed to get a picture of my three favorite vendors in one shot: Bikini selling guy, sarong guy, and beer keg guy. Yes, he was toting 2 beer kegs up and down the beach. Where else, but in Brazil?

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When we’d had enough, we packed it in and headed back to Santa Teresa. It was then that Matt saw the Fogo de Chao sign.

Matt loves Fogo de Chao.

Sure…it’s a chain….but it STARTED in Brazil, so that made it okay to go, right?

Besides, Matt was feeling awful and he had let me drag him around Rio all day. This was the only thing he wanted. We had to go in.

My only hesitation was that I was wearing a bikini, beach shorts, and a sheer cover up top with rubber flip flops. Fogo de Chao is not a casual place.

Maybe it will be more casual for lunch, I thought nervously as the valet took the keys to our awesome ECONOMY car while I tried to kick some of the sand off my feet.

As I walked in and surveyed the tables filled with elegantly dressed women and men in suits and ties, I realized even the wait staff was dressed better than we were. Matt hadn’t shaved in 3 days and was wearing swim trunks, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap. I looked like Betty the Beach Bimbo.

I finally knew how it felt to be the hooker in Pretty Woman in your spandex dress and thigh high boots at the classiest place in town.

I held my head high and hoped that everyone would just think we were so rich we knew we could walk into a place like this dressed any way we wanted.

It must have worked, because within minutes of being seated we saw a group of waiters whispering to one another and looking at our table. Afraid they were going to ask us to leave, I couldn’t believe it when one of them came over to us and whispered to Matt, “Are you that TV artist? That American TV artist? You can tell me. I promise not to tell anyone.”

He was so serious. I remembered a few years earlier when the shop keeper in Italy insisted that Matt was “that American actor.” We still have no idea who they thought Matt was, but apparently the Brazilians think he looks like him too.

We assured them Matt was a nobody, but I could tell by his eyes that he never believed me. Hilarious.

If you have never been to a Fogo, you have to go. A Brazilian steakhouse with the most amazing 4 sided all-you-can-eat salad bar. Actually, to call it a salad bar is just wrong. There is so much more on there than salad. Smoked salmon, cured meats, artisan cheeses, salads, marinated vegetables, sundried tomatoes, artichokes, a bowl of bacon. Seriously…a bowl of bacon. What’s not to love?

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I almost filled up on the cold stuff before I remembered I could also have all the grilled meat that I could hold. The restaurant serves about 15 cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken cooked whole over an open fire. They are brought to you by waiters in traditional goucho attire and they proceed to slice off what you want, as much as you want.

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Without a doubt one of the best meals of the trip.

We walked out feeling like maybe Rio wasn’t so bad after all.

We thought that a minute too soon.

Five minutes later, having missed our turn into Santa Teresa AGAIN, we found ourselves trapped on the highway headed in the wrong direction AGAIN and had to drive for an hour and a half in bumper to bumper traffic AGAIN to get back to our starting point.

By the time we got back to Guesthouse Bianca, we both hated Rio. Two hours in that traffic can undo any good that might have occurred before it.

Matt badly needed a nap, so he crashed while I walked to the Parque das Ruinas which was practically next door to Guesthouse Bianca.

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Ruin Park contains the burned out shell of an old mansion belonging to Brazilian heiress Laurinda Santos Lobo, whose house was a salon for Rio’s artists and intellectuals in the 20s and 30s. Left in ruins, the old brick exterior has metal walkways that ascend to the upper levels where there is a 360 degree view of Guanabara Bay and downtown Rio.

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Matt was feeling pretty bad, but we had reservations at Aprazivel, one of the best restaurants in Rio and just a stone’s throw from Guesthouse Bianca, so he decided he’d get out one last time for the day.

Besides, this was the only restaurant we had wanted to eat at badly enough that we made the reservations months before, via email. I used the Bablefish translator to email my request to them in Portuguese and I am pretty sure to them, it read something like this:

“Hello please. We will visit of the United States in diverse weeks. We will be remaining in the house of Guesthouse Bianca. He is possible to make a reserve for the email? We are excited to come. If he is possible to reserve a special table, that one would be wonderful, please. He forgives me for saying the Portuguese so badly. Very obliged! Until already!”

I know this, because their response to me read something like this, “Debtor for the contact. She is possible to make a reserve for email. Please, she directs me the date, the schedule and number of people to effect its reserve. Debtor for the contact and choosing the Aprazível Restaurant. I confirm reserve for 02 people in day 1 of December to 20:00 h, preferential in area with sight.”

It’s always good to be seated in an area with sight.

We decided to drive even thought it was less than a mile away for three reasons, 1) We never felt safe in Rio, 2) it looked like rain, and 3) Matt didn’t even feel well enough to walk a mile.

The restaurant was incredible. Set on a hillside in Santa Teresa overlooking the lights of the city, Aprazivel is open-air and very tropical, filled with plants, trees, an eclectic décor, and tables built into little tree houses. We were seated at a table that looked like a thick slice out of a giant tree and as I looked up at the thatched roof, I wondered it if would keep us dry as the rain started to pour in buckets just a few feet from our Havianas.

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We suddenly found ourselves in the REAL rain forest café, staring at the pouring rain a foot away as candlelight flickered on our table and the waiters delivered crisp caipirinhas from table to table with umbrellas. We dined as the rain thundered and poured. It was sublime.

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Matt wasn’t feeling up to a caipirinha, so he politely asked the non-English speaking drink waiter for a Coke.

Now, those of you who have never heard Matt speak need to know that he has a deep voice and a low, slow southern drawl. Sounds more like he is from Texas than Tennessee, so when he says, “Coca-Cola” it sounds more like “Co-CO-la.”

All the waiter heard was Co-Co, which is Portuguese for coconut, which is a drink staple down there. Next thing we knew a giant coconut with a straw was sitting on the table.

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I nearly laughed myself silly.

Aprazivel is an award winning restaurant, and I was eager to try the food, but my late lunch had included giant platters of cold meats, cheese, and veges and gluttonous portions of grilled meat. Matt wasn’t even hungry. I opted to order 3 small plates and a dessert.

The first plate was an order of pastels, Brazilian pastries filled with meats or cheeses. Half of these were filled with cheese and shrimp and the other half with a spicy sausage.

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The second plate was a Salada Aprazivel – greens topped with shaved parmesan, grilled slices of eggplant, sundried tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, topped with a tangerine vinaigrette.

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The final, and best, was the escondidinho, which in Portuguese means “the little hidden.” It was a ramekin filled with shredded sundried meat topped with mashed yucca (tastes just like potato) and cheese, baked until the cheese was melted and bubbly.

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Matt managed to eat some of them all, but actually declined on dessert. That’s when I knew he was really sick, when he passed on the Tarte-Tatin, what was essentially a very tall apple pie with caramel and the most delightful homemade ice-cream. It even had a crispy little toffee "Neeble" in there.

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Thankfully, the rain had slowed by the time we left and we managed to get to the car without getting too wet.

Our day in Rio ended uneventfully, unless you count Matt trying to park the car on the street in front of Guesthouse Bianca, which was a very steep street and the space was barely bigger than the Fiat, and proceeding to get the transmission stuck so that it wouldn’t go in reverse and causing him to (very forcefully) smash into the car in front of him, all while some little Brazilian man was leaning out his window yelling at Matt to which Matt responded with some very special English that I hope the elderly man could not understand.

Rio ended as violently as it had begun.

The next morning we would head to Buzios, where hopefully, things would take a turn for the better after a rough day and a half in the Marvelous City. While we had managed to “make the most of it” and actually enjoyed many of the things we did and saw, the general unease that followed us everywhere we went, the fear that kept us from doing many things we would have liked to do, and the disastrous traffic system nearly undid what good we had managed to get out of the city.

I think Matt summed Rio up well when he said, “If God came down and told me I had to spend my remaining years in hell or in Rio….I’d ask him if I could have a day to think about it.”

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Posted by vicki_h 18:32 Archived in Brazil Tagged brazil rio_de_janeiro south_america Comments (3)

Brazil: Part II, Day 3

Ilha Grande, Our Own Fantasy Island

The next morning dawned bold and beautiful.

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I woke long before Matt the next day and was excited to see a bright blue sky staring down at me. We had made a good decision by saving today for boat day!

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I took an early morning walk to the village and just enjoyed watching the sleepy town come slowly to life.

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Remember how I mentioned there seemed to be dogs everywhere? In the morning, they all seemed to be on the main street in town in various stages of sleeping, waking up, and playing in the sand. We'll call these four: Stayed Out Too Late Last Night, Still Asleep, Trying to Wake Up, and Already Had Too Much Coffee.

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Matt was up by the time I returned and we headed to breakfast so that I could get some more of those hot weenies. Yum!

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Before we sat down to eat, I asked the girl at the desk about a boat for the day. She told us we had 2 options: a large schooner that would be inexpensive but force us to share our day with about 50 other people or a private speed boat. While Matt wasn’t looking, I quickly told her “private boat.”

Within minutes, she had found us a boat for the day and told us to be at the dock at 9:30 and he’d pick us up.

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At 9:30 a.m., we were on our way! Within minutes of leaving the dock, he slowed the boat to point to a large pod of dolphins in our path. He stopped and let us enjoy them for 10 – 15 minutes before they finally headed on their way.

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Our first stop was at Lagoa Azul, or the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a natural shallow created at low tide between some small offshore islands and the island of Ilha Grande. It’s filled with beautiful coral and tons of colorful fish.

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We had arrived before any other boats. It was deserted. While we had it all to ourselves, we snorkeled for a while and then spent about an hour lounging on the boat in the sun, watching boat after boat after boat arrive.

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This was one of those places that was truly so beautiful, that you almost couldn’t believe what your eyes were seeing. The colors of the water, the blue of the sky, the lush green foliage…..I could scarcely take it all in.

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We could have spent all day there, bobbing gently on the water, but we finally had to tear ourselves away.

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Our next stop was a beach. I don’t know the name of it, but it was striking. Several tall, thin palms lined the middle of the beach, like little soldiers welcoming us to their tiny stretch of sand.

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The beach was small but incredibly perfect. A delicious little crescent of white sand, clear blue water, swaying palms.

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We were dropped off on shore and left to enjoy the beach for a while.

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Waterlogged and pruny, we finally motioned for our boat to return from the middle of the bay. He picked us up and once again, we were on our way. The views from the boat were amazing. I couldn’t believe how incredible this place was. I had been to beautiful islands before, but not beautiful islands that were so pristine and untouched.

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As we rounded yet another deep blue cove, lined with white sand and lush green palms, the boat slowed. Thinking we were visiting another beach, we looked up at our guy expectantly. He spoke no English but we had managed to communicate effectively all day. There are only so many words needed on boat day.

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He handed us a menu, pointed to shore where we could see nothing more than some shallow sand and trees, and raised his eyes in question.

Do I EVER say no to food?

We nodded in agreement and called someone on the radio. Within seconds, a small boat came whizzing out of nowhere and pulled up beside us.

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We piled in and the little boat headed toward the shore. Eventually, the water became so shallow that all 3 guys got out of the boat and pulled it with me sitting inside, very princess like.

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I felt very much like the water version of Cleopatra and decided that this should be my mode of transport from now on. It suited me.

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When the water got too shallow for even the tiny boat, I was forced out into the shallow water in a very unprincesslike manner. We waded toward the shore.

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Had my mother been present, she would have been certain that this was the moment when they would take us back into the woods, chloroform us, and hack out our organs for sale on Ebay. I had no worries. I was excited about this little adventure. We had no idea where we were headed and we didn’t care.

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And there it was. A cozy little tropical restaurant all tucked up into the jungle.

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This place gets my vote for coolest bathroom.

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I was pretty used to the fact that caipirinhas in Brazil were like getting a glass of water as soon as you sit down in a restaurant in the US. They were always there.

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We decided to try a Brazilian specialty: Moqueca de Camarao. It was basically a shrimp stew and had appeared on virtually every menu we had seen.

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Moqueca is a savory stew made only with fish or shrimp. It has its origins in Bahia and is a staple of the Brazilian comfort food diet. The Brazilians have been making this dish for over 300 years. Its simple name, which translates to "shrimp stew," belies its complex flavors.

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Moqueca takes hours to prepare. Fresh shrimp are simmered in a coconut broth and palm oil with a sauté of onion, garlic, bell peppers, cilantro and tomatoes. They say the palm oil is so rich, that a teaspoon takes a year off your life. Hey, the year comes off the slow end, so who's complaining?

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It was served with rice, the ever present bowl of farofa, and a bowl of something we didn’t recognize. I ate it, because I am always up for something new.

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The weird gravy-like substance didn’t have a very strong taste and it certainly wasn’t offensive, so I slathered it on and lapped it up. Matt is not a fan of the unfamiliar and took a pass. After we returned home, I looked it up to see what it was. Pirão is a kind of gravy usually made from fish broth and cassava flour. It is typically made from a broth obtained by cooking a fish head and scraps not used in whole fish dishes (i.e., the parts you ain’t supposed to eat), with other ingredients such as coconut milk, tomatoes, parsley, garlic, chives, pepper, and fresh cilantro.

At the time, I had no idea I was eating fish head and guts gravy, so……Bon Appetit!

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After a long and leisurely lunch, it was time to be carried, Cleopatra-Style, back to our boat.

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It had been a full day and we were certain it was time to head back, but were surprised when we were pulled up onto yet another pristine beach. This might have been the best yet because we were the only two people in sight.

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We had about an hour of “deserted tropical island experience” before it was time to head back.

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We were dropped off back at Sagu. Matt was feeling a little off again and went in to take a nap.

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He woke up sounding like a 97 year old smoker.

His head was pounding, he had a terrible cough, and he was hoarse and raspy. I had some Aleve and gave him one but he really needed something for that cough.

“I saw what I think was a pharmacy in the village,” he said.

We headed into the village. Our vision was that we would walk into a pharmacy that looked just like a US pharmacy. We would see medicine we recognized on a shelf and we would buy it.

Are we really that dumb?

Instead we stepped into a tiny pharmacy that had no medicine of any kind out front. There was a pharmacy counter in back and everything was on shelves behind Mr. Pharmacist in non-descript, unrecognizable, black and white printed boxes.

We walked back, hopeful that the pharmacist spoke some English.

Are we really that dumb?

Of course he didn’t speak English. He also didn’t carry any American medicines. Matt proceeded to do an elaborate game of charades that included mimicking a cough and a pounding head. Mr. Pharmacist returned with a strange box containing a little bottle of vile looking brown liquid and a teeny tiny cup. He held up 3 fingers and pointed to the cup. Did that mean 3 cups or 3 times a day?

We were pretty much on our own from there.

I had no idea what was in that bottle, but I am certain that it was not FDA approved.

It made Matt feel better, though. Probably because it was a combination of morphine and crack.

We took it easy and just crashed in a couple of chairs by the water at Cafe do Mar.

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It was a cozy little place that was open to the ocean and filled with twinkling lights and candles.

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Matt said he wasn’t hungry, probably because he was high on morphine and crack, so I took the liberty of ordering us a “snack.”

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We had a fresh caprese salad, what was basically fried cheese on a stick (GENIUS), and the most amazing garlic shrimp. It was lick-the-plate good.

We even had live entertainment as a very convincing pirate seemed to stroll up out of nowhere. Literally.

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He was promptly chased off by the bar dog.

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It was time to get Matt to sleep before he overdosed on the unidentifiable medicine.

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The next morning Matt was worse. A lot worse. It was obvious that he had something akin to the flu. Caught from the lady on the plane that was hacking up a lung for 8 ½ hours, no doubt. The worst part was that we had to load up, take a 1 ½ hour ferry ride, then drive 2 hours back into Rio de Janeiro, and then find our accommodations in the heart of that vile city.

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To shore us up, we had our final breakfast at Sagu. Bye, bye hot wieners.

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As we piled onto the ferry for the return trip, I couldn’t help but be apprehensive. Matt was sick. We had a long drive. We had to find our way back into that horrible city that we thought we’d never get out of a few days before.

What would the next 2 days have in store for us? Only time would tell.

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Posted by vicki_h 16:34 Archived in Brazil Tagged island brazil south_america ilha_grande Comments (1)

Brazil: Part II, Days 1 & 2

Ilha Grande, Our Own Fantasy Island

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The ferry pulled away from Angra dos Reis at 1:30 p.m. It was a really ugly day, so it was perfect for a travel day. The ferry ride was long (1 ½ hours) and boring. It was noisy and smelled like diesel fuel and exhaust no matter where on the boat you went. This did not help Matt’s pounding head. He was feeling worse by the minute.

At 3:00 p.m. the ferry pulled up to the small village of Abraão on Ilha Grande. We had arrived.

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Ilha Grande (pronounced Ilya Granjee) is a small island off the coast of southern Brazil. The island is undeveloped and is known for its natural beauty, filled with tropical beaches, luxuriant vegetation, parrots and monkeys, and rugged mountains. There are no roads or cars on the entire island and the largest village on the island is called Vila do Abraão, with a population of about 1900 inhabitants. The island is considered “paradise,” particularly for those who are somewhat adventurous, with its jungle trails and waterfalls in the mountainous, it’s rain forests and deserted beaches, and it’s shimmering waters.

I was psyched.

Matt was sick.

It was obvious at this point that he had some kind of cold or something, but he wasn’t feeling 100% terrible….yet. The good news was that there was a shiny white speedboat with a sign that said “Hatfields” waiting at the ferry dock, ready to whisk us over to Sagu Mini Resort so that we wouldn’t have to carry our luggage.

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Sagu was a small resort with only 9 rooms, scattered about the hillside, tucked up into the lush rainforest. The main building sat right at the water’s edge. As we walked down the long wooden dock, brightly colored buildings with clay tile roofs peeked out, half hidden behind thick green palms. Riots of flowers bloomed everywhere. It was hidden, private, and as exotic as I’d hoped.

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We settled our luggage into our room which was a large cottage with a private verandah overlooking the water. There was a mosquito net over the bed, which I hoped was just for ambience, since the room had air conditioning. I like nature….but not in my room.

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I thought Matt would want a nap, but he was finally hungry, so we decided to walk over to the village for a late afternoon bite.

It was about a 10 minute walk along a path at the water’s edge from Sagu to the village. This location gave us the privacy we craved but kept us close to all the restaurants and shops. It was a perfect location.

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I expected something rather primitive, but Abraão was a beautiful little town filled with upscale restaurants and shops as well as street vendors and casual oceanside eateries. The main street bordered the beach as it curved around the harbor. Tall mountains rose up behind it. The buildings were colorful and bright, with bougainvillea and hibiscus spilling out between them. Dogs seemed to be everywhere.

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We made our restaurant choice in a very discriminating way: we chose the closest one with a good view. We were seated at an outdoor table in the sand with a great view, despite the gloomy day.

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Pe Na Areia Restaurante served up a mean caipirinha and some fantastic marinated olives.

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We had only intended to get a light snack, but we were HUNGRY. We ended up ordering shrimp in a cream cheese sauce. This came rice and a mango salad.

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Bellies full, we wandered around town a bit to get the lay of the land. The village was small and could be walked across in just minutes. There were lots of cute shops and plenty of restaurants. When I saw this place, I made up my mind that I HAD to eat there. Forget the fact that the most amazing smells were wafting out the windows, look at how CUTE this table is!

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We took the afternoon off to let Matt recharge his quickly depleting batteries, in hopes that he would feel better the next day. We spent the afternoon and evening listening to the soft sounds of samba music, swaying in the hammock, napping, and reading underneath the giant palm tree beside our verandah.

Because lunch had been so late, it was very late when we got hungry for dinner. Sagu is supposed to have one of the very best restaurants on the island, Toscanelli. We decided to stick close to home. We made the 30 second walk to the restaurant and found that we were the only patrons.

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The restaurant was an open air wooden building sitting at the edge of a hill overlooking the water. It had a tropical feel to it that turned romantic as two tall candelabras were lit behind us. We ordered a bottle of wine and I opted for a banana wrapped filet for dinner. It was thick and cooked perfectly rare, served with couscous and a slice of some sort of potato pie. Double starch me again, baby, I like it!

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After a long day, a good steak, and a couple of glasses of wine, sleep came easy. And no, I didn’t need that mosquito net.

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Breakfast at Sagu was a self-serve buffet on the verandah behind the main building, overlooking the water.

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They had everything….baskets of rolls and cheese bread, several platters of cakes, sliced breads for toasting, cereals, granola, plates of fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, bowls of yogurt, eggs….but despite all those offerings….I became hooked on these:

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Yes. Those are sliced up wieners in hot sauce. My true white trash nature comes out every so often, particularly when I am in close proximity to yard sales, Vienna sausages, pork rinds, or anything with rhinestones on it. Oh my, but they were good. Don’t worry, I had plenty of carbs to balance out all that hot dog protein.

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We had 2 days on Ilha Grande and had only 2 things we really wanted to do: 1) do a hike through the jungle to Lopes Mendes beach and 2) rent a boat to take us around for the day. The weather looked iffy. Not wanting to waste the money for a boat on an ugly day, we decided to do the jungle walk.

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Matt was feeling better this morning, so we were hopeful that whatever had him down the day before was brief in passing.

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The trail head was very close to Sagu and we headed up into the jungle. The park map had said that it was a 4 mile, 3 hour hike through the jungle, over the mountains, to Lopes Mendes beach on the other side of the island. Up, up, and up we went.

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It was a tough hike, but rewarding. There was very little flat ground on the 4 mile hike. We were climbing steeply up or steeply down. The jungle was dense and lush. It was peaceful and quiet and the exercise felt good after so many days of leisure filled with so many carbohydrates. There were some amazing views.

I was keeping my eyes peeled for monkeys. There were monkeys in this jungle, and I was going to find one.

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After about an hour, we came to a beach. The sign told me it was not our beach.

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We had arrived at Praia Grande das Palmas, or the “Big Beach of Las Palmas.”

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There appeared to be a very small village, and I am using the term “village” generously, applying the east TN standard. In rural east Tennessee, you can call something a town if there is a fireworks store, one movie rental/gas station/tanning bed combo, and a post office.

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This village had 2 tiny restaurants, a few houses, and a church.

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We decided to stretch out and relax for a bit before pressing on.

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We headed to the far end of the beach where a sign pointed up a steep rock telling us “that way.”

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We hiked through more steep jungle. I still hadn’t seen a monkey. Where were those darn monkeys? It was like the Montana moose hunt all over again.

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After another hour we came to another beach.

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It was GORGEOUS. A long stretch of blinding white sand, gently lapping water, and swaying palm trees. We saw only one other person on the beach. The sun was starting to pop out and we needed a break, so we decided to stretch out on the sand for a while, get some sun, and take a leisurely swim.

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Matt found a friend. I don’t know what it is, but strange dogs and strange kids always gravitate to Matt on vacation.

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After an hour or so, we felt sunned and refreshed and decided to make the final push to Lopes Mendes. It was so tempting not to, with so many beautiful beaches tempting us to stop along the way.

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We walked to the end of the beach and saw a small booth, a sign with an arrow, and a man.

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He told us Lopes Mendes was about 20 minutes through the jungle and that his boat would take us back to town if we wanted, at 4:00. Not wanting to make that steep, hot, 4 mile trek back, this made my day.

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Hot diggity dog. We were almost there AND we had a boat to take us back. The only thing that would make this day better were some monkeys.

We were about 5 minutes into our final walk through the jungle toward Lopes Mendes when we saw them.

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There were about 10 of them and the largest were no bigger than a kitten. The marmoset monkeys dangled on the branches of a small tree right at the edge of the trail. They peered curiously at us from behind branches, caramel colored eyes bright and inquisitive. I’m pretty sure they hoped we had some cookies in our pocket. We didn’t.

I had already eaten them all.

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After enjoying their antics for a while, we pressed on for our final destination: Lopes Mendes. Although, I didn’t really care about seeing the beach at this point because I had seen MONKEYS!

Lopes Mendes is one of the most famous beaches in Brazil and is the most famous beach on Ilha Grande. It was reported to be a huge stretch of glistening sand, soft as sugar, with towering mountains and palms behind it and wildly crashing waves pounding the shore. There are no buildings or restaurants on the beach, just sun, sand, and sea.

When we finally broke out of the trees to see the beach, it was as breathtaking as everyone had said. Lopes Mendes turned out to be worth every steep, muddy, slippery, hot step.

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We tucked up under the shade of a palm tree and just took it all in. The beach was absolutely huge, length and width. It was also absolutely beautiful.

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We lounged. We walked. We splashed.

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We watched all the interesting people. Everything they say about Brazilian beaches and beachwear is true, by the way. Virtually every woman has on either a thong or a bikini so tiny it may as well be a thong. Virtually every man has on a tiny speedo. It does not matter what your age, body type, body size, or how much body hair you have. They bare it all.

That is not always a good thing.

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When we’d had our fill, we made the walk back through the jungle to the beach with the boats.

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We had 30 minutes to kill so we headed to the one little restaurant on the beach. It wasn’t really a restaurant. It was more of a garden shed with a food window and some plastic tables.

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I’m still trying to figure out if that dog is the same dog that was on the earlier beach, a 30 minute jungle hike away……

We hadn’t had lunch and my new pig belly was growling for some potatoes or rice. I ordered us 2 caipirinhas and an order of batatas fritas (french fries).

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Those drinks were so strong I believe they could be used to strip paint.

We had been sitting and waiting on those darn fries for a while. We only had 10 minutes until the boat left and I still didn’t have my fries. Matt was going all restless and squirrelly on me, the way he always does when we are in an unfamiliar place and his boat/taxi/train/bus is about to leave and I am distracted by something like food/monkeys/shiny things.

“Five minutes,” he said as he started walking toward the boat. “I am getting on the boat. You can wait for the fries if you want. The boat leaves in 5 minutes.”

And with that, he left me there.

He’s only a saint to a point. Even Matt has his limits.

I refused to leave without my fries. I had forgotten that this wasn’t McDonald’s but that I was at a shack on a beach in the middle of the jungle where they probably had to go dig the damn potato up before they could make the fries.

I waited. Four minutes. I waited. Three minutes. I waited.

With literally seconds to spare, my fries were delivered. I gave the owner a huge tip and a huge smile as I grabbed the salty potato goodness and literally ran for the boat.

Me and my fries made it.

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Because he declined my giant greasy pile of fries on the boat, Matt was ready for dinner by the time we got back. We quickly got cleaned up and headed for the village.

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We stopped at O Pescador to see if we might want dinner there. Located on the ocean, it has a great view and is supposed to have incredible seafood (and they speak English!). We ordered caipirinhas (of course we did) and perused the menu. Nothing really grabbed us, so we decided to find dinner elsewhere.

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As we walked down the street, we smelled a heavenly garlic scent drifting through the air. We followed our noses and guess where they took us? Right to that adorable little table I had seen the night before. We instantly made it ours.

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We noticed in Brazil that about half the restaurants we went to had English translations in the menu. This was extremely helpful, despite the fact that the translations weren’t always spot on.

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I wonder….does “Chilly” mean cold soup or the stuff with beans and beef? What the hell is “weird rice?” And who can resist ordering something called “Neebles?”

Neebles might just be my new favorite word.

As in most restaurants, we resorted to the point and grunt method of ordering. Here is Matt attempting to communicate with our extremely NON-English speaking waiter.

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The meal was fantastic. We started with a seafood bisque (although I really wanted the chilly). That was followed by olives and a crab spread with baguette slices. For an entrée, I had the pasta Bolognese, which was loaded with rich meaty sauce.

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We strolled around town a bit. My favorite thing were these giant rolling dessert carts. There were several of them and they were filled with unimaginable goodness.

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Eventually, it got dark and we got tired. We picked our way along the trail with flashlights and were soon nestled in our soft bed, fast asleep.

Posted by vicki_h 15:24 Archived in Brazil Tagged island brazil south_america ilha_grande Comments (2)

Brazil: Part I

Paraty, The Town That Time Forgot.

We landed at the Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport in Rio de Janeiro at 5:45 a.m. We’d been awake since the previous morning and knew we had to stay awake until that night to avoid jet lag brought about by the overnight travel coupled with the time change. We had all day to make the 3 ½ hour drive to Paraty, so we weren’t in any hurry.

We had a reservation for an economy car with a GPS (God bless the GPS...) at Budget. The Budget office didn’t open until 6:30 a.m., so we settled on a bench and waited. And waited. And waited.

FINALLY, a young woman arrived who spoke about as much English as we did Portuguese. Somehow, we managed to understand each other. We particularly understood when she said, “No GPS.”

NO GPS?????? This was not a good start. But what were we going to do? We had no choice. We took the car without the GPS.

We were her first customers of the day. Her ONLY customers. Our car was on site at the airport. Yet...it took her 30 minutes to process our reservation. After that painfully long time, a little man motioned for us to follow him to our car. He proceeded to take us out into the ground transportation area where he led us to a sidewalk lined with taxis. He held up his finger and said, “Wait.” Then he walked off.

Thirty minutes later, we dragged our luggage back inside the terminal and returned to the Budget counter, where there were still no other customers. We explained that he had left us on the sidewalk a half hour earlier and vanished.

I don’t know Portuguese but I am pretty sure what she said to him on that walkie talkie could not be repeated in church. Or to your mother.

She led us out to our car herself and within minutes, we were inside our Fiat.

When the word “ECONOMY” is actually adhered to the back of your rental vehicle in raised metallic letters, you know you have not been upgraded.

It had been almost 2 hours since we landed and we were finally on our way out of the airport, tired and very, very irritable, with no GPS and nothing more than a handful of Google maps I had printed as a back-up.

Yes, we were driving.

This would be the single worst mistake we made in planning our trip to Brazil, other than choosing to go to Brazil in the first place. While it was a significant improvement over trying to use public transportation, the difficulty of the road system, the lack of signage and our inability to read what few signs there were, the danger posed by actually being stupid enough to drive a car through Rio de Janeiro, our lack of maps or GPS, and the incredibly ridiculous traffic jams made driving a bad, bad idea.

Bad idea.

We were immediately thrust out of the airport into a maze of highways, bumper to bumper traffic, blaring horns, and signs that did not match my Google map. Street signs were flying past me with names like “Ln. Vermelha/Av. Pres. João Goulart” or “Estr. das Canárias.” I was totally confused, trying to match any street name on my map to any street sign I saw. I felt like I’d been shot out of a canon with a bag over my head and my butt on fire.

Holy hell.

To say that driving in Rio is difficult is a gross understatement. Lanes are a mere suggestion. A three lane road is more likely to have about 6 lanes of traffic with everyone sort of carving out their own little space. Don’t forget about the scooters and motorbikes that simply fly up in between said lanes. Then you have the guys that walk up and down the street selling food to the people stuck in the traffic. Add to that about a million buses, poor signage, and no on/off access roads.

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After a few minutes, I saw a sign with a road name I recognized and an arrow pointing to it’s access from my map, Avenue Brazil.

“Just keep following that,” I told Matt. “That’s the highway that will take us to Paraty.”

This worked just fine until we actually got to the access and had a choice of left or right.

“Which way?” Matt asked, sweat beading up on his brow. I had no freaking idea.

Given a 50-50 choice, Matt and I will make the wrong choice 99.9999% of the time. This time was no exception.

One of the first things we learned about the “highways” in Brazil, is that, unlike US interstates that have an exit approximately every mile or so, you might drive for 30 miles before finding an exit or appropriate turnaround in Brazil. We drove 45 minutes in bumper to bumper traffic with poverty stricken favelas (slums) surrounding us before there was an opportunity to turn around. We then had to drive the 45 minutes back to our starting point.

It had now been 3 ½ hours since we landed and we were still at the freaking airport.

Nerves shot, we just kept driving. What else could we do?

The stand still traffic lasted for about an hour. During that hour, we inched our way through the absolute worst part of Rio de Janeiro. Favelas are the slums of Rio. Like many third world cities, Rio has a very large population of poverty stricken people. Much of the population lives in favelas, or communities of squatter housing. Shacks are built one on top of the other along the steep hillsides that surround the city. Favelas are typically controlled by drug lords and are known for their high crime rates.

During the first hour of the drive, there were literally favelas stretching up every hillside, covering every imaginable space, for miles, and miles, and miles. They went as far as my eyes could see.

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It was not a feel-good introduction to Brazil.

About the time I was asking myself for the twenty-seventh time WHY we had decide vacationing in Brazil was a good idea, the landscape abruptly changed. The traffic all but vanished and the dejected favelas gave way to rolling hills.

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Then the rolling hills gave way to towering mountains that stretched down the coast as far as we could see. They were lush and green, with jagged peaks reaching to the heavens. A bright blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds stretched overhead and the highway coasted along the sea. We first caught glimpses of blue and emerald waters lined with verdant mountains at turns in the road, but eventually, the landscape opened up into vast stretches of deep blue sea fringed with white sand beaches and dotted with bright green islands.

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It was an entirely different world from the one we had been in just an hour before. It was beautiful.

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We had reached the Costa Verde, or Emerald Coast. There was virtually no traffic and the views astounded us for the next 2 hours. It was almost enough to make us forget the hellish morning.

It was about noon when we saw the sign for “Paraty.” Hot damn and hallelujah, we had made it.

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Pronounced “Para-chee,” Paraty is a town that time forgot. Situated about 125 miles south of Rio de Janeiro, Paraty is a tourist destination, but it retains a character that is the very essence of Brazil. There was no major road from Rio de Janeiro to Paraty for almost one hundred years, causing Paraty to essentially be forgotten by the world.

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Just like Sleeping Beauty with her fairy tale kiss, Paraty awoke from it’s sleep in 1975 with the completion of a road from Rio de Janeiro, but it remained untouched by most modern trappings. The historic town center was preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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You won’t see any cars on the streets of Paraty, but you might have to wait for a donkey-cart jam. The town is lined with stony streets, cobbled together hundreds of years ago by slaves, and are better suited for Havianas than heels. The old town is filled with cafes and restaurants and quaint shops. You can buy a colorful woven basket on the street or can buy a cold beer at any number of colorful bars.

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It was the perfect place to undo the damage that Rio had done.

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It was going on one o’clock by the time we found a place for lunch. As we stepped into the Margarida Café, I felt my brow unfurrow, felt my shoulders relax, and felt my breathing slow down.

The restaurant was an eclectic mix of bohemian art, mismatched tables and chairs, and tropical plants. Tall windows surrounded the restaurant and let the bright sunlight filter in. A grand piano was set up in one corner and someone was playing softly.

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I ordered my first caipirinha. The caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, made with local cachaca (sugar cane rum), sugar, and limes. Extremely potent and undeniably delicious, I was an instant fan. I made it my personal goal to sample as many caipirinhas as possible on this trip.

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One Caipirinha down. Ninety-seven to go.

We learned on this trip that there seem to be several staple foods that appeared on virtually every menu in Brazil: pizza, pasta, grilled meats, seafood. The latter two almost always came with several side dishes and were ordered for 2 people.

For our first meal, too hungry and exhausted to make a bad meal choice, we went for the familiar. I opted for a dish of pasta with a rich tomato sauce and steak. Matt had a chicken that was marinated in a tangerine sauce.

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With the soft piano music, the sunlight gently filtering in through the windows, the delicious food, and the strong caipirinhas, Margarida was a much needed oasis of salvation after a difficult start.

We took some time to walk around the old part of town. It is hard to describe just how beautiful it was. The stone streets made walking a challenge, especially after a caipirinha, but they were gorgeous. Block after block of white buildings with colorful wooden doors and shutters, in bright blue or bright yellow, greeted us with every turn. Wooden carts filled with goods were pulled by donkeys and restaurateurs were setting colorful tables outside their kitchens in anticipation of the evening’s guests.

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It was hot and we were tired, so we made our way over to Vivenda Paraty, a pousada that was just outside of the old town. Unlike a traditional hotel, a “pousada” is a smaller, more personal place to stay. Pousadas are typically B&Bs, small inns, or boutique hotels. Opting to stay in pousadas rather than large hotels was one of the few things I did RIGHT when planning this trip.

I had selected pousadas that were highly rated and I ensured that each one had owners that either had English as a first language or spoke fluent English.

Pousada Vivenda Paraty is rated #1 in Paraty on Tripadvisor and let me tell you, it is well deserved. The owner is a delightful English gentleman that came to Brazil 26 years ago as a teacher, fell in love with it, and never left. He has a beautiful house and behind his pool and tropical gardens, he has 2 very private free standing cottages.

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John welcomed us with a hug like old friends and led us to our cottage. The gardens were filled with orchids and tropical plants. The pool glistened, a cool and inviting blue. Our cottage welcomed us with a private veranda and a swaying hammock. Inside, the cottage had a kitchenette, sitting area, and a king bedroom with a large bath. It was all done in cool and crisp shades of white.

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We did our very best to relax but not sleep, but the cool white sheets and delicious air conditioning made that a very hard promise to keep.

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We asked John for his recommendation on dinner and his first recommendation was Margarida Café, so we asked him what his second recommendation would be. He highly recommended Punta Di Vino, a small restaurant specializing in Neapolitan style pizzas.

We headed toward old town to do some strolling, have some pizza, and sample some more caipirinhas.

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The town was as beautiful at night as it had been that afternoon. The soft glow of light spilled from the brightly shuttered windows and café tables littered the streets, filled with flickering candlelight.

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People wound up and down the streets as music poured out of most restaurants. Couples laughed at small tables with flickering candlelight to the sound of soft samba music. THIS was the Brazil I had envisioned and hoped for.

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We found Punta Di Vino and chose to sit inside since it felt like it was about to rain. We were seated at a romantic little table in the corner and ordered a half carafe of wine.

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The restaurant was warm and inviting. The wood stove used to cook the wood fired pizzas filled the air with a warm smell and the wine made everything feel mellow as a soft drizzle began to fall outside. The open window let in the fresh smell of rain and we could hear music playing from the lively bar next door.

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We ordered a pizza with some type of Italian salami on it. The pizza was thin and crispy and the salami was incredibly rich and tangy.

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The rain had stopped by the time we finished eating and we decided to walk over to find the source of the music we heard playing. “Brasil” was a small restaurant/bar just down the street. Tables were scattered all over the cobblestone front and more were packed inside the cozy interior. A live band was playing.

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We hesitated in front just long enough for the waiter to grab our hands and coax us inside. He looked around, and seeing absolutely NO empty tables, held up his finger and ran off. Worried that this would be a repeat of the airport Budget guy….we were relieved when he immediately returned with a small table that he placed in a corner and pulled up two chairs.

How could we not get something now? We ordered 2 caipirinhas and a bowl of marinated olives.

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When the band stopped playing, we paid up and headed over to Café Margarida for a final caipirinha of the night.

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We figured out on that very first day that we were never able to drink more than 2 caipirinhas. A third would have been out of the question. They were that strong. When I got home, I looked up the recipe and figured out why. There is nothing in that glass but alcohol, sugar, and a crushed up lime. How many shots is that?

Exactly.

(Major travel exhaustion + two caipirinhas) x Vivenda’s super soft bed = One hell of a good night’s sleep.

I awoke to the sound of exotic birds whose songs I didn’t recognize. Soft white orchids waved in the morning breeze.

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I tiptoed out to the verandah as Matt slept and found that the breakfast fairy had come in the night and set our table beautifully, in anticipation of our first full day in Brazil.

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I stretched out in the breezy white hammock and read until Matt finally stumbled sleepily out into the early morning sunshine.

As we sat blissfully in soft chairs, two ladies carried over a tray laden with more food than we could eat.

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Underneath a soft white netting were plates of tropical fruit, meats and cheeses, pastries and breads. We had their housemade yogurt and granola, fresh squeezed juice, and strong, hot coffee. They even asked if we wanted eggs cooked to order. With all this, who needed eggs?

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I like the way Brazilians do breakfast.

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It was a hazy morning, so we decided to wander over to town for a while before deciding what to do with our day.

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My favorite part of town were the colorful wooden boats lining the harbor. There must have been a hundred of them. Each boat was painted in outrageous color and boasted and upper deck laden with pillows and cushions. Most had some sort of bar filled with exotic fruits and cocktails, and in front of each boat was a colorfully dressed Brazilian man trying to convince you to spend the day on his boat.

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We were tempted, but the sky was clouding over and it didn’t look like much of a day to be stuck on the sea in a boat.

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Instead, we chose to drive about 30 minutes down the coast to Trindade, a small village with beautiful beaches backed by towering mountains. To get there, we had to drive along the highway a short distance and then take a harrowing drive along a narrow, steep, twisting, turning road down to the village.

Our first stop was at Praia do Cepilho, a large beach littered with huge boulders. There was a little bar on the top of a hill overlooking the beach.

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We decided to drive on to the small village, where we parked and walked out onto a beach at the end of the village, Praia do Meio. The beach was covered with small eateries, each one with a sprinkling of bright yellow or red plastic chairs and tables out front. The smells of fried fish and potatoes mixed with the fresh salt air.

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It was then that I uttered the 4 words that make Matt cringe on vacation.

“I read somewhere that...”

He just wanted to sit down on the beach, stretch his legs, and read his book. Maybe get some fish and a cold beer. With those four little words, he knew I wasn’t going to let him do that.

“I read somewhere that there is a BETTER beach if you just hike through that stretch of jungle over there and over that small mountain.”

Poor Matt. There is a golden throne with his name on it waiting for him in heaven just for having to put up with me.

He sighed, gathered his things back up and set off across the beach behind me.

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Praia Brava is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. Unfortunately, as would be a repeated theme on this trip, I didn’t have extremely clear directions on how to get there. Here were the directions I had, “When you arrive in Trindade, forget the beach right next to the village and go to the do Meio beach, further south: you will find two small beaches separated by a bunch of rocks in the middle. From there there is just one little obstacle, a small hill you will have to climb and go down. It’s a short climb that presents no problems in dry weather.”

We literally set off blindly through the jungle. In the wrong direction. No, not even the wrong direction, on the wrong entire trail.

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There was a small path and I assumed that must be it. You know what they say about assuming don’t you? Well, just call me an A-S-S. After walking about 30 minutes in the broiling heat, sweat dripping off our brows, we came to a dead end with a small waterfall and a naked man. This was most definitely NOT it.

We trekked back through the hot, hot jungle to our starting point. At this point, most men would have cussed me out, maybe slapped me, and hoofed it back to the main beach without so much as a “How do you do,” but not Matt. He actually let me lead him down another path through the hot, hot jungle.

This time, we reached a dead end and a large chicken pecking at a pile of garbage.

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After almost an hour of wandering around in the steamy jungle, toting our beach stuff, do you know what Matt did when we got back to Praia do Meio? He went and found the right trail for me.

Saint, I tell you.

After all that hot walking, it was only a short (but steep) 15 minute walk over a small hill to Praia Brava.

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The beach was a mind blowing combination of blue water, white sand, rainforest, and green mountains. Not only was the beach beautiful, but unlike it’s cousin, Praia do Meio, it was virtually deserted.

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We finally had our beach time and just enjoyed laying in the sand, reading and listening to the waves.

Eventually, we got restless, as we always do.

“I read somewhere that there is a natural swimming pool at the end of this beach….” I ventured.

Oh no. Here we go again.

We saw people walking a path at the end of the beach, so it was pretty easy to figure out where to go this time. It was about a 20 minute trek over lots of steep, muddy hills before we found ourselves at Cachadaco, a series of natural pools formed by giant boulders in the ocean.

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We did the obligatory lagoon swim, even though the water must have been about 67 degrees. It was a beautiful spot, though.

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About this time, I started thinking about how long it would take to walk back. Twenty minutes back through the steep, muddy jungle; another fifteen minutes across the beach; about fifteen minutes more to walk over the steep hill back to Praia do Meio.

But I was hungry NOW.

It was then that we noticed the little boats on the other side of the rocks.

$7 and 5 minutes later we were deposited safely in the sand of Praia do Meio beach, ready for lunch and a stiff caipirinha!

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Matt was apparently through with allowing me to make any decisions for the day and he marched right up to one restaurant grabbed the menu, pointed at something and told the waiter he’d take that.

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I am one of these people that orders every meal as though it’s my last. I look over the menu slowly, savoring each choice. I have to read each one in detail. Then I read it again. Maybe three times. Then I ponder my options. Matt simply didn’t have the patience to wait at that point. I learned that day that letting someone else order for you can be amazing.

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Two strong caipirinhas showed up first. I was starting to really like these.

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Shortly after the drinks arrived, the waiter brought several dishes and set them down. There was a platter of salad, a bowl of rice, and a platter of grilled fish and potatoes. The fish was grilled perfectly, topped with capers and limes.

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Rice and potatoes? I like a country that double starches. Particularly after feeding me cake for breakfast. Oh yeah.

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We also noticed this little bowl of grainy looking stuff. We smelled it. It had no smell. We tasted it. It had no taste. Seeing no benefit to it ,we passed it over.

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Lunch was fantastically delicious and we ate until we could eat no more. We made our way back to Paraty and crashed at Vivenda for the rest of the afternoon.

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Now that our food rules were all a mess, what with the cake for breakfast and the triple carb lunch, we decided there was absolutely nothing wrong with dessert before dinner so we headed into the old town for some gelato.

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Gelato places were unique in Brazil. They were all self serve with tons of toppings. You simply put everything you wanted into your dish and then it was weighed at the register. You paid per kilo.

For dinner, we decided to try some oceanfront dining and headed to the beach of Praia do Jabaquara to find Restaurante La Luna. The restaurant was open to the ocean air, warmly lit with candles. We were allowed to choose our seats and opted for a thatched table facing the ocean on the back terrace. Our feet were in the sand and the waves gently lapped the shore only feet away.

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Lunch had taught us that most meals were ordered family style for 2 people, so we went with it. We ordered grilled steak for 2.

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It was delivered with a tray of condiments like peppers and chimmichurri, a salad, rice, fried potatoes, and another dish of the mystery stuff.

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When I got back to our cottage, I decided to Google the mystery stuff. It turned out to be farofa, or toasted manioc flour. It is typically toasted with butter, salt, and bacon until it is brown. It is served alongside the main course and can either be sprinkled on by individual diners to their taste before eating, or eaten as an accompaniment in its own right, the way that rice is often eaten.

It is basically odorless and flavorless and appeared to serve no purpose other than to provide additional carbohydrates to your meal, in case the oversized bowls of rice and potatoes did not sufficiently accomplish that task.

I like the way Brazilians think.

We sat by the light of the pool and used the free wi-fi to let our parents know that we still had all 4 kidneys and called it a night.

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It seemed like we had just arrived in Paraty and it was already time to move on. Before heading out, however, we enjoyed another fabulous breakfast at Vivenda Paraty.

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We bid our farewell to John and set back out on the road. This time the drive wasn’t so bad because we were still on the quiet coast and were simply backtracking the way we had already come. The drive would take us about halfway back toward Rio, where we would then stop at the town of Angra dos Reis and do our best to figure out how to get to the ferry that would take us to the island of Ilha Grande.

The drive was spectacular….towering mountains and blue sea.

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Originally, we had planned to stop for lunch before the ferry but Matt was feeling a little under the weather, so we didn’t stop, but headed straight for Angra dos Reis. Good thing I had loaded up on all that cake at breakfast.

Angra dos Reis was accessed by one single road from the highway that stretched down toward the beach. Everything in town was pretty much on this one road, so how hard could it be to find the ferry, right?

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“Do you know where it is?” Matt asked.

I didn’t….but I had a photo of the ferry and a picture of the ferry companies logo and name. Believe it or not, that did the trick. We simply drove along the harbor until we saw that sign. We pulled into the parking lot.

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A young man motioned for us to roll down the window, which we did.

“Ilha Grande?” he asked.

We nodded and he motioned for us to park.

When we got out of the car, we didn’t really know what to do. The young man came up to us with a clipboard and said something that sounded like, “Garbledy goo blah blah gibberish gibberish gibberish DIAS?”

Matt just looked at me. Like I knew Portuguese. Thanks, Matt.

“English?” I queried.

He shook his head. I shook my head. We were at an impass. He looked thoughtful for a moment, scratched his head, and then held up his fingers – one, two, then three and repeated “Dias?”

Ah ha! He was asking how many days. I held up three fingers. He nodded. He scratched his head again and then grabbed his clipboard. He wrote down “3 Dias...$60 Reis.” I understood. Parking and the ferry for 3 days was $60 reis (about $32). We handed him the money and headed for the ferry.

See! Who needs Portuguese!!

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Phase one of the trip was over and phase 2 would soon begin. Soon we would be on our way to the mysterious island of Ilha Grande. I had visions of a tropical oasis filled with orchids and monkeys, meanwhile, Matt was feeling worse by the moment and had visions of nothing more than a soft bed and some Advil for his aching head.

We settled in to wait for the ferry.

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Posted by vicki_h 08:22 Archived in Brazil Tagged south america brazil de rio janeiro Comments (2)

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