Travel Journal

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil I certainly can’t blame it on myself!

(Friday 18 March 2011) by Mike and Julie's sort of round the world trip
Day 208-15 3/3-10/11
The next morning I went to the long distance bus station and was happy to see a bus to Niteroi which would have to be quicker than getting a bus to Rio and then making my way over to the hotel so I bought tickets which seemed rather pricey. I realized when I got on the bus that these were the luxury seat in the front of the bus – like a first class seat on an airline. I’ll have to be carefully in the future and cut back on my costs. The bus didn’t leave until 10:30 and made its way north through the rain. We dropped off some passengers at Rio and then went across the long bridge that connects both sides of the bay and we arrived about five. Not having time to fool around I jumped in a cab and $14 later arrived at the hotel Solor do Amanhecer.
The hotel is a very nice place with internet, breakfast buffet, sauna, swimming pool and other amenities. It should be for the price I paid but I needed a place to stay for carnival and there was little left when I tried booking a few months ago.
The next morning I caught the ferry across the street for Rio for $6. I decided to visit Paqueta Island which was featured on the amazing race. I spent some time looking for the ferry when it was just a couple of buildings away from where I arrived. I caught the 10:30 ferry to the island but began to be concern on the journey when I remembered the departure times. I think there is only one ferry in service and I had to be back to pick up my Samba tickets at 4:20. It was almost an hour and a half ride to the island and I discovered the hydrofoil service was not running this time of the year so I would have to catch the 3 PM ferry back. Oh well…
I got to kiss Fat Maria, the big old tree on the island and visit the hotel where the race had to pick up a clue. The rest of the time I just wondered around the island. It’s very beautiful but very hot and humid. There are plenty of fat women walking around wearing little and even fatter men wearing less. Kind of ruined the view.
The ferry back made good time and I opted for a cab to try and make the pickup. It was another $14 misjudgment penalty but I arrived about 15 minutes late but got my pass. I took the subway back to the docks and got on a ferry bound to Niteroi but this landed at the North ferry terminal but only cost $1.40 but I had no idea how to get back to the hotel. Another taxi ride later delivered me to the hotel but it had ended up being a costly day. Talking to the receptionist I found out which ferry went to the one across the street. It only ran on weekdays though but I found out which buses to take from the North terminal to get to and from the hotel. Also, there was no letter yet with the ATM card so I sent an email to Chona to get the tracking number.
The next day I headed back across the bay with a ferry full of partiers. It was about nine AM but the beer was flowing and the local denizens were wearing costumes. The ferry crowd surged out into the streets which already crowded. There were some small parades here and there. I wandered around soaking up the atmosphere and dodging the light rain by popping into stores and small cafes. Most of the businesses were closed, I’m not sure if this was permanent, because it was the weekend or because of Carnival. The hunt for an IPod was a complete failure as no electronic shop carried them and I later found out that Brazil is the second worst place to purchase one. Argentina, my next stop, is the third. Also I tried to find an ATM but most banks were boarded up and out of business – not a good sign for the economy here. I later found an ATM at the ferry station but there was a hefty surcharge to use it so I passed.
The streets became more crowded and I got flashbacks of the Tomato Festival in Spain when drunken people began to push others squeezing them against the wall. I must admit I lost my temper and began shoving back and clutching the pocket I had money in until I got out of the more crowded streets. I guess I’m getting too old for this scene. New Year’s Eve at Copacabana is on my bucket list but I have decided to scratch it off. I called it a day and returned to the hotel and took a nap to prepare for the Samba Parade the following night.
There was still no sign of the letter and checking the tracking info that Chona sent, I found it arrived yesterday and was being processed by Brazilian customs. I did some work on the journal and lounged around until going to sleep late.
Sunday found me sleeping late as the Samba Parade began at nine and finishes around five AM. I took the ferry across intending to visit Cristo Rendentor but the weather was not very accommodating. There was light rain and heavy clouds so I decided to put the trip off for a day. I walked the city and to tell the truth, I was not terribly impressed. It’s very run down, many stores are out of business, homeless people everywhere, trash strewn about, there is a lot of work needed here. I saw some floats on the street that I suddenly realized was for the Samba Parade and not just for some smaller, local parade as they were quite elaborate. I had not gotten my hopes up for the Parade as the weather was not ideal, my previous experience with the crowds, and the news that three schools had fires recently which had destroyed much of their costumes and parade items.
I had found my way to my section, which actually is a good section as it was at the end of the route but my seat horrible in that it was in the last row. The place is huge; I would guess the route covers a couple kilometers with huge, permanent stands all along the way. I’m not sure what else they use this for but the place is massive. Each school has about one hour and fifteen minutes to traverse the route and they stop every so often so people can view the floats and dancing and special effects. The Samba song the school picked would start up and loop with minor variations during the set but because I was at the end, I would not see anything for a half an hour as the school progressed down the street. I really did not know what to expect, maybe a float or two from each school and a lot of people in costumes walking on the street. There are literally hundreds of people involved for each school and dozens of elaborate floats. I was too far back to appreciate the people dancing in costumes but many exited behind me still wearing the costumes and some even went into the stand posing for pictures with the spectators. Some would even give part of their costumes to the onlookers who proudly wore their spoils. This event totally changed my opinion of Rio. I would come back ONLY to see this again. It was spectacular! There’s no way I could post all of the photos I took but here’s a small sample.
It had remained blissfully dry during the parade but it started to sprinkle around four and with only one more school to appear, I decided to call it quits as I was quite tired. Normally you’d be insane or shortly dead or much poorer if you walked around Rio at this time of the morning. But the subways were working for Carnival and there was a strong police presence. Still it was a bit nerve wracking and I took a long way back to the ferry dock sticking to major streets. I endured the ferry ride and bus trip with drunk and loud youths but they were having a good time and didn’t really bother anyone. Arriving back at the hotel, I showered and went downstairs as the breakfast was just starting. I wolfed down several plates of food before going to sleep.
My room was only booked through Sunday night but I had extended it another day to get the ATM card. The alarm got up around eleven and I headed out determined to see Cristo Redentor no matter what. The guidebook had given me four buses that would get me there so I felt pretty confident I could get there via public transportation. The problem is there are over a thousand bus lines running in the city so they don’t bother posting the lines at the stops. Also, because there are still streets closed for carnival, many of the lines are running on detours. Locals that actually speak English just shrug and say the bus I want should be over there but they are not sure with the holiday routes. After a couple hours of looking I was ready to hail a taxi when I happened to catch the district I wanted on a bus that was not in the guidebook so I took a chance and jumped on board hoping for the best. I was in luck as the bus actually stopped in front on the trolley that goes up the mountain. A young girl tried to tell me that the trolleys were booked until four but I just shrugged her off thinking she worked for the vans that offer alternate transportation up the mountain. It turns out she was right. When I finally got to the ticket booth through a long line, the attendant said “The next available trolley is at 4:20, it’s raining at the top, there is no visibility, and the escalators are not working.” She smiled when I asked, “But other than that, everything is good, right?” I bought the ticket and got something to eat while I waited the two hours for my reservation.
I took a few photos at the top but the visibility as advertised was poor. I could just make out the face but I doubt they show up on these photos. Perhaps when I return with Julie for a future Samba Parade (oh yes, Julie you will go) we can try this again.
Returning back to the hotel, I found out the ATM card still hadn’t arrived. Goggling this predicament got me very concerned. I found out the USPS doesn’t have an office here to expedite customs like other carriers and there were horror stories about items taking months to clear customs. Rot Roh. Well I certainly could afford to keep staying at this hotel. Nearby was the Sundown Hotel which had quite reasonable prices posted outside. I’ll have to transfer my flag the following day. I had finally found an ATM at the Niteroi bus station and replenished my Real’s stash and also found a bus for Foz de Ignacio so I should be set.
The next day I checked out at noon and with no sign of the ATM walked over to the Sundown Hotel. No one there spoke English but I booked a room for two nights at less than half the cost of my previous hotel. Entering my room, I was rather surprised by the adult offerings both on the TV and the placard by the bed. So it was that kind of hotel, eh.
The next morning I decided to visit the contemporary art museum at Niteroi. The locals are rather proud of it and for good reason as architecturally it is a magnificent building. It’s shaped as an elevated saucer with a reflecting pool at the bottom and a great view of Rio. The art inside is a hit or miss collection. I got more out of viewing the viewers than the art. I think there are two types of people that visit modern art galleries: Those that scoff and say they could do better than the artist and those that want to appear intellectual and have long discussions interpreting the pieces. I find one or two pieces that appealing to me and usually hate the rest.
I return back to the hotel in no rush and planned to amble over to my first hotel to check on the mail but the staff in the “love” hotel was in a thither. Seems I only paid for one night not two like I requested. They showed me the rate on the sign and I suppose I was looking at the hourly rate and they were right so I quickly checked out taking another huge hit to my budget. Still no sign of the letter at the first hotel so I caught a bus and went to a cheap hotel near the bus station and got a room for 2 nights for $50. That’s my kind of budget.
I headed out the next day to see Sugar Loaf Mountain but it was raining so I cancelled the trip not wanting a repeat of Cristo Rendentor. Checking back at the first hotel, there was nothing for me. Reading the guide book, I saw a boxed text on the open air art gallery called Inhotim near Belo Horizonte which was about a seven hour bus ride out of Rio. I was bored so why not? I got bus tickets but the earliest one was four PM. If I was lucky, my ATM card would arrive; I’d make my little detour and head on down south instead of returning to Rio.
The next day my check at the hotel was fruitless so it looked liked I’d be coming back to Rio after all. I picked up my bags I had left at the luggage storage at the bus station and boarded my bus to Belo.

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