South America Tour – Rio de Janeiro, Brasil – Days 42 & 43

Day 42 & 43 – Rio grand finale

By Thursday, March 22 we were back in Rio for a final visit with family. In the morning we did some last minute shopping as it was raining heavily so no beach visit. Back at Luisa’s we had a superb send off lunch. Luisa made shrimp shoo shoo, Denise (cook) made aipim, breaded fried cauliflower, salad, rice and pork loin roast. Liana made banana meringue and a walnut cake (made dry then soaked in sugar syrup) for dessert. All amazingly good.

There were 12 of us; Mike & I, Derek & Marketa, Christina & Miguel, Luisa, Liana, Sylvie, Solange, and we finally met up with Angelina & Rogerio. Derek & Michael spoke with Rogerio about days past, especially motorcycles! But language was a bit of an issue. Angelina speaks no English, but there were enough bilinguals to help translate. We went through old photos, and photos of their daughter and granddaughter – both beautiful.

That evening we finally went for ice cream and I had my two fav new flavours; coco (coconut) and dolce de leche. After packing, we sat up late with Liana chatting.

On Friday we had our last amazing fruit breakfast where I loaded up on manga, mamao and bananas. We managed to escape with only a few tears for each good-bye. They were mostly mine, but Liana also – she is apparently known as ‘melted butter’ as she cries at everything including mass!. A taxi driver friend of Liana & family drove us to the airport with lots of time to spare. The ‘last call’ for our flight did catch us off guard however when it came 40 minutes before take off! No worries though as it was a pretty empty flight to Panama.

And so our South American tour wrapped up with lots of amazing photos, and many wonderful memories. Not to mention the successful escape of 6 weeks of Canadian winter!

South America Tour – Ihla Grande, Brasil – Days 39-41

Days 39 to 41 – Ihla Grande – a very grand island!

We had booked our stay on Ihla Grande, but not our transport. Luckily on Sunday night we managed to arrange for Simone’s daughter, who is an uber driver, to take us to the ferry at Jacarai. Once at Jacarai you are greeted by many tour operators fighting for your business. We managed to find a similar ferry service to our internet research, but with a better launch time. We were able to catch the 9am ferry as it was just about to leave and it only took about 20 minutes to get there. We were fully checked in to our pousada by 10am and left our bags to go exploring.

The main town was much larger than I expected. There are lots of pousadas, no surprise I suppose as the whole island is tourism based. There are no vehicles of any kind here (although we did see a couple of construction vehicles later). Everything is moved by boat and manpower – and it is mountainous; so lots of fit workers pushing huge carts loaded with supplies down (and up!) the streets.

We spotted lots of hummingbirds around our accommodations, but still no monkeys. Here the black and turkey vultures replace our raccoons at the garbage bins.

On Monday as we enjoyed a nice lunch on the beach, Derek took ill and had to leave. After a couple of rounds of the special antibiotics we had brought he was back with us by Tuesday morning fully functional. In the meantime, Mike & I opted for a hike. At about 3 pm we took what we thought was to be a 1 hr hike with about 200 m. elevation change to another beach. But google failed us – turns out it is a 3 hr hike one way! But we figured out early enough that we should turn back – when we had only gone 1/3 of the way and reached 2/3 of the elevation change. So we turned back for fear of darkness (& exhaustion!). In the evening Marketa, Mike & I checked out the town and had a nice, but expensive drink right on the beach. We were quite surprised to have the fee for the music which started 1/2 way in to our stay, added to our bill! For dinner we found a tapioca crepe house – good but not great.

Tuesday morning Derek was on the mend and after our pousada breakfast headed off to rent our snorkeling gear and head out on our ‘fast boat’ with 14 of us to check out the island. We visited Lagoa Azul first followed by Lagoa Verde. Both had decent snorkeling with verde having the advantage. Hopefully the go-pro videos turn out! The coral here was dull for the most part, and there were no anemone and few starfish. There were large patches of vibrant green coral though – hence the name.

The geography of island is interesting. The mountains are steep with large rocky outcrops. There are many inlets and bays all around with small sandy beaches. Most have people on them, on the mainland side at least. We didn’t have time to get around to the far-side which is more secluded and has finer sand. The sand here is quite coarse, almost like fine gravel at times. A huge cruise ship was in the bay today, and there were many transport ships moored in the bays also. We suspect they are avoiding docking fees in Rio while awaiting shipment / deliveries.

Our next stop was for lunch where we ordered beer and some patata frits to eat along with our store bought snacks. Then after passing through a very narrow channel with impressive driving by our “captain” we stopped at our last stop, Praya. As our tour was wrapping up the sky was starting to cloud and the water was murkier. I still managed to spot a sea turtle although there we less fish and coral here.

Once back on land, Derek & Marketa returned to eat the leftovers from the previous lunch which Derek had skipped, so Mike and I headed to eat alone. We found a nice place with a great deal. He had pan fried fish and fries, I had chicken both came with rice and beans and fadafa and we shared 4 caipirinhas – all for less than just our drinks the night before! And we had another coconut popsicle …. sooo good! Derek & Marketa caught up with us shopping in town, and then off for more drinks on the beach. More crabs on the beach again, but smaller ones this time. And we were treated to a lightning show over the ocean – very ominous looking!

We awoke to more thunderstorms and lots of rain. Very hot and humid – and we filled the time in the pool before one last meal in town which was excellent – fish with shrimp sauce on rice and salad. After a challenge getting wifi and arranging transport, we managed to figure it out. We learned that Maryana was not going to pick us up for the return trip as hoped. Luckily we made a deal with the ferry co. and after some stiff negotiating managed to come to an agreement on cost. It was comical how official he made it. He took the money from Derek and placed it in a sealed envelope. He then hand delivered us to the ferry with the envelope and a display made of the process. At the other end we were met and walked to the taxi by another guy; again all very formal; before being handed over to our driver.

Our driver was great. He made many stops for photo ops and pointed out highlights of the waterfalls and had stories of the Costa Verde. He was from Rio originally and worked at a TV station years ago. He showed us a photo of him on the arm of the Christo. He was doing a promo for tourism in the 90’s and wen up via fireman ladder inside and climbed up to exit at the arm. He also claimed to have met Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, and Lionel Ritchie. And in his youth, he lived 3 doors down from Ziko, the famous Brazilian team captain in the 80’s. His nickname was roughly translated to ‘hot chicken’.

And so we returned to Rio at the end of our last excursion.

South America Tour – Farm Stay, Brasil – Days 36-38

Days 36 to 38– Country Life Carioca Style

On Friday morning we rose and finished packing and were on the road by 9am. Miguel & Christina took Michael & I, and Derek & Marketa went with Carolina, Sylvia & Liana. The final road in was an adventure with many potholes but the deep ruts from the rain were the worst part. We bottomed out several times but both cars and Liana survived the drive.

The estate is amazing – quite the resort. There are 8 bedrooms with ensuite, with 1 supersized for the ‘teens’ with their own 2 bathrooms. There is also a large dining room, living room, upstairs a giant games room with TV / theatre section, billiards and card tables. Outside down the hill is the pool and pool house with full kitchen including BBQ and pizza oven, steam sauna, showers and more games room space for table tennis, as well as indoor and outside dining areas and seating sections. Further down the hill is the soccer pitch with the orchards and gardens all around. Several acres are carefully landscaped and groomed with plants brought in from around the world. The flowers are spectacular as the photos capture!

Saturday we took advantage of the farm and spent the day swimming, gaming, eating, drinking cerveza, eating, drinking caipirinhas, swimming, eating, and ATVing. I was given a lesson in brigadero making – 3@395g cans of sweetened condensed milk, 3 large heaping tablespoons of 50%cocoa powder (I bought some to bring home!), 1 tablespoon butter. Mix together then cook until it boils, turn down and stir constantly until it is thickened – 15 min at least – and forms “little mountains” and comes away from the edge of the pot. Xfer to a bowl and serve when cool. You can roll and coat with nuts or coconut. If you add cookies, use sweet arrowroot biscuits and add while it is still warm.

In the evening after a great BBQ dinner of beef and brigadero for dessert, we played “Big Slap” where Michael was surprisingly slow to react and loss quite convincingly!

On Sunday we took the ATV out again for a longer ride taking in views of the entire farm estate. Between Sat & Sun rides we traveled both the low and high roads, the bamboo groves, through the orchards, past the pond and stables and through the fields. It was cacqui harvest time and the workers were busy picking. The avocados, limon, mangos and other fruits were not in season unfortunately! Afterwards included more pool side fun and today Miguel managed to hook up some music and we sang and danced and exercised in rhythm. We were treated to some spectacular boodie dancing by Christina & Sylvia, and even Derek (aka Teodora in Czech) gave us a show.

Sunday evening after another marvelous meal of Gorgonzola spaghetti, pork tenderloin & salad we headed back to Rio. On the way we passed by the fa-vela where Mariana (the woman executed earlier in the week) came from.

Down to a few days remaining – but filling every minute with amazing times and great memories 🙂

South America Tour – Rio de Janeiro, Brasil – Day 35

Day 35 – Rio de Janeiro – A Whirlwind City Tour!

We ventured off to the city without any Cariocan’s on Thursday (with trepidation from them). After another early morning beach visit (swim for D&M, walk for Monty), we took the subway to the city while Luisa, Liana and Sylvie went to their pilates class. We exited near the cathedral and found it with little challenge. In true Brazilian style, it is exotic and unique; almost like a pyramid. The partner bell tower is equally unique. The cathedral is surprisingly large at the base so it seats many people – 5,000 with standing capacity of 20,000.

After the cathedral we walked around and noticed there were many people gathering at the city centre. Police were everywhere, as well as news reporters and TV cameras. Helicopters were circling overhead monitoring the crowds. We found out later that it was a mass demonstration because of the murder by police of a very popular black, favela born, bisexual, intelligent political woman. She had been speaking at an event and was chased for 4 km thru Rio for 15 min by police before being shot 5 times in the head, and her driver was killed also. The news was full of the event for the rest of our stay in Brazil – tragic story.

Downtown Rio is a mix of new and old architecture with many interesting buildings. There are views of the favelas all around. Nearby was the bibliotheque, but unfortunately it was closed for renovations. We found a local popular self serve lunch spot. I took a risk and had salad (no after effects!) Then off to the Museum of Modern Art – another modern building which was worthy of holding modern art!

There were several interesting pieces, including:
– photo exhibit of the building of Brasilia in the 1950’s
– early photos of Rio including the building of the Copacabana tunnel
– an exhibit by an artist who painted around nude model bodies in the 60’s
– a video ‘art’ of a tractor turning in a circle and creating a ring / circle with the scoop – 2 of them at different speeds (quite bizarre)
– and a whole section we could not figure out how to get to!

Back home by taxi by which time it was stinking hot – 46 we think we heard??? Another stop off for some more cachaca, and Derek & Marketa headed for an evening swim at Ipanema in the dark (had folks a bit nervous!).

I had promised to make waffles with fresh strawberries – so that was our late dinner before packing up for the farm stay starting on Friday. We also made reservations (finally) for our Ihla Grande stay for Mon & Tues nights (still need to firm up the trip there and back…but that’s for another day)

South America Tour – Rio de Janeiro, Brasil – Day 34

Day 34 – Rio de Janeiro – Still so much to do!

After another early morning beach visit, we joined Liana and Silvie for a visit to the Wednesday Copacabana market. It included a tour past the spot where the Ribiero home used to be – now a high-rise apartment against the tunnel. Visiting local markets is always an adventure, and this one did not disappoint! The tropical fruits seemed endless in variety – so many we have never seen in Canada. There were the identifiable jack fruit, lychee, passion fruit, pineapple, incredible tasting mangos, many varieties of bananas as well my recently learned of aipi, guarana and cashew fruit – but also many unknowns. Same in the veggie world – we bought some aipim and we were offered many taste samples including pimientos and spices. Then there were the fishes and meats – again many different fishes and cuts of beef and pork. The food booths were sooo tempting – we had tapioca pancakes with queso (I bought some flour to make them back home). Mike also managed to find his pastel – he had a carne but you can get many flavours of filling – sweet or savoury.

We returned to a massive lunch feast which Denese (the cook) had helped to prepare. Solange joined us for our lunch which included her favourite – gnocchi with tomato sauce, but we also had okra, milanese (both carne and frango), rice, a very yummy fedafa (I don’t say that often!), and a salad of grated carrots, diced beets with palm hearts and sweet corn. All were superb. Then another Brazilian favourite for dessert – quindim, probably the best I’ve had (sorry Marucia – but the ingredients here seem to make a difference!)

After our feast, the 4 of us tourists headed off by taxi to the botanical gardens. We timed to be there for sunset, and the gardens did not disappoint. Derek & Marketa and we decided to each take our own route in gardens as we had different interests and the gardens were huge. There were several highlights we found.

– The cactus display where we learned of genetic confluence. Seems there are several non-cacti that have evolved in parallel to cacti. The display included several ‘sister’ plants which looked very similar – they evolved independently under similar conditions in entirely different places. Natural selection led them to genetic confluence.
– The orchid house had samples from micro-orchids to giant ones.
– The beehives with tiny bees through ‘normal’ size bees.
– And the avenue of palm trees were not what you normally see in the Caribbean islands. Here they don’t get the cyclones/hurricanes/tornadoes which allows the trees to keep growing.
– Finally the bamboo circles with individual bamboo stalks of 8 inch diameter and incredibly high. Lots of mosquitos though…

Once again the Corcovado appeared through the clouds (not as photogenic this time, but just as impressive in person!)

Then the taxi home where we also stopped in for some grocery shopping to pick up some 50% cocoa 50%sugar power to try to make brigadiero back home..wish me luck on that!

South America Tour – Rio de Janeiro, Brasil – Day 33

Day 33 – Rio de Janeiro – Hot Hot Stuff!

Tuesday (March 13) was another stinking hot humid day in Rio. We awoke to cloud cover, and it started to rain just as Mike and I headed to the beach for a morning walk, although it never amounted to anything. Liana & Luisa headed for their pilates class with Silvie, and we headed off by taxi to Christina’s. They have a lovely apartment on the border between Botafogo and Flamenco. Luis Paulo and his wife are 2 floors up, and Christina certainly lets them take advantage of her cooking.

Christina took us for a tour of the new clinic Clinica Iosa where Luis Paulo and his wife will be practicing. The building has been very impressively renovated and spec’d out with 3 ultrasound rooms, 1 for mammogram and 1 for bone density along with offices and other associated rooms. Upstairs, using the beautiful original staircase, are additional doctor offices available for rent as well as the data centre and and office for L.P. Behind the building is another building with 3 pediatric rooms along with reception area. Above there is MORE space for administration including an office for Miguel. A very large and impressive setup – so wishing them all the very best in attaining new clients. It takes time, especially given the strict regulations regarding new doctors setting up their own practice and for health plans to accept them.

Then back to Christina’s for a wonderful salmon, salad, and potatoes lunch with an amazing passion fruit mousse dessert (maracuja, whipping cream, sweetened condensed milk in a blender and then freeze). All followed by cheese with mangada jam – very nice and soft (from a jar, not block).

Christina pulled out the old photo albums from her year in Canada, along with young photos of L.P., Carol and the rest of the family. We also learned of Miguel’s viral encephalitis in 1999/2000 when he was in a coma for 2 weeks. He made a miraculous recovery which is almost unheard of; it took several months but he fully recovered with no long term effects.

Christina dropped us off at the base of Pao de Azucar where the 4 of us (Derek & Marketa, Mike & Audrey) hiked up the first mountain (220m), but we sadly did not see any monkeys, probably because it was dusk by then. The weather started to clear, but it clouded again as we climbed. It was a good hike up – but not as rustic as 2 years ago when Mike and Derek last climbed it – they have now installed steps on the steepest parts! We joined the ‘normal folks’ and took the funicular to the top (climbing not an option). The views were spectacular from every perspective. The Rio bay with it’s the volcanic mountains rising from the ocean, and sandy beaches on endless coves all around protected by the bay.

When we arrived the cloud cover was quite dense, so the Christo was not visible. For just a couple of instances, the clouds cleared and the Christ appeared hovering in the clouds – awe inspiring.

Then back down all the way via funicular and a taxi home with more food and baccita’s and another shower before packing it in after another fun filled day spent drenched in sweat.

South America Tour – Rio de Janeiro, Brasil – Day 32

Day 32 – Rio de Janeiro – Lazy dayz!

Monday morning after the party we were a bit slower to get going and with no preset plans we planned on the fly. We headed to Leblon for some shopping in the morning. We managed to finally get the beach paddle sets that Michael has wanted for years. I also found a nice pair of sandals from a company out of Rio who make all their own shoes.

Toniko again treated us to lunch – this time Brasilian jerk beef. It is marinated dried beef with onion, fennel, salt, pepper, balsamic, olive oil and parsley. Liana made fried cassava to have with it along with the standard rice and beans (feijao).

After lunch we headed off to the beach to catch the sunset over the 2 brothers from the end of Copa Cabana beach near Ipanema beach. It is obviously a favourite spot with many people out to watch the sunset on a beautiful evening. Mike even ventured with his camera and we survived quite well.

After sunset we taxied to the Universidade de Cachaca where we had many delicacies – cachaca of course but also feijao with bacon and parsley, cassava con queso, a layered dish with beans and beef and more cachaca… We bought a bottle to take home also.

I see caipirinha’s in our future…..

South America Tour – Rio de Janeiro, Brasil – Day 31

Day 31 – Rio de Janeiro – Time to party!

On Sunday Mike rose early to go shopping with Liana. Carolina had stayed over at Philipe and Derek and Marketa headed to the beach – so I slept in! Luisa and I had a leisurely breakfast and when everyone returned, we were joined by Miguel. The 4 of us non-Brasilians headed for a bike ride around the Lagoa with Miguel – we rented from a real person rather than the lock-up ones, and started off with our mandatory coco-water with the toucan and parrot accompaniment.

We all had a good appetite ready for another round of bacalao, which seemed even better the second day! Then off for a siesta prior to the final party prep. By 6 pm the Samba band were arriving and the guests quickly followed. It was the best party in true Brasilian fashion – with 8-10 musicians performing classic samba songs. Everyone singing along, and everyone danced. The tambourine player kept the party moving with samba lines and lots of circle dances.

Lots of new faces in addition to the familiar – Solanje and her daughters Taissa and Tatiana along with their young daughters joined us, Luisa’s whole family line including Louis Paulo and his wife, friends from the building, friends from the ‘tree saving’ committee and many from the theatre groups that Silvie is part of. We were treated to some impromptu dance recitals by Tatia and some of the band members (all amazing dancers!) I think the band were very impressed with Tatia and were perhaps even keen on her being their ‘flag bearer’ for next carnival!

So we had great music and dance and Toniko made sure we had great drinks! In addition to lots of cerveza, coke, water and guarana, Toniko made about 90 caipirinhas. Considering there were about 30 of us, and many didn’t drink them, that’s a pretty high per capita count! And of course there was food! Liana and Christina had gone all out with lots of sandwiches, salads and small foods – so snacking was constant.

Eventually when everyone left and the place put back in order, it was off to bed, with ‘Bali bali bali bali BALI …..bali bali bali bali…’ still playing in my head.

South America Tour – Rio de Janeiro, Brasil – Days 29 & 30

Days 29 & 30 – Rio de Janeiro – Family reunion time – the gangs all here!

So here we are at the culminating location of our trip. Liana and Silvinia picked us up at the airport with a driver (doorman from Silvies apartment) with no complications. It was dark and rainy when we arrived – which apparently was a good thing as the trip from the airport is less than desirable. We of course spoke right off about the violence – and as per Liana “I can NEVER relax” which became our catch phrase for the visit – for 2 weeks I need to stay constantly alert!

At the apartment we met Luisa and Carolina as well as Lola (Michaels pal) and Dodinia (the 15 year old almost blind adopted dog) and we all stayed up till 1 am chatting and catching up.
We were all up and breakfasted at 8 am and Liana was out shopping for the big party on Sunday. Since it is so unsafe, the family here decided that rather than going out to Samba, it would be safer to hire the group to come and perform for us here. We are being spoiled! There are 5 bottles of cachaca lined up for caipirinhas – should help with the dancing…

Silvie came over after breakfast and we went with her and Liana and the dogs for a quick walk, then brought the dogs back and went for a longer walk along Copa Cabana. We even managed to carefully sneak in some photos despite their nervousness of having a camera or cell phone out and visible. Mike joined Liana to drop Carolina off at school. Solange and Christina along with Cookie and Zelda joined us for lunch, and even Toniko (Silvie’s husband) was able to come. We had an impressive meal with shrimp casserole, several salads, dessert by Liana – a sweet milk custard with caramel sauce – excellent, and mango ice cream which Solange brought.

As is usual with the Brasilians, we chattered away all afternoon and eventually Miguel (Christina’s husband) joined us after his work. We packed it in a bit earlier today as Derek & Marketa arrive early in the morning.

Saturday (March 10) we rose early early to join Liana and Silvie to walk the dogs at the lagoa. We bought our coconut water from ‘moustache’ man and Mike & I took a bit longer walk before we all headed back to meet up with Derek & Marketa arriving with Miguel and Christina from the airport.

Derek & Marketa wanted to head to the beach right away, so back we came and this time I had some maracuja (passion fruit) juice – so wonderful! While the rest stayed at the beach, Mike & I headed to buy some shoes. I found a couple of real deals, one fun pair and one nicer pair. Nothing of exceptional quality, so still hoping to find more for both Mike & I. Solanje and Carolina will be able to direct us for shopping!

We met up with Carolina on our walk back, and Solanje joined us for lunch with a selection of fancy Batidas. Our afternoon was spent sampling coconut and peanut batidas along with slivovitz from Marketa, a selection of beers and portuguese wine – Dao from Michel. Another exceptional lunch – this time Toniko treated us to bacalao. It was unlike any other I have tried. He double soaks and boils the dried cod if it salted – otherwise he boils/drains it once. He uses parmigiana reggiano in his bechamel sauce. It was served with rice and toasted almonds, and again several salads and for dessert another Liana specialty – this time a chocolate pudding with mango ice cream.

And another evening of chatting while looking at old photos. We managed to skype with George and Marucia which was fun with us all here. But to bed now – Derek & Marketa need to time shift, and tomorrow will be busy with the party!!!

South America Tour – Iguacu Falls, Brasil – Day 28

Day 28 – Iguazu, Brasil side – the Centrepiece Highlight of our trip!

We had some time to kill poolside awaiting our tour – one last chance to tour the gardens and admire the butterflies and enormous bees. I image it would be phenomenal during orchid season! Our pick up wasn’t until about 1:30pm, and we were both feeling less than 100% – the heat is exhausting.

We had been told that the Brasilian side of Iguacu Falls was less impressive – but we did not find that to be true! Manuel picked us up and transported us across the border in to Brasil – he is just starting English speaking tours and we were the only ones on the tour which was fantastic. Our only complaint about the tour has been the extra baggage charges – today was about $40 for our bags to get from Iguacu to Rio.

Today we saw the ’88’ butterfly (see photo and it’s clear where it’s name comes from), ants that live in trees which actually helps the tree; the ants benefit from the extreme acidic fruit that burns even concrete as well as the soil around the tree. The fruit will kill any bird that eats it, so the ants are safe from predators.

The falls on the Brasilian side were a great surprise. As we were alone on the tour, Manuel let us go at our own pace so Monty could take photos at his leisure – our only restriction our evening flight to Rio. All along the trek were more spectacular views of the falls – this time they were mostly across the river rather than walking over and among them as on the Argentinian side. We got very wet at the base of Devils Throat where you walk out on a boardwalk into the base of the falls. Again the human construction efforts are extremely impressive.

While transporting we had lots of conversation with Manuel about the culture around Iguacu where the 3 countries of Brasil, Argentina and Paraguay meet. There are villages on every bank where the 2 rivers merge where the Spanish, Portuguese and original native languages have merged into unique languages in each village. The result is over 10 unique languages in this small area. People around here cross borders regularly – they buy wine and beef in Argentina; groceries, car parts and some clothing in Brasil; and electronics and some brand name clothing in Paraguay. There are no restrictions on travel or the amount of import per person – and they don’t even need a passport if just going for the day.

And our trip to Iguacu wrapped up as we sat in the airport awaiting our flight to Rio – the next round of excitement about to begin!