Monday, May 23, 2016

Rio!

Rio scared me.
From what little I knew of the city, it seemed like the polar opposite of what I grew up with. In Minnesota we don't shake our big booties on the beach, we don't kiss strangers on both cheeks upon meeting, and our ideas of carnival are slightly different.
Left: Rio's Carnaval                                     Right: St. Paul's Winter Carnival
Thanks despicabledee.blogspot.com for the photo

But wow. What a city! The geography for a major city is unparalleled. Venice has its canals and Stockholm its archipelago, but Rio has ocean and mountains and lakes and beaches and jungles all butting up to each other like dancers at a saucy nightclub.

It was rainy my first few days here so I hit some museums and rented a bicycle from my hostel to bike around and introduce myself to the city.

You've probably heard of the two famous beaches, maybe the most famous in the world -- Copacabana and Ipanema. Copacabana is almost 3 miles long and Ipanema a little shorter.
Copacabana beach

Ipanema Beach

They inspire song, most famously by Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim. Here's me and him hanging out waiting for the Girl from Ipanema to walk by. Dark and tan and young and lovely...

Then I biked to this beautiful botanical garden.

After three days the weather finally cleared up enough. I had seen hang gliding and paragliding advertised at several places in Chile and Argentina. But I knew if I was going to do this I wanted to do it over Rio. It turned out to be an excellent choice. Here is a shot of the runway I ran down with my pilot/guide Roberto to launch over the city.

Despite the deer in the headlights look, this was all very professionally run and I felt completely safe. That's Roberto in the helmet clipping me in and checking for safety.

Hell yeah.
The flight lasted about 10 minutes and was great. We landed smoothly down on a beach after soaring with the birds.

Another famous landmark in Rio is the big Jesus statue up on one of the hills that you've likely seen in photos. We like to call him Unsportsmanlike Jesus in reference to the Touchdown Jesus that graces the University of Notre Dame. Jesus makes more sense to many of us when compared to a referee in American Football. Touchdown Jesus has his hands up in the air like he's signaling a touchdown. Unsportsmanlike Jesus has them spread out to the side like he's an NFL referee signaling an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Here Jesus is being worshiped by throngs of citizens who praise him by taking selfies with pouty faces that they think make them look sexy when they share them with friends online.

On the right of this photo you can barely see Unsportsmanlike Jesus on top of the mountain in the background. This photo was taken from Sugar Loaf, one of the other popular Rio mountains that you can visit. I hiked up Corcovado to see Unsportsmanlike Jesus, but rode a tram up Sugar Loaf.

Sugar Loaf is a wonderful spot in a charming neighborhood. I spent the day around here yesterday first walking around the neighborhood, then going for a swim at a little beach, then hanging out up on Sugar Loaf for a few hours admiring all the amazing views and waiting to watch the sun set.



What's Next
Tomorrow I bid farewell to Rio and I leave with a love for this city that I did not expect to achieve. It really is a special place. Perhaps I will actually come back for Carnaval some year.

Next week I'll be in Costa Rica and then it's back to Peru. Plan is to work my up Peru, then hit the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, then spend maybe 2 months or more in Colombia. I've been traveling now for 6 months and am getting ready to chill out in one place for a month or more again.

And I had an interview for a job in Antarctica, so that's a possibility for October through February. 



Friday, May 20, 2016

Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil

The hamlet of Vale do Capao, Brazil sits cradled inside a western arm of Chapada Diamantina National Park. 2,000 people live there, most of them hippies and environmentalists and tour guides for the park. 

The park was created in 1985 when an American fought to save this gorgeous land from resource development. It has many trails, but few signs so guides are necessary to find some of the most incredible waterfalls and caves and swimming holes.

One of the business owners in Vale do Capao is Sylvia. Sylvia lived in Mankato, MN from 1975-85 and said she had yet to meet a Minnesotan visiting her lovely hostel. She helped arrange my hikes and tours, based on the fact that it is the low water season so some of the waterfalls are less impressive than others.


For instance, this is the highest waterfall in Brazil. It tumbles 1,400' over this ledge down to the valley floor below. But it holds no water right now as the river is only flowing after rain. It has barely rained in the past 3 months.



 Chapada Diamantina National Park used to be full of diamond mines. But the diamonds they could excavate were of lower and lower quality and not worthy of an international market. The park is still full of caves, however. This is Alice, Jiselle & Justin who joined me on a cave tour one day. Alice is from London. She's here visiting Jiselle who is from London but now living in Rio. Justin is from Lithuania.


This next picture is a lie. I used photo filters to gain the same image that I had seen on all the posters. 
 It is a cave where at certain times of the day (and the year) the sun shines in to the crystal clear water. There is no swimming in this pool because any disturbance would stir up the long-settled sediment and ruin the view. In reality, the extra blue glow in the pool was barely visible. But through the process I learned how they make marketing photos.


This is me falling backwards off a cliff and nearly dying.
Kidding, of course. I'm floating in clear water that is actually 50' deep. This is another pool with a beam of light shooting into it (see glow to the right of the frame). We were able to snorkel in this one which was super cool.

A small sampling of beautiful flowers I've seen along the way...


What's Next
I'm writing this from Rio de Janeiro and it's a phenomenal city. I wasn't sure what I would think of it, but I'm very impressed. More to share later.

Next week I'm excited to shoot up to Costa Rica to meet two college buddies, John & Mitch. It'll be great to hang out with longtime friends. 


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Photo Dump: Amazon + Salvador, Brazil

I spent a few more days in the Amazon in Tres Fronteras region -- the border where Peru, Colombia and Brazil all come together along the Amazon river. 

It's not that easy to see animals in the wild, even though there are many. I opted to take a day tour, but part of it felt like a petting zoo. It was a little sad, but still fun to get to interact with some animals.

At Monkey Island
 No, I didn't get pooped on, but a lady next to me did.

Sloths!
The real one on the right was quite cute and cuddly. I didn't get quite as intimate with the one on the left, but I'm sure he/she is a wonderful creature, also.

Here's one of Pablo Escobar's old cocaine planes. Colombia has done a fantastic job of cleaning up the drug criminals. They're not totally wiped out, but are much more passive and no longer active in any of the main cities.

A typical eatery in the region. Lots of fried food around here.

Rush hour on the Amazon river.

This bird welcomed our group to Puerto Narino, Colombia. It is a super cool little village on the Amazon that's pedestrians only. Very charming. Wish I spent more time there. This bird escorted our group for about 1/4 mile as we walked into town from the boat. It would fly ahead 100' then wait for us. Then fly ahead again.

Then I flew to Salvador, Brazil. Salvador is considered the African heart and soul of Brazil. It is where more than 4 million slaves were brought. For comparison, the United States received 500,000 slaves.

It is a city of almost 3 million people on a peninsula jutting south into the Atlantic ocean.

Here's a shot of one of the beach areas. My hostel for $11/night was 2 blocks away from the beach here.

The Pelourinho neighborhood is the classic central part of the city, full of gorgeous colonial architecture and cobblestone streets.

This is the plaza where they auctioned off more than 4 million slaves...

Lots of music at night and pretty much all the seating for the many bars is right out on the streets.

Ridiculous waste of money by the Catholic church -- gold leaf covers 99% of the interior of this church and was applied by slaves. Felt much more evil than god-like to me.

View of Salvador from across the bay during rain and fog.

There are many old forts around the city and the nearby coastline. They were built by the Portugeuse who settled here in the 16th century. In about 1825 the Brazilians revolted and took control of their country. This is the first lighthouse built in South America.

What's Next
Tomorrow morning I leave for a week in Chapada Diamantina National Park. It is about a 6 or 7 hour bus ride from here and is supposed to be full of amazing hikes -- canyons, caves, waterfalls. I should have more good pics and stories to share when I get back.