Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rio Getaway -- Paraty, Brazil

A four hour bus ride west of Rio brings one to Paraty, Brazil. It is an old colonial town that first boomed due to gold, then coffee. Now it's main business is tourism.

Debora and I were there last weekend and it's a lovely, charming town that's great for a weekend. It's quite photogenic, too.

In one sense it's very walkable -- no motorized vehicles are allowed in the historic part of town. But the cobblestones are large and old and it can be dangerous to take one's eyes off of one's next step, lest one turn an ankle.

This house is owned by the Brazilian royal family. I didn't realize Brazil had a royal family, but when it was run by the Portugeuse it had an emperor until the mid-19th century. They switched to a democracy, but the lineage of the royal family lives on. They have zero power and are not in the tabloids like in the UK, but they are still quite wealthy and are apparently trying to regain the throne.

Rusty bicycle still in use

On Saturday we went on a jeep tour to visit four waterfalls and two cachaca distilleries. Cachaca is the national hooch that they make from sugar cane. It is the basis for the caipirinha, my new favorite summertime cocktail. Here's our tour guide showing us a distillery. They grow the sugar cane right outside this building.

Some monkeys were hanging out near one of the waterfalls. Note the long tail and crazy white plumes of hair on its head. Kind of an Einstein look.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Rio Getaway - Niteroi & Itacoatiara

Rio de Janeiro sits at the mouth of Guanabara Bay and Ipanema beach faces south on the Atlantic ocean. Directly east across the bay from downtown Rio sits the city of Niteroi. It is full of towering beach condos, just like Rio, and has the added benefit of enjoying a beautiful view of Rio. Beyond Niteroi are many more beaches separated by jutting mountains that rise several hundred feed above the sand.

Some of these beaches access relatively clean water and some of them look just as beautiful but are never used because the water is too polluted. During the 2016 Olympics you will hear a lot about the polluted water conditions here. It's quite sad. Rio has this amazing resource of beaches and ocean, but they've been pouring sewage directly into it for years and the health hazard is now quite high. It's weird to see these huge, long, beautiful beaches right in the city with zero people using them.

Last week Debora and I took a few days to visit friends of hers who own a Bed & Breakfast in the charming beach community of Itacoatiara. The scenic route took us about 90 minutes to drive in light traffic from Ipanema (the blue dot on the map) to the red pin placed at Itacoatiara.

Niteroi, Brazil

Me enjoying the view of Niteroi from the plaza of the contemporary art museum.

Debora and I outside the museum

The surf was quite strong and turbulent when we arrived at Itacoatiara. I've seen bigger waves before (north shore of Oahu, Hawaii), but have never seen waves this intense. I felt like I could have sat and watched/listened to them all day long. This photo is Itacoatiara beach. You can hike to the top of the mountain or rock formation on the right.

Here's a photo from on top of that mountain/rock formation. Just as I got up there this paraglider was getting ready to take off. That's Itacoatiara beach below.

It was a chill coupla days for Debora and I -- lounging at the beach, walking along the beach, checking out a couple other beaches nearby, and hanging out with our wonderful hosts, Laura and Rodrigo. Alas, I forgot to get a photo of them or their nice B&B. This is the next beach over, a fishing beach.

Beyond the fishing beach is another beach that's more built up with fancy houses and small beach-side restaurants. It was also very enjoyable to walk along and just sit and watch the waves roll in. Does it ever get old to stare at the surf?

Tomorrow Debora and I are heading for another weekend getaway, this time to Paraty, Brazil. Paraty is a cool, colonial city four hours from Rio by bus. 
And in two weeks the Olympics will be here. I have tickets for table tennis and track & field (the day when they do the 4x100 finals for both men and women). Once the schedules come out and I know what teams are actually playing on what days, I'll probably also go see some volleyball and maybe some cycling. It turns out I'm really not that interested in the actual contests of the summer games. Winter Olympics are more my style and I had the pleasure of witnessing them in Salt Lake City in 2002. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

One Night in Rio: Bip Bip

There were only six chairs in the tiny establishment, each filled by one of the six women playing music -- two acoustic guitars, two tambourines, one bongo drum and one Garfunkel. They were playing mellow Brazilian samba songs which I didn't know, but enjoyed. After a song the people listening snapped their fingers to show their appreciation. Do the neighbors get pissed if there's too much noise? That would seem odd for Rio.

If you wanted to listen you grabbed a chair outside or stood on the sidewalk (the empty chair you see on the right of the photo was, along with me, on the sidewalk). The musicians didn't give a shit if there were people there or not, never looking out at the audience of 10-20 people while I was there. They were there for themselves. They were there for the music.

If you wanted a beer, you could help yourself to the selection of five different local swill brews in the fridge back behind the counter. Just make sure to let the owner know -- he's the chubby short guy with the grey beard and the unbuttoned shirt sitting just outside the bar next to the adding machine and the baskets of change.

I paid three dollars for two cans of beer and one hour of sweet music in a kickass local setting. I guess this sorta thing happens at the Bip Bip most weekend nights. I shall return.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Rio Redux

If you've been following along with my travels in South America than you may remember that I visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil back in May. 

Well, I'm back in Rio for the next couple months, and not just for the caipirinhas or the Olympics.

I'm back for a girl. We met the last night I was here in May and only had time for a few drinks. But we really hit it off and now I'm back so we can get to know each other a little better (if you know what I mean). She's smart and funny and beautiful, just like me. 

Last week we spent three nights down at Ilha Grande, an island a few hours southwest of Rio. It's a fun getaway island that has one small town with sand streets and maybe 1,000 residents. There are nice hiking trails that climb over the mountainous interior to beaches and waterfalls.

Me at the beach after a few caipirinhas:

Me at the waterfall, eagerly anticipating my next caipirinha:

Debora, my new special lady friend, at happy hour one afternoon:

My plan right now is to stay in Rio with Debora at her condo near famous Ipanema beach through the Olympics in August. Then I'll go back to travel in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia for a few months and we'll connect again for a time either back in Rio or maybe she will join me elsewhere. We shall see.

Obligatory "Girl from Ipanema" reference