Rio – A Challenge But Worth It

Our truck is not really suited to big cities. Driving is a challenge with all the traffic and it is difficult for us to find places to park and stay for the night. We had been to Rio before but we were keen to visit again so we did what we always do before driving into a city. We came up with a plan and researched possible places to park and to drive to. In this case we had plan A (a marina), plan B (a parking spot for the truck in the centre), plan C ( hopefully a hotel with a large enough parking lot) and plan D (a campsite 35 kms out of town).

As the first few options were right in the centre of Rio we had to take the plunge and drive in. The roads were not too bad but I am not sure we obeyed all the driving rules. Certainly we drove down a number of roads that were marked as only been for buses and taxis. When we arrived at the marina they said we were too big and could not stay but they directed us to the truck park (plan B) a short distance away. Unfortunately when we got there they were full. In addition the car park attendant was rude and unhelpful. As stress levels were rising he got a real earful from me.

We realised that there was very unlikely to be hotels with big enough parking so very despondently we set off out of town to find the campsite. The drive through the city though did have it’s upsides. We saw all the sights and even drove the truck down the side of Copacabana Beach. The drive out of the city was jammed and it took us over 2 hours to cover the 35kms to the campsite.

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We checked in at the campsite with a view to booking a hotel and heading back into Rio the next day, leaving the truck safely outside the city. To our dismay when going on the Internet to try and book something nothing was available. We later learnt that the following day was a holiday and a long weekend. That might also have explained all the traffic leaving the city. Eventually we booked a small apartment between Copacabana and Ipanema beach.

The next day we headed back into the city. With the Olympics been in Rio in 2016 there is lots of development going on including a rapid bus transport system. Unfortunately this only went half way into the city so we had to jump on a normal bus for the remainder of the way.

On the way in one thing that concerned us with booking an apartment over the Internet was how did we get the keys. At least we had the telephone number of the owners so when we arrived we rang them. As you know our Portuguese is not up to much and the owner did not speak English. The bit I could understand though was that there was a problem and we needed to ring Booking.com. We rang them and they explained the apartment had been double booked. Oh no!! But to be fair Booking.com were great. They said they had another larger apartment for us right in the heart of Ipanema only 10 minutes walk away. So off we trooped and at last got settled.

The location was fantastic, right in the heart of Ipanema. As it was a holiday there was a nice buzz on the street with people chilling in bars and restaurants. We were close to the beach and many people were going to or from the beach. Things are very relaxed as even 3 roads back from the beach in the shopping district people were walking around just in their swim wear and flip flops.

We took a long walk along Ipanema Beach and then Copacabana Beach stopping for refreshment along the way to enjoy the view.

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We then headed up Pao de Azucar for sunset. From there you can see just how beautiful the setting of the city is.

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The next day we headed up to Christ the Redeemer, the large statue overlooking Rio that you can see from all over, including our apartment window. We had heard it was busy and when we got to the station at the bottom we were told the first train we would be able to get on was in 5 hours time. We were not too bothered as we had been up on the train before so instead jumped in a minibus for the ride to the top. When we got there though here was a massive queue to get into the piece of the park with the statue. We asked a guide how long he thought it would take to get in and he said 3 hours. As much as that would be standing in the midday sun and as we had been there before we decided we did not want to spend the whole day queuing. So instead we went for a walk in the National Park where we got some views of the back of the statue as well as great views over Rio. We also got to see a pair of toucans.

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Rather than queuing we spent the afternoon like a true Carioca (Rio resident) on Ipanemea Beach with our deck chairs, sun shade and cold beer. It was a great atmosphere. The beach was packed with families and groups of people chatting and having fun and all sorts of vendors passing by selling drinks, food and various other things. We were surprised though that so few people were in the water until we ventured for a paddle and found it to be very cold.

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One thing we had done 4 years ago when we were last in Rio was to have dinner at a Churrascaria. We remembered one place well as it had a play ground which had entertained the children all night allowing us to have a relaxing dinner. I was sure it was not far away in Ipanema and true enough it was just around the corner so we booked it for the night. Again the kids were happy in the playground and Gilly and I were able to have a more relaxing dinner with some Caiparinas The meat was fantastic although to be honest Alisha and Lucy were more impressed with the sushi on the side buffet.

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On our last morning we hired a “bike” that we could all fit on to cycle the 8kms around the nearby lake. It was a great end to our trip to Rio. We got some good exercise. Although as there were a lot of joggers and walkers on the cycle track steering was almost as hard as driving the truck through the city. We had thoroughly enjoyed our short time in the city. The weather was great, Ipanema is a great place to base yourself and the city was buzzing and friendly. We are really glad we made the effort to see it again as we enjoyed it more the second time around.

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On our way back to the campsite we broke our journey at a large shopping mall in Barra da Tijuca to do some Christmas shopping. This is the area of Rio that will host the Olympics and there is a lot of development going on. The area is been modernised with large shopping malls and residential areas right next to some great beaches. It feels very much like California.

The following day we headed out along the Costa Verde. The road twisted and turned along the coast through Atlantic rainforest that went right down to the sea. Every so often we would get peeks of small sandy beaches as well as wonderful views to small islands out at sea. We arrived in the small colonial port of Paraty where we found a campsite just across the road from a small beach. As it was the end of the holiday weekend it had quietened down but the great weather we had had in Rio had also gone and it was overcast with a little drizzle. Still we were able to enjoy a late afternoon drink while wriggling our toes in the sand.

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Paraty was the port through which all the gold in Brazil was originally shipped. However it’s heyday did not last long as a shorter route was found over the mountains to Rio at which point Paraty went into decline. In its short heyday though a beautiful small 17th century town was built which has been well restored and today is a charming place of whitewashed buildings set next to a small harbour and surrounded by white beaches and green rainforest tumbling down the hills.

We were not sure how much of Paraty we would see though as Lucy had gone to bed with a high temperature and the weather forecast was for heavy rain. Luckily Lucy woke up the next morning almost fully better and although it was a grey day the rain held off.

As Paraty is in easy reach of both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo it can get very busy. However we were there at the beginning of the week so things were pretty quiet. We first visited the fort for views along the bay. We then spent the rest of our time wandering the cobble stone, car free streets enjoying the lovely churches and buildings.

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Next we are heading for the beach again but we may not be there for long as although it is still in the high 20s the forecast is for rain. Still I suppose you can not have everything.

Colonial Minas Gerais

The road from the coast inland into the state of Minas Gerais became increasingly twisty as the tar snaked past mountain sized granite boulders. Much of the countryside was eucalyptus tree plantations but there were also swaths of Atlantic rainforest.

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The maned wolf is the largest wild canine in South America, it looks a bit like a European fox but it has long black legs. They are beautiful looking creatures but they are very rarely seen in the wild as they are shy and nocturnal. Parque Natural do Caraça has a family of wolves that although they are completely wild they are regularly seen. The whole park is owned and protected by a church’s congregation, the monastery building was run for many years as a boarding school but after a fire in the 60’s it was rebuilt into a posada (small hotel). The surrounding parklands are a transition zone between the Atlantic rainforest and the drier cerrado ecosystem so it has many unique species. A hike to a waterfall gave us some fantastic views.

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The wolves come at night to the church steps next to the posada and as there is no camping in the park, we stayed overnight in one of the former dormitories. It was a simple but beautiful place, very spiritual and quiet.

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Three hearty meals full of Minas specialities were included served in the atmospheric old refectory. As well as the usual Brazilian staples of rice, beans and salad; there was a whole host of stews, manioc flour with beans and very sweet fruit and tapioca paste for desert. This was all kept warm onto of a wood stove. After dinner we waited out on the terrace and got talking to the park’s director. He told us that 32 years ago that they started hearing the wolves at night as they scavenged for food from the posada’s bins. One of the priests start leaving out meat on the church’s steps and slowly the wolves became less shy of humans and came closer. Whist waiting Lucy had a great time finding all the different insects that were attracted to the light. We found huge moths, iridescent beetles and a massive grasshopper, all photographed for her growing bug journal. Thankfully it was also blissfully free from biting insects Unfortunately we weren’t lucky with the wolves and none appeared that night.

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One of the teachers from Lucy’s former school in Prague is Brazilian and since we left had moved back home. When Natalia heard that we would be passing close by to her home in Belo Horizonte she very kindly asked us for lunch at her families’ house. It was great to meet her and all four generations of her family, they were all charming, generous and interested to hear about what we are doing. Unfortunately Alisha was feeling a bit poorly so took herself off to bed in the truck, I love camper van travel: you always have your own bed with you. But Lucy had a ball playing with Natalia’s nieces and nephew. Her father spoke good English and told us a lot about Brazil. Alisha is obsessed with sewing at the moment, so her Grandmother showed me a special quilting technique so I could teach her when for when she was better. It was also so nice to see Natalia again and hear how she has settled back into life in Brazil.

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A few hours south of the modern city of Belo Horizonte is the colonial gem of Ouro Preto. The town was built using money from the gold mines just outside the city. All steep hills, cobbles, whitewashed houses with bright shutters and a church on every hill top, it was really stunning. The churches were all carved in the Barroco Mineiro style, which is slightly different from European baroque. Much of it was carved by a man known as Aleijadinho (little cripple), the girls were fascinated by his story. The son of a Portuguese architect and an black slave, he worked carving several of his father’s churches. Before he lost his fingers, toes and the use of his lower legs through disease but he still kept carving by strapping his chisel and hammer to his arms. He went on to carve the facades and interior pieces of many of the churches in the region. Not usually a huge fan of the baroque style, I really liked his graceful figures.

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Unfortunately although the campsite was green, leafy and stuffed full of cuddly puppies, much to the girl’s delight; it was opposite a nightclub that played music till 5am. After Saturday night’s bed vibrating to the beat of the bass experience we thought we got lucky on Sunday with a quiet night. We decided to stay another day as we’d hung out in the site the preceding day so Alisha could recover, only to find the club was back pumping all of of Monday night too.

Tiradentes is another former gold mining colonial town, just as pretty but a lot smaller than Ouro Preto. On a Tuesday afternoon it was almost deserted and we got to see inside a couple of the baroque churches, something we hadn’t had a chance to do in Ouro Preto as they are closed on Monday. Beautifully carved with figures of saints, animals, cherubs and scroll work all painted intricately realistic colours. And of course it wouldn’t be a colonial baroque church without lashings of gold leaf everywhere.

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We slept well that night in one of the prettiest “proper” campsites we’ve been to next to a friendly Brazilian couple in their camper. A good thing too, the next few days promise a lot of excitement as we head to our next destination… Rio!

Beautiful Brazilian Beaches

We have spent the last week lazing away on some lovely Brazilian beaches. Coming from the Northern hemisphere it feels quite luxurious to be enjoying such beaches and the sunshine in November. The weather has been great, in the high 20s during the day with a lovely sea breeze which has continued into the evening. Mind you we have had the odd bit of rain but not enough to spoil things.

After finishing our little “holiday” at the wonderful Pousada Taipu do Fora we headed south down the coast. The road wound its way around headlands and occasionally afforded us lovely views of the beaches.

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Finding an idyllic spot on the beach is quite hard as although the beaches are all public, access to them is often difficult due to private land or where there is access there is not a suitable place to park up for the night. However with perseverance you can find places. Just south of Ilheus we came across a campsite right on the beach and spent a lovely couple of days there whiling away the time. Of course the children still had to do their schooling.

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From there we drove further south to the fishing village of Canavierias. Here we found a spot to park on the sea front between some beach side restaurants. As it was midweek it was very quiet apart from some people exercising on the beach. We also went for a walk along the beach but just as we got back to the truck the heavens opened and it rained and rained for about 6 hours. We holed up in a bar for a couple of hours and the horses that came along the beach seemed unperturbed by the weather.

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The next morning the sun had come out again and we set off for the long drive south crossing the state border into Espírito Santo. Here we arrived at the lovely sleepy village of Itaunas. Immediately we could see we would like it here. The beach was hidden behind some sand dunes and the village had a quiet sleepy feel with sand streets and a sprinkling of bars and restaurants. We were here in the low season so it was surprisingly quiet. We found an ideal little campsite. The next morning we saw a troop of White faced Pygmy Marmosets moving through the trees on the campsite. These little animals were really tiny about the size of a small squirrel but would come quite close to us.

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We walked from the village across the sand dunes to the lovely beach. This was the new village as the sand dunes had buried the original village over 40 years ago. After taking a stroll we holed up in one of the beach side restaurants where we had a couple of drinks and fish and chips of course.

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It was also a good base to take refreshing dips in the sea.

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Anyway it’s time for us to pull ourselves away from the beach and head back inland to see the sites of the state of Minas Gerais.