Oi from Rio De Janeiro

Yes...we are in Rio.  Oi is Portuguese for Hello.  We have only learned a few words of "obrigado" (thanks)...many words are almost like English (telefono, taolette). But you still can't understand what people are saying. Even those in our group who speak Spanish are having trouble.

But before we talk about Rio, here are some perspectives from Iguazu Falls. First of all, it is Iquazu on the Argentinian side and Iguaçu on the Brasilian (yes...Brasil) side. It is pronounced ee-gwa-SU (or ee-gua-SHU in Brasil) and it means "place where the waters end" as it is the place where two rivers flow into a third. We spent Christmas Eve on the Argentinian side and Christmas Day on the Brasil side.  Awesome.  Amazing.  Huge.  Breath-taking.  Majestic.  Thunderous. Magnificent.  Spiritual.  Iguazu has neither the volume of Niagara nor the widest single waterfall impact of Victoria.  But, in terms of sheer magnitude, it wins... it includes over 200 separate falls in a spectacular rainforest setting, with bridges and well-maintained nature walks over the river and up to the edge of the falls.  Whereas at Victoria (in Zambia) we were drenched immediately... at Iguaçu, there was no deluge until the very last stop on the Brazilian side.  Such a treat.  While the falls are off the beaten path, they should not be missed on a trip to this part of the world.  Indeed, they are in the "finals" for an updated "seven new natural wonders of the world" list.  We caught sight of several  coati mundi families (like raccoons) as well as an elusive Fruit Loops toucan. 

Our guide informed us the jungle was full of leopards, pumas, and the like...but even though we made a special request, we saw none of the above. Other than a sumptuous Christmas Eve buffet (in Latin America, Christmas Eve is when the big celebration occurs) the food at the Falls was not memorable.

Then, on Christmas Day, we moved on to Rio (pop. 7 million).  A fascinating city of contrasts--extreme poverty (in the favellas/slums) and over-the-top hotels and condos (in Ipanema Beach)... extraordinary diversity across ethnicity lines... a free and easy lifestyle that expresses itself through the samba, Carnaval (four days of partying like Mardi Gras but south of the border), and a ¨let´s hang out at the beach" orientation. Other descriptors for this city:  thongs, Speedos (both worn by all, in their respective gender, regardless of those individuals’ size), in your face, uninhibited, steamy (in all respects), energizing. The city includes the largest urban rainforest, mountains, bays, the Atlantic Ocean, and is overseen by the almost overpowering Christ the Redeemer statue.  Nearly everyone has seen the photos, but to be in the presence of this statue was awe-inspiring.  And to be there the day after Christmas when the cardinal was officiating at a mass was more awe-inspiring still.

We walked on Copacabana beach and boardwalk which has the world's smallest McDonalds - a little hut like you find on many Caribbean beaches - the kitchen is underground! Thousands of people sunbathing and enjoying the water there.  The beach is beautiful - clean white sand several kilometers long. No air conditioning in the favellas, so the beach is the destination of choice (and the temperature has been hovering upwards of 95).  The name Rio De Janeiro means "River of January" because when the Portuguese "discovered" it in 1502 (don't tell the natives) it was January 1st and they thought they were on a big river....but it turns out it was a bay off the Atlantic (so they were no smarter than the Spanish in Buenos Aires).

On Saturday morning, we got up to see the sun rise over the Atlantic. Wow!!  After a visit to Christ the Redeemer... 

...we did a bus / walking tour of the downtown part of the city - learned some history and about the current culture (10% upper class, 10% very poor, 80% middle class. But, for example, a teacher here earns about 450 Reals / month ($250 US)). Then we had a traditional lunch at the oldest cafe in Rio (hmmm...heard that before). The cafe was incredible - and the lunch featured black beans and rice and a choice of meats from boiling pots full - pigs ears, feet, pork lips, pork ribs, several kinds of beef... plus extraordinary desserts.  Our local guide informed us that Portuguese desserts are the best and I think he was right.  pecan tarts, all kinds of flans, beautiful truffles, fruit tartes, on and on and on. We tasted most of them.  Yummo!  Then we went to a Samba school. Preface: this is a very Catholic society, so even though it seems very loose in some ways, it is traditional in others. So they have Carnaval (same as Mardi Gras) in the 4 days before Lent. And they have a VERY BIG DEAL competition the last night (from 7pm - 7am) where the top 12 teams square off to show their floats and sing and dance before upwards of several hundred thousand people in a set of grandstands several blocks long. So each team has a huge warehouse where they build their floats and practice and keep everything VERY SECRET!!!! But we got to go in and they had a few musicians and several women wearing skimpy costumes (I mean 1 yard of fabric probably outfits all of the women!). I forced Wayne to pose with one of the women, very funny.  And then they had us (well, Wendy plus the other women) dancing with them!! Like a Latin Bar Mitzvah!  and we got to try on some costumes and headpieces (VERY HEAVY! - How do they dance in them for hours??).  One way to burn off the calories from nonstop eating.  

On Sunday, we enjoyed the beach some more then took a cable car up to Sugarloaf Mountain for amazing views and had an amazing lobster dinner. Speaking of food, we haven’t really had a chance to do extensive sampling of the food here in Rio but can thank our hotel for providing amazing and creative fruit drinks each morning--strawberry/orange, açai juice, parsley, mango, guava... and don’t miss the caiparina (sp?)--lots of fruit, lime is traditional--even more sugar, and the Brazilian answer to vodka.  Oh my. 
On Monday (our extra day), mere mortals might have chosen to relax, but first we took a walk around the neighborhood and visited  a grocery store with a full aisle of beans and rice.  Next, we checked out the subway prior to shopping in Ipanema (quite successful), then we took a fantastic tour of the favellas which should not be missed.  Our Land Rover took us into the heart of approximately 10 block area/200,000 residents (on the side of a hill with many cinder block squares stocked one on top of another,  as children age they build another residence on top of their parents’ home!) where we exited the vehicle and wandered up and down the narrow walkways.  Fascinating.  This is a low income area but full of energy, excitement, and wonderful people.  On the outside, the houses are cinder blocks and run down.  But, in the inside, they look quite lovely.  

We think Rio totally deserves the Olympics and we can’t wait to hear how the city is transformed.  

Well, we are ready to leave for the airport. We heard "The Girl from Ipanema" at least 100 times in the last 4 days so we won’t  miss that!  Thank you for joining us for our trip... we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

Adios and Tchau.

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