The flight from Santiago to Rio de Janeiro on the 26th February gave us spectacular views of the Andes mountains.

We stayed in the strangely named Windsor Florida hotel in the suburb of Flamengo not far from the beach.
There were unremarkable shops in that area but also a couple of good Italian restaurants and a good bakery/cafe nearby.
We met up with the Intrepid group (55 of us) for our Carneval experience. After a meeting giving us the dangerous aspects of Rio we were split into four groups and our guide Leonardo was a good one. A very pleasant and knowledgeable person about Rio and who answered questions willingly. Nothing was too much trouble.

We had an extensive buffet dinner at a local restaurant followed by a samba party at “Scenario” a very crowded and lively samba club where we danced with the enormous crowd who were mostly locals and we tried ‘capirinhas’- white rum with muddled lime with a copious amount of sugar. Very tasty but after a couple the sugar content put us off. The club was on 3 levels with many different areas but most of the crowd gathered and danced in front of the band on the ground floor or on the second level. The decor was very varied with a wall of clocks, a wall of musical instruments and many antiques and lots of bric a brac.
The weather in the evening was warm and during the day it had been hot and humid.

We visited the Corcovado or Christ the Redeemer statue high above Rio which looks deceivingly small from a distance but is quite large when you stand in front of it. I was surprised by the amount of lush vegetation in the city with climbing plants and large trees everywhere. From there we went to the Sugarloaf mountain and I braved the two cable cars, not game to look down.

We were introduced to the metro system by Leonardo who lived in Copacabana and found it easy to use. Six of us boarded the train however Gay was left behind when the person in front was slow to board the train. We alighted at the next stop and after a while Gay caught another train and found us. Leonardo dropped us off at a coffee shop and we made our way to the famous beach which was a bit underwhelming. We had dinner in a side street and found our way easily back to the hotel by metro.

Food – we tried to eat mainly vegetarian fare and we found good salads. The bread was mainly white. The Brazilians usually eat black beans in a sort of stew and with rice at least once a day and we found it quite tasty. Coffee on the other hand was disappointing everywhere. Just not what we are used to in Australia which is machine coffee, quite thick and creamy with milk but in Brazil we were told that most have their coffee black and even with milk it was a thin consistency and pretty bitter. The main downside to being in Rio at Carneval time was the lack of public toilets. Luckily we didn’t have a problem but the overall odour in many areas was not pleasant with so many thousands of people about.

We were taken to a huge ‘bloco’ party on Flamengo beach in the morning where most people dressed in their fantasy outfits, some inventive but most wearing very little. We couldn’t get near the band or dancers and wandered or rather pushed our way through the massive crowd to the beach. There was little dancing except near the band- it seemed to be a chance for friends to get together and drink and smoke. We were surprised at the number of both sexes smoking and we are just not used to that anymore in Australia.

Even with the large crowds, everyone was friendly and polite. There was a happy atmosphere with so many locals on holiday for 5days over Carneval. Gay and I caught the metro to Ipanema where we walked along the beach and saw the start of a large ‘Bloco’ there. For the period of Carneval and for about a month after, the hundreds of ‘blocos’ some small, some large, continue in different parts of the city. While we ate our lunch a group of youths performed their ‘Capoiera’ in the street with booming music which drowned out the solo guitarist in the restaurant. We had been lucky with the weather but walking back to a metro station we both got drenched so retired to the bar in the hotel where we met a friendly young Finnish couple and had the only relatively early night.

When someone spoke Portuguese to me I could get the gist of the conversation and with a mix of Italian and Spanish we got around famously. We had been warned a thousand times before we travelled to Rio about security (and we are both very security conscious anyway) and how dangerous Rio could be. However, with the thousands of tourists around and the locals who attended the various events we felt very safe.

Our first ‘Sambadrome’ experience was on the 23rd February when we left for the venue about 8pm. The metro was crammed with people and we were glad to get off the train or rather get pushed on and off the train. It was about a 15-20minute walk from the Central metro station to the Sambadrome and we were again warned not to use our mobiles or cameras for fear of them being stolen but we didn’t see anything untoward.

We had tickets in Sector 11 which was directly opposite where the judges sat and judged the performances of each Samba school in nine different categories, some being harmony of their voices, costumes, group coordination etc, etc. We were advised to take a cushion to sit on as the stands were concrete but everyone stood for the parades. There was a break of about half an hour between samba schools. They consisted of thousands of performers and they were allocated 70minutes to complete the corridor of the Sambadrome. The songs which were performed with gusto from performers and locals alike were rather monotonous but the amazing spectacle of the parade made it all worthwhile. There were lead dancers followed by thousands of dancers in various costumes who danced behind them. The floats followed which depicted various aspects of life in Brazil, some with a religious theme (the catholics are the main influence in Brazil followed by the Evangelists) and many with a political or social message.

The parade started at 10pm and went through until 6am but we decided to leave in a taxi at 3.15am as there was another “bloco” to attend at 730am the following morning.
The next day we followed our guides to a large park where a “Sargeant Pepper’s Bloco” was taking place. Beatles music Brazilian style which was fun.

Many of our group had bought costumes from the many street stalls and shops which were in abundance in the city. The tour leaders had supplied us with glitter and stick on diamantes. Gay and I purchased modest headgear and wore a few diamantes which sufficed for the duration.

Against recommendations we walked to the historic area of Lapa and the tiled steps of the “Escardaria Selaron” a famous set of steps which connects the bohemian neighbourhoods of Santa Teresa and Lapa which was built by Jorge Selaron a Chilean, a world traveller and ceramic artist.

We had a drink with some of the group that night near the pool at the hotel, made our farewells and Gay and I made our way that night to the Sambadrome again, this time doing it in much less time. The metro was less crowded and although the stands were full the queue to enter was not as long by the time we arrived at 2100.
We enjoyed the music and singing more that the previous night and the floats and dancers and costumes were just as spectacular as the night before. We caught a taxi back to the hotel around midnight as we were up again early the next morning for our 7.30am trip to Ilha Grande an island off the Coast about 2 1/2 hours south. Two girls Aman and Del from London and a couple Nick and Edwina from Birkhamstead joined us. We passed a lot of plains with grazing cattle and the vegetation was very tropical with palms and banana trees on the way to the port

The six of us decided to make the trip despite the thunderstorms that had been predicted but we had the most wonderful weather all day. The bus and boat transfer reminded me of the boat transfers from Lombok and Bali – disorganised with little information and delays. It cost R210 return from the hotel to the port of Conceicao de Jacarei and then by a large boat to the island.
Once on the pretty island with its lush vegetation we decided on a boat trip to the ‘blue lagoon’
All the tour boats had left so for R800 we chartered a boat to take the six of us there. The lagoon was teeming with people swimming, snorkelling and bbq-ing on their boats. After a brief swim we moved on to another less crowded bay. We followed that with a good lunch at another bay before heading back to the pier and waited for the boat to take us back to the mainland. Up to that point it had been a wonderful day trip and what we all needed.

The return trip by bus to Rio was not good. ‘Top transfer’ left a passenger back on the wharf so after 20minutes travelling towards Rio they turned around and picked up the passenger.
We hit horrendous traffic on the return journey which gradually petered out, but it took us about 5hours to get back. We were all exhausted by that time. There were many police cars everywhere in Rio and also on the country roads.

On the 26th February we left Rio’s domestic airport Santos Dumont for a few days in Salvador de Bahia. It was such a contrast going to the airport as the streets were empty with people recovering from Carneval. The flight took about an hour and a half.

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