Following a dozy 24 hour bus ride, Rio was everything that it was supposed to be- it is set in an absolutely stunning natural landscape with huge granite cliffs rising out of nothing, lush green forested surroundings, many beaches and bays and lotsof surrounding islands. It also has the human factor that gets talked about a lot with this busy city having unbelievable contrasts with slums and 5 star resorts in sight of each other. With Rio's reputation for muggings and theft everywhere, we were very careful with our belongings, clothes and what we carried around while we were exploring. We managed to successfully get by with no incidents although Steve did have a razor to his throat- getting his first straight blade shave ever in a little barbers shop. The food was great and by the end of the week we were empanada connoisseurs and Steve had acquired a serious acai smoothie addiction.
We visited all the famous sights, rode the cable car up to the statue of Christ to enjoy amazing views (albeit quite smoggy/hazy) of the city, beaches and surrounding islands. We spent a few sunny days enjoying the sun, sand and people watching on the famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. The beaches were packed full of people and umbrellas just like in the postcards. Now from experience, I can tell you that women's bums come in all shapes, sizes, ages and degrees of firmness but in Rio they are all tanned and hanging out the bottom of their g-string bathing suits. The men also wear less than we are used to with them showing all sorts of bulges through their little tighty-whities. Needless to say, I was thankful of my dark sunglasses while lounging on the beach.
We took a favela tour which gave us a glimpse of the shocking conditions that 20% of Rio's population live in. The favelas are slums that sprawl uncontrolled up hillsides encroaching into the forest- imagine the conditions with 40,000 people/km2. It started with a crazy motorbike ride to the top of the favela in which my driver was passing everything that he could and apologized after swerving crazily around a truck that stopped quicker than he thought. Steve's driver passed a van with so little room to spare that Steve actually swiped his leg on the van as they passed. From the top of the favela we walked down through the rat warren of ad-hoc buildings, visiting a few homes and a child care center. We were told when we could take photos and where to go because the whole area is controlled by drug lords that apparently don't take too kindly to photos. Apparently less than a month ago the drug lords had actually shot down a police helicopter from one of the favelas. A very sad and interesting experience.
The day before we left we traveled down the coast from Rio and went on a boat trip around some islands- a very lush and scenic part of Brasil. From here we decided to fly across the continent into Bolivia- saving us 3 days on a bus. Funnily enough on our last day Steve and I both got sick- him with travelers D and me with a food bug. The flight out was subsequently quite unpleasant with Steve running to the bathroom and me using up a lot of sick bags- the first of which actually had a hole in it. Needless to say the result was pretty gross- it may have been funny for a Mr Bean skit but not so funny in real life. On the way out, our flight was delayed so that we missed our connecting flight in Sao Paulo, and we got to enjoy an all expenses airline funded day in Sao Paolo for Steve's birthday. Brasil was awesome!