The dogs and beaches of Arembepe and some adventures in Salvador

10 Apr – 30 Apr

I had heard much about Salvador da Bahia and its rich culture, fabulous beaches and amazing food, which was part of the reason why I chose Salvador as the location for my first Workaway experience.

Workaway is a website that helps link people who need help with various things with volunteers. The general agreement is that in exchange for about half a day’s work, the host provides usually 2 meals and accommodation for the volunteer, who then also has some free time to tour the area. It is an excellent, not to mention economical way to travel, while getting to know some locals and also contributing something to the country.

The place I had chosen was called Sitio Folha d’Agua, a natural sanctuary located in the little beach town of Arembepe that offered yoga retreats and healing courses, in addition to having a dog pack with 16 dogs. It sounded like a slice of heaven to me, and the perfect place to get over the little bit of travel fatigue I had developed.

So when my bus finally pulled into Salvador after another excruciatingly long bus ride, I was not done. I hopped on another bus headed for Arembepe, and slightly more than an hour later, I was in Arembepe, where I called my host Evelyn, who had agreed to pick me up. I finally arrived at the Sitio, and was introduced to the wonderful dog pack. It was slightly overwhelming but the dogs all seemed lovely,

Some of my doggy friends! <3 Arembepe, Brazil, May 2014

Some of my doggy friends! ❤
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

as did Evelyn and the two other Workawayers, Khalil and Rhea, a French-Scottish couple. I was slightly exhausted after the long travel day and headed to bed early after the dinner that Evelyn very kindly provided.

Not before taking some night-time pictures of the Sitio Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Not before taking some night-time pictures of the Sitio
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Absolutely gorgeous place, even at night Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Absolutely gorgeous place, even at night
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

A tree I fell in love with Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

A tree I fell in love with
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

The next day, I awoke early, at about 6am, because of the dogs’ delighted barking when Evelyn went out to greet them. I headed out to join them and the morning passed quite rapidly, with a couple of hours spent on brushing the dogs and checking them for fleas, followed by a delicious breakfast of fresh fruits, bread, and coffee. I spent the rest of the morning wandering around the compound pruning dead leaves and branches, a very pleasant activity I quite enjoyed doing.

And taking more pictures of the premises Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

And taking more pictures of the premises
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Lovely place, with delightful places to sit and while the time away (during my free time of course) Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Lovely place, with delightful places to sit and while the time away (during my free time of course)
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Evelyn and Khalil hard at work Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Evelyn and Khalil hard at work
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

For lunch, Evelyn took us all out to the town of Arembepe as a welcome treat for me. We had moqueca, a regional speciality only found in Bahia – a rich seafood stew that was absolutely bursting with flavour.

Arembepe is a delightful town! Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Arembepe is a lovely town!
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

After lunch, I supposedly had the afternoon off, but decided to accompany her to the grocery shop to pick up some supplies for myself. I spent the rest of the day hanging out with the delightful dogs – Princesa (the oldest of the pack), Bambi (the leader of the pack), Foucinha, Bambinha, Brisa, Amigão, Putchu, Xuxa, Zooey, Boli, Xaru, Linda, Luana, Paje (who barked at everyone), Lobo and Albert. It took a couple of days to learn all their names and recognize them but it helped that they were such lovely dogs.

The next day, there were a bunch of visitors coming to the Sitio for a spiritual healing ceremony, so the morning passed in a blur of preparations – raking the leaves in the garden, bringing out the things necessary for the ceremony, and then helping the visitors with their preparations as well. Things quietened down a little in the evening once the ceremony started as I wasn’t involved and just had to keep an eye on the dogs, a relatively easy task.

The next day was a Sunday, and technically my day off but because some of the visitors to the ceremony had stayed on, I had to help with getting breakfast ready, but after that, I was free to do as I pleased. I decided to make use of the little outdoor pool in the Sitio and go for a swim to cool off from the heat, after which I simply relaxed in one of the many hammocks in the Sitio, reading and stroking the dogs as they came by to see what I was up to.

Dogs and hammocks - who could ask for more? Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Dogs and hammocks – who could ask for more?
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Monday was back to work, and Evelyn set me to the task of raking the leaves. I found that I enjoyed it tremendously – there’s something about gathering all the fallen leaves together and bringing some order to chaos. And of course, I learnt that a freshly raked garden stays freshly raked for about five minutes. My morning of work done, we had lunch and I headed off to explore the town.

The beach at night was so  peaceful and tranquil <3 Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

The beach at night was so peaceful ❤
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

It turned out to be a quiet little town right on the beach with not too many inhabitants and I loved its tranquil atmosphere.

My favourite time of day in Arembepe Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

My favourite time of day in Arembepe
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

I spent the next two days doing general gardening type jobs at the Sitio as well as helping with the care of the dogs. The afternoons and evenings I spent at the beach, swimming and reading while basking in the delightful sunshine.

Never ending stretches of coast are super relaxing to walk along Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Never ending stretches of coast are super relaxing to walk along, but sometimes fishermen are fun to talk to too
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Everything looked like it was from a postcard Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Everything looked like it was from a postcard
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Gorgeous colours at sunset Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Gorgeous colours at sunset
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

I even took a trip to Projeto Tamar, a turtle conservation project dedicated to finding and protecting turtle nests on the shore. It was pretty cool to see some of the turtles they had rescued and learn more about their conservation efforts.

Crush of Finding Nemo fame? Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Crush of Finding Nemo fame?
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Eager to get fed, he splashes a ton of water out of his tank Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Eager to get fed, he splashes a ton of water out of his tank
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Some sort of wriggly starfish Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Some sort of wriggly starfish
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Sunset on a turtle egg shell Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Sunset on a turtle egg shell
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Crazy full moon Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Crazy full moon
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

It was my day off on Thursday and I decided to head to Salvador to see a bit of the city, so after breakfast I set off. Now, there had been a police strike the day before, but listening to the news on the radio, I found out that the army had been activated to replace the police presence in Salvador so I figured it would be pretty alright to visit. So I caught the bus to Salvador after breakfast and arrived at about 11am or so.

First thing I see in Salvador - a military truck near the port Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

First thing I see in Salvador – a military truck near the port
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Lots of soldiers in the streets Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Lots of soldiers in the streets
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

I spent a couple of hours walking around

The bay area of Salvador da Bahia Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

The marina with lots of pretty sailboats
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Abandoned buildings are common in Salvador Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Abandoned buildings are common in Salvador
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

The elevator that links Cidade Alta (high city) and Cidade Baixa (low city) Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Elevador Lacerda links Cidade Alta (high city) and Cidade Baixa (low city)
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Bay of Bahia Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Bay of Bahia
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Brazilian kids with sass are everywhere Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Brazilian kids with sass are everywhere
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

In line with Salvador's place as a host city for the World Cup 2014 games Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

In line with Salvador’s place as a host city for the World Cup 2014 games
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Praça da Sé Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Praça da Sé
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Random artwork in a random street Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Random artwork in a random street
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

and had my favorite moqueca for lunch

Happiness in a bowl (: Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Happiness in a bowl (:
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

before turning up at the plaza where the free walking tour was supposed to leave from. I waited and waited (and happened to meet Jacek again!) before finally realizing that perhaps the tour had been cancelled because of the strike.

Hanging out with the soldiers while waiting for the tour Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Hanging out with the soldiers while waiting for the tour
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Ah well, I had more time to explore but unfortunately for me, most of the tourist sights were also closed because of the strike. Finally tiring of walking around aimlessly on deserted streets, I decided to head back to the bus station to take a bus back to Arembepe.

Another Praça Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Another Praça
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Fun coloured buildings bring such joy to a city Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Fun coloured buildings bring such joy to a city
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

There is a tradition of tying these little ribbons to the gate of a church to make wishes come true. I don't know how many of these wishes actually will come true, but it makes for a very pretty sight indeed Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

There is a tradition of tying these little ribbons to the gate of a church to make wishes come true. I don’t know how many of these wishes actually will come true, but it makes for a very pretty sight indeed
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Great view of (some part of) the city from a random carpark Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Great view of (some part of) the city from a random carpark
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Sunset, always a gorgeous affair Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Sunset, always a gorgeous affair
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Unfortunately for me, Elevador Lacerda which is the most practical form for transport between Ciudad Alta (Upper City) and Ciudad Baja (Lower City) was already closed – but this meant I had a legitimate excuse to take a moto taxi, essentially pillion on a motorbike! However, when I reached the bus station, much to my dismay, I found out from some of the street vendors that the last bus to Arembepe had left 6 hours before, at noon, because of the police strikes. All the decent hostels in Salvador are in Ciudad Alta, which meant I had to take another moto taxi up to find myself a hostel for the night, but one of the street vendors, Valnei, I had been talking to took pity on me and offered me a place to crash for the night. He was a really nice guy so I accepted his offer and spent the night at his place with his little brother, his girlfriend and two adorable dogs. It was also a chance to see what life in the favelas of Salvador is like, and in the morning, Valnei put me on a bus back to Arembepe. My trip to Salvador turned out to be quite an interesting adventure indeed.

The next few days passed relatively calmly – I worked in the Sitio in the mornings, gardening, pruning, planting, raking and caring for (aka playing with) the dogs, and went to the beach to swim and relax in the afternoons and evenings.

Beach shenanigans Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Beach shenanigans
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

I met some handicraft sellers in Arembepe and joined in some of their festivities occasionally, even meeting the family of one of them, Eddie. Eddie and I became good friends, and on my next day off, we decided to go to Praia do Forte, a beach town about an hour from Arembepe.

A very typical beach town - church, beach, coconut tree Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

A very typical beach town – church, beach, coconut tree
Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

The church of the fort of Praia do Forte Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

The church of the fort of Praia do Forte
Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

It was an interesting town with a cool old fort on the beach that was built by the Portuguese settlers.

Very cool old fort Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Very cool old fort
Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Very well preserved ruins Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Very well preserved ruins
Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

And a gorgeous day to boot Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

And a gorgeous day to boot
Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Eddie got thirsty after our fort exploration and climbed a coconut tree to get us some fresh coconuts Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Eddie got thirsty after our fort exploration and climbed a coconut tree to get us some fresh coconuts
Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Apart from that, Praia do Forte is also home to a larger branch of Projeto Tamar, and we had a fun afternoon checking out the turtles and even some sharks they had rescued.

Turtles and sharks hanging out Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Turtles and sharks hanging out
Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Very cool collection of shells at Projeto Tamar Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Very cool collection of shells at Projeto Tamar
Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Nice beach to chill out (and do some yoga) as well Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Nice beach to chill out (and do some yoga) as well
Praia do Forte, Brazil, Apr 2014

All too soon, my time at the Sitio was drawing to a close and I spent the next couple of days tying up some loose ends with Evelyn and my marketing efforts for the Sitio. I also had to say goodbye to my newfound friends Eddie and Cyntia

Cyntia and her charango Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Cyntia and her charango
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Eddie's dog, Hippie blended in with the sand quite well Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Eddie’s dog, Hippie blended in with the sand quite well
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

but we had a nice day together the Sunday before I left, watching some movies and hanging out at the beach.

Goodbye Sitio - Evelyn, Rhea and Khalil at my last dinner with them Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

Goodbye Sitio – Evelyn, Rhea and Khalil at my last dinner with them
Arembepe, Brazil, Apr 2014

I set off for Salvador on Tuesday, intending to spend a couple of days there before heading to my next destination. I ended up on a super long bus ride from Arembepe to Salvador, somewhat like a tour of the suburbs but eventually I made it to the city centre. I dropped my stuff off at a hostel and had lunch and made it for the free walking tour of Salvador that I hadn’t managed to go on my previous trip there.

The guides of the free walking tour Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

The guides of the free walking tour
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Old-school barber shop Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Old-school barber shop
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Salvador, home to gorgeous buildings Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Salvador, home to gorgeous buildings
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Going downnnnnn (in an elevator) Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Going downnnnnn (in an elevator)
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

A common sign Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

A call to address the homeless situation in Salvador – “Here, people could live” 
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

The tour turned out to be very informative and interesting and definitely provided a different perspective of Salvador that made me fall in love with it a little bit more. I went samba dancing with some people from my hostel and it was super fun, although I discovered that I still have two left feet.

It was more walking around Salvador the next day.

Cashew fruits and nuts! Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Cashew fruits and nuts!
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

A strange obsession with the bay Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

A strange obsession with the bay
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

A museum documenting the Angola-Brazil relations Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

A museum documenting the Angola-Brazil relations
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Empty facades are a common sight in Salvador Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Empty facades are a common sight in Salvador
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Broken Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Broken
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Hands Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

FREE PASS
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

I also sent a package back to Singapore with some random bits and pieces which turned out to be a super expensive package. All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the wonderful Salvador

Salvador bid me goodbye with a rousing samba performance Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

Salvador bid me goodbye with a rousing samba performance
Salvador, Brazil, Apr 2014

and to take my bus to Lençois, my first stop in Chapada Diamantina!

Vitoria and a little bit of Vila Velha

04 Apr – 09 Apr

All the frantic rushing about left behind in Belo Horizonte, I arrived in Vitoria calm and collected (or as calm and collected as I can be, at least). My CS host Vinicius had instructed me to arrive at his place between 830 and 10am, so I took my own sweet time making my way from the bus terminal to his place. I even had time for breakfast at a little by-the-road coffee place before heading over to meet him.

View on the way to Vinicius' place Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

View on the way to Vinicius’ place
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

He is a cool guy and we spent some time chatting before I decided that it would be wise for me to take a quick nap before lunch. After nap time, it was off to lunch (typical pay-by-weight place) before wandering around Vitoria.

Bridge connecting Vitoria to Vila Velha Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Bridge connecting Vitoria to Vila Velha
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Vitoria seemed like a nice city – despite being quite a large city, it has a nice smallness to it, if that makes any sense.

Great views from the bay area Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Great views from the bay area
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Live a little, suffer a lot :( Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Live little, suffer a lot 😦
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

We were both quite tired after a couple of hours of wandering around in the hot sun,

Nice sunset at a cool monument Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Nice sunset at a cool monument
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

so we headed back for dinner and a quiet evening of watching sitcoms on TV together. It really is quite nice to chill out and watch TV once in a while – one of the things I had forgotten after so long on the road.

Vinicius lives outside of the city center, and the day before, we had only explored the part of the city relatively near his house, so I decided to head to the city center to check out the sights there. I decided to head there on foot, despite it being quite a walk and visited the historic city centre of Vitoria. First off, I visited a sort of park on a hillside,

A little chapel even in a random park Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

A little chapel even in a random park
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Parque Gruta da Onça

Fearsome jaguar indeed Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Fearsome jaguar indeed
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

and spent a delightful hour or so wandering around the “park” which turned out to be some sort of favela on the hillside

Brazilian kids are super adorable (and full of sass) Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Brazilian kids are super adorable (and full of sass)
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

but with amazing views.

The living conditions may be less than perfect, but the view might just make up for it Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

The living conditions may be less than perfect, but the view might just make up for it
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

I also managed to get completely lost and couldn’t work out which of the narrow streets through the favela led back to the main avenue and not to someone’s house,

No idea why there's a horse in the middle of nowhere, but the kids were having great fun with it Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

No idea why there’s a horse in the middle of nowhere, but the kids were having great fun with it
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

but thankfully a kind lady I asked sent her rather reluctant son to lead me down.

After that, I decided not to go wandering around any more favelas (for the time being) and stuck to the tourist sights outlined on my trusty map of the city.

Pretty cool city, Vitoria is Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Pretty cool city, Vitoria is
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

It turned out to be quite a nice walk to see some churches

Impressive church Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Impressive church
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

and monuments,

Famous stairs of Vitoria Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Famous stairs of Vitoria
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

and parks,

Random street light in the park Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Random street light in the park
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Law enforcement doing their jobs Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Law enforcement doing their jobs
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

The football field in the park was flooded from the rains and these guys were bailing out the water. They did not appreciate having their photo taken and threw some muddy water at me. Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

The football field in the park was flooded from the rains and these guys were bailing out the water. They did not appreciate having their photo taken and threw some muddy water at me.
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

and I ended up wandering around for a good half hour trying to find some ruins of a church indicated on my map, only to find out that they were within private property, which was obviously abandoned. Just my luck.

There was a cute dog hanging out there though, so it was okay Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

There was a cute dog hanging out there though, so it was okay
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

I finished off my sightseeing with a visit to a museum where there was a pretty cool exhibition on weddings in the early 1900s which I quite enjoyed.

Grand affairs even in 1920 Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Grand affairs even in 1920
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Vinicius and I hung out for a bit that evening, watching some Game of Thrones and then it was party time! The CouchSurfers of Vitoria had organized a Colombia themed party, which seemed fun but Vinicius didn’t feel up to it so he arranged for me to go with his friend Daniela and her CouchSurfer. It turned out to be a pretty fun party and guess who I met again but Jacek, whom I had met in Belo Horizonte, who was the CouchSurfer of Daniela! Small CouchSurfing world 😉

I was ready for a rest the day after, and it so happened to be a Sunday, so I spent the day slacking around at Vincius’ house. His parents and pet dog came to visit too, so it was nice practicing my crappy Portuguese with them for a bit.

Feeling revived after a day of rest, I decided explore a little bit of Vila Velha the next day, where the famous Convento da Penha is located (you can actually see the convent from Vitoria, but to get there you have to go to Vila Velha instead).

Convento da Penha Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Convento da Penha
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

I walked for a bit, took a bus for a bit, walked uphill for a bit and finally arrived at the convent, which has amazing views of the entire city. It being a Monday, the convent was quiet with not many visitors so I was free to wander around for however long I pleased without being bothered.

Mostly I sat around watching people pray Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Mostly I sat around watching people pray
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Once I was bored with the church, I decided to head to the beach for a nice relaxing afternoon. The water was too chilly for a swim, and I didn’t have my swimsuit with me anyhow so I just sat on the beach and marveled at nothing in particular and everything in general.

I saw someone's version of a tree house Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

I saw someone’s version of a tree house
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Contemplation done, I walked to discover what exactly was so interesting about a rock in the middle of the park. When I finally arrived, I had to admit that the rock was aptly named – Pedra da Cebola.

It does look like a weird sort of onion Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

It does look like a weird sort of onion
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Interesting end to the day, and I headed back soon after that to prepare for my adventure the next day.

So, my plan after Vitoria was to head up north to the state of Bahia, where I had my first Workaway gig lined up. When we met at the CS party, Jacek mentioned that he was also planning to head up north and was thinking of hitchhiking up to save some money. It seemed to us that it would be a good idea for both of us to hitchhike together – to increase Jacek’s chances of getting a ride, and for my safety. We decided to meet early the next morning to try our luck at hitchhiking.

Excited about my hitchhiking adventure, I woke up at 5ish to get my stuff together and meet Jaeck at his designated meeting point where we would then get a bus to the outskirts of he city before walking a short distance to where hitchhikers usually got picked up. Everything went smoothly up till the point I met Jacek. Well, we started waiting for the bus to the outskirts and waited and waited and waited for about an hour before giving up hope and taking a different bus to somewhere supposedly close to where we wanted to go. Once we arrived there, we started walking. And walking. And walking. And got nowhere. Apparently, in Jacek’s research, he had found that we had to reach a particular gas station about a 30 minute walk from the outskirts where long haul drivers usually stopped. Unfortunately for us, we first had to walk to the outskirts of Vitoria, and then continue walking. The thing is, we never arrived at the gas station that we were supposed to get to.

But we did enjoy some amazing views on our walk Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

But we did enjoy some amazing views on our walk
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

It was all rather strange but in the end we were directed to a small curve in the road where drivers sometimes picked hitchhikers up, having begun out journey at about 6ish, we finally started hitchhiking at about 10, much later than we expected. Needless to say, none of the drivers stopped for us (well, a few of them did but they weren’t going much more than a half hour’s drive from where we were so we didn’t accept their rides), and after trying our luck for about 4 hours, we finally admitted defeat and headed back to Vitoria.

Failed hitchhiker Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Failed hitchhiker
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

It was an adventure and an experience nonetheless and we laughed about it while sitting at the bus station later, waiting for Jaeck’s bus. And that’s definitely something I’ve learnt on this trip – that even though things don’t always (or hardly ever) work out the way you want them to, you’ll always have a good story at the end of it. Good experience, or a good story, but never a dull moment.

Well, Jacek headed to Ilhéus (I think?) that evening, and the next day, after spending a couple of hours at an Internet cafe and picking up my first pair of Havaianas (!)as a replacement for my fliflop that lost its friend on the way to Vitoria, I was off on my mega long bus to Salvador!

My first Havaianas! Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

My first Havaianas!
Vitoria, Brazil, Apr 2014

Belo Horizonte has Beautiful Horizons and Ouro Preto is Gold

26 Mar – 03 Apr

I had initially wanted to take a later bus to Belo Horizonte so that I would arrive at a decent time, but because I got bored of the cold in Cabo Frio and changed my bus to an earlier one, I arrived in Belo Horizonte at an ungodly 5am. Not wanting to wake my host, Mayra, up at such a supremely horrible time, I whiled away about an hour at the bus terminal before giving her a call so that she could pick me up, but she didn’t answer her phone so I made my own way down to her place. I still had to wake her up anyway, but it was 7 by then, so I didn’t feel too bad. I hung out with her and her friend for a couple of hours, before taking a nap to make up for the crappy overnight bus. After lunch, I headed out to explore for a bit, while Mayra and her friend studied for their exams.

First impressions of Belo Horizonte – it is a city.

Big city, big buildings Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Big city, big buildings
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Lots of tall, modernish buildings, except for the city centre, where historical buildings have been preserved.

Nice garden right smack in the city centre Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Nice garden right smack in the city centre
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

I paid a visit to a random museum which had some interesting exhibits about the city’s history,

Preserved mummy remains in the museum Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Preserved mummy remains in the museum
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Cool exhibit about the people who built the city Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Cool exhibit about the people who built the city
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

and wandered around taking random pictures of the city. Still being quite tired after the overnight bus ride, I turned in early that night.

They also have a countdown timer to the World Cup Games! Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

They also have a countdown timer to the World Cup Games!
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

The next day, it was off to explore the city properly. I visited some monuments,

An Oscar Neimeyer masterpiece Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

An Oscar Neimeyer masterpiece
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Some...random buildings? Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Some…random buildings?
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

a park

Giant tree in the (not so) giant park Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Giant tree in the (not so) giant park
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Resting and recreating Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Resting and recreating
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Kids are cute Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Requisite cute-kid-in-park picture
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

and the municipal market,

Belo Horizonte is famous for its cheese Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Belo Horizonte is famous for its cheese
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

The King of Meat is a nice guy Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

The King of Meat is a nice guy
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Boredom is a worldwide affliction Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Boredom is a worldwide affliction
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

The municipal market is also home to millions of caged birds Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

The municipal market is also home to millions of caged birds
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Including peacocks Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Including peacocks ):
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

which was pretty fun. In the evening, I met up with some CSers – Isadora, her boyfriend and Diogo – for drinks and we had a jolly time chatting and hanging out.

The local night scene (where we did not hang out) Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

The local night scene (where we did not hang out)
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Diogo also wanted to head to Serra do Curral to do a hike, so we made plans to meet up the next day and conquer the mountain (well, not really) together.

We met up around lunchtime the next day, and after lunch, set off on foot toward the general direction of Serra do Curral.

The flag was our direction marker Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

The flag was our direction marker
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

It was a long uphill walk, but we finally made it…somewhere.

Karate boys liked the spot though Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Karate boys liked the spot though
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

We weren’t quite sure where the trailhead was, and neither did anybody we asked (but we were told strange things like it would only take 40min to trek to the top of Serra do Curral), but eventually we managed to find our way to the entrance…only to be told we couldn’t do the trek. Apparently, since Serra do Curral is part of a protected national park, we could only go on a guided tour, instead of exploring independently. And obviously, with our luck, the guided tours for the day had already left. Bummed by this sudden turn of events, we left our names with the rangers for the tour the next day, and headed to Parque Mangabeiras instead. It was a long walk back the way we had come, and eventually we arrived at Parque Mangabeiras which (thankfully) didn’t require guides to explore. It turned out to be a nice walk,

Diogo my hiking buddy Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Diogo my hiking buddy
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

although we did get a little lost due to the horrible signs (or lack thereof) in the park. It definitely felt good to get away from the city,

(Not so) far away from the city Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

(Not so) far away from the city
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

and relax in the (semi) wilderness.

Semi-wilderness is good for the eyes Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Semi-wilderness is good for the eyes
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Super sassy kids we met on our way out. They demanded to see our pictures of them, and insisted that we delete the ones they didn't like to take new ones instead Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Super sassy kids we met on our way out. They demanded to see our pictures of them, and insisted that we delete the ones they didn’t like to take new ones instead
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

That evening, Mayra and I headed to the weekly CS meeting, where we met up with lots of cool CSers, and had a good time as usual.

I woke up bright and early the next morning, determined to make it to the top of Serra do Curral. When I arrived there, I was told that as the only person requiring an English-speaking guide, I would have my very own guide! How awesome is that, eh?

General introduction by the Portuguese-speaking guide, with my guide translating Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

General introduction by the Portuguese-speaking guide, with my guide translating
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

So off we went on our trek. It was an easy trek for the most part, and I had an enjoyable time chatting with Paulo, my guide, about Minas Gerais and Brazil, and other things in general.

Chatting and taking pictures, of course Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Chatting and taking pictures, of course
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

And of course, the views of the city were absolutely stunning.

Amazing view of Belo Horizonte Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Amazing view of Belo Horizonte
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

I must admit, the name Belo Horizonte was not given in error.

Que belo horizonte Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

“What beautiful horizon” -Pope John Paul II, 1980
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

The trek ended just in time for me to run off and meet Isadora, Diogo, Jacek and Alison, some CSers, for lunch at Mercado Municipal. While hanging around waiting for people to arrive, we had an absolutely delightful Broa de Queijo, an alternative take on the traditional Pão de Queijo.

I ate my Broa do Quejo before I took a picture, but here is a cute fruit seller instead! Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

I ate my Broa do Quejo before I took a picture, but here is a cute fruit seller instead!
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Lunch was a yummy affair, sampling local cuisine, and after lunch we split ways after making plans to meet up in the evening. We met up in the evening at Malleta, where most of the bars are located, and whiled away the evening chatting.

Sunday! God’s day of rest, but the day all the hippies come out to play. Belo Horizonte is home to one of the biggest hippie markets in Brazil (South America?) and I decided to check it out and my God, it was huge!

Sale of random things! Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Sale of random things includes musical talent
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

It was full of people and tonnes of stalls selling all sorts of knick knacks.

Pets for sale. Perhaps even babies. Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Pets for sale
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

I wandered around looking at stuff and trying random food for a couple of hours before feeling rather overwhelmed and heading home.

Food from the north of Brazil Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

Food from the north of Brazil
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

A row of chicken hearts is not for the faint of heart (but they were yummy) Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

A row of chicken hearts is not for the faint of heart (but they were yummy)
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Mar 2014

I spent the rest of the day cleaning up the house with Mayra and generally taking it easy. One thing I’ve come to realize is that being in a city is extremely tiring and draining. Bleh.

Anyway, being as tired of the city as I was, I decided to escape to a much smaller town the next day, Ouro Preto. The town, whose name literally means Black Gold, is so named for the huge deposits of gold that were mined from the black rock by the Portuguese conquistadors, but it has since fallen from its days of glory now that most of the gold has been extracted.

Ouro Preto - Black Gold Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Ouro Preto – Black Gold
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

I took a bus from Belo Horizonte and after a (relatively) short bus ride of a couple of hours, I was in Ouro Preto.

This cute little town is built on and around several hills, but makes for an impressive view from the top of any one of the hills.

Ouro Preto unfolds Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Ouro Preto unfolds
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

I was immediately in love, and despite the rain which started up barely 20 minutes after my arrival, I refused to be daunted.

Quaint little cemetery Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Quaint little cemetery
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

I headed to the first restaurant I came across to have a traditional lunch of rice, beans, meats and salads (Brazil has this lovely concept of paying by the weight of your food, which means you get to eat a large variety of stuff for a reasonable price), but after lunch the rain still hadn’t let up. Still, because I had planned to return to Belo Horizonte on the last bus back, I headed out into the rain, determined to see something of the town.

The main plaza Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

The main plaza
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

The rain clouds made for some nice backgrounds though Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

The rain clouds made for some nice backgrounds though
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

As luck would have it, and me being the forgetful person that I am, it was a Monday, and I had forgotten that all museums, churches and anything vaguely interesting to a tourist would be closed. After trotting up and down several hills to try my luck at a couple of churches and museums (only one of which was open), I bit the bullet and decided to call it a day.

Getting drenched was (not) worth this picture Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Getting drenched was (not) worth this picture
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Ouro Preto, while once a prosperous mining town, now is home to one of the best universities in Brazil, and as such, has turned into a bustling university town. Unfortunately, it was vacation period for the university, but that meant the many fraternities and sororities in the town had room (at very reasonable prices) for poor travellers such as myself. So off I went, knocking on the doors of several fraternities and sororities, before I finally came across Patotinha, a sorority with lovely girls who took pity on my drowned-rat state and let me stay for free. Such delightful girls they were, and I really enjoyed chatting with them.

At some point, the sun also decided to get back on my side, and at about 4pm, I realized the rain had slowed to a drizzle light enough for me to venture out again. Armed with some suggestions as to places to visit before night fell, I headed out to explore and thoroughly enjoyed myself wandering up and down the lovely rolling hills of the town.

An old abandoned park Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

An old abandoned park
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Night settles upon the town Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Night settles upon the town
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

That evening, I had a jolly time with the girls, chatting and watching Brazilian soap operas before turning in for the night.

The next morning, I woke up quite early to make the most of my day and headed out to wander some more. It turned out to be an excellent day,

Beautiful start to the day Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Beautiful start to the day
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

where I headed to the famous Igreja Santa Efigênia, a church built by the African slaves for themselves (obviously, they weren’t allowed to worship at most of the other churches they built for the white colonialists). While the church was closed for restoration, I managed to sweet talk my way into the church and even sneakily snapped a couple of photos before the construction guys realized what was happening.

Church closed for restorations, but still open for photos Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Church closed for restorations, but still open for photos
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

P.S It never hurts to ask if you want something – sometimes it pays off! It also helps to know the local language and bonus points if you’re from somewhere “exotic”, like Singapore.

Life and Death Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Life and Death
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Anyway, pleased with the efforts of my sneaky ways, I headed off up some streets and down others, just soaking in the lovely atmosphere of this chilled out town.

Everyone is kinda chilled out too Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Everyone is kinda chilled out too
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

The huffing and puffing that accompanied my walks up some streets were also definitely worth it, for the gorgeous views they afforded of the town.

Bougainvilla in full bloom Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Bougainvilla in full bloom
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

 

Although the gold mines are now mostly closed, some still function as tourist attractions, where tourists get guided visits through the mines.

In mining gear, but...just for the picture Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

In mining gear, but…just for the picture
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

I decided to go on a tour of one of the most famous mines, the mine where Chico Rei worked, an African slave who was eventually freed by his master and who went on to mine an incredible amount of gold he then used to buy the freedom of his people with. While the tour was in Portuguese, with my less than perfect Portuñol, I managed to get the main gist of the history of the mine. Fascinating stuff, but at the same time, an appalling reminder of the evilness of the human race. 😦

Chico Rei! Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Chico Rei!
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

I ended off my visit to Ouro Preto with a visit to Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Pilar, which houses a ridiculous 1000 pounds of gold (in addition to 900 pounds of silver), and is the church with the most gold in the country. No pictures because photography isn’t generally allowed, but trust me, literally everything there was covered in gold. Absolutely nuts to think about how the church could easily use all that gold to eradicate a significant amount of poverty in the town or even the state, but nope, the gold is obviously better off “protected” behind the closed doors of the church. Sigh, sometimes, religion doesn’t make sense to me.

The rain started up again just in time for lunch, so I hid indoors again, and whiled away some time before heading to the bus station to catch a bus back to Belo Horizonte. I must say, in my short time there, Ouro Preto definitely captured a place in my heart.

Who wouldn't fall in love with this? Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

Who wouldn’t fall in love with this?
Ouro Preto, Brazil, Apr 2014

The next day, it was off to Pampulha, an huge man-made lake outside the city centre of Belo Horizonte. In taking a bus there, I somehow managed to miss my stop and had to take another bus back (lesson learnt: always ask the bus driver to tell you where to get off), but eventually I arrived at the lake. And my word, it was huge.

Huge ass man-made lake Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Huge ass man-made lake
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Still, it was nice walking around it, and I visited a couple of architectural works of Oscar Niemeyer,

Church of Saint Francis of Assis, courtesy of Oscar Neimeyer Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Church of Saint Francis of Assis, courtesy of Oscar Neimeyer
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Oscar Neimeyer's home Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Oscar Neimeyer’s home
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

as well as the Olympic gymnasium

Pretty cool gymnasium Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Pretty cool gymnasium
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

and the World Cup stadium, Mineirão.

Mineirão Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Mineirão
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Going on the tour of the Mineirão made me mildly sad that I wouldn’t be in Brazil to soak in the atmosphere of the World Cup, but I quickly reminded myself how crazy (expensive) everything would be then, and then I felt a lot better. Haha.

Footballers are human too :P Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Footballers are human too 😛
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Still, it was a nice day spent walking around, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

And I saw capybara. Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

And I saw capybara.
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Having had enough of Belo Horizonte, I decided it was time to pack my bags and leave, so the next day, I spent chilling out and organizing my photos at Mayra’s place, before leaving to catch an overnight bus to Vitoria.

Time to say goodbye Mayra! Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Time to say goodbye Mayra!
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Apr 2014

Stupidly, when I booked my bus ticket online, I didn’t realize that my bus left from a different bus terminal than the main one, and arriving at the main bus terminal 30 minutes before my bus was due to leave, I was told to catch the metro to the other terminal. What ensued was a mad dash to the metro, an interminable ride on the metro, a mad dash to the bus terminal 5 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave, where I was told I had to change my printed ticket for another one at the ticket office, another mad dash to the ticket office, before finally boarding the bus which had kindly waited for me. Breathless from all the frantic rushing about, but finally on board, I was off to Vitoria!

Beaches in Buzios and Cabo Frio (which should be called Cabo Quente)

23 Mar – 25 Mar

I was initially going to take a bus to Buzios, but it just so happened that Dani, Wally and Dario (Brazilian girl and two Argentinian guys I met at the hostel in Rio) were also heading to Buzios, so they insisted that I join them. Such kind and lovely people, not even thinking twice about me tagging along.

It wasn’t too long of a drive there, and soon enough we arrived at the hostel Dani had arranged. It seemed like a decent hostel, so I decided to stay there as well, not having heard back from any of the CouchSurfing hosts I had sent requests to. We headed out for lunch after settling in, and then it was off to the beach!

Beach #1 Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

Beach #1
Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

At this point, I was super grateful that I had tagged along, because practically the only attraction in Buzios was the beach, or rather, the one hundred million beaches, each of which was a considerable distance away from the other on foot. But with a car, it was so much easier to get around! Unfortunately, this meant I did not ever figure out the names of the various beaches we went to.

Beach #2 Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

Beach #2
Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

In any case, the important thing is that…we went to many beaches!

Beach with red sand Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

Beach with red sand
Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

 

Despite somewhat unfavorable weather – kinda chilly, with an annoying drizzle that came and went – we still had fun hanging out at the beach. Or Dani, Wally and Dario did. Personally, I was quite sick of beaches, after the countless beaches (in Floripa, Paraty and Rio) I had visited since I arrived in Brazil, so I was glad I didn’t have to go to much effort to get to these beaches. Still, it was nice, hanging out with the three of them.

Beach #4 - they were a lot more enthusiastic than me about checking out the beaches Buzios, Brazil 2014

Beach #4 – they were a lot more enthusiastic than me about checking out the beaches
Buzios, Brazil 2014

The next day, it was beach, beach and more beach.

More beach Buzios, Brazil 2014

More beach
Buzios, Brazil 2014

Oh, and a lake, where Dani and Wallace did stand-up paddle for a bit. At R$30 for 30min, it seemed a little (very!) exorbitant, so Dario and I sat it out. All in all, a pretty nice day.

The Lake! Which also kinda looked like a beach Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

The Lake! Which also kinda looked like a beach
Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

So. My faithful readers (if you exist, HELLO!) would remember that in Paraty, I jumped/fell 12m into a pool and somehow hurt my chest. Despite that being almost two weeks earlier, my chest was still hurting, so I finally decided to go to the hospital to get it checked out. Dani very kindly accompanied me to translate and keep me company, and after getting a chest x-ray done, I was pronounced intact. The doctor said the pain was probably from some bruising, and prescribed some painkillers, and I got an x-ray of my chest as a souvenir!

My healthy chest! Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

My healthy chest!
Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

After that, it was off to get some delicious burgers – mega monsters with chicken, beef, ham, cheese, eggs, and a whole lot of other stuff, that tasted like heaven exploding in my mouth. Oh yum, I’m starting to drool just thinking about the awesome burgers.

Definitely tasted better than it looked Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

Definitely tasted better than it looked
Buzios, Brazil, Mar 2014

Fed and watered, we headed back to the hostel to pack up, as Dani, Wally and Dario were heading to Arraial do Cabo, and I had decided to take a beard from the endless beaches and head inland to check out Belo Horizonte. Unfortunately for me, there was no was no direct bus from Buzios to Belo Horizonte, so I had to get to a neighboring town, Cabo Frio, to catch the bus. So the next morning, on their way to Arraial do Cabo, Dani and Co. bid me farewell at Cabo Frio, where I had to spend the day – my bus was departing only much later in the evening.

I decided to make full use of my day in Cabo Frio – chucked my backpack at the baggage deposit at the bus station and set out to explore. It is a relatively small city, so I (as usual) walked around, visiting various monuments. A church on top of a hill,

Pretty nice, despite the shit weather Cabo Frio, Brazil, Mar 2014

Pretty nice, despite the shit weather
Cabo Frio, Brazil, Mar 2014

with a gorgeous view,

View of the harbour from the top Cabo Frio, Brazil, Mar 2014

View of the harbour from the top
Cabo Frio, Brazil, Mar 2014

the shopping district where I bought myself a new bikini, my old one having developed a hole in the bum after being abused on the toboggan in Paraty, and (again!) a beach, but this time with a cool fort.

Gloomy skies on the beach Cabo Frio, Brazil, Mar 2014

Gloomy skies on the beach
Cabo Frio, Brazil, Mar 2014

The fort was fun to climb around Cabo Frio, Brazil, Mar 2014

The fort was fun to climb around
Cabo Frio, Brazil, Mar 2014

And after a day of walking around Cabo Frio (which sounds like “Cold Finished”), I decided it should be called Cabo Quente (“Heat Finished”) instead, because it was actually quite cold! Still, I had a nice time wandering around town, and after dinner it was time to catch my bus (well actually it wasn’t, but I changed my bus ticket for an earlier one because Brazil is awesome like that and you can change your bus ticket randomly). With that, it was goodbye beaches and hello beautiful horizons in Belo Horizonte!

All of Rio de Janeiro is a Favela

15 Mar – 22 Mar

The title is in jest – if your delicate sensibilities are offended, well, I don’t really care.

Rio de Janeiro is not too far from Paraty, and we managed to catch a relatively early bus, so when we arrived, it was mid afternoon. Honestly, when we arrived, I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Rio seemed rather filthy, with a vague air of malice hanging about it. Perhaps it was because of all the hype, but I was not impressed.

Leftovers from Carnival, adding to the generally unsavoury atmosphere in Rio. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Leftovers from Carnival, adding to the generally unsavoury atmosphere in Rio.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Anyway. Dona Raquel, Daniel’s mum, had invited us to stay with her, so we headed over to her place, where we met Daniel, who was in Rio as well. After lunch and a quick shower, we headed to the bus terminal to buy Daniel’s bus ticket back to Paraty, a journey during which Daniel and Junior tried to spook me with horror stories of Rio (Junior had lived there for most of his life before he moved to Paraty). It kinda worked, probably because the area around the rodoviaria is pretty shady, with a significant number of homeless people (who looked like they were drunk or drugged or both) wandering around aimlessly. Well, once that was done, we headed to Niteroi, Rio’s less (in)famous little brother, the city on the other side of the bridge. It was a nice bus ride over, with a great view of both Niteroi and Rio.

No picture of the bus ride, but here's a picture of the sunset instead Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

No picture of the bus ride, but here’s a picture of the sunset instead
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We ended up in a tiny town called Manilha, where we first headed to their friend’s home (he is also called Daniel) for tea and then to church, where Daniel was giving a guest sermon. It was a pretty nice evening, and Daniel (of Niteroi) gave us a ride back to Dona Raquel’s place.

Happy churchgoers! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Happy churchgoers!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The next day was Sunday, and Junior wanted to go to his parents’ house to surprise them. But first, he took me on a little tour around Rio. We saw the Maracana stadium (only from the outside, sadly),

THE Maracana Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

THE Maracana
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

went to a park

On the way to the park - in the background, some mountains that pretty much surround Rio Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

On the way to the park – in the background, some mountains that pretty much surround Rio
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

and visited a museum that used to be the old residence of one of Brazil’s governors

Gorgeous building, really Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Gorgeous building, really
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

but had an exhibit on dinosaurs (and a whole bunch of other things) instead.

Yay dinosaurs! But really, a history of Brazil's Portuguese colonial times would have been more fitting. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Yay dinosaurs and mummies! But really, a history of Brazil’s Portuguese colonial times would have been more fitting.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

After that, it was to Junior’s home in Rio, which (according to him) is in what used to be one of the worst favela’s in Rio. Honestly, it didn’t seem that bad, but there was a significantly larger population of scantily-clad women and cars with Funk music blaring out of their boots.

Big open market where the bus dropped us off Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Big open market where the bus dropped us off
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

But back to the surprise! Needless to say, when his mum opened the door for us, her expression was absolutely priceless. She (and the rest of Junior’s family) was absolutely delighted to see him, and it was really good to see them all again as well (even as I write this, several months later, the memory brings a smile to my face). I got to meet the rest of Junior’s wonderful family, and it was an absolutely lovely day.

Newest addition to Junior's family - Vitor! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Newest addition to Junior’s family – Vitor!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Well, since my phone died in Paraty, I was essentially uncontactable in case of an emergency, so I wanted to buy a new phone in Rio. So that evening, Junior brought me to one of the million shopping malls in Rio to try to find a phone that suited my needs (i.e. cheap smartphone with whatsapp capability that wasn’t blocked for international SIM cards). The bus ride there was absolutely insane – a less experienced driver would surely have caused an accident at the speed he was driving at, on the kind of streets he was driving on, but we arrived to a delightful surprise! There was a funfair going on, and being the children that we are, Junior and I decided to go on the most exciting ride they had. Super fun and such a throwback to childhood days.

Funfairs turn adults to kids again! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Funfairs turn adults to kids again!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Well, the mall was boring after that, and I found a phone that worked but didn’t buy it because the store closed while we were distracted by ice cream. So it was another roller-coaster bus ride (all bus drivers in Rio, and possibly in all Brazil/ Latin America have superpowers, I’m sure of it) back to Junior’s house after that, where we called it a night.

After lunch the next day, we headed back to Rio to explore a little more. I also got a truly Carioca experience, because we took the train back to downtown, something tourists never do, apparently. It was a really interesting experience, and I got the chance to see what Rio’s favelas are like. I even made a video of the train ride, secretly.

It is apparently common for people to hang out of the doors (which they force open) of the train Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

It is apparently common for people to hang out of the doors (which they force open) of the train
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Favelas don't look that bad, but maybe I'm blind Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Favelas don’t look that bad, but maybe I’m blind
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Having made it safely back downtown, we explored a bit of Rio, checking out some of the iconic sites there. It was great having Junior as a tour guide, because I could focus on soaking in the city without worrying too much about where we were going (or how to navigate the crazy traffic).

Cool building in downtown Rio Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Cool building in downtown Rio
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

After wandering around for a bit, we caught a ferry over to Niteroi!

Crazy queue for the ferry though. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Crazy queue for the ferry though.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

If the view on the bus was good, the ferry was better.

Rio, from the ferry Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Rio, from the ferry
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

And cheaper too (God only knows why anyone would take the bus instead).

Niteroi, from the ferry Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Niteroi, from the ferry
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We walked around Niteroi(‘s shopping centre) for a bit, and then took the ferry back to Rio.

Row of lights which is actually the bridge which connects Rio and Niteroi Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Row of lights which is actually the bridge which connects Rio and Niteroi
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We caught a really strange, but interesting performance at a museum

Performance art, where people actually talked to us. It was odd and we didn't quite understand what was going on. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Performance art, where people actually talked to us. It was odd and we didn’t quite understand what was going on.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Rio at night is a lovely(ish) sight Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Rio at night is a lovely(ish) sight
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

and then it was back to Dona Raquel’s house for me to get my stuff and head to my CouchSurfing host’s place.

It was, quite frankly, the worst CouchSurfing experience I have ever had. Well, to be honest, I was somewhat aware of the situation, but I guess it was just more than I had expected. So, I had sent CouchRequests some time back, asking for a place to crash for Carnival. This guy had invited me over, and when I checked his profile, he had quite a number of good references, but also a bunch of people who had said that his place was dirty, because of the 7 or 8 dogs he had. Well, generally, a dirty places don’t bother me too much, and I’m a big fan of dogs, so I thought I could deal with it. Unfortunately, this was not the case, because when I got to his place, I was greeted by a very strong smell of unwashed dogs as well as poo and pee. He informed me that one of his dogs had just had puppies, so there were now a grand total of FOURTEEN dogs in his relatively small apartment. He showed me to the place where I was to sleep, and left me to my devices. I tried to settle down to sleep, but unfortunately, the entire atmosphere of the place was making me really uncomfortable. To top it all off, the dogs spent the whole night yowling and barking, which was really just…I don’t even know how to describe it. I decided that I couldn’t stay there any longer, so in the morning, I made my excuses and left for a hostel. The guy seemed pretty cool about it, but he later sent me an angry message, so I guess not 😦 such a pity, because he seemed pretty cool, despite the state of his house. Well, in any case, that’s in the past now.

After dumping my stuff at the hostel, I went out to meet Junior and finally bought my phone. Good thing Junior was there too, because non-Brazilians apparently can’t buy phones in Brazil (weird system, I know). Armed with my new phone, we set off to climb Pão de Açúcar.

Pao de Azucar, which is now commonly known amongst tourists as Sugar Loaf heh Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Pao de Azucar, which is now commonly known amongst tourists as Sugar Loaf heh
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Well, actually the smaller hill next to it, but you know, same difference. It was an easy trek

View from a secret spot off the trail Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

View from a secret spot off the trail
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We met a little monkey on our walk too! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We met a little monkey on our walk too!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

and with great view of the bay area.

I'm not part of the view, but it was a cool tree to perch on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

I’m not part of the view, but it was a cool tree to perch on
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We even got to take the cable car down (for free!) which was the perfect icing on the cake.

Cable car view! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,

Cable car view!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

After that, we headed to Copacabana beach for a leisurely evening stroll,

Copacabana beach - that's the full moon in the distance! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Copacabana beach – that’s the full moon in the distance!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

unfettered by the hordes of tourists who usually occupy almost every square inch of space during the day. Lovely day that really got my mind off the CouchSurfing fiasco.

One of the most famous things in Rio, apart from Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, is the giant statue of Jesus Christ, Cristo Redentor, on Morro do Corcovado. And get this – despite having lived in Rio for most of his life, Junior had never been to visit it. He finally had an excuse to, with me around, and we decided to go the next day. As I was heading there, I met a Brazilian girl, Dani, and her two Argentinian friends, Wally and Dario who were also heading there, so we decided to go together.

Pretty cool view on the train up to  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Pretty cool view on the train up to Morro do Corcovado
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Despite being quite expensive, it was worth it – fantastic views,

Overlooking Rio Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Overlooking Rio
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Back view of Jesus Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Back view of Jesus
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

And the front! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

And the front!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

and good laughs at the silly tourists who were making the typical pose (I plead guilty as well).

Silly tourists Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Silly tourists
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

After that, we split from Dani and friends who were heading to the beach, and wandered around Rio a bit more before heading to Arpoador to catch a gorgeous sunset.

Walking along Ipanema Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Walking along Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Sunset  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Sunset from the Arpoador – View of Morro Dois Irmaos
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We chilled out there for a while, and then it was off to Lapa to check out Rio’s famed nightlife. Maybe because it was midweek, but it didn’t seem particularly impressive.

Lapa at night Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Lapa at night
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The famous arches of Lapa Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The famous arches of Lapa
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

I still had fun though, and Lapa, despite its distinctly hobo vibe, still seemed like a quaint, bohemian place.

The steps of Lapa, which are (also) famous and add to the bohemian vibe there Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The steps of Lapa, which are (also) famous and add to the bohemian vibe there
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

It was quite late by then, so I accompanied Junior back to his home for the night.

After being in small, quiet little Paraty for almost three weeks, being in Rio was rather overwhelming (I really am a small-town kinda girl at heart!), so we had a quiet (or as quiet as a home with more than 10 people living in it can be) day in Junior’s house, just hanging out in the pool and watching TV. Very coincidentally, there was a program on TV about Singapore (can you believe that!) which I enjoyed watching, but which also made me miss (the food back) home. It also happened to be Junior’s mum’s birthday that day, so in the evening, there was a celebration with the rest of Junior’s family. Such a lovely bunch of people, and being there reminded me of my own family celebrations back home.

Feliz aniversario mae! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Feliz aniversario mae!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The next day, it was time to say goodbye to Junior and (my) family (in Rio), as Junior was heading back to Paraty. Back in Rio downtown, I had a relatively calm day, running errands and taking it easy. That night, I went with Dani and friends with some other people from the hostel to Lapa again, and it definitely was more vibrant, with lots of people partying on the streets. Very fun night, although my wallet fell out of the taxi as I was getting out without me noticing and I lost maybe R$40 due to my own stupid carelessness. 😦

One of the people I met during the church retreat in Paraty was Camila, a really sweet girl who lives in Rio. She had invited me to hang out with her the next day, so we, along with her friend Mimi, headed to the Jardim Botanico, for an afternoon of sightseeing

Giant trees and a tiny Camila Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Giant trees and a tiny Camila
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The largest lily pads in the world! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The largest lily pads in the world!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Cristo looked quite cool, shrouded in clouds Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Cristo looked quite cool, shrouded in clouds
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

and camwhoring.

The garden trio Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The garden trio
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

A very pleasant day we ended by going to Copacabana beach and chilling out to Camila playing the guitar and singing.

Entertainment for the evening Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Entertainment for the evening
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

With that, I had had enough of Rio for the time being, and I decided to get back on the road. But not for long, because my next stop was Buzios!