Rio, Rio 2, and our visit to Brazil

Since we started talking about our around the world trip, Boy has wanted to stop in Brazil. He loved the Rio movies and was determined to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer above the city. Sorting out our Brazilian visas took some effort as they had to be done in our home country. A trip back for a family wedding in October gave us a chance to file the paperwork and get them done.

It was February when we arrived in Rio de Janiero. A quick stop at the grocery store for provisions and a look at the scenery on the way from the airport was all we could manage our first day. Settling in to our apartment for the week, we popped some popcorn and began with a Rio and Rio 2 movie marathon. After months of travel, we were tired and moving a bit slowly.

By day two, we mustered our energy and took a taxi to Corcovdo so we could go up to see the statue of Christ. Unfortunately, a storm rolled through and the clouds were so thick, you could not see the statue. The ticket office advised us to try another day, so we returned to our apartment and strolled along Ipanema beach in the overcast afternoon. A Brazillian grill with endless meat fed our bodies and got us moving again.

The next day, the weather improved, so we rode the funicular up Corcovado to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Boy took a quick look and was ready to ride back down again. We delayed him for a snack and a drink at the cafe, where we watched a monkey and a lizard in the trees below us. Not many birds to be seen, however, so not quite like the movies.

Wanting another overview of the city, we also rode the cable cars up Sugar Loaf mountain, known in Portugese as Pao De Acucar. The crowds were bigger here, but we had clear skies and great views.

More rain sent us indoors to the Museo Historico Nacional a terrific collection of artifacts from the 500 years of Brazilian history in a beautiful, colonial building. It is on the edge of the central part of the city, but at the moment is hard to reach due to street improvements for the 2016 Olympics. We all learned a lot about the founding of the country and wished we were there at lunchtime, as the museum cafe looked spectacular.

Another find was the fort at Copacabana beach. Boy loved the cannons while Dad and I appreciated the views. The 1914 fort is open for tours and has an outpost of the Colombo Restaurant, known for its milkshakes and afternoon tea, a treat we did not skip.

We skipped the trolley through the Santa Teresa neighborhood, however. The historic trolley has been shut since 2010 following an accident. It’s planned reopening for the 2014 World Cup was delayed and is now planned for sometime in 2015. We couldn’t wait around till then, so it dropped off our things to do list. We did spend some time at the beaches, checked out the Sambadromo and caught a street party at Ipanema for Carnaval, over the course of the week. We weren’t sure what to expect in Rio, but we found the beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema were fairly tame, many bikinis, on people of all shapes, but no topless sunbathers and few thong bottoms. A number of kids and families, especially at Ipanema. Overall, we found Rio to be easy to navigate and generally family friendly, though Boy was crushed he didn’t see more birds.

The beach

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Christ the Redeemer and a city view

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Fort Copacabana

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Our schoolbooks

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A Taste of Carnaval

Our planned stop in Rio de Janeiro took us there in early February, just before the official weekend of Carnaval. Traveling with a small boy, we wanted to miss some of the crowds and the raised prices that come with the big party.

We did, however, want to see a bit of the excitement, so we caught a few of the lead up events. These smaller neighborhood events start in January, right after the Christmas season and run right through Carnaval and the beginning of Lent.

Our apartment in Ipanema was on the route for the local street parade. Police stopped traffic for a double decker bus with an open top, decorated for the event. On the top of the bus, a band of musicians played Samba while dozens of costumed people danced through the street to the beach. The boulevard along the beach was closed for a street party, full of vendors, musicians and merrymakers. We cheered the parade, but a very short stroll along the beach party was enough to give us our fill of drunken tourists.

Another night we ventured to the Sambadromo for the official Carnaval technical rehearsal. Each of the Samba schools has a night to do a rehearsal or walk through at the Sambadromo where they will parade for Carnaval. Most of these rehearsals take place in January, but the last Sunday before Carnaval is the night of the light and sound test and a full dress rehearsal for the prior year’s Carnaval champion Samba school. Not only could we see the 2014 champions, but we were told the rehearsal is a family friendly event and the rehearsal is FREE! The rehearsals are done with placeholder floats and costumes, so as not to give away any secrets before the big show the following week, but they include all the dancing, parading, and music of the actual event.

We arrived to a big, but cheerful crowd, with plenty of picnicking local families. We saw two different groups parade and dance through the Sambadromo. The performers in one case wore all white and in the other wore matching blue and yellow t-shirts. For props, they held balloons and pool noodles to take the place of whatever fancy, sparkly items they will carry for the actual event.

I was surprised by the number and variety of people dancing in the parade. I always imagined the parades were full of girls in skimpy, glittered bikinis. Each Samba school has several of these principal dancers, usually leading the parade or on top of the floats. At the rehearsal these girls were there and did have sparkly bikinis, but there were hundreds of regular people of all shapes and sizes dancing in the parade as well. One group of dancers was all grandmothers, while others were children or teens. All were cheered on by relatives sitting in the stands with us.

Returning to the apartment after the rehearsal, we found on YouTube the video of the 2014 champions, so we had a chance to see what it would all look like when the floats and costumes are unveiled.

The street parade in Ipanema

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Dress Rehearsal at the Sambadromo

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Our books

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Waterfalls in Brazil

From Argentina, we flew to Brazil, stopping briefly in Curritiba before landing in Foz de Iguacu. This conference and resort town sits along the Iguacu river where the borders of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil all come together. This river is also the site of one of the world’s largest waterfalls, Iguacu Falls, or Iguassu Falls, if you are on the Argentinian side. The combined national parks of both countries are listed as an UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.

From our Brazilian hotel, we caught the local city bus to the national park. Signs throughout the park warned us to watch out for the quatis (coatis), raccoon like creatures who swarmed the park visitor center and restaurants looking for food. They were unafraid of people, coming right to your feet begging for treats. It could be hard to avoid touching them as the signs warned when they rubbed against your legs looking for crumbs.

Walking along the trail, we had terrific views of the falls on both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of the river. We had a chance to watch some adventurerers preparing for a kayak over one of the smaller falls. Boy watched for an hour as they suited up and attached safety harnesses and cables. Unhappy with one of their final checks, they delayed their entry and, we gave up before they put the kayaks in the water, but we did see them rappel down a rope along the falls while they attached latches and checked knots. Completing our hike down to the bottom of the falls, an elevator whisked us back up to the visitor center and food court for lunch.

The next day, we hopped on a tourist bus for a ride across the border to the Argentinian national park. A train takes visitors from the visitors center to the viewing platform. An extensive metal walkway goes through the rainforest, crosses the river, and takes you right to the edge of the Devils Throat, the largest of the falls, with a 90 meter drop, close enough to feel the spray and observe the fast moving water. While Argentina has less expansive views of the entire series of 275 falls than the Brazilian park, the Argentian park puts you right up close to the water. It also had a better walk through the forest, which was full of colorful butterflies.

Our hotel was packed with South American families on summer holiday, so there were plenty of kids to play with in the afternoons before dinner. Boy enjoyed the game room and large swimming pool with water slides. Ping pong and foosball were favorites.

School books this week were ebooks on Brazilian history and geography. For science, we have begun studying the animals and plants of the Amazonian rainforest as we will be there in less than two weeks.

The Falls

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