10.02. - 13.02.2002: Rio de Janeiro

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Saturday, 09.02.2002: Hamburg - Madrid

We left Hamburg at midday and landed in Madrid at around 4pm. Since we had a 7 hour wait we went into the city and got caught up in all the carnival crowds there! Well it was practice for the "real" thing in Rio!! Madrid is a lovely city with lots of beautiful buildings from 18th and 19th century.

We got back to the airport at 10.30pm and got onto the 13 hour Iberia flight to Rio de Janeiro. Did´t get much sleep on the plain though.

Sunday, 10.02.2002: Madrid - Rio de Janeiro

We got to Rio at 8-20 in the morning and spent ages looking for ATM's that would take our cards. We finally had to accept defeat and changed money with a local at the airport!

It was hot and quite humid when we arrived and we managed to get a bus straight to the hotel door, having passed the shanty town on the way which looked like a rabbit warren - very narrow, muddy streets with some rickety brick buildings no bigger than the average bathroom for those who where better off, otherwise corrugated iron!

Our hotel is expensive as it's carnival but it's not exactly 4 star! One of the beds falls apart if you move it too much, the shower is only built for thin people, the TV only shows the carnival (No winter Olympics here!!) and the noise from the traffic is really loud even though we're on the 5th floor! Oh well it's better than shanty town! And the good thing is that all the people who are travelling with our travel company (Kumuka) are in the same hotel.

Rio hotel room

The Kumuka people were all going to carnival on Sunday 10th - the day we arrived. We wanted to go the following day to give ourselves a bit of time to adjust. But we decided it was better to go with the others. Unfortunately we got ripped off by the hotel for the carnival tickets (55 US$ each) when we would have been better off getting them from the street (7US$)!

Carnival was absolutely packed and buzzing with tourists, locals, and carnival dancers. We walked down to the Sambadrome, passed all the floats that were getting ready to parade and as we got nearer and nearer the crowds got bigger and we started getting a bit squashed! Not nice being so close to so many sweaty bodies! Then one of the tour leaders found out that we weren't in the right place and we had to double back. Kirsten and Helen, plus Andrea (another woman from Hamburg) who was right behind us, then got separated from the others when they turned right off the main street. But we just got our tickets out and kept asking where we had to go by pointing at the ticket and using the Spanish word for "where" (Brazil is Portuguese). We actually got to our stand before the rest of the group!

The whole thing started at 9pm with fireworks. There were literally thousands of people in the stands lining a wide avenue where the carnival dancers and floats would be coming along. Our stand was right at the end so we had to wait a while before we saw anything. But we were also next to the judges so they had to perform well! Whoever wins is the pride of Brazil!!

The stands were literally rocking with people dancing, and singing to the loud music. There are 6 carnival processions, each with it's own theme and own song which gets played over and over again until that particular procession has finished. So it didn't take long before we were joining in too. The dancers come along in groups ranging from 2 to over 100 dancers, each group wearing the same elaborately colourful costumes and each with their own particular dance steps. They prepare all year for this and you can tell it takes all that time just to prepare the costumes! Every now and then a massive float comes along, swaying with all the dancers on it, some of them very sparsely clad and others dressed up as rock climbers hanging off the back, or trapeze artists swinging on the float. There was just too much to look at and every time a big float came into view the crowd on our stand would roar and clap and whistle! We were amazed how well we were doing considering we hadn't slept for over 36 hours and the carnival lasts for 8 hours! But the atmosphere was extremely lively and very friendly - everyone just having fun.

By 2am we couldn't keep our eyes open any more so we decided to walk back to the hotel. Despite the noise coming from the street outside the hotel, we were so exhausted we fell asleep straight away!

Monday, 11.02.2002: Rio de Janeiro

After breakfast we started on the tourist trail. First on the list was Sugar Loaf Mountain. We waited for a bus for nearly an hour before giving up and catching the underground and walking along the beach to the cable car. The views from the top were superb even though it was quite hazy from the sun. You could actually see the famous beach - the Copacabana - from there, and the view over the bay and of the city is something you don't forget.

Sugarloaf video

Then we caught a bus to Copacabana beach ...the bus drivers are maniacs!! They literally race through the streets taking the corners at break-neck speeds, throwing the passengers from side to side! You just don't look out of the front window and try not to think of what could happen! As a pedestrian, you NEVER cross the road unless the little green man is showing - and even then you have to have your wits about you all the time because a red light does not necessarily mean "stop"!

We went to a restaurant on the sea front on the Copacabana beach and for the first time it actually felt like we were on holiday, although it was still quite hard to believe that we were there! After that it was another hair-raising bus ride back to the carnival to take some video shots. We hadn't taken any cameras with us to the Sambadrome as we were warned not to, so we wanted to just walk along passed the floats to try and catch some of the atmosphere on the memory chip!

We went back to the hotel to drop our stuff off and then walked along the street by our hotel where there is a kind of gathering place for the carnival dancers. There was a group of drummers banging out a Samba rhythm and various groups of carnival dancers would walk or run passed. At one point the music suddenly stopped. Apparently a fight had broken out and we only just managed to get out of the way of the fleeing crowds who were like a massive wave coming towards us!! But it wasn't long before everyone was happy again. Amazing how quickly the mood can change!! Well with so many people and over 33 degrees C, it's surprising how little trouble there actually was!

Carneval on the streets

We went down for the fireworks again and found a place at the start of the carnival "Avenue" where we could actually see without paying for a ticket! We actually walked for miles, all around to the other side of the Sambadrome and back but when in Rio ... you have to make the most of the carnival.

Around the Sambadrome

Two pick pockets were trying to get their hands on Helen, but the ex-policewoman knew how to deal with them. The closer we got to our hotel at around 1am the fewer people were around. When we turned into Rio Branco (our street) it was quite dark so we walked quicker. Helen kept looking out for possible thieves and noticed three men, ready to come at us. We weren´t alone on the street but as Helen turned around again to look, the tall black one ran at her and grabbed her around the neck with his right forearm and held her left upper arm so tightly with his left hand that it hurt. Helen screamed out loud "Aargh" - in the split second that followed she tried to stop him from strangling her but couldn´t so she elbowed him as hard as she could in the stomach. Thank God the three blokes let go and we ran the 100 metres to the hotel entrance. Save! Helen had a large red mark on her upper left arm and Kirsten and Andrea were shaking in shock. Well, that´s Rio at Carneval time!

Tuesday, 12.02.2002: Rio de Janeiro

We went to the other famous beach - Ipanema. Personally we found this area better than at Copacabana even though we had been told it was the other way round - perhaps we weren't in the right place! The restaurants seemed to be better as well.

In the early afternoon we took the bus (the worst ride yet!) to the Corcovado - the massive statue of Jesus overlooking Rio. We took a slow train up through the rain forest with glimpses of the views we would be seeing when we got to the top. Of course it was absolutely packed with tourists, all fighting to get to the best spots to take photos! But the views were even better than from the Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Corcovado video

Wednesday, 13.02.2002: Rio de Janeiro

We went back at Ipanema to do our washing!! Sounds really extravagant - going to one of the most famous beach resort in the world just to do the washing! It was also an Internet day.

That evening when we finally met up with the rest of our group. There are 22 people on our truck, there should have been 24 but two got stuck at the Bolivian border and were supposed to meet us later but still haven´t appeared! There are 3 Ozzies, 2 Irish, 1 New Zealand, 1 French, Kirsten is the only German and the rest are English.

13 are only doing the 3 week trip to Buenos Aires, 5 are doing 7 weeks to Santiago and 4 are going all the way to Quito (including us 2). The 1st 3 weeks are supposed to be mainly camping with all of us cooking. 3 of the 4 going all the way to Quito were asked to be "Packers". Our leader Paul told us that packers didn´t cook or wash up, they had the keys to all the lockers which we had to open up and then just help pack the rucksacks and tents and get the tables and chairs out. So Helen said she would do it along with Jason and Graham. Unfortunately we all found out it was a bum deal!! The packers have to do everything - truck security, fill up the large water bottles, pack the shopping away, unpack and repack everything needed to cook including the cook tent when it rains, safe duty, and as we don´t have washers up we have to wash our own plates etc. anyway (no washing up huh!?!) and we always have to get up with the breakfast people.....in fact you name it we have to do it!!!

After the group meeting we all went out for a meal (Pizza and lots of beer from a street restaurant) to get to know each other.