4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the category “Brazil”

My South America Favorites + Returning “Home” (by Carmen)

17th century map of South America

Our South America trip was better than I could have ever expected.  I loved practicing my Spanish, scouting out local cuisine, imbibing lots of caipirinhas and red wine, and observing the mix of old world and new world traditions.  One thing I hadn’t quite expected was the jaw dropping natural beauty, from jungles and beaches to arid, bushy plains; from huge cacti growing out of red rocks to stark Andean mountainscapes.  It was a collection of unforgettable experiences.

With that in mind, I thought I would get through some FAQs.  These generally begin with “what was your favorite…”.  So here are a selection of my favorites from my fifteen weeks down south.

Cafe Tortoni in Buenos Aires

Nathan grilling up some lomito

Sifones used to store soda water

Fútbol fanáticos

Favorite City: Buenos Aires.  The city has a special lived in elegance to it.  I enjoyed the cafe culture, the pretty parks, and the slightly rough around the edges feel to it.  And the Argentinian accent, which uses a lot of soft “j” sounds, was incredibly endearing.

Cafayate View

Last rays of sun in the Cafayate canyons

Favorite Town: Cafayate. Good wine, yummy empanadas, an alfajores factory, a spacious main plaza, beautiful scenery and wine flavored ice cream…Cafayate instantly welcomed us.

Pasta, wine, yum…at Pierinos

Quinoa salad at Market in Rio de Janeiro

Artemisia in Buenos Aires

Favorite Restaurant: Pierinos.  I love pasta.  This is the third time I’ve mentioned it in this blog but the slow cooked sauces Pierinos slathers on its homemade pasta steal my heart.  Other favorite eats include Artemesia‘s mostly vegetarian fare, the fresh salads and smoothies at Market, any buffet in Brazil, and fresh ceviche in Peru.

Delicious fried trucha

Chicharron sandwich stand in Arequipa

Favorite Hole in the Wall: Trucha stands on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. So simple but so good with the fresh caught trout fried to perfection in garlic and oil. El Cuartito served my favorite pizza in Buenos Aires.  The lomito sandwich in cordoba wasn’t much to look at but was delicious and big enough for the both of us.  And then there was the chicharron sandwich Arequipa. Fried pork with spicy coleslaw is always a winner.

The spectacular Salar de Uyuni trip

Nathan and me enjoying Bolivian scenery

Nathan the mountaineer on Salkantay

Favorite Sight Salar de Uyuni and Salkantay Mountain. We saw so many beautiful sights but it is the people you share it with that make it even better.  Therefore it’s a tie between the non-stop excitement of the salar de uyuni trip and the first view of Salkantay with old friends from San Francisco. Oh and Iguazu Falls too!

Wine and Cheese in Tafí del Valle

Schwarzwald beer hall in Curitiba, Brazil – I loved the mini stein in the big stein!

Favorite Drinking Experience: Wine and cheese in Tafí del Valle.  We brought a wonderful Malbec from Mendoza, sliced up some local cheese and sat on the porch of the historic villa we stayed at. Heaven.  I also loved collecting mini beer steins at the convivial German beer hall Schwarzwald.  And the most delicious caipirinhas I tasted were made by a Peruvian at Pepe’s Bar in Foz de Iguazu.

Bossa Nova in Rio de Janeiro

Marching band in Copacabana

Favorite Live Music: Los Tabaleros performing at the hidden restaurant. The chef and his friends played the show at the secret restaurant my classmate’s roommates hosted.  I’m still happy I won the cd! Also enjoyed the classic bossa nova in Ipanema and the parade music at Copacabana’s festival.

Church roof in Potosí

Potato peddlers in Sucre

Best Place to Go If You’ve Only Got a Couple Weeks: Bolivia.  The variety of the sights here is incredible!  You can enjoy lush jungles or cold windy mountains.  The people are friendly and helpful.  They keep the traditional culture alive and well.  And, importanly, it’s inexpensive to get around.

Chandelier in Argentina’s congress building

All the places we went and sights we saw, and there is still more to see.  I was sad to leave South America when there is so much more to explore. On the other hand, adventures in other parts of the world beckoned.

Dewy rose in Tafí del Valle

From Peru we returned “home” to California but that’s a tricky word for me.  If home is where the heart is, mine is rather split up. Immediate family in Southern California, close friends in San Francisco, extended family in Chicago.  And then there’s the part of my heart passionate about travel, which creates an itch to make a home in new places.

So the final and most popular FAQ, “What’s next?” Should we travel for the entire year? You’ll have to read the next post to find out.

Where oh where will we go from here?

Northern Migration (by Nathan)

Recoleta Cemetary

In January I began my southern migration. I escaped the constant 60 degrees of San Francisco for the sun and summertime of South America. I was excited to begin work on improving my Spanish and I was ready to live and travel through countries and cultures of which I had only a cursory knowledge.  The plan was to roam from city to city with an open mind, a loose pocket book and a constant curiosity to explore and enjoy the differences in these countries.  After four months of adventure, Carmen and I would return to California ready to embark on another journey.

Fugazza and Faina Pizza

Açai breakfast

Our trip began in Buenos Aires with food, activities and cultures that stood up to any great city. The fugazza pizza was deliciously unique with thick doughy crust, creamy cheese and heaps of oven caramelized onions.  El Cuartito was the best, and I think Rick agreed. I would return for the pizza and empanadas and all the beautiful streets that BsAs has to offer.

Sunset on Ipanema Beach, Rio

Carmen and the sands of Rio

We traveled through Uruguay and into Brazil. Rio de Janiero was everything that I love in a travel destination. Beaches stretched endlessly with the urban landscape pressed right up against the sand.  The culture is vibrant with dance, music and tropical foods.  The açai and fresh fruit drinks stand out as an epitome of fresh summertime delights. The country is a mix of indigenous, Europeans, Africans and Asians, a familiar mix to the United States so we felt welcomed as foreigners.  We could swim, climb a mountain and go dancing all in one day.  I enjoyed gaining a better understanding of the favelas as well as peering down into the city from the many vistas.

Fun at Lapa steps

Iguazú Waterfalls

We worked our way through Brazil’s vast landscape.  We visited the breathtaking waterfalls in Iguazú that roared unbelievably over the cliffs edge. We baked in in the sun on Ihla do Mel on coastal Brazil and we jointed friends in Santiago Chile.  We bussed our way over the Andes into Mendoza for a day or two (or three) of wineries, biking and empanadas. We explored German settled villages and the bigger cities of Córdoba and Salta. It was the canyons that really captured my heart.

Fun light fixture at our hostel

El castillo en Quebrada de Cafayate

Another one of my favorite cities was the charming Cafayate in Argentina.  We sipped wine at several walk able bodegas. We hiked through beautiful canyons and cliff formations.  And most often, we enjoyed strolling through the cozy town.  With a simple town square and food market our time here was relaxing and satisfying.

Jumping off rocks at valle de rocas

Fun on the salt flats

Another bus brought us into Bolivia. The country is poor with struggle, but thriving with cheap delicious food, unforgettable sights and nice helpful people.  One of my favorite experiences of the entire trip was the four day trek into the Salar De Uyuni.We visited brightly colored lagoons, spectacular volcanic rocks and salt flats that made us act silly with our new friends. The home-cooked Bolivian food was excellent and every day I wanted to take the little woman home with me to teach me everything she knows in the kitchen.

Painted desert in Bolivia

Salt harvesting

We continued high into the mountains. The cities of Potosí and Sucre were wonderful places to learn about Bolivia, South America and the indigenous people that lived here for thousands of years.  La Paz contained the best market that we experienced in South America.  This was because the stalls could not be contained by any building and instead flowed out on the streets in every direction.  It was mayhem and delight simultaneously. I loved it!

The best market streets is in La Paz

We biked down mountains in La Paz and hiked islands of Lake Titicaca. A festival in Copacabana engaged our feet and sent us running for cover from fireworks.  Bolivia has a rustic, untamed, and raw quality to it that flaunts colorful traditions with people that are genuine and kind.

Street in Arequipa

When we had finally made our way into Peru our bellies began being stuffed to the brim with constant feasts of amazing food.  Arequipa was the best food city we went to in South America.  There was ceviche, alpaca, rocoto rellenos, chicharrones and fresh fruit smoothies. We found something delicious everywhere we went.  The city had beautiful architecture and the nearby Colca Canyon was great for hiking.

Arequipa food market

Our history lesson continued when we finally arrived in Cusco.  The city is packed with nearby ruins and a brutal history where the mighty Incas were decimated by the Spanish. One downfall of Cusco and Peru is that very few sights have accessible tourist information.  There are an abundance of guides, that costs, entry fees are high and there are many sights to see which makes Peru a challenge for tourists on a budget.  But with friends it is all worth it.

Machu Picchu

On our Machu Picchu trek we went all out with excellent cooks, porters, equipment and a guide.  I think I liked the walking and hiking just as much as the ruins.  We walked for six days climbing snow covered passes, jungles and high altitude wetlands.  We stuffed ourselves on Peruvian favorites and we laughed until we hurt playing card games into the night.  We wondered around countless ruins out doing one another in jumping photos and we caravanned up and down the mountainsides. Machu Picchu in itself is a spectacular piece of history and archeology.  We combined it with Salkantay, the Inca Trail and friends for an unforgettable adventure.

Carmen patiently waiting for me to finish the photo

Our final city in Peru was LimaThe time spent there was brief, but the amounts of ceviche consumed copious.  Ponte de Azul ceviche stands out as one of my favorite meals.  The fish was firm and fresh and the juice sour and spicy.  In the blink of an eye Lima was over and we were boarding a plane saying goodbye to this Lima, Peru and South America.

Every vacation involves exploring new places, having adventures and creating memories.  The challenge and fun of any vacation for Carmen and me is that we leave with a longer list of places to see and immerse ourselves into next time.  Our next trip to South America would focus on exploring the natural side of this continent.  Patagonia tops our list of “must sees.”  We did not want to lug around our carpas and sacos de dormir (tents and sleeping bags) this trip.  So next time we plan on several weeks of hiking and back-country camping.  We want to see the coasts of Peru and Colombia known for beautiful beaches.  And finally we want to see more of Brazil- Belem is supposedly vibrant and bountiful with Amazonian foods and culture.  In no way did we calm our enjoyment of Brazilian rhythms and dance; we want more samba!

Outside the airport, our last minutes in Peru

There are so many places to visit; each city or village opens new possibilities of adventure.  We walk everywhere and we eat everything; that is what 4feet2mouths is all about.  Our love for travel has taken us to the other side of the world.  And as fall sets on South America we land in Los Angeles ready for new adventures, more exotic countries, more tiring hikes and street food that will leave our mouths searing and tingling.  Traveling is too much fun to stop now.  Do you want to join us?

One of my favorite photos: Congresso reflection, BsAs

The Tiny Island of Ihla Do Mel (by Nathan)

Colorful fishing boat

Colorful fishing boat

Time for a vacation from this vacation.  Traveling is hard work. Every few days we pack our rucksacks and transport ourselves to a new destination.  Each place is an adventure and every city requires planning for places to eat, sights to see and activities to entertain.  To us, this is the fun of traveling, an adventure wherever we go.

We try to spend an afternoon here and there reading or napping, but then we get to the point where we need a few days to really relax. We grabbed our swim suits and headed to the tiny Ilha do Mel (Honey Island).

Docks of Parana

Docks of Paraguaná

Originally it was a colonial fort, but now it has less than 1000 residents, no cars, no roads, just sandy paths, lush forests and pristine beaches.  I’m relaxing just writing about it!

Buffet in Paraná

Buffet in Paraguaná

The only way to get to the island is by ferry from Paraguaná or Ponta do Sol.  Before departing we grabbed lunch at a per kilo restaurant. The variety and quality of food at these places is wonderful.  We filled our plates with feijão (black beans) and salads and then waddled our way onto the boat.   Then we chugged along through the calm blue waters to the island.

Water sunset

Water sunset

There are two villages on the island.  We stayed on the southern edge in Encantadas.  Our hostel was adorable with its own wooden balcony and two hammocks overlooking the beach.  A five minute walk and we were in the water watching the sun disappear behind the mountains.

Dinner in the sand

Dinner in the sand

We had several options for dinner that night.  We walked along the beach with our sandals in our hands until we found a place that offered everything we wanted.  The owner suckered us in first complimenting our Portuguese then questioning us if we were Argentinean.  We gorged on fish shrimp, fries, salad, rice and feijão.  With our feet in the sand we quenched our thirst with a caipirinha or two.

Playa Grande

Playa Grande

Travel around the island is by foot along winding sandy trails through the forest that emerge on picturesque beaches.  We traveled here mid-week and the island was empty.  Supposedly the island is packed with thousands of people in January, but we were only aware of fifteen or so tourists during our stay.

Grilled fish with capers at Mar e Sol

Grilled fish with capers at Mar e Sol

We would swim at a beach, bathing in the sun for a few hours, then grab our day pack and hike to another part of the island.  The other village is called Nova Brasilia and there is about an hour and a half walk between there and Encantadas.  There is also a ferry that is about twenty minutes that runs every 1-2 hours.  For lunch we plopped our sandy bodies down on the bench seats of Mar e Sol.  They grilled us a delicious fish, heaped high with capers the size of small grapes, bursting with salty brine in every bite.

Ihla do Mel fort

Ihla do Mel fort

A few hours more in the sun, and miles of beaches later, we arrived at the northern tip.  Here we found the remains of the historic fort with thick ornate white-washed walls and canons to protect the island from the Spanish.

Carmen on a sandbar in the sunset

Carmen on a sandbar in the sunset

Our little beach in Encantadas has this special sand bar.  The tide would recede in the evenings abandoning the fishing boats in the sand.  It was a challenge to become fully submerged.  We walked 300-400 feet from the shore and the water was still knee deep!

In the morning the water would return and wipe away the foot traffic of the previous day.  The revived boats bobbed happily in the water.

Banana fritters

Banana fritters

Our hostel served us a particularly wonderful breakfast of fresh papaya, mango, watermelon, bananas, bread and jam.  On the last morning  the quiet young woman that ran the hostel made us these delicious banana fritters (if you know the name please comment).  Crispy and sweet on the outside and gooey oozing banana on the inside.  Perfect dumplings of joy from the perfect and beautiful little Isla do Mel.

Checking Out the Hype in Curitiba (by Carmen)

Curitiba seal on bus tube

Curitiba seal on bus tube

Anyone who knows me knows that I love transit.  Buses, trains, streetcars, subways…they all hold a special place in my heart. I had drafted a long paragraph on all the reasons I feel this way; how transit is an important part of environmental sustainability, social equity, economic efficiency and public health.  But Nathan said it was a bit of a snooze for people who aren’t as passionate about this topic.  So I’ll spare you the details.  But I will say this:  Everyone deserves a balanced transportation system (including transit, walking, biking and driving) that gives people choices on how to travel depending on when, why and where they are going.

Bus rapid transit stop

Bus rapid transit stop

All this transit talk is a preface to my post on Curitiba.  This city in Brazil is known throughout the world for its investment in bus rapid transit (BRT).  The BRT system is essentially an above ground subway with buses instead of train cars.  As they built the BRT in the 1970s, the government encouraged tall buildings along the routes so that more people could benefit from the system.  What more could a transit lover ask for?

Waiting for the bus

Waiting for the bus

I’ve heard a lot about Curitiba over the years and I’ve often wondered if it would live up to the transit hype.  Also, would there be anything worth seeing besides the BRT?  And of course, the bottom line for us –  how is the food? The answer to these questions are yes and good!

Curitiba Skyline

Curitiba Skyline

Curitiba Skyline 2

Curitiba Skyline 2

The success of these bus lines is evidenced by the dense land uses lining the routes.  These development patterns are no accident.  The city planners encouraged tall buildings in these areas to enable more people to take advantage of the transit.  My only complaint is that they did not always do enough for pedestrians.  Once people left the safety of the bus tubes, there are areas with no crosswalks or lights for people to safely cross busy streets.  But in the end, I was impressed and happy to finally see this transit system we (ok, more specifically transit fanatics) so often put on a pedestal.

Colonial plaza

Colonial plaza

There was more to the city than good transit.  It also had a cute colonial center which on Sundays turns into a huge market.  We found everything from bus key chains to pierogies!  Pierogies (Polish dumplings) are a strange thing to find in Brazil but this area actually had a lot of German and Polish immigrants in times past.

Brazil meets Germany at Schwarzwald´s

Brazil meets Germany at Schwarzwald´s

Which is why they had Schwarzwald´s, a German restaurant modeled after a medieval Bavarian beer hall.  I couldn´t get enough of their submarinos or mini-steins with pictures of Curitiba on them.  They would stick these in your glass of beer for no other reason than as a set of trophies to how many drinks you have had.

Tempero Brazilian buffet

Tempero Brazilian buffet

0.65 Kg of deliciousness

The next day we filled up our bellies with the best buffet we found in Brazil.  Tempero de Minas is a per-kilo restaurant, meaning they charge by the weight of your food.  The stews and veggies looked so good we had no trouble filling our plates to the brim.  Fortunately, it tasted as good as it looked.  Savory, slow-cooked goodness.

Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Leaping Nathan

Besides transit, a major attraction of Curitiba is the Oscar Niemeyer Museum.  It mostly consists of modern art in a basic square building with this funky “eye” shaped bit in front.  We enjoyed ambling through the ultra modern architecture although the eye was under renovations.

Opera House

Opera House

Another much advertized sight was the opera house.  It is a bare steel structure that seems to float above a lagoon.

Samba rehersal in a bar

Samba rehersal in a bar

After the sights we still had some energy to go out on the town.  I had heard about a cool samba club and since our time in Brazil was coming to an end, I couldn´t pass it up.  Of course the club was completely empty until 12am so we waited in a bar across the street.  Fortunately, this was where the band was warming up so we got a very personal concert.

Fun hot dog stand

Fun hot dog stand

One more food adventure: hot dogão.  Everything in Portuguese ends with “ão”, pronounced “ow”, so why would hot dogs be any different?  We found them at a little stand on Plaza Tridentes that was hopping with people.  The strange toppings convinced us to try one.  Truth be told it wasn´t the greatest dog but the novelty factor was worth it.

4 feet on Portuguese style sidewalk

4 feet on Portuguese style sidewalk

Overall, I´m so happy to have made it to Curitiba. It deserves its reputation as an inspiration for bus transit systems.  Also, special thanks to Nathan for supporting my transit geek out excursion : )

Me headed to the bus rapid transit boarding stations

Me headed to the bus rapid transit boarding stations

Iguazú, Argentina Style (by Carmen)

Nathan beautifully described the experience of Iguazú from the Brazil side.  With its stunning vistas and platform right near the Garganta del Diablo, it may seem like you have seen it all. But Nathan and I found that the Argentina side had a lot to offer as well.  Contrasted with Brazil, it gives a more up close and personal view of the falls.

Garganta del Diablo

Garganta del Diablo

The first thing we did on the Argentina side was to see the Garganta de Diablo from the top.  This is the largest of the falls and one of the most impressive.  There is something strangely mesmerizing about so much water free falling hundreds of feet.

Trees and cascadas

Trees and cascadas

Next we hit the upper trail that looks at a series of waterfalls from the top.  Even though there is a banister, the act of looking down a straight drop into the turbulent water at the bottom made me a bit dizzy.

San Martin waterfall

San Martin waterfall

Finally, we weaved our on the lower trail.  Parts of this almost go under some of the “smaller” waterfalls.  There is even a small ferry that takes you to an island in the middle of it all.   The island has a short walk to one of our favorite vistas.  From here you can feel the power of one of Iguazú´s major cascades, San Martin.

Cascadas, San Martin on left

San Martin is loud.  You can hear the water screaming its way down.  One of the signs nearby had a picture of San Martin during a major drought in the 1970s.  This all mighty waterfall was literally reduced to a trickle.  It is hard to imaging compared to the heavy flow present today.  But it is a reminder of how fragile a seemingly invisible force of nature can be.

Foz do Iguaçu – Brazil (by Nathan)

For being one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world, I am amazed that more Americans do not know about the Foz do Iguaçu.  It was unknown to us too, but with more trip planning it became an essential site and it fit seamlessly with our gringo trail through South America.

Foz do Iguaçu from Brazil

Foz do Iguaçu from Brazil

The waterfalls are at the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.  Paraguay used to have waterfalls, Guaíra Falls, they were so big that they had the highest volume of water flow in the world.  Now the Itaipu dam and reservoir sits in its place.  Nevertheless, Iguaçu still exists and it is thrilling.  The main viewing of the waterfalls is from a series of over-looking platforms from the Brazil side and weaving pathways through the waterfalls on the Argentinean side.

Toucan

Toucan

For anyone coming here, see the Brazil side first to get the big picture views, then go to the Argentinean side the next day to get up close, wet and personal.  Spend at least three nights, but these tiny cities have many other great activities and ecological reserves, Carmen and I left thinking we would have liked two more days.  The region is a jungle with lots of great wildlife.  We saw wild monkeys, toucans and coati.

Bahian Moqueca

Bahian Moqueca

When in Brazil, eat moqueca.  This stew of seafood, manioc and vegetables is hearty and perfect for a long day of hot humid hiking.  No car necessary, we grabbed a local bus for about $2 and it took us right to the park entrance.  We started along the south end of the park moving from vista to vista and worked our way to the biggest of the falls.

Us at the falls

Us at the falls

The awe-struck feeling that hit me when looking out into the valley was intense. My heart started throbbing rapidly, my ears became deaf by the thunder of the falling water and all that I could do was stare out, mouth open and probably a little drool hanging off my lip.  I was dumbfounded by the beauty of it all.

Foz do Iguaçu 2

Foz do Iguaçu with boat underneath

There is not just waterfall, there are hundreds.  A huge lake drains over cliffs that are 100-350ft.  The volume of water is breathtaking, 62,000 cu. ft. per second!  That is basically the entire volume of Lake Arrowhead in 2.5 seconds and Lake Anza in 0.5 seconds.  You look down and there are boats driving underneath the “smaller” waterfalls.  In a rush of excitement Carmen and I boarded one of these boats and we realized that this off-shoot waterfall was not small! volkswagen volumes of water dumped on us every second. With my yells “¡Ya estoy muy sucio!” and “Otra vez.” The driver dunked me another time.

Rainbow and Garganta do Diabo in distance

Rainbow and Garganta do Diabo in distance

The last platform is the grand finally-  a concrete walkway and vista right in the mouth of the Garganta do Diabo (Devil’s Throat).  You stand so close that it is impossible to stay dry or even take pictures.  This is not because we stood underneath the waterfall, but because the mist engulfed us in a wet cloud.  This also made for some colorful rainbows.

Ominous makaws

Ominous makaws

A five minute walk from the Brazil-side entrance is a phenomenal bird park.  I usually dislike zoos, but I was fascinated to see one dedicated to tropical birds.  There were so many colors and patterns, I had no idea that this many birds even existed.  In one of the “experience” cages Carmen and I stood in a small hangar with thirty or so macaw parrots of bright red, purple, blue and orange.  Suddenly they all dove off of their perches right at us.  They swooped and we dropped to the ground covering our heads imagining that this was a colorful version of the Hitchcock film, “The Birds.”  We survived and were entertained to find out that they were just flying to the other side.

Foz do Iguaçu is a beautiful place.  It is memorable in every way, an essential destination to every South American trip.  I am so ecstatic that Carmen and I had this opportunity.

LA + NYC = São Paulo (by Carmen)

Estacão de Luz

Estacão de Luz - there aren't a whole lot old buildings in SP. Actually, most of it is modern and, well, ugly. But this train station provided us some shelter from a downpour.

In Anthony Bourdain’s episode on São Paulo he mentions that the city feels as if Los Angeles threw up on New York. A rather crude description but pretty accurate as well.  Like NYC, SP has a great subway system, a huge population (20 million people in the metro area!), more than a few skyscrapers and a wide variety of cultural activities.

The clean metro of São Paulo

The clean metro of São Paulo

Like LA, SP is a sprawling city laced with numerous choked up freeways.  Since it’s so spread out it’s not a city to wander around by foot.  It really helps if you have a friend who lives there and can show you around. 

Banana stand at the farmers market

Banana stand at the farmers market

Alas, Nathan and I didn’t have a friend living in SP so we explored on our own.  Slowly, the city grew on us.  Especially as we sampled some of its culinary offerings.  Our first day in the city we wandered around the farmers market.  Being Brazil, the tropical fruits are bountiful and the banana stand in particular was huge.  But almost anything you could want was there.  I have to admit that I missed having my own kitchen to cook all the succulent ingredients.

Municipal Market

Municipal Market

Mortadella sandwich

Mortadella sandwich

Later in the trip we stopped at the municipal market to pick up a SP classic, the mortadella. We chose the stand with the most people and scooted up to the counter.  A mortadella is basically a simple bun piled high with warm, thin sliced bologna.  Cheese and mustard completed the sandwich.  Pretty awesome paired with a beer, but I was missing some potato chips to go with it.

Ramen at Aksa

Ramen at Aksa

It rained everyday in SP so to beat the chill we were craving some soup.  Luckily for us, SP has a large Japanese population.  In Liberdade, essentially the Japantown, we popped into Aksa and ordered a steaming bowl of ramen.  Oh so comforting.

Brasil a Gosto

At Brasil a Gosto you get three types of butter, three types of potatoes and four types of bread!

Our last night in SP we decided to splurge a bit.  Everyone mentions Brasil a Gosto as the place to eat nouveau brazilian cuisine.  This means it takes traditional ingredients but prepares them in new ways.  For example, I had pork smothered with an amazonian berry sauce accompanied with creamed mantioc and lightly fried bananas.  (Sorry, the picture came out too dark to post.) The food and service were superb but borderline pretentious – the menu was a full on book!  But overall I’d recommend it because it was unlike any food I have had before.

Nathan loves his açai

Nathan loves his açai

As we headed out of town we couldn’t help but grab one more bowl of açaí.  Nathan could not get enough of the sweet and earthy flavors.  And then we were on our way to Iguazu Falls!

City, Beaches, and Cristo Oh My (by Nathan)

Rio de Janiero is engulfed by skyward reaching tropical mountains.  At the top of biggest and most prominent peak stands Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), the famed symbol of the city.  No matter where you are the Cristo is always overhead, always watching.  We wanted to see what he saw.  But we made our way slowly.

First we explored the lowlands, we baked in the sun at Ipanema, we drank coffee at Colombo, hiked the steps at Lapa and always just behind a cloud or shining brightly in the sun, the Cristo Redentor was there.

Parting of the clouds at Corcovado

Parting of the clouds at Corcovado

Our first vista of the city from any elevation was from the Morro da Urca.  This smaller mountain was a great little climb leaving us both out of breath and satisfied that this was at least a little training for our eleven days of hiking planned for the Peruvian Andes in May.

Marmoset at Morro da Urca

Marmoset at Morro da Urca

Upon reaching the summit we found another creature with an omnipresent watchful eye.  This common marmoset and his gang of friends looked like they would jump us and steal our granola bars if we approached too close.

Pão de Açucar from Morro da Urca

Pão de Açucar from Morro da Urca

The Morro da Urca can also be reached by cable-car for those not wanting a hike. From Morro we then took a cable-car to the main attraction, the Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain).  The hill is named after its familiar shape to the loaf of sugar made during pre-industrial refining.  It is a tall (400m) hill with shear and jagged cliffs all-around and of course has some of the best views of the city.

Sunset from Pão de Açucar

Sunset from Pão de Açucar

We arrived at sunset and we gazed out into the golden city.  The Cristo, high up on the Corcovado peak was shrouded by his apostle clouds.  The colors transitioned from a warm tangerine orange, then cadillac pink, then in flowed the deep purples, that, with the darkness brought the cool night.

Cristo Redentor

Cristo Redentor

The day finally came for us to visit the Cristo Redentor statue.  Up close we were able to view the intricate details  cast into the concrete: the seemingly flowing fabric, the tranquil facial expression, and the arms spread wide welcoming everyone to him and to Rio.  The statue is an elegant piece of art deco, angular, flowing and full of emotions.

Rio from Corcovado

Rio from Corcovado

Turning around from the Cristo we saw the city of Rio from his perspective.  The botanical gardens, Copacabana, Pão de Açucar were all there, tiny specks in this beautiful city.  The buildings kissed the sand and the ocean appeared endless as it wrapped around the urban landscape.  Rio de Janiero has it all: food, music, dance, beaches, city and transit.  Could we move here and learn Portuguese?

Rio Historic (by Carmen)

Central Rio's narrow streets

Central Rio's narrow streets

I often think of Rio de Janeiro as a modern city complete with problems caused by rapid, unplanned urbanization.   I hadn’t much thought of historic Rio but it was a pleasant surprise to find it.  I know not all of you are not history buffs.  I am no expert either, but I love my hostoric trivia.  For example,  the city was founded in 1565 and has functioned as an important port for centuries.  It was also the seat of Latin America’s only monarchy.  Don Pedro I and Don Pedro II reigned from 1822 to 1889, when Brazil was declared a republic.  Ok… I´ll tone down the trivia for the rest of the post.   :)

Cafe Columbo

Cafe Columbo

A mix of colonial and modern buildings fill in the narrow streets of Rio’s center. It’s on one of these streets that Cafe Columbo can be found.  After all the historic cafes of Buenos Aires I wasn’t expecting much from this one.  But I was wrong. It was beautiful, bright, elegant and airy.  Huge mirrors lined the walls so that soft light bounced throughout the cafe.  The sweets they offered weren’t as spectacular as the surroundings but they were still good.  Drinking coffee and eating a fruit tart at Cafe Columbo is a lovely way to spend an hour or two.

Sad transit breaks my heart

Sad transit breaks my heart

Just uphill from the center area is the Santa Teresa neighborhood.  We tried to take the historic streetcar that rides along the city’s old aqueduct (history AND transit, woot!) but it wasn’t running.  The strange thing is no one would tell us why.  Finally, a friendly shop owner told us that a few years ago the streetcar had flipped over killing 6 people!  It was a tragic accident that the government says they are fixing.  But they are taking too long and the residents are upset.  Hence the crying tram.  I hope the city gets their act together by 2014 because the tram is an important lifeline for the residents of Santa Teresa.

Funky Brazilian flower

Fountain at Jardim Botanico

One more history lesson was at the Jardim Botanico, founded in 1808.  Since Rio was our most tropical destination, I was pretty excited about this one. It had some pretty extraordinary flowers, like the one with thick red petals and a prickly yellow center.  And of course, they had plenty of orchids.  But my favorite part turned out to be the historic central fountain.  Palm lined paths led up to it and it was backdropped by the Corcovado (the mountain with the famous Cristo statue on top of it).

Orchid at the Jardim Botanico

Orchid at the Jardim Botanico

Rio’s history added another layer to this beautiful city.

Finding Heart and Soul in the Favela (by Nathan)

Reading a guidebook about Rio can make you think that you need an armored tank to move around the city.  “Do not go to the beaches at night”,  “take taxis at night” and “watch your belongings” were statements that echoed in our ears over and over.

What we found was quite different- a city that was full of community and great people wherever we met.  That does not mean that we ignored these suggestions, but we recognized that, like any city in the world, tourists are easy targets for theft.  With our heads down and hands tight on our bags 8 feet 4 mouths (ie. us & Carmen´s parents) had a memorable trip to this great city.

Rocinha favela from above

Rocinha favela from above

Part of the reason Rio is recognized for its crime is because multiple favelas are perched next to the main sights and the city.  A favela is basically a squatter community that houses thousands of people that need to work in the city, but cannot afford the city.  So in Rio when rural populations rushed the city for jobs, they built their homes on the cliffs surrounding the city.  Now, the squatter communities have expanded and grown to form huge networks of buildings and businesses.

I was so intrigued about this intertwined network of buildings, people and  resources.  I wanted to see it for myself.  I wanted to walk through the randomness of it, I wanted to get lost in the alleys and experience the favelas in some way more than just squinting from afar.  But wondering through a favela is pretty unsafe.  And on a tour I did not want to be the spectator that exploited the poverty of the people.  It was a torn decision, but I ended up walking with a small group and guide through one of the favelas.  The end experience was rewarding in ways that I could never have anticipated.

Favela doorway

Favela doorway

My day started with a minivan picking me at the hostel and taking me to the base of the biggest favela in Brazil, Rocinha.  There are only 4 roads in this favela and only one gets to the top.  All the buildings are connected with tight paths and staircases.  Although busses attempt to navigate these roads, I hopped on the back of a scooter, the favela taxi.  Imagine Lombard St. in San Francisco, a little wider, a little straighter and just as steep.  Now add a bus coming downhill, road construction taking up a third of the road and fifty or so motorcyclists with passengers racing eachother to be the first to the top.  The German tourist I made friends with in the minivan wore a pink helmet and I could not help but laugh and give him a thumbs up as my driver revved and pried his way between the front of the bus and his scooter.

We made it to the top without incident.  The main street in the favela was nothing that you would expect.  This was not some lean-to hodge-podge of a settlement, this was a mini city.  And the four main roads were the downtown of this mini city.  There was everything here: markets, appliance stores, restaurants and even pet stores all lined up on this winding street that snaked up the mountain through the favela.

Favela Walkway

Favela Walkway

Stepping off of the paved road was an immediate change of climate to a network of tight alleyways and staircases that weaved there way through the community.  And again buildings were not what I had anticipated, this was not a shanty town, not a slum, but a streetless city of real buildings, a favela.

There is major construction happening here, two and three story masonry buildings with concrete columns.  And what an effort because everything has to be carried or wheel-barrowed through the winding paths.  Every building appeared to be part of some bigger plan, with a little more money another room could be added, or maybe next month the plaster could be complete.  The people and community worked day-to-day and month-to-month to build shelter for their families.   The construction was not the greatest but in most cases it looked straight and they even had some rebar in it.

Trash and rubble from mudslide

Trash and rubble from mudslide

The positioning of buildings is chaotic with very little order.  The pathways follow the way of least resistance zig-zagging through the hillside.  As we approached the steepest parts of the hillside we started seeing the effects of the storms of the previous rainy season.  Whole homes crumbled from mudslides and toppled over one another until eventually it was contained.  The pathways were cleared and the rubble remained.  I guess it stays until the next family forgets about the incident and decides to build their home there.

Electricity Nest

Electricity Nest

The squatter aspects of the favela are most apparent when looking up along the sides of the buildings.  Electricity connections merge into nests of spliced and re-spliced wires and cables.  Water is supplied by the city, but the pipes run along the alleyways and are similarly spliced and split.  Sewage was not so “organized,”  sometimes it ran in pipes, othertimes in trenches and well othertimes, the greywater just overflowed onto the tight alleyway.  The biggest issue was for the downhill residents when it rained, because everything flowed towards them.

We continued our walk through the favela, meandering down through the alley ways, slipping around corners and discovering more of the labyrinth of buildings.  Amazingly, there is an estimated 200,000 people that live in this one favela that is one square kilometer in area.

Favela colors

Favela colors

We stopped at multiple locations in the city for the guide to talk about the favela, teach us about the schools inside the community as well as welcome us into the local businesses.  It was here that I realized that we were not just spectators of the impoverished favelas, but as tourists we were part of something bigger that supported and contributed to the community.  We bought art, crafts, drinks and food which brought money into their economy.  We listened the drum style and dance that originated from the favelas.  And we  oohed and awed at all the little children napping in the preschool.

Our walk through the favela was completely safe.  Residents said “hello” to us to practice their english and we replied with our few known words of portuguese.  I enjoyed seeing how happy people were.  All the residents appeared to know my guide and they gave him high-fives and compliments wherever went.

Favela stairs

Favela stairs

The scramble to the bottom took a couple hours.  It is extremely impressive to imagine climbing these walkways on a daily basis.  Thousands of people do it, in fact there are over a million people living in favelas in Brazil.  We walked along and stepped to the side from time to time as a group of men carried a refrigerator up the steep steps or a group of school girls passed talking on their mobile phones.  Yes, many of these residences had all sorts of appliances.  An hour walk from the main road and we could peek into a home and see a family cooking a delicious feast, and others watching TV from their sattelite dish and more just enjoying the sun on the patio.  How is this different from anywhere else?

I think what I like most about the Rocinha was the whole collaborative community aspect of living in the favela.  Despite that everyone was thrown into this random maze of buildings, the people found the time to help each other, to laugh and to work together for their community.  The colors of the buildings and the bright smiles of the people are to be remembered forever.

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