6. Water load of fun! Brazil: Rio de Janiero, Ilha Grande & Iguazu Falls

When we last left you we were “stranded” on the island paradise of Morro de Sao Paolo following an ill timed ill time. Well good news! Just three boats, two super cool hats, a bus, plane and several taxi rides later and we had made it to Rio – phew!

Rio de Janeiro is just a 2 hour flight south of Salvador and until the 1960s was the capital of Brazil until the newly built Brasilia took that mantle. We arrived at the famed (and disappointingly pretentious) Mango Tree Hostel relieved but wary; Rio is known for being extremely dangerous. Petty crime such as thefts and muggings are at an all time high and frequent shootouts occur in the favelas (slums). As a local once said: “America is great but sucks. Brazil sucks but is great”.

A short taxi ride into what we were assured was one of the “safer favelas” (I was obviously still on edge!) brings you to the Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers) mountain. Motorbike taxis await to zip you up the narrow windy roads to the start of the trail as, unlike our unwitting and confused uber driver, most taxis won’t venture all the way. The hike is a fairly steep climb to the top where panoramic views of the south side of Rio can usually be enjoyed. Whilst our view was sadly this:

we were kept entertained by the marmosets along the way.

Having learnt our lesson about cloudy mountain tops + views, we opted for exploring Rio’s impressive 140-hectares of botanical gardens which houses more than 6,000 species of plants and trees. A haven of tranquility inside such a hectic city, the gardens are packed with intricate orchids, gigantic bamboo, bird swooping from tree to tree and lakes swarming with fish.

The only thing spoiling the calm were a couple of crazy jumping touristsand the impromptu game of “Find the Roamington”…After a brief tropical storm and with the sun poking it’s head through, we headed to Sugar Loaf Mountain where a series of cable cars whisk you 400m up to the top of the peak. From there we witnessed spectacular panoramic views of the sun setting over Rio, from the huge Rio-Niteroi bridge spanning the entire Guanabara bay, to the numerous verdant (#karen) islands and the golden beaches of Copacabana (cue Rachel from Friends singing).

Next on our itinerary was Ilha Grande (pronounced “gr-arn-gee” and literally translates as “large island”), a lush mountainous island just a few hours bus/boat south of Rio. Staving off Morro related flashbacks, we joined a speedboat tour of the island’s most popular highlights which, to our surprise, turned out to be completely Portuguese speaking! Not deterred and with snorkels in hand, we braved the chilly waters of the nearly indistinguishable “blue” and “green” lagoons and were rewarded with swarms of exotic fish and turtles.

Any trip to Ilha Grande must involve a trip to the famed Lopez Mendez beach. Having been told it was a two hour walk, we were pretty impressed with ourselves when seeing the beach after just an hour of hiking through treacherous terrain. Alas our smugness was quickly shattered when a randomly placed tourist office informed us that we were in fact only at the half way point. Tired and sceptical (how different could this beach really be?!) we trooped on and, luckily, it was totally worth it. The powdery white sand was as fine as flour and seemed to stretch for miles. The crystal clear waters were pleasantly cool and, until a gigantic wave came and took Liv by surprise, were perfect to relax in; it really was an idyllic setting.

After a tranquil few days, we headed back to Rio just in time to see a chaotic futbol game between arch rivals Flamengo and Fluminense (no we hadn’t heard of them either!). We arrived at the famed Maracana stadium and witnessed a hair-raising and emotional battle ending in a 2-2 draw after a literal last (95th) minute goal. Go sports teams!From Rio we flew to Iguazu falls where we spent a couple of days exploring both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders. Whilst the Brazilian side provides an incredible overview of the whole waterfall system, the Argentinian side gets you up close and personal to the two thousand tonnes of water flowing per second. Witnessing this sheer natural power was a truly breathtaking experience and whilst pictures don’t do it justice, here’s a few we took:

After three weeks of feeling linguistically lacking, we stocked up on delicious gluten free bread (Miss Laura Bakery in Foz do Iguacu was incredible) and left Brazil for an unexpected but delicious travel reunion tour. More on that next time…If you like reading our blog posts, please follow us and feel free to leave a comment or two!

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