A Brazil-liant way to end

Welcome to the final IAtWTB (Inspiring around the world travel blog)! Expect an emotion packed instalment, as four and a half months of frolicking on the other side of the world finally comes to an end.

The last blog concluded with a trip to Iguazu falls, and the Argentinean town of Puerto Iguazu on the border with Brazil.   On 12th August we made our final South American border crossing, travelling to the Brazilian town of Foz de Iguacu. Our travels had taught us to always expect at least a five hour wait at a border, so we were overjoyed when we crossed into Brazil with the whole process taking a matter of minutes, the border guard even filled in my immigration forms for me (this border actually won first place in our travel awards category ‘best border crossing’). Our first task in Brazil was to take the bus from Foz to Rio de Janeiro, only a 24 hour ride away. There we encountered our first problem in Brazil; Portuguese is nothing like Spanish.  I’m not sure how we did it, but somehow we managed to board a bus for Rio, and settled in for a day of staring out of a bus window. I’m pretty sure they could have condensed the bus journey into five hours, but the driver deemed it necessary to pull over every half an hour for everyone to get out and buy food. At one point a friendly Brazilian gentleman asked if we wanted something to eat, we politely nodded and gave him a handful of Reals (Brazilian currency) and he soon came back with a tin foil tray filled with what looked like leftover Chinese food, but definitely did not taste like it. I hid mine underneath my seat, and went to sleep.

I woke up to find we had arrived in Rio, the ‘Cidademaravilhosa,’ (translation – the marvellous city). As soon as we walked off the bus, the heat immediately struck, and we realised that we may actually go home with some kind of tan, having endured a month of South American winter. After dropping all our bags off at a hostel, we decided to take a walk along the world famous Copacabana beach. Wearing shorts, a vest, sunglasses, cap and my camera draped over my shoulder, I felt like a pervert as everyone else on the beach was practically naked. I decided than that I needed to try harder to fit in with the locals, so that afternoon I bought some factor five tanning oil but had to pull myself away from buying a pair of Speedos with the Brazilian flag on the rear. Tom would later tell me that I had made the correct decision by not buying the budgie smugglers.

Perhaps the worst thing about Brazil and Rio was the sudden hike in prices. Long gone were the days of eating like a king in Bolivia for two pounds or spending a night in a Peruvian hostel for four pounds; it was now ten pounds for a dodgy meal and fifteen pounds a night for a cheap hostel. In order to save money, we’d heard good things about ‘pay by the kilo’ restaurants, very popular amongst locals. They are essentially a buffet, and at the end of the line where you would normally pay, a woman is there with her scales ready to weigh your meal. It sounded great, but when I saw my meal weighed 1.2kg and I was going to be charged 25 pounds, I felt like I hadn’t come out of it that well. I still maintain that I had about 300 grams of food on my plate, so the plate must have weighed at least 900 grams. Certainly a scam and somewhere where we would not return to. Despite the bitter taste the meal left in my mouth (not literally, the food was actually really good) the following day we decided that we couldn’t just boycott eating for the next six days, so we tried our luck at an all-you-can-eat restaurant that had come highly recommended. The phrase ‘they didn’t see that coming’ was fitting, as we all set our stall out early, going for a minimum of three full plates each. I managed four, was tempted to go for a fifth, but didn’t want to turn it into an episode of ‘Man v Food.’ I felt content leaving the restaurant, knowing that I had partially avenged the financial pain that I had felt the day before.

Rio is without doubt a beautiful city, flanked by mountains and rainforests with white sand beaches and vibrant locals, yet it has a serious problem with crime, particularly in the favelas; shanty towns that flank the side of the large hills surrounding the city. The Brazilian authorities fight a constant battle with drug lords that control the favelas, making them one of the most dangerous places to explore on our travels. With this in mind we decided to go for a night out to one favela, a short drive from Ipanema beach. It was a strange experience feeling nervous before a night out, something that I had only experienced once before at a university rugby initiation. We relaxed in the hostel with our caipirinhas in hand (popular drink in Brazil, made from sugar cane rum, sugar and lime -it packs a punch) becoming more and more excited for our night ahead with every drink. We were however brought down to earth, when the chap who had organised the night in the favela came in and told us, ‘do not go over to any girls, do not go and speak to them, let them come to you, as they’ll probably have a boyfriend with a glock in his belt just metres away.’ After making a couple of jokes about having lethal weapons in our trousers as well, we were told this was a serious matter and we could be killed which consequentlyquelledsome of the party vibe. We arrived at the favela just before midnight, and it was like another world, men and boys walking around with rifles hanging off their shoulders, people sitting at tables with piles of cocaine on them in the street, the whole thing left me feeling quite uneasy. After a short walk around, we headed into the club/massive warehouse, and spent the next four hours dancing and drinking, but at the same time making sure we didn’t look at any girls. It was an amazing night, but at the same time, I couldn’t help think that everywhere I looked, guys my age had handguns tucked into their belts, and that they wouldn’t hesitate to use them, if you offended them in anyway.

When we weren’t hanging out in the hood, we visited all the world famous sights of Rio, including Sugar Loaf Mountain and the modern wonder of the world, Cristo Redentor, Christ the Redeemer. Standing on a peak seven hundred metres high, the statue towers over the city and was swarmed by tourists taking the compulsory photo of arms out, statue imitation pose. Another famous tourist attraction in Rio is the Escadaria de Selaron, a two hundred and fifteen step staircase, found in Santa Teresa. This isn’t just any old staircase; it has been the work of Chilean artist Selaron since 1990, and he has tiled the staircase over and over, getting to the top of the stairs and then pulling the tiles away at the bottom and retiling them. It was a masterpiece in sculpting, and to meet Selaron was brilliant but I doubt you would want him tiling your bathroom though; I imagine it would really drag on.

After spending the day on the beach, doing my best honey-basted chicken impression (got through a lot of tanning oil that day), we spent the evening taking in another national passion, football. The game was between Atletico GO and Flamengo, who were top of the league and had bugs bunny impersonator Ronaldinho playing for them. Tom and I were both pretty excited about seeing the two-time World Player of the Year in action and it was hard to hide our disappointment when we arrived at the ground to hear that he was banned after being booked in the last match. Still we persevered, and watched as the goals rained in (as the goalkeepers refused to use their hands) with Atletico running out 4-1 winners. Despite the home team receiving a drubbing and the stadium only being a quarter full, the atmosphere was electric; a sure sign that the 2014 World Cup is going to be one that doesn’t lack any passion from the home fans.

It’s hard not to notice when you’re in Rio that everyone is in great shape, particularly the guys. With this in mind, and with only a few days left before our departure back to the UK, we decided to revive ‘hostel gym’ and try get some tone back before it was too late. We went on three runs on the beach at sunset and I think I had three heart murmurs; travelling had definitely taken its toll. We left Rio on 20th August and headed south to the city of São Paulo, where we were due to fly that evening. Having been declined an upgrade (I was wearing shorts and a cap, it was never going to happen) we boarded the plane for our 01.45 departure to Barcelona. With such a late flight, neither Tom nor I had eaten since dinner, so we were both relieved when the air steward brought us our meals half an hour after take-off. Tom’s expression soon changed though, when he was given his ‘raw vegetarian ‘meal, which I had ordered for him when booking the flights. (Tom prefers cooked food and is not a vegetarian.) I hadn’t come out of it too well either, choosing the ‘bland’ option. After hardly touching his spinach and cold broccoli, he refused to talk to me for the next three hours, and his mood was worsened when the air steward brought out the same meals later that flight.

Arriving in Barcelona we spent our one day in the city attempting to do as much sightseeing as possible. Unfortunately our lack of money combined with Barcelona’s high prices meant that we saw a lot of things from the outside, but not a lot from the inside, including the Casa Batlló and la SagradaFamilia. We touched down on Monday 22nd August after four and a half months away. Greeted by some light drizzle, it was good to be home, sleeping in my own bed and seeing old friends, like baked beans and proper cereal.

I’d really like to end this blog by saying something poignant about my experiences abroad but unfortunately I can’t. It has been an incredible four and a half months and anyone who is in two minds about whether to go traveling; I don’t think you need to even ask the question. I’ve tried googling ‘great last words,’ unfortunately none of them seem to apply to my blog. So I will end with this… Follow me onTwitter – @therealjonnyl to hear about my life adjusting to the UK and attempts to get back in the rat race.