Saturday, February 24, 2007

Paraty - Feb 22, 23, 24

Our first journey - a short one - about 4 hours - took us down the Costa Verde (the Atlantic coast south of Rio de Janeiro) to Paraty. The coastline was spectular. Lushly vegetated mountains rising immediately from the jagged shore made for a windy, hilly, ocean-view drive under brilliantly sunny, azure blue skies (jealous yet?). Our first 2 nights were spent camping in a busy campground opposite the beach just above Paraty. Pictures show Paraty from the Atlantic Ocean, some of the beautiful windows in Paraty (unfortunately, my sun-cream covered thumb got stuck on the lense), and ..... home on the road!

Paraty is a gem. It is said to be one of the most beautful colonial cities in the world and a popular tourist destination from Rio. It is small and sits in a Bay of 65 tropical islands, many of them covered with rain forest, and numerous yellow sand beaches. Its cobble stoned streets are built to accommodate high tide which comes rights into the town and washes over them. The whitewashed colonial shops, restaurants, and poussadas have bright blue and yellow window and door frames often surrounded by decorative motifs. The gas street lamps, flowering balconies, and horse drawn carts make it romantic and quite magical. There are no cars in the town's centre. The harbour is filled with brightly coloured fishing vessels and schooner like tourist boats.

Paraty, now protected by Unesco, was founded in the 1530s. The native name (Parati-i) means "whitefish". The harbour was built in the 1700s to export gold from Minas Gerais to Portugal. It was also the centre of the slave trade in Southern Brazil. After the gold era, it turned to sugar cane and apparently today there are about 250 mills which produce "pinga" , Brazil's popular spirit - haven't had the opportunity to taste this yet - and from what I hear I am not sure I want to - major headache, I'm told!

In addition to exploring this picturesque small town, we had an idyllic cruise around the islands with stops to swim and snorkel in the emerald green sea. Life doesn't get any better than this!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Truck - Feb 22

Early on Tuesday morning 23 of us loaded up on the "truck" and set off on our 105 day adventure. The "Truck" is literally a Scania truck converted to accommodate 23 travellers. It is an ingenious creation! The lower level consists of storage bins into which provisions, cooking utensils and a gas cook stove are stored in pull out trays. There is a table bolted in between the cab and the truck; camp stools, a fire grate, tents, etc. are stored in other lockers. It is a self contained unit which will carry us around South America. The seats are arranged so that 15 people sit facing inwards - this allows for lots of leg room, the ability to see out on either side, and provides for a great conversation pit. Eight people can sit up at the front above the cab and face each other over a table. While travelling we take turns in the different positions in the Truck so we are never in one seat too long.

Our travel group is great; about 7 guys and the rest are women. There are people from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and southern africa - and of course ourselves from Canada. Ages are mixed, the youngeset being a young English lad of 18 (about to turn 19). Most are probably in the 25 - 40 range with two or three over that. My early opinions (lets see how this changes!) are that the major differences between the ages come down to breadth of life experience and what you have learned from that - and that fact that the older members of the group, although willing, can't party as long or as hard as the younger members!! Everyone is adventurous and wanting to experience the real South America with like minded people - I am amazed at the travel experience of the group - I don~t think there is any part of the globe let untouched! There is lots of opportunity for active participation in the trip including cooking, cleaning the truck, shopping in local supermarkets and markets, changing tyres, digging out of muddy traps, and to participate in the unexpected - yes we have already had to change a tyre on the road.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Rio has some stunningly beautiful sights such as the Corcovado Christ Statue, Sugar Loaf Mountain, the mountains rising out of the ocean, and the numerous sandy beaches. It is famous for its "Cariocas" who can teach the world about partying, its football, and of course the Samba. But, it is also a city of contrasts. About 20 per cent of its 5.6 million population live in the "favelas", or slums, which are compared to East LA or the Bronx. We felt it was important to see this part of Rio as well in order to fully understand what life in Rio is like.

If you saw the film "City of the Gods", you will know about the violence, the drug gangs, and the crime of the favelas, but there is another side to life there and this is what we experienced. We visited Rocinha, the largest of the 800 favelas where about 300,000 people live. Picturesque from the distance, the houses are quite simple. We walked through the narrow paved streets, ducked down even narrower lanes, visited the shops, a market, and learned about the programs aimed at giving those who grow up there an opportunity to find jobs and avoid the inevitable drug scene. Many people go to work every day in the surrounding part of Rio and come home to the favela at night. The Samba Schools provide the opportunity to dance, do crafts, etc. for part of the year, and the remaining half of the year is devoted to sports programs. We visited a craft centre and saw their schools. It seems like an almost impossible task, but thanks to many committed people, slow progress is being made.

Sambodrome ....And the Shooting

The experience of visiting Sambodrome is unrivalled by anything else in America. On Sunday and Monday evenings the 14 Rio Samba Schools compete at the Sambodrome. The Sambodrome is a 650 metre long "street" with view stands and seats on either side. The structure itself is quite boring, but with the colourful crowds, lights, fireworks, and TV screens, it comes alive. My guide book says it holds 40,000 people, but being there it seemed more like a hundred thousand or more.

The competition is a parade of dancers and floats that starts at 7 p.m. and continues for about 12 hours. We lasted till 3:00 a.m. The Samba dancers and floats from each school start at one end and have 1 1/2 hours to dance to the other end. They are penalized if take a longer or shorter time. During this time and distance, they have to perform the many samba dance steps that they have practiced over the previous months. The dancers` costumes are an exotic array of illuminating colours, unique designs and flamboyance representing anything from birds, bugs, animals, plants, men, women, etc. The floats are intricately designed, flamboyant, colourful displays that stretch the mind to its limits. There are thousands of dancers and hundreds of floats. Its an amazing spectacle of extravanganza and the energy created by the Samba bands has the whole stadium cheering, singing, and dancing to the beat of the music. Brazilians love to party - and this must be one of the world~´s largest and merriest carnival. But, eventually, your mind can absorb no more, and its time to leave.

We walked back in a group of about 15 for safety around 3:00 a.m. in the morning, passing groups of highly colourfulç Samba dancers and others, still strutting guitars, drumming and singing - everyone happy, laughing and enjoying the special opportunity to celebrate.

As the first of our group approached an intersection about 2 blocks from the hotel, a car stopped. Two men jumped out, one shot his gun at the other, but missed, then proceeded to whack him over the head with the butt of the gun. With blood pouring down the side of his face the beaten guy took off down the road. Stunned, we stopped, and struck with fear we struggled to protect ourselves as best we could. The front of the group dived into an open store on the corner; Sam bolted down the street in the oppostite direction; Manfred darted behind the trunk of a large tree; Ray and I ran back and hid behind a construction barricade. There were 2 children and a women in the car, and they were crying and screaming trying to take cover. From somewhere another man appeared and threw his arms around the crazy gunman firmly yelling at him to "calm down" but the gunman continued to fire his gun and let off another 3 shots. Gretel was really scared as she could not quite get the cover she wanted in the store and the gunman was right in front of her. Having experienced violence in her life, old memories were flashing through her mind. The gunman got back into his car and fled into the night. The chap trying to quieten him disappearedç and we all slowly emerged from our hiding places, walked the remaining blocks to the hotel in stunned silence and headed to the bar for a badly needed drink and to exchange descriptions of the events - none of which were identical! No wonder, the police have such a hard time piecing evidence together! We have no idea of the cause of the gunman´s violence, nor will we ever. Suffice it to say, this random act could have happened anywhere in the world. We still love Rio, feel no more threatened or unsafe, and will continue to keep an awareness relevant to the situations we are in. Rest assured though, any loud gun-like bangs we hear will put us on our guard!!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

We´re Off

The last few hours before leaving Toronto, were stressful. We attended to all our last minute chores on Thursday such as preparing the cars for a 4 month rest, cleaning out the fridge, and taking all our valuables to the saftey deposit box. Thursday evening we spent with our very good friends Pat and Richard who have graciously committed to looking after Chloe, our cat. Friday, we were off. Had a smooth journey to Atlanta (with Delta airlines)where we were delayed about 2 1/2 hours, still manging to leave about 10:40 p.m. and arriving in Rio at 11:40 a.m. Rio time (they are 3 hours ahead of Toronto).

Now we are safely (or so we think) in Rio. What a city! Being /carnival - it heaves! We are staying in Lapa in the Centro district. In the 1920-1950s Lapa was a collection of beautifully architectured colonial buildings which were romantically described by Rio artists. Then, up to about 10 years ago, it became dangerous and terrifying and inhabited by prostitutes, thugs, and drug addicts. It still feels a little "edgy", but is undergoing a restoration (althought the prostitutes are still alive and looking for business) and is once again full of night clubs and townhouses throbbing with the sound of Samba. During Carnival, it is hard to walk the streets. The restaurants have old buses/trucks stationed outside their buildings which are loaded with live bands, and the beat of the music reverberates thoughout the streets as an eclectic crowd, of mainly locals, and some tourists, gather to sway and dance in the streets to the sound of the samba music. Tonight......Sambodrome!

Sunday, February 11, 2007


There are now 5 sleeps before departure, and the excitement of our trip to South America is building as our group exchanges introductory e-mails across the miles, some from England, Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and ourselves from Canada. The London group have already met over a few beers - but the rest of us are waiting with anticipation to meet our fellow travellers. We've been saying good-byes to our friends, both old and new - and look forward to seeing everyone again in June! Good luck with the puppies, Sam!

Thursday, February 8, 2007


Our adventure started from the moment we booked the trip. Oasis provided a list of items to take with us which included a ruck-sack or back-pack, a 4-season sleeping bag, a self-inflatable sleeping mat, money belt, a personal Walkman, etc. On top of this we had to think about travel insurance, paying our bills, and filing tax returns while we were away. Each one of the above has been a learning adventure. As our fellow travelers will confirm, buying a ruck-sack or a sleeping bag is not simply going into the store and choosing a nice coloured bag. For the sleeping bag, questions to answer include extremes of temperatures in the places you will be sleeping, whether you want down or synthetic, are you tall or short, do you want to spend $100 or $300. Buying a ruck-sack is even more complicated, with decisions such as number of litres, load weight, fit, and features. Even the self-inflatable sleeping mat required decision making such as R-factor, thickness, and size. We visited Mountain Equipment Co-Op in Toronto and met a wonderful group of knowledgeable and enthusiastic people who steered us through our decision making and made the experience fun.