Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) || Rio de Janeiro

While we didn't want to do too many touristy things in Rio, we decided that there were some sights that we did have to see. I thought that we should choose in between going to see Christ the Redeemer or going up to Sugarloaf Mountain. We decided on Sugarloaf Mountain because it was much closer to where we were located and we heard it was the place to go to see the most beautiful sunset, not to mention the lines were not supposed to be as crazy as for Christ the Redeemer. I'm not a fan of long commutes nor am I a fan of waiting in long lines. Is anyone?

Sugarloaf Mountain was only about a 15 minute cab ride from our apartment, but we decided to walk because 1.) I LOVE walking anywhere and everywhere and 2.)We thought it would be a good way to get to see a little bit more of the city. We left our apartment in Copacabana around 4pm and arrived at Urca (the neighborhood where Sugarloaf Mountain is located) about 40 minutes later. Along the way I lost my bearings a bit, but didn't want to take my map out to check where we were because heaven forbid someone should think I'm a tourist (I never want to look like a tourist...I don't know if that's a "fear" or a "pet peeve", but I try really hard to fit in wherever I am). Tomas decided to ask someone at a newspaper stand for directions and they sent on us on a way I wasn't planning. The directions took us a little off the beaten path, through a quieter area at the base of the mountain. I insisted that we speed walk until we got to the next main road since I wasn't sure whether we were about to enter a favela or not (turns out we weren't even close). And then we came across something pretty exciting and unexpected...... MONKEYS! And quite a few of them! They were just chilling in the trees and running across the street, as if they were squirrels. I didn't take a photo because I was on a mission to get to Sugarloaf and I figured we'd see more monkeys during our trip, but as it turns out this was our only monkey encounter, and a pretty cool one at that!

Remember these guys from the movie, Rio?

Those were the monkeys we saw, up close and personal! They aren't nearly as scary in real life, and we continued on our way with all of our belongings. 

The Urca neighborhood is a pretty & quiet part of town, home to a military base, Morro da Urca (Urca Hill) and Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain).

There's a cute little beach at the base of Morro da Urca which I imagine is where the locals go. 

After checking out the vista, we headed to the cable car station. We only had to wait a few minutes for a cable car. The cable cars fit up to 65 people and departed every few minutes. 

The first stop is Morro da Urca (Urca Hill), the smaller of the two mountains. When you get to the top they have a few places to pick up something to drink and/or eat, a shop that sold a ton of Havaianas flip flops, as well as a a gift shop. There was also a somewhat fancy restaurant on Morro da Urca although I don't know how many people go there. Seems like it would be super touristy and overrated. 

There were a lot of views to see on top of Morra da Urca, and since there is quite a bit of space on top, you don't feel like people are on top of you (even there were quite a few people there when we were visiting).

Just whipping my hair back and forth, atop Morro da Urca.

Once you are done snapping all the pics your heart desires, you head on the next cable car to Pão de Açúcar. This time we had to wait a little to board the next cable car, but the line went pretty quickly. At this point the sun was setting and everyone seemed to have the same idea: Head up to Pão de Açúcar and wait for that million dollar Rio de Janeiro sunset shot (although I feel I didn't get that shot. My "million dollar shot" was taken on Morro da Urca on the way down).

Pão de Açúcar was pretty crowded with people, so I took the photos I wanted and we headed back down. We thought it would be a good idea to start the decent before everyone else did.

I got some pretty great shots with my phone, although I do wish that I had brought my camera with me. But, since we walked there, I thought it was best not to be carrying a huge camera around my neck.

All in all, it was a great sight to see and I would highly recommend it. We lucked out with the weather on the evening we went because the sky was clear. Many of the other days we were in Rio it started to get hazier later in the day, so I would recommend going on a clear day. As far as going to see the sun set, you have to go at exactly the right moment. We got there a little before sunset, so some of my photos just capture the blaring sun and not much else (as you've probably already noticed). It still made for cool photos, but it was also blinding at times......Good thing I remembered to bring my sunglasses!

And, here it favorite photo of the evening (which you can also find on my Instagram: @chrystingloria)!

Have you ever been to Rio de Janeiro? 

How do you feel about doing "touristy" things when you are on vacation?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Rio de Janeiro || My first time in Brazil!

It had been a LONG time since I travelled somewhere new, and a LONG time since Tomas and I went on a vacation just the two of us, so why not use my birthday as an excuse to take a vacation together?!

It was kind of a last minute decision... Well, last minute according to someone who usually likes to prepare and plan for everything in advance. We booked our trip about a month before we were due to leave. We've discussed going on vacation quite often and have even tried to take little weekend escapes, but we almost always end up canceling for one reason or another (usually work related).

I still remember the day we booked the trip... It was a Sunday afternoon and we were checking flights to all different places in South America. We tossed around ideas of going to Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and Chile. We decided that a warm-weather location was the place to go, and somewhere that didn't require a super long flight since we knew that we'd be spending less than a week there. Tomas had spent a summer in Brazil when he was in his early 20s and always talks about how much he liked it, and how beautiful Brazil is. I had never been to Brazil and had kind of ruled it out of my travel bucket list because Brazil requires US citizens to obtain a tourist visa before traveling, and naturally, I thought of that as a hassle. I don't want to be inconvenienced just to go on vacation. But between the promise of warm weather, beautiful beaches and a 3 hour flight, I was sold on Rio de Janeiro and we booked our tickets and an Air BnB apartment. Shortly after, I booked my appointment at the Brazilian Consulate in Buenos Aires to get my tourist visa.

The Brazilian Tourist Visa really wasn't a hassle to obtain, although I do think that it's expensive. It cost around $2,000 Argentine Pesos which is about $200 US dollars. But, I can't really complain since the US requires Brazilians to obtain a tourist visa to enter the United States and I'm sure the visa costs them the same. Oh, reciprocity.

The day of our departure approached quickly and unfortunately Tomas got a nasty cold/flu a few days before we were supposed to leave. For a moment, I thought we were going to have to cancel another getaway. But, the day before we left Tomas made an almost complete recovery! While I was happy and excited about that, in the back of my head I knew that the virus was coming for me next, and sure enough I got sick while we were in Rio. Yes, that was kind of a downer. In my mind, I had imagined us exploring Rio and going out for dinner every night, but due to circumstances we had to alter our plans a bit, which basically just meant more relax time & more beach time. In the end, it was exactly what we needed!

Something I'd like to note about getting sick in a foreign country is.......You know that travel health insurance they offer you when you book your flight and don't think you need? Buy it anyway! I'm so thankful Tomas got the travel health insurance because if it were up to me, I may have passed on it!
The clinic I went to in Rio was very professional. The people working there were kind & helpful and most understood English and/or Spanish. (I did some research later on the clinic and found out they specialize in treating travelers). They were also quite contemporary...contemporary in the sense that the following day I received a "Happy Birthday" email from them, and when my x-ray results were in they emailed those to me as well (don't worry, it was just a cold or something, but they wanted to take x-rays to make sure everything was alright with my lungs). In case you ever decide to visit Rio de Janeiro, make sure to bookmark Clinica Galdino Campos in Copacabana, just in case you need a doctor!

Ok, well enough of all the serious stuff. Let's get to what everyone really cares about...THE PHOTOS! And my experiences and thoughts about Rio!

Our first full day in Rio we woke up super early, around 6am. At that point we could already feel the sun trying to peek through the curtains and heard the sounds of life down below. Our AirBnB apartment was located on the corner of two avenues so we did have some street noise, but that's to be expected from a big city. We headed to the beach around 8am and there were already quite a few people there, exercising or just soaking up some rays. I don't know if it's because the sun rises earlier or it's the warmer weather or it's the fact that Rio is a much bigger city than Buenos Aires, but the days in Rio seem to start earlier.

Early morning breakfast on our first day in Rio.
My first time eating maracuja in it's purest form.

Since we were visiting in off-season, the beach was quiet during the week, but packed with locals on the weekend. We were staying in the Copacabana neighborhood, on the border of the Leme neighborhood. The beaches in this area seemed to be frequented more by locals whereas if you walk further down the Copacabana beach towards Ipanema, you come across more tourists. I personally liked being surrounded by locals, and felt we got to experience more of what a beach day for the common Carioca (person from Rio) entails.

All along the beach there are "puestos" that rent you chairs and umbrellas for the day. They also sell beers, soda & water AND they make fresh juices and cocktails. You order what you want and they add it to your tab for the day. I found this to be incredibly convenient. You literally never have to get up unless you have to use the bathroom.

Fresh Mango-Maracuja Juice
Puesto 75, Copcacabana

On to bathrooms...I'm someone who needs to know where the nearest bathroom is at all times. All along the Copacabana promenade there are public bathrooms underground. You have to pay to use them ($2 Reales), but it's nice to have them there for your convenience if you plan on spending the entire day at the beach.

Another thing I loved was all of the beach vendors. I know most people probably find vendors to be annoying, but I didn't find the beach vendors in Rio to be intrusive or pushy at all. They just walk by with whatever they are selling and if something catches your eye you can call them over. I never felt pressured to buy anything.

Not only did the vendors sell food and drinks, but they also sold "cangas" (beach towels, but not made of your typical towel material, they resemble more of sarong, but people use them to lie on as well), cover-ups & tunics, jewelry, sunglasses and even bikinis!

Cangas for sale!
I went on a bit of a canga shopping spree in Rio, and I still left feeling like I didn't buy enough.
The bikini beach vendors were definitely the coolest. They walk around with umbrellas full of bikinis. Of course, I had to have one. I decided on a neon green one with a watermelon print because those were two things that I thought reminded me of Brazil: The color green and fresh fruit!

On our first day in Rio, we only spent a few hours at the beach as we were trying to reacquaint our pale skin with the blazing sun.

Before heading backing to the apartment to freshen up to go out for lunch, we stopped to have a little drink along the Copacabana promenade. Tomas opted for a Brazilian classic, Skol beer and I went with a fresh coconut water. All of the little bars along the promenade have stacks of coconuts just waiting to be cut open and served.

Really should have taken my hair down for this head resembles that coconut way too much.

For lunch, we decided to go out to a nearby restaurant, Cervantes, that is supposedly famous for their sandwiches with grilled pineapple. This was a recommendation by our Air BnB host, but there's also many reviews online. We decided to order a pork sandwich with pineapple, as well as some buñuelos de bacalao. The sandwich, which was enormous, we found to be quite dry. The buñuelos were yummy, though. We also ordered iced tea, a beverage of choice in Rio. The iced tea comes in what looks like a yogurt container. You can have it as it is, or order it with lime and they bring you nice big wedges of fresh lime.

Lunch @ Cervantes in Copacabana.

After lunch, I wanted to walk off our meal a bit and it was only after a few blocks that we stumbled upon a street market.

I didn't realize until later, but our AirBnB host had mentioned this in her tourist guide. Apparently this street market only happens on Thursdays and we were lucky to have come across it by chance! I don't think I've seen so much fresh fruit and fresh fresh in one place. The fruit blew me many fruits I had never seen or even heard of before!

See those orange fruits with the little nut sticking out of the top?
That's the cashew fruit!

The vendors are quite friendly, encouraging you to try the different fruits they have for sale. Some were a bit bizarre, definitely flavors you have to grow up with to be accustomed to.  I can't remember everything we tried, but the fruits I liked we ended up buying and bringing home with us for future breakfasts.

Above you can see caju, jabuticaba, and tamarinho.

Did you guys know that cashews come from a tree? And there's two parts to the cashew: the seed (the nut) and the apple (the fleshy part of the fruit). I found the fruit to be sweet at first, but with a bitter aftertaste. A little strange. I ate it sliced with a little bit of honey on top. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of putting the caju in the refrigerator which caused it to soften, shrivel and go bad within about two days. Lesson learned; leave your caju at room temperature.

Then, we have jabuticaba. These little fruits resemble a grape in their size, texture and even their taste. In color, they resemble more of a blueberry. Unlike a grape, you do not eat the skin of the jabuticaba (or at least that's what the fruit vendor told me). He told us to bite into the fruit, basically suck out the inside and discard the skin. While we did end up buying this, I never ended up eating this fruit back at our apartment. Once I got sick, I think I was just extra wary about trying new things?

And, finally my favorite of the bunch: Tamarinho.

Tamarinho comes in a pod which looks like it would contain some kind of bean or pea. Really what's on the inside is a fruit that seems to be somewhere in between a fresh fruit and a dried fruit. It has a chewy and a bit of jelly like texture which incases a seed. Right before I tried this at the market, the vendor told me that it was bitter. He wasn't wasn't just bitter, it was downright sour IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE. Immediately, it triggered a memory in my taste buds. What does tamarinho remind me of, you ask? SOUR PATCH KIDS. Literally, this fruit tastes just like a Sour Patch Kid. While I wouldn't eat this fruit fro breakfast, it was great for snacking.

After our street market adventure, Tomas took a nap, I showered and then we headed out on our next excursion...
Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain)! 
Stay tuned for my next post!