twenty-four hours in rio.

six months later…
i am posting a blog i wrote back in december about our quick trip to rio…

i don’t know which city is supposed to be more dangerous, but as we stepped off of the bus in rio de janeiro at night, it was a bit sketchier feeling than sao paulo. of course, all bus stations and airports are always on the outskirts of town, so you always arrive to a new city in an area totally unrepresentative of the actual city. what if chicago was just what surrounded o’hare?

we paid fifty cents to use the bus station bathroom then tried to follow uber’s instructions to the pickup location. our uber driver was so sweet. he tried to message me in portuguese to move to an easier pickup location. i responded that i didn’t speak portuguese, and he told me to sit tight. we waited for ten minutes anxiously staring at the moving car on my phone’s uber app. and then, we connected.

it was late. the bus was late. we sat in standstill traffic for two hours entering rio on the bus. i had hoped to get to the hostel before dark, but oh well.

we drove in the dark, intensely aware of every time the uber driver pressed the lock button repeatedly in certain areas. he pointed out landmarks in the dark, and we haphazardly tried to communicate in spanish/english/portuguese. he could not believe that we were only in rio for one day.

24 hours.

our hostel, pura vida, was at the foot of a favela, a brazilian shanty town. our uber driver was very unsure of the location. we entered from a side street and got a full night tour of the favela action. he warned us to be careful.

we found the hostel entrance and hiked up several flights of stairs. a cute space transformed into your typical backpacker mecca. an outdoor bar, several flyers for upcoming parties, and a girl vomiting at 4am in the room above us. it was simple but perfect for our one night.

after dropping off our bags, we set out for dinner. it was 9pm, and we were starving. we wandered a block away from our hostel and instantly the neighborhood went from favela to copacabana. we found our way into one of the best things about brazil… all you can eat buffets where you pay by the kilo. i usually lose when it comes to buffets because my belly can never actually tolerate more than one plate. but, by the kilo? yes please. maybe this is where whole foods got the idea from… 

after dinner, we walked another block down to the main beach drag of copacabana. it was 11pm on a monday, but the sidewalks were full. full of tourists, bars, vendors, crafts, sandcastles, strangers, and that rio energy that you hear so much about. the night was just beginning. people were still hanging out on the beach, which was completely lit with irritatingly bright flood lights. 

with “at the copa, copacabana” playing on repeat in my head, i embraced the moment and ordered a classic brazilian caipirinha, so full of sugar, you could not even taste the strong alcohol. after only a few sips, i could see how they could be dangerous. (must have been what happened to the poor drunk girl above our room.)

with only one day to take in the city, we headed back to our hostel to get some sleep…

there is always something magical about arriving to a new place in the dark. when you wake up the next day, it is like being in a time machine. you’ve been transported to this new place and have no idea how you got there. nothing looks familiar. 

copacabana is just as busy during the day. the iconic sidewalks holding the footprints of millions of visitors. “her name was lola. she was a dancer.” 

we strolled along the beach and over to ipanema, a close by beach with cleaner water and a more chill vibe (plus an epic mountain backdrop). we found a small corner cafe and indulged in some croissants and cafes con leche. ipanema is adorable. full of shops and trendy restaurants. a great way to start the day.

after breakfast, we walked around the lake until the sun was burning my skin. a beautiful little lake in the middle of the city, just a few blocks from the beach. it was slightly odd (since the ocean was so close) and didn’t look very used, but it was well maintained with a great walking path surrounding it as well as several little restaurants. 

and then, onto the main attraction…

we popped into an uber and headed up to christ the redeemer. sure, it’s touristy, but the view is worth it. and, the statue is a phenomenal feat. wow. rio is absolutely stunning.

mountains, rivers, lakes, ocean, skyscrapers, all intertwined. it is a city with history and character and beauty. it is real, authentic, full of life.

if you’re ever in rio, take the train up to the top. snap your selfie with jesus and soak in the view.

with the hours dwindling, we ubered across town to lapa, the party district, just to walk around (and see the arches of course). we hiked all the way up the famous stairs to santa teresa, a cute artsy neighborhood up in the hills.

it was beautiful from up there. quiet and quaint. cafes and shops hiding in every doorway. 

you can take a san francisco-esque trolley up and down, but since we were running short on time, we hopped in another uber and headed back to copacabana for some dinner before our series of flights to argentina. 

a grilled spread of meats, french fries, and a couple of beers overlooking the beach. sometimes it’s simply sitting that gives you the best perspective of your travels. people watching and enjoying your surroundings. 

we’ll be back to rio someday. there is so much rock climbing right in the city. so much left to see. 

but, for now, our 24 hours in rio had come to an end. we grabbed our suitcase from the hostel and sat in two hours of traffic to get to the airport. and then, a ridiculous lineup of flights to get to our next destination: rio de janeiro > sao paulo > santiago > buenos aires > bariloche and then a bus to el bolson.

the things we do to save a little money…

now, onto a friend’s wedding in one of my favorite places on earth.

two days in ubatuba.

back on a bus. ubatuba to rio de janeiro this time. it is windy through the hills, and i think my ability to stare at my computer in vehicles without getting queasy is starting to wear off as i get older. but, i’ll push through…

we arrived in ubatuba after a “three hour” bus ride (which actually took five) from sao paulo. two nights in an airbnb by praia grande, the most popular beach on a long stretch of beautiful coastline.

our airbnb host had been very helpful (and slightly overboard) leading up to our arrival, providing endless details, travel advice, and constant communication. however, due to that, we were able to jump off the bus at the exact right stop and walk 50 yards to her home.

the apartment was straight out of the 50s and definitely could have been lived in by the same woman since way back then. it had that old smell and questionable charm. the gas stove had some dodgy piping, but the view was unbeatable for $50/night. beach in front, jungle in back.

after dropping our suitcases off in our temporary home, we quickly changed into our swimsuits and settled into some serious relaxation. and by that, i of course mean burgers and beers by the beach. now, we might have preferred something else to eat, but it was pretty easy to pick those two items on the portuguese menu and since we were starving from our delayed bus ride, we went with easy.

praia grande was crowded. it was the weekend, but it also turns out that i accidentally picked the high season to visit. lots of local tourists flock to ubatuba in decemeber and january, when the temperatures are hot and the rains are rare.

we walked the long white sand beach soaking in the scenery. kids playing soccer and volleyball. groups of friends drinking too much and causing a commotion. couples holding hands and kissing in the waves. vendors selling drinks and snacks and ice cream and clothes.

as the sun started to set, we wandered back across the street to our apartment, where ryan proceeded to immediately fall asleep. a few beers and a little sunshine always manage to steal your energy. i thought he’d wake up in time for dinner again, but he just kept on sleeping. i guess he still needed to catch up on some zzzz…

as he slumbered, i strolled down to the local shop and picked up some pasta for dinner. i ate some food, did some work, and retired early. music blaring over loud speakers occasionally streamed in through our open windows reminding us of the party we were missing outside.

the next morning, i unexpectedly woke up just in time to catch the sun rising over the ocean. day two in ubatuba…

we boarded a city bus into the center of town, about a 20 minute bus ride that costs $1/person. ubatuba proper is a cute, decent sized town. there are plenty of stores and restaurants to explore. lots of places to sample brazil’s delicious “pastel,” a pastry filled with whatever you want basically. 

we walked through town and ended up back on the coast. the beach on the edge of the city center is pretty barren. there are no vendors, no umbrellas, no bikinis. but, there are something like 100 beaches along this stretch of brazil’s coastline, so we continued walking the coast exploring as many beaches as we could. 

after enjoying one other beach, we headed back out to the main highway and called an uber to transport us out to the infamous itamambuca beach, known by many surfers. about seven miles down the road.

itamambuca is beautiful. it reminded me of nosara, costa rica. dirt roads lined with elegant homes and understated beach shacks, all leading to the beach. small snack shops and surf stands ready to help visitors enjoy the ocean to the fullest. 

the ocean meets up with the itamambuca river here. the fresh water combines with the salty sea. it was less chaotic than the other beaches near town. there were still beach bars and vendors, but there were way less people. however, the water was much dirtier. perhaps the river’s fault?

we set up shop at a table on the beach, and with our toes in the hot sand and a “stupidly cold” (brazilian saying) beer in our hand, we watched the waves roll in and out.

unfortunately, the waves were not quite up to my aussie surfer’s standards. although the beach is known to have some good breaks, the waves were not cooperating for us this trip. but that’s how it goes when you only have a day or two. not enough time to patiently await the swell. oh well. we’ll have plenty of time to surf in australia next month. 

after we were sufficiently sunned, we shuffled back to the main highway on the dirt roads surrounded by jungle greenery. the bus took an hour to come by. but we waited. because we had nowhere else to be. nothing else to do. no plans. 

when the bus pulled back through the city center, we jumped off and walked the opposite direction along the coast. back towards praia grande via itagua, a hip little neighborhood full of restaurants and bars. 

and then we saw this…

yes, that is someone bungee jumping from a crane. and hang gliding from a crane. and free falling into a net from a crane. 

this was just randomly set up on the side of the street. there was not a fair or anything else going on around it. just long lines to defy death one more day. only in brazil i suppose? we were totally game to try one of them, but our desire not to wait in line won instead.

for dinner, we found a cute little health food restaurant, banana brazil. a welcomed break from the fried pastries and cheese filled everything that we’d been snacking on. so far, beyond the meat, brazil has not necessarily offered us any oh-my-gosh-that-was-fucking-delicious moments.

i remember experiencing this when i lived in argentina. sure, you can find a great meal here and there, but in general, the palette is a bit bland for my tastebuds (surprising i know, with all the white foods i tend to eat). it just doesn’t excite my tongue like japanese or italian or thai or indian or mexican… to each their own though. 

and then, you’ll never guess what we did… we went to sleep. clearly, we both really needed some vacation time…

and today, we travel. 

7am wake up and pack up
8am city bus to the major ubatuba bus terminal
8:30am walk a couple blocks with luggage because we got off a stop early
8:45am make ryan go get cash from an atm to buy bus tickets (sao paulo only took cash)
8:58am hope the bus we want is not sold out
9am ticket office opens, and it turns out they take credit (oops…)
9:30am drink coffee and eat deep fried something
11am bus scheduled to depart for rio de janeiro
11:45am extreme bus stop boredom sets in
12:15pm bus actually departs for rio de janeiro
5pm now, still on the road to rio 

here’s to our final two days in brazil!

p.s. sorry this post is boring. we needed a few days of boring.

one day in sao paulo.

the only way for me to capture an experience on paper is if i write it down immediately. many of my travels disappear into memories before the details make their way into words. a few photos get posted here and there to help jog my memory years later. 

but, it is the trips that include lots of bus time, flight time, and alone time that end up being best documented. this trip is one of those trips. first up? brazil!

we are on a bus heading from sao paulo to ubatuba. just reaching the peak of the serra do mar and heading down the hills to the beach. our quick trip to brazil is something of a city sandwich: sao paulo and rio de janeiro with some relaxing beach and surf time in ubatuba in between. 

after a five hour flight to atlanta and a nine hour redeye to sao paulo, ryan and i arrived in brazil absolutely exhausted. (the late night celebration in san francisco prior to our initial flight might have been part of the problem… thanks viv, ruth, and andrew…) we quickly skipped through customs and threw our one overstuffed suitcase into an uber. yep, an uber. ordered straight from the app with ease. ¡vamos a jardins village hostel por favor! 

oh wait, they don’t speak spanish in this south american country?! shit. 

i haven’t visited a country without a native speaker or being able to speak the language in a little while. it is sort of fun to be forced to learn some portuguese and create my own bastardized version of spanish, english, and random google translated portuguese words. turns out i can understand enough key words to get by. and the google translate app is like cheating really… with the photo hover translate feature?! i can’t wait to tell our children about the days when traveling to a foreign country was WAY harder.

we are in brazil for five days. we haven’t traveled like this in awhile either. quick stops in multiple places to see as much as we can before going onto the next country. we have had the privilege and luxury of spending weeks or even months in most of our travel destinations. time to shift the mindset. we’ll never see it all, just sample and take notes for next time.

and so, we spent our first 24 hours in brazil, walking around as much of sao paulo as possible. my feet have blisters and my shoulders are sunburnt, but my belly is full and my heart is too. 

sao paulo has a population of 12.11 million people. it is the most populous city in the southern and western hemispheres. it is the 11th most populous city on earth. 

and yet, it felt manageable.

of course, we didn’t have time to visit everywhere, but the neighborhoods we visited were clean, easy to navigate, and full of cheerful paulistanos (sao paulo locals). 

our hostel was in an area known as jardins, down a cute little alley.

it was a couple blocks off avenida paulista, one of the main bustling city streets crowded with men in suits, street vendors, and an endless variety of people. 

that was one of the main things we noticed right away. it is impossible to typify a brazilian. every time i thought i’d hear english or german or japanese come out of someone’s mouth, it was portuguese. every time i thought, “that person is for sure a tourist,” they’d prove me wrong. brazil should maybe steal the american title of “melting pot.”

and everyone is lovely. from the uber driver trying to point out attractions to us in broken spanish…
to the shaved head barista teaching us about the history behind the delicious “bread of cheese”…
to the old man helping us find a misplaced credit card at the empanada bar…
to the woman at the phone store directing me to a place where i could find an outlet converter…
to the waiter at the brazilian steakhouse explaining how to take advantage of all the tableside-carved meat.

every confusion caused by our lack of portuguese came along with a loving smile and a joyful willingness to help. 

we walked from our hostel in jardins all the way to vila madalena, an artsy district full of hip shops, galleries, and cafes. it was further of a walk than we expected, but it was a great way to take in our new surroundings. 

we toured beca de batman, an alley filled with amazing street art. all of sao paulo is covered in street art and graffiti. buildings, sidwalks, walls, cars, there is art everywhere. but, this specific alley is a famous spot to see a lot at once. 

after this, the effects of our redeye started to set in. we were both exhausted. like, barely keep our eyes open exhausted. we stopped to fill our bellies with empanadas and hoped it would give us a little energy boost. 

it didn’t. so instead of walking an hour to our next destination, we called up an uber. $4 for a 30 minute drive? yes please. ryan instantly fell asleep as we battled traffic to the central part of sao paulo or the old historic downtown. 

the calm, artsy vibe of vila madalena and the poshness of jardins disappeared. we were now back in what felt like a city. people everywhere. smells everywhere. an underground system of rails below us. the blazing afternoon sun above us. we let ourselves get lost. walking the streets taking in as much as we could.

throughout our travels to major cities, we inadvertently have started a tradition of going up to get a bird’s eye view of the city from its tallest building. usually it is overpriced and overcrowded, but it is always worth it. a chance for perspective. a chance for orientation. a chance for awe. 

the edificio italia has a 360 degree viewing terrace from their 42nd floor. it cost R30 (about $7.50 USD) and included a free glass of wine. a real steal compared to the $30-60 you usually spend getting to the top in places like hong kong, seattle, tokyo, chicago, etc.

sao paulo sprawls forever. in every direction. there is no one main clump of skyscrapers. it is a sea of skyscrapers. 

with my shoulders getting progressively more red and our lack of sleep getting progressively more impossible to ignore, we decided it was time for a little siesta. after realizing we were in an uber pickup hell (three drivers couldn’t find us and canceled even after we tried moving), we jumped into a taxi and fiercely fought our heavy eyelids. 

sure, we only had 24 hours to take in as much of the city as possible, but enjoying an afternoon siesta is definitely a classic way to experience south america. 

we passed out hard but woke up just in time for dinner. what kind of food did we want to eat? meat, of course! 

when in brazil, a churrascaria it is pretty much a must-do. an endless delicious variety of meats on a skewer brought to your table and hand carved onto your plate.

the restaurant we chose came complete with a beautiful buffet of sides as well (and the above photo on their website). not to mention a tasty flan for dessert. 

after we literally could not eat another bite without spewing, we strolled home in complete satisfaction. it was only 9:30pm, but we had to catch a bus early in the morning, so we settled in and drifted back to sleep. 

i know, we must be getting old… in a country known for its celebrations and not going out until the sun comes up… 

we’ll have to see what rio has in store. 🙂