A Travellerspoint blog

Conquering Death Road

La Paz, Bolivia

sunny 10 °C
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One thing we had been looking forward to since purchasing the GoPro video camera, was being able to attach it to one of our helmets and hoon down the world’s most dangerous road. We were hoping for footage that did not include either of us sailing over the handlebars and tumbling a few hundred metres to our deaths - which we achieved (hence the somewhat pedestrian account of the ride, apologies). This may make for a more boring video, but we were certainly happy to both come out the other end in one piece. (Mike we were inspired to be extra careful with your story in the backs of our minds).

We were expecting to ride down a very narrow gravel road but neither of us had anticipated that the ride itself would also be stunning. We descended from 4700 metres above sea level to just 1700. This drop lead to a dramatic difference in climate between start and end. At the top we were freezing our butts off, while at the bottom it was time for a refreshing dip in a pool as we had entered a tropical rainforest. Totally crazy.

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Keep to the left - why? So I can fall over the edge? Scary! The rest of the country drives on the right but on the most dangerous road we are supposed to stick to the left - no sense!
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Foggy roads
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Geared up and ready to record
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Many crosses along the way
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Playing silly buggers - safety first.
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Hayley the he-woman
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Three of us on a precipice
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The road from afar
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Much deserved congratulatory beer at the end to celebrate being alive

We had a few days in La Paz to look around the city sights and recover from the ride. It is quite an ugly city at ground level but from afar is dramatic and striking as it is nestled in amongst mountains.

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Witch doctors abound. These Llama foetuses are used to bless a new building
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Cool colonial streets in Spanish section of the town
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Shopping trip for Alpaca goods
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Sweet buses


Something adding to the cities crazy atmosphere were the almost continuous strikes and protests. Various strikes had been underway for 90% of our four weeks in Bolivia, but previously they had been at the borders of the towns in the form of blockades. We had been quite removed from them in the past. In La Paz however, the protests and dynamite explosions were occurring right outside our bedroom window. Made for entertaining viewing even if it was a little scary venturing out in amongst it all. Now don’t ask us what the protests were about, everyone in Bolivia has a different story to tell and it is the land of little to no information after all so who really knows?

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Protests as viewed from our hostel window

A quick video showing what we saw - not all the smoke from exploding dynamite!

We enjoyed our time here in one of the nations capitals (It has two) and perhaps it was because we ate well. Everyone is well aware of how much we both enjoy a good feed and they have been seriously lacking to date. There has been excellent produce used in South America, but for the most part there is little creativity when it comes to food. Remember the good ol’ days when we all lived on meat and three veg. We are living that right now. So boring!

Much to our delight, three weeks prior to our arrival in La Paz, the owner of the world’s (ex) number one restaurant (Noma in Denmark) opened a new restaurant in La Paz by the name of Gustu. Off we went with our buddies Jared and Marie to celebrate Jared’s 29th birthday to indulge in wonderfully prepared local produce. We had planned to get the 15 courses but upon arrival there was only an option for the 5 course with matched wines. Disappointed though we were, we tucked in merrily to our measly five courses. It was INCREDIBLE and so filling. We could not have handled any more courses so it worked out for the best. It was an incredible experience and we can’t wait to hit up Lima in Peru to indulge in some more gastronomic delights.

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Amazing cocktails
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The birthday boy pretty delighted with his gifts!

We have now entered Peru where we are gearing up for a 5 day trek up to see Macchu Picchu.

Peace out all

Posted by ladiesofleisure 18:23 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes mountains buildings bolivia la_paz mountain_biking death_road worlds_most_dangerous_road blockade gustu degustation pro_downhill Comments (3)

Losing Perspective

Tupiza to Uyuni via the Salt Flats

all seasons in one day 4 °C
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Bolivia’s famous Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) tour definitely featured on our must-do list during our South American travels. We had elected to take the four-day trip from Tupiza, a small wild-west-like town laden with red earth, cacti and woeful cuisine.

We wanted to take the tour with our pals Jared and Marie who we met way back on the Navimag in Chile, so it meant we had five nights in Tupiza as they made their way down to meet us. It meant plenty of time poolside during the sweltering days and devouring books and movies during the chilly nights.
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Morning stroll through the wild west
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Could not stop laughing at this chap

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When our amigos arrived, we took a day tour around Tupiza – the ‘Triathlon’ aka Drive + Horse ride + Bike ride (or duathlon for those allergic to horses). The highlight was certainly the 17km bike ride down hill in the afternoon overlooking some phenomenal scenery, which would be a taster of what we would be treated to during our Salar tour.

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The following day we (Santos – the guide) packed up our land-cruiser and headed for the hills.
Typically, we had been blinded by the much-hyped Salar and of course the amazing photographic trickery that can be achieved when perspective disappears. This meant we were pleasantly surprised for the first three days being treated to otherworldly landscapes – Lakes, mountains, canyons, towns, random rock formations and geysers plus plenty of llamas and flamingos thrown in.
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Hayley teaches Agostina the heel click
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Graceful as ever
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Team shot
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Arvo tea
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Salty hotel
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Our coca-chewing guide Santos and our cook Agostina spoke less English than we speak Spanish meaning basic conversation was the order of the day but still plenty of room for jokes. Santos enjoyed playing on the gringo faux pas – when trying to say one is hot, el gringo often mistakenly says ‘Soy caliente’. Whilst literally it stacks up, it actually means ‘I’m horny’. So for four days we all exclaimed how horny we all were much to the entertainment of Santos and Agostina. Fun with languages.

The final day of the tour was spent on the mind-blowing Salar itself where we had a ball in miniature.

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Panoman at sunrise
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Four days, no shower
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Here is a motion picture of epic proportions to wow you all with our antics (It is actually very amatuerish but we love reliving the past week)

We write this from La Paz after a rough overnight bus and not a lot of zzz’s. Time for some R & R and (hopefully) some international cuisine.

Xoxox

Soph n Hayley

Posted by ladiesofleisure 13:21 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises bolivia salt salar salar_de_uyuni tupiza tupiza_tours Comments (7)

I don't Bolivia it!!

Santa Cruz, Samaipata, Sucre

sunny 24 °C
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No one can say we were not warned about the charms and challenges of the Bolivian way – often in stark contrast to those countries already visited. But it’s fair to say we were not prepared for some of the antics to follow.

The problems began when we crossed the rarely-used border in some Bolivian backwater called San Matias. Turns out on Saturday arvos, the local immigration office is closed. With no ATM and little cash on hand, we could not stick around waiting for the Bolivians to get back to work, so had to leg it straight to Santa Cruz. “We can just go to immigration in Santa Cruz”… Hmmm. More on this later.

First up was a new, until now undiscovered, form of torture. As accustomed as we are to overnight buses, we did not take into account the standard of the buses with the associated Bolivian roads and freezing temps. We set off at 1400 wearing singlets and shorts due to the tropical climes. How were we to know that the bus windows do not stay shut overnight due to the potholed unsealed roads rattling them open and thus leading to hypothermic conditions. As a result catching sleep was simply a sporadic, short-lived distraction from the rattling fridge. On the positive side the bus didn’t breakdown and arrived on time, far exceeding our now, adjusted expectations.

Thankfully we arrived and stayed in a little tropical paradise in the middle of the lovely city of Santa Cruz. The hostel and hammocks were a godsend and we were able to warm up again since we were back at tropical temps. There was even a toucan at the hostel to help us remember the good old days back in the Pantanal (see earlier blog).

Luckily for us, we had a great sleep and some great food here and we had soon forgotten all about the bus trip from hell.

Next on the to do list was to sort out our undocumented arrival into the country. We assumed it would be a simple - whack a stamp in the ol’ passport and “welcome to Bolivia” - type process to which we have come accustomed. What followed was an insight into systems-Bolivian style, the ultimate temper-test that not all of us would pass.

Arriving just after opening we found lines streaming out the door and along the footpath. We got into one and watched as the other progressively marched into the building whilst we languished in the mid-day sun. An hour later we made it inside to queue up for a ticket so we could queue again to speak to someone.

Finally we were seen. And it was not good news. “You are illegals”. Right. So tell, us – how is it our fault we were allowed to cross a border at a time when the officials are napping? We are then told in order to rectify our illegal status, we must pay the big bucks ($45 each – a lot in Bolivian terms and an unexpected expense). After trying to tell old mate that he was mistaken – and that we are Kiwi’s therefore we get to sail across borders free of charge, he is again explains en Español that we must cough up.
It is at this point that Hayley exclaims that the situation is akin to the excrement of a bull. So now, the already rocky relationship with old mate descends to new lows – he stands up, screws up the paperwork he was working on and points to a nearby bench upon which we are to sit. It turns out we are not the only ones at the end of our tether.

Having now been sent to the naughty corner, we wait for the remaining people to see old mate. Once complete he gestures for Sophie to come back to the desk. When Hayley tries to accompany her, he refuses despite her promises; ‘I’ll stay quiet’…

In order to get things moving again - commiserations are made with our official and Hayley’s behaviour is explained away as an unfortunate mental disturbance.

From here it is explained that we must:
• Go to a specific bank to make payment in order to turn the illegal into legal.
• Go get photocopies of your passport.
• Return to immigration (after siesta of course).
• Line up like a chump again, several times.
• Finally get your stamp
• And, don’t forget – your fate is in his hands.

So the simple administrative task, turned into a day-long, expensive battle with the authorities.

Relived it was over, we jumped into a collectivo (big shared taxi) and headed to our next port of call – the gorgeous hillside-village of Samaipata.

Since arriving in this town, our Bolivian woes seemed to melt away and enjoyment levels are steadily on the up. This country is beautiful, affordable and a really good place to practice our Spanglish!

Our three days in Samaipata were spent relaxing in our beautiful hotel interspersed with some swimming, walking and eating. This is more like the life we have become accustomed to.

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We visited some pretty pre-incan ruins in the country side (ruins all start to look the same after a while though

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The ruins themselves

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Pretty views

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Do you think permission was granted by coke to display this?

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Relaxing to say the least

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Getting through a few books while here

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HPL's company vehicle

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Samaipata streetscape

After all this time relaxing, we felt ready to tackle the next bus trip to Sucre, but were better prepared this time for what was to come. Layered up with all our merino and mentally in a good headspace, we boarded the bus fearing the worst (particularly after horror stories from Nic and Jorge who had done the same trip a year or so earlier). Our fears were allayed however and the bus trip was fine – amazing how one becomes accustomed to non sealed roads and travelling with chickens and other animals. We were lucky compared to others who spent the night on the floor. At least we had springs in our seats to help with those airborne moments through particularly big potholes.

We had been told of a blockade in Sucre but did not really know what this meant. At 0600 after a couple of hours sleep, the bus stopped. As far as the eyes could see were trucks lining up along the road, not able to get in due to this “blockade”. Luckily there was a very helpful Bolivian tourguide who spoke excellent English and took it upon herself to shepherd the tourists off the bus to walk. A short two hours later we reached the blockade and the amazing sight of taxis waiting to take us and our cumbersome packs to our hostel. As difficult as the walk was in jandals and laden with packs, it was actually quite stunning to watch the sun rising over Sucre (glass half full much?).

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Our first view of the blockade

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A big trek was ahead of us

We settled into Sucre for a week of Spanish lessons to brush up skills learnt (and not practiced enough) way back at the start if the trip.

Before school started for the week, we attempted to do a couple of trips to see some dinosaur footprints and a local market. Our plans were thwarted however due to the “damned blockade”. When will it stop interfering with our lives?

Sucre has proven to be a charming wee paradise to spend a week swotting up, getting down with the lingo and hanging out with like-minded travellers.
It is a Unesco Heritage site famous for its striking white-washed buildings. Equally famous are the protests/blockades etc. Apparently these guys have an aversion to paying taxes. The blockade lasts for pretty much the entire week we are here.

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Loving the cheap feasts about the place

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Good views from the church top

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Interesting items at the local central market

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Fruit stalls

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Which then leads to delish Jugo con Leche (Juice with Milk

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Interestingly Bolivia grows a total of over 200 varietals of Potatoes which is why every meal comes with chips or Potatoes

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Our classroom

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Goobs wearing hats - BEFORE they are actually hats

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Hat tour was definitely an interesting thing to see. Crazy factory conditions

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Pretty colonial town

All our new amigos at the hostel we stayed in had a little communal feast. We made pizza and the resident chef (another crazy traveller from Norway) whipped us up some chocolate fondant (with help from his trustee Polish helper). Was a good night and opportunity to say good bye to our new buddies.

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On the final day in Sucre we managed to make it to the markets which we were unable to make it to the week earlier. A good day out with our mates checking out the indigenous culture and textiles.

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With a gap in the mayhem/blockade we plan to take the opportunity to head south to Tupiza, as word on the street is an entirely new blockade starts in a few days.

From there we will jump in a 4x4 and spend 4 days exploring Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s famous salt flats.

Thanks a lot to Aidan for the creative genius in naming our blogpost!

Posted by ladiesofleisure 13:08 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bus market bolivia santa_cruz samaipata mercado sucre blockade Comments (1)

Getting back to Nature

Chapada and The Pantanal

sunny 32 °C
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Seven years ago, on our very first overseas adventure together, we met two loca Belgian sisters with whom we spent a very fun week with in Cambodia. We only spent a few days together, but they proved to be such good value that we have remained friends since, lucky for us.

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Flashback to 2006, fast times in Cambodia! Sophie, Leen, Hayley, Mein

Leen, the eldest of the two, has become an impassioned environmental warrior/tour guide in Brazil’s Pantanal alongside her Brazillian husband André and the kids (check out their site here: www.pantanaljaguarsafaris.com). Knowing that Brazil (and more specifically the Pantanal) does a bang-up job in the wildlife department – this was a great opportunity to get amongst whilst catching up with our long lost pal Leen.

We flew from Rio to Cuiabá – gateway to the Northern Pantanal and also Brazil’s hottest city. We are catching the very end of the wet season so are unsurprised when we arrive in the thick of a turbulent thunderstorm. Leen and her family live an hour away in the slightly cooler Chapada dos Guimarães, right amongst a National Park in the Brazillian savannah.

We had signed onto an 18km stroll guided by André in the National Park the morning after our arrival, so Leen ushers us to our Pousada and instructs us to get an early night dubious of whether we will come back in one piece - ‘it’s a bitch of a walk, but very rewarding’. Perfecto.

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So extreme we climbed without a harness

We needn’t have worried too much – the really tough part was the afternoon heat and the light bush-whacking we decided to do for a more interesting route home. But, as promised – we were rewarded with spectacular views atop the plateau overlooking canyons, grasslands and Cuiabá city.

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We climbed to the top of that there plateaularge_pensive.jpglarge_H_n_S.jpg
Up the top of the plateau
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Bird-watching (sorry cant't see them in this shot)
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We stumbled across this snakey in the bushes, squealed like little girls, and ran away. HPL mustered up the courage to go back to take a snap

The following day we came back to the park, this time with Leen to do some waterfall-hopping in the sunshine.

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Natural infinity pool
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Leen 'Terri Irwin' Gillis doing her thing
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Luisa y Noah getting technical
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It was awesome to have some time hanging with Moratelli clan

We were eager to get down to the Pantanal wetlands, which was pretty much at it’s watery-peak making for stunning scenery but a lesser likelihood of seeing the big-name animals like Jaguars and Pumas (because they don’t have to venture too far for a drink). The Pantanal is massive – think the size of the UK and offers a very rich array of wildlife which thrive on the back of the very distinct wet and dry seasons and an abundance of food (each other) to eat.

Fortuitously, we were able to grab Leen for three days to be our formidable guide for what was to be an incredible adventure.

Ready for a photo dump?

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The world's largest rodent
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Plenty of paranas around - apparently great for soup!
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Early morning kayak
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Hawk catching parana for brekkie
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Caiman fishing
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This is a Pygmie Owl - very cute. Should mention we have become avid bird-watchers
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Tough life
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Watching the Pantanal coming to life
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Meow. A cat was here, but didn't spot em in the flesh
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Monkey!
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Horse-cam

A moving-picture of our adventures:

Posted by ladiesofleisure 14:41 Archived in Brazil Tagged landscapes waterfalls sunsets_and_sunrises mountains lakes skylines animals birds sky boats safari falls brazil savannah wetlands macaw pantanal cuiabá cerrado tropical_island chapada_dos_guimaraes pantanal_jaguar_safaris sao_jeronimo birdlife Comments (7)

Cidade Maravilhosa

sunny 30 °C
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Rio. Wow. The city certainly lived up to the tagline of the ‘marvelous city’, at least in our eyes. It is possibly, scratch that - definitely the most visually spectacular city we have laid eyes on, and don’t get us started on the vibe…

Our hostel was parked up the Leme end of (Copa)-Copacabana beach on the hill and adjacent to a friendly favela (or shanty town of unregulated housing for the poor, and often run by drug dealers).

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Walkway up to our favela - very colourful neighbourhood

We had heard some stories about Rio being a tad dodgy, so we were eager to put our extra vigilant tourist pants on (i.e. carrying only the cash you need for the day, leave valuables at the hostel, take taxis in the sketchy parts of town, don’t eat yellow snow etc etc). We applied all this logic and to be honest, never really felt threatened. Apparently the city has graduated from super-dodgy to just regular dodgy in recent years. With the added pressure of hosting the two largest events in the world over the next three years, it seems like the bootstraps are being pulled up.
The afternoon we arrived we nipped down to the infamous Copacabana beach for a pre-sunset swim and gushed at our surrounds (meaning the hills – it was too chilly for the speedo/bum floss brigade).

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The amazing beach in all its splendour

That night we had planned to dine at a famous Brazilian BBQ all-you-can-eat number. We got all the way there, seated and then were advised of the price when we realised we hadn’t brought enough cash nor plastic (blame the over-zealous vigilant tourist pants) and had to awkwardly vacate, citing a card left behind and that ‘we would be back in 10’. Bit of a blow out. To be fair paying AUD$60/head seems nothing short of outrageous these days (considering we would enjoy burgers with everything for AUD$1.75 the following night).

Our first full day of exploring included a heavy-hitting itinerary of the Big Jesus aka Christ the Redeemer, Escadaria do Selarón (tiled steps by Chilean artist), popping our acai cherries and a gondola ride up Sugar Loaf for another vista of the city.

We struck it lucky with the weather and enjoyed an amazing view from the Big Jesus as well as up Sugar Loaf before sunset where we had mind-blowing views of the city (will try and let the pics do the talking).

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Sweet view huh? And the city behind is not too bad

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The big man himself

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Chilean steps

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Sugarloaf really needs to be seen to be believed

We also enjoyed our first taste of the famed açai – a superfood from the Amazon which incidentally tastes like a delicious fruity icecream when frozen and blended. Amazing.

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Looks bad but tastes SO SO good!

On our second day we signed onto a tour of South America’s largest favela – perched on the other side of the hill from Ipanema beach, some of Rio’s prime real estate. It was an interesting insight into the lives and challenges of the cities poorest residents. This favela had approx. 70,000 inhabitants and is one of over 1000 in the city.

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Images trying to portray how millions of people live in South America (Alex - it is not ALL like this)

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We watched some Brazilian kids dance - we have it on video - really cute!

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As we were leaving the police were about to enter and undergo a massive raid for drugs and weapons. We got to view some of the action from the outside

The afternoon was spent in stark contrast – watching the body-beautiful Brazilians flaunt it (cos they got it) on Ipanema Beach. Never have you seen more washboard abs and budgie-smugglers on a stretch of sand. We expected the women would be vain, but oh no no no – the Adonis is alive and well here.

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Some of these views are pretty impressive!

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Some are a bit in your face perhaps!!(Flossing is the norm here)

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The things vendors tote around the beach with them trying to sell is incredible

That night we managed to get our Brazilian BBQ (at a slightly more affordable establishment). We amazed as large lumps of meat (of various cuts) on skewers sailed around the room with knife-wielding waiters until we could eat no more. Iron count safely through the roof.

That capped of our short, but very memorable stay in Rio. We are already hatching plans for the next trip for another dose.

Posted by ladiesofleisure 06:40 Archived in Brazil Tagged landscapes beaches beach brazil rio ipanema rio_de_janeiro copacabana sugarloaf favela christ_the_redeemer acai Comments (5)

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