The first thing I noticed about Rio de Janeiro was the Frigate birds wheeling in the sky above the city. Perhaps not the most attractive species on the ground, but in the air, with their size, zigzag wings, pointed tails and black and white colouring, they are truly impressive.
Next I admired the mosaic pavements, which I was told resemble those in Lisbon. Flatter than cobbles and with several designs, they add an air of sophistication to a stroll around the city.
My first day in Rio, it was a little cloudy, so I visited the Botanical Garden and Lage Park next to it. It may be that I lack originality in my choice of places to visit, but I’m always interested in discovering the flora of a region. As it turned out, the garden seemed more like a park, but one with tropical plants, marmosets, small charcoal-coloured squirrels and flocks of parakeets.
A peculiarity of this place is that it is where extremely pregnant women come to have their photo taken, either by or with their partner and wantonly exposing the enormous bump in their bellies. This theme is replicated by the thousands of figurines of brightly-dressed women in an advanced state of pregnancy for sale in the souvenir shops. I have no idea where this comes from.
Still waiting for the sun to appear, the next day I toured the city centre. While there are some pleasant enough streets and buildings, the highlight for me was the Selaron Steps in Cinelandia. Selaron was a Chilean artist, settled in Rio, who started decorating the stairs outside his house in the colours of the Brazilian flag, using bits of ceramic tiles scavenged from building sites. The project grew and became a part of his life. Soon people were sending him tiles from all over the world. He was found dead in mysterious circumstances but the work is a tribute to him and to Rio.
At last, the sun came out and I headed to the beach. Well, actually, along the eastern and southern sides of Rio it feels like one long beach, but there are landmarks that distinguish one from the other. I headed for Arpoador, the rocky outcrop to the east of Ipanema Beach.
The sand was silvery and soft, the Caipirinha was ice-cold and the beach not overcrowded, so I happily wasted a few hours there. Caipirinha, by the way, is a national drink made with cachaca, made from sugar cane, and lime and can be lethal.
I ended the day by taking the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain. I timed it just right.
A complete change of scene for my next stop, Paraty, a small but beautifully formed old town of colonial houses and stone streets.
It rains frequently, (though fortunately not for long while I was there), and when the river rises it floods the streets. I found a street which was not completely paved in which hundreds of little fiddler crabs had made their homes in the ground.
It sounds impossibly touristy, but real people live there and there is a lively new town. They celebrated the Feast of the Holy Spirit one Sunday, gathering in the church and on the streets in a small town way.
Other diversions are the nearby waterfalls, including the “slide” –
Along the coast and a short boat ride away is Ihla Grande. Here I soon settled into the island vibe, approaching the hostel reception each day and asking to “stay on another night”. I was staying up the hill in Vila do Abraao, went for walks along the coast and along a mud path to the beach of Lopes Mendes.
Thanks to an invitation from a lovely young English woman at the hostel, I went on a private boat trip to some of the coves and beaches, with ten or so others I was able to chat to in English. The weather was fine, but not too hot. I eventually got back to the hostel at 2.30am after listening to some “reggae” in the port and indulging in some Samba dancing in a club.
It was definitely time to get off the island and see some more of Brazil.
I’m now in Foz do Iguazu, which is on the Brazilian side of the borders with Argentina and Paraguay. Before I continue I need to explain about a slight dip in my state of health. The Brazilians are LOUD. They have shared dorms with me here and in Chile, stay up late/ get up early and talk a lot. As a consequence I became somewhat sleep deprived. Then I picked up a cold on the island which led to a very uncomfortable night bus ride here from São Paulo. Nothing serious, but it meant it was a couple of days before I went to see the Iguazu Falls.
I will try to describe them. First, they go on and on. At first view I thought I was seeing a large waterfall, but then I spotted other smaller falls downriver to my right. Following the trail to my left, there was another long stretch of cascading water with further falls breaking through the jungle. Finally I reached the Devil’s Throat, a U-shaped finale. There is every kind of waterfall you can imagine, from those that resemble a Chinese painting, trickling and tumbling over crags, to lacy sheets, to crashing cataracts.
Then there are rainbows to be seen everywhere, coming into and fading out of focus with the angle of the sun.
The water itself changes from ripples over rounded pebbles, to bubbles like a fizzy drink or swirling eddies, which in one place appeared to flow backwards as the pull from another precipice exerted its force.
It is probably the most beautiful waterfall I have seen. I admit I did take some photos but I’ll only share a couple of them with you now.
I walked back to the Bird Park a few hundred metres away, which was another wonderful experience. The birds were all in excellent condition, though many of them had been rescued from intolerable captivity. Though I am off to the Pantanal today, where I hope to see some new wildlife, I probably won’t get up so close to the birds.
Just a couple of asides. It sometimes sounds as if I’m writing a blog about the alcoholic drinks of South America. That might be a book worth writing, (and doing the research for), but it is surprising how each region has its own speciality. It’s also a good way to make friends with the locals, by sharing a drink with them. But I assure you I do not often overindulge.
Also a couple of links. In Santiago I met a young woman called Ming, who is also writing a blog, but hers is largely focussed on women’s lives. She asked me if she could write about me and has done so at
Also, as I was going to the boat off Ihla Grande, the guide of the transfer company asked if he could take my picture to put on their website as an Instagram as he thinks I’m “an example to people about how to live life”. Ha! Little does he know. I haven’t looked at it but the website is
Looking forward, but trying to stay in the moment.