Friday, October 11, 2002

Rio de Janeiro - October 2002

Cidade Maravilhosa

No trip to Rio would be complete without the mandatory trip to Corcovado, the statue of Christ. Take the train through the jungle to the base of the statue, then walk up the 220+ steps and you are there. When I was there in October 2002, they were in the process of building an elevator and escalator, so you wouldn't have to walk up all the steps.
From the statue, there were amazing views of the city. While the size of the statue was quite impressive, what really impressed me was the statue at night. It stood on a mountain that was mostly covered with jungle, so you didn't see the mountain at night. At night, large flood lights pointed at it, causing the appearance of a glowing Christ floating over the city.

The view from Corcovado was incredible. On one side, you could see Sugarloaf Mountain and various harbors.

On the other side, you could see the Maracana soccer stadium (not in this picture), the Jockey Club (the track on the right side of the picture), the lagoon (foreground) and Ipanema (the developed area between the lagoon and the sea).

Tall and tan and young and lovely the girl from Ipanema goes walking
and when she passes each one she passes goes ahhh
When she walks she's like a samba
that swings so cool and sways so gently
that when she passes each one she passes goes ahhh

I had to stop and drink a choppe brahma (great beer!!) at the Garota de Ipanema. This was the bar that Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes wrote the classic Bossa Nova song "The Girl From Ipanema". Just down the road from this bar was a music store that was filled with bossa nova and samba CDs. I bought quite a few of them.

Stretching the length of Ipanema beach was the boardwalk, which was made from thousands of tiles, set into this pattern. All along the boardwalk were kiosks selling iced coconuts and cold beer. What a great place to sit and people watch.
Beyond the far end of Ipanema beach, the "Two Brothers" mountain poked up above the city. This picture was taking on a foggy Sunday morning (notice how many people are already at the beach!!)
This is a picture of the same area, taken at sunset while sitting on the rocks of Arpoador, which is the area located between Ipanema and Copacabana beaches.

At the Copa..... Copacabana

Music and passion were always in fashion ...

The boardwalk along Copacabana Beach. I read many warnings saying not to walk here at night, but I did anyway and felt perfectly safe (up until around midnight). After that, I took a cab. Of course, I wouldn't walk alone in my neighborhood after midnight either!
I spent a lot of time in Copacabana. I met lots of interesting people on the beach and in the adjacent bars and restaurants; I even saw a Gilberto Gil concert one night on the beach. I think everyone should experience a Brazilian concert at some point. It was great fun!!
One evening, I decided to go on an organized tour to a Rodezio (meat buffet) and catch a Samba show. I was in a group with a very fun couple from Spain and a woman from Sydney who had just spent the previous week walking the Inca Trail. This was a very fun crowd! And since the tour bus was taking care of all transportation, we didn't hold back on drinking Caiphirrinas!
The show was very Las Vegas style - touristy, but good none the less. The woman from Sydney and I were sitting in the front row, and the male dancers made sure to flirt heavily with us. We did not mind one bit!!!

The next morning, I decided to nurse my nasty hangover by spending several quiet hours wandering around the Botanical Gardens.

At the end of this long line of palm trees is a fountain.

After wandering around the gardens for several hours, I decided to sit on one of the many benches. Within about 15 minutes, I was surrounded by marmosets - sort of like a cross between a squirrel and a monkey.

It was interesting watching them run up and down the trees, and jump from tree to tree. Plus, they make interesting noises. It was very relaxing.
Another famous site in Rio that shouldn't be missed is visiting Sugar Loaf. To get there, you take a cable car. There are two stops. This photo was taken after the first stop, before riding to the top. At each stop are various overlooks, so you can see different parts of the city. At the top of SugarLoaf, there is a patch of forest, with well developed paths.

While the people on tours were herded through like cattle, I was able to take a couple of hours and explore all the trails, watch different birds and butterflies, and I even saw a few marmosets.
I also took a jeep tour of the Tijuca forest, which is located in the center of Rio. This picture shows bread fruits/jack fruits that were growing everywhere.
We also stopped at the "Monkey's Waterfall" which was right off the side of the road. There were several large crabs swimming in the water.
Another stop on the tour was the Chinese Vista, which was a memorial in honor of the Chinese immigrants that built many of the first roads through the Tijuca forest. On a clear day, you can see both Sugarloaf and Corcovado at the same time.
This was not a clear day and you couldn't see anything.
Yet, I thought there was a spectacular view!

Too bad my suitcase wasn't bigger ........ I would have liked to take a few of these guys home with me!!


Waking up feeling rather unadventurous, I thought I would escape the heat of Rio and head up into the mountains to Petropolis, the summer home Emperor Pedro I, Brazil's first monarch.

Despite wanting to avoid adventure, I sure found a lot of it. The tour was an hour late starting, causing us to get stuck in traffic. The mini-bus broke down near a favela, and we were stuck without a/c until a new bus arrived. We tried to open the windows, but they were stuck. Good thing, because when the driver opened the door for air, the putrid smell of raw sewage filled the bus. We decided to sweat it out, rather than endure the smell.

An hour later (and 5 pounds of sweat later) we were on a new minubus. We hadn't been moving for more than 10 minutes when traffic came to a stand still. We crept through traffic for the next 40 minutes before we came to the cause of the jam. A bicyclist had been struck by a car and was dead - right in the middle of the road. There was no sign of police or an ambulance. Traffic just slowly made their way around him.

It was at this point that the a/c in the minibus died - again. We were able to open about half of these windows, and got a bit of a breeze once traffic picked up.

The tour took us to all the tourist traps and "highlights" of the area.

Museu Imperial - The Imperial Museum. This pink neoclassical palace used to be the imperial summer residence. It was filled with paintings, furniture, jewelry, crowns (including the imperial crown) and various personal effects. I can't tell you too much about anything, because all of the descriptions were in either Portuguese or Spanish.

The really cool thing about this palace was that tourists were required to wear felt slippers over their shoes to prevent the floors from scuffing. These had the effect of buffing the floors as you walked. Pretty slick to get visitors to pay to sweep/buff the floors!

Catedral de São Pedro de Alcântara. The cathedral was built in 1939 in French Neogothic style. The 70 meter (230 foot) Imperial Chapel contains the remains of Dom Pedro II, his wife Dona Teresa Cristina, his daughter Princess Isabel and her husband. They were decorating the chapel for a wedding the day that I visited. Since this view of the cathedral appears on nearly every tourist page for Petropolis, you would think the tour bus would have stopped in an area where we would get this view. Nope! I had to sneak away from the tour during lunch to get this great outside shot.

Palácio de Cristal - Crystal Palace. The metal and glass components of the Palace were manufactured in 1879 in Saint-Saveur-les-Arras, The Palace was built simultaneously to the Eiffel Tower, and it is one of the examples of how the Industrial Revolution had influenced the architectonic styles.

While the building seemed like a giant greenhouse or the ideal place to hold a wedding reception, there is actually some pretty interesting history associated with it. In 1888, four years after opening, Princess Isabel granted freedom to 103 slaves. A few months later, she signed a law that abolished slavery in Brazil.

Not being one for sticking to an organized tour, I wandered away from the group a few times. Perhaps that's why they didn't put up too much of an argument when I wanted to get off the bus early in Rio. One building I found appeared to be a school where kids (5-8 yrs old) were learning to dance. It was pretty fun watching them. I also found this cool old house. I took a few pictures, then the guide yelled at me to get back with the group.

A painting, a platter of fish, three prostitutes, and a Rastafarian pimp

I woke up feeling rather unadventurous, so booked an organized tour to Petropolis (details of this tour in a different post). As we were coming back into Rio I saw a group of artists displaying their paintings. A big yellow painting caught my eye, and I had to see it. I didn't know where I was relative to my hotel, but I begged the tour group to stop the bus and let me off, rather than taking me back to my hotel. They tried to talk me out of it, but I assured them I would be ok. They let me off the minibus several blocks away from where I saw the artists.

I found my way back to the artists, and saw a big yellow painting that screamed "Buy me!!" so I decided to listen to it. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough Reals in my pocket and needed to find an ATM machine to get more cash. I asked the artist (Luiz Deleon Coelho) where one was, and he didn't know. All in all, I ended up getting directions from about a half a dozen people. While withdrawing funds, it suddenly occurred to me that asking people where I can get cash in a city known for poverty, muggings, and high crime was probably not the smartest thing I could do.

After getting a wad of cash, I decided to thwart potential thieves by stopping for a bite to eat before returning for the painting. That way I could pull out only enough money for dinner and the painting, and maybe a bit of other shopping, and bury the rest of the money in various pockets and places in my purse.

Once at the restaurant, I informed the waiter (in my limited amount of Portuguese) that I wasn't very hungry, and would like something small. He suggested a fish appetizer and I agreed. I nearly fell off my chair when he brought out this GIANT platter of deep fried tiny fish!!

I downed a couple Brazilian beers (Chopp Brahma) while nibbling on the fish and giggling to myself about my ordering mistake and ATM stupidity. After a while, I thought I heard voices behind me. Yes, behind me, and not in my head!! I eventually turned around and an older Rastafarian man introduced himself as an English teacher. He had three gorgeous women with him (all early 20s), who he introduced as his students. He asked if I would be willing to let them practice English with me. I agreed, provided that they would help me eat the scary fish. They agreed and provided more beer.

I asked the girls why they wanted to learn English. They told me that they were in the tourism industry. I assumed they worked for a tour group or hotel. After about an hour of chatting, the "teacher" excused himself for a while.

That's when I found out exactly what kind of tourists they served.....they were prostitutes. I nearly choked on a fish! I talked with them for about another hour (and - ahem - taught them some job-appropriate phrases), before I realized that it was after midnight and I completely forgot about the painting.

I decided to wander back and see if I could find the painting again. The artist was just starting to pack up. Luckily for me, the painting was still there!

This painting now hangs in my home office.

It is large (42" x 58") and fills the better part of the wall. Every time I enter the room, I see the painting and smile, remembering back on an adventurous evening in Rio de Janeiro.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Utah National Park road trip - June 2002

In June of 2002, I decided that I wanted to visit the National Parks of southern Utah. None of my friends were available during the time I wanted to go, so I decided to go alone. I bought a cell phone just in case I needed roadside assistance.

The first day went well. I left Phoenix early in the morning and had a nice drive to Flagstaff to visit Sunset Crater. I had a nice stroll on the trails there then headed over to Page, AZ to visit Horseshoe Bend, and spent the night. The next morning, I headed into Utah. My first stop was to visit Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. This park is mostly for people with ATVs or dune buggies, but I enjoyed seeing the coral pink dunes against the bright blue sky. I wandered around for about an hour, before heading back on the road to Zion National Park.

As I was driving into the canyon at Zion, the brakes to my car started to make grinding and screeching noises. I wasn't quite sure whether I should keep driving, or pull over and call a tow truck. Since the breaks were still working and it was over 100F outside, I decided to keep driving and stop and the next service station. Unfortunately, that service station was at the bottom of the canyon..... and my brakes didn't last that long!

As I was descending some steep curves in the road, my brakes decided to stop working. Luckily, the emergency/parking brake still worked (sort of). By shifting the car into neutral and using the emergency brake, I was able to make my way into the canyon without killing myself or anyone around me. I got to the first service station, and was told that they would have to order the parts. Since it was a Saturday, they wouldn't be able to order the parts until Monday, and they should have them by Tuesday - Wednesday at the latest. That wasn't quite what I wanted to hear.

After a 20 mile drive, I arrived in Hurricane UT and found a garage that could fix my brakes. I finally left the garage around 3:30 and headed back to Zion to visit the park. I didn't really enjoy the park that much, because I was still pretty shaken up about driving without brakes and having an extra expense that I didn't plan, but I did manage a few short hikes.

I spent the night in a dumpy motel near Zion NP and then drove to Bryce Canyon early the next morning. I spent the day hiking various trails in Bryce Canyon and enjoying myself there. Around 5 in the evening, I decided to head towards Kodachrome Basin State Park. Leaving Bryce, my brake pads started smoking as I was driving down a really steep curvy road. I pulled over before my brakes died on me again. My cell phone had reception, but for some reason ATT decided that I wasn't authorized to roam, and wouldn't let me call AAA. I waited in 100+ heat, but there were no cars in sight to help me. After the brakes had a chance to cool, I started driving again - and pulling over every few minutes when I detected a burning smell. I eventually reached a town at the bottom, and they told me the nearest service station was back up at Bryce!

Needless to say, I spent the night at Bryce, so I could get my brakes fixed - again. At least it gave me a chance to see the sun rise over Bryce.

With fixed brakes, I headed back down the "hill" to Kodachrome Basin. I enjoyed the drive and a few short hikes, then contemplated whether I should risk driving 10 miles on a deserted dirt road to view Grosvenor Arch. I decided to chance it and was glad I did. The car worked fine and I got to enjoy this arch all to myself.

Utah Road Trip - Part 2

Remembering the Utah trip made me think about what makes a vacation cross that line from being fun to a disaster? Is it one adverse event? Does it need to be a catastrophic event? Is there a series of events? Is it an event that you still can't find humor in years later?

I'm not really sure, but despite having some unfortunate incidents on other trips, I think of all of them with at least some fond memories (and some stories that entertain friends and family). Yet the Utah trip is pretty much remembered as a disaster. I'm not sure why. I guess the fun I had visiting and hiking through spectacular national parks didn't outweigh some of the things that went wrong.

Starting the trip with car problems, and then experiencing them a couple days later, set the tone for the trip. I was always a little paranoid that the brakes would die again - and since many of the roads were fairly steep and curvy, it was a bit nerve-wracking!

One unfortunate incident happened once I arrived in Moab. I decided to take an off-road jeep tour through Canyonlands National Park. The tour consisted of a guide, me, and a family of four. There were two boys (approx. 10 and 12), and two high strung, type A parents who thought they knew a lot more than they did. Throughout the tour, this couple sniped about nearly everything. We had to go up a fairly rocky, steep trail called Elephant Hill, which was a technically difficult drive for a 4WD. The ride up was painstakingly slow. The entire time, the dad kept shouting at the driver to drive faster, and that he paid for a 4WD adventure and he wasn't getting his money's worth at 3 mph. The guide tried to explain that it was a difficult trail and you needed to go slow or we would all die. The dad kept whining and the mom joined in.... until the front of the jeep was pointing downward. Then she shut up and told the driver she needed to get out. She whined that she would rather walk than die in the jeep, since she was conviced he was going to roll it (even at 3 mph).

The excruciating jeep ride finally ended (I think both the guide and I had a splitting migraine by this time) and the hike started. The guide started describing rock formations, and the "know it all mom" kept correcting him. Her corrections were incorrect. As we were hiking the trail from Chesler Park to the Devil's Kitchen, the guide was talking about the different spires and grabens. The mom kept correcting him and telling him that the correct word was "garblens". He tried to assure her that they were called grabens; the dad joined the argument - and complained that he paid good money for a guide who never even heard of garblens!

As the hike continued, the trail practically disappeared, and was marked by cairns (piles of stones marking the trails). The dad thought it was prudent to race his sons to the next cairn, and then the winner got to kick it over. The guide instructed them not to touch them, since they marked the trail, but the dad again pointed out that they "paid good money for this tour and could do what they wanted!" At this point, I was done. I needed to get away from these horrible people. I told the guide that I needed to turn around. He offered to assist me with the rest of the hike, but I made it clear that I wanted to go back - unassisted - and he could take as much time as he wanted with the other people. His eyes pleaded for me to take him too, but I couldn't do that. After all, the horrible people paid good money for their tour and they wanted every minute of it!
The hike back was actually quite nice once the nasty family was out of ear shot. I spent time watching birds and lizards, found a few interesting bugs, and started naming rock formations. I called this one "Turtle Rock" because it looks like a big turtle to me. I had about an hour and a half of peace before I could hear the family returning - and then, I could hear their whining for a half hour before I actually saw them. Thankfully, they were tired and fairly quite on the way back. That was until we entered the town of Moab again. Then they started up with their whining about what a disappointment the tour was and how they were going to speak to the manager and demand their money back. I was sitting in the front of the truck with the guide, and we just kept rolling our eyes at each other and shaking our heads. Once we got back to the tour office, the whining family went in the office to complain. The guide offered to buy me a beer to make up for the bad tour, but since Utah only served watered-down "near beer", what was the point? After that day, I needed something MUCH stronger!

Road Trip - Part 3: More incidents

After the horrible day at Canyonlands, I spent the next day on my own at Arches National Park.

Other than it being really hot out, it was an ok day. I saw some beautiful scenery and enjoyed a few nice hikes. I also took some nice pictures of the various rock formations. For whatever reason, it just doesn't seem particularly memorable.

The next day I decided to take a short day-trip of rafting down the Colorado River. After the week I was having I didn't want to take the multiple day camping trip! Because of a record drought, the river level was really low. In a way, it made the trip less exciting, because the flow rate was lower. On the other hand, it made big rocks stick out of the river that normally aren't that, which made it a technically more difficult trip due to navigation. In spots, a normally Class II/III rapid became Class IV.

In one of those spots, one of the other tourists on my trip got flipped out of the raft. As he flew out, his leg kicked up and his foot made direct contact with my jaw. I bit my tongue (causing it to bleed) and felt like he broke my jaw. We fished him out of the river and pulled him back on the raft. Within a few minutes, my jaw was swollen and turning purple. At least it wasn't broken. By the time the rafting trip ended, the entire right side of my face was bruised.

That's it! Trip over. I spent that night in Moab, then packed up to go back home the next morning. I had a few other minor mishaps on the way home, but at least made it there intact - and 3 days early!

I spent the remaining 3 days of vacation at home - safe and sound - recouperating from my "vacation".