I went to Rio’s other extraordinarily famous viewpoint, Pão de Açúcar. I climbed Morro da Urca and then got a cable car up to the top to see the sun set and the city look incredible once again.
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By the time it was getting properly dark, there were only a few people left. Raccoons were beginning to appear, looking for scraps of food. I got the last bus down and walked back to where I was staying in Botafogo.
The day after the Pedra da Gavea climb, I went to Corcovado. I was tempted to climb that as well, but I kept reading about robberies on the trail and in the end I decided just to get the bus up. Tiredness from the day before may also have been a factor.
So I got the bus up, getting charged the high season fare even though I was the only passenger, because supposedly it was the school holidays. And it was pretty crowded up the top. But as the sun set and the views got better and better, it got quieter and more peaceful.
After the Carrasqueira, things were easier. The rain carried on for a while, and in a forest clearing we stopped for a little break. Trees in thick mist was really not what I had expected to be seeing at any point in my Rio trip.
As we headed down the weather got better, and by the time we were back in Barra da Tijuca, it was clear and sunny again.
I went to Rio to spend three weeks working at the Observatório do Valongo. On the first weekend I was there, a few of us from the institute went to climb Pedra da Gavea, one of the many amazing mountains in and around Rio.
It was a beautiful day when we started climbing from Barra da Tijuca. Three hours of steep hiking took us to the top of the rock, with the only difficult bit being the Carrasqueira, a steep 30m rock face which a lot of people had ropes and harnesses to go up. Our group headed up without equipment, except for one of us who preferred to wait at the bottom.
The top looked impossible to reach even from not far below but once we were past the Carrasqueira it was easy enough. And when we got there, we had stunning views over Rio and Guanabara Bay. I spent a few minutes enjoying them, then reached down to grab my camera, then stood up, and found that a cloud had descended and the view had gone. I assumed the cloud would blow past and the view would reappear, but it didn’t. And before much longer it was raining. So I got no photos of the view.
We headed down. The Carrasqueira had been challenging on the way up and it was challenging on the way down, and was now a huge bottleneck with queues of hikers descending in the rain. Climbers had set up ropes and a lot of hikers were borrowing them to get down. Those who didn’t were forming a long slow queue using a crack in the rock for handholds. I joined the queue, and edged slowly down the rock face.
Finally it was time for my world cup adventure to end. After a couple more days chilling out on Morro, enjoying relaxing on the beach and in the bars, I got a boat to Atracadouro, bus to Mar Grande and then one final ferry across the bay. I got a flight from Salvador to São Paulo, and from there back to the cold winter in Santiago. As we landed back in Chile, the fans on board gave another “Chi-chi-chi! Le-le-le!”. Chile had beaten Australia, and then beaten Spain to send the champions out and book their own place in the knockout stages, but for us fans, the world cup was over.
I spend a couple of days on the island, enjoying the world cup atmosphere. It was pretty awesome, with fans from all over the world watching every game. There had been protests across Brazil about the costs of the world cup, and in São Miguel do Gostoso I’d sat in an almost empty bar to watch Brazil play Croatia in the opening game. But here, for Brazil’s second game, they had set up a big screen in the town square, and huge crowds came to watch. The atmosphere seemed good.
But to everyone’s shock and horror, Mexico failed to lose. Heroic goalkeeping meant that the game finished 0-0. Even into the dying seconds of the game, the locals were screaming and urging Brazil to score, and it seemed they couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t. But the final whistle went, and the atmosphere deflated in an instant. After the game there was live music and a party in the square but not many people stayed on for it.
I headed back across the bay. The game finished too late to get any fast boats so the chunderfest wasn’t even an option. I got the slow boat back over to Bom Despacho, a beautiful journey as the sun set. From there I got a bus to Valença, on a bus so air-conditioned that I was suffering with the cold. We got to Valença after the last boat had left for Morro. I found a place to stay, and got the boat back out to the island early the next morning.
I stayed a night in Morro de São Paulo and then headed back to Salvador for my second game. I was bracing myself for a renewed attempt to survive the chunderfest of the fast boat, but then it turned out I’d bought a ticket for the alternative route, by boat to the nearby mainland, road to Bom Despacho and then a slow large boat across the bay to Salvador from there. I didn’t mind, it was nice not to have to retrace my path and go a different way, but the annoying thing was that this was a much longer journey. By the time I got to Salvador, I only had half an hour to get to the stadium. Luckily it wasn’t far from the ferry terminal, and I got into the stadium with seconds to spare.
The atmosphere was electric in the Estadio Fonte Nova. Germany v. Portugal sounded like it would be a great game, and 50,000 people in a covered stadium make a huge amount of noise. It was something incredible to be a part of. But Germany quickly ruined it by being vastly better than Portugal. By half time they were 3-0 up and Portugal were down to ten men as well. So the atmosphere in the second half was very different, with a few grief-stricken Portuguese leaving and the ones who stayed not making a whole lot of noise. By the end, all the Germans were quite disgustingly happy with the 4-0 scoreline. It’s difficult to support Germany, as an English fan, but then it’s also difficult to support Portugal. Really I’d been hoping they’d both lose, so I was half-happy.
I got a bus from Natal to Salvador, and then a boat to Morro de São Paulo. The bus journey was 21 hours long, and it was fun to see a bit of Brazil as we left Rio Grande do Norte, passed through Paraíba, Pernambuco, Alagoas and Sergipe states and finally reached Bahía. In Salvador I got a taxi to the ferry terminal, and bought a ticket for a speedboat to Morro de São Paulo. I’d read that this was a notorious vomit run so I was a bit worried. I really thought I could do without being sick throughout the two hour crossing. But I’d hardly eaten anything since leaving Natal – the roadside cafes we’d stopped at hadn’t had too many vegetarian options – so I thought I at least wouldn’t have very much to throw up.
Before we left, the boat people gave us all plastic bags and tissues. This didn’t look promising. But about five minutes after leaving Salvador, I was feeling fine. The boat was already bouncing crazily across the waves, and I couldn’t see the horizon from where I was sat, but I felt fine. I thought it was a bit early to be counting my chickens, but then I looked around and saw another passenger already with his face deep in the bag, vomiting heartily. I felt bad for him, but a little bit relieved that I hadn’t been the first to go down.
Also travelling was a group of gap-year French kids. They were pretending to be having no problems, laughing and joking, but before very long one of them was looking a bit queasy, and soon they too gave in to the chundering. One by one the others quietened down, the joking stopped, the colour drained from their faces, and eventually I gave away my sick bag to the group because they’d filled all theirs.
But miraculously I was still fine. Me and a family of locals were the only ones not using the bags, but they were all looking pretty unhappy. The longer the journey went on, the finer I felt, and schadenfreude improved my mood still further, so by the time we docked at Morro de São Paulo I was feeling smug and invincible. I leapt from the boat and swaggered into the village, leaving the weaker ones to stumble shakily up the hill in my wake.
There’s not much transport between São Miguel do Gostoso and Natal. I was going to get the only bus of the day at 6am, but then luckily I met a friendly local who was also going to the game and was driving. He kindly offered me a lift, and we left at a civilized 9.30am and headed south.
It had been beautiful and hot and sunny for the last two days, but today it was grey and overcast, and soon it started raining. It got heavier and heavier, and by the time we reached Natal it was torrential. The streets were flooding and the traffic was heavy. But we were in plenty of time to make it to the game. It was Mexico v. Cameroon, the second game of the tournament, and I was incredibly excited to be going to a world cup game. Outside the stadium, I joined the crowds heading in, our spirits high despite the miserable weather. The other fans were mostly Mexican and Brazilian, with a smaller number of Cameroonians.
The brand new stadium didn’t have a roof. This was a pity. But, I was at a world cup game and I was happy. The game was a good one, and even though Mexico only won by a single goal, they had two disallowed and Cameroon had one ruled out, so I felt like I’d seen plenty of goals. By half time, though, my part of the stadium was getting pretty empty as people left for shelter. By the end I was soaked to the skin, but happy to have stayed until the final whistle.
São Miguel do Gostoso is not far south of the equator, and when the night sky was clear I could see a lot of stars that I don’t see from Chile. It seemed strange to me to see the Plough to the north, familiar from my native mid-northern latitudes, and at the same time in the same sky see the Southern Cross to the south.
Ever since I moved to Chile I’d been planning to go to Brazil for the world cup in 2014. To see a world cup game was a lifelong dream. Ticket sale was via a lottery, and I entered the draw requesting the maximum seven tickets. There was a pretty good chance of getting none, but I got three, for games in Natal, Belo Horizonte and Salvador. I’d planned my request badly, though, and there was no way I’d be able to get from Natal to Belo Horizonte for the second game, so I just went to Natal and Salvador.
I flew from Santiago to São Paulo. As the plane touched down, all the Chileans on board gave a huge cheer and a good loud “Chi-chi-chi! Le-le-le!” In the arrivals hall, a flight from Bogota had just landed, and Colombian and Chilean flags and colours were everywhere. I flew on to Natal, and then made my way to São Miguel do Gostoso, an hour or so north; all the accommodation in Natal had been booked up.
I’d left behind cold wintery weather in Santiago, but here I was not far from the equator and it was incredibly hot. I spent a couple of days chilling out in the tropical heat on the beach.
I got a bus from Cuidad del Este across the river to Foz do Iguassú in Brazil. The bus didn’t stop at immigration, though, so I found myself illegally in Brazil. I got a bus back, then walked to the immigration post on the Paraguayan side of the river, over the bridge, and into Brazil officially. If anything it was even hotter here than it had been in Paraguay, and Foz was a ghost town on a Sunday afternoon. I managed to mistakenly get off the bus in a distant suburb and walked slowly into the centre of town.
First task was getting some Brazilian money. I had a couple of worrying moments, the first of which was finding that two of my three bank cards wouldn’t work in the cash machines. The third was a Cirrus card, which the bank had told me probably wouldn’t work outside Europe, but strangely it did work here. Then, on trying to leave the bank I thought I was trapped inside. Turns out the Portuguese for ‘pull’ is dangerously similar to the Spanish for ‘push’.
Next task was buy an ice cream, avoid the hotel touts in town (they were about the only people out and about), and find a taxi to get to my hostel, out of town on the road to Iguazú Falls. It took a while for me first to find a taxi driver and then to wake him from his Sunday afternoon sleep, and by the time I got to the hostel it was too late to go to the Falls. Luckily the hostel was probably the nicest I’ve stayed in anywhere in the world, with a swimming pool, bar, restaurant and internet access so I chilled out there for the evening.
In the morning I got a bus to Iguazú Falls. It’s one of the world’s most famous waterfalls, a massive expanse of water falling 80 metres in hundreds of individual cascades. It’s also one of the most visited places in South America, and I really didn’t like the overwhelming weight of tourists. The crush was so great that I found myself often waiting many minutes to get close enough to a viewpoint to actually see the falls. And the overcast weather meant the falls didn’t look that great anyway.
But, as the day wore on, the clouds broke up and the falls began to look better. Despite the swarms, I began to like them a bit more, and when the sun came out properly I took a cheesy little train ride to a distant part of the falls where you walk for about half a mile over boardwalks above the river to get to a viewpoint right on the very edge of the falls, as they thunder into a gorge called the Garganta del Diablo. Here I decided the falls actually were pretty amazing. I’d never stood on the lip of such a huge waterfall before, and the waves of soaking spray deterred some of the tourists as well. I was seriously impressed and spent a while there trying to take pictures every time there were a few seconds where the spray seemed to die down a bit.
Eventually I felt that I’d seen everything I could at the falls, and headed back to the hostel. The following morning I had planned to go to the other side of the falls, but an apocalyptic thunderstorm had started during the night, and carried on until the afternoon. I probably should have gone out anyway because hanging round at the hostel was extremely boring. At 4pm I got a bus to Puerto Iguazú back in Argentina, and got an overnight bus back to Buenos Aires.