South America – part 1 (The Holiday)

Now for a post with a little more uummph. Some of you will have read this before but now there’s pictures and added extras so feel free to go through it again. Equally feel free to click like and leave

South Oxhey, England (Not technically South America)

So, the trip began and I was a lone “traveller”, actually let me rephrase, I was a lone prolonged holiday-maker. I’d left the comforts of South Oxhey to begin a South American adverture. Aside from the obvious emotions of excitement, anxiety I also was sad knowing that I’d miss everyone for a few months especially over the festive period. Or maybe I was just sad that I knew people’s life would go on completely normally without me being there.

My flight was leaving from Heathrow and arriving in Rome to catch a connecting flight on to Rio, all with Alitalia (the cheapest option of course). In homage to “Murphy’s law” , I arrived and was greeted with an hour delay and I knew this was going to cut things fine with the connecting flight but I’m a positive man and saw this as an opportunity to drink a few extra pints and when the time for boarding arrived I went to my gate as is customary, only for another 30 minute delay to be slapped on. By now I was resigned to the fact I was going to miss my flight in Rome. Towards the end of a largely uneventful flight to Italy a flight attendant lifted my spirits after approaching me and telling me there would be a man meeting me off my flight to rush me through to my connecting flight. This, it turns out, was just a ploy to lift me up to watch me come crumbling down. Me and three of my fellow passengers dashed to the gate, Alitalia employee leading the line of frantic Englishman desperate to catch another flight only to be refused entry, we were five minutes late. The airline were kind enough to seat us on the next flight which was the following evening and in compensation put us up in the Hilton (I felt ever so fancy). I took the shuttle bus to the hotel and enjoyed a warm buffet, compliments of Alitalia. Knowing that I’d be spending the day in Rome I planned my my unexpected European adventure.

Rome, Italy (still not South America)

I woke early the next day and took advantage of the free breakfast. On My two previous visits to Rome I have had some degree of misfortune with the “Trevi fountain” once we didn’t have time to see it and the second time it was enveloped in scaffolding. I got the bus in to Rome, and set off on foot towards Trevi. Marching through the back streets of Rome I felt like a young Christian being led to my death at the collesseum, it turns out my fortunes were worse, the crowds at the Trevi fountain were BIG, second only to those outside Delhi station (stay tuned for a post on that) anyway I got there and took two pictures and marched back to the bus stop. Despite having a number of hours to kill, I’d seen everything else Rome has to offer so I headed back to the airport. As an afterthought, I feel as though this may be the last time that I see Trevor and his fountain though. The first time I saw it I threw a coin in to the dried basin and I did indeed return, in line with many old wives tales, this time however I couldn’t get close enough to throw a coin and couldn’t dare risk it from far back in the crowd it’s been said that I throw like a girl.

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

My first impression of Rio were “rundown”. The airport is nice enough but the buses weren’t great and the towns you drive through to get to to Copacabana, and other tourist hotspots, make Tottenham look friendly. I got off the bus, I kind of just guessed I was near where I needed to be, then navigated the mean streets of Rio to my hostel. I didn’t get mugged, threatened, conned or beaten up once so a large success as I fully expected to step off that bus and hand over my money, phone and passport to the local criminals and march back to the airport and fly home. This preconception of Rio was totally Mis-guided and mostly just paranoia of people saying “watch out for pickpockets” for six months leading up to the trip.

The hostel I decided to spend my first lonely nights in was called “el misti house“. I can definitely recommend it, it was a good choice for a decent price. Never having stayed in a hostel before I was a bit nervous about rules and etiquette and what not. Anyway Camillo showed me to my 9 person (triple bunks) room which was currently solely occupied by Alessandro “alé”. Thankfully one of the only person I could understand in the entire hostel. Over the next few days I met some great people my other roomates were Douglas and Alan, both of whom despite some real communication problems, were fun. There’s only so far a conversation can go with “si” and “yes” but we made it work. During the days I only ever ventured within running distance from my hostel. I would roam the beach front and people watch.

On the top it’s Douglas, Ale and Alan who were introduced above and on the bottom is my first picture in Rio. Perhaps the worst picture ever taken of Sugarloaf mountain, the relative safety of the volleyball courts allowed me to take my phone out my pocket for more than one second.

As you read my blogs I think you’ll discover than I’m an average writer and a worse photographer, but you can laugh with me.

These first nights were all a bit of a blur, but I know we went in to an area called Lapa twice. The staff were always organising the guests and making sure we all went out together, on the nights out I met loads of other people, nice people and loads of other people who I assume we’re nice but they couldn’t speak a word of English. I try not to let my ignorance get the better of me, but communication in Brazil was tough all round even those in the service/tourist industry have very little knowledge of the language it was all very inconvenient. Being the language sponge that I am meant that after 1 or 2 days I was fine! Obvs! (Drozzy, who sadly and detrimental to this blog, doesn’t feature, told a story of him and his dad once having to “cluck for chicken” at a restaurant.)

Jack, Alex, Grant and Jon arrived in Rio on the Sunday, I had arrived on the Wednesday. The plan was for me to meet them off the bus and show them to our Air BnB but due to some unforeseen circumstances, about 10 caipirinha’s, I woke up very late and they had already found and checked in to our accomodation. Now the trip really had begun.

Our first day out together was to go and see the colourful steps in Santa Teresa. This is the colourful neighbourhood you’ll have seen in anyone’s pictures whose been to Rio. It’s definitely worth seeing to grab a picture but other than that the surrounding area was pretty downtrodden so we scurried back to the safety of our Air BnB for five minutes of wifi, sleep, and from a break from any possibility of social interaction with the locals or each other. Here’s a candid picture of when we went to the steps, as a group we were discussing the unique artwork when a local took a picture of us, it was completely unplanned.

Album Cover? *cute but may delete later*

It’s worth mentioning, and it will become apparent why later, Jon was sleeping in a hammock.

Anyway our first night out lead us to Leblon, the upmarket part of Rio. We went out on a Monday night and it….was….dead and so, much like a night London, we spent the majority of the night wandering around aimlessly. Eventually we happened across a small off-licence type place. As the non-socially awkward member of the guys I approached the staff “donde esta la fiesta hoy” I announced, only to be answered not by the Spanish staff member but by his sole customer who I can only assume got the faintest sniff of my English accent, “you guys English” he assumptively questioned, the gig was up we’d been rumbled. We were now in the back streets of Rio and ousted as gringos. Thankfully the man was also English and kindly pointed us in the direction of some lively bars on a Monday night. (We blindly followed his instructions without asking how he knew this information). Thankfully our trust was well placed as we found find a bar and purchased our drinks silently thankful of our run in with our fellow Englishman. That silent thanks quickly disappeared when the next customer in the bar was said Englishman.

Chris, or as he is now affectionately known, English Chris turned out to be interesting. To this day we are unable to decipher the truth from the lies. We found out he’s been in Brazil for 12 years and works on “football philosophy”. Even after some questioning from a quite persistent Grant, we still couldn’t work out what he does. It has to be mentioned at this point that Grant had and probably still has a weird adoration for English Chris. English Chris’ job was to write a report on how to develop football players roles ( not specific players) but I.e. A playmaker. Then sell that report to professional football clubs. This man is an Englishman doing THIS job in Brazil (as a trustworthy man I am going to naively continue as if everything English Chris told us is true) I can only imagine when he presented his report to Corinthians, São Paulo and the like, their responses can only have been along the lines of *vague Brazilian accent* “Mr Chris, your findings in your report are very interesting, please could you tell us more on how you develop a no-nonsense centre half”. Chris took us to a number of bars where we found out a bit more about him, Rio and Leblon. He had a weird habit of talking about football then slapping his chest and saying this is a skill. Very weird, bit annoying but overall helpful and if what he does is real then quite interesting. For more information on English Chris speak to his pen pal Grant.

It’s at this point that days and nights merge into one so things get a bit haze-y but I will do my best to keep things in order.

The next day we went to Christ the redeemer, needs no explanation. Or does it? Christ the redeemer is a statue depicting Jesus’ first miracle, the feeding of the five thousand. The moment captured was just as he was telling the crowd how big the fish is that’s going to feed all of them.

Jon (front), Me (right), Alex (looking the wrong way), Henri Cartier-Bresson (Grant), Jesus (Attacking Midfield), Christ the Redeemer (Big)

It was a fun day out. When you get to Christ the Redeemer you go and pay for your ticket and are given a time slot when you can actually get the minibus further up the mountain and see the statue in all its glory.

Being the adventurers we are, we saw a small path leading in to the jungle which we thought would be a good place to explore. Especially with Jack dressed inappropriately, stereotypically “gringo”. Bad sunglasses, flip flops white t shirt and a back pack so what the Brazilians call (roughly translated) “ a muggers dream” Despite this we continued in to the jungle, 5 comrades, 5 red blooded males, 5 men, five boys that saw one insect they didn’t recognise and almost ran out of the jungle. This was day 2 of our trip round South America and we had been chased out the jungle within two minutes by a bug. Grant must have read a book, he thought EVERYTHING was a fire ant.

The jungle trip passed the time, and a few minutes later we were on the bus to see Christo. You get a good view of the city but the statue is so big and you are forced to stand so close to it that once your up there I don’t think you can appreciate the statue to the same degree you can when you’re on the beaches looking up. We took obligatory pictures and descended back down to the mini bus and moved on. Without sounding like a hipster, it’s not all that impressive, it’s just so crowded up there and you can’t get a decent picture of it I just feel as though there better pictures to be had from other points of view. The view you of the city though is nice and despite all my negativity it’s a must see/do attraction

After this we took sometime out of our day to go the beach, Jack obviously offended someone and a man started singing to him “You haven’t got a girlfriend” then laughed in his face. Jack seemed to reflect on this fact all night, because he stayed in. To give this some context though Rio during the day is filled with toothless old drunk/high men who walk around like the world pissed in their cornflakes, they are perennially angry and are an annoyance in an otherwise decent place.

Jon, Alex, Grant and I went out and that’s where Rio showed its true colours. Now I’m not writing this to name names or point fingers it’s more of a memoir for me to read back BUT Grant decided it would a good idea to meet someone from the Internet (Grindr or Tinder I can’t remember which) so as back up we tagged along. Despite numerous warnings from multiple sources “don’t go down streets with no bars” and despite our taxi driver refusing to drive down the street we needed to go to we still went there. Grant’s, for want of a better word, date, was a no show and none of us felt entirely comfortable in the bar we was in. Grant in a show of face, to pretend he wasn’t stood up, suffered a fake panic attack which caused him to believe he was in a 1950’s gangster film, and He had been set up. To paint the picture, his date told him to meet in a bar in a dodgy neighbourhood, didn’t show up, then a waiter who was carrying a tea towel over his hand (not an entirely strange thing to do for a man in that profession) walked past not once BUT TWICE, Grant was adamant he was harbouring a weapon under the tea towel so we paid the bill and made a swift exit.

We got in a taxi and went to Lapa and when we left the bar staff wanted us to pay our entry fee, on exit, it felt like a scam but we naively paid regardless. After paying, Grant and I both turned round and accidentally step on a man who cannot have been standing more than 30 centimetres behind us. I think his intentions were questionable at best he then followed us to our next bar shouting at us and being a nuisance. We entered bar number two and the angry man demanded money from us. For those that know me and my friends you’ll know we will do whatever to avoid confrontation (especially Jon, hence why he hid in the toilet) but A justified reaction would have been to argue with the man or even reciprocate his aggression but us no, we behaved in a typically British way and pretended like he wasn’t there until a waiter came over and we told him that the vagrant was making us feel uncomfortable. The waiter and security guard went outside and then the man threw the slowest punch in the world, so slow in fact the security guard didn’t even flinch. As the punch was thrown the security guard smoked a cigarette, checked his Facebook, put his phone in his pocket slowly raised his own hand and grabbed the mans fist and pushed him away. All very anticlimactic. It’s unclear when Jon rejoined the table but what is clear it was definitely after the security guard got involved Jon then preceded to tell us how he was prepared to “end him” referring to the drunk 70 year old man.

Needless to say we were keen for a quick exit once again so we jumped in a taxi back to Copacabana. We went in to a bar and was having a few drinks and Jon’s temper was still bubbling away. I can only imagine he misheard what I said because after a completely innocent comment I reached for my drink and Jon attacked me, grabbed my hand and put my in some vulcan death hold. Grant, sensing my panic, grabbed my drink as it almost spilled. I explained that Jon must have misheard me and he released me. It and been a dramatic night and more worrysome group Might think “that’s enough” not us, we found one final bar three doors down from our AirBnB. Intoxication made us all a bit brave and probably allowed us to take a leave of our senses as we followed a man up a derelict stair case to the bar. In hindsight, I think the derelict staircase is the factor that should have told us it was a bad idea. We entered the bar, which it turns out was a brothel, we decided to drink our drinks and leave. Alex, Jon and Grant went to the toilet and were followed by two men (not that kind of brothel) and I thought to myself we need to leave, this was confirmed when Alex poked his not so small head in the bar and shouted “Ross, we need to leave.” I took a final gulp of my drink and swiftly followed Alex’s head out of the door. It turns out after refusing to buy drugs in the toilet things turned ugly and the workers were getting boisterous we left the bar followed by three men now. Alex and I stood gallantly facing the men whilst Grant and Jon ran to our AirBnB to gather the help of our weedy security guard. The gates to our apartment opened and Alex and I scurried behind them. I don’t think the bar staff expected us to live so close and as soon as they realised this they went back to their bar.

Early the next morning, after an eventful night, Jack gave us the itinerary for the day. Climb a mountain, it’s as if he knew to stay in the night before but didn’t warn anyone. Pedra Bonita was an hour climb, thankfully a smaller climb than it’s mountainous neighbour “Pedro De Gavea”. The ascent was made more bearable by the appearance of Monkey’s. It’s at this point I’m obliged to mention that these Monkeys would not have appeared if the Monkey Whisperer (Jon) hadn’t have called for them. Jon to my knowledge has never shown an overly keen interest in wildlife, apart from in Thailand (see Grants secret blog), but he kept reminding us that the monkeys would not have appeared had he not shook the bamboo, yes that’s all he did shook some bamboo and the Monkeys came.

Once we reached the summit the impressive views immediately called for a selfie. To crave the attention of their peers the others started taking pictures increasingly close to edge…..fools. Anyway after a small disco at the top we left and went home. (This will make sense when you see South America part 2)

After the previous nights goings on, I took charge. Being the social butterfly that I am, I had a few friends from my old hostel. I got in contact and found out where it goes off in copacabana on a Wednesday night. It turns out it goes off in a cave underground. In the cave it’s not unheard of to pay £3 for a can of beer. After the cave party we returned home, hungry. Alex, Grant and I went back out at 2am (yeah I know, were hard) looking for a place to eat. Jack stayed in ….again) we thought our best bet was to walk to the main road and get a taxi, wrong! We walked on the main round and were immediately approached by three ladies of the night. My thoughts went straight to my phone and wallet, and I shoved my hands firmly in my pockets. Grant and Alex had other ideas though and ran off, Grant once again showing his really cowardly nature (I thought Grant had contracted Yellow Belly, he was that cowardly throughout the trip. At the time of writing there is no immunisation for yellow belly and as far as I’m aware of it Grant still suffers with it) I was surprised by their betrayal but then even more surprised when I discovered these ladies were not interested in my pockets. After suffering sexual harassment, I caught up with Alex and Grant only to look back to see the ladies (of the night) doing their final advertisement and raised their tops. Needless to say advertisement was unsuccessful we dived in a taxi, “drive” we demanded. He kindly drove us to a restaurant, our hearts dropped. He dropped us in the same road as last night and refused to drive any further but helpfully pointed us in the direction of an open restaurant. Hunger won over trepidation and we walked to the restaurant. The food was decent but the restaurant had an odd obsession with pineapple. I’m not exaggerating when I say this but every single dish of there’s on the menu was “con pineapple”. Thought this was very odd but again hunger won out and I had a pineapple sandwich.

We woke on our final day with two things left on our Rio bucket list, Sugarloaf mountain and visiting the favelas. The first thing to do was to find a guide to take us to the Favela. Alex, being manager, had accumulated a number of business cards and we used one of these to locate a driver. After about an hour of waiting our driver appeared. The politest way to put it, is, you would feel safe with this man taking you anywhere. He was BIG.

There may be one or two people who don’t know me reading this. Lawson from Togo was our driver.

First stop he drove us to the favela. On route he explained that most the favelas are no longer dangerous as they are run by a special police force, which I believe is called the UPP. Lawson, our driver, lead us to believe that part of the job description of the UPP is to have no sense of humour because according to Lawson, who told us on at least five separate occasions “the UPP do NOT joke”. The UPP are a police force who live amongst the locals in the Favela and any sign of violence and they shoot apparently. In the early days of the UPP shoot outs between the gangs and UPP were not uncommon but despite myths they would not target non locals. In fact it’s said that the favela was more safe than the towns because drug dealers did not want Police to be called to the Favelas and so would send all the muggers and theifs to Copacabana and Ipanema.

Before we get to the Favela itself I need to describe Lawson. He was Big, from Togo and sweaty, you can’t see the sweat in the picture above. He confirmed what many people already believe that some football players from Africa lie about their age, he told us that even his brother had done it and more shockingly he is of the opinion that even the great Didier Drogba has lied about his age.

He told us that the scariest thing in the Favela for him, is the dogs, they were not the scariest thing in the Favela for us……

The scariest thing in the favela for us was when we first walked in a lady in police uniform run up the stairs gun in hand followed by a man in normal clothes with a non-standard weapon and running straight towards us with his finger on the trigger. Normally we are a group that will make light of all situations I think it’s safe to say, we didn’t make light of this situation, what we done in this situation was shut up and stay still and silent until Lawson convinced us this was normal and so we hesitantly continued our tour. I would liken the Favela to the slums in India, it really isn’t as bad as people make out. It’s a bit of a shit hole but everyone has a job and some of the houses inside look nice. They aren’t all criminals it’s just to expensive for them to live in the actual towns.

Lawson, employee turned friend, took us to the bus station to help us book tickets to Ihla Grande our next stop. We did that then he took us home and received a very generous tip. Jon then shook his hand and said “dobrigado, thanks for taking us to the Fravela” needless to say we all laughed Jon looking bemused asked us why were laughing.

After some food we headed for sugarloaf mountain one of Rio’s most famous landmarks/view points. You need to take a cable car to the top. I suffered a bout of anxiety on the cable car and resorted to taking a knee and covering my eyes whilst being laughed at by the locals. It was worth it once up there though the views once again were incredible and there is even a nature reserve bit and food/bars and shops at the summit. We planned to watch the sunset but our plans were scuppered by the clouds. Five minutes before the sunset was due the cloud come over, much to dismay of the dedicated Sunset photographer Jack. The clouds looked thunderous which sent astraphobic Alex in to a meltdown so we had to return to the room which we did with haste.

We had a big journey the next day and so it was this that ended our Rio arm of the journey.

If I’m entirely honest I wasn’t overly impressed with Rio. It gets labelled as a party capital and great beaches but from the time I spent there I would say there is better nightlife and nicer beaches closer to home. That being said I never felt anywhere near as intimidated as I was warned I would be and some of the excursions there provide you with some of the best views I have ever seen.

For an idea of what other trips I might cover check out my other post “30 before 30”


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