Rio de Janeiro (continued)

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Sugar Loaf Mountain

Day 2 was the day we would take a tram ride to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, a distinctive presence in the Rio de Janeiro landscape. When we arrived at the mountain, our tour guide gave each us a ticket for the tram ride up the mountain. The tram makes two stops - one on the lower mountain and one on the top mountain. We got off at both stops. By the time we got up to the top of Sugar Loaf, a thick fog had begun to roll in. Well, that pretty much ruined our chances of getting nice pictures of the city below.

There is a cable car somewhere in that fog.


view as the fog lifts


a path on the mountain


monkeys in the trees


Oh well, we decided to try to make the most of our time on Sugar Loaf. There are several paved pathways at the top of the mountain. Surprisingly, it looks somewhat tropical at the top. We even saw some little monkeys in the trees. There is also a souvenir shop up there and a small eatery that sells fries, burgers, pastries, etc... During our time on the mountain, the guides gathered us (there were at least 100 of us at the time) together for a group picture in front of a scenic overlook. The fog had started to lift so the picture probably turned out nice. I say probably because, by the time Traci had given her camera to one of the guides to snap a picture, the group had started to disperse. We never followed up to see who got a good shot of the group.

After a while, the group started to head to the tram station for the ride back down the mountain. Now here is where things got a little chaotic again. You needed a ticket to board the tram that takes you off the mountain. In order to get your ticket, you had to find one of the tour guides who hadn't run out of tickets. Otherwise, you would have to purchase your own. Traci and I were able to get tickets from one of the guides and then pile on the tram with some of the other members of the group. I don't remember if anyone specified what time we were to meet the bus at the base of the mountain. However, a half hour or so after descending Sugar Loaf, we boarded the buses for the ride back to the hotel. Later that evening, we spoke to some people in our group that said they were left at Sugar Loaf Mountain and had to catch a cab back to the hotel. There was definitely room for improvement on how this excursion was handled.

The Strip

Back at the hotel, we had a few hours to kill before the evening activities which consisted of a seafood dinner and then a trip to the Sambódromo to see the "Best Of Carnival". Traci and I decided to stroll the strip. It was an overcast day with temperatures in the low 70's. This was a typical weather condition for us while we were in Rio. It would get a little cooler in the evening with a light ocean breeze. There weren't many people on the beach and even fewer people in the water. The waves always looked rough. The only people we saw on the beach consistently - day or night were the volleyball players. This was something to see. These guys played volleyball with the same restrictions you would find in a soccer game - you can't use your hands to hit the ball! They would use their feet, head, knees, and chest. They were extremely good and were able to volley for a long time. I enjoyed watching them.

Traci on the strip.

There were many people out jogging or bike riding. One thing you notice about the Brazilian people is that they all appear to be in good shape. This wasn't only the case at the beach areas either. Eventually, Traci and I wandered into a small craft fair where, t-shirt, hats and other souvenirs were being sold. We browsed the area for a while. We were looking for refrigerator magnets to add to our collection. We couldn't find any. We also went into some of the more extravagant-looking hotels just to look around and check out the shops. Almost all of the hotels, including ours which wasn't so extravagant, had an H. Stern jewelry store. Jewelry is big business in Brazil because of the abundance of rare gems that originate in the country. After a while, we headed back to our hotel to get changed for dinner.

Seafood Dinner and Best Of Carnival

For dinner, our group was taken to Rio Sol E Mar, a seafood restaurant. This was a very nice restuarant overlooking a marina. The tables were arranged to seat as many as 20 of us to a table. We were served promptly. The meal consisted of big portions of fried fish, a giant shrimp with the head still on it, squid, a small octopus tentacle (you could see the suction pods), scallops, rice, and vegetables. I tasted every type of seafood on my plate. I liked the squid the most. The octopus tasted too fishy for me. There were also some musicians playing jazz and bossa nova while we were eating. They were good. This was an enjoyable meal.

After dinner, we all piled into the buses and headed for the Sambódromo. Our trip package included admission to the Best Of Carnival competition that took place at the Sambódromo the entire weekend after Ash Wednesday. A certain amount of tickets are allocated for international tourists. Although tickets go on sale in November, last minute tickets can sometimes be purchased through various hotels and tour companies.

This nationally televised competition is between the samba schools of the Carnival celebration. A samba school is a group of people who perform as a team in Carnival. These schools consist of people of all genders, races, and social classes and can sometimes contain up to 4,000 members. There are dancers, drummers, floats, and singers. The purpose of the Saturday night competition that we attended was to determine which samba schools would advance to the Sunday night special group competition. The winning samba school gains prestige throughout Brazil.

We arrived at the Sambódromo around 10:30pm and were given admission tickets by our tour guides before exiting the bus. The Sambódromo looks like a big sports stadium with a street that runs right down the middle of it. It is on this street that the samba schools compete.

We entered the packed Sambódromo and found our seats. The seats were irrelevant because everyone was standing. The atmosphere was electrifying with all the samba music, the Carnival parade, and people dancing in the stands. The samba schools really went all out with elaborate costumes, pyrotechnics, and floats. There was float in the shape of a fire-breathing dragon and one in the shape of a globe to name a few. There were participants in very shiny and colorful costumes that seemed to make the street glitter as they paraded through. There were also some participants who weren't wearing much of anything. There were floats that contained topless women in g-strings, dancing and waving as they slowly rode through.

After a samba school promenaded all the way through the Sambódromo, the street cleaners would come through in their orange uniforms. They were a crowd favorite because they would start dancing to the samba music while they were sweeping. The crowd would erupt in applause and cheers.

The competition normally runs from 8pm to 6am the next morning during the weekend. After a while, it began to rain. Our tour company was running shuttles between the Sambódromo and the hotels at 1, 3, and 5 AM. Traci and I decided to take the 1 AM bus back to the hotel. I watched more of the competition on TV in our hotel room before finally falling to sleep.

Best Of Carnival Competition


Best Of Carnival Competition


Best Of Carnival Competition


Best Of Carnival Competition


Gem Factory Tour and Hippie Fair

Our last full day in Rio was considered a day of liesure. There were optional tours scheduled. The morning tour options were a trip to a beach located on an island or a gem factory tour. The afternoon optional tour was the Hippie Fair. It was raining that morning so I don't think anyone signed up for the beach. Traci and I decided to do the gem factory tour.

The gem factory tour was a tour of the H. Stern factory where precious gems are made into jewelry. We were given a walkman and head phones for narration as we walked through the exhibit. It is a short, interesting tour through a very upscale property. We actually watched the workers through an observation window as they meticulously create all types of fine jewelry. The tour ended up being a little longer for me because the narrator's voice in my headphones was that of a slow-talking man with a very deep voice - so I thought. Traci came back to find out what was taking me so long to complete the tour. Well, it turns out that the batteries in my walkman were running low and that the voice I heard was not that of a man, but a woman's voice running at a very slow speed. Traci loaned me her walkman so that I could finish the tour. The tour concludes in a big showroom where you can purchase some of the jewelry that is made on the premises. We looked around for a while and then congregated with the rest of our group for our ride to the Hippie Fair.

While we were waiting for the tour van, our tour guides announced to the group that they have our plane tickets as well as our departure times for our flight to Salvador da Bahia. Traci and I, who never gave up our tickets when we arrived in Rio thought this procedure could have been handled much better. There were about 180 people who would be flying to Bahia the next day; however, there were no more than 50 of us there at the optional gem factory tour to hear this announcement. Our group was to be flown to Bahia on three separate flights. The first group would leave at 8 AM the next group at 10 AM and the last group at 4 PM. The people assigned to the 8 AM flight would need to be waiting outside their hotels by 6:30 AM. The tour guides were left with the task of tracking down the members of our group that did not attend the gem factory tour to give them their plane tickets and to let them know what time their flight departs. Traci and I were scheduled for 10 AM flight.

After a short wait in the pick-up area of the H. Stern jewelry factory, our van arrived to take the group to the Hippie Fair or back to the hotels depending on your choice of afternoon activities. Traci and I opted to go to the Hippie Fair in Ipanema.

The Hippie Fair reminded me of an outdoor flea market. Their were many vendors there selling everything from souvenirs to clothing. The Hippie Fair is open every Sunday until 5 PM. It was raining pretty hard while we were there. Some of the vendors closed their booths temporarily while others continued to do business under the cover of a tarp.

Traci and I walked around the fair for a few hours and bought some small souvenirs. We still were not able to find a decent refrigerator magnet. As a matter fact, we only saw one type of refrigerator magnet the whole time we were at the fair. We later walked around Ipanema and checked out some stores in this modern metropolis. After all that walking, we were starting to get hungry. We weren't sure what we wanted to eat, so we decided to head back to the hotel and see if there were any restaurants on the strip that caught our eyes. Our tour company was not providing transportation to the hotel from the Hippie Fair, so we ended up catching a taxi back.

Traci and I ate dinner that evening at a hotel on the strip that had a reasonably - priced buffet. It was a nice dining room with a window overlooking the strip and the beach. There were several people from our group that were also dining there. The buffet had food such as chicken, beef, pork, fish, corn, potatoes, and salads. The food wasn't great; however, there was a big dessert table that contained pastries, cakes, pies, and fruit. The desserts were very good. We ended up getting full from trying the many different desserts the restaurant offered.

We spent our final evening in Rio de Janeiro packing our bags in preparation for our flight to Salvador da Bahia the next morning. I knew very little about Salvador but I was looking forward to the trip. continue to Salvador da Bahia...


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