One of the difficult things about travelling at our age is that in the back of our minds we always have an invisible deadline. No one has forced this upon us but it is one that Wade and I discuss regularly. Whether it be our families, the idea of having kids, money (or lack thereof!) or a potential job opportunity, we both know that this dream we are currently living won't last forever.
The fact that we also want to see as much as we possibly can within this imaginary time frame also means that even when we find that perfect place, we both know deep down, that like it or not, in a few days we will need to pack our bags again and move on.
This was exactly how we felt leaving Itacaré. The people, the atmosphere, the stunning coastline. We could have spent months there. In fact I'd be lying if I didn't mention that I spent a solid afternoon dreamily crunching some numbers and deciding I would buy a restaurant/guesthouse there and never leave! Time, a hammock and a few beers can do wonders with the imagination. It would have been perfect except for one thing - Wade quite simply refused to accept the dreadlocks that I felt would be a necessary addition to my new lifestyle! Damn!
As mentioned in my last post, after nine days in this blissful paradise, we reluctantly booked our bus tickets, packed our bags and said goodbye to yet another temporary home as we set off for our next destination.
After a five hour bus trip (with both of us running on 3 hours sleep), a short taxi ride (where the driver's 4 year old son felt it necessary to poke me and stare angrily at me throughout the trip) and a 45 minute ferry (that smelt like we had our heads deep in a bucket of fuel), we finally arrived at Morro de São Paulo, or simply Morro as it is better known.
From the small wooden jetty that we pulled up to, Morro de São Paulo didn't look like much. The mountainous coast we had weaved our way along for the past 15 minutes was unexpected and after hearing that there was no motorised transport on the island I was picturing some serious bush bashing jungle walks over the coming days. Where were the beaches??
After turning down the option of a porter with a wheelbarrow guiding us to our guesthouse, I slightly regretted this as we climbed a calf-burning hill straight off the boat. At the top of the hill was the town square. The lack of motorised vehicles means that a passing donkey, horse and cart or a fruit vendor selling grapes out of a wheelbarrow is completely normal and after seeing the quaint, quiet town square, we carried on through to find our accommodation.
Five minutes later, we threw our bags down on our bed and sighed. Our new home sweet home.... For this week anyway.
We had timed our travel to make sure we arrived in time to watch the Brazil Vs Germany FIFA semi final on the large screen in town square. Let's say that afternoon was the most awkward 2 hours of our entire trip and rather than partying the night away with the locals as we had hoped, we were tucked up in bed by 9:30pm!
The beauty of arriving in a new destination late in the afternoon is that the following morning, I always wake up early with the excitement of exploring our surroundings. No lonely planet guidebook, travel doco or online reviews can take away the thrill of seeing and discovering a new place for yourself. Morro de São Paulo was an absolute treasure to explore. On that first morning, we walked around 10km of curving, stretches of yet more stunning Brazilian beaches. Just when you think you've seen enough beaches in Brazil, the next one is unique in one way or another and equally if not more beautiful than the last. The beaches on Morro are numbered - first beach, second beach, third beach and fourth beach. Original hey?! The further you venture down these beaches the more isolated and peaceful it becomes.
On the downside, walking in the morning sun until you are 10km from the main beaches and realising it's suddenly midday, meant that after a relaxing swim and multiple applications of suncream, we were ready for the long, hot walk back.
The first thing we noticed upon arriving in Morro from Itacaré was the crowd. Because of its proximity and easy accessibility from the major city of Salvador, Morro is a real tourist paradise. While we don't really enjoy the packed beaches or the prices that these places inevitably attract, Morro de São Paulo is big enough that you can easily escape both of these things with a small amount of effort.
The town itself is full of tourist shops and small handicraft stalls along with plenty of icecreameries, bars and restaurants. Although it is touristy and busy, it's a beautiful little town in a natural paradise and definitely one of the places we have felt safest throughout our trip.
After a day of rain, we were bursting to continue exploring this incredible island, so on day three, we headed up to the Farol de Morro (Morro lighthouse) first thing in the morning.
The walk up the forest-covered hill was not the best idea after a day of pouring tropical rain. We played a game we like to call "Mud or Poop?" as we avoided questionable puddles along our route to the lighthouse - Wade wearing his hiking boots, while I was in thongs..... damn! After a sketchy walk up a slippery path, we arrived at the lighthouse which I was disappointed to discover is all locked up so you can't get right up close to it. However by following the path around the lighthouse we discovered two beautiful views. One looking north over the ocean where we saw a pod of dolphins playing in the water and the other looking out South over the first and second beaches of Morro. It was well worth the mud/poop that now covered my feet.
Back down the hill, another track leads around the headland to the old fort. I'm not entirely sure of the history of the fort but it is a beautiful old building and hiding just behind it are some calm, protected natural rock pools where we spent hours just floating around while discussing just how lucky we are to be sharing this experience with one another.
Photo: Morro de São Paulo Fort
Another day of island life passes and yet there is still so much of this unique place to discover. Day four came and I convinced Wade that we could walk from the main town of Morro (where we were staying and the northern tip of the island) to the less touristy yet just as beautiful town of Gamboa on the Island's north western coast. Ferries run all day between the two towns but who wants to take the easy way..... Right Wade??
We left much later than planned after spending a solid 2 hours looking up satellite imaging on google maps to try and figure out a suitable route to Gamboa. We knew it was possible, we just didn't have a map or any real idea of what to expect. Meh, no biggie, it's just a steep, partly jungle covered island, with no motor transport to rescue us and no one that actually knows we've gone exploring for the day. What could possibly go wrong??
We set off South from our guesthouse and soon found ourselves in a very local area of town. In any other Brazilian city this could be considered a slightly sketchy "favela" but the people on Morro are so incredibly welcoming and friendly that we had no hesitations. We came to a steep staircase that looked like it led straight into someone's house so I stopped to ask three curious looking men who were muttering under their breath while watching us naively scratching our heads. My dodgy and previously unheard-of dialect of Spanish-Portguese somehow managed to get a smile and a laugh out of these serious looking men. They helpfully explained that yes, you could get to Gamboa by heading in this direction but most of the rest of the info was lost in translation. However, the one part that Wade and I both agreed on without a doubt was that the men said: "When you get to a three way intersection, don't go left, don't go straight, go right and there will be a beautiful view from where you can get down to Gamboa".
Sweet! We held off on the high five until we were out of view of our new friends and then continued our climb. Soon the shops, houses and people became more and more sparse. The wide track became a sandy path and before long it was just us and the odd donkey or two lurking in the bush.
Without even realising it, I began following a path around to the left before Wade stopped me and pointed out that this could be our intersection. Hmmm it did look like a three way intersection but there was just one problem. The track on the right led behind a peeled back barbed wire fence with a sign that, regardless of our poor understanding of Portuguese definitely read "Do not enter". I shrugged and took a swig of water before turning to Wade to ask what he thought, only Wade was gone. Apparently not understanding the sign makes it null and void! Wade was on a mission to find Gamboa and a small hurdle such as private property wasn't going to stand in his way!
We came to an incredible view where we could finally see Gamboa and realised that we were a bloody long way up from the beach way down below us. After seeing our destination from this great vantage point, my doubts subsided and I willingly followed my always reliable husband. As our clear, open path disappeared and the bushes became thicker, I called out that I was going to wait while Wade saw if the path opened up again. Two minutes later a scratched and sweaty Wade returned. The path "kind of kept going, and it could be done. We will definitely get down to Gamboa but it was steep and not worth being scratched by all the trees" (* please note this is a direct quote from Wade Harris and will be referred to shortly).
After a bit of searching, we found an alternate path that even had a wooden staircase and handrail built into a steep section of forest. As we weaved our way down the mountain we could feel that we were nearing the coast and hopefully civilisation when we came across a small cascade that had pipes running to a water tank. FINALLY! We continued down a more defined bush staircase and eventually saw a house ahead of us. After a short discussion on whether either one of us knew how to explain "Sorry, we got lost" in Portuguese, we decided to try and politely sneak past the house and out their front gate to the refreshing and relieving beach. As we walked through the front gate Wade jumped straight in the ocean while I made sure I was a good house guest/trespasser and closed the gate properly. It was while closing the gate that I noticed the large "BEWARE OF THE DOG" sign staring me in the face. Lucky for us, the dog must have been asleep today!
So after a quick swim and an evaluation of where we were it was decided that we had somehow come out around 1 km north of Gamboa. Seeing it wasn't high tide, we could easily walk along the beach for the rest of the way and after seeing a family playing on the beach (the first people we had seen in around 2 hours) we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves.
A few minutes later, and while Wade was blissfully strolling along the beach we came to this: (see picture below).
This eroded and crumbling section of hillside just happens to be the end of the "path" that Wade specifically said "could be done". Hmmmm I don't know if it was the concerned and shocked look on my face or the realisation that this is what he had been bush bashing towards but Wade let out a giggle like he had just pooed his pants a little. After a silent moment of reflection on our near death experience, we both laughed it off and kept walking! C'est la vie!
After such an epic journey, the reward was definitely worth it. While there were still tables and chairs lining the beach and a few people swimming or chilling at the tables, it was blissfully quiet, significantly less touristy and they had ice cold beer! We ordered a decadent seafood platter complete with lobster and four side dishes that totally blew our usual lunch budget at a total cost of $40..... and it was utterly worth every Brazilian Real!
Our final reward for the day was an unexpected one. Just as we had lathered ourselves in suncream and bought a cold bottle of water for the return journey overland, our waiter asked if we were ready for a boat transfer back to Morro. I politely declined and told him we were walking back when he laughed and then said in a serious tone "No. You can't walk there. I'll tell the boat to wait". Wade and I exchanged confused glances before a slight disappointment but also relief came over us as we were given a free pass out of our return bush bash. The relaxing boat trip back was the perfect end to an awesome, slightly risky but hugely rewarding day.
A week earlier, we begrudgingly left Itacaré only to find ourselves in yet another amazing paradise where we could have stayed forever. And then just like that, six days had flown by and once again we had to begrudgingly pack up and move on.
With the World Cup now over and the streamers being pulled down from the town square, it felt like a fitting time to board the ferry to our next destination. Our two weeks of blissful beach life in Itacaré and Morro were over for now as we headed to the original capital city of Brazil, Salvador.
Plenty to tell about this interesting city of course but I'll leave that for next time. For now, I'll leave you with this image and hope that wherever you are, you're doing the math on how you're going to find yourself in your own private paradise because we only get one life and at one point or another, we all deserve to experience natural beauty such as this!
Brazil's most famous and visited city was originally named by a Portuguese explorer, who mistook the large bay for a river and named the city "January River" or Rio De Janeiro in Portuguese.
These days, the locals have coined a new name for the city and while it's not official, it is certainly well deserved - Cidade Maravilhosa or "Marvellous City".
The more information we read about Rio De Janeiro in the lead up to our trip, the more dubious and safety conscious we became. There are a lot of horror stories about petty crimes, kidnappings and muggings in Rio and in the lead up to the FIFA World Cup the media had a field day questioning the city's readiness and general safety for visiting tourists. We had decided early on in this trip to fly in to Rio De Janeiro from Iguazu Falls to save ourselves from another long haul bus trip, but also to avoid rushing to be there in time for the opening night of the World Cup. While this was a good idea in theory, after booking the flight, we read countless reviews of how dangerous Rio airports are and how "express kidnappings" are a real threat. This is where tourists find themselves jumping in a taxi but instead of being taken to their destination, they are taken to a random town or favela where they are told to withdraw all their money from an ATM and then dumped afterwards with no money and sometimes also no luggage. So with this information in mind, we left our accommodation in Iguazu feeling like members of the Bali Nine. We had every important document and the majority of our money strapped to our bodies in some rather interesting and (if I may say so myself) creative ways!
We arrived at Rio airport and collected our luggage without an issue. We went to the official taxi stand and paid a hugely inflated price for an authorised taxi, again, without an issue. Then we jumped in our taxi with a friendly driver who made some basic English/Portuguese conversation with us and before we knew it, we arrived at our awesome apartment on Copacabana Beach. We couldn't believe our luck. We had been in Rio for almost 2 hours and so far hadn't been mugged, kidnapped or pick pocketed! How crazy!
As it turned out, our experience on that first day was just the start of an incredible 10 days in Rio!
Copacabana Beach, eerily quiet but stunning as always, before the madness of the World Cup began!
We had booked an apartment 10 months in advance through Airbnb and could not have been happier with the apartment, the lovely owner Bruno or the incredible location. We were three streets back from Copacabana Beach and a short 10 minute walk down the beach to the FIFA Fan Fest where every match was screened live on a huge TV screen and there was an incredible beach party with live music everyday.
I haven't been to Rio De Janeiro before so I can't comment on the safety or atmosphere of the city before the World Cup, but I can say that I believe Rio had done an incredible job preparing themselves for the World Cup and the vibe in the city throughout our visit was amazing. All day, everyday there were people walking around the streets decked out in their country's colours, blowing kazoo's and singing football chants. I've never seen anything like it!
We had the most wonderful week exploring Rio but also had plenty of time to chill out on the beach and watch enough World Cup matches to last me a lifetime! We did the obligatory visit to Christ the Redeemer - and didn't spontaneously combust upon arrival! The drive up is pretty cool, the statue itself is huge and the crowd made us both claustrophobic and angry. It was one of those sights we wanted to cross off our "must do" lists, but the usually hectic crowd was 100 times worse than expected due to the added impact of the World Cup and we were lucky to leave with a single photo without someone else's head, arm, flag or other appendage ruining it!
Just one example of our incredible photography skills at Christ the Redeemer. Not only did we cut off Jesus' head in our "selfie" efforts but we also have 3 paparazzi in the background!
After leaving Hey-Zeus we decided that while we were already doing the tourist thing, we might as well spend the afternoon crossing off another "must-do" from our list and one that I personally, was pretty damn excited about - Sugarloaf Mountain.
We took the cable car to the top of the first mountain and already we were snapping away at the incredible views. Sugarloaf is one of those places where you arrive and are immediately blown away by the view. After taking around 100 photos in 5 minutes, you realise that you are actually taking photos from the cable car platform on the lower peak and not even the purpose built viewing area on the higher peak that provides the best views! The second cable car takes you to the second peak which provides one of the most incredible natural viewpoints I have ever experienced in a city. We had planned our trip to coincide with sunset and as the sun dropped behind the mountainous jungle framing the city, the view became more spectacular every minute. We ended up spending over 3 hours wandering aimlessly and fighting over who was going to take the photos of this incredible picture-perfect landscape we found ourselves in!
Sunset from Sugarloaf Mountain
Another of our favourite sights in Rio was the beautiful Escadaria Selaron or Selaron's Staircase in Lapa. This work of art was created by a Chilean man living in Rio who went broke multiple times by spending every spare dollar and minute working on turning a simple backstreet concrete staircase in an otherwise average neighbourhood, into a beautiful mosaic. While the tiles were originally scavenged from building sites and some hand painted by Selaron, over the years tourists began sending tiles from all over the world. Today, the stairs are covered in over 2000 tiles from 60 countries around the world (Yes we found multiple Aussie ones including an AC/DC tile. Selaron once said that "This crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death". Ironically after 23 years of working on creating this artwork, Selaron was found dead at the base of the stairs in 2013.
Just one small section of the incredible mosaic staircase Escadaria Selaron
So, I suppose by now some of you are wondering about the actual World Cup. Well for Wade and I, being in Brazil during the World Cup was more of a coincidence than actual planning! Of course as soon as we decided to make the trip to South America we applied for tickets (and were lucky enough to get them!) but neither one of us is usually a big soccer/football fan. However all of this changed the day the World Cup started. The atmosphere in Brazil, but in particular in Rio was intoxicating! You could either throw caution to the wind and join in the festivities or you could leave the city (more like the country) to achieve some solace elsewhere. We chose to dive in headfirst and experience all that the city and the World Cup had to offer!
The opening match was intense! We were two of ten thousand people packed into the FIFA Fan Fest on Copacabana Beach. It was an overload of colours, music and football chants and within minutes we were covered in sand, beer and sweat.... and loving every minute!
FIFA Fan Fest opening night
Throughout our time in Copacabana we ended up dropping into the Fan Fest at least 5 times, but while every day had a great party vibe, none quite equalled the excitement of the opening match on that first night. We were also lucky to have our mate Sota staying just a few streets from us in Copacabana so there was always a good reason to catch up over a beer and enough Capirinha's to keep the Brazilian economy afloat! Eventually, we figured out that to save a few bucks and enjoy the games from a more relaxed area and less hectic crowd, you could actually sit outside the Fan Fest right near the high tide line and still see the huge TV screen! The crowd was still huge and equally passionate about the matches but rather than standing and swaying in the over-packed arena for 90 minutes (not to mention the half hour beer queues) you could kick back on beach chairs while locals walked up and down the beach selling beer, tasty snacks and ice cold Caipirinha's. Now that's more my style of football!
Hanging outside Fan Fest on the beach with Sota, our mate from Perth, who we also believe many Brazilians mistook for some famous Japanese soccer player!
Of course all of these festivities culminated in the event we had been waiting for. The Argentina Vs Bosnia-Herzegovina round one match at Maracaña Stadium. Maracaña Stadium was built in 1950 for the last FIFA World Cup held in Brazil and is the largest stadium in South America so you can only imagine our excitement at our first live football game being in such a historically significant and HUGE stadium.
Upon arrival we were greeted by some not-so-friendly looking riot police. While we were definitely expecting an eventful night, we were still surprised to be surrounded by hundreds of armed police, fully kitted up with helmets, riot shields and some hectic looking guns. I had decided early on that I would be cheering for Argentina seeing as we had recently visited there and my Spanish is so awesome that people frequently mistake me for a local...... Hey, I can dream! There were also probably four times as many Argentinian fans so we figured it was a safer bet should any fights break out.
The atmosphere in the stadium was breathtaking. The official attendance for the night was just under 75,000 screaming, cheering, diehard fans. Throughout the match I think we saw two people evicted by the security guards, there were three incredible goals scored and Wade only spilt his beer on me twice. Overall, it went off without a hitch!
The full house at Maracaña Stadium, I would have posted the video, but the noise is quite brutal on the old ear drums!
While the World Cup was exhilarating, I had an even more adrenalin filled morning ahead of me - Hang gliding from the highest point in the Tijuca Forest down onto Sao Conrado Beach. It was such a unique experience. The take-off and landing are both a fast-paced adrenalin rush, but the flight itself is relaxing and breathtaking. It gave me a sense of freedom I've never felt before. While the cost was a little hard to justify for an 8 minute flight (especially when they pumped up the price just for World Cup), it was 100% worth it and I'd do it again in a heartbeat!
After only a few days in Rio, we had started frantically searching for somewhere to stay for a few extra nights so we could turn our seven night stay into ten! We were lucky enough to find an apartment only a few streets from our originally accommodation and while we well and truly blew the budget, we figured this really was a once in a lifetime event.
Eventually, our time in Rio had to come to an end. Our plan from here is to continue heading up the North Eastern coast of Brazil all the way to the Amazon River. This is more or less a distance of some 4700km!
With plenty of overnight buses and some more unique modes of transport in the coming weeks, I hope to update you all again soon. In the meantime I'm always keen to hear any comments, suggestions or advice on our trip in general or any blogging tips.
As always, the photos here are just a small insight into our "FIFA World Cup" and "Brazil" albums that you can see on our Photo Albums page.
Enthusiastic but Useless Traveler.