Rio Reflections

I’ve been in Rio for one week now and haven’t had much of a vibe to write anything.  I woke up this morning and realized I’m flying to Belem in a couple of hours so I’m desperately trying to cobble together a few words before I whisk myself up north.  And wouldn’t you know it, just when I’m in a hurry I had a Microsoft password disaster and have been battling with that for the last hour.  What was I thinking when I agreed to a two-step verification process in the event of forgetting my password?  Two step verification in a foreign country is virtually impossible!!!  So, I ended up having to open a new Microsoft account and repurchase Office.  Arrggh!!!  How annoying… And, that would be my second repurchase of the trip.

I had planned to fly from Sao Paulo to Rio (rather than taking a bus) and purchased a ticket with Avianca Brasil.  The ticket price to Rio from Sao Paulo was about the same across all the airlines but I was familiar with Avianca so I decided to choose them.  I had flown with them a few times in Colombia and was really impressed with the service and I also liked the red colour scheme they used for both the aircraft and the uniforms.  I purchased my ticket without any problem.  Some weeks later I happened to be googling Avianca Brasil.  You know how it is… It’s midnight and you really need to be sleeping, but then you realize you won’t be able to sleep unless you google the fleet size of some random airline.  So, as I was googling Avianca’s fleet size, I chanced upon some current news stories about the airline…  In short, Avianca Brasil had gone bankrupt.  Most of their planes had been repossessed and their routes had been cancelled. However, they had continued selling tickets for about the last six months on aircraft and routes that didn’t exist!!  What’s more, Avianca Brasil had no connection with Avianca Colombia.  It was just some dodgy low-cost carrier that had  leased the name and re branded itself.  That was extremely annoying but there was nothing that could be done.  So, I had to buy another ticket, this time with LATAM.

As much as I like Sao Paulo and its inhabitants, I was a little bit relieved to leave the city this time.  The combination of jetlag and being stuck in that prison cell of a room with anti-social flatmates took its toll.  And, I was hoping I’d enjoy the nightlife more than I did… It just didn’t do it for me this time unfortunately… In retrospect, I think if Sao Paulo is your first stop after a long haul flight, it’s better to splurge the money and get a really nice room.  Chances are that you might end up spending a lot of time in it, as I did.

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Arriving in Rio almost felt like arriving in a different country after Sao Paulo.  In place of Sao Paulo’s oppressive endless wall of beige are lush, green tropical tree lined streets filled with stunning examples of Neoclassical, Neogothic, Art Deco and Modernist architecture.  It’s kind of like a tropical Lisbon, but on a much grander scale.  It’s quite simply stunning!

To be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect coming to Rio.  My image of the city had been largely formed on what I’d seen on the internet and from Brazilian people I’d met in Sydney. And yes, if you know me, Brazilian people  that I’ve met in Sydney, particularly the women in recent months, have not been in my top ten list of favourite people.  I was a little bit reluctant to come… To be brutally honest, I thought the city would just be full of pretentious passive-aggressive, entitled people strolling around in bikinis, snorting cocaine, air kissing and telling each other how much they love them, while at the same time dodging bullets from rival drug gangs.

I couldn’t have been more wrong!!!  The people here, at least the ones I’ve encountered in this last week, have been some of the most courteous, well-mannered kind, friendly and down to earth people I’ve ever met in my life. Brazilian people here are INCREDIBLY NICE. The hosts in my Airbnb are incredibly warm and hospitable and let me treat their house as if it were mine.

To the Brazilian woman in Sydney to whom some months ago I suggested that rudeness might have been a Brazilian cultural thing (in an attempt to try and explain and justify your rudeness towards me) I have to apologise.  I apologise for suggesting that rudeness is a cultural thing.  It’s not… It’s just you.  You are a rude and entitled woman.  Brazilian people are extremely nice.

As for safety, while I realise there are unsafe areas in Rio like favelas, for the most part everywhere that I’ve been has felt extremely safe, almost disappointingly so.  I like a bit of edgy travel but it really feels very safe to walk around anytime of the day.

The most famous areas of Rio, Copacabana and Ipanema for me were the lowlight of the week.  Ipanema is just Bondi but with a kind of Paddington vibe, and Copacabana is Bondi but with more of Darling Harbour and Kings Cross kind of vibe. And with so many Brazilian people living in Bondi, all you would need to do is put a few shanty towns around it and you honestly wouldn’t know the difference.

I bet every fat girl of Ipanema just wants to punch the writer of that song!

The star of the week has been the Centro and the other parts of the city with it’s stunning architecture.

Teatro Municipal:

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Escadaria Selaron:

Museum of Modern Art in Niteroi:

Museum of Tomorrow:

A street scene in Lapa:

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Presbyterian church:

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Parque Lage and Jardim Botanico with Christ the Redeemer in the background:

Sugarloaf:

Some other random scenes:

And now it’s time to go and pack my extremely inappropriate, “just in case” clothing… It’s already 30 degrees and I have tow winter jacket, a cardigan, woollen socks and three pairs of jeans.

Cheers!

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Dealing with jet-lag in Sao Paulo

I’ve been in Sao Paulo for one week.

Today is my last day before I fly to Rio.  I’m still suffering jet-lag… But, I thought I’d better get in a quick blog post before I leave.  I’ve been struck down with the most diabolical jet lag for the entire week. The timing of South American flights from Sydney couldn’t possibly be any worse.  You leave at midday. Then you travel for about 18 hours and arrive at 4.30 pm on the same day, having slept and completely reversed the day and night.

The flight over from Sydney to Sao Paulo was fine.  I flew Air New Zealand to Buenos Aires and then Qatar Airways to Sao Paulo.  Sydney to Auckland was great.  The flight attendants were super happy and friendly. I’m sure it’s because they’re all thinking “We’ve only got two and a half hours of this shit and then we’re out of here, at home, jet lag free!” … On the Buenos Aires leg however, you could see that the flight attendants were struggling to maintain a smile.  Stepping onto Qatar Airways at Buenos Aires was a very noticeable step up in standards from Air New Zealand.  The aeroplane is polished and in mint condition and the flight attendants look like they’ve all just come back from their modelling jobs.  Quite a pleasant relief after the fuglies of Air NZ.  There is also a noticeable attention to detail.  Qatar Airways is the only airline that I’ve experienced that actually serve the special meals at the same time as the regular meals.  Every other airline serves the special meal about three hours before everyone else.  I mean, how difficult is it?

After arriving in Buenos Aires, the week got off to a bit of a bumpy start.  I blame it all on my cost cutting measures.  After all, you get what you pay for.  I first thought I would save time and more importantly money, by not going into BA “Federal Capital” for my stopover, but instead staying close to Ezeiza airport, in a town called El Jaguel.  El Jaguel is closer than Buenos Aires, but still, it isn’t THAT close.  By the time you exit the airport and go through slip roads, loop roads, spaghetti junctions, motorways and side streets, it took about half an hour.  Another 20 minutes in a taxi, and I would have been in the Federal Capital.  I also could have found an equally cheap room and I would have been in civilisation.  But hey, you live and learn all the time.  At least I thought I could spend the day, strolling in the fresh air and quiet provincial streets.  I didn’t factor in of course that I was directly under the flight path.  El Jaguel is to Ezeiza what Marrickville is to Mascot. And at times like this, Murphy’s law invariably kicks in.  From the moment I stepped off the plane until 27 hours later when I stepped back on, it rained literally non-stop and extremely heavily.  In El Jaguel, there is literally nothing… Not a thing… You have to walk to the next ‘burb called Monte Grande to find anything.  Did I have an umbrella? No.  Could I call an Uber? No.  All I could find in the house to eat for 27 hours was 2 dulce de leche biscuits and a carton of expired sugary processed milk.  Yep, fun times.

The choice of flight to Sao Paulo was also driven price.  It was the cheapest.  The flight actually goes from Buenos Aires to Doha, via Sao Paulo.  I guess that most people travel from Sao Paulo so they sell the BA to SP leg very cheaply.  Sao Paulo being a stopover also meant that we arrived in the middle of the night.  Arriving in any foreign airport, unless it’s a major transit hub, is pretty creepy.  Guarulhos is no exception.  I think my flight was the only one that came in at that time.  Everything was closed including the casa de cambio.  The airport was pretty empty.  Two ATMs that I tried had no money.  Luckily the third ATM I tried had cash.  I inserted my card and pressed on the button that said I wanted to withdraw 2200 reals.  You know, just before it’s about to dispense the money, the ATM tells you the transaction fee and then asks if you want to continue?  It tells me that the transaction fee is going to be 240 reals!!!!!  I quickly clicked onto my XE currency converter app and it tells me that 240 reals converts to AUD 90!!!!!  WTF!!!  Desperation of course forced me to click the “yes” button.  I had no choice but I felt like they should change the “yes” button to “who cares” and the “no” button to “fuck you, I’m desperate”.

The next challenge was getting from Guarulhos to Vila Buarque, where I’ve been staying.  There didn’t appear to be a whole lot of taxis floating around and I hadn’t been able to reactivate my Uber account. In order to reactivate it, they need to send a security code, and they send it to my Australian number which I was unable to access.  As luck would have it though, some kind of renegade Uber driver approached me mumbling quietly “Uber,  Uber” and offered to take me for the same price as a real Uber.  I broke the number one rule of travelling in security challenged countries: Never get into an unregistered taxi.  It was 3 am… What was I to do? Fortunately though, he was a decent guy and didn’t kidnap me.  We get to Vila Buarque safely. The one bonus of arriving in the middle of the night is that there is no traffic.  We got to my place in 20 minutes.

I had another minor Airbnb fail here in Sao Paulo.  Again, I rented the cheapest room.  The apartment itself is fine and the location is OK, but the room itself is a stuffy, windowless inside room with the most uncomfortable bed imaginable.  That would be fine, because the owner is quite friendly, sociable and chatty and I felt comfortable coming about of my cell. That would have been fine, but the very next day he went on holiday and rented his room out someone else.  I wasn’t introduced to this person and I’ve been getting very strange vibes all week.  Not that I need to socialise with him or anything, but I’ve never been in a share living situation where people completely pretend like the other person is invisible.  I did the usual, “Oi, tudo bem?” one night and he just grunted “boa noite” and got up, marched into his room and closed the door.  Brazilian people in my experience are usually very open and friendly.  Trust my luck that out of a population of 200 odd million, I’m living with the one freak in the country.

Brazilian people are extremely warm and friendly.  I’m really surprised how friendly, kind  and laid back people are here in Sao Paulo considering what a mother of a city it is.  People have been extremely nice to me and have gone out of their way to help.

People aside though, Sao Paulo really is a mother of a city.  Even though I’ve been here before, for the first few days I felt very overwhelmed.  Slowly I’ve been getting my bearings though and relaxing into it.  Sao Paulo is like Tokyo in so much as every inch of space is filled up.  There are no empty lots or spaces between buildings.  The streets run very organically, not in any kind of grid pattern and with the exception of the downtown area which has a few more identifiable buildings and landmarks, everywhere looks essentially the same.  All the buildings are in varying shades of beige or creamy yellow.  The shops, houses, walls and fences all line up to the same point on the side walk.  So as you walk along the sidewalk, you are just walking through this endless wall of creamy yellowy beige.  Thank God I got a local SIM card and have been able to use Google maps to guide me as I walk.  Otherwise I’d be house bound in my cell.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve been suffering the most diabolical jetlag with no signs that it’s going to improve.  I eventually reached the point of “If you can’t beat it, just go with it”.  So, I’ve been sleeping all through the day, waking up in the evening and going to bars and clubs at night.  That’s something I haven’t done since my twenties..  I guess I had very high expectations of Sao Paulo nightlife.  And while the bars and clubs are certainly very good, they’re pretty standard, like what you would find anywhere else in the world (with the exception of Sydney of course).  The only thing that separates Sao Paulo nightclubs from others that I’ve been to, is the aggressiveness of the security check.  The “pat down” is quite something else.  Entering a club, I got the full “Banged Up Abroad” experience.  The guy who did me, shouted at me and patted me down so hard that I was virtually bruised by the end of it.  He patted down literally EVERY part of my body, punched my shoes several times, made me take them off and then inspected them closely.  I was not required however to empty out my bulging pockets and neither was anyone else.  Interesting.

Bye for now.  it’s time to pack.

Getting rid of money… and other issues

Out of the blue, the government of Nicolas Maduro decreed on Monday that after Wednesday 100 bolivar notes, which up to now are the largest denomination banknote, will no longer be legal tender. New higher denomination bank notes are being introduced, although the exact date is still not known. There really is no logic behind this. The government has put out it’s own propaganda as to why this is happening, something along the lines of “The United States is stealing the banknotes and hiding them in Eastern Europe” Mind you, after everything that has come out of WikiLeaks recently about Hillary Clinton and the US, this theory is not really that far-fetched.  

Anyway, whatever the reason for the banning of the 100 bolivar note, there has been a mad scramble across the country to get rid of them. You can either try to spend them or you can deposit them in your bank account. You can imagine what the banks look like at the moment with absolutely the entire population going to the bank on the same day… It’s worse than an Apple store on the day of the release of a new iPhone. So, naturally, I opted for the “spending” option. The reality for me is that even if I lose all the money, it doesn’t make any difference. I’m just in it for the sport of it, but for Venezuelan people it’s yet another insult on top of many injuries. Fortunately though, the government allowed an slight extension. You could use the notes in shops until Friday and you have next week to deposit them in banks.

Baby, I don’t need dollar bills to have fun tonight… I love cheap thrills! Baby, I don’t need dollar bills to have fun tonight… I love cheap thrills! That’s kind of been my theme song of this week as I’ve gone on a mission to get rid of all my 100 bs notes. It’s interesting that the abbreviation for bolivar is “BS” as in “bullshit” … Because the daily withdrawal limit had been capped at 10 000 bs, Yordano went to great pains to stock pile me with cash. I’ve been using it pretty sparingly so I wouldn’t run out. As a result, I still had a lot left. And, let’s just say… This week, I’ve been having a REALLY good time!! It’s such a buzz too, to be able to shout anyone drinks, meals or whatever. I managed to get rid of all but about 14 000.


It’s funny how quickly you adjust to prices and how slowly old habits die. When I arrived in Caracas, I really lucked out an managed to changed my dollars at 4100 to 1 (the black market rate is now 2500 to 1), which has made everything absurdly cheap. Yet over the last few days, even when I’m desperate to spend my money, I still find myself haggling over prices. The other night we took a cab up to Playa Parguito, to engage in some more “dollar criminality”, as Nicolas Maduro refers to it. It’s about a thirty minute drive from La Caranta to Playa Parguito. Initially, the driver quoted us 4000 bolivars for the one-way trip, which after my windfall in Caracas makes that less than US$1. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to try and bargain him down to 3000… About 70 US cents. We finally settled on a price of 6500 bolivars to drive us there, wait while we do the deal, and then to drive us back. That’s about US$1.50 and yet I wondered if I had been too extravagant.

I ran into a bit of a sticky situation on Thursday night. I had to give someone some money but they refused to accept my 100 bolivar notes. Even though it wasn’t Friday yet, many people and shops had already stopped accepting them. There are no new notes available yet. If you want to pay in cash you have to use 20 bolivar notes or 50 bolivar notes. Most transactions are done by either direct debit, or transferring a payment from one person’s account to another. The direct debit for me isn’t a problem but I don’t have the app on my phone to make a person to person transfer. So I was stuck. As bizarre as it seems, the only thing he would accept as payment was gambling chips from the Casino Del Sol in Porlamar.


After driving around for two hours trying to trade my now useless banknotes in every disco, bar or shop for … hmmm… well, anything really, we admitted defeat and decided that the Casino Del Sol was our only option. We soon arrived and entered the gambling room. The whole place basically looks like the opening scene of the next episode of Banged Up Abroad. We felt a little uncomfortable just buying the chips and then walking out so we played a half-assed round of Black Jack and then left. I think I’m more adventurous than a lot of people but even still, I spent most of the time in the casino thinking to myself, “What the f*** am I doing??!!!” Anyway, we got our chips and made our payment. Everything was fine and we went home.

And in other news this week, I managed to get locked out of my maximum security fortress. Last Sunday, I was at the beach all day and arrived back at Punta Ballena at about 9 pm and couldn’t get in! The security guy at the gate was either unconscious, dead or had just packed up and gone home. There’s no buzzer or intercom either… So, after screaming and shouting for a few minutes, the only option I had was to jump over the fence.  

Considering this is maximum security, it’s a pretty easy gate to jump over. There are no spikes or barbed wire on top and there’s a horizontal bar that goes across the middle so it’s very easy to get a footing. I had had a few rums, so climbing up was very easy… I thought my jump down the other side went smoothly as well until I woke up the next morning and found I had two toes swollen bigger than a Zika baby’s head and a floor covered in blood. So it turns out, it wasn’t quite the smooth operation I had thought. Hobbled and completely cashless, I am now well and truly under house arrest.

Venezuelan people are truly amazing people. I don’t know if it’s out of a sense of duty or out of a sense of pity but people here have been so incredibly kind, helpful and friendly towards me. Without their help I think I would’ve been eaten alive. Having no cash now means that I can’t take a taxi anywhere. A few people have offered to ferry me around in their cars when I need to go somewhere. There’s a real sense of camaraderie here… Perhaps having a common enemy (i.e the government) helps to bond people. Whatever it is, I’m a fan!