We are sitting at the Sao Paulo airport waiting
for our 8 hour flight to Africa; Johannesburg, South Africa, to be precise. Our 4 days in Brazil have sped by so fast! We
left Buenos Aires, Argentina by ferry across the Plata River, the widest river in the world (there is a point that is 125
miles across!) and docked in Montevideo, Uruguay. What a great place to visit. Two days is not nearly enough
time to really explore this country….especially when we spent 5 hours of it at the US Embassy waiting
for an appointment to add more visa pages to our full passports. They were very kind to squeeze us in and add another 24 pages,
since we only had the one day to get it done. One thing that we did see was the beach. It was beautiful! We stayed at a hotel
just a block from the beach (I know, against our rules, but I had not been able to contact a B & B in time and went with
Fodor’s suggestion, instead of Trip Advisor, my favorite). The walk to the embassy was a couple of
miles down the beach but then we wandered back to the hotel, taking what we thought was a shortcut, only to get ourselves
completely lost! We did finally find it, thanks to the restaurant employees who pointed us in the right direction. But in
our wanderings, we did run across a museum of modern Uruguayan art. It was a wonderful exhibit and I learned that Uruguay
has produced several great artists. So, instead of following the Rambla, the avenue that follows the ocean for 14 miles, that
would have led us directly to our hotel, we got to experience more of Montevideo even if we were lost in a city of 3 mllion,
an unexpected art exhibit and walking along the gorgeous beach at night. Really can’t ask for more!
When we flew into Brazil from Uruguay, we landed in Sao Paulo
for our connecting flight to Rio de Janeiro. We ended up spending some time in the Sao Paulo airport waiting for our flight
that was 2 hours delayed. We could tell immediately that we were in a different country. For starters, Don’s poor Spanish
vocabulary (I can’t speak a word!) was useless here…..the language is Portuguese……a much prettier
language to our ears, but one that we did not know at all. (We did learn “Obligado” Thank you!) There was a greater
mixture of ethnic groups that we hadn’t seen in Argentina and Uruguay. The people had appeared so European, so we blended
in. Now we stood out as foreigners, and we didn’t see any tourists at all. We had enjoyed blending
in for a few days.
We were delightfully
surprised at what a wonderful place that Rio was! There are beautiful mountains and islands around and throughout the
city of Rio. In fact, one of the mountains in Rio is supposedly the highest mountain rising out of the sea in the world.
The city, unofficially 12 million people, spreads in and around the base of the mountains, with the density of high
rise apartments and few homes. We were lucky to find a B & B that was once a home, with its back wall up against a mountain.
We could over look the city lights at night and just see the back of The Christ, just two mountains away. The streets in Botafogo,
the area we were in, are paved with old cobblestones and the sidewalks are mosaics of white and black square rocks. We only
had about 36 hours in Rio de Janeiro so we had to plan it carefully. Our host, Robert, helped with the logistics and phone
calls. First stop was the Sugar Loaf. We took the first part of the Teleferico to the
first mountain where we climbed onto a helicopter. We flew over The Christ, the Botanical Gardens, Favelas, the Copacabana
and Ipanema beaches, and lots of wonderful high rise buildings. It was only a 13 minute ride but it was fabulous! The pilot
enjoyed the thrill of rushing a mountain and pulling up at the last minute, or circling The Christ statue so close that we
could see what clothes that the tourists were wearing. I might have apprehension about flying on a plane, but for some reason,
I have no fear of helicopters. I love them.
The only other thing that we had time for was a visit to the Favelas. The Favela is a community of squatters, who
have built illegal homes and they do not have running water or electricity. However, they have cleverly spliced into the wires
from the electrical poles and have figured out ways to capture rain water. The Brazilian government is also trying to help
improve their conditions as well. The only way to see the Favelas safely is to take a tour and the guide
gave us a lot of information about how these favelas were formed. Favela means “Fava
Bean”. The history is that a group of black men were promised by the government that they would receive
land if they went to war for Brazil. On their return from war, Brazil did not give them land as promised
so the soldiers took land that was not occupied and called it “Fava Beans” or Favela. There
was a movie “City of God” made of one of the Favelas that brought to light the condition of those who live there.
The two favelas that we visited were not as bad as the one in the movie so we did see the better of the poor communities.
The two favelas we visited are built on the side of one of the many mountains in Rio. The lowest, or first apartment on the
street level is the largest, and the best built. Then the next floor up is built a little smaller and so on, climbing up the
side of the mountain. There can be 7 or 8 of these floors, built one on top of the other over time, reached
by a narrow staircase up the mountain side. It can also go the other direction, with the best built at the top, or street
level, then the tiny apartments are built under it. We went into one of these areas, going down into the bowels of the favela
until we came to an underground stream. It was amazing and rather claustrophobic. These underground apartments would never
see the light of day! Rio had received 19 centimeters of rain in an hour and a half just two days ago. The bottom apartments
were under three meters of water, the people escaping with only their lives, with no time to take any of their belongings.
We also went on a tour of a school that was started by a philanthropic Brazilian couple, recently deceased,
who wanted to help the children make a better life for themselves. The sad part is that these favelas hold 1.8 million people,
or 20% of the population in Rio de Janeiro.
We left the next morning by plane to Sao Paulo, a beautiful and short one hour flight. However, the “45
minute trip” from the airport to the city took us over three hours, thanks to the Indy 300 race that was going to happen
that evening! We only had a day and a half to explore the city so we chose their two famous art museums; the MASP and the
MAM. The MAM was in a beautiful old building on some fabulous garden grounds. The art was mostly pre-1900s, historical pieces
from Brazil. They also had several collections, such as guns and swords, antique irons for ironing clothes, candy wrappers
from the50s, busts of famous Brazilians, water in glass containers from lakes in Brazil, and the list goes on. Then
we hailed a cab for the next museum, the MASP. The architecture of this building was modern and very unique. The art was wonderful!
We saw all the greats of Europe (Monet, Manet, Degas, Rembrandt, Picasso, etc) but only one or two Americans. And they listed
artist’s complete names; we usually just give their first and last. I didn’t realize that these
artists had like 2 or 3 middle names! Their featured exhibit was an ongoing project of a photographer who has worked for 5
years recording 1000s of people’s answers to about 20 questions in 72 countries. Very enlightening!
We dashed back to the hotel, took a very quick
shower and caught another cab back to the airport, (that only took 45 minutes this time) and settled in for our long night
of flying over the Atlantic to South Africa!