My first week in Rio

I am so sorry for neglecting this blog.

Well I made it to Rio and was there for a week.  Rio is amazing! 
At first I thought that I would post here every few days, but that unfortunately didn't happen.  I toyed with the idea of summing up the previous week's events at the end of each week, but I dont think that would capture the excitement and different feelings I felt during the week.

So I have decided to update it more regularly.

Right.  So I was in Rio which was surreal and amazing and thrilling at the same time.  You know how the guides say that very few people here speak English?  Well it was no exaggeration.  Even the lady at passport control didn't!  She smiled at me, said something, smiled back and handed my passport.  I obliged with a 'gracias' which I later found out is Spanish and means f**k all in Portuguese!

Well Rio was incredible.  Incredible and expensive.  Apart from accommodation, it felt like London-by-the-Beach when it came to prices.  Which is why I decided to head up north to Salvador, where I am now in North East Brazil.

My friend from home came to visit me in Rio.  He is doing a six month exchange with a uni in Sao Paolo.  It was cool to see him and his friends for the three days that they were up here.  They left on Sunday.  I decided that I would be leaving on Tuesday and mentally my mind was already withdrawing from Rio.  I was in my hostel's common area when I started talking with a fellow traveller that had walked in.  Turns out he's a fellow Brit.  We got talking and met the rest of his group and they invited me out with them that night. 

To say we got on really well would be the understatement of the year.   The next day we went to the Sugar Loaf mountain and I was literally gutted when they invited me to travel together around Southern Brazil and Argentina.  Gutted not because they had asked me, but because I had literally bought my ticket to Salvador an hour before this proposition came up!

I'll be bold enough to say I unexpectedly and uncharacteristically shed a tear when my coach began pulling out of Rio Bus Station for our long pilgrimage up North.  The last time I cried was last year because of a bereavement.  So now I really do understand it when people say you get to meet the most incredible people when you go travelling.  Of course we don't fully know what will happen in the future, however I hope our paths cross again either on this continent or back in the UK.

Brazilians are quite hospitable, and so genuine I get goose bumps.  A friend of mine (a Belgian guy I met randomly on the beach, because I was literally dying to speak to someone in English, and I had spotted him with a Lonely Planet travel guide) had met a local Rio girl on the beach and she had invited us out with her friends to a club.  She quite literally refused to let us pay for drinks, and even when we met her the following night for dinner, you could tell she was so genuinely pleased to see us.

She explained how amazing it was to meet us four (me, the Belgian guy, and an American couple I had befriended) and you could really sense the sad twinge in her voice that soon all of this would all be over....I would continue on my travels, the Belgian and Americans were returning home the next day, and she would be back to work from annual leave just a few days later.

I've never met someone so genuine, and someone so honest with their words.

Right now I'm in Salvador.  I was sad to leave Rio, I honestly miss the people I met, but I'm glad I can say that and now it's time to enjoy Salvador.

I had severely underestimated how long it would take to bus it up here from Rio.  I had guessed about 17 hours.  Make that 30.  At one point, in complete despair, I wondered if the bus was ever going to stop.  On the plus side, it was only half full, the legroom was extensive and the seats nearly fully reclined.  On the downside, when I finally emerged out of the roomy comforts of our coach, my legs wobbled, clearly unused to the notion of walking and I seriously wondered for a second if they were going to give way completely, sending me into a undignified heap on the ground.

My hostel here is superchilled, super quiet (compared to the party hostel that was Che Lagarto Ipanema) but I like it. 

The hostel owner (a Brit who moved here two years ago) confirmed my hunches - that to truly enjoy Salvador, you need to spend some time here, and the things to enjoy here are slowly discovered, rather than brashly put in your face a la Rio.

I wanted to spend some time here before venturing down South.  I might even head West into the Amazon.  Now that I am here why not?

That's it for now.  I promise to blog at least every two or three days, if not more.  It would help if you leave a comment or two so I know there are people out there.  I should have marketed my blog a lot more before I set out on this trip, but oh well, not the end of the world.
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First Night in Rio

Well I made it!

I am in Rio de Janeiro! I just woke up this morning after a LONG flight but I am here. It does feel slightly surreal. All the travel guides said that almost no one speaks English and they werent exaggerating. After landing at the airport, on the way through to the formalities, I dont know if subconsciously I was expecting the passport control officer to greet me with a crisp "and how do you do today, sir?" but I didn´t expect her to know absolutely no English at all.

I stepped up to her desk, handed her my passport and filled-in landing card with a hello, and I think she replied back with a hello. She asked a question in Portuguese (have no idea what it could have been) but I smiled and nodded vaguely, then she stamped my passport and handed it back, saying something that I could only presume to be 'goodbye'! At this point I realised I would seriously have to start brushing up on my Portuguse and Spanish language skills.

They say that South Americacan create chaos out of the most ordinary things and I had a preview of that on the flight into Rio. Before we began our descent, the BA cabin crew started handing out landing cards (for non-Brazilian nationals) and customs forms. The problem is that all of it was in Portuguese! So while I could decipher some of the questions ('nom' was likely asking for my name) some of the other questions left me, and everyone else mystified. Even upon landing, instead of well-placed airport signs directing people where to go, airport personnel stood in strategic locations frantically waving people to where they were supposed to go. I tried asking one of them what some of the questions on the forms meant, but all that got was a "no English" followed by a shrug. So I just guessed what the questions meant and hoped for the best.

The journey from the airport to where I am staying took about half an hour. I landed at about 9pm and was out of the airport by around half past nine, so the trip was in night time. It felt surreal to walk out of the airport, into the slightly humid air, and step into a taxi with all my worldly belongings (well at least the ones I brought with me to Rio) stuffed in an 8kg backpack strapped behind me. The whole trip to where I am staying in Ipanema I kept thinking 'wow, I am actually in South America!!' and I practically jumped up and down in the taxi with excitement.

I have already met a few people in this backpacker hotel, but for the first night, I unpacked, figured out my bearing a little, then settled down to sleep.

It is the morning of my very first day in South America, and after this, I will shower, take out my day bag and explore my immediate surroundings. I am staying in an area called Ipanema, which is in Zona Sul, which is where all the action is. By Brazilian standards, it is one of the most upscale neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro. Last night after unpacking, I went round the corner to buy some food as I was starving. I spotted a few mysterious-looking items on the menu, but after intense deliberation, I decided to go for the traditional, safe option of a hamburger with orange juice. I didn't particularly feel like ordering something random, wolfing it down, only to discover I had just washed down a meal consisting of minced python with honey-glazed worms on the side.

Next update probably tomorrow or potentially the day after. I will ofcourse take many pictures and try to upload them with these posts

I'm in Rio!
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Panorama: Tower Bridge & City Hall

Since the screen of my old camera somehow got crushed in my suitcase when I last travelled, I bought a brand new one since it was cheaper than fixing the old Canon.

The new toy - a Kodak if you're interested - has this cool feature where you can take up to three shots and the camera magically 'stitches' them together to create a panoramic image.  I'm pretty impressed at how easy it is to use.   Anyway, I've decided to take various panoramas of places I find interesting, wherever that may be.  And here's the première!

This photo takes in the historic Tower Bridge to the left, and the futuristic globe to the far right is City Hall, which is where the current Mayor of London is based.  The current mayor is the bumbling Boris Johnson.   Lets hope he only lasts one term.

I like this panoramic shot because it contrasts the past with the future, and is a lot like the rest of London, where modern, glass skyscrapers jostle for space among ancient buildings that are centuries old.

I didn't mean for the above to sound like a paragraph in a tourist guide.  Oh well.
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Damn vomcanos

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week, you must have heard of the volcano in Iceland that's erupted and wreaked havoc, closing European airspace and grounding all flights because of dangerous ash in the air.

At first, I found it mildly amusing - in the sense of "oh wow look at that, we have all these wonderful technologies and have made huge advancements but nature trumps man every single time" - especially as I know a good number of people that are stranded worldwide and unable to complete their journeys.

Now that this vomcano business is dragging into the fifth day, that feeling of amusement is now partly mixed with a little anxiety. I've planned everything around the day I leave. My rental contract expires the morning of my flight, and I handed in my notice so my last day of work is the Friday before my Monday departure, leaving me with the weekend to do last minute frantic packing.

Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the temping that I am doing, especially as it is for Cancer Research, a charity that I support anyway. The charity I worked on before CR was the World Wildlife Fund, which is cool I guess but even I, as a marketing assistant, didn't really buy into some of their ideas. Yeah I know it's important to save wildlife etc etc, but when you hear about some of their campaigners throwing themselves in front of a bulldozer to save the habitat of an exotic Peruvian insect from being destroyed, you have to ask yourself... really? What about people? Is that beetle going to turn up at your house with a bunch of flowers in gratitude?

The work I'm doing for CR is rewarding but pretty physically draining and I couldn't bring myself to do it for even an extra week. So if my departure ends up being pushed back I'd probably just sit at home and wait it out for a new flight, rather than do more marketing work. Well, even that wouldn't happen because my rental contract would have expired by then and my parents live abroad. So 3rd May is when I HAVE to leave.

I was at Heathrow last Sunday and the world's busiest international airport was a complete ghost town. Rows and rows of planes parked, a handful of passengers floating around in the huge Terminal 5... It was eerie in a strange way, like there was some national state of emergency and all human activity had ceased to exist.

Look at the photo of the arrivals board.  Every single flight.  Cancelled. 

The check-in area was pretty much dead, apart from a few weary passengers looking dejected and some ground staff sitting around looking bored.

So in summary, the volcano is cool in a way, the skies are actually blue rather than being filled with jet contrails, but thanks Iceland.  Nice performance, but we want our flights back.

P.S. Just as finished this post, I saw some aircraft contrails jet over London.  I hope it's a good sign.
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30 days

So exactly a month from now, I will be in Rio, probably horrifically jetlagged from a 12hour flight and trying to make sense of my new surroundings.

I got a really good Brazil travel guide earlier this week and I've used it to get some ideas about where I want to go.  Someone suggested going up to the northern part of the country, to places like Belem and Manaus deep in the Amazon.  Apparently there are all kinds of plants and wildlife there that are unique to the area.  Now I don't mind seeing new kinds of animals that I might not have come across before.  But I am definitely not going to go out of my way to travel to an area where there is a chance I might end up rubbing shoulders with a python, or snake of any kind, no matter how exotic or unique it might be.  I will admire (or stare with part fascination part revulsion) at one from a distance, if it is in a tank.  But you won't see me going near one if it has draped itself around someone's neck, sunning itself in freedom.  The only thing you could learn from getting me within ten metres close to an uncaged snake is that it is actually possible for a healthy 21 year old to die from heart failure.

Anyway, since for now I am working during the weekdays right up until the weekend I go away, I've been trying to sort out all the things I need for my trip during the weekends.  Today I went to have a look at some backpacks.  A lot of choice out there, and pretty confusing.  After wading through all the different terminology and brands, I thought I had found the backpack that was both practical (i.e. not large enough to pack my entire house into) and easy on the bank account.  But then I noticed the zips were partly made of fabric.  So even if I put a padlock to secure it, any would-be-thief could just cut away to the material to get inside.  Completely redundant.  It made me wonder though.  Why would the manufacturer pack all kinds of wonderful complicated-sounded technology into the backpack, such as an ergonomic back support system, this and that, even more of this and that, but then scrimp on the zip?

The only other backpack by the same brand that did have proper zips was too big and also a lot more expensive.  I have a feeling the manufacturer did that on purpose.

Anyway I decided that to be honest, the only things of high value that I will be taking with me are my passport, wallet and camera, and those items will either be on me or in a secure safe at all times.  So if someone does make a grab for my backpack and run for it, all they will find is clothes, shoes, and maybe a pair of sunglasses.  Items that are easily replaceable.

So I'll get the cheaper backpack and just put a (redundant) padlock on it, to at least deter the thief if s/he is in a hurry.
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Countdown to my trip

My big South American adventure begins with me taking off from London Heathrow, bound for Rio on the 3rd May.

I've already bought the travel guides, worked out a good idea of places I want to see, but wow, there is so much that needs to be done before I go! Things like finding a good deal on a backpack (and also deciding what size backpack is ideal), replacing my broken digital camera, buying travel insurance, figuring out where to leave all my stuff while I am away, the list goes on! Also Brazil particularly is such a MASSIVE country and I'm trying to work out how to fit in all I want to see there plus take in Argentina and possibly Uruguay (still undecided on the latter two).

Also, it doesn't help that I am temping for a charity here in London five (sometimes six) days a week, which only gives me about five Sundays to sort all of this out!

Some people said to me that I'll probably spend the first week of my trip lying on a beach somewhere exhausted, and trying to recoup my energy for the rest of the holiday....I can see that happening!
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First Post

First post on my blog.

Short and quick introduction. I have a very international background with a life that has spanned living in five countries in three countries over the twenty something years of my life.

I am about to go on a long trip to South America for my gap year. It's my first time there, obviously I'm pretty excited!

My blog will mostly be about my adventures there. Stay tuned..
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