Rio de Janeiro Is a very big, noisy, dirty, congested city, sandwiched between beautiful beaches and fantastic green mountains. Due to our budget, we stayed in some very dodgy areas (read the full blog for more on this). We walked up Sugar Loaf Mountain, sat on Copacabana Beach and cycled to Christ the Redeemer. To top it all off we paddled in an outrigger with a local crew across to Niteroi. Which interestingly is where we are now and will be for a few days due to a little accident with a car. We are both OK just a little sore.
Full Blog – Gary in normal text, Ginette in italics
We are now in South America, Rio De Janeiro.
3rd and 4th June
We spent our first night in a hostel north of the airport it was only a short taxi ride, we arrived in Rio at about 8pm so didn’t fancy putting the bikes together at the airport.
Ginette – the flight went quickly, we flew with Norwegian Airways, food and sound quality on the sound system were mediocre but it was a budget flight which cost £177 without bikes and additional luggage.
I spent ages trying to find accommodation for the first night. I had been spoilt for choice. I eventually decided on something close to the airport, cheap with wifi. In my essential criteria, I should have included somewhere safe. When we arrived at the hostel the taxi driver insisted I stayed in the car. The hostel was in a very run down area of the city, we had driven past derelict buildings, piles of rubbish, smelly river added to this the roads were in a very poor state. The hostel was more like a very run down Airbnb we were greeted by a lovely young man with a facial twitch, who helped us to unload our bags and bikes and take them inside the compound, which was behind metal gates. The young man was keen to help us settle in we asked him if there was a bar/shop close by and in his broken English it was clear he did not think this was a good idea and showed us a menu. He proceeded to take our order and went out to purchase a fish burger and a beer for us. The room was not too bad, it had air conditioning but the walls were paper thin, our neighbours were very noisy but not as loud as the dogs that barked all night.
We had already decided to move closer to the beach on our second day in Rio but before doing so I thought it wise to check which areas we should avoid and was not surprised to find that tourists should avoid the northern areas especially the favelas (low run down areas) which is where we had spent our first night. On the upside, we got to see parts of the city most tourists don’t and probably don’t want to see.
The following day we cycled down to another hostel called Chill hostel not far from Copacabana beach. This was not a pleasant ride.
We had a lot of heavy traffic to contend with but the main problem was trying to navigate a route that didn’t use the main flyover arteries.
Ginette – not a pleasant ride is an understatement, the roads were wet from the rain and extremely busy with buses and big trucks whizzing by us all morning. A 20-mile journey took us 5 hours to complete. In fairness, this included lunch break which was in a self-service restaurant costing £7 for two big plates of food and a large beer.
We cycled around and passed lots of homeless people laying in doorways, under bridges and on the pavement. The majority of them lying lifeless under blankets covering their bodies and faces. I couldn’t help thinking how long did a dead person have to lie there before someone noticed them. It was rather depressing, but not unlike some of our cities.
After a spot of dinner, we set off again using the Apple iPhone and maps.me (I had to come off the Garmin route as it wanted me to take the big roads) the rest of the route was much better. We cycled paths and rode by the coast and docks the scenery was a great improvement on the earlier smelly dirty bits. (Smelly bits included raw sewage in the river, lots of it eww)
Ginette – We cycled passed the Science Museum which is an amazing looking building
Our hostel was in what might be termed a lower class area, on the top of a very steep hill overlooking Copacabana Beach and was pleasantly really nice.
Just as it was getting dark, which is about 6pm here, there were a few rounds of automatic gunfire nearby. We had seen lots of armed police and soldiers all day but hadn’t felt threatened, the armed presence is very high and somehow a little reassuring and unsettling at the same time.
We were both a bit weary and jet lagged so we had an early night, oh what party animals we are.
Ginette – the hostel is a big improvement on our previous one, the view (if you ignore the run-down properties below us) is very picturesque however I did not think sleep would come easily as we were surrounded by small ghetto type bars playing loud music but not long after inserting my earplugs and placing my eye blind on I was out like a light and slept really well.
a day of a climatising ourselves, to one of the biggest cities in South America.
It was a wet start to the day so we spent the morning internet searching, Gary seeking out things to do in Rio, while I looked at what to do in South America.
Mid-morning we set out to explore the Botanical Gardens only to arrive at our destination and decide that we didn’t want to spend £6 looking around, it was still very wet and not the weather to wander aimlessly around gardens. It was not a wasted trip we experienced going on the subway and taking a bus, which interestingly you access via a turnstile and has signs encouraging you to give up your seat for pregnant ladies, the elderly, disabled and obese. Unlike the Canary Islands, the drivers had no respect for the passengers and set off as passengers old or young tried to make their way to their seats. They also drove recklessly accelerating and jumping lanes to reach their destination as quick as they could. Passengers almost had to throw themselves out into the road to get noticed at bus stops.
We made our way back to the hostel via the lake (interesting birds), beaches (men fishing for rubbish (definitely not fish) from the sewer outlet) and shops (oh so many shops…) we didn’t get back to the hostel until 6pm we were exhausted. Our body clocks are taking a while to get used to Rio time, this is not helped by the fact that it gets dark at 4.30pm (still winter here) and it is so noisy at night.
I must be starting to relax a little as this morning I felt unsettled and wanted to do some exercise.
We opted to walk to Sugarloaf mountain, this was only approx 3 miles from our hostel. The walk to the area was just another meander through noisy busy city streets. But once there we walked along quiet forest type path with crashing the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a steep forest-clad rock on the other.
There is a cable car but it costs and we had been told we could walk up to the first cable car stop so opted to do this.
The climb was ok, a little steep in places but all up steps which made it manageable even though the ground was wet from the rain overnight. The views at the cable car station were very panoramic, looking out over the sea, islands, the city and Christ the Redeemer statue.
As we are cheapskates we didn’t bother paying to go the next hill as the views were very good and we’d been informed by our host that it wasn’t worth the money. On the way down we were treated to a close encounter with Marmoset monkeys, these are small monkeys and must be used to humans as they ventured pretty close to us.
If we had taken the cable car then we would not have had this experience.
The sun has finally come out so we had a short rest on Praia Vermelha beach.
We then took a picnic to Copacabana beach, it is a huge beach but was windy and had lots of hawkers selling their wares, including an offer of some weed.
A nice hot sunny day, topped off with the discovery that a litre of Rum is only £8, making it cheaper than most of the wines.
Our hostel is in a Favela area called Babylonia, a Favela is a slum area of potential high crime. We didn’t know this when we booked but it feels safe if not a little edgy. We figured if it was that dangerous then surely our hostel would not be able to operate or be advertised on Booking.com.
However, at the end of the day before sunset, we sat outside a local bar and an armed police patrol came by on full alert with rifles aimed at the houses and pulled tight into their shoulders ready for action. It was a really surreal feeling seeing this obviously dangerous and threatening behaviour whilst sitting with some locals and tourists that acted as if nothing strange was happening. So much so that I nearly forgot to include this little adventure in my diary.
The police and army have a very high presence on all the streets, they are everywhere and usually in large groups, having been here for a few days it now seems normal.
If you have a minute look up this area on the internet machine, we did after we returned from the bar and it sounds far worse than it looks, but then we don’t venture out at night.
Ginette – please note by the time you read this blog we will have moved to a different area.
We took a cycle ride to Christ the Redeemer, the initial ride through the city was a bit pants, when we reached the bottom of the climb we had to push the bikes as the road was steep and cobbled, after a short time we joined another road which was covered in asphalt and not as steep.
When we reached the top we decided not to pay the entrance fee as the views had been pretty good on the ride up (we are on a budget don’t you know).
There was light traffic up the hill but nothing like the chaos of the city. I was blessed with a view of a hummingbird which fed on a few red flowers in front of me.
After the Christ statue, we heeded further into the parque Nacional Tijuca, which is a rainforest in the mountains on the edge of Rio. The roads were much quieter, it would appear everyone else goes back down the hill after visiting the statue.
Ginette – their loss as it was quiet and much better than returning to the smelly, noisy city.
We couldn’t see a lot other than huge trees and waterfalls as the forest was pretty dense but the atmosphere was something else, all the time riding along listening to the sounds of the forest. I did have a bird of prey swoop in front of me screeching a call, I think it was disappointed it couldn’t make a meal of me.
Once out of the mountains we joined the beach road far further south than planned, we had an 8-mile cycle ride all along a great cycle path along all the beaches such as Ipanema and Copacabana.
We stopped at Ipanema to sunbathe for an hour, we were positioned near an open beach shower but I lucked out as it was only the men who came and washed the sand off, Ginette was happy as these guys were all nearly as fit as me.
Ginette – I think we need to return tomorrow. The beaches in Rio definitely attract fit, tanned bodies, it was easy to spot the westerner.
We stopped at Copacabana to watch the surfers while listening to some live music. As the sun was setting the beach areas came alive, everyone using the space, to either play, sell goods, ride/skate, sing, dance surf or play in the sea. It was fantastic to sit there and soak up the atmosphere. We had to cycle back at a leisurely pace as there was so many other cyclists, scooters and foot traffic.
We set an alarm for 5.50am so that we could get a taxi to an outrigger canoe club.
The taxi driver drove as if he was on a mission, shooting red lights and speeding around corners. Well, we had interrupted him, he was in a bar when we approached the cab, in fairness he could have been drinking coffee.
Rio Ocean Club agreed to take us out on one of there Saturday training sessions, they run these as well for non-paddlers as an Air B and B experience, we were charged £14.80 for the two of us (we think we received a discount as we are experienced, paddlers).
We took 3 OC6 canoes out. The entry into the sea was difficult due to the way the waves breaking on the shore, Ginette was in seat two and lost her footing but managed to hang on while we paddled out of the breaking surf then she got in the canoe but unfortunately cut her leg and elbow in the process. We were OK there were no sharks in the bay.
The paddle was pretty relaxed, far more so than we are used too but it was a great experience paddling in the warm waters of Rio with all the iconic scenery around us. There was a Navy submarine anchored offshore which is not normally there so we paddled out to it for a photo shoot.
We paddled across the bay to a small beach near Niteroi, there were a lot of other Outriggers there.
It was national clean-up day and the outrigger clubs had got together and cleaned up the beach. Ginette – I was amused the paddlers were being helped by some local garbage cleaners on the reverse of their high vis tops they had the word GARI, apparently, this is the term for garbage cleaner.
We all gathered in a hand holding circle and the two coaches gave an inspirational talk (at least we think it was inspirational we don’t know what was said as it was all in Portuguese). We find that the paddling communities around the world gather in these circles so even though we didn’t understand the language we understood the sentiment.
On the way back there were lots of other outrigger canoes, the sport is pretty popular here.
The paddle back onto the beach was the most exciting bit getting through the crashing waves in one piece. Our hosts were lovely and we had a great morning.
Paddling done we set off on foot to visit a landmark set of painted steep steps. On route, we came across an open market with live music so we had a snack and rest.
After the steps we walked up to Santa Teresa, an area of bars and arty stuff, popular we think because it has an old tram system running to it, we were not that impressed with the area, maybe if we had gone by tram instead of walking we may have bought into the atmosphere a bit more.
We chilled on Copacabana beach till the sun played hide and seek.
Ginette – I was hoping one of the many hawkers would stop and sell us sunglasses, sun tops or sweetcorn but the only thing we were offered was a lime alcoholic drink which we refused. Why is it when you want to be hassled nothing happens and when you want to chill out you are hassled none stop?
9 Jun 2019, Crash Sunday
Before we get to the crash.
We set off from our hostel ready to start our adventure, we headed along the cycle path to the ferry port past Flamingo beach.
It was Sunday and the beginning of the festival month for Rio the whole area had a vibrant and friendly feeling, lots of families out for walks, people playing football, volleyball, skateboarding plus several graduation ceremonies with all the students in caps and gowns and families in Sunday best. It was a lovely cycle ride and very slow due to the number of people around.
We took the ferry over to the East side to Niteroi, a straight forward affair and very easy plus cheap at approx £3 for both us and the bikes.
We headed towards a hostel ( we hadn’t booked as we were not sure if we could get the ferry) when I heard a thud and unpleasant gut-wrenching noises.
Ginette had been knocked off her bike by a taxi. She was laid on the floor with panniers spread across the road, she told me she was fine but she didn’t look it.
I am not an author so I can’t describe the thoughts and feelings when you look back at this scene other than the supposed relief that comes with Ginette talking and trying to stay calm herself. If I was an author then this could fill at least a whole book chapter.
However, she gingerly made her way to the side of the road while I picked up the spread of panniers. She was limping and shocked but it didn’t look like she was seriously hurt.
The taxi driver and his passenger stopped and were with us for ages, another cyclist stopped that fortunately spoke great English.
Ginette was bruised and battered but refused the offer from the taxi to take her to the hospital. The cyclist helped me repair Ginette’s bike which had the rear pannier bent so it was rubbing on the wheel. Hence the bike is OK and it’s only Net left with the bruises.
It looks like she took the hit on the pack pannier. This was from a side street, the lights had turned green as we had crossed In front of them and the taxi had sprinted off without seeing Ginette in front of him.
The helpers were very attentive but eventually, we were left to our own devices.
Ginette did try to cycle but her left leg was too sore.
Whilst sitting deciding what to do next with my I-phone in hand a couple of teenagers came and warned me that I should not have my phone out in this area as it is not safe, as you can imagine this was a bit disconcerting when we were as stuck as we were.
There were several options, send Ginette on in a taxi and I could walk the bikes or head for a google searched nearby apartment 1.5 k away. Ginette couldn’t cycle but was able to hobble along
Pushing the bike, when we reached the turnoff she was coping well so we opted to head for the hostel, another 3K.
On arrival they only had shared bunk rooms (8 to a room) so we used what little WiFi was available to book another place (the WiFi is shocking, it took ages to get on a site and do any searches, the lady at the hostel tethered our phone to hers so we could use her internet). We eventually booked a hotel but it was a further 2K back the way we had walked.
It took ages to find the place, booking.com has a nasty habit of not having the correct location for its hotels, this one was 3 blocks further down the road than marked on their map.
On the upside, it was in a good location right near the beach.
As it was late we ate in the hotel, banana pizza oh my god it was lush.
Ginette – first let me start by reiterating I am fine, I have twisted my knee so we have decided to rest it for a couple of days. The crash could have happened anywhere, the taxi driver claimed he didn’t see me as I was following Gary across the junction I can only imagine he was concentrating on the road ahead and not on the cycle path that ran across the junction. At least he stopped and seemed genuinely concerned. The cyclist that stopped said that car drivers have no respect for cyclists and that there are a lot of accidents but that is the same the world over. It has not deterred me but I think I may be a little more caution for a few days.