Arrived in Foz de Iguassu and quickly decided that I needed to sacrifice seeing the falls from the Brazilian side and get a flight to Rio de Janeiro as quickly as possible to try and do my number 1 destination of South America justice. Managed to get a decent price for the flight and was safely in Rio by 6. Disconcerting that having planned to do a little sightseeing, it was already starting to go dark (before I realised that although east of Argentina, Brazil actually an hour behind as Argentina out of sync). The Rough Guide guide book wisely warns against taking a very obtainable taxi, who are notorious for overcharging (start trying to ask for 70 Reals before offering 40, before asking how much I'm willing to offer - however the bus costs just 6.
50). Got off the bus in Botafogo with an old Danish guy. His hostal seemed ok so checked in for the 2 nights. Only 1 room mate (Kent from Canada) a nice guy and promptly invited me out for a Saturday night in Rio. We were joined by 2 girls (Lisa - French and Steffi - German). Went to a samba club playing live music in the party district of Lapa. Giant club with 4 floors (about 5000 people), all able to look down on the 7 piece band - 1 female singer with 3 drummers, 2 guitarists, a brass player and another string instrument. Good music with a very diverse crown including pensioners gyrating away without inhibitions - great to see. These Brazilians know how to party!! Club also know how to make money and instead of paying for drinks as you order them, all drinks get marked on a card and you pay at the end - very dangerous.
Got introduced to the world of Caipirinhas (gin like spirit served with suger, ice, and a squeezed whole lime - surprisingly good and very moreish). Same band played 45 minutes every hour and were still going when we left at 5 - good effort. Thankfully had enough money to pay the bill at the end of the night.
Penultimate day and loads to see in Rio before leaving. Agreed to get up (after 3 hours sleep) to go to Sugar Loaf mountain with Steffi. Not a great day but not enough time left to waste. However, good that the cable car up to the top of Sugar Loaf mountain much quieter than normal and only needed to wait 15 minues to go up. Intermediary station provided fleeting glimpses of the bay below and an occassional glimpse of Christ the Redeemer through the clouds.
Continued up to the top of Suger Loaf mountain but the view completely obscured with rain coming down. Took some comedy photos of the what would normally be a great view over Rio but instead white blanket. Stayed at the summit long enough for a drink with fleeting glimpses of bays and beaches below before we gave it up as a bad job. Passed a cute monkey 3 foot off path enjoying his lunch with a juicy caterpillar pulling its stringy intestines out like mozzarella off pizza. Steffi and I got back to hostal at 2 to find Kent and Lisa still in bed. However Lisa quickly up when I told her I was trying to get in to the Maracana for the Brazilian equivalent of the FA Cup final. No time for food, Lisa introduced me to salgado - an odd Brazilian chicken ball covered in a doughy cheese case - very nice and filling.
Caught the underground metro whilst starting to worry that we hadn't been organised enough to buy a ticket in advance and won't be able to get a ticket by arriving just 30 minutes before the kick off - no worries necessary as managed to buy a ticket for just double face value of £6. Thankfully ticket genuine and got into ground okay. No seat numbers so we picked a gate and walked into stadium where we were hit hit by the roar of 90000 fanatical fans with 20 foot flags and firecrackers being set off all round the ground. Found 2 seats to stand on and a bonus€to find that the match was between 2 Rio teams (Botafogo and Flamengo) and we were in the Botafogo end (even better as our hostal was in Botafogo). Soaked up the atmosphere with the Botafogo band about 6 rows behind us.
Didn't recognise any of the names of each team but the quality definitely there and 1st half good quality game (although many of the dives were laughable). 2nd half far more feisty with skill disappearing and replaced by cynical fouls all over the pitch. Culminated in a penalty for Flamengo which resulted in an equalising goal. Mass brawl after the goal resulting in a player of each team getting sent off. Scrappiness continued with a 2nd Botafogo player being sent off. Looking forward to extra time when Flamengo got a winner 5 minutes into injury time. Flamengo fans going wild whilst we were left on our own at our end. Lisa and I traitors to our home club by buying a Flamengo top each on exit from ground (well it did look better).
Great experience although ground not quite as impresive as Nou Camp (although atmosphere unbeatable).
Last day in South America and needing to get to Christ the Redeemer. Better day and high cloud giving good view of the mountain overlooking Rio. Decided to walk to base of mountain to get train up to summit. However keeping the mountain in view, I managed to take the one turn that took me into a warren of cul de sacs. Lost half an hour getting back out and then seeing a notorious tunnel famed for robberies, decided to give up and get a taxi. Got ticket, but had to wait an hour for train up hill. By the time the train left, cloud had descended and really frustrating to have lost all views of Rio and Christ the Redeemer.
Mass crowds stood transfixed the the giant statue above waiting for a glimpse as cloud lowered and raised and swirled around so close to lifting above statue. After 15 minutes of waiting, huge cheer erupted, more appropriate to the match the previous night as the cloud lifted giving a perect view of the impressive statue of Christ the Redeemer spreading its arms over the stunning bays around Rio and across to Sugar Loaf mountain. Regretting not having my broken Panasonic Lumix to do the views justice. One of the most famous views in the world, living up to expectations. Having got my photos, rushed to train to beat mass crowds to get taxi to the infamous Rio beaches. Walked the length of the stunning Ipanema beach with gorgeous white sand before hitting its more famous but more commercial Copacabana.
If anything, sand even better with waves crashing in. Went for my last meal looking out on the beach with Sugar Loaf mountain towering in the background. Fittingly had my favourite meal of the whole holiday that I'd discovered in northern Peru (ceviche) with a couple of beers soaking up a few last rays of sun in the 34 degree heat. Far too relaxing and spent a little too much time taking in the phenomenal setting before having to rush back to hostal, pick up my bags and move straight onto the airport for my homeward bound journey.
Most people gutted to be finishing their holiday but after 102 days, contentedly reflected on managing to fit almost everything I'd wanted to into my time, having met a lot of great people, and seen some of the most impressive, highest, biggest, unique sights in the world.
All this managed successfully travelling for half of it with Dave, my close friend, but more satisyingly half having had the bottle to travel solo (although didn't really have more than 4 days on my own having met so many other people along the way). More importantly though, able to return very positive to move forward in life. And that's a good place to be...........