Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rio de Janeiro part 2

Continuation of my previous post about Rio de Janeiro.

Day 4th
So this was the last day of 2009 and it turned out that we were going to celebrate the coming of 2010 with a big feast. So everyone was suggested to cook something from their country/region. The cooking went on for hours and then dinning went on for some more. It was greatest collaborative effort on cooking I had participated yet and also the biggest number of international cuisines in the same meal i.e from 5 different countries!


From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro



From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro


In the evening was the most awaited celebration of New year eve at the Famous Copacabana beach. As per wikipedia about 2 Million people get together to welcome the new year here. Just imagining that got me super excited. The one time when I saw a cricket stadium full of people I was astonished so I knew this was gonna be big.

Well we started from Maira's place about 9 PM with all those delays waiting for about 5 girls to get ready :D and as lots of departing photographs and good byes as other Couchsurfers were leaving permanently. Anyways by this time it turned out the buses have decreased frequency and the roads being full of water and traffic caused lots of delay, we somehow reached Niteroi stop in 1 hour. Now from Niteroi to Rio was another pain as no one would agree to go (for no apparent reason but traffic). Again some ad-hoc arrangement by Maira (needed Portuguese definitely) and we got a mini-van agreed to dropping us rt at a metro station. The clock was ticking fast it was already about 10:45.


From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro



From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro



Now the best part, it turns out that at this point the Metro tickets are not sold and you can only use the prepaid tickets which fortunately Maira had bought for the other CSers and who didn't collect from her :) So we got into the Metro! Wow what a relief. Of course the metro were as you would see Mumbai locals but with doors closed. Not an inch to move (well not really) and the crowd all super excited. I could almost felt like being in India during Ganesh Vijarsan, lots of noise, shouting, singing etc. And when the door would open for the people to get in everyone would say "Why, why" in portuguese.


From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro



From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro

We made it on time just about 10-15 minutes before 00:00 we reached the beach and OMG it was superb. Lots of people every where. The lightings from the buildings right across the roads look beautiful as did the well lit beach. The fireworks then begin at dot moment and Wow almost like those in Opening ceremonies of international sporting events mesmerized everyone. We watched and watched as they went on for next 10 minutes. I could totally agree Revillion in Brazil is one of the best new year parties in the world. Of course they had beer and Caiparinhas sold every 50 fts and at 3-5 Reals a glass and even with all that supply by about 4 AM everything was gone!

From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro


Day 5th/1st:
Next day was pretty laid back from the last nights party. However as we were about to leave Rio, I and Jake decided to visit Christo. The timings etc didn't work out and after spending almost 3.5 hrs transiting we were on our way to meet others at the Niteroi's beach. Not to realize we were walking on "Rua Rio Blanco" and we almost got mugged as a guy approached us very rapidly and we had to run across the road through the traffic for safety.

From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro



From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro



Niteroi's beach was pretty cool. Not very rocky or dirty and the much more safe (or may be because we were in a big group). Maira then showed us a bit of Sao Gancalo city through a car tour.


From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro



From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro
Day 6th/2nd:
As we missed visiting Christo last day, we went to Christo again, this time as a big group. On the pretext of being a very crowded day they increased the price of ticket by 10 Reals per head to 24.4 Reals. BTW, we decided to go in car instead of talking the train all the way which is recommended but costly. Also the lines for getting a ticket and entering are different so you can divide the group in to two and optimize time.
Besides the statue itself being huge and impressive in all senses, the views from the place are just as great. You can see islands, buildings, green mountains and perfectly blue ocean everything from that point. I wondered how nice would be the helicopter tour of the place be as I saw few helicopters go above us.


From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro



From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro


Being in the city I suggested visiting Copacabana beach, which I haven't seen in day light yet! That beach is beautiful but as with any common and popular beach has its share of dirtiness in the water as people through stuff around as the like. The beach front is pretty big and you can see lot of people walking or running across or playing beach Bollyball or other games.


From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro



In the evening was a surprise event, Paulo took us all to the Forro dance place. This place was huge, it was more like a stadium size location and as you would enter you will see a big active market along with multiple big dance performance venues/stages. Pretty impressive. I found myself tapping on the beats of Forro pretty soon as Paula has already given me some idea at home. I call that dance a double-merengue based on its beats. I was also impressed by some superb dancers there. Not unlike other days the party went on :) We would have come back home by about 6:30 AM.


From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro



From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro



The next day was the last one of the trip, we lazed around and by the afternoon it was time to leave to Paraty.

From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro - Part 1


Rio was expected to be the highlight of the whole Brazil trip and it was. Based on some articles on the web I imagined seeing 2 Million people on the Copacabana beach was going to be a very special moment and it turned out the whole journey to the beach from Sao Gancalo reaching the beach just in time was one of the happiest new year moments :)


From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro

Day 1st/28th: Arrive in Rio bus stop from Brasilia, picked up by Maira and Paulo. The first thing we did was a lunch at a per kilo restaurant, I love them because you can eat what you like and the price isn't for everything :) that was available to eat but "how much" you are eating. Then we tried buying a SIM card as it was going to necessary to coordinate with my hosts and other CSers and in case I get lost somewhere. I tried at least 3 different companies, Vivo, Claro and TIM but my cellphone which is a prepaid Nokia handset from T-mobile refused to work. Don't know what was the problem. By now I have figured that "Calling-card" for public telephones was the only other option against buying another prepaid phone. I bought the calling card. More on it later.
Went to Ipanema after leaving luggage at Maira's office for the "Free hugs" meeting, what a great way to the Rio PAN meeting, I met a lot of great CSers. But then it rained and we had to run before the scheduled ending time. We went to a bunch of hotel/bars to see which one can accommodate about 25 of us, most couldn't but after 3-4 trial we found a good place. As is common in Brazil restaurant/bar/hotel etc is a mixed concept, so you would typically go to one of these place whether you want to drink alcohol or eat food with non alcoholic drinks. I tried the Orange juice and liked it. Had to run to catch up Maira at her office.










 In the evening(meaning about 9:30 PM) I along with other surfers hosted by Maira headed out to Lapa the so-called (and appropriately so) Night life district for the CS talent show at .... The other folks who came with me decided to hang out of the pub and make there own "Caipiranhas", I went in instead where a big party followed all night. Later when it was time to leave I figure they had gone, OMG. With all you hear about Lapa you don't want to be in that situation of searching for them on the streets alone. So I asked a few surfers if they can host me for the next few hours and someone agreed, Relief :)


From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro

From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro
The fun didn't stop there apparently the host was pretty drunk :D so after finding the right bus and going around the city for about 30-40 minutes at about 5 AM, we were told this is the last stop :P. Now the four of us got out and the 2 other visiting CSers pretended they know the locality etc but we decided to take a car to reach the hosts' house. As it happens they had no idea. The cab took about 30 minutes and a lot of distance to reach the right place. First evening couldn't have been more fun :D Now this is what you miss when you go well planed. Btw the place of the host was amazing, beautiful view of beach right from the balcony. And icing on the cake it was about the sunrise team.


Day 2nd/29th: Okay the next morning, I woke up and realized OMG I have no idea where I am (I mean not in who brought me here sense, but where in the city am I kind). I met my hosts' father who was the only one awake at about mid noon. In my broken Portuńol I asked him how to go to metro/downtown etc. (Knowing I can reach M's office from there). As I got out I found it inevitable to walk on the beach. Went ahead and discovered I could get the nice Coconut water(aqua-coco) and cream thing, like roadside on South Indian highways, man that was amazing and totally worth 3 Reals(~1.9 dollars). After walking a lot on the beach I decided to go to downtown/metro. took a bus for Central thinking its downtown or Centro station, turns out it wasn't. Anyways I found myself near Botanical garden and having been recommended to visit I got down to visit it. Soon to realize I was low on cash, I tried multiple banks(Itau, Banco de Brazil) with no luck but ultimately Citibank gave a ray of hope and actually worked (Charging 10 Reals for Out of Bank or Out of Country transaction, whatever) The visit to Botanical garden was wonderful. You can definitely spend the whole day at that one place and still want to go back because of its tranquility, nature and beauty. After the visit I figured how to reach Metro (taking a Metro No-superfecile bus to a metro station) and wen on to Meet M, what a relief once again, The idea is that as it gets dark you don't want to be walking alone. Anyways she took me to the Colombia pastry place, which is huge. Its the first pastry shop of Rio city and would easily be the size of about 6000 square feets with 2 floors (so much for a Pastry and snacks place).
From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro
From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro
From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro
Later in the evening (again 10 PM or so) we headed to a party in Lapa again. This time M's friend Ellis gave me a ride to/from Niteroi where M dropped me with an excellent demonstration of her Brazilian driving skills, oh I should I tell, I can blindly trust a Brazilian to drive me around anytime now. They are just superb. The party mostly occupied by CSes went on pretty late, but at about 4:30 AM we decided to leave. That would have been a simple ending to a great evening if I got dropped home, not that didn't happen. E dropped me at a place with some ppl so I cud catch a bus to arrive at M's house and all three of them said, "Don't sleep off in the bus" and they said it for a reason :)
From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro
From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro
 I was pretty aware of bus and the stops going past and that I was getting closer to the destination but next thing I know the bus conductor wakes me (from outside the bus) at the bus stop. OMG! I can't believe I did that. Anyways the good thing it was already well lit and I decided to walk around and see what I can do. Asked directions to the people around and figured I was pretty close to the address. Finally some bit of walking and I was home at about 7 AM. What an adventure again! Day 3rd/30th: The third day went more relaxed. I slept all day long missing my plans to meet the CSers for something in the afternoon. I waited for M, so we cud go to the Scenatarium  party. I became a big group soon and we were pretty late for the party.
From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro
The club seemingly is one of the best and the line was about 100 ppl long when we reached. Soon we figured they have raised the cost of tickets from 15 for CSers to 30 for everyone (including CSers). Based on a common decision we left for some other place.
From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro
From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro
This place, MOFO bar, had a live band which I didn't enjoy much and therefore waited for DJ to bring some good music. Ultimately we danced till about 4:30 AM again and left for home.

From Brazil - Rio De Janeiro


The post is already long gotta continue part 2 in next one.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sao Paulo - Brazil

I spent about 3 days in Sao Paulo during my Brazil visit. First one on 24th December when I arrived in SP at GRU airport from San Francisco.

From GRU airport I head directly to the "Okupe" youth hostel near Vila Mariana metro station. Unlike you would imagine reading Wikitravel/wikipedia or travel guides going to SP downtown from GRU airport isn't the toughest thing in the world. Often you would hear recommendation of traveling taking a taxi which would have costed me about 85 Reals (~50 USD).
I anyways decided to take public transport as it looked decent and safe enough. The bus from Airport takes you to Tatuape Metro station for 3.55 Reals taking about 30-40 minutes. Then you can go to where-ever you want (and can) by Metro for 2.80 Reals. Overall 1.5 hours of transit time is a good upper limit

A word about the metro: Unlike some other city metros like Paris, UK, the Metro ticket price is fixed for any trip, irrespective of number of stations and transfers you have to take to reach your destination. Sweet isn't it ? zero confussion and very efficient. You can also buy a Unico card which comes for zero cost but minimum 15 Real initial credit and works for buses (and provides some discount on them).

Anyways, the Okupe hostel is pretty nice and close to Vila Mariana metro station. In the evening while going for the CouchSurfer's "Sem-familia" meeting the guy at the reception suggested me a walk along the Ave. Paulista to see the Christmas decorations, and I was very thankful to him for suggesting so. The buildings were pretty nicely decorated. Besides the photos I took a video too. Definitely recommended.



From Brazil-Sao Paulo




From Brazil-Sao Paulo




From Brazil-Sao Paulo


Next on was the first Brazilian dinner at Bella Paulista, I was imagining that would be Pasteries but not so I could find great dinner options (well for veggies anything more than 1 option is great :D). I ordered Pasta and liked it. We then had the "secret santa" game, now I don't know how its done elsewhere but here it meant we all pool in our gifts and then one person picks the name and whosever name is picked up gets to choose a gift, pretty interesting, everyone would try to guess the gift by weight, sound. Now I have never really celebrated Christmas (very strange why) so I definitely enjoyed every moment of this.



From Brazil-Sao Paulo




From Brazil-Sao Paulo


After the dinner we headed to some bar/pub, but most were closed. Eventually we hoped 2-3 cheap bars on the road side and selected one. I was not too keen on just sitting at one place and wanted to go to some place with music and dancing but decided to hang around, it turned out great. We must have reached the right bar by about 11 PM or so. Then the beer started pouring in and much as I remember the drinks continued till about 3 AM. I realized one thing you can definitely bet on a Brazilian's beer drinking capacity to be very high.



From Brazil-Sao Paulo




From Brazil-Sao Paulo


Next morning/afternoon, I decided to try the Ibirapuera park before heading to Airport for Brasilia. I followed the directions for a bit, found empty roads with loads of terrible(scary) graffiti and quickly decided to confirm at a nearby shop. Language barrier kicked in and ultimately I gave up.

-- After returning from Paraty --
I spent 2 more days in SP at the end of my trip. I knew that the city has lots of places to see and I can definitely finds things to do for 2 days.

For the first day, I went to Google's office in SP to make sure I have a laptop for my return stop-over at Mexico city airport for 14 hours. The office is on the Faria Lima avenue which is remarkably different from the rest of city, in some sense its like Greater SP which developed recently and is mostly commercial buildings.



From Brazil-Sao Paulo




From Brazil-Sao Paulo


In the evening I went on to attend the CouchSurfer's mid weekely meeting at Brigederia. Being slightly late and rainy I decided to take a taxy and realized very soon that dishonesty in cabbies exist in Brazil too. The guy quickly figured that I don't speak Portuguese and even with written address he won't feed it in the GPS but rather ask me how to go (fooling around). He drove me in a loop and was heading in wrong direction of road (Taking Google maps direction idea was a good thing). I asked him to pullover and walk by myself.

As the guide book says and locals concur, Av. Paulista and some streets around are pretty safe and active even late in the evening.

The CS event again went on till about 4 AM or so and then some of us with no agenda for next day spend another 30-40 minutes outside the restaurant before going home. As I had discovered by this time its very Brazilian to party up to 5 AM.

Next day my friend Jakeline joined me for a tour of the "Praca da Sé" and nearby places in the downtown, including Theatro muncipal, Cathredral Sé and famous Edificio Italia.

Cathedral sé is remarkably beautiful and magnificent. Its so grand that I was not able to take one proper shot from inside so as to cover a lot of the church in it.


From Brazil-Sao Paulo




From Brazil-Sao Paulo




From Brazil-Sao Paulo


We went to the Edificio Italia to see the view of city from top, but by 4:30 PM they won't allow you to go up until you dine in the costly roof top restaurant, you can catch some great views from the penultimate floor though:


From Brazil-Sao Paulo


My search for the magnet from Brazil wasn't very successful one but eventually at a Mall we found at least basic Brazilian magnets. The dream of finding a shirt with some good Portuguese message remains un-accomplised during this trip.

As I was warned by a friend 24th/25th isn't a great time to see the city in action as most places are closed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Brazil

For the Christmas and new year vacations of 2009-10 I went to Brazil. Looking back it looks like one of the best trips ever. I would be writing detailed post about every city but this one is a summary.

If the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Brazil is beautiful girls in Bikini on the beach on Rio you are not very different from most who have mostly got that image from TV. But once you visit Brazil you will realize its much more than that. Its a country I fell in love with much before I reached Rio's beaches.

Whats so special about Brazil ? Well to start with the people are amazing, hospitality and friendlyness is in the viens. Second Brazilian undoubtedly are the most party people I have ever seen. Its not unusual for a Brazilian party to start at 7-8 PM and go-on till 5-6 AM. Which implies the point that Brazilians love food and beer (and very rarely other drinks but definitely Caiparina) besides music and dancing. Overall the most merry ppl you will ever find IMO.

Now on to non-people things the country itself is beautiful with large landscapes filled with greenery, mountains, water bodies and beaches. On this regard its very similar to my other favourite place Kerala (in India). Brazilians definitely love greenery and water as you can see by either natural or man made lakes.

Another interesting thing about the country is that its amoung one of the fasted growing developing countries and if you see the new cities like Brasilia clearly give the feel of a developed country with all those good roads and buildings.

The country does has some problems of its own. Brazil's big cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are infamous for their crimes rates which clearly emerge because of a big social divide between the Rich and poor. The cost of living in Brazil is pretty high and increasing and the poor have increasing difficult time coping up.
A different language from most countries in the region and very limited English friendly environments can make the travel for a person not knowing portuguese quite hard. If you know at least some Spanish you are in much better spot but only English is not gonna be very helpful.
I am pretty sure these two issues does cost Brazil at least some Tourist loss.








Would like to mention this book which came pretty handy to start planning the trip. I have now used LP for Europe and Brazil and would probably buy it for any place I am spending quite some time at (thanks to my friend Thomas for suggesting the travel book idea based on his experience of exploring India.)

I visited 4 cities of Brazil, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Paraty which were all amazing and came to realize that I want to see much more, I already have some place in mind for my next trip: Ilha Grande, Foz de Iguazu, Florianpolis, Salvador and Amazonia.


Now some details many people ask about (and even I search for on net):
Approximate Costs: (find
My flight ticket (return) 1189 USD (+65 USD for travel insurance) from Orbitz via Aero Mexico (a post on why not to choose it follows)was
Plane ticket from Rio to Brasilia ~ 200 Reals (from Oceanair.com).
Bus ticket from Brasilia to Sao Paulo ~ 163 Reals (from util.com.br)
Hostel (dorm) costs typical 30-50 Reals
Food: 10-20 Reals for normal. 30-50 for fancy.
Overall cost about: 2100 USD (but be aware that I was hosted by friends for at least 8 out of 15 days).

Vegetarian Food:
- Not too many choices but you won't die.
- Ask them for custom sandwiches if you don't like any in menu, most shops can make Cheese sandwich for you
- Juices are amazing and very reasonable in price. Fruits are abundant too.
- Try going to Self-Service Per-Kilo restaurants to get a chance to pick food selectively.
- Italian food is you friend, Pasta places make them to your order, Pizza places always have cheese only pizza.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Getting a Brazil Visa

So, I applied for Brazil visa at the Brazil Consulate in San Francisco.. The process is very straight forward. The consulate is very helpful, welcoming and timely. I would think using a visa agent won't provide any great advantage.


0) Get an appointment from the website (this gets you a appointment time for visiting the Consulate).
1) Needed: 1 passport size photo, pre filled form.
2) USPS Money order for required fees addressed to Consulate General of Brazil (fees for Indian citizen, 20$, for US 130 $).
2) Passport with 6 months validity
3) Return tickets/Itinerary (I just took them to be sure, the website doesn't mention this to be required).
4) For getting the Passport returned by mail, use Express mail from USPS. (costed 17$).

The application process took about 30 minutes in total.  The visa took about 10 business days, my passport was returned duly is about 12 business days including delivery time. I choose to get the passport delivered as I didn't want to travel to San Francisco again.

BTW, when the consulate mentions they will only process 42(or whatever) applications per day it doesn't mean that you may or may not be able to apply visa that they if you get the appointment if means that you are in those 42 applications.