Brazil Travel post #13: Ciao! Goodbye, Brazil (intro post is here).
For our last night on the Tucano, the crew picked up a samba singer and dancer and we had a party on the top deck. The night was beautiful and one of the guides taught me how to make the perfect caiprinha.
The day we disembarked, we went for a city tour of Manaus before our afternoon flight. Below you’ll find the entry sign for CIGS; which is both a public zoo and a military installation.
Here soldiers train for intense, jungle warefare, and at the same time have devoted themselves to protecting wildlife from poachers.
As we continue our Manaus tour, we saw the famed Teatro Amazonas, an operahouse built by the first Portuguese settlers so they could still enjoy European-style High Society when they weren’t busy exploiting locals into rubber production. Sure is a beautiful spot!
That’s all she wrote! Or in my case, all he wrote. 16 days total spent travelling, and almost that long telling you about it. Was the trip worth it?
And now we have a baker’s dozen Brazil posts. I might as well put it all in one place:
Brazil Travel post #9: Welcome to the Jungle! (intro post is here).
Okay, here we are, finally heading into the jungle. And great timing too! One of our fellow travelers, Gerald Peek, took some amazing photos and I was able to access them yesterday. He graciously agreed to let me use them for this blog, so you’ll find a mix of Schannep and Peek photos below.
I’m still sorting through the photos, so that’s all for today, but coming up we’ll have jungle hikes, boat excursions, and river night life! Stay tuned.
Brazil Travel post #8: Cristo Redentor (intro post is here).
For our last stop in Rio de Janeiro, we’re headed to the top of Corcovado mountain to see one of the New 7 Wonders of the World (two down, five to go!). Cristo Redentor translates to “Christ the Redeemer” in English, and is one of the most iconic statues on earth.
In MURDERED, you head up to the top for a major clue in the interactive mystery, and if you so choose, you can take the tourist cog train to the top.
So, of course, I made it a priority to do so myself. You’ll find plenty of warnings out there about how hard it is to get tickets day-of (during a holiday! When the cruise ships are in port! Oh my!), but when you’re travelling in a pair, things can go your way. As soon as we got to the station, the ticket salesman informed us there were two more tickets available for the next train. Despite an afternoon rainstorm, we went for it.
The cog train takes you through the Tijuca forest, up the side of the mountain, and offers several in-car views of the city below.
Once you make it to the top, you’re shuffled past a half-dozen souvenir shops and multiple restaurants.
Eventually, you’ll make it to the top.
And what will you see?
And once you’re done trying to take your picture in the same pose, you can look out over the city yourself.
Brazil Travel post #7: Sightseeing 2 (intro post is here).
Today, let’s head back into the Atlantic Rainforest for some super amazing views.
Tijuca National Park
It’s likely that some of you noticed the lush and verdant Rio scenery and after yesterday’s post thought, “That’s only 10% of the original forest? Whoa.”
Whoa, indeed. But that’s because what you’re looking at isn’t the original forest. The Brazilian government actually brought the jungle back, replanting nearly 12 square miles of forest, thereby creating a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the largest and oldest man-made forests, having been restored in the late 1800s after concerns that the massive deforested farm lands were sucking the area dry of drinking water.
We enjoyed this restored rainforest with a guided jungle hike up a storied trail, all the way up the mountainside to the best view in the city. I must say, if I hadn’t been told, I wouldn’t have known this was “new” jungle.
Escadaria Selarón — The Tile Steps
After a late lunch we went to the famed tile steps, known as the Escadaria Selarón.The steps are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who began by simply repairing the steps in front of his own home with brightly colored, ceramic tile. The project eventually consumed the artist and continued to grow, expanding even to this day.
There are literally thousands of tiles, brought in from all over the world, so here you’ll see a small selection of those pieces that caught our eye.
That’s it for today!
Tomorrow? Let’s finish up our Rio sightseeing tour with a grand finale….
Brazil Travel post #6: Sightseeing 1 (intro post is here).
From the outset, I can tell you I’m going to have to split this topic into multiple parts. There were sooooo many sights to see, especially with a “MURDERED Bucket List” in my back pocket.
Jardim Botãnico — The Botanic Garden
Rio de Janeiro was once home to the expansive Atlantic Rainforest, a different type of jungle than its more famous Amazonian cousin. Once Rio was declared the capital of Brazil, the city flourished and the rainforest dwindled to roughly 10% of its original size. This was largely intentional, as Brazil became an important produce exporter, and as demand grew, so did the demand for farmland.
The botanic garden was founded in 1808 by King John VI of Portugal (Brazil was in the Portuguese empire at the time) who decreed that a garden should be built to see which foreign plants might best thrive in Brazil’s climate. Thus, the botanic gardens were born, and once that job was completed in 1822 they became a public site.
Today it is a beautiful park full of exotic flora, including 900 varietals of palm, as well as wild monkeys and hundreds of jungle birds. Here are a few of the fantastic images we captured:
MAR — Museu de Arte do Rio
From natural beauty to created beauty. The MAR holds some of Brazil’s most impressive artistic pieces. Let’s see a few.
Brazil Travel post #5: Food & Drink (intro post is here).
Brazil was a culinary delight. Travel not only serves to open one’s mind, but to broaden your palate as well. Join me now as I show the best this self-proclaimed foodie discovered on our trip.
Brazil is known for red meat and a “Churrasco” is the ultimate steakhouse experience.
It’s a special experience where young men (sometimes dressed in traditional cowboy garb), bring choice cuts of meat to your table, slice you off a bite, and continue on. You choose how much you’d like, which cuts, and if you’d like to make room for the salad bar. Hint: you’re not here for salad.
This type of experience can be found in MURDERED if you choose to go to São Paulo with Agent Bertram:
“Ever have churrasco?” Agent Bertram asks when he picks you up. Before you can answer, he adds, “There’s a great place near here.”
Flames leap out from the kitchen, kissing the meat as the chefs rotate each skewer, trying to keep in as much of the juices as they can. You’re in the Churrascaria now, a high-end restaurant dedicated to Brazilian beef. Churrasco is synonymous with barbeque in this country, and they have a specialized way of cooking it. The sizzling spit from the grill and the smell coming from the kitchen is intoxicating and on an empty stomach, you start to salivate.
“You’re in for a treat, Hotshot. Good luck looking the same at steak back in the US ever again.”
While we weren’t able to make it to São Paulo, we did go to the famed Churrascaria Búfalo in Manaus. If you’re in the area, go.
As mentioned, the exchange rate in Brazil is currently very favorable for those with American dollars to spend. To this end, we went for a gourmet sushi experience for our first night in Ipanema at a restaurant called Tenkai. We ordered specialty sake cocktails that blended Brazilian tastes with Japanese style. The Brazilian-made sake with lychee fruit was to die for. We couldn’t quite decide what to eat, so we opted for a 60-piece sushi feast. It was so big, they had to sail it in on a boat…
Aside from red meat, if you’re eating like the locals, you’re eating seafood and some variation of manioc (a root that’s a staple of the diet). Stews are ubiquitous, usually accompanied by rice. Breaded and fried entrees are common.
One of the best places for this type of food was at a restaurant in Urca called (wait for it)… Bar Urca.
Unlike most countries with a large oceanic border, Brazil seemed to serve primarily river fish. With the largest freshwater waterway in the world, this isn’t very surprising, but the entrees themselves certainly were. We tried many variety of fish on our Rio Negro boat tour (blog posts on this topic will arrive eventually, I promise!), and each one was new and exciting. If you’re someone who’s not into seafood because of that “fishy taste” — I’d recommend trying some river fish.
Bebidas — drinks!
Brazil also offered a full array of new and exciting drinks, from coffee to fruit juices to alcohol.
The drink you’ll find everywhere is the caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. Sugarcane rum, lime, ice, and more sugar.
Beer is also common, and even those imported from outside of Brazil could be exotic to us.
To end our drink experience, we decided to try to the Brazilian take on Colorado craft brews:
That’s it for today. I tried not to retread over the food/drink mentioned in previous posts (like the amazing breakfast at the Copacabana Palace!) or spoil too much for the future (piranha fishing! piranha fishing! OMG, piranha fishing!).
Brazil Travel post #4: The Favelas (intro post is here).
Today, we journey into one of Brazil’s favelas. What exactly is a favela, you ask? At it’s simplest, a slum, but the favelas are so much more than that. 11.4 million people live in one of Brazil’s ramshackle hillside communities. Let’s explore exactly what makes a favela so unique.
The favelas of Rio de Janeiro are world renowned stacks of poverty, drug use, prostitution, and violence. Rivaled only by the slums of Mumbai, you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than in the favelas of Rio. Or at least that’s how it used to be.
First, some history.
Before “favela” became a generic term, it was the name of one particular village. The first favela was formed at the turn of the 20th century, after the War of Canudos, the bloodiest military-on-civilian massacre in Brazil’s history. The soldiers killed nearly every man, woman, and child in a 30,000 person settlement in a military action dubbed a civil war.
When these 20,000 soldiers, many of whom were suffering from what we would today call PTSD returned to Rio, they found no government assistance nor any place to live. They founded the first favela, and it was named after a skin-irritating tree found in the massacre region.
From these inauspicious beginnings, more favelas cropped up as more poor citizens were displaced and found no other option but to band together and fend for themselves.
If your choices in MURDERED lead you to work with Agent Danly, and his subsequent investigation leads him into the favelas, it’s a prospect so dangerous that he’s hesitant to allow you to accompany him.
“Listen, you’re doing great, but I’m not sure you should stay with me. I aim to get to the bottom of this, even if that means coming head-to-head with the drug cartels in the favelas. You can’t even imagine what it’s like in there—gangsters dance in the clubs while shooting AK-47s in the air. Even the kids are armed and they won’t hesitate to shoot you if they think it’s worth a laugh. I can’t put your life in jeopardy like that…”
So if these place are so dangerous, why were we crazy enough to visit?
In preparation for 2014’s World Cup and this summer’s 2016 Olympics, Brazil has made a considerable crackdown on crime, and this includes “pacification” of the favelas. Pacification is a hostile take-over of the slums in a military operation. Elite special forces are sent in to take out any violent resistance, and then a permanent police force is left to keep the region free of drugs and firearms. In fact, once a favela has been pacified, the Brazilian flag is placed on a high building top — to show that the government has conquered this foreign territory within its own borders.
So while I was expecting this:
What we got was this:
Rocinha is one of Rio’s older pacified favelas, having been pacified in 2011, and our visit was full of unexpected experiences. The people who live there can range up to middle class, our guide informed us, and in addition to pacification, the city government has helped the community receive clean water, free electricity, even wi-fi.
We were a bit wary of a visit, not because we thought we’d be unsafe, but because we didn’t want to offend or exploit people or go on some sort of voyeur tour.
The visit was anything but. Our guide is a well-known figure in the community and the tour company gives back a portion of every ticket, totaling to tens of thousands of dollars donated thus far. There were smiling faces waiting to greet him by name, and we were even given a trip to see the schools they support.
In addition to the portion of our tour price donated, we bought jewelry made by the students, music and paintings made by locals, and even the “best caipirinha in Rio” at an alley shop.
If you ever get the opportunity, I’d highly recommend a visit to the favelas. Just make sure the one you go to has been pacified, use a reputable guide, and don’t go at night. Just because improvements are made, doesn’t mean those elements that gave the favelas their reputation are gone completely.
This is post #3 in my Brazil Travel series. If you haven’t kept up from the start, you can check that out here.
Graffiti has a big role to play in MURDERED. In fact, taking a picture of a graffiti mural is the whole reason your tourist character leaves a public street and becomes forever embroiled in a murder mystery. While the mural I describe in the book exists solely in my mind, the real street art of Rio inspired my imagination:
“In the preview on the LCD screen, you notice there’s the beginning of a graffiti mural sticking out from the adjoining alley. You peek around the corner to see the full image. It’s an angel, larger than life and in stunning detail. His hair is long and his face is placid, much like a beardless Christ. Yet this is a dark angel; his wings, not feathered, are formed from two AK-47 machine guns divided in broad symmetry. Two snakes wrap around his legs, originating from behind his ankles and enveloping his lower half like the caduceus, their heads biting his wrists and spreading his arms. A nuclear mushroom cloud which serves as his halo bursts forth from behind his flowing mane. In stylized calligraphy, the caption above reads, ‘Vou testemunhar.’“
It’s called anything from vandalism to street art, but no matter what you call it, tagging can be a powerful method of expression in large cities, specifically by its poorer citizens. While I don’t think this justifies someone putting their initials or callsign wherever they can, I do think that some graffiti transcends into art. Here are a few examples that stuck out to me during my travels. Unless otherwise noted, all pictures are from Rio de Janeiro.
Good one to end it on? Sure, good as any. The point is, it’s not like I asked a cab driver to take me around to all the best graffiti in the city. The stuff is just everywhere! These are all designs I just happened to see as I explored. In face, over half were taken from moving taxi windows. In my humble opinion, it adds character to the city. A certain depth and color, both literally and figuratively.
This is topic #2 in my Brazil Travel series. If you want to start at the beginning with the intro post, you can check that out here.
It’s impossible to think of Rio de Janeiro, and Brazil as a whole, without thinking of the beaches. And seeing as how we left Colorado in December, it’s one of the parts I was most looking forward to. Here’s a picture taken the day before we flew out.
And here is the view we found after landing:
I’ve mentioned that Manaus is a port city, but what you might not have known is that it’s solely a river port. And these are river beaches. In fact, the area of the Rio Negro where we visited is the largest freshwater archipelago in the world. That’s how big the rivers are down here!
The water is full of predators, as small as bacteria or parasites, famous like the anaconda or flesh-eating piranha, large and aggressive like caimen, or dangerously stealthy like the river stingrays lurking at the bottom. In MURDERED, I mentioned that the biggest bull sharks are known to swim upriver to hunt in fresh water.
But the absolute worst thing down here is the candiru, a parasitic fish that seeks out the smell of urine and will swim up your urethra if you pee. Plus, it has barbed fins so it can’t be easily pulled back out.
So, of course, we decided to go swimming in the river.
Since my mom is probably reading this, I will say we swam by a sandbar, which is safer because the animals are attracted to vegetation and a sandbar is essentially the desert of the river. Didn’t stomp around on the bottom, didn’t wiggle my toes, didn’t swim near anything that looked like a log, and definitely didn’t pee in the river.
The real beaches, however, are those famed spots found in Rio de Janeiro.
Good luck going to Ipanema without this song in your head.
This place is a world-renowned paradise. They have a wonderful beachfront walkway, including a sepearate bike path. During peak daylight hours, the whole side of traffic nearest to the beach is closed off for pedestrian use. People walk along, tan themselves on the beach, play volleyball or soccer (or a mix of both) and generally enjoy life. It’s legal to consume alcohol in public in Rio, so many enjoy drinks on the beach as well. Check out the view for yourself:
There are, of course, a few downsides. Crowds, for one. Another biggie is the poorwater quality. According to the Associated Press, the bacteria and virus levels are about as high as swimming in raw sewage. While we saw quite a few people in the water, we skipped this swim. Remember that urethra fish? Yeah, we would rather swim around that guy than go in the ocean in Rio. A fact that is made all the more painful by how oppressively hot it is down here. And I mean hot:
So, there’s a lot of sweating involved. Yet the perfect solution is waiting for you every quarter mile in the form of snack & drink stands. The perfect treat for my money was “Coco Verde”–a green coconut split open with a machete, ready for you to plunge a straw inside and taste the sweet, cool coconut water within. The first I tried was probably one of the most refreshing experiences in my entire life.
Connected just down the road from Ipanema, but if you’re not careful, you won’t even notice the transition.
Equally famed, this part of Rio does get it’s own earworm worthy song too:
During our visit, Copacabana beach was getting ready for the New Year celebration, which included some great sand castle art like the shot below:
Yet it isn’t all fun-and-games and sight-seeing. Rio can still be a dangerous city, even with the massive police crackdown that’s been going on since the World Cup and has ramped up for the Olympics. Opportunistic thieves are still prevalent in popular areas, and with so many people, the police often have to deal with violent outbreaks.
One such day, as we were walking on Ipanema beach, riot police stormed down to the shore. I couldn’t see what was going on, but a helicopter circled above with militarized police hanging out the sides, machine guns drawn.
We chose to keep walking without exploring the scene. What ever happened? I’m not sure, and I can’t find anything about it in the news either. Who knows, maybe I passed up a chance to work with Rio cops and DSS agents to try and solve a murder….
For the first post in my Brazil Travel series, we’re going to talk about lodgings. If you missed yesterday’s intro post, you can check that out here.
These are the places we stayed: A resort, a hostel, a palace, and a guestroom. As mentioned, we also stayed on a boat for a week, but that’s a post for another day.
Eco-Resort Hotel Tropical
Before we embarked on said boat, we stayed at a resort. When we flew into Brazil, our first stop was the port town of Manaus. The boat trip met at the lobby of this particular hotel, so we decided we should splurge and stay here. It’s unfortunate that Brazil’s economy isn’t doing so great right now, but as a result, this resort cost about as much as an average night in a chain-hotel in the United States. And here’s what we got:
What a fantastic way to end 22 hours of travel (three flights, each with layovers that required us to exit the terminal and go through security again at a new part of the airport. Not fun. I’m calling you out, Miami and Brasilia!). Everything was reasonably priced and they do mean “resort.” Three restaurants, two bars, tennis courts, massive swimming pool, private beach, and a mini-mall on site. This place even has its own zoo!
If you ever end up in Manaus, stay here. Just don’t use the taxis parked out front. Once in Rio de Janeiro, we quickly realized that the Manaus resort taxis were probably charging 3x what the city taxis would have cost.
Because we stayed in Rio from December 26th through the 31st (one of the most popular travel times in Brazil, matching up the holidays with summer in the southern hemisphere) the hotel situation was rather difficult. I wanted to stay where “you” stay in MURDERED, and I managed this to a point, but we couldn’t stay there the whole time due to the location’s massive popularity. We were forced to move around, which ended up being a lot of fun once we embraced it.
Hostel Che Lagarto Ipanema
Here’s where your American tourist character is staying with friends at the start of the book. Back when I was doing research, I picked this location because it’s a popular spot for young, unattached travelers, and it’s a location in the thick of things. It’s also recommended in the Lonely Planet tourist guidebook I consulted, so it seemed likely your character might have done the same.
As you can see in the hostel’s Facebook post above, I told the staff that I wrote a book featuring their location and they were very appreciative. The manager didn’t believe me at first, but once I showed him in the text, he flipped out. In a great way. He started off by showing all the workers on duty, then he moved on to showing all the guests who were present in the main lounge. That skin tone is due in part to the tropical heat, but mostly because it was a little embarrassing.
The hostel itself does what it says on the tin, and they’re quite good at it. They host events that change every day, ranging from parties to sight seeing. Each evening, there’s a “happy hour” where you get as many free drinks as you can down in half an hour (Caipirinhas, specifically. They’re the sugarcane-rum-based national cocktail). That, of course, is only the beginning of the party.
We’re a few years older than the target demographic, so we opted for a private room rather than sharing a communal area of bunkbeds and showers that is the signature of hostel lodging. If you decide to visit, bring earplugs. And ask to see the book!
PS — If you so choose, in MURDERED you can end up back at your hostel on the first night and meet the bartender at this very location.
The Copacabana Palace
Here’s how the next hotel is described in the book:
“The government SUV pulls up to the city’s most famous hotel, the Copacabana Palace. Only three miles up the road from your old hostel in Ipanema but three times the price for a room, you’re greeted with all the pomp and circumstance of a visiting rock star. The white façade is something out of the 1920s, and to be quite honest, it looks more like a presidential home than a hotel.”
Your other lodging choice in the book is getting set up at this luxurious hotel located directly on Copacabana beach. The center-stage for the New Year’s celebration known as “Réveillon” was set up on the beach directly in front of the hotel and a private archway was constructed so guests could move to and from the party. The rates for the holiday (New Years is huge in Brazil) were higher than the already normally pricey rooms.
Turns out…we didn’t actually stay here. It was way too expensive for us–BUT, we did manage to come for the poolside breakfast, and if you get the chance, I would highly recommend doing so yourself. A smorgasbord of fruits, pastries, and other exotic treats awaits.
If you’re able to afford it, I’d recommend you not miss this spot. And if you stop by to visit, they have a signed book too, so ask to see it!
Airbnb by the Sea
For our final lodging, we found a diamond in the rough. And by rough, I mean we rented a spare room in an affluent neighborhood right next to the ocean. Check out this view!
Go ahead, zoom in on that last picture. Just across the bay…it’s the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue! How amazing is that? We picked this place because it’s (a bit) out of the way, and because we could check out the other half of the city. The room is called Urca with beautiful view!!! and the deal is impossible to beat. Clean, and beautiful indeed, with a great price to boot. If you go, tell Cissa we said hi! She has a copy of the book too.