Travelers Digest 2004 World Tour
Before arriving in Rio, we spent ten days in the mega city of Sao Paulo, the second largest city in the world and while it may have the reputation of being the business capital of Latin America...it was not a city for the beach and party crowd. The nearest beach was a four hour bus ride...which is exactly where we headed as soon as we finished our five tour of the city and our sponsoring company...The Hilton Hotel. Boarding the bus for the coast we left the sprawling city of a thousand skyscrapers and large derelict slums, they slowly, but eventually disappeared behind us in the drizzling rain. An hour outside the city the sorrowful poverty and degenerate landscapes gave way to serene valleys, over-lapping mountains, flowing rivers and dense rain forests... The real beauty of Brazil was before us at last. The rain was steady as the bus made its twisting turns through the hills and staggering mountains. The fairly new bus gave a good and comfortable ride, which put us at ease as we witnessed the wonders of nature. The land stretched on and on and in its pure raw form it was obvious that nature bestowed her adoration in the flowing steep mountains that ever so gingerly gave birth to the turquoise waters of the south Atlantic.
The four hour ride left us at the dock just outside the quaint town of Sao Sebastiao where we were to board a ferry for the twenty minute journey through the unsettled waves between the coast and the Isle of Ilhabela. The flat ferry also acted as a car carrier and as it sat ever so low in the water, with the extra weight, the mild storm lifted the waves to cover the deck with ankle deep water. The water was warm and welcoming as I slipped off my Russian sandals. My camera was fluent in its goal as we worked jointly to capture the idyllic blending of white capped water, ghostly mountains cast in twilight's shadows and the faint lights glistening from the coastal beaches on the not so distant island of our destination. Peace settled into my thoughts as the splashing of the waves, the rocking of the ferry and the scant chatter of the locals harmonized in my mind.
As the boat docked and the people came back to life, we grabbed our bags and fell into line. As we departed the boat we walked up the dock and the few meters to a waiting taxi. The driver was laying across the front seat with his feet protruding from the window. It was the perfect setting for a tropical paradise and a good example of how life should be lived...in harmony. Awakening from his deep slumber it was apparent that most locals couldn't afford a taxi and his entire existence was dependent on the few tourists that managed to discover this out of the way little piece of paradise. As he looked up I spoke the only words needed...Por Favor villa! We were loaded in a minute and we raced off along the cobblestone lanes that ran parallel to the sand and tree covered coast. Fifteen minutes and ten Brazilian Reals, about three US dollars, later we pulled in front of an authentic Latin villa. The diverse definitely had a re-pore with the villa as this was his one and only choice of Villas. The older gentleman at the desk spoke some English, and as that he was the owner, he gave us a good price on a large room. The surf and sand lay only twenty meters away across the narrow road and the next morning, we discovered within a few blocks some good cafes, grocery stores and in the village, by bus, we even found an internet cafe. But these discoveries were to come later...after unpacking, it was time for some food. Just across the street we located a small bar and was prepared to forget about food and just drown down a few drinks before turning in, but as we discovered, the bar did offer food and it was quite good. They had sat up the kitchen on the other side of the road as the beach area was small and the locals mostly came to drink and socialize. We ordered and settled down with some entertaining music softly enhanced by the soothing splash of the surf. With our cold drink in hand we waited for what was to be some delicious dining.
After what we had hoped to be a good night sleep in the comfortable villa with no screens or air conditioning, we soon discovered after waging constant war will millions of starving mosquitoes set on feasting on our bodies...that the morning was to be a distant realization. By 6:AM the ungodly traffic began roaring louder than the swarming hordes of blood sucking mosquitoes. I was also evident that mufflers were a scarce commodity on the island. To revitalize by greatly damaged blood drained skin I took an ice cold shower. It was a good decision as i soon learned from my son that there was no hot water, another little luxury not available on the island. As a true adventurer I was still clinging to the expectation of discovering the hidden treasures of the very mountainous island. Truly it had some?
Our first day was mostly spent unwinding and in the early mid afternoon we hopped on a bus to the local village. We walked around visiting9ting numerous small shops and boutiques and had a light lunch at a cute cafe on the beach. As that we were in constant need of the internet, we finally settled in for a two hour typing spree to jog down our thoughts and weekly memories of our adventures and experiences thus far. Eventually we pried ourselves from the computers and went back into the sun and commenced a three mile stroll along the beach back toward the villa. With the surf on our right and the tree lined mountains on our left we allowed ourselves to relax and blend into the scenery. Kids and dogs abound in all directions as we stopped to film and photograph the picturesque Latin paradise.
On our second day, we got up fairly early and with the aid of the hotels owner, hired a guide and his very old and hopefully reliable, jeep. Only half of the island was explorable by road, even...even for a world war two jeep. The day adventure began ambient as we bounced along in the ancient relic with 4 wheels. With the top off we bounced down old weathered roads and goat trails we had no clue what the next curve would bring. The weather had been unrelenting for the first two days with wind and heavy rain and after about two hours into our trip we turned a sharp curve and the driver slammed to a sudden halt. The entire road was blocked by a major landslide...the entire side of a hill had came crashing down. Trees, tons of mud and giant boulders were sprawled across the road...totally and definitely...impassable. I grabbed my cameras and climbing to the top of the displaced rain forest I shot some film and photos, it was not a sight you see everyday. I snapped even more as I walked back to the jeep. Making a u-turn we headed to the northern side of the island. Going back pass our villa we shot, slowly, pass small villages, farm houses and totally bare forests and then headed straight up into the jagged mountain passes. As we climbed higher through the foreboding mountains we were enveloped by thick forests. After an hour or so we descended onto a gorgeous beach and like excited school children on a field trip piled from the jeep as we grabbed our bags containing our swimming suites and towels. We sank into the warm water and after becoming water logged took a break to walk the beach and coves in exploration of this section of heaven. If we wanted to see the other side of the island we would have to rent a boat, so renting a boat and guide on our third day was a necessity.
On our third and final day we were met by our prearranged guide at a small harbor. He was
The fourth morning found us waiting along the road for a taxi to the ferry. A new journey was beginning. The ferry over to the mainland was uneventful, but the trip to Sao Sebastiao was not so uneventful. We had no clue to the bus schedules or where each bus was going. Our small dilemma was becoming slightly painful as we sat on the hard concrete bench for an hour. Locals cam and went and we remained glued to the bench. After an hour and when my backside fell numb, I finally made a decision. As that we had no clue to the buses destinations and that there were no taxis...and as I have and will always be a true die-hard, and so it was on this day, We starting walking toward where we thought and hoped the town would be. The 120 kilos of luggage made sure we got more than enough exercise along the way. Life on the road, especially with us...is always an adventure...and I loved every moment.
The hour long walk was, to say the least, tedious and quickly became a body wrenching struggle as we fought to drag and carry our over stuffed bags. The three mile walk was finally rewarded when we entered the sleepy beach side section of Sao Sebastiao. The city itself was sprawled across a much larger area, but we were just where we wanted to be...in the older section as it had retained its original and more slower lifestyle. After some time, we found and checked into The Roma Hotel. It was quaint, secluded and comfortable. Built more like a motel with individual rooms stretching on two sides of the large treed court yard. After about fifteen minutes of haggling over his ridiculous price...we went to our separate rooms. Its the same all over the world...proprietors can smell a tourist before even seeing them...thus the old .but well rehearsed task bargaining began. I never pay their asking price as I am an old veteran of this silly game and managed to get the room thirty five percent lower than his asking price, which was still probably more than he would of charged a local. Dropping the bags in the room, I spent the quiet evening hours sitting in a small family park across the street while my staff hopped from bar to bar along the beach...only occasional alcoholics, but that's our goal...travel, promote tourism and have a lot of fun along the way. The only reason I didn't join them was that I had to review our recent photos on the screen of my digital camera and thus...the dark bench in the park. I would have my fun later. We only spent two nights in the area, but were destined to return many months later.
During the first afternoon in Sao Sebastio we met a local taxi driver and with some aid from the English speaking desk clerk managed to make a deal for him to drive us all the way up the coast to the grand city of Rio...The driver was more than happy to drive us as he was obviously bored of his local tariff and with just a little haggling gave us a really good price. Five hundred Brazilian Real or about $150 US dollars. Driving would give us the opportunities to stop, shoot film and take countless photos without being rushed or restricted by a bus or splurging on expensive airfare. The journey managed to take over ten hours as there were just too many stunning and desolate beaches, cliffs, mountain passes and adorable little villages along the way yearning to be photographed. We had managed to only see a tiny fraction of this huge country, as big as the continental USA. and we were slowly, but surely, being mesmerized by its overwhelming beauty.
Every town, city and village we drove through was built directly on the coast and each was
We checked in with an affiliate company in down town Copacabana and after some introductions and hardly hugs we were driven to our prearranged condo one block from the famous beach area and like children in Disney World...dropped our bags in the hallway and started exploring the streets along the beach. The noise of the city wasn't loud and obtrusive like other large cities, especially Athens. It was more a combination of light chatter, progressive, but subdued vehicle traffic and the ever present hum of the moving of hundreds of people along the semi-crowded walkways. Business men and women lingered in doorways of bars, shops and eateries ready to greet any prospective customers. Old men sat on anything available, from benches to buckets, and idled away their day with conversation and at times...long brooding. Countless Women of all ages and attire mingled and strolled through the shops and along the lanes and avenues, some shopping, but mostly window gazing. All were dressed to the limit of their economical status. We made our way to the famous Copacabana Beach, found a side-walk cafe and sat for awhile sipping some cola's. There was a small crowd gathered around a three membered street band and as they played some soothing but energizing Samba, we basked in our accomplishment...we had made it to Rio de Janeiro.
People watching is the fastest way to learn a culture and as a world traveler...I love watching people...anywhere and anytime. The poor of the outer regions of the city were abundant along the beach as darkness once again subdued the day. Mingling with the tourists and locals, they begged a little, entertained a little, shined shoes, sold small items of little value and mostly did what they could to survive in the concrete jungle. Throughout the world poverty is the main cause of criminal behavior and trying to exist in these dire hardships the most desperate people betray aggressive behavior...committing robbery and at times even worst crimes. Poverty and hopelessness are and have always been the root cause of actions and the only way to curb criminal behavior is by providing education and opportunities. It is definitely not solved, but only further agitated, by creating more restrictive laws and an increased police presence only breeds more oppression and thus increase the criminal environment. Participants, in order to not get apprehended...partake of even more brazen and at times, violent activities. The struggle for survival breeds more degenerate people and after a short learning curve, these hopeless people betray an even more complex criminal element. Doing what ever they feel is justified to obtain the means to not only survive, but to elevate their social status. Then the entire poverty situation becomes even more diversely complex and overwhelms the system. My personal belief is that its cheaper and wiser to feed the poor than it is to convert them to killers. The world is as safe as we make it...we must all contribute to bettering its degenerating condition, whether its conservation, preservation or helping the poor. The earth is home to each and every one of us and we are, like it or not...all connected.
To all you work-alcoholics and couch potatoes...turn off your television, set down your beer, park you gas guzzling SUV and get away from your life of repetition...enjoy your life while you have one...its very short and there is so much adventure, fun and glorious beauty to experience in this world and its in need of your awareness and is also just waiting for for you to add your involvement, laughter and amazement to the millions of voices around the globe...they are after all...just friends you haven't met yet! The Earth is a living library...check it out!