Tag Archives: Brazil

Iguazu Falls: Argentina vs Brazil

27 Mar

A tale of two sides: Iguazu Falls. Iguazu Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and it’s easy to see why. Iguazu is at the intersection of 3 countries: Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Due to its geography, Paraguay got unlucky and none of the views and touristic opportunities fall on its side. Which leaves us with the other two.

Argentina. The Argentines sure know how to develop an area and make the most of it. The Argentine side is crowded, claustrophobic, and concrete. The first thing that came to our minds was Disneyland! There are huge queues of people waiting for the trams and boats, and tons of those photographer people who take your picture and try to sell you the prints. The Argentine side allows hikes right up to the edge of many waterfalls, which gives you a sense of the sheer power and volume these falls contain. Unless you have boundless energy and are immune to the effects of high heat, it’s very difficult to explore everything on this side in one day. As an FYI for anyone interested in visiting, you can get 50% off admission on day 2.
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Garganta del Diablo. Incredible and breathtaking. As Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly said, “Poor Niagara!”

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Tons of people jostling for pictures.

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The Brazilian side is more natural, quieter, and cooler. Less commercialized. You start with a 20-minute open-air bus ride through the forest before you arrive at the falls. From there, you get beautiful panoramic views of falls on both the Brazilian side as well as on the Argentine side. There are less people which gives more opportunities for picture taking and leisurely walks. We like the Brazilian side better and feel waterfalls are best viewed from farther away.

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We are glad we had the chance to visit both sides. Despite personally not enjoying the Argentina side as much as the Brazil side, both have much to offer. It definitely was incredible to be up close and personal with Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) on the Argentina side.

Anyone been to both sides and have a preference?

Favelas in Rio de Janeiro

27 Mar

On Sunday we took a tour of Rio’s famous (or infamous) favelas. Favelas are shantytowns of poor people who build up illegal residences in the hills of Rio. These areas are all controlled by drug lords and provide security for the residents. Favelas are unofficially recognized by the government–the citizens have a vote and access to healthcare, but they don’t pay any taxes.

During our tour of Favela Rocinha, we never felt threatened because the government recently raided the place and eliminated the dealers in this particular favela 3 months ago. The process is called “pacification.” This favela was full of people going about their ordinary business (in this case, buying groceries at the Sunday market). It actually didn’t look too different from regular poor areas in Oakland or Los Angeles, except the housing is much, much denser.

Random facts: our tour guide told us that many famous Brazilian soccer players come from favelas. Scouts visit favelas and pick out kids that show talent, bring them into the city to train. After playing locally, the players end up in Europe where they become rich, retire, get fat, play golf, and enter politics. Example: Ronaldo and Romario. (side note: Jerry told me that Brazilian players go by one name- for example, Pele).

Favelas can pop up overnight sometimes on an unclaimed mountain side.

The favela population makes up 2 million of Rio’s 7 million population.

They are an integral part of Carnaval. They make the costumes and perform in parades. Our guide said the hottest and prettiest girls that perform in Carnaval come from favelas.

The biggest problem in the favela is not drugs, but alcoholism.

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There is only one road in and out of favelas. Makes access very controlled.

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Everyone has satellite TV. The highest priority for all residents in favelas is to have a big screen plasma tv in order for them to watch soccer games.

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Somehow the wires work!

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Very narrow hallways.

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Our Ghetto Apartment in a Fab Location

25 Mar

A few months before the trip started, we had difficulty finding reasonable housing in Rio. All of the hotels in Copacabana and Ipanema are extremely expensive (upwards of $300/night), and the hostels are dirty and somewhat unsafe. We decided to give Airbnb a shot. There seemed to be a few reasonable options in some prime areas, and we booked a place that was in a great location for $78/night.

It turns out that this place sucks and you get what you pay for! The reviews were all glowing…up until about a week before we checked in. We got nervous but told ourselves it was okay, because maybe the recent disgruntled reviews came from high maintenance folks or something, and that it couldn’t be that bad. So the verdict?

The studio apartment itself is clean, wifi is consistent and fast, there’s a washing machine, and the bed is decently comfortable, but it goes downhill from there. The refrigerator door is falling off its hinges. The bathroom is a small, damp, and dirty place. The toilet seat is pretty scratched up and is painful to sit on for more than a few minutes. The washing machine dumps the dirty water back into the shower to drain! And the gas in the kitchen leaks badly, forcing me to turn off the main gas at all times except when Jeannie showers (it’s so hot here in Rio that I shower cold). We wouldn’t dare try cooking here with this gas leak. We have to be careful to not leave food out because of ants (they are tiny here though). While our host was showing us around, we saw a huge cockroach. Luckily after our host got rid of it, we haven’t seen any since, although we have seen cockroaches in markets, restaurants, and on the street. We can hear our neighbors at all hours of the day and night. (They seem to like 90s Top 40 music!)

Despite the misgivings, it has been very convenient to do laundry with a machine. The last time our clothes were laundered by a machine was 2.5 weeks ago in Easter Island, and it cost us $22. That sounds like a long time, but we’ve been alternating between cold and hot weather clothing all month, so it’s been manageable to go this long. It will be great to start off the Asia leg with a backpack of completely clean clothes though!

There is an AC unit that is fully functional, definitely a luxury that we have been taking advantage of! Though the fridge door is wonky, it is glorious and convenient to access our store-bought water, juices, and fruit immediately.

Also, this location can’t be beat. Our studio is located in a cul de sac with all high rise apartment buildings and a subway stop steps from our door. The front entrance of our building is locked during most of the day and you need to be buzzed in. The neighborhood feels pretty safe, there are lots of people with their children and dogs bustling about. Within a 2-3 block radius of us, there are numerous bus lines (the subway is limited), fully stocked supermarkets, restaurants, banks, and both Ipanema and Copacabana beaches.

However, we can’t wait to leave this place tomorrow. Onward to Tokyo, one of the cleanest cities in the world!

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Escadaria Selaron

23 Mar

Warning, picture heavy post!

Today we subway-ed to the neighborhood of Santa Teresa, where we explored Escadaria Selaron, a series of steps adorned with colorful and unique tiles from all over the world. It was super neat!

I’ll let the pictures do the blogging!

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This is the artist/namesake. He still works on this every day! His home is here as well.

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That’s him again!

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It was sweltering hot, but Jerry was very patient as I ended up taking pics of almost every tile. There were even more pics than what’s in this post! Some people recommend to start from the top and go down, but that makes no sense to us because you can’t see anything as you walk down, and you’d have to keeping turning around at every landing. Plus I think it is safer to enter from the bottom, there are more ppl around. The top seemed more residential.

I definitely recommend a visit to these steps if you find yourself in Rio. It’s very unique, very Brazil, but at the same time, very universal.

First Impressions: Rio de Janeiro

22 Mar

Unlike most of South America, I’ve seen zero stray dogs! There are quite a few dog owners here, but it could be due to our location, might not be representative of the rest of the city.

Traffic in Rio is baaaaaaaaaad. And I thought LA traffic was bad. Nope, I think Rio is worse. We unintentionally booked flights flying into busy cities (Rio and Buenos Aires) during rush hour. We weren’t in a rush to get to our accommodations or anything but still it sucked to sit in traffic for that long.

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Rio is fruit juice (suco) capital! Anybody who knows me well knows that I loooooove fruit, so I am in heaven right now. In the laste 12 hours we’ve had mango, pineapple, watermelon, orange, and coconut juices. Can’t wait to try more flavors. Must do some translations tonight.

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Less Brazilians smoke compared to those in Peru, Chile, and Argentina. In Argentina pretty much I was inhaling SHS (secondhand smoke) at least every 15 minutes while out in public and sometimes continuously for even longer (no joke!) and here it’s maybe every half hour so far. I think it’s sad when I see mothers/fathers/pet owners smoke right in front of their child/pet. Makes me wonder how much SHS they are exposed to at home. And in related news just very recently, Brazil will ban the sale of flavored cigarettes. Awesome! Thanks to my old colleagues/Facebook friends for keeping me in the know!

Just when I was picking up my HS Spanish again, we had to switch to Portuguese. For some reason, ignorant me thought that Brazilians would have some knowledge of Spanish. Nope. Wrong again. Traveling is knowledge!

Taxis are metered and very reasonable. Kind of nice to not have to bargain for once. It only cost us $33 to get from the airport to our digs in Ipanema. The ride was at least an hour long! A taxi ride in LA used to cost us $22 for a 10 minute ride from LAX to our old house!

Rio doesn’t have the best reputation for safety. So we’ve taken some extra precautions like leaving our jewelry and watches at our place, and we only carry photocopies of passports on us. We also try to only use our big camera in very touristy areas, such as the Christ the Redeemer statue. We didn’t even bother bringing our camera to dinner tonight. All other times we try to be on our guard and to walk in very public areas. We are staying in a pretty safe and public neighborhood, but better safe than sorry!

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I used an awesome iPhone app called Photosynth to create this shot. Basically you take a bunch of pics and the app stitches them all together pretty seamlessly.

We’re here through the weekend and then on Monday evening we’re on a flight to Tokyo!

To Tour or Not To Tour

15 Feb

image via Cafepress

Many of the vacations I took as a kid were tour-based (6am wake-up call, only 1 hour in a museum that usually takes a solid afternoon to explore, 10 minute pee break or the bus leaves without you, buffets and chains galore).  Tours are a great option for those who like to just show up and leave the planning and itinerary up to someone else.  It’s not really our style to go on such tours, we find many tours to not be at a pace that we like (either way too slow or rushed).  But I know there will be days where I will just want to wake up and let someone show me around for the day.

So in the spirit of trying new things (or giving old things a chance), I’ve researched some tours for South America that I’m pretty excited about!

For Machu Picchu, we booked with Llama Path based on our friends N+M’s recs.
In Santiago, I’m leaning towards the Spicy Chile walking tours, and in Buenos Aires, the Buenos Aires Free Tour has rave reviews.
Hielo y Aventura is a must for Patagonia.

Other places we’ll probably forgo tours are Easter Island and Iguazu Falls.  We’re undecided on whether we’ll go on a favela tour in Rio.  Would you do a favela tour?

So what’s the verdict folks?  Do you love tours for its convenience and ease, stay away cus it’s not your cup of tea, or are you like us and somewhere in between?  Share in the comments or in the poll below!

Lesson Learned: Visas

13 Feb

Woohoo! Our final visa from the Indian Embassy in San Francisco just came in the mail. This one ended up being a little too close for comfort because we didn’t calculate all the time required to sequentially process each visa. On the other hand, we didn’t want to apply too early because some of the visas start the clock immediately after issue. The Indian visa in particular, expires 6 months from date of issue, and we’re not planning on being there for another 3-4 months.

Here’s a rundown of the four visas which we had to send our passport in for processing. Many other countries require fees upon entry and/or exit, but no official visa is required.

China – 1 year from date of issue, $140 pp. Apply in person, one week processing time, they take your passport. The Los Angeles visa office is reminiscent of the DMV, but with cute old Chinese ladies. “B203, go to window #2, G319, go to window #5.”

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Brazil – 10 years from date of issue, $140 pp. Must apply in person, one week processing time, they take your passport. The most colorful and cheerful visa office ever!  Being that we’re only going to be in Brazil for 5.5 days, we’ll have to come back sometime in the next decade to make it worth it!

Vietnam – 1 month from date of arrival specified, $80 pp. Can either be loose-leaf (don’t need passport) or passport sticker (you mail in the passport to Washington DC embassy). The website is ultra confusing, and does not list prices. You have to call or email the embassy in DC for prices. In Jeannie’s family’s experiences, the visa paperwork is taken care of by the travel agent who books the flights.

India – 6 months from date of issue, $76 pp. Must mail your passport to the Travisa office in San Francisco. I’ve heard some hit-and-miss things about the Indian embassy on the internet, but (thankfully) our visas were processed in 2 days, and was 7 days total door-to-door. Others have reported taking several weeks for their visas.

Here’s a tip- we went the DIY passport photo route and made a whole stack of passport-sized photos. That way, we could just grab as we went along without having to stop and print extras. This was extra handy for the Vietnam visa, since they required 2 copies of the passport photo.

Lesson learned: next time, we will apply a week or two earlier!

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