Monday, August 10, 2009

Back in Mainz

I finally made it! After 10 months abroad (5 more than actually planned) in 7 countries (5 less than planned) I am back in Mainz.

And ´a saudade bate forte´...

It will take some time to get used to
- having normal furniture and not sleeping on couches, on the ground, in sleeping bags...
- not carrying all my belongings in my backpack...
- paying more than 1€ for lunch or dinner...
- not having to think twice which language to speak...
- not having to worry where I´ll sleep tonight...
- not being able to jump into the Atlantic after breakfast...
- not being told how to pronounce certain words by a 5 year old...
- being on time...
- using my mobil phone...
- not seeing, eating, doing something new everyday...

And the list goes on.

Anyhow, being back in Mainz, looking at my pictures, talking to my new friends from all over South America on skype I can say that these last 10 months were definately the best ones of my life and I will not forget a single day or a single encounter. Its not so much about the places I visited but the friends I made - just like the Mastercard commercials goes, 500€ to fly to Rio, 1€ for a deck chair on Copacabana beach, 2€ for a Caipirinha - making new friends and having fun - priceless ;-)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beach & Bikes

For the last two days Melanie from Couchsurfing stayed with us in Recreio. Yesterday we had some beers, a good laugh about Luis Claudio and his ´gay cow shoes´ (pink cow skin loafers!) and a late-night cake that tasted more like chocolate bread.

For today we had planned to go to the Burle Marx site but when we phoned this morning we found out that you have to book the guided tour in advance. And ufnortunately the tour is fully book for the next week. So we decided to cycle a bit and show Melanie the beautiful Parque da Prainha and the trail going up to the ´Mirante´ platform. Later we cycled to Grumari, where we had a great lunch-dinner of crab pastry, fish, rice and salad. We completed this perfect day at the beach in front of our road and a good hot coffee at home! Here are some of our many pictures!

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Magical Museum and Many Mosquitos

Yesterday we took a bus up to Alto da Boa Vista to visit the Museu do Acude. The museum is located in a beautiful villa and enchanted gardens, former residence of the late entrepreneur and art collector Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya (1894-1968).

Unfortunately the museum is closed on Tuesdays, which we only found out on arrival. But the friendly guards let us visit the gardens, showed us some information on Castro Maya´s life and achievements and told us about the history of the museum and the surrounding atlantic rainforest reserve of Floresta da Tijuca. It seems that they don´t receive many visitors and obviously felt sorry for us that we made the long way from Recreio only to find the museum closed, so they tried to show us as much as possible.

I absolutely fell in love with the museum - the light coming through the leaves of the huge old trees and the hidden statues gives the place an enchanted athmosphere. And the presence of the former owner of the site and founder of the museum, Castro Maya, can be felt in any tasteful detail and arrangement. The mosaics, the swimming pool, the garden arrangements... From what we learned from the guards and informations, Castro Maya was born in Paris as the youngest son of an engineer and an heiress of a traditional family of miners. He was brought up in Brazil but returned various times to France and always had great interest in France and French culture. An example of his love for French culture where i.a. the fancy dress parties he organized in the Vila do Açude. They were inspired by paintings from the Louvre and accompanied by music by Debussy. Walking around the enchanted garden of the villa you can imagine the magic of those parties and might wish to travel back in time.

After studying law Castro Maya became a successful entrepreneur. His company Industrial Carioca Cia., was dedicated to the vegetal oil production, being known for its more popular product, the Carioca coconut oil. The guard told us that many older visitors still remember the famous Carioca coconut oil. Besides being a successfull businessman, Castro Maya was a dedicated sportsman and supporter of sports, pioneer of ecological issues, author, art collector and founder of museums and cultural societies.

In 1943 the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Enrique Dodsworth, invited Castro Maya to co-ordinate the reconstruction and remodelling of the Tijuca forrest. For a symbolic wage of one dollar, earning him the nickname of ´one dollar man´, he directed the reform and urbanization of this area, a former coffee plantation. Soon the new urban park became a very popular weekend get-away for the cariocas, reaching up to 5.000 visitors per weekend in the late 40´s.

These numbers seem to have decreased as we found the park deserted! We walked up to the lovely Taunay waterfalls where we took the mandatory pictures and had a coffee in the oldfashioned little restaurant ´Bar da Cascatinha´. We completed this perfect day with another coffee and bolinho de bacalhau in the traditional restaurant on the main place of Alto da Boa vista, but had to leave soon due to the mosquito attacks. They are so numerous - and aggressive - that the staff of the restaurant put a bottle of repellent on your table even before taking the orders!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rio - the Tourist Circuit

After nearly three month in Rio I decided that it was time to leave Recreio and the beaches and get to know more of Rio. I had obtained the desired suntan and bikini mark so now it was time to do something for the mind and soul. As Bill hasn´t seen much of the usual tourist sights and museums neither, we made a list of ´what to visit´. Our first target was the Fort in Copacabana, housing the Museum of the Fort and the History of the Brazilian Army Museum. We went on a very warm and sunny day and the best thing about the fort definately is the great view over Copacabana beach, sugar loaf and Guanabara bay.

The museum of the fort is interesting but seeing that it was build in the same year as my home in Mainz, namely in 1909, much less ´historic´ than I thought it was ;-)

The fort is especially know for the ´18 of the Copacabana fort revolt´ in 1922. In the 1920´s young army officers asked for reforms in the power structure and a social modernization, calling for agrarian reform, the formation of co-operatives, and the nationalization of mines. This movement became known as the Tenente (lieutenant) revolt and came to public notice on 5 July 1922 when a group of young Brazilian Army officers began a rebellion against the Old Republic at Fort Copacabana. A group known subsequently as the ´18 of the Copacabana Fort revolt´ were led down Avenida Atlântica by Antônio de Siqueira Campos and Eduardo Gomes to confront the army loyalists. The eighteen made a last stand on the beach, where sixteen were killed and two, Gomes and de Siqueira Campos, survived. In the aftermath, the government imposed a state of emergency, 1,000 cadets were expelled from the army school and many officers posted to remote garrisons. More successfull revolts followed in 1924. The actions and ideas that grew out of the revolts inspired other individuals, such as Getúlio Vargas, to lead the 1930 revolution against the Brazilian Government and bring down the Old Republic.

In the History of the Brazilian Army Museum we travelled back in time even more. A small but interesting exhibition shows the history of the army from the first landing of the Portuguese and battles with Indians as well as other colonist nations to the fight for Independence and forming of the modern state. I especially enjoyed the lifesize mannequins wearing historic uniforms and weapons. Some wore less clothes and represented the local Indians. We tried to pick out Bill´s ancestors and thought we found them in the first scene, depicting the first landing of the Portuguese and trading with the locals ;-).

For more Indians we visited the great Museu del Indio in Botafogo. The signposting to the museum was bit misleading but we knew when we turned into the right street when we saw four Indians in full war paint walking towards us. Thank God they were not on the warpath but called it a day after presenting some dances and rituals in the museum.

The museum is housed in a colonial mansion in Botafogo and usually shows two or three different exhibitons. We visited one on ceramics and one titled ´The presence of the Invisible´, showing the traditions, believes and artworks of the Oiapoque indians living in the Nort of Brazil, close to the border with French Guyana. I especially enjoyed the legends of the Indians explaining the genesis of the world, the origin of humans and development of their traditions. The legend I kept in mind is about the emergence of body painting used by the Oiapoque:

One day the King of the Lizards saw the beautiful daughter of the chief sitting next to a river after taking a bath. He transformed himself into a human to talk to her but the typical pattern of his lizard skin stayed on him even after this transformation. When the daughter of the chief saw his beautifully painted body she fell in love with him and they met again and again and again. One time the King of the Lizards took her to the djungle and not able to contain himself he climbed a tree and turned a lizard. The daughter of the chief got so scared that she called her brothers who killed the King of the Lizards with bow and arrow. When dying he turned a human again, but still with the beautifully painted skin of a lizard. Impressed by this the Indians of the tribe started to paint their skin just like a lizards. Until now they still paint their skin with patterns and colours inspired by nature.

We watched a video about the indians painting each others skin. It was incredibly cute to see the smallest kids barely able to stand on their little legs but already painted in geografically patterns!

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Piranha

Getting ready for a crazy week of Carnival!

The Deaf Train

Nobody actually knows why the notorious ´Death Train´ actually bears this name. Lonely Planet offers a couple of explanations, from people falling off the train to getting stuck for days... Anyhow, we expected an adventure! But... as I have discussed with many fellow backpackers, it seems that the golden days of travelling and braving adventures are over!

We arrived at the train station about one hour before departure - well prepared with 2 liters of water each, sandwiches, cookies, apples... We had even worked out a plan of who would watch the baggage so the other one could sleep - or go to the toilet ;-) Unfortunately - the Deaf Train no longer merits is name!

Before boarding the train you have to check-in your baggage, just like on an airport. Once on board a nice attendand helps you to find your seat (all numbered, mind you!) and turns on the video screen providing on-board entertainment.

And this is where I discovered why nobody actually knows why the Death Train is called like that! It´s a pure misunderstanding - it shouldn´t be Death Train but Deaf Train, as after 11 hours of blaring salsa music you won´t be death but deaf! So forget about taking bottles of water and survival kits (you will be served dinner and breakfast) but make sure to bring quality earplugs - you will need it!