Other than that, we had a great trip! We took off driving Friday about 6:00 pm from Belo Horizonte. We decided to stop and spend the night in Petrópolis (the town just before Rio) so we could enter into the city with the safety of daylight. Unfortunately, we saw nowhere to stop for the night, so we ended up staying at the first decent looking motel on the very edge of Rio de Janeiro. We got there about 11:00 Friday night. (Maybe later this week I'll go into the differences between hotels and motels here...quite interesting!)
Saturday we got up and headed out at about 9:00 am. We checked into Hotel Vermont in Ipanema at 10:00 and immediately walked the 2 blocks down to the beach. And oh, what a beautiful sight it was: powdery sand, clear blue-green water, and a backdrop of mountains and blue skies. I borrowed the picture below from Wikipedia, since we were unable to get any of the beach.
It was a busy weekend at the beach, but the crowd didn't bother us a bit. We staked out a prime location right near the water so we'd have a good view of the water, waves, and beach walkers, and rented 2 chairs and an umbrella all for R$9 (US$5.15) for the entire day. Vendors were constantly walking along offering everything from sunscreen, bikinis and beach sheets (towels are not acceptable in Ipanema (maybe all of Rio?)-you must have a beach sheet) to coca-cola, beer, water, juice, tea from a big metal keg, biscoitos, skewers of fresh shrimp, and my favorite: cheese on a stick that they grill for you on these little portable grills they are walking around with. Forget packing a cooler to take to the beach with you here; it's much easier and just about as cheap to purchase anything you need from the comfort of your lounge chair.
The waves were great (5+ feet surges that rolled into perfect barrels before crashing down) and there was a super strong undertow. We had tons of fun and got a great workout jumping through and riding the waves and fighting for our life when we got rolled by a big one! We walked up and down the beach and spent some time just laying out people watching and catching a few rays.
We discovered the secret to an enjoyable time: SPF 50! I can't even begin to describe how many people we saw that were completely fried from the sun. Even some of the bronze Brasilians were turning a deep shade of reddish-purple from the intense UV rays. Everyone down on the beach was constantly slathering on sunscreen (including the obvious sun worshipers who were a gazillion times darker than us). We found that a sweatproof/waterproof SPF 50 would last half the day before needing to reapply. And, we still got tons of sun and the tan lines to prove it! It is amazing how strong the sun is here, but when you consider that we are closer to the equator than even Miami, I guess it does make sense.
After spending all day Saturday at the beach we got cleaned up and went out to supper at a restaurant called Garota de Ipanema (remember the song, "The Girl from Ipanema"?) Sunday we spent the morning back down on the beach and then drove to some neighboring beaches for the afternoon (stopping at Barra Beach for a late lunch before hitting the road at 3:30 to head home.) We wanted to go check out Copacabana, but there was some big show going on and the traffic was ridiculous going that way. We considered checking out some other sights, but decided just to do the beach this trip. With it being only a 5.5 hour drive for us, there will be many more trips to come!
We got back home about 9:00 last night and immediately crashed after showers. We were exhausted and it felt good to be back in our own comfortable bed. (The hotels that we've encountered here don't worry about putting great matresses in their rooms. They border on terrible actually. Our pillow top matress with featherbed felt really great to sore tired muscles last night!)
Looking down the palm tree lined main drag along the beach at Ipanema
Us all "dressed down" as instructed by our friends here. "Don't wear any jewelry-at all! Don't carry a wallet, just a little cash in each pocket." (Notice the cheap sunglasses even!)
Everyone was worried about us going to Rio alone and ending up lost in some favela and everything we own stolen from us. We actually felt really safe the whole time we were there, but it was nice not to be worried about my diamond ring, or Eric concerned about having his wallet snatched or anything else. We saw plenty of favelas, and we know crime is a very present issue in Rio, but I don't think Ipanema attracts the hardcore criminals. The worst we came across was one kid who asked for money and another who wanted the ice cream cones we were eating. Neither was successful with us (although it did make me feel a tiny bit guilty for eating ice cream in front of the poor street kid. But the germs! I couldn't let him eat after me...my throat was a little scratchy...maybe I was coming down with something...how cruel would it be to pass this on to some kid who didn't have health care?!? Ah, yes, I do love rationalization...and ice cream.)