South America Day 17 - Home

Our final day and coming home. We have a good day here in Rio as we are being picked up at 4.30pm for the flight home. As usual the last day like this is a lot of waiting around and really you want to get going. The morning starts of wet and we think that a lot of the waiting will be indoors but as the morning moves on it gets much nicer and we have a pleasant day.

Off to the airport and Rio International isn't much to write home about, poor shopping and no restaurants. But eventually we board for the 9 hour flight home to Madrid and then on to Dublin.

With an hour to go to landing there's time to reflect on what was a great trip. The things that made it great? Well the good company of friends, great destinations, tours, accommodations, places to see and eat and drink. Nuevo Mundo arranged some excellent tours for us and some really good accommodation, so thank you!

What were the highlights and the bests?

Best accommodation: The Porto Bay International Rio was a good hotel in Rio, good location on the beach and friendly staff but the best was the Duque Boutique Hotel Buenos Aires. It's a small hotel with 14 rooms which are very well appointed although not huge. It has a lovely small lounge with a TV and a laptop with free Internet and WIFI throughout the hotel. Nice breakfast room. But the staff are exceptional. They are all young, cheerful, friendly and very helpful. So thank you to Eva, Flor, Facundo and the others.

Best breakfasts: The Porto Bay Rio had great breakfasts, loads of variety, great muesli, fruit, bread, juices etc and it really got you off to a great start to the day.

Best meal: Some great meals in Buenos Aires like the Don Julio in Palermo but just pipping it was probably the Cabana Las Lilas at the port where the steaks were excellent.

Best tour: This is where it gets hard to pick. We had some great guides in Valeria, Lourdes and Luis who made the trips all that more enjoyable. So again well done to Nuevo Mundo. Each trip had something different to offer but I suppose for the scenery, pure power and majesty of it all it has to be Iguazu Falls even with the poor weather.

Best scenes: It's hard to beat Rio for it's scenery. It's a lovely city with many contradictions like the difference between the rich and the poor and how it feels during the day and night. Views at and from the Corcovado and the Sugar Loaf are magnificent and the weather always helps enormously.

Finally having good friends and company really makes the difference in enjoying a trip like this. Thank you to you all. It's just a great pity that some had to drop out, we missed you Carmel and Ursula. Others didn't make it this trip either like Margaret, Jim, Anne, Tracey and Garth to name a few hopefully next time.

Bye bye South America until we meet again.

South America Day 16 - Rio

Last night we went to the Samba show at the Famous Plataforma. I had read that the show was a typical tourist attraction and partly because it was poorly attended last night it was, as one of the group said, a bit like the Irish dancing shows in Juries Hotel. Purely for the tourist and not of much substance. The costumes were colourful the acrobatics were good and one of the dancers was very good but overall a bit disappointing and not as good as the Tango night in BA which had much more to offer. A pity but I suppose everything can't be perfect. Afterwards we sat at one of the beachside bars and and a few drinks. An interesting incident somewhat sums up Rio and Copacabana. As we had just come back from the Samba club and I had my camera with me I wasn't going to bother putting it up in the room but just take it with me to the bar. But as I was leaving the hotel one of the hefty doormen looked concerned went back into the hotel and the concierge came out in a sort of panic and told me not secure to go out with camera and said he would hold it for me at the hotel counter. It reinforces the tension that one feels once it gets dark you never feel quite safe which is a great pity for such a beautiful city. It makes me appreciate more what we have at home but also in Marbella Spain where we feel safe to walk the streets even late at night and with the children.

Today we decided to head to Ipanema to see what it is like there. It is definitely a much nicer town with good shopping and little parks and a lovely lake. But it's also more expensive. There is not much difference between the beaches though. In fact the beach life is quite amazing. Different parts of the beaches have different crowds: teenagers, families, gays, etc. But they all have very good facilities. There are little bars every 50 meters or so. You don't need to bring anything with you as you can get your chairs, umbrellas, drinks there on the beach. There are volley ball, net ball, beach soccer-volley courts, outdoor gyms, cycle and running paths, free WIFI and of course the sea, beautiful beaches and beautiful people. A real paradise during daylight hours and a contrast to how it feels at night.

Tonight we have to pick a restaurant for our last holiday meal, that should be interesting.

We selected a Spanish Restaurant called Shirley. When we arrived we had to wait, it was a bit small, expensive, specialises in fish, and looked to be on a dodgy street so we decided to seek out a food bar friends had eaten at nearby. On the way we came across a lovely restaurant called Galleria 1618 set up in 2006 by two French ex-pats. And what a surprise it turned out to be. It has a lovely atmosphere, well decorated, friendly staff and the food was great. But the best part was the 4 piece Brazilian band, Furia Gitana (Passion Gypsie). Guitar, violin, a percussion and a singer. They are absolutely fantastic playing a mixture of Brazilian/Spanish music. Very similar to the Gypsy Kings in fact playing much of their hits. They are brilliant musicians with great voices. A fantastic last night to a great holiday.

In addition a Brazilian girl named Louisa and related to one of the band members says hello and asks where we are from. When we say Dublin she tells us she has been living in Dublin 3 The North Strand for the last two years with her Irish boyfriend whom she met in a bar on Copacabana. She's a lovely girl and great fun.

Tomorrow we head home with a late evening flight and we are looking forward to seeing the girls.

South America Day 15 - Rio

Today starts the lazy part of the holiday no tours it's now 10.45 and we've just finished breakfast and we are lounging by the poolside on the roof of our hotel. It's well into the 20s and due to be 32c today. By this time yesterday we had already finished the Sugar Loaf. No plans for the day but we may head to the beaches or down to see Ipanema who knows? The only plan is the Samba Show tonight and an Italian meal before hand.

South America Day 14 - Rio

Up early again for our second trip in Rio and the weather is brilliant again just perfect for our trip up the Sugar Loaf that overlooks the bay and its entry. Luis explains the origin of the name. When it was first named sugar cane was boiled and would solidify in a conical bowl. When the sugar was removed from the bowl it naturally took on the shape of the bowl and the mountain looks exactly like this shape hence the name. As we are there early we are on the first cable car of the day. There are two stages to the trip the first stage is to a mountain about half the size of the Sugar Loaf itself. Here there are shops, restaurants and of course great views. This is also right on the flight path to the domestic airport. In fact as the planes turn in towards the airport the are actually level or below you. After a look around and some information from Luis we head to the second cable car to the Sugar Loaf.

There is another platform area with shops and coffee areas though not as big as the first stop off. The views are naturally spectacular especially with the weather being so good and clear. From here we can see all around the bay, downtown and over the mountains behind Copacabana that would obscure our view from anywhere else of our beach. I don't like to keep using the word spectacular but it all is. Luis brings our attention to a family of tiny monkeys which I think he called Star Faced monkeys.

Our next stop is the Maracana soccer stadium which held the world cup final in 1950 and will again host it in 2014. When it was built originally it held 200,000 people but now due to FIFA regulations about all stadiums being fully seated its capacity is now 120,000 still very impressive. Luis arranges for tickets for four of the gang to go to a match here tonight.

The final two stops on our trip are the carnival stadium and the cathedral. Rio of course is famous for it's carnival held every year at the start of Lent. It lasts for nearly a week and everything closes down, including shops, banks the civil device etc. We are shown the main strip where the carnival passes judges and the stadium that holds over 80,000 people that view the procession. It's now coming up to midday and the heat is searing, it's hard to imagine how hot it feels during the summer.

Our last stop is the cathedral which is a modern building built in 1970 and is another fantastic sight. It is built like a bee hive. The walls are built with open squares which allows hot air to rise and cool air to circulate below. At the compass points north, south, east and west are exquisite huge stain glass windows that rise from above the entries to the top of the of the cathedral.

That completes the tour and we are brought to a restaurant for lunch but Ann and Mary decide to try the hang-gliding and Luis brings them to this. After a bit of lunch and some shopping we siesta before heading out for dinner while the 4 head off to their football match.

That finishes our tours although we considered some other options but in the end we decided that we would just go to a samba show tomorrow night and chill out and enjoy the hotel pool and beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.

View of Copacabana from Sugar Loaf.

South America Day 11 – Iguazu Falls

We thought we would have to be up this morning at 7.30am for our trip but because we had booked a private trip we were picked up at 9am instead, just bliss! We were also lucky with the weather as although it was forecast for rain it held off. It was cloudy and overcast and not so good for photos but at least it wasn't lashing like when we arrived yesterday.

After arriving at the Iguazu National Park we were taken by a train to our first stop, from there is was a 1.2 km walk to the Devils Throat. This is right at the top of the fall looking right down into the gushing water as it falls over the edge. There are walkways that take you right to the edge of the waterfall and to say it was spectacular is an understatement. It was a bit packed as yesterday was the start of the winter break for two weeks when the schools are off. But it was well worth it. The views over the waterfall are amazing and how they manage to build the walkways and platforms that are right on the edge of the waterfall is quite a feat.

We take the train back again and head for our second walk called the upper walk this is about half way up the waterfalls. Again about another 1km walk to the falls. There are over two hundred falls in total on the Agrentinian side of the river. The falls are on the Iguazu river and the border between Brazil and Argentina runs along the river. Further down the Iguazu joins the Paranha River overwhich we have a view from our hotel window and over this river is Paraguay.

Our final walk, the lower circuit is about 1.3km (in total we walk just over 6 km). From the lower circuit you can see from near the bottom of the waterfalls and the power of the water is apparent and truly amazing to see. From each corner the views just kept getting better and better until eventually you arrive at a platform that is virtually in the waterfall itself. For the very adventurist it is possible to get on a speed boat that holds about 30 people and ride straight under the falls itself but the closest we got to this is taking video of the mad ones doing it. It was a great trip and we are now knackered after all the walking. So a little shower and siesta is called for before happy hour at 6pm and heading off to dinner in the town. Tomorrow we see the falls from the Brazilian side and take our flight to Rio around 4pm.

See the photos here: Iguazu Falls Photos