Monday, June 10, 2013

How I enjoyed the Rio great outdoors by flying, running and climbing

Having never visited Rio before, I had this image of a crazy city in the middle of a constant carnival and ever-lasting partying. While Lapa (Kind of like LKF in HK) at night was pretty insane (everyone danced everywhere to everything), sadly, I didn't have the chance to witness the famed carnival. For me, the outdoor experiences were actually the highlights of my trip and it was a great way for me to understand the culture of the city. 

Flying over the fevelas 
The fevelas are an unique part of Rio landscape. These slum were one time filled with crimes, gangs, drugs, and extreme violence. (If you haven't seen it, City of Gods is a amazing, yet violent, movie about the fevelas) Recently, however, the government have instituted a program to clean up the fevelas to prepare for the olympics. As the result, the poor gangs and the drug dealers were forced out and the streets were cleaned up. By the time that I went on a fevela tour, the crowded streets were so devoid of criminal elements that it looked just like a busy city in China, just without Chinese people, even though most of the goods were still Made-In-China. Alas, It wasn't like this just a couple years ago. The guides told us that when they used to do the fevela tours, machine gun trotting thugs would hover near them to keep them from taking pictures. Now that would've been a more exciting! One thing that I found very interesting in a Braziling fevela versus other urban centers in the world is the amazing view. Due to the particular squatting law in Brazil, people of little means were able to settle high up on the mountains where the city did not extend sanitation electricity or other services. So it came to pass that Rio is the one of the only major cities in the world where the rich lives on the lower grounds while the poor lives up high with spectacular views. So imagine if HK was colonized by the Portuguese instead of the British, then the gazillion dollar properties on the Peak may instead be a slum.... Anyways, after an on-the-ground tour of the fevelas, I wanted to see it from a different angle. So off and I went hang gliding for the first time in Rio. Wasn't as scary as skydiving but still very fun nonetheless. The bird eye views of the favelas and the Rio beaches were quiet breath taking. Here is the video of my hang gliding experience - 


Fevelas all have great views

Electricity is pretty ad-hoc in the fevelas 

People chilling in the fevela





Running along the beach 
The beach was the most interesting part of Rio. The entire city revolves around the beach life where people go play, chill, tan, see friends, play sports, workout, surf, checkout girls, and a host of other things. The beach, interestingly enough, is also an great equalizer in this society where wealth is as unbalanced as the rest of the rapidly emerging economies of the world. There are no private beaches in Rio, so anyone could just show up and camp out on any beach no matter if the beach is infront of a fevela or infront of a Four Seasons. And most people show up with nothing but a pair of boardshirts and sandles. Hence there isn't a way to show off your wealth even if you did want to impress girls with your bling. Nevertheless, the beach segregates in other ways. There were designated areas on the beach for different social groups. There was an area for the good looking people, for the gays, for the poor people, and etc... Although, I'm sure they won't kick you out even if you walked onto the wrong patch of sand; there were plenty of not so good looking people in the good looking people section, and I even strolled along inside the good looking camp without too many dirty looks, so no harm done. Like other beach-goers, I decided to join in on the exercise routine. I hate running under most circumstances, but the endless amount of eye candy and the changing landscape was enough to keep my eyes wondering and my legs pumping. 

The beach was packed on weekends

The gay area

Fresh coconut juice eveywhere

Concerts

A full gym right on the beach


Climbing the Sugarloaf 
The Sugarloaf Moutain got its name because it looks like, well, a lump of sugar. As one of the only mountain right at the water's edge around Rio, it receives heavy tourist traffic due to the amazing scenery up top. You can elect to go up the 1,200 ft mountain via several different methods including cable cart, or mini-buses. However, I picked to follow a mountain climbing guide up using ropes and harnesses.  This was my first time doing outdoor rock climbing and it was quiet exhilarating to be dangling off the side of the Sugarloaf with the breathtaking view of Rio's coast lines. The climb took a couple hours due to the fact that me and my friend were pretty slow climbers and that she had to take a conference call in the middle of the climb. We hooped all over the surface of Sugarloaf to get a cell reception only to find out the call has been rescheduled... But eventually we emerged over the peak of the mountain, sweaty, victorious, and shirtless scaring the rest of the tourists who never saw us coming up beneath them....
Wearing vibrum for rock climbing was a bad idea

View was amazing

Our guide was very good 

It was a very difficult climb for me 

Sugarloaf at night


After Rio, I bussed along a route that took me through several interesting locales to Sao Paulo but that's a blog post for another time....

How 

Hang gliding - This was a very touristy activity that you can book through any hostel. They would pick you up from the hostel and send you back afterwards. The flight itself is not long, but you should budget several hours and bring a book because the flight is totally dependent on the wind. If there are no wind, then you might be sitting around and waiting for a while. 

Beach - There are actually several interconnected beaches along the Rio coast. The two most famous are the Ipanema and Copacabana. Together they stretch around 10KM, which was a perfect running length for me. Besides the eye candy to keep you going, refreshments were aplenty in the form of fresh coconut juice all along the boardwalk. There are also workout stations spread around if you get bored of cardio. 

Sugar loaf climbing - This was hooked up through my hostel since it's not a really well advertised activity. Try to ask your hostel if you really fancy climbing up sugar loaf. It is well worth it. 

Bus route - Green toad was an pretty amazing service where they will buy local bus tickets for you and help plan your overland travel route. Given that I spoke no Portuguese, this was a service that I was more than willing to pay a premium for. 

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

How to be a cowboy in Argentina

Argentina is a very interesting country where the inflation is over 20%, random weekly protests occur on the streets, all the Asian looking people and grocers are called "Chinos", and where you would never take out a map and look at it in public. All these eccentricities were a part of why I had such an interesting time there. So much so that I even convinced my girlfriend to heroically fly 33 hours (one way) to come and see me in Buenos Aires. Although, she almost decided to cut her loses during a 6 hour layover in Paris. She called me and told me, dejectedly, that she just couldn't bare another 13 hours in an cramped Air France seat. I, on the other hand, had just finished watching "The Hobbit" with my friends in BA and tried to cheerfully relate to her how her journey to see me was similar to the epic journey of the hobbits on their heroic adventure. Needless to say, It didn't have the intended effects as I had pictured in my mind.  But, eventually she landed, and I had to rack my brain to plan two weeks filled with attractions for us. Because, as I realized, staying in my Airbnb apt and watching YouTube wasn't going to cut it for her.

We did a lot of things like taking Tango lessons, eating steaks, seeing the Iguazu but the highlight was definitely the day that we spent learning horse riding. I scheduled us in with the ranch for Dec 21, 2012; the day that the world is supposed to end. The picture of us riding through the wilderness while the world around us crumbled was too hard to resist. But as we all know, Apocalypse never came. To which I'm thankful for, not only for my life, but also for the fact that we actually learned how to gallop by the end the day, from zero experience at the beginning. Here is a video of us - 


The guy who owned the ranch was also an inspiration. He used to work for an insurance company in Buenos Aires for 20 years until his health was failing due to workplace stress. Eventually he decided to quit the soul crushing job and bought this ranch, where now he is a happy cowboy showing the newbies how to ride horse (and making more money than before). Pretty cool right? Here are some more pictures of us - 





How To - 

Very simple. The place I went to is - http://www.caballos-alapar.com/

They come pick you up and then drop you off. So just make sure you are dressed appropriately and they will take care of the rest. 

I did a lot of other stuff in Argentina where I stayed for 1 month, so let me know if anyone has any questions on travelling there.