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Peppe Di Ciccio's Travel Page

This blog is a simple record of my travels in South America starting on March 31st, 2007 and supposedly ending on September 30th, 2007. I have chronicled my thoughts and impressions simply for the benefit of my memory but if you also find it of interest, that is fantastic. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the people who have given me valuable information to help me on my way and even shared many of these experiences. I have not named them here, but they know who they are. Cheers, and any mistakes are all mine.

Diary Entries

Friday, 25 May 2007

Location: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

This is the "Pretty Rio" entry. It is an entry that has to be made because Rio is without doubt one spectacular city. It is situated in an amazing geographical position, which I hope my photos do some justice, and contains incredible natural and man made wonders. It is hard to know where to start so I will just take you through Rio in the same way it decided to reveal itself to me (except for my tour of two Rio favelas which I think deserve their own entries). Without doubt, it certainly deserves the title, "La Cidade Marvavilhosa".

Rio reaches your senses before you get anywhere near. From the moment I stepped onto South American soil the legend of Rio was a talking point for all travellers. For some it was the mecca of all parties during Carnivale and for others it was a nightmare of stolen valuables, some even at gun point while walking in daylight down ordinary streets. All these stories filled me with much confusion, so on arrival I was expecting to be held up by a 14 year old with a 44 magnum outside the airport terminal, while Cristo Redentor watched with a wry smile
Sharing the view
Now here is a view that both Cristo and I can both enjoy. Cheers.from above. Luckily this was no where near the case. In fact a shuttle bus, which I caught just outside the terminal door, dropped me off on a sun soaked, skin filled, Ipanema Beach, within 100m of The Mango Tree Hostel. Like a good, inconspicuous gringo I was still in my jeans and thermal jacket, while thongs - on feet and body were the order of the day. On the short walk to the hostel I even managed to pass the Grota de Ipanema, the cafe where the famous song "Girl from Ipanema" was penned. Or so the photos and tributes on the walls attest. More importantly, however, they make excellent espresso, which explains why the songwriters could never leave.

My first day was spent wandering the beach at Ipanema and relaxing my way through the posh streets of this suburb. Ipanema, Leblon and to some extent Copacabana are the most exclusive and expensive suburbs of Rio. That doesn’t make the completely safe, just exclusive and expensive. My first night also involved a night of Samba in the nightclub area of Lapa. Tried my best to do some Samba but these feet are too slow and the bum just
Futbol at Maracana
Flamengo vs Botafogo at Maracana stadium.doesn’t want to follow. However, it is a great looking dance, where couples get to grove together to a very addictive beat that really gets their feet going.

The next day I was up early to hit the sights and first on the list was Cristo Redentor - Christ the Redeemor. The pamphlet says, “The setting and the view are so spectacular that even God’s son decided to live here”. Cristo is built on a 710m high hill in the middle of Rio called the Morro do Corcovado (hunchback). He stands, arms open wide, embracing the Cidade Marvavilhosa and looking East, out towards Sugar Loaf. The view from the top is just spectacular. To his right are the famous beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and other South Zone beaches and to his right is the North Zone of Rio and an area the Lonely Planet suggests no gringo need enter. You have a 360 degree view of Rio in all of its marvellous glory. The bay, beaches, bridges, favelas, city and of course Maracana are all clearly seen. I think he would have to be up there with one of the luckiest statues on the planet. He took 5 years
The view at sunset
Rio in all its glory. And me in the way build and was finally ready to go in 1931. His arms must surely be sore by now. You can even vote for him to be included as one of the new 7 wonders of the world at Go on, you know you want to…

To get to the top of Morro do Corcovado to visit Cristo, you take the Trem do Corcovado, which in itself is a small monument. It first ran in 1884 as a steam train, took every piece of Cristo to the top in construction and on the way up takes you past the “Curva do Oh!” As you would expect we all went “ooohhhh” at our first view of Rio on this curve. I’m such a gringo.

That night Rio also showed me it’s dark underbelly. While 50m from the hostel, on the way to have some dinner at a nearby restaurant, a “friendly” man stops to talk to me. He thinks I look like someone he knows; my mistake was to smile back. From that point on he walks with me and just won’t leave me alone. He keeps trying to convince me to come with him to a disco even
Sneaking up on Cristo
A view from the approach to Cristo the Redentor.though it is about 8pm and an serious Brazilian Disco goer is about 4 hours away from even thinking about getting their dancing shoes on. 100m from the hostel he offers me marijuana. Luckily the hostel is on a short block so I decide to head back to the hostel for safety. Corner one done. I walk past the restaurant I was going to go to because I didn’t want this lunatic to know where I was eating. After the second corner, he offers me cocaine. Obviously there is an order to which drug shopping is done. I flat out refuse again and he is confused as to why someone would not want drugs. Third corner and I am close to safety. He gets a little more forceful and the friendly smiles starts to strain. Only a few metres from the local street side bar he goes to grab for my arm and I move out of his reach quickly. He goes for broke, pats his jacket pocket, says he has a pistol and tells me to give him all my money. I don’t stop walking and before he can do anything I am standing in front of the bar
In all his glory
Amazing sight of Cristo. Huge and open over among the crowd. I look behind and he has stopped where he tried to grab me. He tells me where to go and I am only too glad to go as long as he isn’t there too. I watch, and take a big deep breath, as he walks off into the darkness. It is not that I would have lost a lot because you learn to only carry a few dollars on you at any time, it is just that I am angry at myself for getting into this mess, but also pleased that I managed to get out of it unscathed. I still go to dinner as nothing seems to be able to get between me and a feed but it is a sharp reminder to never let down my guard. I count myself lucky as later that night an Irish girl wanders into the hostel DVD room and declares, with a completely deadpan voice, that she has just spent the last 4 hours down at the police station because she was robbed down the street. She is unemotional and calm. She makes it seems so ho-hum. Like getting robbed is part and parcel of the pleasure and
Ipanema Beach
You can see my hostel from here...pain of Rio. “Yeah, sorry I’m so late. Just been down the police station to get a report ‘cause I got robbed just around the corner. What are you watching?”

Sunday I spend the day at Ipanema. I walk along the beach where they even shut down half the road so pedestrians can walk. The beach is lovely but the people are the real stars. Brown as leather, they unashamedly flaunt their stuff. Some are the buff young things you see on the ab-master commercials and others are the size of a house. Amusingly, they all wear the same sized swim suit. I don’t think they even make sizes for the fuller figure! Regardless of how they look they all get it out there. Perfection is not the be all and end all - although some definitely seem to be striving for it. My favourite amusement was the Brazilian Adonis. This is the guy who has shaved every piece of hair off his body, is the darkest of brown, has been working out for years and struts (elbows out), not along the shore line of the beach as you would expect most Adonis’ to strut, but rather, down the
Looking towards the posh suburb of Leblon, shut down road and footpath behind the beach, wearing only his Speedo's and sunglasses. At first I was just amused by their appearance but then I wondered why they were not strutting the beach. Surely, sfter all that work you would be walking along the beach like a cocky peacock (pardon the pun). Then it dawned on me. No one on the beach is actually looking out to sea. They are all in beach chairs, bodies lubed up with some sort of oil, facing the road! They face that way so they can face the path of the Sun and get that dark chocolate colour. And what do you do if you are an Adonis? You walk where people can see you. No use being an Adonis otherwise.

All this contemplation and revelation makes a man thirsty so I stop for a coconut drink; this involves an angry looking bloke with a machete, cutting the top off a coconut and handing it to me with a straw. When I pay my 2 Reais ($A1.20) he smiles and asks me to return when the juice is gone. Not to disappoint him in any way I return the moment I
The view from the top
This is the view that Cristo enjoys straight out in front of him.have finished the juice. He takes the coconut, slams it with the machete six times. Three hits in its side and three across the lip and back to me. It folds open like a flower greeting the sun and the flesh is exposed. The lip slashes create a makeshift spoon that I can use to did out the flesh. It is the best drink/meal I have had in Rio and is the first of 4 for the day.

That night I go to watch Flamengo play Botafogo at the Maracana stadium. Both teams are from Rio but since it is an early season match the crowd is small. Only about 40,000 crazy people manage to turn up to see a 2 all draw, but funnily enough they manage to make enough noise, song and dance to bring the atmosphere to amazing heights. A group of us from the hostel went together and we position ourselves in the middle of the Flamengo crowd. They use the same colours as Essendon which gives me the shivers, but luckily Botafogo are in the good ole black and white and that makes me feel at home. Quietly, in the madness of the singing,
Is it safe to turn around now?
I had an unshakable feeling that I was being watched...dancing, flag waving Flamengo crowd, on the inside, this little Australian/Italian is barracking for Botafogo. Couldn’t have Eddie thinking I had let the side down. Go Pies.

Rio Central is a typical South American centro. It is too busy. The road are congested and traffic crazy. There is a horn being blasted every 2 to 3 seconds. Markets crammed with goodies take over small nooks and crannies to create huge shopping spaces. I discover Havianas for less than the cost of a jug of beer. Buses fly by and seem to be able to squeeze into the space normally reserved for a moped. Taking a bus ride is cheapest thrill in Rio. Beautiful, famous café´s abound and I take refuge, in Cafeteria Colombo, with an espresso and two chocolate éclairs. As one does. I follow the Lonely Planets walking tour of the city and marvel at the magnificent old buildings and weird new ones. And when I think I have done it all I head to Paò de Açucar (Sugar Loaf) and take the two bondinho’s to the top to again take in the view of Rio at Sunset. Again I am treated to a 360 degree view of
A Cold Ipanema Beach
Ipanema beach in the morning, ready for the bronzed beauties of Rio to appear. Of course the mist must lift to see skin...the city and I get to watch the Sun go down behind Cristo to the West. He stands as a sentinel to the city, and a sign of the best that Rio has to offer. Below him and his wry smile lies the mixed reality.

Rio keeps you alive. Your senses are always on alert because you never know what it will throw at you - pleasure or pain. Having survived the city with mostly pleasure and very little pain, I am happy to call it “La Cidade Marvavilhosa", but I know that thought is just a relative concept.

Monday, 02 April 2007

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

It was a series of three middays that got me started.

Midday Friday, school finshed. Midday Saturday, I was in Sydney with Pat and Mary O'Reilly and by Midday Sunday I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I used to think that 2 weeks holiday wasn't really enough to get too far but here I was, half way around the world in less than 2 days, including a lovely day with the O'Reilly's and a night at Telstra Stadium watching the West Coast beat Sydney in the permeirship rematch. No Berocca needed to do this, just a trip across the International Date Line.

So what is the first thing a weary traveller does when they arrive in Buenos Aires and put down their bag? Go for a walk of course. But not just any walk, one that takes me straight into a Parrilla house where I get my first Chirizo de Bife, which is a huge steak and very small side serve of chips. Yep, this man will be fed meat! And big chunks of it at that. Oh yeah, Buenos aires.... Sorry, the food distracted me.

Buneos Aires is a wonderful place because it is elegant, cheap and fun. It has huge avenues, relaxing cafes, great bars and night clubs and wonderful plazas and parks.

One of the first things I saw on my walk was the Ave 9 de Julio (Argentina's Independence Day is July 9th). It is the main road in Buenos Aires, a lazy 14 lanes across and declared to be the widest street in the world. I won't argue with that after my early gringo attempts to cross the damn thing. Note to self, they drive on the other side of the road so look both ways carefully before crossing. The city itself is based around this huge avenue and another that crosses it in its middle, Av de Mayo, so as to form a big cross and an easy way to navigate the city. Around the cross are a number of suburbs or barrios, each with their own distinct flavour and interests.

There is the Microcentro where you could be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere in Europe because you are surrounded by 19th century buildings and posh looking residents drinking espressos in the many cafes. Everything reuires a little TLC. Argentina was one of the most well off countries in South America but after a huge economic crash in 2000 the country has been struggling since. You can see older people walking around, heads held high, in what looks to be very expensive clothes, but just way out of fashion. Buildings are spectacular and intricate in design, but falling to pieces on the edges. On pay day people line up at the banks and take out all their money as there is no way they will be caught with thier pants down again. You see in the last crash the banks shut their doors in peoples faces and they all lost their money. One day it was there, the next it was gone. Simple as that. I imagine there are many very full sock draws around the city now.

San Telmo where the artistic portenos of the city congregate around Plaza Dorrego and the bustling market stalls selling millions of antiques. It is also the home of the Tango and you can see people dancing the Tango in the streets all the time - and passing round the hat after their peformance.

Recoleta, a posh suburb with a famous cemetary that has within it, all the people who once upon a time were lucky enough to have enough money to live in the barrio. Some of their grave are serious monuments rivaling anything you would see in the microcentre. Guess you need to be seen in both life and death.

Palermo, the yuppie area of the city where little markets, pubs, night clubs and relaxing parks abound. While in this area I visited the Evita Musuem.

La Boca, home to the working class who painted their houses all sorts of colours using the left over paint from the ship docking yards. I never thought there were ships actually painted the colours of some of these houses but the area is now renowned for these colourful abodes! However, it is not the safest of areas as wandering a little too far from the main thoroughfares can land you in a sticky situation with a Dodgy La Bocan who would prefer to pilfer your pockets than paint anymore houses. It is also home to the stadium of one of Latin Americas strongest and most well supported soccer teams - Boca Juniors. I did a tour of the stadium to get a feel of the history of the club, one of the most successful in history, and wander the hallowed stands and turf. Unfortunately I missed the big grudge match: La Boca vs River Plate by a week.

Went out for dinner and a Tango show.

At hostel did tango lesson and a salsa lesson.

night life - never was there a time the room was free of people sleeping. all night. dinner starts at 10.30pm and if you get to a club by 1am, you´ll be dancing alone until 2am. But ok as they dont kick you out until 8am, if at all.

In my last day I went and saw a theme park called "Tierra Santa". The theme of this park was the life of Jesus. There were no rides to go on but there were life sized diorama's from every stage of Jesus' life brought to life size in every detail. The whole park was done up in middle eastern theme and you could walk around the park and see different times of Jesus' life displayed using life sized models. All the miracles were accounted for, palm Sunday, the stations of the cross, the last supper (done by moving models!), the crucifixtion and of course the resurrection. If you ask a person at the park, "When is the resurrection?", they will look their watch and say, "dice minutes". Sure enough, at a certain spot on the back of this hill, Jesus rises about once an hour. He is an extremely regular type of guy. My personal favourite was the fact that you could line up to get into a theatre to watch the hourly viewing of the creation. I was not sure how to take this theme park. Was it interesting or just plain tacky? Either way I was having a ball. I even lined up to walk up the mock calvary and join the flock passing the three crucifxes, mary and gladitors. Just surreal. But the good news was that if you got lost, there was always a friendly gladiator to point you in the right direction!

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