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Kate’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 17 Oct 2010

Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

MapMy time in Rio is quickly coming to an end. Tomorrow I check into the hotel and my tour begins. We leave Rio on Tuesday and head for the tropical beaches of Paraty and Ilha Grande.

Today my cousin Peter took us two hours north of Rio, forthe stunning beaches of laid-back Saquarema. It has an entirely different feel to it. I think I'm starting to understand when people describe Rio as having tension in the air, some kind of underlying hostility which isn't immediately obvious. I could feel the difference when we left the city.

It was a fantastic day, despite howling winds we jumped in for a swim. The water was clean and beautiful, and it was so relaxing not having to be constantly conscious of your belongings (it was a much safer beach than those in Rio). We enjoyed a really delicious fish lunch at a little local place, and visited a quaint church built in the 1600s.

It has been very nice having Peter here to show us around today, and allowed all of us to relax more. Last night we had a beautiful home cooked meal, and quite a few drinks, on the balcony.

We spent yesterday with a swim at Ipanema Beach in the morning, and a visit to Santa Teresa in the afternoon. The water is just divine, but too cold for Cariocas (Rio locals) at this time of year.

Santa Teresa is a neighbourhood of Rio, with some very beautiful old mansions, surrounded by two favelas. The walls of the bigger houses often have DIY razor wire - broken glass stuck in the concrete. You catch a bright yellow tram known as the Bonde up from Centro (the CBD area of Rio) which at R$0.60 is the best value thing I've done in Rio. On Saturday afternoons you hear African influenced music through the streets (I don't know the name of it).

Jean, Phil & I wandered the cobblestone streets, which are winding and labyrinthine. There were lots of overpriced touristy shops and cafes, but it was a likeable spot. We found a coffee and a hilltop seat with a band, and watched a Brazilian family teaching their daughter how to pose for photos. Young Brazilian women tend to go for over the top sexy and seriously fake poses, but there's something endearing about their boldness.

I think I'll relax more once I'm away from Rio and the ever present, in your face poverty of the favelas, which are interspersed with the other neighbourhoods. It really is criminal that people can be used almost as slave labour, and a huge proportion kept unemployed, so that a few companies can bring in over R$140 billion (about AU$ 90 billion) every year. According to Peter, the richest 5% of people hold about 50% of the wealth here, the bottom 85% of people less than 10%. The social problems that poverty combined with no welfare safety net causes are just appalling. I think this is the reason that Rio has that air of tension. Despite all this I really have taken a liking to the place.

I'm looking forward to starting my tour, but not really looking forward to leaving Rio. The beach lifestyle is quite addictive and the landscape still takes my breath away.