Like the famous Corcovado, the ascent of Morro da Urca and Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) is a top tourist attraction in Rio (and Brazil in general) and we took advantage of a clear day last week to take the cable cars to the top for amazing views of Rio in every direction. Each ascent only takes a few minutes and at the top, you’re 396M above the ocean atop a single granite stone.
We stayed for the sunset (along with many other people!) and were rewarded with gorgeous views during and after.
I had a mom moment of total anxiety and worry right before we started the ascent (because that’s my job!), and again when I saw this at the top (because I am certain that Colin and Sean easily fit through that space separating the platform from a tremendous drop to the sea):
This is a classic example of things we’ve been talking to the kids about: edges are rougher around here and things are not quite as safe. I could barely watch Colin walk out on to the viewing platform with Jim once I saw that space below the ‘guardrail.’ Needless to say, we watched them all like hawks, no one fell through any cracks, and we all enjoyed the spectacular views.
On our last day in Rio before a mini-trip to Iguacu Falls, we went back to the Paralympics to see two more events: wheelchair tennis and blind soccer. It happened to be 95 degrees that day, so the air-conditioned subway ride was welcome, even though the travel to the Olympic Center takes about 1.5 hours each way. Both events were beyond amazing to see!
We noted this sign as a solid example for why it’s been so hard for us to pick up much Portuguese (lots of prepositions, for one thing…):
The tennis match was a women’s singles match between Japan and Norway, with Norway ultimately winning after many long rallies. The play allows up to 2 bounces on each side and it’s unbelievable how quickly the players move around the court getting into position for each hit. (The stands are not empty! Everyone in attendance was squeezed into whatever shade they could find due to the high temps!)
The soccer game was equally as impressive. We saw the men’s teams from Turkey and Morocco play, and as with the Goalball we attended earlier in the games, there is a bell inside the ball that allows the athletes to play by hearing where the ball is. The goalies are sighted and must stay in the very small goal box, and each team has one coach directly behind the opposing goal to help guide shots on goal by voice. (Video here).
After the Paralympics, we were off for a planned 5-day mini-trip to Foz de Iguacu (Iguazu Falls) on the border of Brazil and Argentina where Jim would be attending the Latin American Travel Mart conference. Iguazu Falls is one of the world’s biggest waterfalls and has three times the flow capacity as Niagara Falls. Depending which brochure, book, or website you believe, it has somewhere between 250-280 individual falls.
iPhone pictures make it hard (for me) to do the falls justice, but the first few minutes of this video help a ton: (click here) Jim also got some great pics and once I have a chance to ‘borrow’ them from him, I’ll make sure they’re up on FB and Instagram.
We were lucky enough to spend three nights at a resort called Recanto Cataratas near the falls during Jim’s conference. The enormous pool, game room complete with air hockey ping pong and pool, and onsite bowling alley, not to mention the enormous buffet meals, kept the kids quite busy (and happy!) Of course, everywhere else we ever go for the rest of the trip (and maybe our lives…) will be compared to this first “fancy” hotel that they have ever experienced.
Already, the next three (quite lovely) hotels did not measure up due to either 1) lack of air hockey, 2) no milkshakes included with breakfast, or 3) only outdoor pools instead of the choice of both indoor and outdoor. We also saw some signs with interesting translations:
Of course, as parents, we’re still learning what so many other parents have learned before us: kids will rarely appreciate what we think they “should” about travel and new experiences, and will make their own decisions about what they like and don’t like (and they may even be quite verbal about it too!) One of our favorite quotes from a (slightly cranky) Sean when we first arrived at the falls: “So what, a bunch of waterfalls. Great.”
We’ve quickly learned that saying something like “you should be grateful to be having this experience” will do absolutely nothing to stop the kids from being tired, hungry, cranky or from fighting, if that’s what they are doing/feeling at the moment. I know this probably doesn’t sound like a newsflash to most parents reading this, but yet, when you think about taking your kids to see something unique or have a cool experience, you don’t necessary imagine the realistic details like low blood sugar or fighting over the window seat. (And to our own parents, yes, we remember maybe being bratty one or twice on family vacations when you were introducing us to new people and places and we apologize). So much of the impact of travel cannot be understood or realized until long after the trip is over, so we’re best off leaving it to them to come up with what these experiences mean to them on their own time and in their own terms. (And in the meantime, we’ve found a local energy bar that fits in everyone’s pockets just in case).
In and around the falls area, we saw a ton of the local wildlife, including many coaties, which are related to raccoons and walk with tourists on the boardwalk surrounding the falls, and monkeys, some of which are so accustomed to tourists they know how to open sliding glass doors to find their snacks:
Much to the kids’ delight, a group of monkeys did show up to this balcony in the morning and try to open the door. Unlike some of the other guests, we did not feed them!
A highlight was seeing wild toucans (always in 2s!) in the trees, and we also visited the Parque de Aves (Bird Park) which had healthy representation from the reptile family as well:
After doing our planned visits to the falls on both the Brazilian and Argentine sides of the border, we packed up our bags and headed for the airport excited to return to our ‘home for now’ in Ipanema. Unfortunately, we ran into a fun bureaucratic snafu at customs that meant 2 extra days in Argentina. Brazil had suspended it’s typical tourist visa requirements during the olympics, so since we had arrived during that time, we didn’t have (or need) visas to enter Brazil. Where things went wonky were that we left Brazil for less than 24 hours to see and stay on the Argentine side, and that happened to be the same night as the closing ceremony for the Paralympics. So…when we came back to customs, the visa requirement was back in effect and we couldn’t legally re-enter the country.
Long story short, it is challenging to fill out a visa application online in Portuguese and even harder to come up with all the documentation that is required for a visa when you are on a 5-day vacation jaunt away from even your temporary home. Needless to say, we scraped and scrambled, and got our visa applications submitted the next day for a return to Rio 2 days later than planned. We even made the most of the extra 2-day stay:
In addition to seeing a sight as amazing as Iguacu Falls, what was great to realize about our trip and the delayed return was how much we were all looking forward to getting back to our home in Rio. We have only been gone from the U.S. for a little over three weeks so far, but we’ve already made a home together here and after 6 nights in hotels and eating with strangers in buffets, we were ready to get back to our own little cozy abode in Ipanema.
And while we had prepared for a 5-day trip, and no one is really the worse for the wear, the extra two days did mean at least one casualty…in the form of very brown bananas in the fruit bowl, and when you return home to brown bananas, what else do you do but incorporate them into your homeschool curriculum and make banana bread in cooking class? Today, Jim and all three kids looked up a recipe, when to the market for the missing ingredients, and went to work:
I couldn’t even get a pic before they dug in…and seconds and thirds were served after dinner!
We’re in Rio through the end of the month, then traveling through other parts of Brazil for 2 additional weeks before taking up residence in Buenos Aires for a month-long stay in Argentina.
Boa noite for now!