Category Archives: South America

Gems of Rio de Janeiro

I first got to know Rio through the riotous lens of a Carnivale, but I promised myself I’d find out what local life was like.   So I stayed in Rio for 3 weeks. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries:

Lagoon, photo credit Ana Carolina do Nascimento Guimaraes

Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas-A lagoon with a paved 7.5 km (>4.5mile) bike/running path lined with sports clubs.   I wouldn’t get in the water, mind you, because before the Olympics, water tests showed high levels of sewage and related viruses.  But this was my favorite way to knockout the daily jog.  The path is mostly treelined,  and even though I usually tolerate running only if I’m running after something, I felt pretty good about trying to complete the loop.  There were usually a few good looking folks running or walking, for an extra little motivation to keep going.

acai.jpgAcai – Before I’d heard about Oprah promoting acai as a superfood, I was experiencing it as my daily nourishment.  Brazilians love their corner fresh fruit juice stands, which always stock half frozen treats made with their Amazonian staple, acai fruit.  At first the consistency reminded me of 7-eleven slushees, and this half frozen version is inevitably sweetened, but it’s still brimming with antioxidants.  It’s practically a thicker form of sorbet, a bit like having a superfood ice pop.  Acai doesn’t export very well, and getting to eat the local flavor is a must for any visitor.


Arpoador-The beaches of Brazil can’t be missed-they have it all: sun, sand, surf, and gorgeous eye candy.  Ipanema and Copacabana have been made most famous by their eponymous songs, but it’s this little bit of sand and cliff called Arpoador in between those beaches that I started calling home.   A popular surf spot, this area also has some of the best sunset views.  Muscle Beach calls this place home.

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Capoeira– a combination of martial arts, dance, and music.   If there ever was an art form evoking Zoolander’s “They’re breakdance fighting!”, this would be it.  To immerse myself in this local dance, I practiced capoeira at a local school daily in the evenings.  We danced barefoot on concrete in what seemed like an open air parking garage.  Everyone spoke mostly Portuguese and acted incredibly warm and welcoming, even encouraging me to showcase my clumsy moves.



Rio de Janeiro Highlights

As the curtain closes on the 2016 summer olympics, here’s a look at the hot spots to see in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Christ The Redeemer – One of the new 7 Wonders of the World, this 38m tall statue embraces the city with open arms from Corcovado mountain.

View from Cristo


Sugar Loaf-Named during the height of the sugar cane trade, when sugar was molded into cones, this granite and quartz mountain is located in Guanabara Bay.  The famed cable car ride provides incredible views of the city.



View at dusk with Cristo in the distance

Hanggliding-I booked with EasyflyRio, who called me when it was the best time to fly.  The weather was gorgeous and off we went from Pedra Bonita, above The Parque Nacional de Floresta de Tijuca.  Literally the birds eye view of Rio’s beaches (Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Barra da Tijuca), Christ the Redeemer, the Sugar Loaf, etc…  beachwow.JPG

paraglider in the distance


Arpoador Cliff (between Ipanema and Copacabana)-If you’ve ever wondered how Arpoador got its name, well today’s your lucky day.   Arpoar is the portuguese word meaning “to harpoon” and an arpoador is one who harpoons. Back in the day when whaling was popular, this area was the best spot to scope them out.  It’s also a great viewpoint for the sunset.

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Overlooking Ipanema beach
Overlooking Copacabana beach

Favelas -Makeshift housing built by the homeless that have developed into full scale communities.  If all favelas in Rio were combined, the population would comprise Brazil’s 9th largest city.  Rocinha is Rio’s largest and most densely packed favela, and several tours are offered during the daytime.  This Brazilian slum is perched among the hills, proffering sparkling views of the rich towns underneath.  It’s best to go on an organized tour with someone who lives or works in the favela, but it’s safe to visit and a stark look at the communities left behind.




View from Rocinha


And of course don’t forget the draw of Carnivale…stay tuned for that lowdown

Peru..Hiking the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

How did I get there?
This trip was by far the most extensively pre-planned trip.  I researched tour groups 6 months ahead of time and ended up with Gadventures, an Australian tour company with decent reviews on Tripadvisor.  The pricing was ok, about $1099 for the “7 day tour”, which was really just 1 day in Ollantaytambo, then the 4 day Inca trail.  The first day and last days in Cusco(Cuzco in Spanish) were mostly on your own time.

Cuzco Main Square
Cuzco Main Square

What should I bring?

Inca Trail Packing List

I looked up outdoorgearlab for reviews on hiking clothes, but in the end size availability was the biggest constraint.  Sunny sports and Amazon were my main outlets.

  • Sawyer’s Peremethrin clothing and gear spray.  Apparently you can also buy peremethrin and dilute it.
  • Sawyer’s slow release insect repellant.  20% DEET on a timed release.  Put it everywhere, especially on the last day.  MP is infested.
  • Vasque women’s multi-sport hiking shoes- I couldn’t bring myself to buy a mid boot choker, so I went with a souped up version of a sport shoe.
  • White sierra point convertible hiking pant
  • Playtpus water bottle.  This bottle flattens out like a piece of paper empty, BPA free.
  • Eureka lady bug 30 degree kids bag-I’m petite so thought this was a great idea for a bag I’d only use once.  Never again-they don’t make girls bags for hips (plus it was mummy style) and I’ve never felt that claustrophobic in my sleep.
  • Outdoor Research solar roller hat.  Upf 30, lightweight and packs well
  • Packtowel. Mini towel that I couldnt decide whether to wipe sweat or wipe wet hands with.  Didn’t use this at all.  Substitute wetwipes.

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Was it hard?

In retrospect, most journeys seem a bit easier after they’re done.  Or they are colored by how one would like to be perceived-physically fit in this case.  Trying to be objective here: I think my fitness level is slightly better than average, though shoulder injuries have kept me from achieving top form.  I was training with Mr. Singapore in 2008!  Yes, I’ve just become the female version of your date who claims he had a 6-pack (at some point).

Back to the challenge..there’s no way to avoid some huffing and puffing because you’re ascending never ending stone steps at higher altitude(well it’s like a combination of dirt and stone, but there’s quite a bit of stone, presumably to prevent erosion).  There’s no real rush though, and my tour group had checkpoints where everyone would stop and wait for the rest.  No one was left behind.  There were reasonably fit 50 and 60 yr olds trekking with us, and the schedule is not designed to be murderous.  I imagine that it comes down to level of motivation, which is the driver of most intense physical ability.  If you want to do it, it’ll be challenging but not overly difficult.  If you give up in your head, it’s pretty much over.

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Inca site along the trail

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What should I do about the altitude?

Sorojchi (altitude sickness)pills are sold at the airport and since the label is in Spanish, my husband had no idea what he was ingesting, but they worked for him.  To be fair, he “only” took the train to MachuPicchu, which maxes out at an elevation of 2430m.  On the trek I maxed out at 4200m.  My friend (who hiked the trail) took diamox and didn’t feel a thing.  Side effects are possible but she didn’t have any of those either.

I chose the el naturale route, which was much more painstaking. I gave myself 3 days to acclimatize in Cuzco (highly recommended), and the moment I got there I started chugging coca tea, which helps with the acclimation.  In the middle of the night I woke up with a pounding headache and called the front desk in vain, hoping they stashed coca tea somewhere for emergencies.  Surprisingly, the front desk answered my call but put that idea to rest.  Breakfast started out with my someone pounding a gong inside my brain repeatedly, but after 3-4 cups of coca tea, I felt much better.  Hydration also had something to do with it, I’m sure.

On the toughest day of the Inca trail I attempted to chew a few coca leaves, but it proved to be a hassle to prepare the leaves (you have to take out the stem, rub this black charcoal like substance on each leave, and repeat for about 20 leaves).  So I ended up popping extra advil because I’d read somewhere that 400-600mg of ibuprofen would help with altitude sickness too.  (Note, I’m not a doctor and don’t presume to give advice.)  The advil definitely helped a little with the headaches, but the best cure of course is to go down in altitude, which we did after a few hours anyway.  By that night I was fine again.  Again, stay hydrated.

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backside of MP
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coming down from inca site

What should I be prepared for?

If you’ve spoken to anyone who’s done the hike, I think the universal answer would be the toilets.  Or lack of them.  These are 3rd world, unsanitary toilets (holes for the most part) that campers go through unabashadly.  Bring lots of wet wipes because your whole body may feel dirty after going in one of those.

Was it worth it?

Waking up in the pitch dark on that last day, you have a quick breakfast and then line up at the gates to start the last hike.  They shut down night hiking for safety reasons.  The last hike is easy, which comes as a relief after hiking at least 10km/day for 3 days.  As morning begins to break, it’s as if a load has been lifted.  You survived the altitude, you dealt with the camping, you can taste it, and the air is filled with a buzz that coffee could never simulate.  Would I do it again?  Only if they have chemical toilets.

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View from sun gate. Takes an hr to hike here from MP
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20min hike away from MP