Letter to Home – Month 3: February

February… what another great month.

The first of February started with a border crossing. Megan and I met up at the bus station in Puerto Iguazu, (by Iguazu Falls), and we hopped on a bus going to the Brazilian side of the falls, Foz du Iguacu.

It did not go as how we expected… We thought it was hop off, and then back on the bus, kind of crossing. But no, hop off the bus yes, then take 5 minutes to clear customs, then wait a very long hour on the motorway roadside curb, for another bus to us the rest of the way.

We decided to scrap going to the falls that day from that whole ordeal, and decided to do a few errands, check out the city, and book our bus to Rio de Janeiro for the next afternoon.

The next morning, we went off to the falls, which was again, just spectacular.
I really enjoyed the boardwalks, and feeling the power and energy of the water under my feet, and as it was again drizzling/rainy, there was quite a bit of water!

Powerful Iguazu Falls

After our quick runaround, we set back off for our hostel, grabbed our bags, and went to the bus station, to catch the bus to Rio.
The bus ride was pure pleasure, as we left the wet weather of Iguazu, to the sunny paradise of Rio.  As I was arriving a couple of days before I had scheduled, I was staying in 2 places for the duration. First one was in Botofogo for 2 nights, and the second was a hostel in Vidigal.

I didn’t so much enjoy the hostel in Botofogo, but I loved the neighbourhood, and it is definitely one I would go back to, but just stay elsewhere.  The beach was beautiful, and literally had my jaw dropping from the views of Sugarloaf and surrounding peaks.

Botofogo - Just ExploRen
Beautiful Botofogo, Rio de Janeiro

I pretty much mooched around for a couple of days, and met up a few times with Megan and her friend Heather, who had joined Megan for a few weeks of travelling.
As it was Carnival time (which I had planned on), we got tickets for the 2 nights for that upcoming weekend.  The first night was booked for the cheap seats – Section 13.  And then the second night was in Section 5.

In the meantime, we visited Copacabana beach which was quite eventful!
Huge beach – great for people watching, whom were immensely entertaining! Basically you are waited on hand and foot, with people going around everyone selling alcohol, bikinis, hats, fruit, ice creams, etc..

And when I pictured myself coming out of the surf all modelesque like, after a casual swim, the reality a bit different… As I went into the ocean, I was knocked off my feet and got towed under, and did a roly poly of some sort, and came back to the surface looking devastating… Horribly devastating… bikini top shoved up, hair all wet and awry, salty water all in my sinuses, makeup that had become panda like, and with sand that had made it everywhere (I was still finding grains of it days later)!!
Definitely a blow to my dreams of a model career taking off haha!

That would’ve been a day to remember in itself but it didn’t stop there…
Oh no, when I was recovering on the beach with a well’deserved drink and sunbathe, Megan and Heather went for a turn in the ocean, and when I was looking out for their stuff, Megan’s money belt bag was taken!!  About $100-200 I believe, plus her card and camera – all gone!
So beware, the pickpockets in Rio are world class – I didn’t even hear it get taken, or notice it gone, until Megan looked under the towel, and it wasn’t there!
Major freak out to follow, rightly so, so off we went to get the Police etc.

And then, again, if that wasn’t enough.. as I stood up and started walking with the girls, white fuzziness started to cloud their way into my head. So I leaned against a tree, to cool down, and the next thing I know.. I have Heather and Megan looking over me, and I was like, what the?!  Nice one Ren to faint at the most inopportune time.

Poor Megan was already stressed, so we decided the best thing was, for me to go back to my hostel to recuperate and rest.. What a day that was!  Definitely one for the books..

On the 6th Feb, I checked into my second hostel, Verandas du Vidigal, which I had booked and paid for months in advance for at a killer price, for carnival season.  It also came with a killer view, as it was placed fairly high up in a favela (not a dangerous one), and had amazing vistas out to sea, and looked onto Ipanema as well.

Vidigal - Just ExploRen
The view from Verandas du Vidigal

Staying here was great fun, very social and inclusive, and I really enjoyed the neighbourhood.  I loved how ‘local’ it felt; the people, the shops (& my daily addiction of an Açai cup), the challenging steps and confusing alleyways uphill or downhill, the always gorgeous sunny days I had there, and the challenging communication we had with my little known Portuguese, and their little known English!  It felt like I was actually living in Rio for a brief few days, rather than the next place on my list.

Over the nights of the 8th & 9th, Megan and I went to the Sambadromo.  The night of the 8th, we were based in the cheap seats of Section 13, and went along with her friend Heather and a couple of her other friends that came to Rio. It was such a blast of a night!
It was the best out of both, randomly.  Great company, drinks, atmosphere, music, colours, costumes and gorgeous dancers!  Just amazing!  I highly recommend the experience to anyone.

During the day of the 9th, I went up to Christ the Redeemer, up on Corcovado, who looks down upon Rio.  Man, is that place popular!!  Absolutely packed full of people! Worth it for the postcard perfect photos though.

Then off I went with Megan for the second night at the Sambadromo, this time closer to the dancers.  Better view, but the night before had been better for party atmosphere – perhaps we were a bit exhausted lol.  Got to try on a dancers wings though as we walked back to the train station – it was so heavy to wear!!

Angel - Just ExploRen.jpg
Angelic Ren

On the last full day in Rio, the 10th Feb, I went off to the famous Selaron Steps, then met up with Megan and Heather, to go on a favela tour – Rocinha.  Definitely an eye opener.. As it is quite a dangerous one.. I expected to feel on guard, and be watchful as you make your way through, but to see 10-14 year old kids holding such big guns, it was not for the faint of heart.

The next day, the girls and I were off to Buzios, which was a couple of hours away by bus.
To make my way from one side of the city to the other, wasn’t looking like an easy task, so I gave myself quite a bit of time.
I packed up all my stuff, said goodbye to my favourite hostel that I had stayed at yet, and got reception to order a taxi.  From my experience during the week, it is a mission to get a taxi to drive up to my hostel, so after waiting around 5-10 mins, I started walking down… The following is an excerpt from a status post on my Facebook:

“I was hauling my suitcase and backpack down a hill, where I had been staying in Rio, to get a taxi at the bottom. I stepped on a metal street grill, which tilted, my left leg fell through, then grill tilted back trapping leg, all of which catapulted my body forward, slamming my face into the concrete!”

Ouch!!!!!  ..to say the least!  
Even now, I can remember the sensation of falling, and then the helplessness as the concrete approached my face within a second or two, and then feeling just so shell-shocked at what had just happened!

I must’ve looked a sight again! Small blonde pale foreigner, crying her heart out, with a stuck leg on the road, with a fallen suitcase, backpack, and now with attractive marks/scratches on my forehead, nose, arms and legs..
A couple of guys took pity on me, and got my leg unstuck, and helped me across the street to the shop.  Meanwhile, I was just kept saying, “all I wanted was a taxi to the bus station” lol..

After many times insisting I didn’t want to go the hospital to the shop owners, they managed to wrangle me a taxi. Thank goodness!
So off I went to the bus station, with ice in a tea towel held to my forehead.

My poor friends were stunned and amazed that I made it to the bus station, although not so happy that I wouldn’t go to the hospital yet.  Nevertheless, we caught the bus to Buzios, then once there, we painstakingly (for me), walked to our hostels, then off we went to the hospital.
I stuck out like a sore thumb, well sore head and knee in my case.. I was clearly in a local hospital, that I would imagine not too many foreigners would go to.. It was one of those funny moments where the doctor couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Portuguese, so what did I recommend?? …Google Translate! Life saver!
So off I went typing on his computers keyboard, then it was his turn, etc etc..

Buzios Hospital - Just ExploRen.jpg
Not the best look for me lol!

I couldn’t imagine what I would’ve done if I was travelling here a couple of decades ago, although I could see how my Grandads adventures got to be adventures!  After an X-ray and full on bandaged leg, I escaped with a diagnosis of a fractured nose, and pulled knee ligament (the latter hurt the most).

After a couple of days of resting in Buzios, on the 12th, I caught the bus back to Rio, and then just making the bus to Sao Paulo, where I was due to catch a flight to Quito, Ecuador in the early hours of the 13th.

Once in Quito, after a couple of flights, I checked into my home for the 10 days, El Hostelito.  It was a pod hostel, so I had my own private capsule, which was wonderful for such a long period.

I was originally going to go visit the Galapagos Islands, but since I was still healing from my injuries, I decided to scrap that idea.

Raccoon - Just ExploRen.jpg
Very Raccoon like

So for those days, I managed to catch up with Samanta from my Inca Trail group, who took me out to Mindo (cloud forest area) for a overnight stay with her awesome family, the Equator place marks, and lived off Domino’s, which was conveniently across the street from El Hostelito.

Quito itself was a lovely city, especially the old city part, but it felt quite dangerous, and Sam, told me so as well, and took precautions, so that I didn’t get a stolen bag etc.

Quito - Just ExploRen
Beautiful Quito, Ecuador

On the 22nd, I left South America for Central America!
First stop there: Panama City.

Gorgeous city, with lots of skyscrapers, labryrinth of churches in the Old City, and of course home to part of the Panama Canal.  The latter of which I loved watching the traffic of huge ships passing through the Miraflores Lock.

After my stay here for 2 nights, I set off for Bocas del Toro.
And after a rough night bus journey, spent shivering and being squished from the seat infront of me, I arrived at Almirante.  Then after sorting out a boat ride, I arrived in Paradise!!

Bocas is an archipelago, made up of the mainland, and 9 main islands, and they are just stunning. I visited 3 of the islands: Isla Colon, Isla Solarte & Isla Bastimentos.
Isla Colon is home to Playa Estrellas, or ‘Starfish Beach’.  This is my favourite beach in the world so far I think.  It was lovely snorkelling around this area and seeing starfish on the floor of the sea, and then dry off on the beach under palm trees, and sip rum cocktails in coconut shells!  Just writing this, is making me crave this place again, and now I’m going through the pictures and videos on my phone lol!!

Playa Estrellas - Just ExploRen
Playa Estrellas, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama

My favourite place to stay on these islands, was at the Bambuda Lodge on Isla Solarte.
I met such a fantastic group of people here!

From this place we went off to Up in the Hill cafe & Red Frog beach on Isla Bastimentos.
And after a night of too many Baileys, the next day we went off the Blue Coconut restaurant and bar, where we went snorkelling for starfish, photoshoots on sea hammocks, and enjoyed some ceviche (seafood dish), and a couple of drinks.

On the 29th, I left Bocas and Panama, and entered the next country above – Costa Rica.
Border crossings in Central America where fairly quick, but were quite confusing.
And you generally would catch the bus to the border crossing, grab your luggage, walk across a bridge or road of some sort, get a ticket so you can pay the exit fee, and then go to a different place to actually pay it, then walk along to the entry station of the next country and do a similar thing.

And you never seemed to know what to do until you actually got there.  What you may have researched, what prove to be inaccurate, so I would try to befriend people on the buses, so I could copy them, unless they were locals.

Anyway, I arrived in San Jose at around 4pm, and headed to a cafe near the place I was going to stay at. I met this awesome girl named Michaela, at the Bambuda, and she very kindly let me crash at her place for a couple of nights.

So that wraps up February – sorry for the length!

Again, as a summary of sorts, here are my highlights from February:

Countries visited: 4
Brazil, Ecuador, Panama & Costa Rica

Highlights:
1. Playa Estrellas – swimming with Starfish – priceless
2. Dancing up a storm at the sambadromo during Rio Carnaval
3. Meeting up with Samanta in Quito

Lowlights:
1. The afternoon at Copacabana beach – with the undertow, Megan’s stolen wallet & my fainting spell.
2. Carry over from last month – with more pouring rain in Iguazu Falls.
3. More ouches: Face-planting in Rio, and fracturing my nose & pulling a knee ligament.
I also burnt my calf on a motorcycle exhaust in Rio (first ride on a motorcycle, so didn’t know how to avoid it – scariest ride too!)

A Funny:
Looking like a raccoon after my face-plant was quite humorous!  The colours and swelling that appeared, was quite impressive! It lead to some funny conversations and looks at El Hostelito in Ecuador lol.

A Challenge:
Trying to get taxis in Rio was a major mission!  I had to walk back from Ipanema once, as I couldn’t hail one!

Take care, and talk next month, while I’ll keep exploRen x


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