“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Planning for Rio: Brimming with Ideas

Rio has been on my hit list for a while.  I've been watching the fare for at least 3 years.  The stars aligned this month when I saw the fare drop to a modern all-time low from Chicago on American, and I scored AA gift card at the same time.  I wasn't about to let that ship sail, so within a week I booked my ticket.  Forecast is 88 degrees and sunny.  Chicago winter can bite me, I'm heading to the beach!  I'm not sure yet if I'll have a travel companion, so at this point I'm running on the assumption that I'm flying solo.  This is fine.  I fared just fine on my own in Dubai 5 years ago, and I have better language skills in South America.

The more I read about Rio and the surrounding area, the more I'm getting excited... and brimming with ideas!  I'll be there for 5 full days, and I arrive in the morning on the first day and depart at night on the last, so I have almost 7 productive days there.  My original plan was to be a beach bum.  And I will, for no less than 2 days.  But I also don't want to cram too much in and need a vacation after my vacation.

I heard Cariocas love their juice bars for breakfast before hitting the beach.  Then it dawned on me that I adore fresh-squeezed guava juice.  I fell in love with it on Easter Island and haven't had it since.  I can't find it.  No surprise, fresh guavas are difficult to locate in North America.  A little research and I discovered that guavas are a staple at Rio juice bars.  Starting every day with a fresh goiaba juice is going to make me incredibly happy... especially since I really don't like fruit in general (save berries).  Beach Sucos is a juice bar that has 2 locations in Ipanema, so it's a start to visit that one, as well as spending an obligatory day on Copacabana Beach.  Plus they have cheap eats.

At least one day will be devoted to Crocovado, which I learned is best visited first thing in the morning and on a weekday when the crowds are fewer.  If the ticket office opens at 8am, I'll show up at 7am.  Get the touristy stuff out of the way early then nap on the beach the rest of the day.  Sugarloaf mountain?  Maybe.  Corcovado might be enough to get a good view of the city, do I really need to see the view from that high again, just a different vantage point?  I never went up the Eiffel Tower because, well, you can't see the Eiffel Tower from the top of it.  Kind of ruins the view of Paris if you ask me.  But Sugarloaf is next to the Urca neighborhood, and there's a particular post-beach spot I want to hit for a beer and a snack.  Although, one can choose to hike up Sugarloaf.  Hmmm...

One idea that just hit me like a ton of bricks is horseback riding in the jungle.  I need to look into this.  See monkeys, sloths, tropical birds... I love riding horses.  I should do it more often.  This would be a beautiful opportunity.  This might be my second-best idea yet (the beach always wins).

I'm also on the hunt for a gastro-tour.  We took a Kebab Krawl in Istanbul which was one of the highlights of the trip.  So I contacted the tour organizer to see if they had counterpart in Rio.  No (although they're planning one!), but they hooked me up with the Frugal Traveler who may have some insider tips.  I reached out to him on Twitter and am awaiting a response.  He lived in Rio for years and specializes in traveling on a budget.  Right up my alley.

Meanwhile, I've fallen in love with his FT blog.  As I'm discovering while trying to find accommodations, Rio is expensive.  I am not paying $200/night (even $350 as I'm commonly finding) as a solo traveler for a hotel.  Besides, if I'm indeed going to be solo, hotels are impersonal and not the best way to meet fellow travelers.  I prefer B&Bs (always has great success w/ these in foreign countries), and even a hostel, if I can find a vacancy at one with a private en suite room.  No luck yet.  But that blog turned me on to pousadas, so my lodging search will take a tangent and explore this idea.

As for eating, I love me some street meat.  This will be easy.  Food stalls.  Caipirhinas on the beach.  And explore the neighborhood of Santa Teresa for at least one afternoon for some more interesting photography. (This will also give me an opportunity to break in the new camera since my last one broke in Istanbul).  I hear there are some hopping bossanova and samba bars up here, but not sure how I'll wing this at night and solo.  Some logistics issues here.  Do I stay in Santa Teresa and be close to "home" after I go out and not have to venture far?  Or do I stay down near the beach in my plan to be a bum?  It's more expensive by the beaches... and staying at a B&B or hostel up near Santa Teresa may hook me up with other travelers or people that can direct me to some horseback activities or a small group to venture out with for drinks.

I'm not about to make any decisions before reading my Rough Guide, which has promptly been ordered, of course!  However, if you're reading this and have visited Rio, I welcome your hints, tips, and advice... and I know, I know, Rio can be... well, I have to play it safe and be smart.  But safety tips and neighborhood avoidance tips are helpful.  No, I do not plan on doing any favela tours.  I don't believe in using poverty as voyeurism.  In the meantime, my other goal is to squeeze into a bathing suit in 4 weeks.  Travel always seems to motivate me.  If that isn't motivation, I don't know what is.  Now to brush up on my Portuguese.