I went on two very different day trips during my stay in Rio that showed just how varied a region of Brazil can be.
The first was an all day boat trip to and around Ilha Grande. After what seemed like an eternity napping on a small bus (in reality about 3 hours), we arrived at a port and boarded our boat, the Ipanema, that would take us out for the day. The boat was equipped with a bar, an excessively loud speaker system, and clientele ranging from families to rowdy dancing Argentinians. It seems that everyone is drawn to this day on the water, and I can see why. The water is perfectly blueish green and the collection of islands looks like a dream world. It’s impossible to capture just how pretty it is in pictures.
We stopped four times throughout the day. First we had half an hour to explore a tiny island with white sand and inviting water. Second the boat simply stopped and let all of us jump off and swim with the fish. They supplied pool noodles and this seemed to make everyone think we couldn’t travel far; people looked like sitting ducks bobbing on noodles next to the boat. The water was pleasant though and watching everyone’s different jumping/diving styles was entertaining.
Third was the stop at Ilha Grande for a walk across the island. The jungle flora was cool to see, but the seemingly deserted buildings felt a lot like walking through the Lost island. Venturing from one side of the island to the other was less of a hike than we were hoping for, but it was nice to get out and move around. And then the unexpected highlight of the day happened: there seemed to be some sort of amateur photoshoot going on while we were waiting to be picked up, and everyone from our boat was mesmerized. They do say that Brazilian women have the best butts for a reason… A brave and cheeky Argentinian decided to join in on the fun, mimicking her modeling bare-assed and even swimming up to surprise the girl as she posed on a rock. He excuted this stunt perfectly and became the hero of the trip.
After all the men eventually tore themselves away from this scene and rejoined the boat, we finally had a chance to eat lunch at our last stop. Then it was back on the boat for a sunset trip back to the dock. It was a beautiful scene that was completely contradicted by the rowdy Argentinians starting a dance party to songs like Gangnam Style. I was a brief participant when I was coaxed into attempting samba-like dancing on a platform on the boat. The movements of samba dancing are hard in general for non-South Americans and even harder on a boat, but I figured eh why not? It was fun.
The whole day felt like a scene out of a movie about how to vacation with friends in South America: bucket of beers on a boat in perfect sunshine surrounded by pristine scenery. It was the type of day that made us turn to each other and say, “this is my life right now, fucking awesome.”
Petrópolis was pretty much the opposite of Ilha Grande. This old German settlement is up in the mountains above Rio. The scenic drive to get there winds through lush green hillshide; and our drive was accompanied by stops for antique hunting and delicous sausage sandwiches. When we eventually arrived at Petrópolis I felt like we were driving through a small European village that had been plunked down in South America. And then I learned that I was on this adventure with the perfect tour guide.
Alfredo spent a few years of his childhood living in Petrópolis, and his family was so involved with the city and the Imperial Museum that I learned more from him than I could have hoped to learn from any guidebook. As we walked around the grounds of the museum, past ornate houses, to the cathedral, to the Crystal Palace, and ending at a very traditional Brazilian steakhouse, Alfredo told us stories about Brazilian history. I learned about the war with Paraguay, the last Emperor of Brazil, and efforts that were made to preserve important art and architecture in Petrópolis. Alfredo if you ever read this – thank you!
An unexpected part of this tour was the beer festival that was happening in and around the Crystal Palace. Of course we were there for the time the played Edelweiss; any time I’m around live German music I hear this song. It’s like they know.
Petrópolis would have been difficult to get to without having a car, so I was lucky to have hosts who offered to take me there. It was a lovely town with an interesting mixture of Europe and Brazil, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there.