Rio mayhem

Before flying off to Rio, we had a brief look a the map to see where it was in lattitude relating to Santiago.  Did you know it is quite a lot further north?  It´s 30 degrees in Santiago.  It´s also 30 degrees in Rio. We didn´t have the ambient humidity comparisons – but we were expecting to be hit by a wall of heat when stepping  off the plane and were not disappointed.  It wasn´t quite as bad as anticipated actually, but we were very grateful that the bus from the airport had aircon!  The bus was an experience in itself – we had to run to catch it as it was just about to depart and had no time to stow our bags.  It turned out this wasn´t unusual – health and safety in the UK would be having fifty fits!  There were about two or three other bags in the aisle as it was pretty full, but no one seemed particularly bothered.

We had been extremely lucky in having the lovely Rachel Le Feuve as our lady in Rio, who had an equally lovely friend who was exiting the city for the duration of the carnival and was happy to let us take up residence.  We had definitely not been expecting to stay in a fully equipped apartment in Ipanema for the festival, our budget would not have stretched to that!  We were joined by Emily, a friend of Rachel´s from New York so the four of us did really well.

What can be said about Rio Carnival? It’s an awesome street party where the whole city goes wild for five days. It’s actually hundreds of individual street parties ‘Bloccos’ that take place in neighbourhoods accross the city. They range in size from a few thousand people to the biggest which are 100,000 to 150,000 people. So theres only one way to go at carnival and that’s large…..

The alter ego make his first appearence!
The alter ego make his first appearence!

How to describe Brazillians at Carnival?  Um, quite … forward.  On our first day, we passed someone handing out strips of condoms and thought it was just advertising for Durex, but it is more likely that it is in the hopes that they get used.  Throughout the festival, all of us were approached repeatedly by complete strangers wanting to play tonsil hockey.  The self-titled “best kisser in Brazil” was  ery persistant in offering his services to Rachel, and only ran away when Tom jumped on him and asked for a sample – he was dressed as his alter-ego though…

Rio is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains, beaches and lagoons,   so obviously we had to take advantage of that and made an attempt at the Two Italians route (a six pitch 5.10b) on Sugarloaf Mountain one morning.  Because we needed to climb in the shade, it meant a 4am start to make it to the base of the crag by 6am (declining the taxi driver’s offer of a flat rate fare) which we pretty much managed. The walk to the bottom of the route was pretty sweaty despite the early hour, but at least it wairly straight forward. This was our first sample of Brazillian ‘bolted’ climbing. I had had a look at an other crag a few days before to find what looked like widely spaced pegs hammered into drilled holes .  Two Italians on Sugarloaf was no different, the first bolt was well out of reach of even a clip stick  but the climbing was not that bad. The bolts,  known as P bolts,  are hammered into drilled holes packed with a few strips of metal. They seeemed secure enough, but I wasn’t keen to test them. The route was really technical climbing on granite so was a bit of a wake up call given neither of us had been climbing for six weeks. Going was a bit slow and the topo was not very good so we failed to complete the six pitches befor ethe sun started to make it round on to the cliff. We retreated from the top of pitch 3 to avoid being fried in 36 Deg. C heat. The views from sugar loaf were fantastic across the bay and over to Christo on Corcovado –  another climbing objective.
Climbing on Sugarloaf in Rio
Climbing on Sugarloaf in Rio



Habla Ingles? (or “s**t, we really should have taken Spanish classes before we came”)

We arrived in Santiago mid Feb to blue skies and 30 degrees C, but a gorgeous dry heat which made it completely bearable and a great contrast to the driving rain that hit Vancouver the day we left.  We did get stiffed on the taxi fare but that is par for the course!

Things we discovered in our first few days:

Foreign cash points sometimes work differently (see Travel Tips for South America)

Learning Spanish would have helped.

Pisco sours on an empty stomach make for a cheap night.

Flip flops are preferable over hiking boots, even if you get blisters between your toes.


The next three or four days were spent getting settled, finding storage for our skis etc and starting to look for a van.  It didn’t take long before we wanted to get out of Santiago, if only for a short while, so we booked a trip to Valparaiso.  This is a Unesco World Heritage site, so had some point of interest there at the very least – Santiago itself isn’t the most beautiful of cities.  As it turned out neither was Valparaiso, but what it had was the most amazing murals decorating the walls – Chile does turn out some extraordinary street artists and with five universities in the city there is no shortage of artists to decorate.  Somehow they can do this to a World Heritage site but have to make all repairs in the colonial style – makes little sense to us but that is legislation for you.

Street art - Santiago
Street art – Santiago


Street Art
Street Art

One day was enough for the city, so we had a trip up the coast to Concón for a little bit of climbing on the coast.  Of course that day it decided to rain a little bit but we did get to meet a few Chileano climbers who spoke excellent English.  Not helping when learning Spanish!

Hunting for the base vehicle for our camper van build started in earnest when we got back to Santiago. The preferred option was a Peugeot Boxer high top, and there seemed to be a few around so we got out and started viewing. The second van we saw seemed perfect, with everything in order and the price was talked down to 4.2m Pesos (about £4,300). There was a bit of an oil leak from somewhere but it didn’t seem too bad. Tom went back the next day to check the chassis and engine number and try to figure out where the oil leak was coming from… it turned out the oil was nice clean oil from the gearbox and we decided not to buy the van. We would continue the search once we returned from Rio Carnival.