Jul 3 11

Risks in Rio

by Emily Benjamin

Rio was big on my list. I was so excited to see the harbour, Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer, and see if I could capture some of the colourful city in the nine days we were there. But as soon as we arrived at our B&B in Ipanema, our host spotted my camera bag and suggested I leave it at home. What? Leave my camera here? What would be the point of that?? Not getting it stolen apparently – even in broad daylight, on a weekday, at the Botanic Gardens. I’d read Rio was bad, but I was surprised.

We later realised that Ipanema was tame compared to where we stayed next, in Lapa. We met a couple that had been mugged just two days earlier and had their money, camera and even their Lonely Planet stolen. In daylight, in Lapa. So we now had to be even more cautious. But if you go straight to the tourist spots, by cab, you’re apparently safer. It’s walking around that will get you. On the third day, the weather had cleared and we were off to see Christo Redentor atop Corcovado… along with ever other tourist and caroica in Rio. We didn’t realise our visit coincided with Corpus Christi, and were met with huge delays and lines to get to the top. Eventually we made it JUST in time for sunset, and slowly wedged ourselves between hundreds of others to get views before the light faded. All the while squeezing my camera bag around me, of course.

The view itself was pretty amazing. I do wish we’d been in one of the helicopters buzzing around, because there were certainly way too many people visiting that day. I now consider myself an expert of people management at touristic sights, because I’ve seen a few. Angkor Wat, Alhambra, Stonehenge and Petra are all very well managed – restrictions on numbers or even having enough space to cope for people is a big part of it. Some of the sights in Barcelona, and certainly Corcovado here in Brazil, however, require a bit of re-thinking. But that won’t happen, because the private drivers that charge a little more than average to whisk you up the mountain will lose their business, and I don’t think any Brazilian will take that lying down. Unless they’re already lying down atop Corcovado to take a photo, like the 20+ people we saw doing it that afternoon, being trod on by everyone else.

The other big sight we were looking forward to was Sugar Loaf Mountain. Or as a young French girl might say, Sweet Bread Mountain – her translation from Pane Sucre. Sugar Loaf did not disappoint – a prime position in the bay, it has 360degree views of Rio de Janeiro but without the hoards of tourists at Corcovado. And the view is just as spectacular, if not more so. Sticking with my theory that certain sights are better from below or afar (the list includes Eiffel Tower, waterfalls and lighthouses to date) the view of Christ the Redeemer from Sugar loaf is potentially better than vice versa. Sugar Loaf isn’t as high, but the view is still great. And maybe the most important advantage of Sugar Loaf over Corcovado? Monkeys!

We explored Lapa a bit more in the next few days, but also caught up on some reading and resting. Oh, and eating of meat. I have loved the return to red meat here in Brazil, after the cold cured meats of Spain. Here you can get every meat, on huge skewers, just lightly rubbed in salt and then BBQ’ed. Absolutely delicious, and even better once we found a restaurant that prices meals by the weight. One night we paid R$120 for dinner, the next we had the same meal but for R$25. Bargain!

Overall, Rio wasn’t the party paradise I expected it to be. But feeling unsafe is certainly not an aphrodisiac for a country. Being the photo-nut that I am, I was too scared to head out with my camera, for fear of losing it. It’s insured, and we’re covered for theft and mugging, but it would be a huge inconvenience to have my camera taken, right before Machu Picchu. A day at the police station to lodge the paperwork, days to sort it with insurers back in Australia, and no real certainty over getting a replacement – not much fun. So I went the cautious route, and as such I have the same tourist-y photos as most people. Maybe next time in Rio, I’ll learn enough Portuguese to tell potential muggers where to stick it if they try to get me.

Now we’re out of Brazil and in Chile, getting ready to board a plane to Easter Island! And if it’s as good as they say it is, I’m extra glad my camera wasn’t stolen :)

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Filed Under → Words
Jul 1 11

Rio de Janeiro

by Emily Benjamin

I had high expectations for Rio de Janeiro (surely I’ve said that about somewhere else before?!). I remember planning our time here over a year ago, and begging for more than a week to explore the city famous for Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf Mountain, a spectacular coast line, all your can eat meat restaurants and, well, Brazilian women. But within 12 hours of arriving, I suffered a real set back. Our hostel owner took one look at my camera bag, and suggested I leave it at home. I was shattered. Sure, I have heard stories of mugging and theft in Rio – it’s the Barcelona of South America, after all – but the part of me that likes risk-aversion immediately kicked in and I was camera-less. For nine days in Rio, I only took the camera out twice – once to Sugar Loaf and once to Corcovado. And it should be mentioned that on the bus home from Corcovado, we were told of a couple mugged just 2 days ago in broad daylight, in Lapa. Lapa, where we were staying. Needless to say, when we hoped off the bus after sunset, we sprinted from the stop to our hostel to protect my precious cargo. But more on my camera and safety concerns on my Words post – this post is meant to be all about the 2 days of featured photography from Rio de Janeiro.

And it should be noted, Rio de Janeiro really is gorgeous. Colourful, warm, lively and full of genuinely lovely people. As long as you don’t get mugged!

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Filed Under → Travel
Jun 21 11

San Sebastian

by Emily Benjamin

When planning for our time in Spain, I had my heart set on San Sebastian. I remember reading about it having one of the best inner-city beaches in all of Europe, beautiful views and delicious food, and it lived up to the hype. Although the weather wasn’t kind to us the whole time we were there, we made the most of the sun while it was out and wandered the streets, spent time on the beach and hiked up a small mountain to enjoy the views. Eventually we tracked down a restaurant called La Cuchara, and feasted on the best tapas I’ve ever tasted. If you can find the place, it is absolutely worth it – I’m only disappointed we didn’t find it sooner! I took a bit of a break with photos while I was there, but managed to capture this small set before we packed up and headed for Rio de Janeiro.

Filed Under → Travel
Mar 29 11

Rabbit Island and Kep

by Emily Benjamin

When Jamie Talbot suggested we skip Sihounakville in favour of lesser known Kep, and Rabbit Island, I was concerned. The first blog I read suggested the island was tiny, with hardly any people on it, and all it offered was cheap bungalows and a nice walk around the island. That’s exactly the point, he exclaimed! I slept on it though, and that was a good decision. While Kep is small, possibly even smaller than anywhere else I’ve visited so far, it is a beautiful, relaxing and inexpensive spot right over the border in Cambodia. There might not be a lot to do here, except to drink beer with the locals, eat fresh crab, and visit Rabbit Island for the aforementioned bungalows and beach walks, but still – highly recommended.OutputIMG 9192OutputOutputIMG 9225IMG 9234

Filed Under → Travel
Mar 28 11

Hurray for Rabbit Island!

by Emily Benjamin

After only a few hours sleep overnight on Rabbit Island, I was very happy to wake to birds chirping, roosters crowing and the sun shining, on what was a glorious Monday morning. Actually, I only just realised it was Monday yesterday, so I’ve clearly lost track of the days finally. And to forget that it was a Monday, of all days, as I slept in, read a book, and enjoyed a late breakfast – my, what a better way to spend a Monday opposed to working!

We eventually got up at about 9am, and decided to make the three hour trek around the entire island. It was considered the day before, but as I wasn’t feeling too well it was postponed in the hope that the weather would be kind to us the next day as well. And it was. So first up, we filled our bellies with the only breakfast option available – pancakes! Nutella pancakes! Thank you, Monday!

Setting off at about 10am, we circled Koh Tonsay through mini jungles, across rocks and seaweed, and along empty beaches. The weather was sublime, the breeze was cool, the few locals we met along the way were charming. As we walked, we discussed how easy it would be to arrive on Rabbit Island and go undetected for as long as you wished – either pay upfront for a month in a bungalow, never to be disturbed, or rough it in the jungle, and no one would know you were there. There’s no internet, no hot water, and only limited electricity. If you are happy with Nutella or banana pancakes, then you’ll be satisfied with the breakfast options. There was also a shortage of crabs while we were there, so sometimes you might have to have fish instead. But really, you could escape to Rabbit Island and never be found again.

But I digress. The walk only took 90 minutes, so we were back before lunch. Maybe we walk very quickly, or maybe it’s just the skewed perception of time and distance that people have in these parts of the world. Either way, it was time for a cold drink, a cool swim, a brief sun bake, and a quick massage. We sat at one of the small bamboo shacks on the beach and had banana shakes, and pulled faces at a 5 year old local boy (photo included). A quick dip in the cool water got the sweat off our backs, before we air dried ourselves on the sun lounges under the palm trees. Then right there on the beach, there are a few options for massage – coconut oil, Thai massage, Khmer style – but we went for the coconut oil option. An hour later, my brow was un-furrowed, the knots in my shoulders were gone, and I could walk without leg cramps again. Bliss, bliss, bliss.

Then onto lunch, with the freshest ingredients you could imagine. I had a fish curry with ‘fresh coconut milk’ – and the cook went over to a pile of coconuts sitting at the base of a tree and selected the ripest one for my curry. Amazing. Jamie ordered crabs with lemon pepper, and a moment afterwards we saw a woman wading out to get the crab bucket from the water. They pulled out 6 or 7 small local crabs and carried them into the kitchen for cooking. Minutes later, a fresh and very tasty lunch was delivered to our table – absolutely awesome. My curry was delicious, perfectly seasoned with the local pepper, and Jamie devoured his crabs. Slowly, I might mention, because neither of us have extensive experience with prying meat from a tiny crab shell!

By 2.30pm it was back to the sun lounges for a post-lunch rest before the boat whisked us back to the mainland. It was a brief, energetic yet relaxing time on Rabbit Island, which may not stay so untouched for much longer. If you’re ever in the south of Cambodia, do stop by for a swim, a walk, a massage and some fresh crab. Simply divine.

Once back on the mainland, we decided to hang around in Kep to watch the sunset with a couple of local Angkor beers before heading back to our bungalow at Botanica. But more on that in the next post!

– Em :)

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Filed Under → Words
Mar 26 11

Phu Quoc Island

by Emily Benjamin

I remember seeing a photo on Travelfish while researching our trip to South East Asia and thinking “I want to go to there!” (thank you, Liz Lemon!) ¬†With some further investigation I discovered that the island I was seeing was Phu Quoc Island, so far south and west of the bottom of Vietnam, that the Cambodians believe it should belong to them. I can see their point – when we arrived in Kep, on the Cambodian coast, a few days later, you can plainly see that Phu Quoc lies much closer to the Cambodian coastline than to Vietnam. But politics aside, it’s a gorgeous, undeveloped gem – an alternative to the busy Thai islands, and a great option for a weekend getaway in the Gulf of Thailand. Unfortunately I spent far too much time sleeping, reading and enjoying the warm water, so there are hardly any photos to share… but here’s just a couple.IMG 9097OutputIMG 9065

Filed Under → Travel
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