Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

In 2010, Yi Lin Promises To...

I've never felt so far behind everyone else before. Friends in Singapore started sending out New Year greetings 15 hours ago and are already halfway through 1 Jan 2010.

Here, we're watching the countdown at Times Square 'live on CNN and waiting for New York City to roll into 2010 in 15 minutes time. Then we wait another 2hrs for 1 Jan to arrive in the Southwest.

I can't remember what my New Year resolutions for 2009 were. I think I didn't make any for the past 2 years. If I did, it must have been to bite the bullet and embark on this trip of a lifetime, and complete it safe, sound, happy and fulfilled. This year, I have our blog to remind me - word for word - my hopes and wishes for 2010 that I pen down tonight.

Far away from the distractions of work duties on New Year's Eve, which basically involved alot of running around while silently praying that Singapore's countdown event at Marina Bay goes smoothly without a hitch, I spent some time on overnight bus rides in South America and more recently, on flights and long car rides in the US, mulling over my 2010 resolutions.

Before getting down to penning those resolutions, I would prefer, really, to reflect upon what a great year 2009 has been for us. But since we've spent almost the whole of 2009 planning and fulfilling this trip of our dreams - and we're not quite done yet - I'll save my reflections for later, when it comes to an end. Believe me, 19 American states and 19 other countries later, we will have alot to say.

Very simply, for 2010, I hope to:

(1) Bring my fitness and health to a higher level

This involves:

(i) Working out at the gym twice a week and doing yoga, swimming and blading at least once a week for each activity.

(ii) Completing a 10km run in a outdoor running event

(iii) Bringing my weight down to 50kg and maintaining it (at least there will be no more IHOP pancake stacks and $2.50 B&J pints to get in the way of this resolution!)

(2) Cook For Others

But first, I'll need twice-monthly cooking lessons from my parents to learn some of the family recipes (hear ye, hear ye Mum & Dad!) Then, it's on to contributing dishes towards family gatherings, and organising get-togethers with friends at our place (or anyone else who would like to volunteer theirs!) with food cooked by yours truly.

(3) Improve Upon An Old Skill

This would be dancing, which I really miss. Picking up ballet again would be lovely but I'm looking forward to exploring other fields of dance. Gonna check with my friend Eleanor who's teaching at a dance school back home on options.

(4) Learn A New Skill

This would be oil painting! I'm planning to sign up for art classes and complete at least 1 piece that's good enough to be framed up and displayed on our walls at home.

(5) Plan The Next Big Thing

Taking a year off work to travel the Americas has been one big Life Project. With that done and dusted soon, I'll be on the lookout for another grand scheme to work towards achieving. Sure, there are more places to travel - East Africa, Scandinavia, The Galapagos and all those beautiful diving spots in the Asia Pacific - but long-term travel is going to be off the cards for awhile. I'm toying with a few big ideas - working and living abroad may be one of them. Running my very own hostel/guesthouse - definitely. Once I've decided on what it will be, the next step is to chart out a plan towards achieving it.

Of course, somewhere in there are plans to start a family, short vacations overseas, and setting out milestones to achieve for work when I return to the office in March.

2010 rolled into New York City a few minutes ago. I'm still patiently waiting for our turn to ring in the new year in snowy Arizona. In the meanwhile...

Happy New Year to all our readers. May all of you be blessed with a fruitful and fulfilling year, chockful of love, joy and dreams that come true.


Go 2010!

P.S. And to those who bought copies of our GO Calendars, thank you very much once again for your support - and remember to use those calendars!

Dan's New Year Resolutions

I'm not really the kind to make resolutions in the New Year, other than the ones jokingly made to deflower virgins (circa 1990s), lose weight (circa 2000s) and have three kids by end of the year (since getting married).

Maybe because I have been brought up to keep the promises I make, and resolutions are basically just promises to myself. Why make a promise I know I will break?

But this year is special. I spent most of 2009 traveling, seeing and experiencing the many wonders that are found in the Americas. More importantly, the time spent thinking and reassessing myself and my life. So, for 2010, I have decided to make resolutions in much the same way that I would have received targets for work - resolutions that are ambitious yet achievable, and deliver genuine benefits.

My objectives are:
1) To show to my family that I value them
2) To improve myself so as to take my career to another level
3) To maintain good health
4) To keep me happy with life in general

So, here goes:

1a) Cook a meal for the family at least once a week. Of course, the cooking we've done thus far has been very simple. So, if the family wants quality and variety, I guess they would have to guide me along. And my dad is a very, very VERY good cook! :)

1b) Go for at least one dive trip with my cousin Aini.

1c) Organise at least one get-together event for cousins and siblings. Just for the fun of it.

2a) Read 2 self-improvement/management related books. It's been more than a decade since I read 7 Habits for Highly Effective People and nothing else since then. That's horrible! So, any recommendations, anyone?

2b) Join Toastmasters to improve my public speaking and conversational skills. I can't just keep making dirty jokes to get people to listen to me, right?

2c) Get myself into a 'Green Team' in the next company I work for, to learn about and implement green practices in the company.

3a) Gym and/or swim and blade at least 3 times a week, with emphasis on improving my metabolism. And friends are welcome to join me!

3b) Start with 2 sessions of 30 pushups a day, work up to 2 sessions of 50, and maintain for the rest of the year. Very modest targets, but anything more would take up too much time. I just want to maintain, anyway.

3c) Cut down to one visit to KFC per month. *sob*

4a) Replay God of War I and II in God Mode, then play God of War III. Because Kratos rocks!

4b) Read the entire Star Wars: Legacy of the Force series, which chronicles the path of Jacen Solo (Han Solo's son) into the Dark Side.

4c) Attend and bring more friends to Budak Pantai concerts. And check out at least one MiCapella performance too!

There are going to be provisos, of course. Provisos are necessary to ensure that I do not wilfully break my resolutions. So, some of these resolutions will get thrown out if I get an overseas posting, for example. It's hard to foresee what will happen in the coming year, but I'll just take it as it comes!

The Great Cold American Birthday

We're not yet done with our posts on Brazil but I'm jumping the gun here abit. And I've a good reason to - Dan celebrated his (thirty) fourth birthday yesterday!

As mentioned in my birthday post, it's really hard to make any detailed birthday plans in advance because we're not quite sure where we will be on a certain day. While I managed to pinpoint our arrival in Flagstaff, Arizona, in time for Dan's birthday and New Year's Eve, I could only make vague plans for the day itself - and no, they didn't involve any surprises at all. We didn't have the advantage of being in the office and away from each other this year to make secret phone calls to restaurants or do secret shopping during lunch time for gifts.

So the only surprise element for both our birthdays this year was location location location - and we couldn't have celebrated our big days in two more different places. Dan was nice enough to bring me to a dry, warm place earlier in October - nevermind that it was on the driest spot on earth, the Atacama Desert.

And what did the poor guy get in return? A cold wet snowy birthday in Arizona, in the height of winter!

That's not a white studio backdrop by the way

I had planned for us to visit the Grand Canyon - which he affectionately terms as The Big Crack - on his birthday, thinking that it would be the highlight of our time in Arizona. After all, it was pretty much the only thing we came to see here. It was a good thing that we decided to go a day earlier instead - it would have been wrong to ask the Birthday Boy to give up his warm possum-fur gloves cos his wife insisted on wearing her pretty but useless mitts which soaked up tonnes of icy-cold snow.

With the grand feature done and dusted on 29 December, what were we going to do for Dan's birthday? Think, wifey, think....

Well, we went back to basics and headed out for a simple brunch-movie-dinner date! While that may have been nothing special if we were celebrating back home, it's a pretty big deal if you haven't been watching movies on big screen in the last 9 months.

First stop - to IHOP to fuel up against the neverending snowfall.

All psyched up at the thought of birthday pancakes!

Strawberry New York Cheesecake Pancakes!

Since I'm the only one whose around to sing Dan a birthday song 'live' this year, I felt great responsibility to keep singing throughout the day on behalf of everyone back home. Thankfully, the staff at IHOP stepped in to help!

Their version of Happy Birthday wasn't quite the traditional one though. It was sung to a different tune altogether and started with "I don't know but I've been told, somebody is getting old...."

Well, it sounded good anyway!

The happy man enjoying the sight of a line of chorus girls belting out a birthday song just for him

Birthday sundae on the house!

It's his birthday so he can take a photo with our pretty waitress if he wants to!

Totally stuffed from our pancake brunch, we took a walk down memory lane and indulged in a few arcade games together, something which we used to do while dating. We tried out Dance Dance Revolution just for laughs - although I couldn't find the breath to laugh much after scuttling around on the platform like a drunken spider on Speed. Never, ever choose the crazily-fast Japanese songs on DDR.

I say hip, hop, a hip hip hop, a hoppy hop hop, hip hip hip hop. (Okay, I've no idea what made me write that)

For my birthday, Dan brought me to the moon - in the form of Valle de la Luna in Chile. I couldn't let him just stay on earth on his birthday, could I? I wanted to bring him to another planet as well, specifically, Pandora. So it was to the Harkins Theatres for the movie of the year - Avatar in 3D! Being used to choosing our seats when watching movies back home, we weren't used to the free-seating system in the cinemas here. We went in a tad too late - all the good seats at the back were taken up. We survived in the 3rd row from the front nevertheless. We got to keep our 3D glasses, which we're going to personalise with blingblings (okay, at least my pair will be shiny) and tote them around for all the 3D movies back in Singapore (can't wait to watch Alice In Wonderland already!)

All ready to board the space shuttle to Pandora (whaddya mean that's just the cinema?! Rubbish!)

Surprisingly, all that space and time travel didn't make Dan too hungry. So we hung around Barnes and Noble for awhile (finally, a bookstore that isn't filled with only Spanish or Portuguese books) then went to find some ribs for the birthday boy to gnaw on at Chilis.

Baby got Back! And some boneless buffalo wings too.

My husband asked me to look pretty for a photo. So I obliged.

Then came another round of birthday songs and complimentary cake, this time from the Chili's staff! (I took a video but it's taking forever to upload - check back here for the footage soon.)

After note: it's HERE!

(yessss, you did hear him say "looks like a giant nipple" at the end before he proceeded to tongue the ice-cream)

It was a HUGE warm molten chocolate cake!


Yeah. It was a really simple birthday celebration. A far cry from last year when I gathered his friends and drove him blindfolded to his surprise birthday party at MacDonald's. And catered to his Jedi fantasies by presenting him with a really cool Lightsaber (which he promptly used to poke his wife with.)

But a very special birthday celebration nevertheless.

Dannie letting you know that he enjoyed his birthday thoroughly!

Happy Birthday baby. May we have many more happy years celebrating our birthdays together.

I love you.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What's Your Favela, Tell Me What's Your Favela

About 20% of the population of Rio de Janeiro live in favelas - areas somewhat like slums, but not quite.

Story has it that in the late 19th century, the local government in Brazil needed large numbers of people to help them fight a civil war. In return, it promised its volunteer soldiers land to build their homes after the war.

After the war was fought and won, though, the soldiers did not receive the land promised, so they moved to the hills of Rio de Janeiro (soldiers always like to hold the high ground) and started building their own shantytowns there.

A seemingly haphazard collection of houses

The favelas started growing as Rio became more prosperous, because the poorer people living in the rural parts of Brazil started coming into Rio to look for jobs and opportunities. And they had no place to stay too, so THEY moved to the favela and started building their own homes there too, and the favelas just keep growing exponentially! To date, there are approximately 200+ favelas in Rio de Janeiro alone.

In a favela, each person or family builds their own residence. There are pretty much only 3 rules. One, your residence has to be 4 metres by 4 metres. Two, the walls and ceilings have to be very strong and thick. Three, be prepared for someone else to build their residence on top of yours!

Because each unit is separately built, there is no standadisation of color or materials used

Kids at play in a tiny playground within the favela

The 2002 movie, City of God, was based on life in a favela. It focused on organised crime and drugs. While favelas are justifiably notorious for crime and drug trafficking, it is also simply home to a community that wants to earn an honest living, even though that honest living might mean working as chambermaids and cleaners in the city proper for minimum wages of less than 500 Reals!

We came to a school that was run by a Non-Government Organisation (NGO). The school was primarily a place that helped keep an eye on youths during non-school hours, before the parents return from day jobs in the city.

Kids playing and learning together

I was particularly intrigued by how the students had made decorations by recycling what we commonly perceive as rubbish.

Christmas tree made from discarded bottles

Decorative snowflakes made with sawed off plastic bottles

The school also has handicrafts made by the students for sale. And proceeds goes back to the operating funds for the school, which is good. A few of these students eventually get good enough to set up their own simple stalls to sell their wares too.

Phone pouches made dubious by the presence of metal pull tabs. Only if you don't mind a scratched phone, people!

The wife liked his work enough to purchase a decorative painting for the house

After visiting the school, we went for a short walkabout the favela. The labyrinthine passages were cool and mostly shaded. Since the favela we were in was one of the bigger and more 'cleaned-up-for-tourists' ones, there was also sanitation and electricity, provided by the city officials. In fact, the residents of this favela enjoy an advantage that most other favelas still do not have - an address. With a residential address comes the ability to receive bills for services (electricity and sanitation), open bank accounts and even to obtain credit cards. Which also allows the residents the opportunity to purchase bigger-ticket items in instalments. It's amazing what the provision of road names and numbering for addresses can achieve to improve the standard of living of people in the favela.

This favela is lucky enough to have services provided by the city

It should be noted that tourists should never, ever go walking around in a favela on their own, though. We were led by a guide who knew the people and the layout of the place, and more importantly, what to do and where to hide, should any sort of fighting or turf wars occur.

Our guide assured us that unless there was a turf war, life in the favela was really crime-free. The drug lords who take care of the favelas go to great extents to prevent crime in their territory, because crimes mean that the police will be called in, leading to disruptions of their trade. There was a story about how a boy tried to snatch a bag from a German tourist, who resisted and fought back. Somehow, in the pushing and shoving, the German was knocked down onto the road and killed by an oncoming vehicle. Now, the German was part of a huge group of tourists who were here for a wedding. Diplomatic pressure was applied, and police had to start raiding the favela to find the young snatch thief who caused the death of the tourist. The drug lord found that his trade was disrupted by the constant presence of the police, and got his own enforcers to go after the young criminal too. Ouch. It was definitely not a happy ending for the boy.

Personally, I don't believe that the favelas are really crime-free now. I can believe that they are free of serious crimes like kidnapping and murder, but the traveler should still be wary of opportunistic crime by using camera straps and holding on tight to their bags.

All in all, a favela tour which takes approximately 2-3 hours and cost us 60 Reals each was a pretty good deal for its educational value. As one United Nations study put it, the proximity of the favelas and the rich in Rio de Janeiro is amazing. On one side of the street, you have people whose income are equivalent to that of Switzerland. Just across the road, and you have people whose income are equivalent to Ghana. And yet, life still goes on.


The swanky Sheraton Hotel is right in front of the favala

Friday, December 25, 2009

They Did Not Slipper Away From Us!

After completing my GCE 'O' Levels, I applied to enrol in a polytechnic instead of a Junior College, unlike many of my classmates. Crazy as it sounds, the poly appealed to me for 2 main reasons: No school uniforms and no more studying of Chinese.

I eventually regretted both reasons; when I visited my friends at their JC, I realised how short the girls' skirts could be, and of course, I could have spent 2 more valuable years upgrading my Chinese from a conversational standard to a business standard.

Ah well, I enjoyed poly life anyway.

One of the modules I took in my Business Management diploma course was Marketing, where I was first acquainted with the term 'Marketing Mix', which is also generally known as the 4 Ps - Price, Product, Place and Promotion. The 4 Ps are the variables that a savvy marketer can manipulate to position his product in the market to generate mucho dinero.

In later years, when studying for my degree, I found that the Marketing Mix was reinforced and expanded into Packaging, People, Processes, Physical Evidence, Power and the Phantoms of Christmas Past, Present and Phuture (heh... this post is written on Christmas after all :p).

But let's bring in the focus a little. We have a Product - rubber slippers (or thongs, or flip-flops, whatever you call them), of a brand called havianas.

A pretty brown pair for the wife

Havianas are sold in Singapore only in New Urban Male shops, which specialises in beach/casual wear. Correct me if I'm wrong, please, because I can never bear to step into the shop. The People there are all young buffed up, top-heavy youths with heavily gelled hair that stand straight up. I suppose the chain tries to project a metrosexual vibe, but to me, it just ends up damned gay.

Prices of havianas there start from about SGD 40. And amongst my friends, none of us own a pair of havianas, preferring instead to go to Sports Connection to buy other slippers that cost less than SGD 5.

Things are totally different in Brazil. For one, the Power of havianas is such that many guide books actually say that if you want to blend in with the cariocas (residents of Rio de Janerio), you gotta wear singlets and shorts (or swimwear) all day, and you NEED a pair of havianas to complete the look.

havianas here cost only slightly cheaper than in Singapore, but we caved in and bought many pairs. Well, I bought one pair. The wife bought 3, and an additional pair for her sister. Why? Because havianas are just so pervasive in Brazil!

Solid black pair for me, with Brazilian colors down the sides

What really astounded me was how much the havianas have become a part of culture. Not only are people wearing them all over, but they are literally sold all over the place too! Check out these Places:

At a supermarket

At a flea market - the Hippie Fair that is open only on Sundays

In a department store - the LeBlon Shopping Mall

In a boutique along the busy streets of Rio

And I bought my pair from a roadside 'general items' store. And there were newstands that sell the slippers too. Go figure.

Strangely enough, it really doesn't seem like a 'pride' issue, where the locals sell havianas because it is Brazilian in origin. Neither does it seem like a profit thing - with so many competitors, how much can a single retailer sell? I've also ruled out special designs available only for certain sellers, because the same designs are everywhere. Somehow, it just IS.

What a marketing coup!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Gentle Reader,

Light graffiti prepared with love in Rio de Janeiro

We never thought we'd say this, but we actually miss Christmas shopping, and placing presents under the tree. And most of all, we miss being with friends and family during this festive season.

Our Christmas this year is a little off-beat, but with a tight budget and traveling schedule, I guess singing Christmas carols while cuddling is gonna be the best way to celebrate the love of the season.

Thank you for sticking with us so far. We hope you have been enjoying the stories of our travels since we set off from home in March 2009.

As the year draws to a close, we would like to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Hit it, girl!

Video taken in an Ushuaian snowstorm

Taking A Domestic Flight in Brazil

God of War is probably one of my favorite games on the Playstation. It's an action-adventure game that combines savagery with cunning, with stunning graphics and a superb gameplay experience. When I finally get back to Singapore, I would probably want to buy God of War and God of War II for the PS3 and replay them, warming up for the time GOW III is released.

But hey, Sony did not pay for an advertorial on this blog, so let's get down to business. The only reason I mentioned GOW is because of a scene between the (anti-)hero, Kratos, and Icarus. You know, the idiot who made wings with wax, then flew too close to the sun? Well, turns out he didn't die after all, but became muy loco, as they say in Latin America. Check out the clip below.


That said, the tale of Icarus was what went through my mind as the wife and I went on a hang-gliding experience just off the coast of Brazil. Though the 15 minute flight cost each of us 200 Reals (SGD 160), we thought that this was a new experience worth trying out. After all, we really couldn't think of anywhere else nearer to home, where you can just take to the skies and glide along the coast.

So we waited and waited for a good day. Hang-gliding is a little like hot-air ballooning. The weather plays a very important role in determining if you were going to stay grounded for the day. Rain forced us two postponements, wind in the wrong directions forced one, and general cloudy weather caused yet another postponement. When Marcio, our freelance tour agent called to tell us all conditions were "GO" if we could get ourselves ready in half an hour, we quickly pushed aside our other plans for the day and jumped to it.

The tour itself was really short and sharp. The hang-gliders (also called pilots) called a cab to pick us up at the guesthouse to bring us to the hang-gliding association. There, we paid a small registration fee and signed our lives away on indemnity forms (seriously, what the hell did we buy travel insurance for, I wonder...). We were then hustled into a waiting car with the glider neatly stowed on it, and brought up the hill to our launching point. And oh, during the ride to the launch point, a portable dvd player was placed in our laps for us to see what we would be experiencing during our flight! As we say in Singapore, chop chop curry pok!

After a couple of rehearsals on the take-off procedure, it was Yi Lin who started flying first! It happened so quickly I didn't even have the chance to prepare my camera for video. This quick clip is therefore in black & white. You don't have to adjust your monitor...

Now, being the super 'ngiao' (stingy) people we are, we had originally wanted to take our own photos and videos. This was pretty difficult, and really not recommended, because

1) We had a zippered pocket on our harness, which you can put your camera in. But when you are flying, that pocket is facing down. Reaching your hand into the pocket to retrieve your camera is a scary affair, because one slip, and it falls. Bye bye camera!

2) The pilots earn extra income by selling the photos and videos they take via a camera positioned on the right wingtip of the glider. The camera faces both of us while we are suspended in the centre of gravity, right down the middle of the wings. Being in the centre of gravity, the pilot can control the direction we face simply by pulling a line, causing us to swivel left, right and even 180 degrees!

So this is the trick my pilot used:

He would exclaim,"Hey look, that's Sugar Loaf Mountain on the left!"

I would then point my camera to my left to snap a shot at it, but at the same time, he is already adjusting the glider so that the mountain is on my left (positioning the glider camera), and then he would swivel us so that my feet now point towards the mountains, then he would snap a pic with the glider camera. With the Mountain behind me, it was pretty impossible to make the movement to aim a shot at it myself.

Well, the first 2 pictures below are taken by me. Everything else was taken by the pilot because I had already given up on being able to take anything myself!

The majestic coastline from the air. Sugar Loaf Mountain is in the background

Huge waves with lots of foam, both above and under water

"Hey look, the hill where Christ the Redeemer is on!" Then our bodies are swivelled so that the hill is behind me (my left arm points to the front of the glider)!

"Hey look, the beach!"

"Hey look! Sugar Loaf Mountain!"

Finally, in an eyes-front position

As we soared through the sky, I could also see the rich/poor divide between the city's privileged, and those who live in the favellas. The estates of the rich are easily recongnisable with their private swimming pools, cars and neatly manicured gardens, while the favellas are squashed together in a haphazard manner. I also learnt from my pilot that on a good day, they do 6 such flights in a day. When the weather is bad, there is no income, and they end up doing odd jobs to supplement their income. What happens to odd jobs that need to be done in good weather then, I wondered - but I did not ask :p

Before long, it was time to land. We made a smooth landing on the beach, with nary a thud - our legs gently settling on the sand.

While the gliders and quickly and efficiently being kept, my pilot came to me and showed me the pictures he snapped. Definitely way more than what I took myself, though his angle was fixed. We figured that as I was holding on to my camera, the pilot was (successfully) trying to distract me from taking my own pictures. I had about 30 pictures recording my flight, while poor Yi Lin only had 12 shots captured by her pilot. Since the pictures are sold at 60 Reals per flight, with minimum of 12 shots to be taken by the pilot, it was obvious that her pilot must have felt no threat from her, since her DSLR was too heavy to be taken out during the flight.

So, here's a tip for future hang-gliders. Bring a small cheap camera and wave it around pretending to take pictures next time. The pilots will take more pictures of you to distract you, thus increasing the value of what you pay for them!

She may be on the ground, but her heart is still flying from that wonder experience!

Once we decided to only purchase one CD, the pilots again impressed us with their use of technology and chop chop-ness. He extracted the memory card from the camera and stuck it into a portable cd-writer. Within 2 minutes, we had my pictures in a CD, and were sent off back to the guesthouse!

Next flyer please!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best Beach In The World

Well okay, we don't know for sure if there are any better beaches out there, but for us, Rio's sun, sand, sea and surf add up to top our list of best beaches visited on this trip.

I used to think that "a beach is a beach is a beach" and that I would never pay thousands of dollars just to travel halfway across to the world just to sit on a beach. Near home, the islands of Phuket, Krabi, Borneo and Bali served as great beach getaways - hop onto a low cost carrier and in a couple of hours, you're there. The furthest we have traveled in search of a sandy paradise were to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and South India.

On this trip, while we spent many blissful hours on beaches in the USA, ran our fingers through pink sands in the Bahamas and played in Puerto Rico's wild waves, none of these enthralled us as much as Rio's beautiful beaches.

For the cariocas (natives of Rio), the phrase "life's a beach" rings true. The people live for the beach. They practically live on the beach, even on a weekday, but especially on the weekends. Unlike some of us who treat the beach as an escape from our daily lives, the Brazilians come here to have fun and interact with one another. Even if you're laying on a solitary khanga (sarong) and just taking in the scene, you are here for the people. Life begets life. And that is exactly what makes Rio's beaches so attractive.

While there are many stretches of soft sands lining the coast of Rio de Janeiro that are worthy of a visit, none can be more notable than the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the latter made even more famous in the Grammy Award-winning "Girl of Ipanema" song from the 1960s.

On a blissfully sunny day, we walked down to Lagoa Rodrigo and rented a couple of bikes for the day. While the lake was a lovely destination in it's own right, especially with tanned, toned, bikini-ed women walking and jogging around the track, we really wanted to explore the coastline and decided to cycle along Ipanema beach instead. Our first visit to the beach got us hooked! We found ourselves wanting quickly finish off our city tours so that we could spend the rest of our time in Rio just laying on the beach.

And since everybody back home has been asking for more pictures of the beach - I'm going to shuddup and just post lots of pix for your viewing pleasure.

Me on my little foldable bike, peddling languidly around the lake

Khangas are a must on the beach. Ours were kindly provided by Rio Dolphin Inn for free.

Copacabana and Ipanema's iconic black and white mosaic sidewalks. Nice and wide and great of strolling.

Walking around in swimwear in the heart of the city is the norm here

A digital screen advises beach-goers on the recommended level of sun protection to put on, depending on their skin colour

Ipanema beach on a weekday

Copacabana beach on a weekend. We wormed through the crowds to find a spot. Here is the view to our left - beach umbrellas dotting the entire stretch towards Sugarloaf Mountain.

And here's looking towards our right. Beach umbies all the way to Arpoador - the meeting point between Copacabana and Ipanema.

There's lots to do on the beach. We loved cooling off in the water.

Dan doing body combat with the huge waves

I preferred just jumping around in the little waves

The locals here don't just sit pretty on the beach - most of them treat it as a sports complex! There are always people surfing, body-boarding, kicking a ball around, tossing frisbees, etc. And don't forget beach volleyball - the Brazilians are infamously good at it.

Kick off your Havianas and pick up a ball!

Hosing down the pitch to cool it down before a game

Hunks playing beach volleyball. Nuff said.

Fresco ball is also popular here. Basically comprises hitting a bouncy ball using paddles


Cooling off after all that exercise is always really nice under the freshwater showers

People-watching is our favourite activity. What makes Rio's beaches so incredibly sexy is not just the bounty of beautiful bodies soaking up the pure sunshine. Everybody is so comfortable in their own skin (or whatever tiny bits of cloth they're wearing), no matter what their shape or size. From what we've seen, cariocas seem quite fanatical about fitness. They can be found exercising outdoors at any time of the day (even at high noon) or pounding on treadmills in the gym till midnight. But the beautiful bodies aren't the ones with unnecessarily skinny frames (for girls) or overly-muscled torsos (for guys) - what catches your eye most often are average-sized bodies that simply radiate health, life and energy.

Here, you don't see girls hiding behind t-shirts and shorts, or cocooned in sarongs. Everything is on full display - and it is this self confidence and unabashed flaunting that make the people here so attractive.

Some people look really really good from the front...

Some from the back. But bodies of all shapes and sizes are welcome at the beach.

The must-have for women: a Brazilian tanga

Of course, some butts look better in a tanga than others.

Hers: tanga. His: trunks (but not tiny tiny Speedos - they are a no no!)

Love is always in the air....

Be it in the water...

Or on land.

One of the best things about a beach in Rio, is that you can shop right on it!

Khangas for sale

Beach accessories

Most of the time, you don't even have to move from your comfortable spot. The shopping comes to you.

An innovative way to sell bikinis and shade yourself from the sun at the same time

These colourful balls are quite irresistible. Just perfect for tossing around in the waves.

Guys grilling shrimp right on the beach and hauling their mobile stoves on their backs thereafter to sell their wares

Best drink on earth - pure coconut water, always cool no matter how hot the coconuts get from the sun...

Mmmmm... refreshing!

No spoons provided here. The vendor chops a sliver of husk for you to use as a spoon.

After all that, there's nothing left to do except watch a marvelous sunset in The Marvelous City.

Gazing down Ipanema

Running in for the last dip before nightfall

Surfers riding on golden waves

Just as charming at night

Best way to end off a marvelous day - a big cold cup of ice-blended acai (a tasty Amazonian palm fruit with a host of health benefits)!

My favourite Brazilian snack - the fruit I mean

While Copacabana and Ipanema can't lay claim to pure white sands or crystal-clear waters, their beauty lies in the fact that the beaches are accessible to any carioca - regardless of race or social status, which are the two main factors that create The Great Divide within Rio's local population. Dark-skinned locals ply the sands with goods for sale, which are readily bought up by their fairer counterparts lounging in the sun (and ironically trying to get darker), thus providing the former with work and income. Poor favela kids play in the waves alongside privileged children decked in the latest branded kiddy swimwear. They are lucky to be able to find joy at the beach. I imagine that simply being able to run on the sand and gaze across the seemingly-endless ocean would make a whole lot of difference to kids living in landlocked city slums, encased in miles of traffic and concrete. White, mixed or black; rich or poor, they are all here to share the warm sands and swim in the same sea.

Therein lies the true beauty of Rio's beaches.

And I'm really glad I traveled halfway around the world for this one.

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