South America tagged posts

Rio Mini-Trip Report Part 2, the Sheraton Grande Rio, Sunshine, and AA GIG-MIA-DCA

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For my third night in Rio, I switched hotels because my friend was staying at the Sheraton Grande Rio his second night. Prices were a little less than the Caesar Park, so I decided why not. The property is in Leblon, about 10 minutes from Ipanema – a bit west of the main beach and shopping/hotels/restaurants area of Leblon. The hotel is more resort-like than those on the main drag, with its own beaches, pools, tennis courts, etc. It’s also a huge hotel, with 26 stories.

The Sheraton from Leblon

The Sheraton from Leblon

As an SPG Gold member, I had gotten an email two days prior to my stay asking me my arrival time, and inviting me to check in at the “Club Reception” on the 26th Floor. I had hoped this would mean I’d have club access, as its pretty tacky to tell people to check in at the club, and then banish them.

The lobby of the hotel was a flurry of activity, much more hectic than the Caesar Park, reflecting a mix of conference guests, tourists, businesspeople, and airline crew. I took the elevator up to the 26thFloor, where there was a long reception desk between two glass rooms, a club lounge and a restaurant. The desk clerk was friendly, and told me I’d been “upgraded” to an Ipanema view room on the 23rd floor, and that they’d also given me club access, which included breakfast, “tea” from 3 to 5, and happy hour from 6 to 8.

Club Lounge , Sheraton Rio Grande

Club Lounge , Sheraton Rio Grande

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Rio Mini-Trip Report 1: AA Main Cabin Extra DCA-JFK-GIG, a Second Try at the Caesar Park Hotel, & Rain in Rio…Again

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I’d already been to Brazil twice since November, with Rio and Iguazu in one trip, and Bahia, Sao Paulo, and Brasilia in another.  But American had a really cheap, sub-$500 fare from DCA to Rio, and a friend was going down for a weekend.  I hadn’t done the Rio nightlife on my last trip, with only two nights in the city, and the weather had been grey and cloudy, so I thought this would provide a second opportunity to do that stuff.  Also, after eighteen months of solo travel, the idea of traveling with someone else was nice. My friend was only going for two nights though, which struck me as insufficient (I’m getting old), so I went down a night early.  The routing would be a lot more straightforward than my last trip to Rio, and I’d be flying DCA-JFK-GIG on the outbound, and GIG-MIA-DCA on the inbound.

My trip down to Rio was pretty uneventful. It started with a stay at a crowded Admirals Club at DCA, where I worked a bit, and a 737 from DCA to JFK. The one thing of note was an honor guard meeting an arriving plane at one of the gates at DCA.  I’d never seen an honor guard meeting a plane inside a terminal before, and assume it was to greet the family of a fallen servicemember.  The leader of the group welcomed about a half dozen passengers off the plane, and none looked super sad, but obviously I have no idea.

Honor Guard at DCA

Honor Guard at DCA

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The Journey Home: BSB-MIA in AA Coach, VIP Club Brasilia, a Terrible MIA Centurion Club Experience & MIA-JFK in International Business, and JFK-DCA in Domestic F

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: 2 comments

American Flt. 214 Brasilia (BSB) to Miami (MIA)
Boeing 757, Main Cabin Extra
Sched. Dep. 10:55 PM    Actual Dep. 10:41 PM
Sched. Arr. 4:52 AM +1  Actual Arr. 4:27 AM +1
AA Flt. 2493  Miami (MIA) to New York-Kennedy (JFK)
Boeing 767-300, “First”
Sched. Dep. 7:10am        Actual Dep. 7:09am
Sched. Arr.  10:03am       Actual Arr. 9:51am

American overflies Brazil.  Even when an entire 767 flight to Rio was cancelled on my way down, the Sao Paulo flight was ½ empty.  In addition to the 2x daily to Rio and Sao Paulo from Miami, though, at the time I was flying, they were also the also flying to Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Manaus, Recife, and Salvador.  Oh yeah, then they fly to Rio and Sao Paulo from New York.  And to Sao Paolo from Dallas and LAX.   AA has tinkered with this significantly over the past 10 or so years, and has started flying smaller planes (it also cut its route to Viracopos after only five months).   But now that TAM is a Oneworld partner, with nonstop service of its own from JFK and Orlando to 2 cities and from Miami to 7 cities, and Delta is amping up its Brazil service along with its partly-owned partner Gol, combined with a sluggish Brazilian economy, and there’s just too much.  And this is also why flights are consistently under $500.  So it was not surprising that, at the time of my March trip, AA had already announced getting rid of its Belo Horizonte flights, and since then have announced cuts of  Salvador and Recife.

I knew my flight from Brasilia to Miami would be pretty empty based on the seatmap.  AA flies its bleh 757s to the smaller cities in Brazil, and even at check-in, my entire row of Main Cabin Extra was empty.  The whole row – not just my side of the aisle, as was the row behind it.   The flight leaves at 11pm, and is a bit shorter than the flights to Rio and Sao Paulo, as Brasilia is to the northwest.

I left the Melia at 8:15, earlier than necessary but I didn’t really have anything more to do in the hotel.  I took an Uber for the whopping fee of 24 reais — $6.  Since the bus is 10 reais, that was a good move. The ride took about 20 minutes, and I was at the American check-in by 8:35.  There were four lines, and three contract agents-  full service main cabin, bag drop, elderly/handicapped/small children, and Priority/Business Class.  Maybe they brought out a fourth agent as it got closer to flight time, but maybe not.  Anyway, for some reason it took superlong for every person at the counter (except me).  As I’d seen in the past, in Brazil, anyone over 50 feels comfortable putting themselves on the elderly line.  Here, though, they were complaining, because one agent was serving priority/business, one serving the general line, and one both the general and elderly.  This could not stand.  So while I was next on the priority line, a woman in her early 50s with a gigantic suitcase edged herself out of the elderly line, so that even though I was clearly called by the agent, she pushed herself in my path.  She was a Russian-American, and did not seem to be in any hurry.

The agent apologized to me, and was very friendly, asking me about my suntan and commenting on my routing. My bag was tagged through to JFK, and I was on my way through the very short security line.  There was no line at immigration, but the agents (two in each booth) studied my passport and spent a lot of time on it for some reason.   The gate area was empty, unsurprisingly, as there was only one more nighttime departure, a 2:30am flight to Panama City on Copa.  TAM’s Florida flights leave midday.  I headed to the Aeroportos VIP Club, a Priority Pass (and the only) lounge one level below the gates, and was shocked by how nice it was.  It helped that I was literally the only person there, but the décor was smart, with varied seating, including a long bar with power outlets built in, round tables, couches, and arm chairs.  It must have been renovated recently, as everything was spotless and new.02-20160304_205603 03-20160304_205915

Aeroportos VIP Club Brasilia BSB

Aeroportos VIP Club Brasilia BSB

But the service was also phenomenal, unlike anything you see at an Admirals Club or most Priority Pass lounges.  The buffet was small, but varied with some small sandwiches, cornbread, soup, a cheese plate, cookies, and fruit, plus wine, beer, and soft drinks (there didn’t seem to be hard alcohol, but maybe you could ask).  A man was watching the buffet like a hawk, though, and every time someone went and took something from the buffet, he would make sure the tongs were l...

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28 Hours in Brasilia

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I got to my hotel in Brasilia in plenty of time to shower and head to dinner.  The problem with Brasilia’s zones is that by definition the “Hotel Zone” isn’t going to have anything much but hotels and some businesses catering to their guests.  There was a shawarma stand and a Fogo de Chao across the street, and then lots of hotel restaurants.   Brasilia is supposed to have really good restaurants though, so I decided to go farther afield, finding a place on TripAdvisor that was about a five minute drive away in a residential area called Asa Sul.

I got an Uber, which embarrassingly cost 7 reais – less than $2 – but it wasn’t a walkable distance.  The restaurant, Cantina da Massa, was quite good.  It had a lively outdoor seating area, though I was given an interior table that was poorly located as often is the case when seekingor a table of 1.  It was Restaurant Week in Brasilia, and I wasn’t super hungry, so I figured I’d go with the prix fixe meal, which was much cheaper than the rest of the menu.  It was 3 courses for about $15, starting with little cheese cubes and tapioca cubes alongside a spicy duck-like dipping sauce, followed by sea bass in a shrimp sauce and mashed potatoes (which were sweet but not sweet potatoes), and then a delicious panna cotta.  I also had a bottle of water, Coke Zero, and espresso, and the bill was still less than 20 USD.  (It would have been a lot more if I’d ordered a la carte, but much less than a comparable meal in the States.)  It really was a lovely meal, and I was glad to have a more relaxed nice meal, since I hadn’t really done that much on this trip.  My Uber back was also $1.50.

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Orientation to Brasilia and the confusing Melia Brasil 21

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As a means of orientation, before I get into specifics, some background on Brasilia. Brasilia was founded in 1960 to serve as the new federal capital of Brazil. It was one of the main projects of late-50s president Juscelino Kubitschek, who was a strong supporter of a new centrally-located capital as part of an economic plan. The city was created from scratch, designed by urban planner Lucio Costa, with most buildings designed by famed modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer. The entire city was built in 41 months.

Model of Brasilia

Model of Brasilia

The city is entirely planned, with little to no mixture of uses. What that means is that residential neighborhoods are separate from business neighborhoods, which are separate from government buildings. The city is shaped like an airplane, with different “zones” named by use. For example, there are two hotel zones, “Zona Hotelera Norte” and “Zona Hotelera Sud”—one on each side of the fuselage of the “airplane”, known as the Monumental Axis, which runs the length of the city. The residential areas are the “wings.”

Melia Brasil 21 Bloco B

Melia Brasil 21 Bloco B

Selecting a hotel for Brasilia was very confusing, and I don’t remember exactly how or why I picked the way I did. In terms of location, almost all of the hotels are in similar locations, given the zone system.

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To Brasilia? Sao Paulo to Brasilia on TAM and the Lounge Situation at Congonhas (CGH)

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When I booked my Brazil flight, flights in and out of Brasilia or Sao Paulo were the same price. I’ve always been a bit of an urban planning nerd, as well as a 20th Century art and design nerd, and Brasilia had long fascinated me as a city completely built in the mid 20th century. So Brasilia was a bit of a no-brainer for me. So I wound up my trip there, and planned to head back to the US on AA’s now-defunct BSB-MIA flight. Given that there isn’t a ton to see and do in Brasilia, I figured I’d spend a day there, and take the quick flight over from Sao Paulo on my last night in Brazil.

TAM planes at CGH

TAM planes at CGH

I had heard Uber worked well in Sao Paulo, so figured I’d give it a try for the trip to Congonhas, the “city” airport of Sao Paulo (Congonhas is to DCA as Guarulhos is to Dulles). The Intercontinental concierge had told me it would take about 30 minutes to get there, but I allowed plenty of time and left the Intercontinental at 2:30pm for a 5:00pm flight.   It took about 3 minutes for my Uber X, a late model Toyota Corolla, to arrive, and we were on our way. The driver offered me

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A Brief Sao Paulo Stay and the Intercontinental Sao Paulo

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Due to a series of events, my short time in Sao Paulo provided even less time to experience the city than I had planned – I didn’t explore the nightlife, restaurants, or museums at all really, and only saw a few of the main sights. Part of it was how late I got to my hotel on the first night, but there were also work crises that took up a good portion of my time there, rainy weather, and problems with my phone which required multiple trips to a market that sold tech accessories and a wipe of my phone. But what I did experience I enjoyed, and Sao Paulo was unlike any other part of Brazil I’ve been, with the feeling of a bustling mega-metropolis and a great energy. Plus, my stay at the Intercontinental was fantastic.

The Intercontinental Sao Paulo

The Intercontinental Sao Paulo

Pulling up at the Intercontinental late at night felt really good after my days in bug-infested Morro de Sao Paulo. It was shiny, clean, and fancy. The lobby and common areas were sleek, modern, and well-maintained. I had reserved two nights at the hotel on points at a rate of 40,000 a night. Just before my trip, the rate dropped to 35,000 points a night, but there were no award nights left at that point, and my attempts at asking IHG Reservations to adjust me the difference went nowhere. The hotel is in the Jardins area of Sao Paulo, which is relatively safe, clean, and fairly convenient to get around.  The concierge an front desk staff were helpful and friendly, and the hotel felt like  a retreat from the busy city.

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Leaving Morro de Sao Paulo and Salvador to Sao Paulo on Avianca Brazil

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Avianca Brazil Flt. 6259, Salvador (SSA) to Sao Paulo-Guarulhos (GRU)
A320, Economy
Sched. Dep, 6:12PM   Actual Dep. 6:23PM
Sched. Arr. 8:50PM Actual Arr. 8:36PM

My trip to Morro de Sao Paulo would have made a lot more sense if it weren’t for the problems I had with two different transfer companies. The fastest way to get from Morro de Sao Paulo to Salvador International Airport is to fly. Online, companies show two different companies flying 8 seater planes a total of 4 times a day. But I tried emailing 4 different companies, and only heard back from one of them. I sent them my date, and they wrote back with a quote and time, with a plane that left in the afternoon, from an airstrip right next to my hotel. So I booked a ticket on the 4pm Avianca Brasil flight from Salvador to Sao Paulo using Avianca LifeMiles, and emailed to confirm the trip. I then got an email back saying the flight was sold out, and that I’d have to take a morning ferry.  It is highly unlikely that flight sold out in the ensuing 25 minutes. Ugh. So I looked into other options. I then spent $75 to cancel my Avianca ticket and another $25 booking fee to rebook on the 6pm flight, and booked a service that combined car and short ferry to get me to the airport, leaving at 12pm from my hotel. Then, on my first night in Morro, that company emailed me in broken English saying I was the only one who booked it, so I had to either pay double or take the 11:30 catamaran. So that means I’d now spend about 12 hours traveling, since I now needed to be at the catamaran dock at 11am, meaning leaving my hotel at 10am, and not getting to my Sao Paulo hotel until close to 10pm. Ugh. (And it would have been cheaper for me to get the ticket for the catamaran and taxi myself.)

It’s always unfortunate when a calm relaxing place has no calm, relaxing way of leaving.   With a 6:15pm flight out of Salvador, I now had the insane departure time from my hotel at 10:30, to take a car to second beach, walk...

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Trip Report: Morro de Sao Paulo and the Villa dos Corais

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If Miami, Santorini, and Phuket had a baby, it would be Morro de Sao Paulo.

When I was planning my trip, I wanted to spend a few days at a beachy resort-like town. I didn’t realize at the time that there was plenty of that right around Salvador, but looked at other places in Bahia and around Brazil. A lot of them looked amazing, like Trancoso, but were too expensive and too remote to travel to for just a few days. I thought about Florianopolis, but it seemed like it wouldn’t be super-easy to navigate as a solo traveler (though it probably would have been a good choice in retrospect). Instead, I settled on Morro de Sao Paulo.23-DSCN0702

There are a ...

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Trip Report: Exploring Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

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When I started researching my trip of 10 days in Brazil without Rio or Iguazu, one destination came up over and over again – Salvador. And after spending 3 days in the former colonial capital and third largest city in Brazil, I definitely understand why, and would love to go back to what was my favorite destination on the trip.

Salvador is in Bahia, on the northeast coast of Brazil. Of Brazil’s major cities, it is the most heavily influenced by Afro-Caribbean culture. It’s also known for having an insane Mardi Gras, but I went a few weeks after. The weather is definitely tropical, and I was there in the hottest and most humid season of late February. But I didn’t really mind. The life of the city really revolves around the sea, and even in the city limits there are lovely beaches. Live music is everywhere you go, and the vibe is just right- the perfect mix of city bustle and tropical relaxation. As a big fan of what I call “small big cities,” with 3 million people, Salvador was perfect.

I ended up losing half a day in Salvador due to American’s failures, and spent the most of that day at the mall. From the Sheraton, I

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