Olympics: Wrap Up

This is my way delayed wrap up post dedicated to planning a trip to the Olympics. While we went to the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, I’m hoping some of this information will come in handy for others planning trips to a future Olympics. It’s the advice I wish I had read and the advice I would give to anyone looking to attend the Olympics. We hope to go to another Olympics in the future (hopefully Paris 2024?) and plan to use what we learned to make the next trip even more memorable.

This post will be a bit different from my other Wrap Up posts, as it’s less destination specific (I hope), and more event related. Hopefully some of what we learned and advice I can give, will carry over to other Olympic host cities. Rio was a bit unorganized it seemed and a very spread out city so I almost feel that any other city will be a bit more organized and have the arenas closer together. But regardless, I feel it’s sound advice for someone looking to attend the Olympics. As a reminder, here’s my timeline of how we prepped for the Olympics (written before we left). So without further ado, let’s get on with this…

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Flashback: Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve (Belize 2012)

Close to San Ignacio is the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve that was established in 1944 to help protect the Belizean pine forest. The majority of the region was destroyed in a devastating fire in 1949, so most of the pine trees today are around the same age from after that date. There are a variety of sights to see within the protected area and if driving yourself you will need an all wheel drive or 4×4 car as the road is a bit rough. The whole area is in stark contrast to anywhere else we went while in Belize and is well worth the time to visit.

Our first stop in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve was Rio on Pools, which is located just off the main road after entering the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. There are two sections to Rio on Pools. You can walk down a bunch of steps for good views of waterfalls and a pool that you can swim in or you can a little upstream for lots of smaller pools with mini rapids connecting them. We didn’t do any swimming while there and spent most of our time walking around the upper pools. We were incredibly fortunate and got lucky that we were the only people at Rio on Pools at the time!

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Badminton (Rio Day 8)

Our final Olympic event was badminton and we couldn’t have been more excited to end with a fun event. We don’t watch a lot of badminton at home, maybe occasionally watching a match during previous Olympics but that was about the extent. I’ve played a backyard game of badminton only a handful of times. But it was a lot of fun to watch live badminton.

Badminton has been an event in the Summer Olympics since 1992, though it did appear in the 1972 Munich Olympics as a demonstration sport. Asian nations typically dominate the sport with China leading the way with a total of 41 total medals, followed by Indonesia and South Korea with 19 medals total each. In the Singles competition 29 competitors (both men and women) are selected to compete, while 19 pairs are selected for the doubles competition. A badminton match in the Olympics is a best of three games played to 21 points using rally scoring. The winner must either win by two points or be the first player to reach 30 points.

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Christmas Ornaments 2017

Continuing with a mini post on Christmas showing off our souvenir ornaments we picked up in 2017. It’s a fun tradition Brian and I started way back when we first started traveling and it’s fun to try and seek out an ornament everywhere we go. Sometimes it’s easy and other times it’s harder. Sometimes it’s an actual ornament we find, other times it’s something we can turn into an ornament once we get home.

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Flashback: Tikal, Guatemala (Belize 2012)

We did a day trip from San Ignacio to Tikal National Park in neighboring country, Guatemala with Pacz Tours. The border between Belize and Guatemala is located incredibly close to San Ignacio and after a brief stop at the border to get our passports checked and exchange money, we started on our almost two hour drive to Tikal National Park.

Tikal National Park is the largest archeological site within the American continent and is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Tikal comprises over 500 square kilometers of jungle, including approximately 16 square kilometers of buildings. The park was rediscovered in 1848 when a gum collector saw some of the temples roofs off in the distance and went to inform the governor of the northern Guatemalan province. At the peak, Tikal likely had up to 100,000 residents within the city in the 8th century.

The first part of the park we visited was Complexes Q and R, which is a unique twin pyramid complex that has rarely been found in other Mayan sites. The Complex Q was built to celebrate the end of a twenty year period, called a Katun in the Mayan calendar. It consists of four buildings based on the four directional points with pyramids on the east/west and rectangular buildings on the north/south. We were able to climb to the top of the east pyramid for a good view. The east pyramid was used for rituals and celebrations, while the west pyramid remains covered still. Our guide said they haven’t uncovered all the complexes yet because no remains have been found and they haven’t wanted to spend the money to continue the excavations. The north building in the complex contains an important stela that displays Chitam, who was the last ruler to leave a written record of Tikal before the collapse.

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Sugarloaf Mountain (Rio Day 7)

We ended our day long private tour of Rio by our guide dropping us off at the famous Sugarloaf Mountain. We had read horror stories of long lines to both buy tickets and wait in line for the cable car, so we pre-bought tickets online prior to coming to Rio. When we walked up and were able to bypass an incredibly long line, we were glad to already have our tickets in hand. Now do you have to pre-buy tickets? On a normal day, probably not. But the lines can get really long there during peak season, especially around sunset.

Sugarloaf Mountain (or Pao de Acucar) sits at the mouth of Guanabara Bay. Sugarloaf is the taller of two summits and is reached via two cable cars. The first cable car travels from sea level to Urca Hill (or Morro da Urca) while the second cable car than travels to the peak of Sugarloaf itself. You can actually hike up Urca Hill from the Red Beach if you feel up for the challenge. Supposedly it’s not all that difficult, though it is steep in some spots and is a 1.6km trail one way. On Urca Hill, there is a small cafe and other facilities to relax and take in the outstanding view over the surrounding bay and ocean and with a view of Sugarloaf also.

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Flashback: San Ignacio, Belize 2012

We arrived in Belize City early in the morning, rented a car, and immediately headed for San Ignacio (about a two hour drive). There are loads of accommodations to choose from while in San Ignacio, but the most popular is a jungle lodge. Of course the jungle lodges aren’t right in town and are instead scattered around the town in the jungle itself. Of course, these aren’t exactly in the budget category, but there are plenty of hostels in San Ignacio itself if you are looking for something cheaper. There is a wide range of prices and luxury available within the jungle lodge category. We choose one on the lower end (at least it was back in 2012) and loved our few nights stay there. The one major caveat if you choose a jungle lodge, is factoring in how to get into town. Many hotels can arrange transportation into town and to tours themselves, but it may be cheaper in the long run to rent a car for the days you are staying in San Ignacio. We rented a car for this portion of our trip and were happy we had the flexibility to drive ourselves around and offset some of the cost by being able to drive ourselves into town without having to pay extra.

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Escadaria Selarón (Rio Day 5 & 7)

We visited the famous Selaron Steps (or Escadaria Selarón in Portuguese) twice while in Rio. We visited briefly while on our food tour while walking between two different eateries and then again on our full day private tour. The iconic steps were created by the Chilean artist Jorge Selarón as a tribute to the Brazilian people. The artist lived along the street and he began covering the run down steps near his doorway with multicolored tiles. The Selaron Steps run from Joaquim Silva Street to Pinto Martin Street connecting the Lapa neighborhood to the Santa Teresa neighborhood. There are a total of 215 steps covered in tiles and feature tiles from over 60 countries both on the steps and the surrounding walls.

It’s an incredible display of work and love to the Brazilian people. Our food tour guide said she was glad that the Rio government recognizes the artwork and is dedicated to making sure it is protected. She said the project could have easily gone the way of destruction and abandonment, but thanks to Snoop Dog’s music video shot there it helped gain international recognition and has since become an icon of the city.

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Tijuca National Park (Rio Day 7)

Following our visit to Christ the Redeemer, our guide took us around Tijuca National Park. There is plenty to do within the park itself and we saw just a small portion of it during our brief tour. You can go on hikes, see waterfalls, and have a picnic among other activities. Plenty of tour organizers have trips to the forest if you don’t have your own private guide or private vehicle. Some claim that the Tijuca National Park is the largest urban forest in the world, though it’s heavily disputed and the honor likely goes to Johannesburg’s urban forest. But regardless, the park is massive and encompasses approximately 32 square kilometers.

Surprisingly the park isn’t natural, it’s a man made reclamation of land after the majority of the Atlantic Rainforest had been cut down for sugarcane and coffee. In the late 19th century, Major Manual Gomes Archer was worried about water supply and erosion of the land and launched the effort to replant the land. The land has been a national park since 1961. The project has been highly successful and no visit to Rio de Janeiro would be complete without a visit to the park. Although you are technically inside the park when visiting Christ the Redeemer, it’s worth a venture to other landmarks further inside the park.

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Christ the Redeemer (Rio Day 7)

We left one entire day completely free to see the city of Rio de Janeiro while in town for the Olympics. We debated several different options for how best to see some of the popular sights around the city. Normally we’d lean towards a do-it-ourselves tour, but with the crowds from the Olympics and the language barrier, we opted to hire a private guide for the majority of the day to take us around. We found Bernard through TripAdvisor and he was fantastic. He planned the day out and made recommendations to us on different things to visit than we originally asked about. He was incredibly knowledgeable about the city having grown up there and provided great commentary and insight into the city’s culture.

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