This is the South American dream; NICK MCCARTHY gets to see the real Rio on a three-country South American adventure.
The reflection staring back was sweaty, slightly pink, frankly overdressed and clutching a litre of alcoholic smoothie like his life depended on it.
I had just bought the very large, very potent and very cheap smoothie from a booze-filled trailer fitted out with strobe lights and a sound system that would not have been out of place in the 02 Arena.
I had thankfully not wandered into this Brazilian street party on my own, but had been brought here with a guide on a little after-dinner excursion.
The area, once a no-go zone, is now a music and bar lovers' paradise where thousands party the night - and morning - away.
Our night in Lapa was a world away from the tourist-filled hotel bars and was one of the extra experiences we enjoyed courtesy of our G Adventures tour guides.
Some of the official itinerary (which I'll get to later) would rank highly on anybody's must-do wish list.
But it was the guides who arranged the night in Lapa, and an impromptu pool party near Iguassu Falls, who helped to make this adventure so memorable.
The whole trip had kicked off in the Chilean capital of Santiago, which is oddly as close to the Andean ski resorts as it is to the beaches of the Pacific.
It's also the perfect hop-off point for the sprawling wine estates of the Maipo Valley.
You could easily spend the day wandering the magnificent estates of Concha Y Tora and Undurraga, but instead sampled the amazing Carmenere wines. To excess, I have to admit.
Tango |the La Boca, in capital, With slightly sore heads, free souvenir glasses and blow-up wine bottle protectors, we flew south to the stunning lakes and volcanoes of the Chilean lake district where we were treated to a traditional hotpot meal with a local family.
Any slight uneasiness about marching into somebody's living room with a tour group numbering in the high teens was soon lost when the Pisco sours started flowing alongside the authentic Curanto (meat, shellfish and potato stew).
We had a bit of extra time to soak up the slightly bizarre Germanic atmosphere of Puerto Varas in the strudel-serving cafes and German beer houses before cruising through the lakes to Argentina.
It certainly lives up to its billing of one of the most scenic cruises in the world, but it might be a good idea to take some warm clothes to avoid being rescued from the cold by a kindhearted Argentinian with a fleece.
After a long and chilly journey we arrived at Bariloche's Design Suites hotel and were treated to some truly spectacular views from our luxurious rooms overlooking Lake Nahupel Huapi. Bariloche feels and looks more like an Alpine ski resort in central Europe than a resort on the tip of Patagonia and it's a dream destination for anyone who loves outdoor activities, chocolate and wine.
dancers in neighbourhood of Argentina's Buenos Aries Our stay here was sadly brief but we moved on to my favourite city on the whole trip - Argentina's capital, Buenos Aries.
G Adventures includes a city tour of the major sights, which includes the resting place of Eva Peron and a stop at the brightly coloured and buzzing backstreets of La Boca.
The area, home to the world famous Boca Juniors football team, is nothing like the cosmopolitan city centre where you have to sample the amazing steaks and optional tango show before you go.
We left the chaos of Buenos Aries' domestic airport and caught our first glimpse of the magnificent Iguassu Falls from the air.
The 275 separate falls dominate a breathtaking two-mile stretch of the Iguassu river and it's the showpiece of this amazing tour.
On the Brazilian side you get to see the falls from the trails bordering the river and in Argentina you can stroll right up to edge of Devil's Throat (the very top) on platforms that float above the water itself.
You also get the chance to take a 'boat trip' at the base of the falls, but it's nothing like Niagara's Maid of the Mist. The power boat trip is purely for the adrenaline junkies and takes you to within metres of the cascading waters.
We dried off and flew to Sao Paulo before driving straight to the delightful seaside resort of Paraty.
The pedestrianised cobbled streets and 18th century architecture are a throwback to Portuguese Colonial days and, unlike Rio, there's a relaxed and laidback feel to the town.
It's in a bay surrounded by 65 tropical islands, but we ventured inland for lunch and a tour of the traditional Afro-Brazilian community of Quilombo, which provided a fascinating insight into a life away from the tourist trail.
You could easily spend a couple of weeks in Paraty, but we set off on our drive to Rio and booked ourselves on a half-day tour to see the very best the city has to offer.
We were whisked around the major sites like Christ the Redeemer and the Sugar Loaf mountain without all of the distances and difficulties of crossing such a vast city independently.
Our hotel overlooked Copacabana beach and if you are feeling fit you can walk a few miles down the road to Ipanema beach and the nearby craft market.
It's fair to say that the chances to put your feet up on this whirlwind tour are few and far between, but it's as varied as it is rewarding.
G Adventures says it prides itself on providing an insight into the real countries, the real people and the more authentic experience.
I thought all that sounded a bit cliched to be honest - but, d'you know what? That's exactly what we got on our near three-week tour.
NEED TO KNOW N | | NICK McCARTHY visited Chile, Argentina and Brazil with assistance from G Adventures.
The 15-day Comfort-level |Southern Explorer trip is priced from PS2,949 per person. It starts in Santiago and ends in Rio De Janeiro. For more information or to book, call 0344 272 2040 or visit www.gadventures.co.uk The tour price does not include |international flights but does include arrival transfer, all internal flights, comfort level hotels, 14 breakfasts, one lunch and one dinner. All transfers are by private van or bus.
There are also included tours |of Buenos Aries, Iguassu Falls and two wine tours in the Maipo Valley. Tours groups are guaranteed to be small (maximum of 16) and there is also the guidance from a Chief Experience Officer.
Tango dancers in |the neighbourhood of La Boca, in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aries
| The view from the top of the |Sugar Loaf Mountain, looking down over the beaches of Rio
The colourful neighbourhood of |La Boca in Buenos Aries
The view near to the |Design Suites Hotel in Bariloche, left, Christ The Redemer statue in Rio, above, and The Town Hall in the centre of Bariloche, Argentina, right
The view at Igassua Falls |from the Argentinian side