A Travellerspoint blog

Brazil

The Girl From Ipanema...

Paraty, Ilha Grande and RIO!!! – 15th – 25th September

The epic day-long bus journey to Paraty wasn`t nearly as bad as I'd expected. We were booked on a "cama" bus, which means the seats are huge and recline almost all the way back. I managed a fair bit of sleep until we reached Sao Paulo, our changeover point. The next bus wasn’t quite so comfortable, but I managed to keep myself awake until we reached our destination late that afternoon.

Apparently there was a photographic exhibition taking place in the town and I was followed down the road from the bus station (unbeknown to me) by a woman taking photos as I wearily dragged my backpack down the road (maybe for the worst-dressed, most shattered looking tourist photo display??). It was wonderful to have a hot shower and reasonable bed for a couple of nights.

We’d planned to go visit the wonderful beaches and islands that the area is famous for the next day. However the weather decided otherwise, but only having one day, we braved the drizzle anyway and set off for a fairly miserable boat trip. The rain did stop for most of the day, but tropical islands don`t really look their best with grey skies in the background (I’ll have to Photoshop my photos!). We were treated to “live music” all day on the boat, and were also treated to a bill for the live music at the end of the day – both of which I could have done without – maybe it was just the mood I was in... Cheered up considerably after a night in bed with a bottle of wine, a bag of peanuts and a DVD for company – simple pleasures!

The following day was more promising, and I spent a happy morning wandering around the picturesque cobbled streets admiring the photo displays and the pretty harbour, before we caught our next bus to Ilha Grande, one of Brazil`s largest islands.

I began to wonder if the bus driver had learnt to drive at the Michael Shumacher School of Driving as we swerved wildly at high speed along the winding coastal to catch the ferry to Ilha Grande. I made a mental note to let Dan know he has a promising career ahead of him as a Brazilian bus driver if he flunks his degree! Amazingly we made it to the ferry and an hour or so later and disembarked at the beautiful port of Abraao. There are no cars on the island and after being warned our hostel was a 15 minute hike uphill, we opted to pay for our bags to be dragged up the hill by a man with a cart – good move. The hostel was charming – build around the natural boulders that make up the island, and with a waterfall at the bottom of the garden. Each room had a small deck with hammock and sun chairs – if only we had seen the sun during our stay – it would have been wonderful!

After one extremely boring day when it tipped it down all day (the DVDs and alcohol came to the rescue once again), the following day we decided to brave a boat trip to what is billed as one of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches – Lopes Mendes. A trek through some dense rainforest led to a stunning white sand beach, but again, the leaden skies didn`t really do it justice - not to mention the odd sight of dozens of dead penguins lying around surrounded by vultures and a weird looking giant tiled sculpture stuck in the middle of the sand – I was beginning to feel like I was on the set of “Lost”. But the sun did come out, albeit briefly, and Mark, Kezia and I enjoyed a romantic stroll the length of the bay!

Couldn`t you just guarantee that the sun would be blazing the next day, when we caught the early boat back to the mainland. But we were all feeling quite excited to finally be on our way to one of the world`s most vibrant and sexy destinations – Rio de Janeiro.

Our hotel was a volleyball`s throw away from Copacabana Beach and it was thrilling to be walking along the world famous promenade soaking in the sights. And what sights they were! It’s a great place to people watch. This place should really win the award for “most inappropriate use of shorts” – bottoms of all shapes and sizes are squeezed into some of the tiniest shorts I have ever seen! And not just on the beach... If this wasn`t enough, there are gym frames every few yards where young men were either limbering up or simply posing. Not that I really noticed, of course.

While we were there the “Homeless World Cup” was taking place along the beach. If only I had brought my footie kit, I could have represented England (I think I qualify!). Strangely enough, only Scotland were there from the UK!

The next day, I said my goodbyes to the group – we all agreed that the past few weeks had flown by – but I felt quite happy to be back on my own again, and began to plan my itinerary for the next few days. I made myself at home at to my hostel, which was close by and again a short walk to the beach. It was one of the best I`ve stayed in – scrupulously clean and with great facilities – although I probably increased the average age by a decade or two!

The way everyone was talking about “going to see Christ”, I felt like I was at a religious retreat, but was relieved when I realised they meant the huge statue which overlooks the entire city. So my first day of freedom began with a trip up the mountain on the cog train to see Christ the Redeemer, and I must say he looked pretty good, and the views from up there were incredible too. It was an ideal way of seeing all the sights in one go! I decided to hit the heights again later that day and planned a trip up to the city`s other iconic viewpoint, Sugar Loaf Mountain, to watch the sunset.

I`d forgotten that the cable car to reach the summit was where James Bond fights off Jaws in the film “Moonraker”. Fortunately, I only had to fight off hoards of Japanese pensioners and the lift up to top offered again some incredible views of the city. Watching the sun go down with a cocktail in hand (had to be done) was one of the highlights of my trip, and a moment I`ll always remember. Made a mental note to come back someday and share it with someone (preferably someone with lots of money!)

Back down to earth, I went on a fruitless (and vegetable-less) quest to find a reasonably priced meal that didn`t contain meat. The best option seemed to be the buffet restaurants that offered food by the kilo. Debating whether a slice of tomato weighed more than a piece of bread was challenging, but I managed a half decent portion of salad and a bit of quiche, which was the best meal I`d had since I left Mexico.

I had started to pick up a few words of Portuguese. The word for hello is “Oi”, which is most disconcerting, as every time I heard anyone call it out, I instantly felt like I`d been caught doing something wrong and it feels quite rude addressing people with it! I must have started looking like a local too, as I didn`t get too much hassle from the beach vendors and was even asked directions.

I felt confident enough to try out the metro, and set off to see a Samba show the following evening. The area with the best clubs was reputedly slightly dodgy, and I had been told not to carry a bag, so I had money secreted all over my person. I employed the tactic of walking along looking like I`d just had a row with someone – which seemed to keep the muggers away! The show was great and the club packed with locals dancing – I didn`t feel brave enough to join in (I was also worried I’d shower the dance floor with my loose change!).

My last day was spent visiting the hilltop suburb of Santa Teresa with it`s cobbled streets and bohemian cafes and old houses. The rickety old tram up the hill was an experience not to be missed as was the return journey back down the hill which takes in the amazing tiled staircase by eccentric Chilean artist Selaron, who repeatedly covers the 215 steps with thousands of different tiles from around the world on a regular basis.

After lunch I caught the bus down to Leblon – the far end of Ipanema and walked the length of both Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, watching the locals play volleyball and surf as the clouds rolled in and the sun set on my last day in Rio.

Off next to a completely different, but equally as exciting city – Buenos Aires.

Paraty

Paraty


Welcome to Ilha Grande

Welcome to Ilha Grande


The Hotest Place South of Havana...

The Hotest Place South of Havana...


Jesus Christ!

Jesus Christ!


How Flash Am I????

How Flash Am I????


There's a storm a Brewin'

There's a storm a Brewin'


All Aboard

All Aboard


Where's Sawyer???

Where's Sawyer???


Hello Boys

Hello Boys


Paraty's Steptoe

Paraty's Steptoe


Paraty Harbour

Paraty Harbour


Paraty Sidestreet

Paraty Sidestreet


Wonder what this chemist specialises in?

Wonder what this chemist specialises in?


Ilha Grande Harbour

Ilha Grande Harbour


Ilha Grande Rush Hour

Ilha Grande Rush Hour


Hostel Garden Ilha Grande

Hostel Garden Ilha Grande


Hostel Ilha Grande

Hostel Ilha Grande


Lopes Mendes Beach

Lopes Mendes Beach


Art Installation Lopes Mendes

Art Installation Lopes Mendes


Turtle Lopes Mendes

Turtle Lopes Mendes


Lopes Mendes

Lopes Mendes


Where's Sawyer???

Where's Sawyer???


The Big Bamboo

The Big Bamboo


At the Copa...

At the Copa...


Ipanema Sunset

Ipanema Sunset


Christ's View of Rio

Christ's View of Rio


Sugar Loaf

Sugar Loaf


View of Botofango from Sugar Loaf

View of Botofango from Sugar Loaf


High Altitude Monkey

High Altitude Monkey


Sugar Loaf Cable Car

Sugar Loaf Cable Car


Tram to Santa Teresa

Tram to Santa Teresa


Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer


Seleron's Night on the Tiles

Seleron's Night on the Tiles


Escalier de Seleron

Escalier de Seleron


Lapa Aquaduct

Lapa Aquaduct


Cool Grafitti Ipanema

Cool Grafitti Ipanema

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Wet and Wild in the Pantanal (Not!)

The Pantanal & Igucu Falls, Brazil 8th – 14th September

The crossing into Brazil was fairly straight-forward – but we came to a police check point within a few miles, where several plain clothed cops steamed down the bus demanding to see passports and identification papers and searching people`s bags. This all seemed a bit over the top and a huge imposition, until I remembered what our cops had done to an innocent Brazilian in London a few years ago, and I didn`t feel quite so violated!

Several hours later we arrived at our pick up point for the last leg of our journey into the vast tropical wetlands that cover a large part of Brazil, The Pantanal. Not sure what to expect, we were loaded along with our luggage into the back of a truck, which trundled down the 145km long Transpantaneira Highway which dissects the area.

When I say "highway", think dust track – you could see another vehicle coming towards you from miles away and had to suffer the cloud of dust as it passed you. At least this partly obliterated the very rickety bridges build over the wetlands at strategic points – like swamps full of caimans! In fact one of the first bridges we came to had partially collapsed tipping a lorry on it`s side into the water. Sadly the truck was full of livestock and one of the first things I saw was a cow`s head sticking out of the water – minus the body! Several other bits of cow were floating around in the swamp, but I had a feeling they wouldn`t be there too long judging by the interest shown by the surrounding vultures and caiman. Welcome to the Pantanal!

After an uncomfortable and very nerve-wracking journey along the track we finally arrived at our camp – the Pousada Santa Clara, where we were shown to our hammocks in a shared room at the top of a wooden hut. It was better than it sounds – the room was screened, and they even had a hot shower – and most importantly – a bar! The wine list was not up to much, but they did a wicked Caipirinha.

We had the rest of the day to relax and watch the caiman sunning themselves on the bank of the adjacent river. We were assured that it was perfectly safe to swim as "they are more scared of us than we are of them"- hmmmm.... The vultures were obviously not of the same opinion and I decided not to put it to the test. The natural air conditioning seemed to work that night, and I had a relatively good night`s sleep apart from the thin mattress I chose over the hammock, and one irritating bird that sounded like a car alarm going off all night. Bloody nature!

The following day featured a boat trip down the river, where we spotted storks, kingfishers, macaws, butterflies and capybaras amongst other creatures. It was very peaceful, apart from the obligatory piranha fishing, which I again opted out of. We did find a set of jaguar tracks, which was the closest we ever got to seeing this elusive big cat. After lunch we were offered a horse ride across the plains, which again was a slow but enjoyable way to watch the sun setting over the Panatanal.

During the bumpy and dusty (and rather scary as we were travelling over the same dodgy bridges but this time in the dark!) Night Safari, we discovered that we really should have been there during the wet season when we might have stood a chance of actually seeing some wildlife! The poor guide desperately tried to find something... anything, and we had to settle for a couple of deer and a fox (both of which were the average night`s roadkill back home in Essex!).

After another rather futile trek in the morning, we bade a fond farewell to our hosts at the Pousada and set off down the dusty road again for the last time. Our 4 hour journey became 7 hours once the bus finally arrived to pick us up and made a detour to drop others off at another town. We arrived exhausted in the very touristy town of Bonito, on the edge of the Pantanal, and had our first taste of how expensive Brazil was going to be.

My grasp of Portuguese is not great, and I decided to adopt the strategy that the English use in Spain, by speaking to them very loudly and slowly in my bad Spanish and hoped they understood. The results were variable and it always seemed to take us an eternity to order a meal. I soon came to the conclusion that there was no word (or concept) of “vegetarian” in Brazilian. I could see myself embarking on a budgetary imposed diet for the next few weeks.

It was good to be back in a comfortable bed with air-con for a couple of nights, and we set off refreshed the following morning for a cycle to the local river which had been turned into natural swimming pool along with fishes, where you could hire snorkels and deckchairs for the day. Very relaxing, and just what the doctor ordered, as we had another 20 hours on a bus to look forward to the following day for our journey to Iguacu Falls.

We survived the bus journey and arrived in Iguacu around lunchtime. We`d arranged a visit to the Brazilian side of the falls and were under-impressed by the Welcome Centre, whose exhibits seemed to have been translated into English by a dyslexic Mongolian. Things improved when we set out on the trail to the falls and the views became more and more spectacular. The falls advertise themselves as higher than Niagara and wider than Victoria Falls and separates three countries - Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The Devils Throat is the highlight of the falls and churns out water at an amazing rate with mist rising over 150 metres above it. We were sceptical that the Argentinean side would provide any better views.

After a quick dinner in a rain swept and stormy city, we awoke to a slightly cloudy day to visit the Argentinean side of the falls. Convincing them of my strong feelings about Maggie and the war, I was allowed into Argentina with no problems and we commenced our visit. The Argentian side of the falls allowed a much more close-up view of the many different falls and I was again wow-ed by the area covered by the falls and the volume of water gushing out. It truly seemed one of the main wonders of the world - a stunning insight into the force of nature. I felt humbled!

We tumbled back into Brazil for our epic 25 hour bus journey towards the coast and it`s celebrated beaches.

Welcome to the Pantanal

Welcome to the Pantanal


Our Lodgings

Our Lodgings


Guiness, Our friendly toucan

Guiness, Our friendly toucan


Iguacu Brazilian Side

Iguacu Brazilian Side


Monkeys in the Pantanal

Monkeys in the Pantanal


Stork Nest Pantanal

Stork Nest Pantanal


Jaguar Tracks Pantanal

Jaguar Tracks Pantanal


Capybara Pantanal

Capybara Pantanal


Sunset Horseride Pantanal

Sunset Horseride Pantanal


Blue Tailed Mackaws Pantanal

Blue Tailed Mackaws Pantanal


Horses at Sunset Pantanal

Horses at Sunset Pantanal


Panatanal Sunset

Panatanal Sunset


Iguacu Brazilian Side

Iguacu Brazilian Side


88 Butterfly Iguacu

88 Butterfly Iguacu


Toucan Iguacu

Toucan Iguacu


Iguacu Brazilian Side

Iguacu Brazilian Side


Iguazu Argentinian Side

Iguazu Argentinian Side


Iguacu Brazilian Side

Iguacu Brazilian Side


Iguacu Brazilian Side

Iguacu Brazilian Side


Coati Mundi

Coati Mundi


Iguacu Devil`s Throat

Iguacu Devil`s Throat


Iguacu Devil`s Throat

Iguacu Devil`s Throat


Iguazu Argentinian Side

Iguazu Argentinian Side


Rainbow Iguazu Argentina

Rainbow Iguazu Argentina


Iguazu Argentian Side

Iguazu Argentian Side


Iguazu Argentian Side

Iguazu Argentian Side


Iguazu Argentinian Side

Iguazu Argentinian Side


Iguazu Argentinian Side

Iguazu Argentinian Side

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]