A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

"Her name is Rio.." and she's a stunner

sunny 29 °C

I know there´s a bit of catching up to do before I get to Rio so here goes.

Our last night in Bolivia ended in the town of Santa Cruz. A modern bustling city which again, seems incongruous with the rest of Bolivia. Our onward flight was using an airline called TAM, which is actually run by the Bolivian military. When I looked out of the terminal window I was a little concerned a Bolivan Army transport aircraft sat on the Tarmac. Fortunately this was just a coincidence and the flight was pretty undiscernible from any other civilian airline, except when they brought the parachutes round with the drinks (only joking).

Is this Ryanair´s new business model?
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So we made made it across the border into Brazil. The only problem was that for the last 7 weeks my brain had gotten accustomed to hearing Spanish and I can even reply with some key phrases. The Brazilians rather selfishly adopted Portuguese as their official language. While there are similarities , the phonetics are completely different. Oh well I thought, I´ll step it up a gear and give it a go. Unfortunately, the metaphorical clutch required to step up a gear seemed to be malfunctioning and every time I attempted some Portuguese there was a horrible grinding sound coming out of my mouth as it first assumed Spanish, Spantuguese and finally something that was completely unintelligible. For safety reasons I put my brain into neutral and used the back-up plan, speak LOUDLY IN ENGLISH, that always works, doesn´t it?

Our first trip in Brazil was to a vast swathe of wetland known as the Pantanal. It´s inhabited by all sorts of amazing wildlife as the environment has been left unmolested by humans. Exotic birds such as Tucans flutter by, cayman hide in the water looking for their next meal, and a creature called the Capy Bara (giant rodent thingy)wades in the rivers and wanders around the land. When we arrived we found out why it is a wetland as a deluge of rain soaked us to the skin in the five minutes it took to walk to the lodge.

Capy Bara , or look at the size of that rat
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Temperature was so hot it was making these guys snappy.......
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The temperature was around 35 degrees but with 80% humidity making it a little uncomfortable. When darkness descended a guide walked us around the edge of the river looking for signs of jaguars out hunting. We did see ´something´moving in the dark with its green reflective eyes caught in the torch beam. Our guide assures us this was a jaguar, but the only carnivores I definitely saw that night were the mosquitoes devouring my legs. The following day the others go horse-riding, but the temperature was now at 37 degrees, so i opted to stay in my hammock and alternated my time between reading a book and being unconscious.

Our next stop in the town of Bonito was a much more pleasant temperature and we had come here to go snorkelling in the Rio da Prata (Silver River). The chrystalline water quickly makes you forget your face is submerged and the marine life glides idly by, apparently unconcerned by our presence. Since the current of the river carries us along and we´re not allowed to kick our legs, the scene is a little surreal as 9 bodies float motionless downstream, as if some terrible event has just befallen us. The whole day was absolutely amazing and I enjoyed the feeling of being part of a giant fish tank. The next morning I head off to see a cave, which was less spectacular. The only excitement was a film crew that we had with us, from some Brazilian channel. They wanted to interview us to find out why we had come to explore the caves. Some of the others obliged, but I declined fearing the inevitable fame that would come and the paparazzi that would follow me after its airing on some obscure network channel........

Something fishy going on in Bonito
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Our brief foray into Paraguay was a little dull. There really wasn´t that much to do in the capital city. Even worse was the 39 degree temperature, which does´t help your mental arithmetic when trying to convert pounds to Guaranis at a rate of 1 pound to 7300 Guaranis. Although it was a nice feeling carrying 250,000 Guaranis around.

Back on track in Brazil we arrive in the town of Foz do Iguacu to come and see the famous Iguacu Falls. It´s here I get another new room mate, and due to an awkward first encounter, yet another anecdote for this blog. As he had already arrived first I headed up to the room to begin the formalities of introducing ourselves. On entering the room I encountered a naked man lying asleep on the only bed in there. He awoke to the sound of the door closing and shouted "wrong room! wrong room!". My sentiment exactly. It soon transpired that it was the correct room, but the hotel had forgotten to split the bed into twins. So my second introduction, in the form of a hand shake, seemed a little formal given our intial meeting.

The next two days were spent visiting the Falls on both sides of the river. The first day on the Brazilian side and the second on the Argentinian side. On one morning we took a rib up the river at high speed to take in the surroundings before the boat then headed for one of the falls itself. It´s a strange sensation when you see a 100ft sheet of water heading straight at you, but the emotions change from fear, panic, and thumb sucking to sheer exhileration when you realise that you´re merely wet and not drowning.

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink. Err, actually there is....
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Anyone got a barrel?
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The pace of the tour seems to be quickening now, as if it´s sprinting for the finish line at Rio. Onward bound again to the sprawling metropolis that is Sao Paulo. Brazil´s biggest city and an estimated population of 21 million people. With only 1 full day to explore this vast bee hive, it was always going to be a challenge to pack in as much as possible; Visited the Japanese quarter; Went into the stunning St Paul´s cathedral; visited the huge central park; took a ride on the underground metro; walked around the shopping centres; enjoyed an ice-cream; saw the beautiful Luz train station and got chatted up by a local (yes it was a woman, a question I have been asked several times!). As with all big cities there are a lot of homeless people around. Most of the time I didn´t give them a second glance with the exception of one particular lady. She was probably in her early thirties, although life on the streets had obviously taken its toll. Her black matted hair sat awkwardly on her head and her dirty clothes looked to be holding her together as much as covering her up. She sat alone on a piece of cardboard with a small black bin liner next to her, probably containing everything in the world she owned. She looked statuesque, her stare fixed somewhere in the distance, oblivious to everything going on around her. Then I saw her eyes and the tales beyond them that betrayed the pain and despair of her life. Part of me wanted to capture that expression on camera but it seemed so callous to steal her anguished face for a mere picture. So in lieu of that shot, just close your eyes and imagine being at the lowest ebb of your life with nothing to hope for. Imagination is far more powerful than a photograph. I don´t know why she had such an impact on me. Was this some sort of moral epiphany? I think I´ll keep that as a rhetorical question for now.

Look at the spires on that!
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Onto our penultimate stop at the small beach town of Paraty. It was here we got the chance to spend the day on a schooner just cruising around the clear blue waters, occasionally stopping to have a swim or do some snorkelling. Clear skies and sunshine kept us company and it was the perfect day to relax prior to the mania that will be Rio.

Hard day at the office.........
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Rio is now my current location for the next few days. What a day I had on my first day too. A day that lasted the full 24 hours. A 4 am start saw us on a bus at 5am and in Rio by 10.30 A quick check in and lunch before jumping on another bus for a city tour. First stop was the metropolitan cathedral, which isn´t exactly stunning from the outside. The capacious interior is more impressive, with four giant stained glass windows and a see through cross at the top of the structure. Then onto the icon that is the Christ Redeemer statue. Rather selfishly there were a lot of tourists up here and as a traveller (not a tourist), and a British one at that, I felt I should have had some sort of priority. Even the big JC himself tormented me by dashing in and out of clouds. I eventually got the money shot and then we moved on to Sugar Loaf mountain. The views from here were splendid in the extreme. I never knew quite how beautiful the terrain was surrounding the city and with the sun shining as well, it finally felt as if I had arrived. 61 days across numerous countries, several bus trips, bouts of illness and it all culminated with me gazing at one of the most amazing cities on the planet. The city tour ended soon after and it was back to the hotel to get ready for a farewell meal for our tour group. One of our number had an early morning flight so this was the last chance to say our goodbyes as a group. On the way back from the meal, some of us stopped at a street vendor to buy some water. Some of the locals had gathered next to him enjoying a cool beer in the hot evening air and someone was playing a guitar while they sang along. Before we know we´re invited to join them and we spend the next fours hours on a street corner in the middle of Rio singing along to tunes they can play and some of the girls having a go with guitar themselves. All too soon its 3.30 am and one of us has a taxi to jump in, so we finally head dwon the block to the hotel. It´s always sad saying goodbye to friend, but for me it seems more poignant as it reminds me that I have just a few days left too. I finally hit my bed at 4am and wonder what else Rio has in store for me, not least Carnaval!

Window cleaner required, large ladders needed
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JC boasting about the size of the fish he creates
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Peek-a-boo. That JC´s such a joker
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It´s Rio baby!
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Use yer loaf. Yer sugar loaf, that is
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Street life, it´s the only life I know. Taken about 3.00am
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I´m sure they´ll be other things to blog about after today, so I´ll do an update when I get back. Not just to complete my story, but also because I´ve always wanted to use the word "Épilogue"!

Posted by esotericmind 08:37 Archived in Brazil Comments (2)

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