A Travellerspoint blog

Pantanal

sunny 35 °C

The Pantanal is not for the faint hearted. It´s damn hot, there are mosquitos everywhere (not to mention the other numerous bugs), you walk through muddy swamps, ride horses in thigh high waters (yes, sounds fine, until you see the horse in front of you do his business in the water!) swim in pirahana and alligator infested waters and have uncomfortable nights sleep in hammocks! The Pantanal is the biggest wetland in the world, situated on the Brazilian, Bolivia and Paraguayan borders. I was lured here by the promise of seeing many of the different animals and birds that call the Pantanal home - anteaters, piranaha, alligators, tucans, monkeys, anaconda, deer, armadillos and capybara. The most popular setting out point for the trips is a town called Campo Grande. I arrived there late in the evening which would have been fine if I had been picked up from the airport as promised by the tour company, Ecological Expeditions, I had booked. But alas, this is Brazil and of course no one was waiting for me when I landed so I took a cab to the hostel that the company operated from. No easy feat when you don´t speak Portuguese and your cab driver can´t distinguish the difference between, Hotel International and Hostel International!
The next day, I was supposed to head out to the park, but as there was only one Spanish speaking couple booked onto that trip, I decided to hang around a day to join a group going the following day. I met Gil and Andrew (both English, had met on a bus a couple of days before) that day and they decided to join the same tour as I had booked. They were really nice, so things were looking up! The next day, with more of our group members in tow, we headed out on a 5 hour journey to get to the park. On the way to the park we were stopped by some tourist police and it turned out that our tour company didn´t have a licence or it expired, something like that, and it is becoming apparent that I had booked the Dodgy Brothers for my trip! Although, from all accounts of other tour companies in the area, they were the best of a really bad bunch! Things didn´t improve when we got there. It appeared that the head office had overbooked, there was no guide for us and they seemed intent on sqauashing as many possible hammocks as they could into one room! Still, as I went to sleep that night, knocking into my neigbours, I was excited by the coming days activities.
We were awoken at 5:30am by the sound of the kitchen dong. We still didn´t have a guide, so we joined another group for our first activity, horse riding. I´ve never actually been horseriding before. Sure, I had been on a horse before, but riding? No. I was pleasantly suprised by how much fun it was. Although I could have done with a better horse. She was either, really old or really lazy, or both, cause she didn´t like to move that fast. She had her moments, mostly when our guide, Gabriel came to hurry up the slow coaches in the back and I really enjoyed it when she did have her occasional bursts of energy!
In the afternoon, we finally got our guide, Sandro and headed off in a boat down the river for some wildlife viewing and a swim. It was a lovely way to end the day, sunsetting on the river as we made our way back to camp. It was early to bed for most of us that night, it had been a big day and another 5:30am start awaited us.
Day two, first activity was a walk in the jungle to try and see some more animals. Hmmm, three hours of walking later and we had just seen a lot of birds, a few monkeys and some killer beatles that had attacked Gil (think of the beatles in The Mummy, on a much smaller scale and you get the picture). Afternoon activity was fishing. I think I broke some kind of record. I had put my line in for less that 5 seconds (I am not exaggerating!) and caught my very first fish! Not a piranah, but still, a fish. I was pretty proud of myself...until we got back to camp and heard of the other group catching an absured amount of fish including something like 8 piranahs! Our group did not have such luck. After my fish, there were just two others caught, both so small they ended up being used for bait!
So early to bed again and early to rise the next day for another early morning walk. Our guide said he couldn´t promise us what animals we would see, but that we would definitly see lots of cayman (alligators). This one did not disappoint. Within minutes of entering the jungle, we caught sight of a deer. And then an anteater! And then an armidillo. And then another anteater. And then black howler monkeys! Success!! I was happy, finally we had seen what we had come to see. But no cayman, the one animal Sandro had promised we would see! We had seen plenty of them before, mostly on the side of the road, so this was ok! And that was our last activity, a big group of us was heading to Corumba on the border to cross into Bolivia so we headed out in a truck for the long journey. We saw loads of cayman and capybara (worlds largest rodent) on the trip and had to cross the river Paraguay where we were treated to a beautiful sunset. A lovely way to end the trip.
So, all in all, despite the Dodgy Brothers tour group, the mosquitos, the heat, the hammocks, I had a great time. I got to see lots of animals although I think we may have been the only group to ever go through the Pantanal and not see a piranah, except served up in a soup, which doesn´t count!
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Gil and I on the truck

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hammocks room

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Horseriding

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Tucan

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Sunset

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Anteater

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Black Howler Monkey

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My Fish

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River Paraguay

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Flooded footbal pitch!

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Cayman

Posted by zedgee 15:48 Comments (1)

Salvador

sunny 35 °C

Salvador seems to be having some sort of carnaval hangover. Which is a shame, because I had gone there for the afro brazil music and the dancing it is so famous for. But there wasn`t a lot of either going on! Sure, I saw glimpses of it. You can not walk down a street without the sound of drums floating from the windows above, bus drivers play their stearing wheels whilst stopped at lights, the school children joining in on the windows on the back seat, and Tuesday nights are home to street parties with free live music and dancing. (Salvador had a lot of slaves brought there, so there is a great afro-brazilian culture, resulting in a really cool fusion of arts, music and dance.) It just wasn`t what was I expecting and I was a little disappointed. I have been assured though that it`s only like this for the 3 months after carnaval when everyone takes a well deserved break from partying before heading back to their samba schools in anticipation of next years reveleries. Just wish someone had told me that before I went!! And I had of course chosen to stay there over Easter so it was near impossible to get out there until afterwards as the cheap flights were all booked up! But it did give me the oppourtunity to witness Easter celebrations in a highly Catholic country. A procession of people followed `Jesus`and `Mary` through the cobblestone streets, ending in front of a church in the main square. Speaking of churches, it is said that Salvador has a church for every day of the year. I`m not sure of that, but there are a staggering amounts of them, including one built by the slaves, who retalliated by carving pregnant angels and others with oversized sex organs!!
I was hanging out with this American guy, Andrew, one night who had been here late last year (he was obvisouly even more disappointed then me as he has seen what Salvador actually could be like.) As we went to walk down an alley we were ushered out of there by a woman because it was a dangerous spot to be walking in at night (there were some very dodgy guys hanging out in that alley). Andrew claimed he was so bored he wouldn`t mind being mugged because at least it would have added some excitement to his evening!! I wasn`t quiet that bored! Some claim that Salvador is even more dangerous than Rio. I was beginning to think it would be a miracle to get out of Brazil unscathed!
And I was not prepared for how touristy the place is! You can barely walk a metre without being harrassed to buy something (I`m talking Thailand standards here!), some one trying to give you a `gift` and don`t even glimpse (let alone take a picture) at the caipoera guys in the main square or they will come running after you, shouting for your money. Luckily I had been warned of this so I gave them a wide berth!
Of course I still had a nice time there. Met lots of great people staying in the hostel, Nega Maluca, and spent most of the days heading to the beaches nearby. And there are some great beaches nearby. Across the port there are some islands with beautiful, crystal clear, warm waters that overlook the city - kinda like swimming in one of Sydneys inner harbour beaches, only with palm trees and bars on the sand!
A little up the coast from Salvador there is this great little town called Arembepe that we took a day trip too. This place is paradise and I wish I had discovered it earlier as I would have stayed there for a few days. There is this tiny little hippy village on the beach which is famous for having Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger stay there in the 60`s, still there are barely any tourists there, we were the only people on a deserted beach. The sea was a little rough for swimming but behind the beach is a little river, with fresh, warm waters, perfect for a dip. The locals hang around the bank of the river playing their guitars and singing, (and smoking pot, as all good hippies do!), not a care in the world.
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Salvador rooftops

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Easter celebrations

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Salvador at night

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Barra da grande beach on Ilha Itaparica - one of the islands just off Salvador

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Beers and lunch on the beach with Nega Maluca gang, Itaparica

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Arembepe - deserted beach

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Janis Joplin Rancha, Arembepe

Posted by zedgee 08:58 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Ilha Grande

sunny 30 °C

I had to visit at least one tropical island whilst I was in Brazil. So I decided to make a side trip from Rio to an island called Ilha Grande (big island) just a little south from the city. With Quinton in tow, I headed there for a few days of sunshine, white sand and clear warm waters.
After a couple of hours on a bus and then a couple of more on a boat, we finally arrived on the island. We were of course accosted by touts trying to get us to stay in various pousadas and after looking at a couple we decided to stay in one called Pousada Ilha Grande - very original name! It was pretty nice though, we had our own little room with a tv and dvd player and the guys who ran the place had a huge dvd collection so we were excited about days on the beach followed by nights in watching movies! We didn`t have many hours of sunlight left after arriving so we just walked around the very cute little town and had some dinner at a por kilo place (they have these buffets here that you pay by the kilo, they`re great!) before heading back to the pousada to watch our first movie choice, Blood Diamond. However we were foiled by a black out that lasted till the morning!
Our first day we decided to do a little boat trip around the island with some snorkelling. Pity this side of the island seemed to be used as a tip! We noticed a lot of rubbish in the water and it wasn`t the clean, clear water I had been promised in brochures! No one else seemed to notice or care that they were swimming amonst yoghurt tubs and plastic bags, but Quinton and I were pretty disappointed. We did visit a lovely little beach that had beautiful waters and soaked up lots of sun, so it was still a really nice day. That night we were pretty tired, we just had some dinner at a really cheap buffet place we had found followed by some cake - they have vendors down by the water front selling every cake imaginable! Back at the pousada we finally watched Blood Diamond - great movie by the way!
Day two, we had decided to head to the beach of Lopes Mendes, which some say is the most beautiful beach in Brazil. A few years ago, you had to walk two or so hours through the rainforest to get to this beach, but the island had grown pretty rapidly in tourism so luckily for me there are now boats that take you most of the way...there is just a half an hour walk to get to the beach from where you get dropped off. I have to say the beach was pretty damn nice. Beautiful white sand, palm trees, crystal clear warm water and gentle waves - just the typical tropical island beach I had been looking for. We spent the day there, lazing in the sun and swimming - perfect! We had buffet again for dinner followed by per kilo ice cream - self service ice cream buffets with chocolate sauces and lollies! This island was great for my sweet tooth, not so great on the waistline!
And that was the end of our little island jaunt. The next day we left for Rio. It takes nearly the whole day to get back and Quinton had a flight to Bolivia that night. We met some lovely ladies from Rio who helped us get our bus back - think I`ve already mentioned how nice the people from Rio are. Really, they are the nicest people from a big city I have ever met, and definatly the nicest so far on this trip.
Quinton and I said our goodbyes at the bustop, he was off to the airport, me back to the hostel for an early night before my flight to Salvador the next day.
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Posted by zedgee 14:05 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Rio De Janeiro

Ticking Boxes

sunny 35 °C

Rio is such an iconic city, I was very excited to be going there. But I only had a short time planned to spend there. I figured the less time I spent there, the less chance I had of being mugged! It`s also extremely expensive and Brazil was already killing my savings!. So, as I headed off to Rio with my new amigo Quinton (the english lad i met in florianopolis) for a quick 3 night jaunt, we decided we`d do a whirlwind tour of Rio and tick off the appropriate boxes...

Tick 1. Arriving.
Flying into Rio itself was quite an acheivement for Quinton and I. After having resigned ourselves to another overnight killer bus ride, I had discovered a one day sale with one of the airlines on the internet. In theory that sounds great, but let me tell you, it was a nail biting, stressfull couple of hours trying to book the tickets on a portuguese only website! Most of the airlines here don`t except overseas credit cards on the net so usually you have to go to a agent to book them (after having done all the research yourself anyway, because they can never seem to find the cheap flights!), but this being a sunday night and it being a one day sale and all, we were on our own. After rallying the help of several people in the internet cafe we managed to book ourselves two seats on a flight using fake national id numbers and brazilan post codes (seems they don`t actually want foreigners on their planes over here!)...only to turn up at the airport two days later to find we`d accidently booked the wrong day (right date, wrong month!!) We were scooted over to the airline desk and told it was cost some extortionist amount to be changed! However, luckily the credit card had not been charged yet, so the very helpful lady behind the desk was able to re-book our flights free of charge. Saved. We were so excited about getting away with this we didn`t notice that when we were checked in, the lady only checked us in half way (we needed two flights to get to Rio) so when we arrived at Sao Paulo late (our first flight had departed late, patience is definitly a much needed virtue when travelling in South America!) we missed our connecting flight! This was turning into one very frustrating day! The ever helpful staff managed to get us on another flight that arrived in the city airport closer to town (our other flight would have arrived in the international terminal further out of town) Saved again! Cathching the bus to our hostel, The Mango Tree, in Ipanema we passed many of those iconic sights that Rio was famous for and I was more than a little excited. We arrived late afternoon, only an hour or so of daylight left to take a walk along Ipanema beach, before heading back to the safety of our hostel.
The next day we had a jam packed day of sightseeing planned.
Tick 2. Corcovado and Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)
When we arrived at the base of Cordovaba, we were told there would be a 40 minute wait to get the cog up to see the big man. Damn day trippers had beaten us to it! Luckily there is always someone on hand in Brazil to offer you their services, so we took a guided tour with Zenildo, a very good english speaking cab driver. It was cheaper than the train and we got to stop more places and Zenildo was a wonderful guide, so it all worked out well in the end! I have to say it was pretty impressive seeing Christ in all his 38 metre, 710 ton splendour! I`ve been seeing him in movies, on tv, in print my whole life, it was pretty cool to see him in the flesh (or should I say concrete?!) The views of the city were also amazing. Cordabova stands at 710metres high and was a popular look out point well before Christ arrived upon it`s top, some 75 years ago. The views confirm that Rio really is a beautiful city, full of colonial architecture, surrounded by green forested mountains and beaches.
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Quinton and I on the way up

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The big man himself

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me and Christ

Tick 3. Historic tram to Santa Theresa
After our tour, Zenildo dropped us off at the bondinho (tram) stop where we wanted to catch the last surviving streetcar in Rio, to the pretty little bohemien bario of Santa Theresa. After waiting at the stop a while it became apparant that we were pretty much smack bang in front of a favella (a slum or `community`). Oddly enough it didn`t feel dangerous sitting there, maybe because we had made chums with a lovely local girl called Jewell. She was learning english and enjoyed practicing with us. Apparently the trams have no timetables, you only know they are coming by the shaking of the lines above. We waited over an hour for one, all the time talking to Jewell. Meanwhile many buses went by taking the same route downtown. We waited because we wanted to take the historic tram. I wondered why Jewell was waiting so long when buses were going all the time. It wasn`t till we go on the tram it became apparent. If you rode on the outside of the tram, it was free. The ride itself was only 60 centavos (about 20c) and the buses that she had let pass by were 2 reils (less than a buck). Even though Brazil has the 9th biggest economy there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor and you can see it on every street corner. I had already been blown away by how friendly the people in Rio were, for such a big city, they seemed to make the time to talk to each other, locals and foreigners alike and went out of their way to help you. On the other hand, within minutes of arriving in Rio, you will be bombarded of stories and warnings of muggings, some of them at knife and gun point.
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Jewell hanging off the tram

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Santa Theresa

Tick 4. Sunrise at Pao de Acucar (aka as Sugerloaf Mountain)Two cable cars take you up the 396m to the summit of this mountain for spectacular views over Rio, the opposite view from Corcovado, taking in the big dude himself. We had a Skol (local beer) whilst watching the sun fall behind him. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
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Halfway up Sugarloaf

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Sugarloaf cable

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Tick 5. Ipanema and Copacabana beachesThe next morning we arose in anticipation of a much cruiser day than the one before. We had three objectives. One was to book our onward flights from Rio and the other two involved lazing on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. As Ipanema was only a block from our hostel, we headed there first. Forever immortalised by the famous bossa nova song, `Girl from Ipanema`, Ipanema is a long stretch of white sand in one the richer, nicer neighbourhoods of Rio. It has postos along it, each one is a hang out for a different type of group of people. Nine for example is where the bohemium people hang out, eight is where all the gay guys hang and ten is where the beautiful people reside. We of course headed for ten! And you don`t need to worry if you forget to take something to Ipanema beach. There is someone selling just about everything you could ever need from bikinis to sunscreen to beach balls! After Ipanema, we booked our flights (pain free this time, through an agent) and then headed to Copacabana. Not nearly as nice as Ipanema, quite polluted and a little seedy, still, you can`t go to Rio and not have some time sunbathing on Copa!
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Ipanema beach

Tick 6. Samba club in Lapa.Lapa is an area famous for it`s music and samba clubs. On the recommendation of our hostel host (Lance, incidently an Aussie guy from Melbourne who had just opened up this hostel in Rio) a group of us caught a cab to a club called Rio Scenarium. Ok, so this bar is the coolest place I have ever been to. In fact it is rated in the Guardians top 10 bars in the world (http://travel.guardian.co.uk/article/2006/nov/28/bars). It was an old converted warehouse, three stories high with lots of different rooms that I imagine host all sorts of different music when full on the weekend (we were there on a wednesday night). Every wall was filled with different curios. One wall was old clocks, another art deco mirrors, there were cabinets with old medicine bottles and old bycicles hanging from the ceilings, piano bars hidden in side rooms and great big old couches. I loved it. And then there was the music. A live samba band with a big mama on vocals and guys wearing brightly coloured jeans and shirts. Everyone was dancing and just generally having a good ole time. Samba is one these dances you can get by having a go at and not really knowing what you are doing! You just have to move your feel real fast and you at least look like you know what you are doing! A few capirinhas (typical brazilian drink) and lots of dancing later, we stumbled out of the club and headed back to the hostel, another perfect ending to a another perfect day in Rio.
Wish I had some photos of this place, but unfortunatly you don't really feel like you can take your camera out in Rio at night.
So it was a short but very sweet time for me in Rio.

Posted by zedgee 05:56 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Brazil

Florianopolis/Isla De Santa Catarina

sunny 30 °C

On the bus from Iguazu to Florianpolis (a 15 hour overnighter on a crap Brazilian bus, I had been spoilt by the Argentinian bus companies where you get a bed, hot food and champagne, first class stuff!) I met an english guy, Quinton who had been living in Surry Hills for the last 7 years and an english lass, Lucy from Newcastle. We seemed to be the only english speaking people on the bus so obvisouly we became instant chums and decided to spend the next four days together!
After getting off the bus in the morning we headed for a little fishing town called Barra da Lagao as we wanted to stay in a hostel we had all heard about there. When we got there, the hostel was full, luckily Quinton and Lucy are as unorganised as I am and hadn´t booked a bed either, so we were all homeless together! This ended up being the best thing that could have happened as we found a huge pousada (apartment) for not much more than one bed costs at the hostel, between us! It was nice to stay somewhere besides a hostel for a few days, spread my things around and cook some nice meals.
The island was really nice, pretty beaches, a big lagoon and a very relaxed vibe. Had a very chilled out time here, just hanging on the beach, swimming and working on the tan! Lucy and Quinton were great house mates, the three of us got on famously! Quinton and I decided to head to Rio after four nights on the island, it was a little sad breaking up the threesome. Lucy had decided to hang out there for a while longer so we found her some new housemates - three buff, aussie surfer guys! The poor guys had been staying in another pousada and it was broken into and they had all their gear stolen! Welcome to Brazil!
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Barra at sunrise - yes, I do get up early sometimes!
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the pretty fishing village, Barra Da Lagoa.

Posted by zedgee 06:17 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

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