Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

Misiones Improbable

May 24, 2010

From Buenos Aires we headed north to the humid, subtropical climate of Misiones and its Iguazú Falls, where sunshine and warmth are virtually guaranteed throughout the year. It rained for the next seven days.

Its wet up north

(more…)

Advertisements

Plush in Paraty

March 7, 2010

Although Rio de Janeiro was a great start (with a bang) to our travels, Carnaval’s constant beating drums and accompanying hordes of people made us crave a little bit of the peace and quiet we had enjoyed on our hike to the waterfall and Pedra Bonita. As we needed to head south to Sao Paulo after Ilha Grande anyway, we made a 2-day stopover in Paraty. It was still high season and the cheaper hostels were all fully booked so we were yet again forced to break our budget and go for the luxury option, landing us at the Pousada do Morro do Forte on a dark, rainy night. We were pretty exhausted so after a quick dinner in town, where we were served by a very eager waiter, we skipped Go and went Directly To Bed.

(more…)

Paradise Lost and Found

February 26, 2010

Heading to Ilha Grande felt more like being part of an 18-30s package holiday rather than a trip to reputedly one of the most beautiful islands off Brazil’s Emerald Coast.

Our Gringo boat was littered with young backpackers and on arrival the port was full of the usual array of beach bars, crepe restaurants and friendship bracelet stalls that one would expect at a resort catering to today’s travelling yoof.

The island itself, with palm tree fronds painting its vast coastline, was undoubtedly stunning but the travelling cliché left me unimpressed. My fears were compounded by the following day’s boat-trip to some of the more picturesque lagoons and beaches along the island’s coast.

Gringo boat

Again packed in with young travellers drinking beer we were shepherded from lagoon to beach with just 20 minutes to enjoy each stop before the boat horn sounded and we were whisked off to the next destination.

At one point whilst snorkelling at the Logoa Azul (literally, Blue Lagoon) I spotted a school of squid, a stunning sight that I was enjoying immensely. When I lifted my head above water to tell Manna what I’d found I saw that we were already being called back to the boat. My swim with the squid was cut short but it was a highlight nonetheless.

Luckily, towards the end of the boat trip we met some travellers who were more on our level (ie. old!). They had already been to Peru and Bolivia and shared with us the wealth of their knowledge which I’m sure will come in useful on the next stage of our travels.

They also happened to be staying in the same place as us and we were all happy that we had chosen the Pousada de Cachoeira (Waterfall Inn) for our few days on the island. Although its name is rather generous considering the adjacent waterfall is perhaps 50cm high, the Pousada de Cachoeira was a delightful place far enough away from the busy port but near enough to venture in for food and drinks.

It also attracted good people, especially a German couple staying in the room next to us who were particularly welcoming with their Caipirinha nightcaps.

The next day we were determined to stay off the beaten track and Claus, the helpful owner of the Pousada, recommended a beach on the other side of the island called Lopes Mendes. Getting there involved a one hour boat ride and a short trek. On Claus’s advice we took a different trek route to everyone else on the boat, which would take us to the far end of the already remote beach.

Beware of the crocs!

Along with our caipirinha-loving German friends, we happily trotted along this path less travelled. After 10 minutes we came across our first crocodile warning sign. This was when we realised that perhaps we had over-compensated on our attempts to stay clear of the gringo trail.

But we marched on like the true adventurers we all hoped we were. At one point Manna ran screaming back from what seemed like an invisible force. On closer inspection we found that she had stumbled into a rather large spider’s web. But this was unlike any web i’ve ever seen with silk as strong as string and a hairy, gruesome spider in the middle.

The adventurers

We carried on with the trek with our eyes peeled for spiders, crocodiles and anything else that might bite.

After an hour’s walk, we arrived hot and sweaty at the beach. It was all worth it. We had found the kind of beach that travellers dream of, with white sands and azure blue seas, and we were virtually the only people on this far side it.

We threw down our bags and headed for the sea but nature played its cruel hand again. This time it was jellyfish. There were hundreds of them stranded on the shoreline and many more waiting in the sea. But like the adventurers we had become we went in nonetheless. The water was amazing, as was the view, but after spotting at least three jellyfish swimming nearby we decided not to push our luck any further.

Mmm, paradise

After enjoying the setting for an hour or so, we realised that if we wanted to spend more time in the sea we would have to endure the 40 minute walk to the other end of the beach where our fellow boat passengers were enjoying themselves. We went for it and were glad we did as we found a perfect spot to stop and thoroughly enjoyed wallowing in the cool waters of the ocean.

ickle tree monkey

We spent the rest of the day there and just when we thought it couldn’t get better we were joined in our shade by tree monkeys! A Brazilian couple near us got out a pack of crisps and started feeding them and we did the same. Tree monkeys on a remote beach on an island off Brazil’s coast – we thoroughly enjoyed the combination.

Our adventure at Lopes Mendes made the trip to Ilha Grande more than worthwhile and in the end we were sad that we had to leave the following day. But we were happy that we had found a paradise worth looking for.

In Search of the Golden Tickets

February 22, 2010

We thought our luck had run out. Our first few days in Rio had gone as smooth as a baby’s bum on a silk satin slide (mainly thanks to our uber-host Leo and his friends) but we were now on our own. Leo and his housemate Nino were taking part in the main Carnival procession at the ‘Sambodromo’ and our mission was to get tickets to see them.

It was completely sold out so our plan was to get to the place and try our luck with the touts. The problems started immediately. We got to the metro and the queue, which was peppered with an array of outlandish carnival costumes, went on for as far as the eye could see. After an interminable wait we finally got our metro passes and made our way to the packed platform.

The train at this stage was only half full and we made it on albeit with a fair amount of pushing and jostling all around us. Our now packed carriage stuttered to the next station where the platform was awash with a raucous crowd which heaved forward trying to create space where there was none. Shouting and screaming ensued and it was actually quite scary at one point as it looked like some people were getting crushed.

Luckily, we had managed to make our way to the middle of the carriage where there was a small pocket of space. The doors eventually closed and at this stage it was clear that no-one was getting on or off this train until it reached the Sambodromo, a mere eight stops away.

The screaming and shouting continued for another couple of stops as the train struggled on with the journey. But, amazingly, the screaming soon turned into laughter and the shouting turned into, well, singing! It seemed that the new-found familiarity between hundreds of carnival-goers packed in like sardines had a positive rather than negative effect. This was a very Brazilian turn of events – from shouting to singing in a matter of minutes.

When we finally reached our destination everyone was happy and we headed off to find tickets for the main event. It was at this point we realised we were completely out of our depth.

We didn’t know where to go, what tickets to buy, how much we should be paying or anything else about the Sambodromo experience.

There were a number of touts but they all seemed to be offering tickets for ‘Sector 6’. We negotiated a price for two but it just didn’t feel right as it all seemed too easy. So we headed closer to the stadium and sought out more options.

The scene outside the stadium could only be described as apocalyptic. There were police cars, fires, drunks and all sorts of people hurrying in all kinds of directions. Then the fireworks went off signalling the start of the event. For some reason these fireworks were much less about pretty lights and much more about extremely loud bangs and whistles.

Against a backdrop of explosions in the sky we found another tout who was again mostly selling Sector 6 but also had two tickets for Sector 1. These were double the price but we thought ‘1’ has got to be better than ‘6’ right? That was our only rational for again breaking our budget.

It eased our minds somewhat that these key-card tickets came wrapped in plastic and sealed with official looking paper. We ran to the stadium eager to take our places and excited to catch the first performance.

It was then that we were told that our entrance was on the other side of the stadium. We were told to walk 10 minutes to the metro, take it one stop, then walk another 10 minutes to our gate. For the next half an hour I felt like Charlie with the golden ticket negotiating his way to the Chocolate Factory through thousands of others looking for a way in.

But we eventually made it. The contrast between outside and inside was considerable. From the hellish, dark and dangerous exterior to the heavenly, fervent and fabulous Sambadromo.

We missed the first 45 minutes of the parade but we needn’t have worried – the show lasts for eight hours!

What you may not know (and I certainly didn’t before I got to Brazil) is that the parade, which runs over two nights, is actually a contest between the top 12 Samba schools in the region. Each school gets between 65 and 80 minutes to strut their stuff on their chosen theme with scores attributed for costume, music, design and enthusiasm. The winner receives money and glory whilst the loser is relegated and will not be allowed back the following year. It is taken very seriously.

By the time we arrived they were still only halfway through the first school. We took our places and were relieved to find that Sector 1 was indeed the first stand so we got to see the parades at their energetic best (we later found out sector 6 is the last and worst place to sit).

The parade itself is an incredible viewing experience. I don’t think I’ve said ‘wow’ (and meant it) more times in my life. Every single costume is a work of art and there are over a hundred thousand of them. The floats themselves are magnificent marvels of theatre and engineering.

Knowing two people who were taking part made it even more special. Leo’s school, which had chosen Religion as its theme, was on second. After a glorious parade of bopping Muslims, swinging Sikhs, and dancing Jews we saw Leo and Nino get into the Hare Krishna groove. Nino was sitting in the lotus position on top of a lifesize model of an elephant and Leo was throwing some lively shapes above him.

The third school was even more impressive (sorry Leo). They had chosen movies as their theme and the arrays of Godfather gangsters, Dick Tracy cops and Caribbean pirates did not disappoint. But the highlight was the Superheroes. Any float that features eight Spidermen climbing up one side and four Batmen skiing down the other gets my vote.

The next school was a disappointment. They had chosen Mexico as their theme and failed embarrassingly with an attempted recreation of Frida Kahlo’s life featuring inaudible am-dram singing. It was at this point, after four hours and at 2am, that we decided to drag our tired bodies home (earlier in the day we had trekked to a waterfall and up a mountain with a stunning view across Rio and it was now taking its toll).

We had only seen four of the schools but we were more than satisfied, especially after making it home in the early hours without getting mugged. It was made even more special when we found out that we had seen the winning act – the Tijuca school with their movie parade. We agreed with the judges as the superhero samba proved to be one of the highlights of our Rio stay.