Published: April 12th 2012March 31st 2012
Having ummed and aahed as to whether or not the plane journey of death was worth it, with vague jaded notions of having ´seen waterfalls before´, I was completely blown away by Iguazu. Alarm going off at 7, armed with mosquito repellent and sun cream, we set off on the ramshackle bus into the national park towards the falls. One extortionate entrance fee later (30 pesos for locals, 120 pesos for foreigners), we started the walk around the park to the first part of the falls. This walk, despite not actually being that far, took a lot longer than it should due to almost everyone around stopping every 30 seconds to take a photo. I was no exception, and you´ll all be pleased to hear that my 500 photos will be winging their way your way soon!
Having persuaded Dan that the boat trip would be a good idea, we made our way down to the bottom of the trail. We were warned in our hostel that we would get very wet but for some reason I was expecting Alton Towers log flume levels and decided not to bother with a change of clothes. Massive mistake. We got absolutely drenched.
It was pretty exhilerating stuff, speeding in a little motor boat over what looked suspiciously like whirl pools, dipping in and out of mini falls, I thought that was it. But then we zipped round the corner and headed towards a cloud of water mist. As we lingered and the misty water splatered me in the face, I thought ´surely not´, but no, we actually drove right into the waterfall. It was like standing under about 70 cold showers at once. Argh!!!!
As we walked around attempting to dry ourselves off, we grabbed some lunch and made a few vague attempts to shield our food from the descending coaties, until we saw the sign saying ´CAREFUL! COATIES KILL PEOPLE FOR FOOD´- eek! At which point we ran inside cowering.
We then headed round for the ´garganta del diablo´(devil´s throat), which was absolutely unbelivable. Apparently (fact stolen from simon) when Eleanor Roosevelt visited Iguazu, she commented ´poor niagra´, and you can see why (sorry Em!!!). Photos don´t do it justice.
Heading back to our hostel after about 6 hours of solid walking, I grabbed a glass of wine and wandered into our dorm room to be confronted with the most disgusting smell ever. Looking for the offending dog poo/cess pit, I discovered the smell was actually coming from a 60 year old man who had checked into our room. GROSS! I decided to go for a swim (despite the horror of the guy working on reception who claimed he was freezing and was wearing jumper, jeans and trainers in 20 degrees heat - I knew there was a reason it was good to be english!). Unfortunately smellsalot followed me out there and proceeded to watch me in the pool for half an hour - smelly and
creepy. Heading into town that evening for some food, we noticed him in the local pizzeria, having cleared out the entire place with people eating outside and no one remaining indoors. I drew the line when he proceeded to take out his false teeth back in the hostel, and luckily the girl on reception was sympathetic to my plight ('oh I noticed that, it smells like he shat himself 3 weeks ago') and I moved dorm rooms. How is it possible to smell that bad and not notice?????
The next day we embarked on our 17 hour bus journey to Sao Paulo, having decided to break the journey to Rio there. The bus was pretty plush, and things were going swimmingly until we arrived in Sao Paulo 1.5 hours ahead of schedule and were duly kicked off said bus. At 4.30 in the morning. Oh, and if that wasn´t bad enough, the bus station happens to be in one of the more dangerous neighbourhoods of an already dangerous city. Armed with only the street name of our hostel (in the largest city in south america this is like asking a taxi driver to take you to your road in london without even specifying if it is north, south, east or west), and speaking zero portugese, we abandoned all cost saving plans and managed to get a cab to the hostel.
Sao Paulo is one of the most non descript places I have ever been, so I´ll sum it up in a few lines: our hostel is one of the best I´ve ever been to, however I was pretty shocked to discover that pretty much all decent buildings here have massive high walled security gates which are shut even by day. There is a smallish bar area near our hostel which is pretty cool, however at night it involves walking past a massive walled cemetery. When I asked in the hostel if the area was dangerous at night, the bloke laughed and said ´no, I mean only in the cemetery´, to which I responded, wide eyed, ´really? is it bad at night?´, response ´haha yes, haha no´ - ?!?!?!?!
Venturing into the city centre, we kept waiting for the ´nice bit´which we were convinced would arrive, and never did. We queued for over an hour to go up the massive tower in the bank in the centre, only to be told we had 5 minutes to look round the top (which terrifyingly only had barriers up to my waste despite being about 30 storeys high). Looking out over the enormous metropolis, I announced ´it really is a sprawling mass of crap isn´t it´. That just about sums it up. Although it was really interesting to see the city, I´m pretty glad we were only there for a day!!!!
I warmed to Sao Paulo a bit the next day when I made a trip to the football museum, but was not overly bothered by leaving a day earlier to make a quick trip to Paraty before Rio.
As we departed the sprawling crapopolis and headed out to the cost, we had the most unbelievable scenery as the sunset over hills surrounded by light mist. I was happily feeling calm and at one with nature, until the bloke behind me´s mobile rang and he answered shouting what I´m convinced is the portugese equivalent of Í´M ON THE MOBILE!´Oh well!
You coulnd't have lined up two more different places if you tried. Paraty is a beautiful small colonial town on the coast between Rio and Sao Paulo, and is pretty much paradise on earth. I refuse to believe that the horse and carts we saw ferrying people around were laid on for tourists only, and am happily convinced that this is the normal mode of transport in paraty. This hypothesis was supported by a bloke I saw driving his horse and cart, eating an ice cream, with a small child seated behind him, having attached a huge ghetto blaster to the back of his cart which was cheerily pumping out hip hop music. Having frightened the other travellers in our hostel (which looked suspiciously like someone´s house given that various members of a large family were generally to be found asleep in the hammocks scattered everywhere) by storming out into the night to ´buy booze´ Dan and I enjoyed a bit of the quiet life after the hustle and bustle of sao paulo. My opinion of paraty as paradise was cemented when a man approached us on the street with a cart full of cake for sale. YES. CAKE!
Leaving Paraty having learned the valuable life lesson that it is impossible to have a coherant thought in a hammock, we boarded our bus on Monday for Rio. A hairraising journey of screeching round cliffside roads later, we staggered off the bus and attempted to locate a taxi. Congratulating myself for having written down the address of our hotel on a piece of paper, my joy turned quickly to anxiety when the taxi stand clearly had no idea where this was. My fool proof strategy of carrying on speaking spanish in brazil having failed me, I climed up onto the ledge, put my hands over the glass barrier and proceeded to point at the waiting computer, shouting ´GOOGLE MAPS???? GOOGLE MAPS???´. The attendant duly obliged and then appeared absolutly fascinated when the aforementioned website was able to demonstrate where in Rio our hotel was. Unbelievable.
Rio, even without the comparison to Sao Paulo, is an AWESOME city. We visited the standard Christ the Redeemer and sugar loaf tourist hot spots, witnessed 2 muggings in the centro area withing 15 minutes (less good), had numerous caiprinhas in copacabana, and spent a few days lazing on the beach. I am now several hundred quid off budget, and am considering selling a kidney to fund further travel, but it was definitely worth the detour through Brazil to get here. Having met up with Suze, we have been ridiculously lucky as Johnny is on the Brazilian equivalent of the register, meaning that he has been able to chauffeur us around rather than go into work!
It being bank holiday weekend, we embraced the 'when in Rome' philosophy and headed off to Ihla Grande, the beach island holiday resort, with the rest of holiday going Rio. If I thought Paraty was paradise, Ihla Grande is off the scale. Having made friends with some french people (alex and jonathan) on the bus there, we signed up for a day´s snorkeling and sailing round the island. Munching on bananas fresh from our guide Gigi´s garden, I felt I was dangerously close to discovering that all feared gap yah tragedy ´different perspective on life´. However I think I have managed to overcome this by reminding myself that you cannot buy diet coke in brazil. (YES - I KNOW!). This being my first time snorkeling, I swallowed about 4 litres of sea water, got salt in my eye, and hit my knee on a rock, BUT I recovered quickly enough to see sea slugs, numerous schools of fish, mini (non sting) jellyfish and a turtle I christened Bob Geldof. Brilliant!!!!!
We returned to the island to be told that there was a reggae party that night in town, with a no booze, no drugs policy, only ´peace and love´according to Gigi. This sounded ideal because after a week and a half in Brazil I was monumentously broke and last time I checked peace and love were free.
The next day having fended off the crabs scuttling around the floor at breakfast, we headed off for a 3 hour hike to Lopes Menes - a few miles long beach only accessible by a monkey filled woodland path. HAving told myself I needed to warm up for the Inca Trail, I was a bit worried when I almost collapsed after about 20 minutes, but recovered enough to enjoy the (sweaty) walk, and it was definitely worth it when we reached miles of virtually empty beautiful beach!
On our return to Rio, on the recommendation of Jonathan and Alex, Suze and I signed up for a tour of one of the favelas (slums) in the city. Having wrestled with the morals of going on a tour (in my mind it was verging a bit too much on poverty voyeurism), we were encouraged by the fact that the tour company donates most of its proceeds to fund a community school for the local children and decided to go. The favela we visited was called Rocinha - built on the hillside 1km from the beach. The official census puts the inhabitants at 70,000, however some estimates go as high as 100,000, mainly due to the large number of people not registered as citizens and not appearing in the census.
When the favela tour started operating in 1994, rocinha was chosen as it was considered the safest of Rio's favelas, most of which are ruled (for want of a better word) by Rio's gangs and drug dealers. Back then the buses made fewer stops, they were required to drive with the windows down so that passenger's faces could be seen, and all tourists and guides avoided wearing the colour read which was the colour associated with one of the rival gangs. All motorbike drivers drove without helmets so that their faces could be seen, but bizarely the area was much safer (no rich person wants to come somewhere dangerous to buy their drugs so the drug dealers made sure people were safe if they didn't cause any trouble), and the whole area had free cable (???). 3 months ago, the favela was 'pacified' by the special police, the drug dealers were supposedly banished (although there are still a lot of 'drug bewsers' according to our slightly eccentric tour guide). Although this has done something to reduce drug related crime in the favela, there are still doubts as to whether the quality of life has improved. Most people live in tiny one room appartments - once you've built yours you sell your roof so that the next person can build theirs. The 'roads' are tiny pathways between the buildings which we squeezed down with our guide stepping over numerous stray cats. As a result the lower buildings are damp ridden and TB is rife.
I was going to say that the favela tour gave me a different perspective on Rio, but I'm not sure that's really true. The favelas' presence in the city is quite hard to ignore - not only are they so close to the centre that you can see them from pretty much any of the main tourist destinations, most of the people work in the more upmarket areas, they're some of the main contributors to carneval. It didn´t make me feel as uncomfortable as I´d expected ' people living in the favelas have a strong sense of community, and were happy to see us and show us around.
After a last day chilling on the beach in Rio, I'm off to Bolivia tomorrow. Feeling marginally aprehensive as I'll be travelling by myself for a few weeks, however I'm armed with a few packets of chocolate buttons from suze, and I'm looking forward to returning to the spanish speaking world. I´ll round off with a few last observations about Brazil:
- Although I haven´t had this verified by a guide book, I´m convinced that the unofficial motto of Brazil is ´when in doubt, boogie´. So far I have seen people dancing a) at a service station b) in several churches whilst waving their arms frantically and c) at the bank. I am thinking of bringing this craze back to england. Natwest beware.
- Portugese sounds, roughly, like a toad being sick. Having tried in vain to pick up a few phrasesuseful words, these have been of zero use without mastering the mental pronunciation. Having Jonny as a portugese speaking guide, whenever anyone approaches me with any question I just point dejectedly at him. This has reduced Suze and I to the status of deaf mute sheep, so much so that when we checked in in Ihla Grande we were given the simple titles of ´Companion 1´and ´Companion 2´. I was 1. YES.
- Travellers cheques are nigh on impossible to change anywhere. Having been coerced by my father into ordering some, whenever I hand them over the cashier gives me a look to suggest this is similar to turning up for work and asking where you can plug in your typewriter and if there is a flat surface you can place your abacus. ARGH
I should probable add that since I finished the above, I have now landed in Bolivia. Unfortunately, my bag has not. This is, to put it bluntly, suboptimal. Luckily I have all my valuables, electronics, trainers and hiking boots, a change of clothes etc with me, but the bag has all my winter clothes, all my summer stuff for bolivia, my anti malaria tablets, and toiletries. Having checked in my bag and my sleeping bag as 2 pieces, needless to say I was less than impressed when my sleeping bag turned up and my bag didn´t. The matter is also made worse by the fact that I have had to deal with the entire thing in spanish (although that´s one gcse chapter I wont need to revise). I was pretty worried as I´m supposed to be flying to sucre this afternoon, but luckily (ha!) the airline I was supposed to be travelling with has gone bust so I´ll have to take the bus anyway. In the taxi ride to my hotel, having been told to return to the aiport today, I did what any self respecting 26 year old adult would do, I rang my dad and cried. Nev has been unbelievably awesome, and I´ve been to buy some emergency clothes in Santa Cruz today. The airline keep insisting they will find my bag and put it on tonight´s flight, but that remains to be seen. I´m loathe to leave SC until they find it, as 9 weeks without my stuff is going to be pretty grim. However, I have forced myself to think rationally about this and realise that clothes and toilettries ARE replaceable, however annoying this is. AAAAAAAH. Will keep you all informed of any updates.