Above and Below
Nicola snorkelling in the Rio Prata, Bonito.
Rio without Sun
After a triple flight voyage from La Paz to Rio with some very tight connections we breathed a huge sigh of relief when Nicola’s bag arrived eventually appeared on the baggage carousel (it was very nearly the last bag to arrive whereas Carl’s bag had arrived first). It had been some time since Venezuela and we had neglected to take our standard precautionary measures against baggage loss: keep camera charger in camera bag, pack a small package of essentials into each others bags and put all the medicines in our hand luggage.
We emerged from the airport to be accosted by a number of taxi touts offering rip off prices. After explaining that we were not American we managed to get the price down to a reasonable rate and zoomed off into the depths of Rio to find Newton’s Rooftop Hostel and Apartments. On route we saw an illuminated Jesus high up on the mountain, which we felt bode well for our time here.
On arrival we were shown to our rooftop apartment, which to our dismay we would be sharing with 2 other people and 2 cats. Our room in the
The oldest part of Rio where we had some very good beer
apartment was really small with hardly enough space to put our bags down. It was a far cry from the city living we had envisaged. It was really late so we resolved to give it a try, but by the morning it was clear that sharing an apartment with cats was causing me both breathing and itching issues.
After seeing all the other available doubles in the complex we decided to go for another apartment a few floors lower down where we had a similar sized room but had the entire apartment all to ourselves. While we were discussing our options over breakfast Newton, the owner, came round to tell us that he would be taking a free tour of the city, it was pretty much the deal clincher.
After wandering the streets of Copacabana looking for a bank we found ourselves on the main beach. Strolling down it and feeling the sand under our feet really gave us that holiday feeling. After our beach walk we met up with Newton and a few other hostel residents for the tour.
We took the Metro, which is very clean and feels safe, to the centre of town where
Boarding for Mars
The Gallery of Contemporary Art, Niteroi
Newton showed us the older and more historic parts of the city. We stopped at a very grand coffee shop, which has been running since 1894, and admired the fine looking pastries, which Nicola and I resolved to sample before we left Rio. We also saw a number of buildings that had been occupied by the Emperors of Brazil (there were two of them) and the oldest part of the city, which dates from the 16th century. After this we took a ferry across the bay to Niteroi to see the Museum of Modern Art, which is shaped like a flying saucer. It was a pretty quick tour but it gave us a good idea of where we should be visiting in the days ahead.
That night we went to a per kilo restaurant where you pile up the food and the amount you pay is determined purely by weight. Carl thought he was not hungry but still ended up clocking up 18 Reals (US$8) worth of food (850g).
Despite the prediction of sunshine, the rain persisted the next day and our enthusiasm to get up and about was substantially diminished. I spent the morning
rereading our Peru blog trying to make it shorter for Brendon, but struggled to cut anything out. Carl relented to pressure from me and went and had a haircut, the excuse that it was unhygienic here did not wash as well as it did in Bolivia.
With the weather limiting our options somewhat, we decided that it was a good day for me to get some shoes for the Kara’s wedding. Carl obviously did not relish the thought of shoe shopping, so I sweetened the deal with the suggestion of a splurge to the grand coffee shop we had seen on Newton’s tour.
Armed with 3 words of Portuguese between us, we cruised through the metro ticket buying process and boarded the train. It took us a while to figure out which stop we got out at last time with Newton and had to guess based on approximate journey time and using a very large scale map of the city. We got it right and managed to find the coffee shop. After a long time pondering over which of the numerous delicious looking delicacies displayed in the shop counters were going to accompany our coffee we ordered. Some
Rio from next to Jesus
Although there was no cloud the view was still a little hazy from the top.
advice, do not order a Cappuccino in Brazil as they are not a milky coffee with milk froth, instead they are a sickeningly sweet coffee syrup with a loading of sweet cream piled on top. Carl sensibly enough ordered an Espresso, it also came with the same sweet cream but was vaguely drinkable. The cakes we ordered to go with the coffee were also excessively sweet. It seems that even though Brazil uses sugar to produce petrol they still have too much of the stuff.
After coffee Carl and I split up for a while and I went to look at shoes. I have never seem so many shoe shops in such a small area, there must have been 20 different shops within a 2 block radius. I found a pair of black shoes that would go with my dress and I could walk in without falling over, but was very sad that I was limited to choosing a black pair as the neutral and brown coloured pairs were so numerous and very pretty.
At our revendevous point I lamented the fact that I had to buy black shoes and Carl suggested I should get another pair if
Coconut on Copacabana
Nicola drinking a coconut on Copacabana beach. We did not spend much time here as every minutes someone would try and sell us something.
I really wanted. I tried out a few pairs before finding one that both of us liked. As we were leaving, I said to Carl he should consider getting a pair of shoes as he had stripped his wardrobe bear when we packed up our belongings. We quickly found something that he liked and after trying many different sizes we discovered his one foot is slightly bigger than the other, this has never been the case in other countries. We tried persuading the shop assistant to give us two different sized shoes but he wasn’t keen on having to find Carl’s mirror image and we had to settle on the best fit. Three pairs of shoes heavier, we walked around the oldest part of the town consuming Chopp (the local draft beer) and Caipirinahs (A divine drink that is typically Brazilian made of a Cachaça (sugar cane liqueur), sugar and limes).
That night we went to a fixed price chuscarria where you dish up salads and then wait at your table for waiters to come with skewers of meat and carve chunks of it onto your plate. It was very good and Carl didn’t think he had eaten as
Party at the Lapa
The street party at the Lapa was awesome. The beat was infectious and you could not help dancing.
much meat since Craig’s twenty-first when his dad forced us to finish the two cooler boxes of meat he had cooked. In celebration of this total gluttony he even had a desert to round it all off.
Rio in the Sun
The next day the forecast sunshine appeared and we were up early to enjoy it. After a rather leisurely breakfast in the hostel (the standard fare of boiled egg, 2 rolls and watermelon) we decided to head off to see Jesus, the big statue overlooking the city. After some discussion as to whether we should take the bus and cog train or a taxi, we decided on the former. John from the Hostel said we should take number 581 and directed us to the bus stop a couple of blocks down. After investigating a couple of bus stops along the road we had still not found the one for 581 bus and we were beginning to doubt John’s advice when a helpful man said in very gesticulated Portuguese that we should take 583 if we wanted to go to Jesus. His sign language involved mimicking the outstretched arms of the statue and pointing
to the number 583.
We arrived at the base of the funicular and booked a ticket on the next available trip. This was still and hour off so we passed the time watching some locals doing pull ups on the children’s playground nearby. The journey up to the top passes through some nice forest and near the top there are a few points from which you can see over the city. One of these points is called the “Ahh Bend” and sure enough that was the sound we heard when we passed through it. The top is a bit over 700m high and every now and then a cloud would pass right over us obscuring the statue. The statue is big, but I think it looks better from down in the city, a small but constant reminder that you are in Rio. The views from the top are pretty good although the air was a little hazy so you could not see far off detail. As it had been rainy for the past few days a very large number of tourists were also visiting and it was difficult to move without being in someone else’s photo. It didn’t take
Anaconda the locals found just next to our lodge. Small only m long
long before we had seen enough and headed back down.
That night was Friday and Friday in Rio means fiesta night. Newton’s was throwing a warm up party before taking all the guests to The Lapa to join in a street party. The party at Newton’s was pretty calm although a very large amount of alcohol, including the obligatory Caipirinah, was consumed. At around 11:30 we piled into taxis and headed off to where the big party was happening. It was pretty obvious where the party was as there were people everywhere and the sound of drums was almost deafening. The beat is infectious and it is not possible to avoid getting carried away by it and start dancing. The street was teaming with people and the sides of the road were lined with coolers selling beer, wine and stalls selling Caipirinahs and other cocktails. Chris, one of the hostel staff, took us too see “his mom”, a lady who has tried marrying-off both her 16 and 14 year old daughters to him. Her drinks stall was right next to one of the Samba bands, which had a dancer in full carnival dress. No one pays the bands they
One of the numerous caiman in the Pantanal.
just play cause it is part of their culture and a way to release the stresses of the past week.
After a few drinks (beers for the boys and Caipirinahs for Nicola) we decided to try out one of the clubs in the area, Chris took us to his favourite Salsa club but it turned out they had a death metal band playing that night. We looked at a few other clubs but Nicola, Chris and I decided that the death metal looked the most interesting and that certainly proved to be the case. The band had two vocalists whose distorted screams competed with the thundering cords of three guitarists, a bassist and a hyperactive drummer. It was not a place for conversation. It did not take long for the band to wear themselves out and we returned to the street party until about 4am after which we took a by now very drunk Chris back to the hostel.
The next morning the sun was shining but inside my head one of the biggest thunderstorms of all time was being unleashed. We had run out of water the night before so the hangover was showing
no mercy and it took until about 11am before I was able to rise and make it downstairs for a very late breakfast.
Chris was all for a visit to the beach, but we needed to upload our Peru blog before joining him. Once that was done we went to designated rendezvous spot to find a very bewildered looking Chris trying to find the girl who had accompanied him to the beach and with her all his stuff. He had been swimming and had drifted down with the current and now had no idea where he had started. We asked him what she was wearing and about the beach chair he told us he had left with her. We found a girl meeting the description but the chair next to her was a yellow not rainbow coloured like he told us but we pointed her out to him anyway. “Not her,” he said and the search continued. After a further 15 minutes searching Nicola and I went up to the girl and found out she was in fact the right person. Seems the previous night had affected someone really badly.
Now that we had finally reunited Chris with
Mommy and Babies
A mother Capybara guards her two little babies
his friend it was time for a swim. One of my favourite things is body surfing and the Rio waves ROCK!!! I remembered how much I love the sea and spent pretty much the whole afternoon playing in the waves while Nicola despite the factor 30 managed to add to her tan with her nose in a book.
It was tough to have to leave Rio at that point but with the wedding and the chance to see our families again, we managed to board our flight via Sao Paulo to Johannesburg. Our time in South Africa is briefly described in a separate entry (already posted).
Twenty hours of travel from Johannesburg we found our selves surrounded by sleeping dogs and very active mosquitoes in the two building town of Las Piranhas, the largest dot on the map of the southern Pantanal. The local time was 4am and we had no idea where we meant to be going only that a jeep was meant to be there to meet us and there was none in evidence.
After a short wait a blue station wagon pulled up to the town and the driver began a conversation
Gaucho making a path through the cattle for us to pass through
with a policeman who had also been deposited there by the same bus. The policeman spoke English and came round to tell us that the blue vehicle was our transport and that he was commandeering it as there had been an accident up the road that he had to attend to. Watching our transport disappearing up the road we had visions of a very long wait but it was only 30 minutes.
After an hours ride on a very bumpy road we were shown to our very basic accommodation at Cabana do Lontra and told that there would be a wake up call at six, leaving less than 45 minutes to sleep. As our Portuguese was non-existent we could not explain how desperately we needed the sleep and resolved ourselves to being woken up. Forty-five minutes later at breakfast we managed to organise a recovery day with no excursions, something which took some persuasion, and then slept pretty much the whole day.
The next day we were up early for our “Jeep Safari” which was a drive up the only public road in the southern Pantanal in a very old truck. This was also the first time met,
Javiru Stork in the Pantanal
Third biggest flying bird takes to the air
Rodrigo, our guide for the next few days. We had met a very nice Aussie couple the night before who had recommended we take pillows with us on the safari and very soon we could see the other people on the jeep eyeing our cushions as the road was pretty rough. The bird life in the Pantanal is astounding, at every pool we would see at least 5 species of stork, heron or ibis and there were so many birds of prey mice must have a very short life expectancy, but it took some time before we saw any mammals.
Eventually we did see some deer, which were far off but Rodrigo got so excited we thought this must be a very good sighting and were equally enthusiastic. We had been given the premium spot for the first section of the drive (on top of the drivers cab), everyone else sat in the back except for Rodrigo who hung off the side next to the driver’s door. Eventually the people in the back decided to copy him and stood outside the canopy to get a better view. Just as we were stopping for a drink break and the change
Very rare Hycinth Macaw in the Pantanal.
over from premium spot to back seat, we saw somewhat Rodrigo called Scarlet Macaws. These birds according to him were very rare in the Pantanal and we all got off the vehicle to approach the tree they were roosting in. We were able to watch them for sometime before they decided to fly away.
Just as I was beginning to despair that there were no Capybaras (My favourite South American Mammal) in the Pantanal and everyone had been lying to me, I saw a brown shape in the undergrowth. “Stop Capybara!!!” I yelled and had to yank on Rodrigo’s leg from my less than prime spot below the canopy. The long process of getting the driver to stop and them reverse to the correct spot was too much and Rodrigo jumped off the truck and went ploughing into the bushes to see if he could see it. We did manage to see the backend of a Capybara as it moved deeper into the bushes.
Thankfully a couple of hundred metres down the road we came to a bridge where a Capybara was eating water lilies in the pond below. He stayed in plain view for a good while
Capybara smoking some grass
until he had had enough of the noisy tourists who were getting too close and decided it was a good time to hide. He very causally walked deeper into the water swimming to a spot where he thought he was hidden, just letting his little nostrils peek above the water to get air every now and again. We then focused our attention on the Caimans who were pretty abundant in the pond but seemed completely disinterested in the Capybara.
Many birds later, Carl spotted a large group of coatis crossing a field. After much shouting to get the vehicle to halt, Rodrigo jumped down from the vehicle and over a fence to where and ran hurtling in to the middle of the group scattering them in all directions. He continued chase them until one of the younger ones climbed a tree and was trapped with a shouting Rodrigo below. He then bellowed to us to come and see. We felt really bad as we had obviously caused quite a lot of stress to the group and the little one that we pursued had now become truly separated from his family.
After completely terrify the coatis we returned to
A Macaw which Rodrigo called scarlet but I think may be a red and green macaw.
the truck and found Capybaras to be more common the deeper we went. We really enjoyed watching them munching away, swimming or just sitting in the water or the muddy banks they have such comical faces. On the road we came across a huge herd of cattle being driven by a group of Gauchos down the road and one of them had to cut a path though the herd for our truck to pass through. It was pretty cool seeing real live cowboys.
After about 4 hours driving we arrived at a small restaurant in the absolute middle of nowhere where we were served the standard Pantanal meal of beans, rice and meat before heading back the way we had come. On route back we saw two more mammal species, the Giant River Otters and a lone Howler monkey in a tree next to the road. Rodrigo told us that it was unusual to see them on their own so it had probably been kicked out of the group by the leader. To make matters worse for the poor guy Rodrigo then climbed the tree and started making very loud monkey noises to try chase to where we could
My favourite South American Animal. For Nicola its Capybaras
see it better. The monkey just ignored him but we were very disturbed by his approach to wildlife.
The next day we went on the boat trip and horse riding combination. This was something I was looking forward to as I love horses and boat trips are pretty cool too. It was only 7:30 in the morning when we set out but the heat was already oppressive, the boat was a small skiff with no protection from the sun, so we covered ourselves in sun cream tied on our hats and hoped for the best. The breeze from the boat seemed to make the heat bearable but whenever we stopped to look at the ever present Caimans or Capybaras the heat became unbearable and I was keen to get moving ASAP.
When we arrived at the farm where we were going to horse ride, we were told that it was too hot to take the horses out for the full 2 hours and we would only have a short ride. I asked for a fast horse, which I certainly got, he was a little headstrong especially on the way home but we got some good gallops around the
Riding Horses in the Pantanal
fields. It was Carl’s first time on a real horse and his horse liked to keep up with my horse so he got a lot of galloping in for a first time. Carl’s horse was quite a bit smaller than the others so he had to trot a lot to keep up with the other horses. As it was his first time on a horse he did not know how to move with it and ended up getting shaken half to death.
I really thought it was going to be a full day of horse riding to look for animals and although I really enjoyed my ride I was sorely disappointed about the short time we spent on horseback.
As there were only 3 different excursions available from the lodge and piranha fishing is a half-day activity and normally done on the last day we found ourselves back on the truck for another jeep safari. This time there were 10 people crammed onto the jeep and the extra noise meant that we saw far fewer animals than the first time. We did however see two new animals, some Rheas very far in the distance and some armadillos.
Nicola and her trusty steed
The Armadillos have a very bad sense of sight so they walked right out on to the road completely unaware of our presence. Nicola had just enough time to take one picture before one of the other people turned on their camera, which started up with a silly jingle and frightened them away. Animals don’t get away that easily with Rodrigo and he called everyone to follow him as he chased after the armadillos. By now we had had enough of taking part in these terror tactics so we waited behind. One of the armadillos came back to the road and was going to cross in full view but one of the other people saw it and following Rodrigo’s example ended up chasing it away too.
When we first met Rodrigo we had been excited by his enthusiasm but by the end of our time with him it began to wear thin and we were really please to see the back of him. His role during our expeditions was to generate excitement, as he clearly knew nothing about the wildlife or how to approach it. If the other guides in the area are anything like him it will become
If you haven´t seen one of these you have not been to the pantanal. They are everywhere
more and more difficult to see animals as they learn to stay away from the road.
The next day we went piranha fishing from the roof of a semi-beached riverboat in front of the camp. Rodrigo had to take other people horse riding so we assigned a local guy to help us with the fishing. Our new guide only spoke Portuguese so we did not talk much and he seemed to really enjoy fishing. Although it was meant to be Piranha fishing I started off by catching 3 catfish. They were really small so I was a bit shocked when the guide cut off its fins before taking the hook out and leaving the poor things to die. I put the fish out of its misery and after that only allowed him to take the larger specimens, throwing the little ones back. The catfish when caught made such plaintive noises I really did not like catching them. Nicola managed to hold the biggest fish record for some time and I was getting quite worried until at last I hauled out a Catarina that just pipped hers to the post. Our Haul of 14 fish between the 3 of us
Huck Fin´s Sister
Fishing for Pirnahas in the Pantanal
was cooked for lunch. They were quite difficult to eat as they were so small and bony but they were edible.
That afternoon with the aim of snorkelling in a crystal clear river and the possibility of seeing anteaters we embarked on a four hour bus journey to Bonito. That evening when we were searching for a restaurant we bumped into our Aussie friends from a couple of days earlier. They had been caught out by the clocks changing for daylight saving and had missed their bus and had to stay an extra day. This was unfortunate for them but we benefited from a good dinner conversation and exchanged emails.
The next morning it was pouring with rain and I convinced Carl to postpone the tour until the next day to give the weather a chance to improve and this gave us a rest and admin day. After the splendid Bonito Hostel International breakfast, which included 2 types of cake (chocolate cake has to be a favourite but decadent breakfast item), we rented some bicycles from the hostel and headed down into the town to explore. My bicycle was a bit dodgy but I did not notice how
The results of our fishing efforts. The biggest one is mine!!!
dodgy until the uphill on the way home as the chain kept on slipping off every time I pedalled. For my inconvenience they decided not to charge us for the rental. There were some really funky phone booths in the town and Carl went on a mission to photograph me in every single one (See photos at end of blog).
Next morning dawned with still no sunshine but at least the rain had stopped. We had an early slot on the Rio do Prata snorkelling tour so dragged ourselves out of bed and grabbed a quick decadent breakfast. Luckily for us the sun appeared as we arrived at the farm. We were quickly equipped with a wetsuit, boots, mask and snorkel and after a short jeep ride our lively guide took us through the very well laid out trail to starting point of the snorkel route.
When we got to the river there was a film crew making a documentary for a local Brazilian channel and we had to wait until they had finished. Unfortunately while we waited the sun disappeared behind the clouds but luckily the rain stayed away. Even without direct sun the visibility was superb,
Fish Rio Prata
Some of the fish in the Rio Prata Bonito. It was really clear and the fish were surprisingly large.
45m near the top, it was like swimming in an aquarium tank, there were fish everywhere and so many different kinds. The trip is one long float with a snorkel and mask (and a wetsuit for warmth and buoyancy) down the river looking around at the amazing aquatic life below the river surface. Some of the fish we saw are by far the largest we have seen in fresh water and would have been impressive on an oceanic dive. We got to the end of our float suitably wonderstruck and headed back to the farmhouse for the fabled “eat as much as you like” traditional buffet lunch.
The owners had gone to a lot of effort to make sure that the tourism activities made the least environmental impact possible while still giving the tourists an awesome experience. They have a done a lot of research into how many people the area can sustain and limit the numbers in a group and the time between groups to maximise the experience for the tourists. The trail to the get in place is through some jungle and has many informational signs on trees and about the animals that are often seen in
Nicola, Rio Prata
Snorkelling in the Rio Prata, the visibility under water was 45m.
the area. I was very impressed and was happy to pay the high cost of the tour when I saw how they spent the money.
We were planning to go onto another farm after lunch to see macaws and anteaters but the rain came down and thwarted all our plans as both do not like the rain and there was little chance we would see them. Ecstatic about our fish experience but a little sad about missing out on anteaters we headed back.
The next morning at five we started the first of many very long bus journeys we have required in the non Andean part of South America where sights are more spread out. After much deliberation Carl had given into the idea of going to Iguaçu Falls as he is not as much of a waterfall fan as I am. The journey was 17 hours long and included stops at some real backwater towns in southern Brazil where you could only buy empanadas for lunch and dinner. For most of the journey we had pretty heavy rain and this continued when we arrived in Foz De Iguaçu at 2am in the morning.
The next day
the rain was still falling so it looked like we would need to waste a day waiting for the weather to improve but around 2pm it started to clear and we decided to make a dash for it. By the time we reached the falls the sun was in full force and we found ourselves very grateful for cooling mist they threw up. All the rain meant that the Rio Iguaçu was very full and the falls were in full force. It was the most impressive waterfall I have ever seen and the Brazilian side affords grand overviews of the falls. More of the falls are on the Argentinean side but you can still get close enough to get really soaked and we had a lot of fun trying to take pictures while keeping the camera dry. At one point they have constructed a walkway over the river which goes quite close the falls, there was a group of Brazilian girls at the end of the walkway where it is wettest and they so overawed by the power of the water they began chanting patriotic songs and jumping up and down. I guess it was something to be proud about
Carl swimming down to one of the Springs entering the Rio Prata
and Carl had to admit the journey was worth the effort.
While there we encountered a solitary desensitised coati scavenging for food in the bins, his natural group foraging behaviour had been badly distorted by the presence of hundreds of humans who despite the signs prohibiting feeding of the animals insisted on feeding them. After finding nothing in the bins he tried getting into peoples bags and then eventually went to a restaurant where he scared the patrons away and ate their food. In revenge one of the people threw their drink at him, this must have been part of the coati’s plan as he simply slurped up the cola before moving on.
That evening we booked a trip to the Argentinean side but as yet were not sure whether we would continue into Argentina afterwards or whether we would return and then head on through Paraguay. When we went to bed we had decided to go through Paraguay so we did not pack the bags but in the morning we changed our minds and opted for the 27-hour bus journey through Argentina to Salta. This meant we had to pack our bags very quickly and only just
Coati raiding bin, Iguazu
These Coatis on the brazillian side are very bad and we saw them trying to get inside peoples bags to find food and climbing on tables in restaurants.
made it in time for the bus to Argentina. The decision was based on the fact that there was very little information on Paraguay and that the information we could find mostly pertained to crime and mafia in Cuidad de Este (our entry point) and we didn’t feel like loosing our bags.
At Iguaçu if you are only crossing into Argentina to visit the falls for the day you do not need to officially enter, this meant that you would not get a stamp for Argentina in your passport. To solve this problem our bus driver set up a mock immigration point where he stamped everyone’s passport. Later when we crossed into Argentina our bus driver stopped and pulled out a whole lot of flags for the local football team and transformed himself into an Argentina fan. I assume he reverses the process for the return journey.
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