Let me see that thong...Brazil - country 9 of 9.

Oceans and Seas » Atlantic » Tristan da Cunha
December 9th 2011
Published: December 9th 2011
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Hi everyone - I know its been a little while longer than usual since our last blog entry and Im sure you´re all struggling through the withdrawal symptons...but worry not! Your fix has finally arrived and you can blame a serious lack of internet cafes in Brazil for the wait!

We´ve done quite a bit since we last spoke to you at Iguazu Falls including the Amazonian cities of Manaus and Belem, 4 days on a cargo ship down the Amazon River, lots of beaches and a robbery! I´ll try and keep it brief but I know you enjoy my eloquently wirtten tales of our ´adventures´ so lets go...

22/11/11 - Up early and driven to airport to fly from Foz Do Iguacu to Manuas. Im not normally big on landing, taking off or that much in between to be honest, but arriving into Manaus airport was spectacular. Between the vast Rio Negro and Rio Solomon channels, which later merge to form the main body of the Amazon, appears this massive sprawling city. Green trees and white sandy river beaches become skyscapers, docklands and sprawling residential neighbourhoods. I was loving it, but unfortuantely miss grouchy had the window seat and she was trying to finish her book. Apparently my grinning face centremetres from her book is very irritating - who knew! Manaus is home officially to some 1.2 million Amazonian Brazillians, and unofficially more like 3 million. It was formerly considered among the giants of world cities when the rubber boom (in the late 19th century) made it one of the richest cities in the world. Today a smattering of this former grandeur still exists, mainly in the central plaza where the famous opera house resides, but much of the rest of the city practical rather than grand with the focus very much on transporting goods and people down river to the rest of Brazil or up river to Colombia and Peru.

We arrived at about lunch time and were immediately accosted on the bus by a big fat, and far too friendly, man who escorted us to our hotel whilst telling us his life story. Once we arrived he began to go through all the tours and trips he could arrange for us and soon became our unofficial travel agent. I wasnt sure if I really liked him but we didnt have any other option really as time was against us. We ended booking onto a 2 day boat journey, to take us to Santarem, for the following day and a half day tour for the following morning to see a few of the surrounding attractions. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the centre of Manaus, visiting the opera house, catherdral and enjoying a traditional Amazonian soup made from some kind of leaf and river shrimp. We´d heard about a free concert taking place that evening in the opera house so we tagged along. Em had a semi-fainting episode outside, linked to a combination of malaria tablets, sun and shrimp soup, but we eventually made it inside and nabbed a free box overlooking the stage! It was a mixture of acoustic guitar, folk pipe music and operatic singing and was actually really good. The opera house was amazing inside - very opulent - with gorgeous colonial Portugese designs on the walls and ceiling.

23/11/11 - We again managed to drag ourselves out of bed for about half seven for a quick breakfast of purple yuca, fried eggs and water melon - sounds gross...tasted great! Whilst we were ready and raring to go, our big fat friend wasnt and we ended up hanging around pretty much all morning for him and his hired goons to get going. We did eventually make it out on a small motor boat to see the meeting of the waters (where the darker, warmer, slower and less acidic waters of the Rio Negro from Colombia meet the lighter, faster, muddier Rio Solomon from the Peruvian Andes - the resultant sight is the two waters sitting side by side next to each other without merging for nearly 12kms). We were also taken into an ecological park between the two rivers where we spotted a two-toed sloth (sleeping ofcourse), a massive wasps nest and the giant Amazonian lilipads that cover the surface of a small lake - very pretty! Meanwhile, back on board our ship the rather dodgy looking captain was supposed to be sorting us out with a cabin for the next two days as we journeyed down the Amazon river to Santarem, and the river beach of Alter do Chao. He actually came up trumps and we were put in a suite, complete with ensuite bathroom and storage room! Sounds glamorous - it certainly wasnt - we didnt even get a bed-sheet, but it was better than the alternative... The majority of Brazilians (and cheap-skate travellers) just book a hammock space. You then get given or go out and buy a hammock, pick a spot on the middle tier of the three tiered boats and make camp. When you then return to your hammock, someone will have pretty much tied theirs above and maybe below yours - its crazy and with nowhere to store your luggage we opted for the security of our ´luxury´cabin! After getting stuck at the port after sneaking off for some lunch (apparently our cheapo cargo boat tickets didnt allow us to even eat with the rich bastrads that had booked proper cruises) we were in place above deck at 12 o´clock, eagerly anticipating our departure. By three o´clock we were getting pretty bored and cursing fat-man for telling us it left at 1. By 5 o´clock we´d given up and went downstairs for a nap. We re-emerged at about 6:30 to see a beautiful sunset and tiny grey dolphins swimming about by the side of our boat as we gently swayed in the waters at... the bloody port! Finaly at 7pm the engines started and we were off...the wrong way! Apparently we had more cargo to pick up and after another 30 minute delay we had set sail for Santarem!

24/11/11 - Read, slept, read, slept, ate apple, crisps and a biscuit (lunch), read, slept, had a beer with the other gringos, watched the sunset and then waited for our 11pm arrival.

25/11/11 - Unreal - still on the boat. Once again cursing the big fat bastard who told us so many big fat lies! After the worst nights sleep - constantly waking up for fear that we would miss Santarem and end up in some bizzare Amazonian hell hole - we arrived a mere 14 hours late at 1pm. We were collected at Santarem port by ´John Lennon´ who was the owner of the Pousada Ecological - our home for the next two nights on Alter do Chao. AdC is a stunningly picturesque river beach located some 300 miles from the sea. The pure white sandy beach curves around in two semi circles forming two beautiful bays, one filled with small fishing boats, the other is perfect for swimming and is lined with tables and chairs so you can sit in the water and have a beer and some bolinhos do peixe (fish balls made with amazonian river fish). Mr lennon showed us to our room and it quickly became apparent we would be sharing it with about one thousand mosquitos! Em was panicing big time so I sent her to the shower, armed myself with a flip-flop and 100% deet spray and let the carnage commence. Half an hour later we were down to 2, which quickly became one with a deet spray to the face and a flip-flop finisher. The final guy was clearly a worthy foe so I spared him. Proud of my achievements I cruised into the bathroom only to see ems toothbrush drop from her hand, bounce off the taps, off the sink and plop straight into the toilet! It was all too much for me and I simply cried with laughter!

We soon sorted ourselves out and headed straight for the beach. Spent the rest of the day sunbathing, swimming in the gorgeous warm water, drinking beer and watching the sunset. Amazing beach-and couldn't wait to spend a full day there the following day! Showered and chanfed, we then made our way back to the little central square and picked a restaurant to enjoy some anazonian fish. We made a quick blind order (portugese is one crazy language) and ended up with more fish balls (great), a big, long juicy fish (tasty) and a bit of piranha (pretty gross).

26/11/11 - Full day on the beach and it was so nice! Started off a bit cloudy so we picked a direction and went for a stroll along the sand. After turning the corner from AdC it became completely deserted. Lush green tropical forest one side and white sandy beach and blue water the other! Picked a quiet spot and had a snooze. Then headed back to the main beach just as the sun came out. Rest of the day was pretty much like the day before and capped off with a beer literally sat in the water at one of the beach bars. That evening we made a beeline back to same place as before but opted for a churrasco-barbecued meat served how its cooked on a mini sword. Really tasty and a bargain at less than 10 pounds! It was so cheap I even allowed us to have our 1st Brazilian caiparinhas-although they turned out to be a bit strong!

Emma now in from her phone...

27/11/11- Up early for a dawn stroll to the local bus stop. Spotted some beautiful toucans enroute which until then, was the only real sign we'd had that we were still in the Amazon. After catching a bus back to Santarem and being deposited miles from the port, we attempted to walk until we realised it was still a fair hike. A taxi got us slightly closer, but then made us get out prematurely once again, as the roads to the port were shut. A random fiesta was in full swing at 9.30am! Fully loaded with backpacks and carrier bags, we battled our way to the docks, pushing against the crowd and a huge parade, past kite flyers and carefully dodging fire crackers. Sweaty and stressed out yet again, we boarded the ship at 10am and were presented with a microscopic bunk bed where you literally couldn't even swing a cat. It was grim and a little depressing, but what did we expect...bartering down prices obviously put us in the bad books. With only a 3 hr delay this time round, we thanked our lucky stars and rewarded ourselves with a can of ice cold coke (to share of course). The atmosphere on the boat was a lot more chilled out than our last leg, so as we sat down to a gourmet pot noodle dinner, we tried to enjoy the experience (ignoring the spitting, snotting and peeing overboard Brazilian beasts...and we're not just talking about the men unfortunately).

28/11/11 - The trip from Santarem to Belem passes through a beautiful stretch of the Amazon. The channels of water navigated are much narrower than the first leg, so we felt much closer to the rainforest. We passed fascinating amazonian communities, comprising of basic huts and fishing boats, often alongside football pitch clearings and a missionary church. As the boat sailed past, children would jump into their canoes and loiter by the side whilst passengers threw plastic bags full of clothes, food or toiletaries into the river for them to collect. It was a stark contrast from the grassy banks and cattle farmland we'd seen whilst sailing down the wider section of the Amazon from Manaus. At the larger towns where we deposited cargo, men would create a conveyor belt system to shift the goods. Not a single lorry in sight. We sat captivated for hours by the various communities. It was like watching a documentry live. Toastie for tea and then back to the damp bunks.

29/11/11 - Quite unbelievably, we arrived in Belem at 9am on Tuesday morning. We'd been told a generic 'Tuesday' when we asked the Portuguese speaking staff in broken Spanish. 5 months in SA has led us to develop a few survival techniques, so for our own sanity we adjusted this 'eta' to a more realistic Wednesday. In our minds this 9am arrival was a day early...what a result! Unfortunately we didn't ride the wave of fortune for long. Olie had insisted we wouldn't have to book any accomodation, despite my best attempts. He was adamant that we'd literally walk off the boat into a street of budget hostels. After an hour of traipsing around in stifling humidity we were beginning to think that Belem didn't have ANY accomodation options. Finally, after wandering up a very dubious looking road, we stumbled across a hotel. Fortunately it was within budget and our room was enormous. The mattress alone was larger than our cabin! We called a truce and set out to explore what Brazilians call 'the city of mangoes' due to the ridiculous number of fruit trees lining the main avenues. Belem is the 11th largest city in Brazil (over 2m people) and the gateway into the Amazon from the Atlantic. We strolled back down to the river, through ver-o-peso (a bustling fruit, veg, meat, fish and crafts market) and then ate fresh fish and salad at one of the countless local food bars within the market. Our first proper meal in days went down a treat. After a Posadas-style siesta to get out of the heat, we walked over to Cidade Velha (the old town) and visited Forte de Presepio on Guajara Bay to watch the sunset. The old town boasts stunning blue and yellow tiled Portuguese buildings and although some are in disrepair, the facades are all pretty well kept. After sipping on coconut water admiring the gorgeous Santo Alexandre church square, we headed over to 'Estacao das docas' a wonderful restoration of the old port in Belem, with half a km of restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. We ended the day with an on-site brewed Amazon Beer. Very impressed with Belem. Exceeded our expectations.

30/11/11 - Fuelled by a breakfast of exotic fruits and strong coffee in our enormous white room, we strolled back down to ver-o-peso market and compiled provisions for a picnic lunch. With a massive slab of watermelon, enough mini bananas to feed a small army and a packet of brazil nuts, we made our way across town to 'Mangal das garcas'. This is essentially a bird and butterfly park next door to Belems naval base. We spotted some giant iguanas and turtles in amongst the numerous storks and bright pink flamingos. Dark grey clouds hung over us for an uncomfortable length of time, so we set off back to our favourite market (dodging the grotesque turkey neck black vultures that seem to have invaded Belems streets...much like Londons pigeons) and drank a few beers with the locals, sitting on plastic chairs in the rain. A few of you will be pleased to hear that we then stumbled across potentially the cheapest place to purchase havianas in Brazil. That evening we walked to cathedral square for a street food tea, before joining the affluent folks back at the restored docklands for a hot chocolate in a comfortable cafe.

01/12/11 - Set off on foot to Goeldi Museo (set up by some old school German zoologists) which is famed for its 'mini Amazon in a city' grounds, where capyburas run free and sloths snooze in the trees above. 2 hours later we were questioning our ability to judge scales on maps and wishing we'd worked out what bus to get instead! It was a pretty place and housed some interesting species. Highlights included some enormous roaming tapirs, a giant otter, colourful macaws and a load of turtles hitching a ride on the back of some caimans. Bizarre. By the time we got back to the hotel it was midday, so we caught a local bus and enjoyed an unofficial tour of the 'peoples' city...grimey suburbia, before reaching the airport. Our flight stopped ok Brasilia for a couple of hours, so we didn't get to our hostel in Salvador until 2am. Long day!

Olie again...writing this on my crappy phone is even worse than sitting in a desperately slow internet cafe!

02/12/11 - Had a good nights sleep after our late arrival the previous night and headed upstairs to the balcony for breakfast. When hostels claim to have balconies over-looking the beach you can't help but be sceptical...its normally tiny, dirty, at the ugliest, most dangerous beach or all of these and more. This one wasn't at all. It was gorgeous. Had a lovely breakfast cooked by live-in house keeper Maria overlooking the beautiful Ondina Bay. It was so nice and peaceful we went back downstairs, grabbed our books and came straight back up to relax in the hammocks. After enough relaxing we donned our flip-flops and headed out to explore the immediate area. In a few minutes we were sat down at a beach-side square, beer in hand, awaiting our usual bolinho do price lunch. Then kept walking and after a nice little fishing bay we came across a lovely white sandy beach with just a few locals on kicking a football about. Spent rest of afternoon on beach before heading back to our hostel before sunset. The plan was then to head into pelourinho-salvadors historic old town for a good explore and then drop down to the lower part of the city and check out the market. On the bus we realised we were still on belem time and (despite our airline claiming the time was the same) we lost an hour before we'd begun. Got off the bus to the beginnings of a massive street party. Completely unknown to us it was Samba day and Salvador was gearing up for a big party to celebrate its beloved music! Stages had been put up in 3 of the main squares and the streets were packed with stalls selling beers and caiparinhas, street food vendors with churrasco and crazy girating Brazilians. Discarding our plans to explore, we ordered some churrasco and a beer and joined in with the craziness! A few caiparinhas later and we ended up at one of the stages in an amazing spot surrounded by gorgeous blue, pink, green and yellow colonial buildings. A couple of old boy samba stars kept everyone entertained and me and em had a great time just watching the afro-brazilians samba the night away. We joined in as best we could (not very well) but had a great time. Unfortunately as much as we wanted it to our night didn't end there... As we were attempting to leave, walking through the busiest square some douche bag started shoving me. Em and me were seperated and while I was readying myself to dodge a fist his partner in crime stole my wallet. Angry and with no way of getting home we wandered back to try and find the tourist police to report what had happened. Luckily there was a really nice and very unpoliceman-like policeman with dreadlocks who sorted us out and then gave us a lift back in the back of his squad car! We'd lost a fair chunk of money and all my bank cards-it was pretty shit but one of those things... Still had a great night and memorable in more ways than one!

03/12/11 - Still feeling a little down-in-the-dumps following the previous day, we had a lie in and then a nice relaxing breakfast up on the balcony. Over breakfast we chatted to our host, Michael, and he suggested a plan of action for the day and leant us 20 reais so we could get the bus to town. We then walked along the sea-front (but not on the beach-gun muggers are apparently prevelant) to praia do barra. This is salvadors most popular beach and is packed with stripy deckchairs and umbrellas. Sellers stroll up and down the beach selling everything from beer, Brazil nuts, churrasco skewers and fresh fruit ice lollies to sarongs, skirts and sombreros. The water is also surprisingly nice as a natural rocky barrier creates a near crystal clear lagoon-perfect for a cooling dip. At this point there is one other item I need to bring to your attention-thongs! There everywhere and anywhere...women, men, fat, thin, young, old-its literally a flesh-fest! We strolled around a pretty lighthouse before having a sit down and read on the sand. Grabbed an acaraje for lunch (falafel like kebab stuffed with local spices, shrimp and hot sauce) washed down with a beer, then wandered back to base camp. After a quick turn around it was back to the site of last nights activities, pelourinho, to take the elevator down to cidade inferior (or lower city). Next stop was mercado modesto, salvadors principal market. It's located in an old building where, in the basement, the 1st slaves from Africa were brought and traded. Couldn't be much more of a contrast now as the building is full of colourful market stalls selling all sorts of local afro-brazillian goods. Our shopping days are finally coming to an end (only one more pair of havianas to get woooooo) so after about an hour we jumped in a taxi (the 2 minute walk is apparently unwalkable for fear if robbers...) and went to our final location-a gorgeous old colonial building that was formerly a plantation owners home and factory. It's now a museum and lovely outdoor venue for an evening of samba inspired jazz. Very nice chilled out atmosphere with a very eclectic mix of people. Just what we were after-and the 5 reais (1.80gbp) caiparinhas kept us going all night! Went home for read and relax on balcony but I fell asleep on hammock and was escorted to bed...

04/12/11 - Went back to Barra for a chilled out beach day. Sun shining (at last) we shelled out for chairs and an umbrella and squeezed ourselves between some thong-clad beasts to our right and family with small screaming child to our left. The beach was a bit packed (sunday is known as beach day to salvadorians) but the sun was out and we didn't care! By about 2 we were feeling hungry and sun-kissed so we grabbed a table in a nearby beach bar for our usual fresh fish balls and sharesy beer. Back to hostel for relax and read in hammocks and to watch sunset. In the evening we wandered down to the local square to try Linda's acaraje (supposedly the best around). There was a nice friendly atmosphere as it was the final day of the brazillian football season and esporte club bahia (aka Salvador) had managed to avoid relegation-much to the delight of all their fans. By 11 we were tired and had another early flight the following morning so we began to debate how to get back-a ten minute walk with potential mugging or a 2 minute taxi with potential rip-off. The former won through and we cautiously made our way home on foot. The topic of conversation was how emmas hand squeezing relates her level of anxiety to me. Earlier in the day she saw a small motorbike accident and squeezed my hand hard. I immediately assumed we were being robbed and had a minor stroke-much to ems amusement. On our walk back home there was a lot of hand squeezing-tensions were high but luckily we made it back unscathed-phew!

05/12/11 - Rio airport -long but cheap bus journey via Flamengo, Botafogo, Copacabana and Arpoadar beaches to Ipanema-Ipanema Beach House hostel-gross shirtless freak sitting at computer-room and hostel nice, people incredibly annoying!-haviana shopping again-sat on ipanema beach-wandered to aproadar point-chilled on beach-supermarket for dinner-freak cooked gross prawns and never washed up grrrr-got pissed off waiting to use kitchen so walked to lake to see amazing metal Xmas tree-eventually cooked at 10:30-beer by pool-bed! (sorry I've had enough of writing in sentences-so much quicker!)

06/12/11 - Got up to see the usual weather of clouds and the odd patch of blue sky. Thought about hiring bikes but in the end decided that we couldn't afford it so walked from ipanema to the end of copacabana beach along the sand. Sugar loaf mountain would occasionally poke its peak up above or between the clouds and provide us with a quick photo-op and lovely view! By the time we got to the end of copacabana the sun was fully out (hooray) so we bought em some cheapo sunglasses (they've already broken!) and spent a good few hours on the beach. Walked back via a quick look for havianas (now becoming an incredibly boring daily ritual) and copacanana fort which provides an excellent view all the way along the beach to sugar loaf. Our evening was pretty much a repeat of the previous night (only we opted for a selection of cheap delhi based goods so the freak wouldn't get in our way as we attempted to cook). With absolutely no money left over (after paying the hostel we were left with 22 pounds a day...) we enjoyed another poolside beer and headed for bed.

Emma again! This is going on forever!!!

07/12/11 - Stooped to new lows and snuck some bread, ham and cheese from the breakfast buffet to make sandwiches for lunch. We then swiped some bananas to accompany the feast whilst waking out. Rushed out to catch a bus to the terminal. Unfortunately the ride took longer than anticipated, and we missed the 10am bus to Paraty by a few minutes. Grrr! We therefore had to hang around the bus station for 2 hours, before catching our 4.5 hour connection down the Costa Verde coastline. Paraty is a small, but beautiful Portuguese colonial town (ex gold exporting port), located on the Costa Verde coast. It's set amongst lush, green rainforest covered mountains and has only been accessible to tourists for 40 years. Fortunately no monstrous, modern development has taken place, so the town is gorgeously preserved and offers an array of pretty little Pousadas to stay in. We had pre-booked Pousada Guarana (name-sake of Olies new favourite soft fruit based drink) and then realised it has been rated as the top place to stay on tripadvisor. Very exciting! Although we had trouble locating it (another hefty, sweaty traipse where both of us agreed that we couldnt wait to be rid of the damned backpacks!), once we arrived we were blown away. The pousada is more like a luxury boutique hotel. Half way through the welcome tour, I had a dread feeling and had to go and check our booking email to make sure we hadn't misread the price! Absolutely stunning decor, beautifully fragrant, cute pool, lots of gorgeously furnished lounging areas. Heaven. I'd love to own and run a place like this (I know, I know...cake shop, ice cream parlor and guesthouse...maybe I could incorporate all 3!) We stayed in the pousada all afternoon, as the weather was pretty poor. Unfortunately it was forecast to be shockingly bad our entire stay. After a brief trip to the supermarket and a wander into town (cobbled streets, numerous cachaca shops), we returned to our room for yet more ham sandwiches!

08/12/11 - Yet another amazing breakfast (Brazilians win the best morning meal award hands down) and unbelievably the sun was out and shining despite the negative weather predictions. We got completely overexcited and practically ran to the bus stop to catch a ride to Trindade - a small village within Serra da Bocaina national park, 30mins drive away with picture postcard beaches. As soon as we hit the final climb, thick grey cloud descended upon us. Unreal! How could the weather change so quickly?! Although the views of the coastline were ruined, we ploughed on and unintentionally visited (due to Olies poor sense of direction!) a mini rockpool within the jungle. He couldn't put up with my grumbles any longer, so we retraced our steps and got back onto the coastal track. Miraculously the sun emerged from the bleak low lying clouds and we walked from Praia do Meio (w-shaped beach), onto an almost deserted, Praia do Caixadaco. Our final goal was the huge natural rock pool at the end of the beach. The (freezing!) crystal clear water was sensational and so we sat on a huge rock and read, dipping in for a swim when the heat became too much. Olie even spotted a giant turtle swimming in the pool. We didn't want to leave! By 2pm our thirst got the better of us, so we wandered back to the beach and popped into the only shack for a drink and an enormous chicken pasty. Later that afternoon the grey clouds had rolled back in so we headed back, grabbed some bikes and cycled down the pretty riverside streets to Paraty bay. The overdue rain finally came. Wet, mud-sprayed and with another supermarket dinner in hand, we were back in our lovely pousada by 7pm.

The End - thank goodness! Just one more little update on our last day. Home on 16th, so see you all soon xxx


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