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Published: April 28th 2006
Why Galapagos feels like another planet
The previous blog found us in Asuncion; we are now enjoying our last days of freedom in Paraty on the Brazilian coast, roughly halfway between Sao Paulo and Rio. A lovely spot, and a nice place to be ending our 6-month sojourn in South America.
After leaving Paraguay we headed east back into Brazil and took a train through mountainous jungle scenery to the coastal town of Paranagua, and from there a boat to the Isla do Mel. This is yer actual island paradise: no roads, no cars, only mangrove and forest, sandy paths and deserted beaches.
You may be wondering how come there ain´t no luvverly pictures of these tropical beauty spots. The reason: we got robbed again, and this time the camera disappeared.
As a final treat, we had decided to visit Salvador, a long way north of here up the coast, and found a cheap flight. A venerable (by South American standards) city of beautifully-restored pastel-painted 17th and 18th C. houses and cobbled streets.
Unfortunately our troubles began as soon as we arrived. It was dark by the time the airport bus deposited us in a murky side-street two blocks from the announced destination
First jungle trip
In eastern Ecuador
- a well-lit and police-patrolled square. This square is in the oldest district of Salvador known as Pelourinho (literally: pillory, or whipping post). Old = Picturesque, of course. But in South America Old also usually = Dangerous. The guidebooks describe such areas as ´sketchy´ - a remarkably bland Americanism meaning ´Don´t go ín there unless you are driving an armoured personnel carrier.´
As we disembarked from the bus we were distracted by a young English girl who had travelled in from the airport and now asked to look at our local street map in order to find a hostel. Oddly, though, she had no belongings with her at all, not even a bag. When we offered to escort her through this famously dodgy area, she backed off, saying it would be no problem since she spoke fluent Portuguese... I helped Bridget on with her pack, shrugged on my own, and bent down to pick up my smaller day-pack. As I did so the day-pack suddenly slid out of sight in the foot-wide gap between glass bus shelter and pavement.
I ran around the outside of the shelter, feeling even more sluggish than usual due to my main pack
Neither the wheel nor the arch - nor indeed Bridget - were known to the Inca
which weighs nearly as much as I do. Fifty yards away were two young men. One of them had my day-pack.
It contained: the camera, useless without its charger but containing all my Paraguay pictures; my journal containing the details of the entire trip; our heavily annotated Lonely Planet guidebook; my glasses; house keys and keys to the padlocks on our packs; a washbag containing my medication (the stuff that enables me to breathe, and therefore quite useful); and my wedding ring, which I had removed in response to the advice not to wear jewellery.
There was no sign of the English girl. By now we were getting a little nervous, and rather than pursue the thieves into some frightful drug-dealing alley, we decided to head off towards our chosen hotel tout de suite
. As we blundered away we were trailed by another out-of-it-looking female who had been hanging around the bus stop, and by a shambling, Gollum-like creature mouthing and whining at us in supplicatory tones. This one then stumbled towards me and tried to remove my watch from my wrist.
At this point we spotted a raddled whore standing against a wall with her knickers
Travelling to the Manu reserve
round her ankles.
So far the evening was not going entirely according to plan. We hailed a cab, but not before being hassled yet again by a Brazilian whose entire English vocabulary consisted of the words NO PROBLEM! and who wanted to take us to some other hotel of his choice.
The hotel we were dropped at two minutes later (described cheerfully by the Lonely Planet as having ´recently gone upmarket´) turned out to be right on the edge of the ´sketchy´area on the 7th floor of a crumbling 60s block complete with the obligatory concrete-stained frontage. We dumped our stuff and, still feeling shaky, went straight out to find a bar where we could settle our shattered nerves. We found an open-air cafe on the main square, known as the Terreiro de Jesus, which looked safe enough. However even here something wasn´t quite right. It gradually dawned on us that the place was haunted by prostitutes looking for clients (´Why is that woman staring at me?´ I asked Bridget at one point).
The next day we reported the robbery to the tourist police, who were pleasant and friendly, and even apologised to us for what had
Life on other planets pt.2
Pink lake in south-western Bolivia (the tiny pink dots are flamingos)
happened. We were asked to look through a thick photo album of local ne´er-do-wells in case we could identify the thieves. And what a gallery of grey-faced zombies they were: dead-eyed and hollow-cheeked from crack and solvent abuse, their hair standing up in clumps, and many with recently-acquired head injuries. Bridget thought they looked like the cast of Michael Jackson´s Thriller
video. For myself the whole experience reminded me of the only film I´ve ever been too scared to sit all the way through - Fellini´s Satyricon
Pelourinho gets its name from Salvador´s slave-trading history. Slaves were publicly whipped here until the practice was made illegal inthe 1830s. Slavery itself carried on until 1888. During our stay we visited an indoor market down by the docks, and made our way down to the unsignposted basement where, we´d been told, the slaves were kept prior to being sold. It was a dripping, windowless dungeon with brick arches and very little else.
So why is Salvador such an amazing stew of crime´n´sleaze? Once again, friends, it´s got to be down to social inequality, lack of education, and the absence of any safety net for the inadequate. Military dictatorships ruled this
Mt Osorno, Chile
Yep, the lava flowed right down here
country until very recently. It was not so long ago that off-duty Rio policemen used to spend their evenings off driving around the poor areas and shooting street kids. (They´re still trigger-happy: an email from friends who were in Rio last week told of witnessing a man being shot in the face three times by police). In Sao Paulo they recently changed the red-light traffic law due to the number of car-jackings: at night you no longer have to stop at a red light - you can just slow down.
Shortly after the adventures just described I contracted a nasty feverish cold. As soon as I began to feel better, the skies turned leaden and torrential rain started to fall, continuing for four days. I awoke on two successive nights with cockroaches scuttling up my arms and legs. Bridget dealt with them as I stood on a chair squealing like a girly ... No one we´ve met likes Brazil very much: on top of the crime, it´s hideously expensive, and the food is terrible.
But phew ... ENOUGH already with the doom and disaster! We just happened to have our worst week right at the end of the
Crumble in the jungle
Remains of Jesuit mission at San Ignacio, Argentina
trip. Please just try to enjoy, if you can, my picture selection of fine moments from the trip as a whole, which has been WONDERFUL. And I really do mean that.
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