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Published: December 12th 2017
Today as we are writing this blogpost it is a rainy day, the temperature is around 22 to 23 degrees, a perfect day for Judith to get her nails done and for Merijn to get a haircut, as you do. We settled down for the coming week in one of the most beautiful Portuguese colonial towns (Paraty) in Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil.
Today it’s exactly 10 months since we left home, family and friends to start this trip. We have traveled more or less down from El Salvador in Central America, through quite a large part of South America and ended up holidaying in Brazil. We are finalising this part of our journey and we will leave for Africa in 10 days. We are leaving behind Central and South America with mixed feelings, excited to go to Africa and sad to leave this beautiful part of the world and its people behind (for now).
As we travel without a clear plan we arrived from Uruguay at Rio Grande do Sul, the most southern part of Brazil, which we knew nothing about and where we again were pleasantly surprised by what we found. While we did not even know
on beforehand that Brazil produces wine at all, now we ended up in the middle of a wine region. Brazil apparently has a small part (in this huge country) that resembles southern Europe a lot and it is this region where a lot of Portuguese, Spanish and then Italians have landed a few centuries ago bringing with them knowledge and of course the passion to start producing wine. Nowadays there is around 83,000ha of vineyard and they have started to produce wines of true export quality since 1970 / 1980.
As we have embraced enotourism since our first bodega visit in Colombia (and then Argentina and Uruguay) we visited some beautiful bodegas and vineyards in the green and sunny Vale do Vinhedos. We were shown around in huge production facilities and wine cellars where an amazing amount of bubbly wines are stored. And we got to taste all their products, varying from the usual whites and reds to very nice moscats, espumantes (white and rosé) and grappas.
From the valley of wineries we traveled to one of the paradise islands of Brazil officially called Santa Catarina but everybody talks about Florianopolis or Floripa. Floripa has 42 beaches (!)
and is really very beautiful. We rented a garden cottage via AirBNB for a bit more than a week in the small town of Barra do Lagoa and made it (and the super cute puppies) our home. This was like a holiday within our travelling and very welcome. We bought the essentials in small local stores and enjoyed 'staying at home’, sipping wines at our veranda. Barra is a great small surf town with good waves and quite often good wind so Merijn got to unpack his kites, rented a surfboard and spend a few days with the locals trying to rip and ride the waves. Everyday we could pick another beach to visit and one day we took the kayak of our AirBNB host and went through the waves to a small uninhabited island off shore which was quite an adventure (as was the return trip).
A long day of travelling with all means of transportation we arrive at another paradise island Ilha do Mel (Honey Island) which is much smaller than Floripa, has no roads, no cars, hardly any inhabitants and again a lot of beach. Again picking a different beach every day we explore the island,
laze around and enjoy the tasty fish and caipirinhas.
Next we had decided to finally head to the waterfalls of Iguazu, which we wanted to visit for quite some time while travelling in South America and now we were closer than ever. It just took us a bit more than 24 hours getting from the island to the town of Foz do Iguacu and we immediately crossed the border into Argentina to view the immense falls from this side. Many travellers had advised us to go and visit the falls and although this is one of the most touristy things in the world (which we usually try to avoid) we bought the tickets and got onto the tourist train.
Getting off the small train and walking through the national park, approaching the falls and first only hearing the thunder of the water we already got excited but seeing the first falls (there are 275 individual drops) literally silenced us. We have travelled quite a bit and we have enjoyed seeing waterfalls everywhere in the world but this was something different. It’s not possible to describe in words and also impossible for us to capture in pictures. We saw
a wall of millions of litres of water falling hundreds of meters down, spray coming up from the bottom to high above the rim and a huge hole in the surface of the earth in which the whole world seemed to disappear (which is called the devils throat). We spent hours walking around seeing the falls from all different perspectives. We loved it. If this was a destination, it was worth travelling for almost ten months to get here.
Back at the Brazilian side of the river and border we visited another world-wonder but this time it was the manmade Itaipu dam, one of the biggest constructions in the world and truly impressive. It’s hard to imagine 40.000 people working on the dam at the peak of the project, a whole river was rerouted and it’s impressive to learn that 80% of all the energy Paraguay uses comes from the dam (and the remaining energy is sold to Brazil fulfilling around 15% to 20% of its energy need).
From Iguacu we flew to Rio de Janeiro, choosing for both a much quicker but also cheaper option this time being the plane in stead of the bus. Rio is
one of these cities both famous for the danger and crime as for the beauty and joy of life of its inhabitants so we left all our valuables behind in our hostel and plunged straight into it. We walked around the historic center and loved the combination of old and new architecture. We had a beer in one of the downtown drinking streets surrounded by office workers who just started their weekend at noon, we looked at the huge street art done by local street artists in the approach of the olympics and we had a caipirinha on one of the squares where some kind of book and poetry event was organised (and yes caipirinha and poetry in Portuguese go well together).
We visited the most famous beaches of the world, Copacabana and Ipanema, and enjoyed watching the locals, wearing their tiny beachwear, spending their weekend at the beach, buying all imaginable food and drinks from the tens of salesmen walking around trying to persuade everybody to buy their goods. We spent the Saturday night in Lapa, which must be the liveliest night district of Rio, being a former red light district, and still a bit rough-around-the-edges. We were
amazed by the number of people coming from everywhere filling the bars, restaurants, samba clubs, terraces and streets making the whole district one big street party. This city has it all, the beaches, the nightlife, the people full of 'joie de vivre’.
Maybe, we think aloud now, we should learn to speak Portuguese next and then ...
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