A Travellerspoint blog

Angry waterfalls

And a tasty steak

overcast 30 °C
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Sao Paolo

After drying ourselves off from our soaking in Paraty, it was onwards to Sao Paolo (a long but scenic bus ride away). Despite being less well known than Rio, it's about 3 times the size (one of the world's largest cities, at just under 20 million people). It's mostly sky-scrapers as far as the eye can see in the city centre, but very affluent in the area we were staying in and generally pleasant enough - if far less scenic than Rio. Either there wasn't a huge amount to see in the centre, or we missed it all - the most I found was a big modern cathedral along which a nativity scene (we're still finding it really odd seeing Christmas decorations in summer!).


On one of the evenings we met up with Dan and Amisha (friends of James from work) who live out there. Showing that local knowledge beats and guide book, we had a tasty tasty meat feast of a meal, trying our first Picanha - a big slab of beef served on a hot grill. We then went back to their flat for a nice bottle of Brazilian wine - good times, and thanks very much to both of you. Sadly we forgot the camera at the hotel, so no photos I'm afraid.

Iguazu falls - Argentina

Next up was one of the sights to see in South America - the Iguazu falls, generally considered to be the most impressive waterfalls in the world (though not the highest). Would it live up to the hype, or be a (very) damp squib? We're happy to say it was most definitely the former.

The river these waterfalls are on forms part of the Brazil/Argentina border, and the falls can be seen from both sides. We started off by hopping across the border to the Argentinian side on the first day. After an unnecessarily long journey involving 3 buses and a long wait at the border, we made it to the park. There are a series of walkways taking you right to the very edge of the waterfalls for an impressive view and a thorough soaking. The sheer scale of the falls, the nosie, and the amount of spray you get in every direction are pretty awesome, but hard to convey in photos. Here are a few anyway.


We got to see some wildlife too - no caimans or macaws, but we saw loads of butterflies, and a few coites - an animal similar to a racoon and fairly aggressive to any tourists who look like they might be bearing food. There was also an angry looking bird who was clearly fed up with me trying to photograph it.


The highlight of the day however was definitely the speedboat ride at the bottom of the falls. You basically get in a huge 500 horsepower rib which then gets driven hard at the waterfalls; they get scarily close to the point that not only can you not see anything, you can't even open your eyes because of the strength of the spray and falling water. The looks on my and Frank's faces tell the story, and I've even put up a video here (though all it really shows is that you can't see a lot!).


Iguacu falls - Brazil

Day 2, and back to the Brazilian side. Despite being the same waterfalls, and the main Brazilian viewing platform being all of 500m from the Argentinian one, the view is surprisingly different. You get more of a panoramic view on the Brazilian side (though it still has some viewing platforms very close to the falls, for the customary showering). No boat rides this time, and it's a much shorter day as the trail is only about 1500m long.


A dishonourable mention goes to the Sheraton for building a huge concrete monstrosity right in the middle of the Argentinian side of the park. You can't really see it from the Argentinian side, but it's very noticeable from the main Brazilian viewpoint, so I suspect the Argentinian planning process involved some national/linguistic pettiness which would have made the Belgians proud (though maybe that's unfair now they have a government and everything!).


And now we're getting ready to say goodbye to Bernadette and Frank, and head on down our merry way to Argentina (the whole way down to the 'end of the world' - see the travel map).

Posted by jamesandanita 17:02 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Rio and the Brazilian coast

Rain, rain, and more rain.

rain 20 °C
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We arrived in Rio (after a couple of hours delay to our flight - thumbs down to Gol!) and met up with Bernadette and Frank (Anita's parents) at the airport. The taxi into town was sligthly "interesting" in that we seemed to just be going up dodgier and dodgier streets until it stopped and said we were at the hotel. After wondering what we'd gotten ourselves into, we got into the hotel and were pleasantly relieved to see that it was in fact perfectly decent - set in a rather nice old colonial house. There was some fairly interesting graffiti in the streets around the hotel - a change from Banksy back home.


Unfortunately the luck Anita and I had been having with the weather on our travels had to run out at some point, and Rio was that point. We were planning to go and see Christ the redeemer on our first day, but when we got there the kind people at the train station told us not to bother as there was about 10m of visibility at the top of the mountain. So we went to one of the beaches instead - Ipanema - and had a stroll (the weather wasn't really up to having a swim). One impressive thing we saw there (well, James was impressed at any rate) was the locals playing a game which is a mixture of beach volleyball and football - basically volleyball but no hands allowed. Looking at the skills on display you understand why Brazilian football's a tad different to the English stuff.

The weather the following day was even worse, and so gave up hope of seeing either Christ the redeemer, or sugar-loaf mountain as they were both shrouded in cloud. We headed to a museum instead. Like all the South American museums we've been to so far it's a very odd collection of unrelated things thrown together into some rooms - no logical flow to it, but quite fun in a random way. Amoung other things we saw loads of dinosaur skeletons and some Egyptian mummies.


On the taxi-ride back we glimpsed Christ through the clouds and seized our moment to head up the mountain on the old cog train. Once up there we weren't disappointed, as we got to see (intermittently) a really rather stunning 360 degree view of the city, as well as the statue itself. Definitely worth the wait.


Ihla Grande

After Rio, it was a complete change of pace and scenery staying on a quiet island a couple of hours away along the coast. After the standard mildly hair-raising drive along the windy coastal road and a quick hop on the ferry, we arrived. The island itself is a large ecological reserve, with one main town (practically exclusively B&Bs and restaurants). It was a really lovely place to stay, and very relaxing (no cars at all on the island) after the hustle and bustle of Rio.

We got some quality beach time in, including on a world-famous beach on the other side of the island which we hiked to. We were even fortunate with the wildlife: we saw a pod of dolphins very close up on the ferry (no photos sadly!), some tamarins and loads of vultures (including some eating the remains of a stingray).



After Ihla Grande it was on to Paraty for what was supposed to be more of the same - R&R time on a beach. Sadly the weather took a turn for the worse again, and after a few hours on the beach on the first day we took a tropical soaking and were largely confined to strolling about town or taking refuge in the hotel.


Having said that, we had a nice time there and the old town has plenty of character with pedestrianised cobbled streets and old colonial buildings.


Posted by jamesandanita 13:02 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Pantanal wildlife

Caimans, monkeys, birds, and mean fish

sunny 35 °C
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New week, new country. We're now in sunny Brazil...

Into Brazil: Campo Grande

First up, a less than ideal trip from Sucre in another of the tiny Bolivian planes which really don't inspire any confidence at all (particularly the dents in the engine panels), followed by a 10 hour overnight layover in Santa Cruz - we didn't venture into the centre of town as it's a dump. Eventually though we arrived in Campo Grande, a pretty big city at around 800,000 people, which is the gateway to the Pantanal area.

We started with a day taking in the centre of town, and in particular enjoying our respite from Bolivian food - it was nice to have something other than meat and two carbs for once. Sadly it rapidly became apparent that any communication with the locals would be rather tricky, as Portuguese isn't actually that guessable from French/Spanish.

The Pantanal

After that we set off on a 4 day tour of the Pantanal which was a real revelation; we stayed in a small pousada (lodge) and in our few days there saw a great variety of wildlife - caimans, macaws, toucans, parrots, howler monkeys, piranhas, caipivara (the world's largest rodent), hawks, and vultures to name a few. Compared to other wildlife viewing (the whales of Rurutu in particular) we were impressed by the sheer quantity of wildlife there was; we managed to get plenty of photos.

We managed to see some impressive birds without even leaving the pousada - a toucan had nested in one of the trees and regularly came to feed her chicks. It turns out the toucan doesn't play very nicely with the smaller birds as it tends to raid their nests for eggs. There was also a red macaw who hung around the pousada a lot, primarily to nick food - he'd learned to prise open tupperware containers to get at the tasty nibbles inside.


The rarer blue macaws were a definite highlight too - after a couple of earlier glimpses, we saw them properly deep in the forest on the last day. These birds were poached almost to extinction a few years ago, but thanks to tougher enforcement and a breeding program they are now on the up.


And the howler monkeys were definitely pretty odd. They were mostly heard rather than seen, especially impressive at dawn when they all seem to wake up and start the strange howling - hard to describe but it's a bit like a very load rumbling tummy.


There was great variety in terms of activities too. As well as hikes, we went horse-riding (including wading through caymen-infested waters), on a boat trip up the river, and on a night safari. The horse ride was very nice indeed, with some nice open spaces to let the horses get up to a good canter. James was given a particularly feisty stallion who get trying to bite any horse that dared overtake (even while at full canter). James wasn't happy!


On a slightly more unusual note, we got to try our hand at piranha fishing. It turns out it's surprisingly easy, as our guide demonstrated by putting a lump of chicken on the hook, tapping the water a couple of times, thowing the hook in and pulling out a piranha within about 5 seconds of starting to fish. We both managed to catch several, which meant a nice lunch - it turns out there's very little meat on a piranha, but they're pretty tasty.


Next up was the boat trip up the river. That's when we got to see the sheer number of caimans there are in the waters - they really are a dime a dozen. We even got to see a pretty angry/excitable one up close by feeding him some freshly-caught piranha. It was a taste of the piranha's own medicine, because it turns out piranhas attack caimans - they eat the soft flesh on the tail, which means you see loads of caiman with mangled tails. Other than the caimans we saw plenty of birds (whose names I can't remember), and some large rodent things.


And finally this week's quiz of the week. What is this a picture of...


Posted by jamesandanita 04:44 Archived in Brazil Comments (2)

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