It’s been a while since my last entry and so a lot to update you on!
After leaving Paraty we then travelled to the small city of Ubatuba to break up the journey to Sao Paulo. We stayed in a lovely homely beach fronted hostel and watched the rain for a day and managed to hire bikes for a lovely cycle ride along the coast there. But a chilled out stop to catch up on some reading and hang out in a hammock!
We were all a little nervous about Sao Paulo as everyone mentions how dangerous it is supposed to be and that there isn’t much to see. But on arriving in the city we hoped in a taxi to our hostel in Vila Madalena (the Soho area of the city). As we drove up to the hostel we passed lots of really lovely bars and restaurants, plus fairy lights in the trees…which I think is always the sign of a nice neighbourhood! I was pleasantly surprised by the city, especially the area of our hostel, where there were organic farm shops and jazz bars to give a really bohemian vibe to the place.
Our hostel was really chilled out. So much so that they had an open plan ‘chilled out’ atmosphere…nice in the summer but with rain showers and winter winds it made breakfast a bit chilly and a definite no go in pyjamas.
A bit fed up that we seemed to have brought the crappy English weather with us since Rio, we were keen to move on to hotter climbs, so our second and last day in Sao Paulo was packed with a whirlwind trip to the awesome food market and free tour around the newer district of the city.
It’s a really cool concept. You find the meeting point online and turn up for a full 3+ hour English speaking tour, totally free (tips were accepted though!) The tour was enlightening and I was really impressed with the city. There was plenty to see including some really cool buildings, museums and art galleries. Also a secret old subway that had be turned into a graffiti art installation and free book exchange. The main thing we learnt from the tour though was the reason the protests were taking place at the time in Brazil. There is pretty much a tax on everything and they pay some of the highest tax in the world but with a low average salary…just to put it into perspective the average monthly salary is 700 Brazilian Reais; If you wanted a new iphone 5 it costs 2,500 Reas or an average new car would set you back about 45,000 Reais. The salaries aren’t increasing, there is a lot of corruption in the government plus everything they export is cheaper in neighbouring countries…so a lot of unhappy people.
Overall I would say that Sao Paulo has more to it than the status of a traveller stopover destination that we were told it was. (although I was to nervous to take my camera with me so no pictures unfortunately!)
Onward from Sao Paulo we travelled north to Bonito in the countryside state of Mato Grosso do Sul. It is a tourist hotspot owed to the limestone earth that filters the rivers there, making them some of the clearest and most transparent in the world.
On the way we met up with a really nice Dutch girl, Lieneke, who we’d met in Ilha Grande and a Brazilan guy, Rodrigo, also travelling through Bonito.
The tour we chose to discover the clear river ecosystems was the ‘Floating River’. We were picked up in a mini bus and after nearly an hour of driving through countryside (which looks really similar to Norfolk countryside apart from the occasional palm tree and termite mound!), we arrived at a ranch where we were given a full cowboy lunch of bbq meat, stew, rice and beans. After lunch we got changed into full wetsuits and headed off into the jungle on a 30 minute walk to the river. An experience in itself, for anyone who has read the hunger games it was very quarter quell-esk!
After sweating off most of our lunch, we made it to the river.
From here we put on our buoyancy aids and snorkels, waded into the river, got into single file behind our guide, floated on our fronts and with minimum sculling effort made our way along the river! It was an amazing experience, swimming past all types fish and wildlife, getting a unique viewpoint. It made you feel like one of the fish!
That evening in town it was the final of the confederation cup and of course Brazil were in with a chance of victory.
This special experience required us to head to a local bar showing the match on a big screen, ordering some Brazilian bar snacks accompanied with some chilled Brazilian beer to get the total effect.
If you thought Brits were obsessed with football, they’ve got nothing on the Brazilians. Every time a winning goal is scored everyone lets off fireworks, so with the full time whistle came the biggest explosion of fireworks being let off in the street, people driving around cheering out of windows with music blaring, men embracing and a small kid crying (not sure if he was overcome with emotion or it was the fireworks) but it was pretty insane!
With it being a small town everyone seemed to then go on to celebrate later at the local Cattle Show Dance that was going on in a barn just outside town.
On arriving at the barn there were an OK band with quite a few people dancing and a lot of people just standing around the edges of the ‘dance floor’. Apparently they also don’t see many people with the blonde hair/blue eyes combo so people were just full on staring at us.
After a beer and a lurk around the edge of the barn I got asked to dance by an old guy…of course I accepted and he struggled to lead me in a simple two step, once around the floor but gracefully implied I was a good dancer! And like the Cattle Show celebrity I had instantly become due to my hair colour he then made me have a picture with him, which then initiated some other paparazzi-esk incidents. A really surreal evening!
Bonito town was really nice, although with the tours being quite expensive, we couldn’t spend too long there without annihilating the budget, plus the damp conditions were getting us all a bit down, mainly though because our hostel host was the most inept and lazy person ever; leaving our clothes out to dry outside in rainy season a day before check out and then trying to dry them all laid on top of each other meaning everything was soggy and smelt damp…not nice when you’ve only got a very limited clothing selection.
So the evening before check out a nice local man came into the kitchen looking for our hostel receptionist. He lurked around and was passing the time asking a few questions and talking about how nice Bonito is. He was asking where were going to next and I just mentioned the Iguazu Falls. Not really in the mood for a chat I asked him a few polite questions, then he started to talk about where he came from, which was near the Pantanal (one of the world’s largest tropical wetland areas- full of wild life, which we’d been told was really good by several other travellers).
I mentioned how we wanted to go there but the tours were too expensive. He seemed shocked at how much we had been quoted and began talking about a company that did a four day tour at a much lower costs in what seemed like online a legitimate and really lovely hostel with, most importantly at the time a washer and dryer!
So Oscar Junior had us sold on the price and seemed like he was just trying to help us get a good deal. He then went off to call his friend to organise our transfers for the following morning and needed a cash deposit. A few alarm bells rung at this point but it all seemed OK, despite the fact that it was well past midnight by this point. So we paid up and went to sleep with a feeling that we had just been mugged off, hoping our transfer would arrive as promised…
Rushing around in the morning trying to pack my soggy smelly clothes, I heard Oscar outside. So the trip to the Pantanal was on!
Excited and relieved to be on the mini-bus we settled in for the 5 hour journey. The first unexpected development was that we were told the transfer was nearly full with only 4 spaces left, yet here we were on a nearly empty mini-bus with us and a couple who were going to another lodge. Again, we were pleased we were obviously on our way to where we had been sold but starting to get the feeling it may not be all as it seemed…
On arriving at the transfer destination (a lay-by in the middle of nowhere, with a public toilet like the one out of Trainspotting) we waited nervously for our final transfer to the luxury lodge. Luckily at this point several other people had also arrived, waiting for the same ride.
Finally a 4×4 truck pulled up. After some confusion as to who we were as our ‘ticket’ was different to everyone else’s we were loaded into the back. With a dodgy push start we were off down a dirt track which seemed to go onto forever in front of us…which as it turns out is because it did.
Three hours later and passing the sign, as it ended up being the turning off to the lodge we had been sold, about 20 minutes in, we arrived on the river bank. By this point it was dusk with mosquitoes everywhere. We were led with torches precariously into a small motorboat. Alarm bells were definitely ringing loudly this time and all hope of the luxury lodge were vanishing fast. But still we didn’t know what we would find on the opposite river bank. Passing the brighter lights of another dwelling we pulled up at a very creepy looking lodge.
We were taken into the kitchen and briefly told the schedule…up for breakfast at 6am then out on the river for the “excursions” at 7am. On being given the early start we went to our luxury “4 bed dorm” which of course turned out to be a 12 bed dorm with 1 shower and toilet that I got the bunk with the view straight into it (I’m not even going to give you all the mental image of one guys questionable y-fronts). But with a quick anti mosquito spray it was time for a much needed sleep.
We woke up with the sunrise and were met by some small pigs roaming the grounds! With the quick realisation there was nothing around apart from wetland and that an escape was out of the question we settled into our activities. As it turns out the transfer was our 3 hr dirt track ‘night jeep safari’, but we went on a nice boat ride to spot the Pantanal wildlife (mainly mosquitoes), we went piranha fishing; where I totally failed and managed to feed my bait to them six times and a night time boat ride looking for caimen. The torchlight from our guide caught the eyes of two caimen but the best part was being out on the river with no light pollution around so the sky was amazing. I’ve never seen stars that clear. It was like being under a dome where the stars seemed oddly close by with the view of the milky way streaking above our heads. A really cool experience and one made better knowing that we got to leave in the morning!
The transfer back should have been simple however they also make this into an activity, a hike and lunch. Doesn’t sound too bad. However, this hike was through the forest filled with more mosquitoes and huge ants with even bigger bites. We then had to wade through the wetland swamps, which was quite cool but no-one really wants to be thigh high in muddy water when you’ve got an overnight bus ride that afternoon…with no prospect of a shower.
So we did also see some wildlife and heard some howler monkeys plus there was a brief glimpse of the elusive anaconda.
Finally we made it to the lunch stop and from there it was only another 2 hour ‘jeep safari’ to civilisation. With my handy deodorant wipes I also managed to wipe most the mud off so I felt slightly more decent when it came to re-entering civilisation and sitting on our next overnight bus journey!
I learnt from this that you should always trust your gut instincts and if it’s too good to be true it usually is; everything I had known before but now actually take it more seriously!
But on the other hand we did actually kind of get what we paid for and at least we weren’t completely mugged off! Plus we met some really nice people who also had similar stories of how they ended up being sold the complete cowboy pant anal experience!
So then it is onto Iguazu Falls, where hopefully I’ll get the mud off and I won’t have all damp smelling clothes anymore!