This is the end… the final days of our adventure!

28 August, 2009

So this is it, the final post on our adventures, we are now back in Sao Paulo, the last days were a bit more hectic, so here is where we went:

The 2,800km round trip

The trip looks pretty massive, and over three weeks it was quite a big drive, but i think its good to compare our drive, the whole of Brasil and the UK together to understand what a tiny piece of the country we actually covered in our adventure:

Brasil and the UK to the same scale

Petrolina

All good things must come to an end and thus after a long day of driving we ended up in Petrolina. That’s all I need to say about Petrolina.

Ok, there is one more thing worth saying about Petrolina, its the only place in the world where the climate is so perfect, they can grow grapes, and have to harvests of graps in a season! Unfortunately the last thing the world wine industry needs is more grapes, but its an interesting fact in itself (ok maybe only interesting to Greg – but its his blog)

The drive to Petrolina was pretty amazing, as well as the “bandit advisory” route, there was another national highway that had a “badly maintained” advisory on it, but as usual we thought, it can’t be that bad and made straight for it, turned out it was that bad, it was so bad it was amazing, most of the highway was so worn out and potholed that it was actually faster to drive along the verge, which is what all the locals were doing! To be fair it was in the process of being fixed, but there was a lot of work still to do. The quality of the roads on our trip ranged from “autobahn” perfect, to “afghanistan” bad, the good bits were great, the bad bits were definitely the worst roads i have ever driven on!

The border between Ceara and Paraiba states, one definitely makes good roads a priority and the other is Ceara!

Sousa

Okay, so 800km north east from Lencois, was Sousa. To be fair, we were just looking for a halfway point between Joao Pessoa and Petrolina and we found Sousa. The guidebook mentioned that Sousa had “dinosaur” footprints… hhmmmm…. So we like Dinosaur’s, Ross from Friend’s was OK, and the first Jurrasic Park was pretty good, but I was sceptical that such a world treasure would be in such a sleepy country town, so we went out for a look.

OMG! It was great. It started off in literally a tin shed, a sign that was about 50cm long, which read “Dino Pe” Dinosaur Footprints…. We found a really nice old bloke, and a guy called Fernando who was about 25… We did the tour, so cool. Yep, they were definitely footprints, so close, so big, so real. I couldn’t help but mention that perhaps it would be promoted a little better? And then he explained that Petrobras are about to invest R$1m into it, starting from next month and start charging people an entrance fee…  yeah I can understand that! So, then three guys showed up and Greg and I got our 10 minutes of fame. Photos, names and comments were taken, and apparently we are going to be used for publicity for the renovations…

Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but giant 60,000,000 year old dinosaur foot prints!

Raptor claw print – perhaps the only Brasilian footprint on record that is not wearing Havianas

Ok, probably only Ross would think this was funny, but we did!

That night we had yet another churasscaria experience, you may remember our £7 all you can eat motorway experience, we followed that up in Salvador with a £75 each luxury churasacaria experience at the always good Fogo de Chao, then on the road between Petrolina and Sousa we had a small town lamb and goat churasscaria experience – just awesome, but our fourth experience was probably my favourite. Its specialisation however was Bode (Goat), all for the whopping sum of £4 each!!!

At our hotel in Sousa we asked the football watching receptionist for a recommendation for dinner, he suggested a place called Sao Vicente – which was just down the road, so we headed down. Now lets paint a picture of Sousa, its in the middle of Serato – the semi desert area of the north east where things are pretty barren and life is pretty tough, it’s the kind of place where life is so tough that even the motorbikes have bull bars. Its really an area a lot like outback Australia where men are mean and sheep (and goats in this case) are afraid.

So we drove into town and tried to spot the churcussario.

We did so, actually it wasn’t that hard… three quarters of the town were there, along with 3 dogs and 1 cat to match every human. This is what always amazes me about Brasil, the locals are genuinely interested to know your name, where you are from and seriously getting very excited if you respond in a little Portuguese.

As an aside, if anyone is thinking of coming over I would seriously recommend at least 100 hours of Portuguese lessons just to cover the basics. My only regret from the last 18 months is not investing the time to learn this beautiful language. Still, life ain’t over yet, and I have every intention of continuing to learn in London. For a decent Portuguese teacher in Sao Paulo, it costs at least R$80 (£26) per hour, this compares to £18 in London. If you happen to being learning English in Sao Paulo, this costs only R$40 per hour, definitely one of those cases where the Paulistano’s know their market … so be warned!

Anyway, the beach was calling us again and it was time to head back east … off we go to Joao Pessoa.

Joao Pessoa

The drive from Sousa to Joao Pessoa was about 430km. In total on this trip we travelled through six Brasilian states / provinces, plus we have also driven in three other States. It’s fairly clear that each State applies different levels of petrol tax and this has a correlation (very unBrasilian-like) to the state of the roads…

Woooaahhh… The state that definitely wins “worst roads” (drumroll) has to be Ceara, with a very close second going to Bahia. Unbelievable. For the first time ever, we suffered a smashed hub-cap and dented rim… I don’t think were the first with the number of Barrocharias (tyre changes) on the side of the road. So we toddled off to one, thinking we would pay Gringo prices, nope, not up north! We had to buy four more hubcaps (for a total of £13) and then have them all refitted for … £5 total. Road kills numbers included a couple of chickens, one bird and god knows how may bugs / critters…

So were relieved on this dirve that most of the km’s were in Paraiba which is priding itself of building dual carriage way highways, it almost felt like we were cheating after the previous days travels!

Joao Pessoa was lovely, but completely focussed on being a beachside town, and when the weather is rainy and windy, well you get the picture… We stayed for three nights, not doing a great deal but reading & chilling… aaaghhh the bliss.

So now we are on our final day, we got up early (yes another 7am departure!), en route to Recife but via Olinda. For those who may not be that familiar with Brasilian history, Olinda is the “oldest” city (by Portuguese standards) in Brasil. Similar story to most of the northern cities, settled by the Portuguese, overtaken by the Dutch, taken back by the Portuguese, all built on the sweat of slaves taken from Africa, and never quite recovered from the downfall of commodity prices (sugar, cotton, coffee).

Olinda’s buildings are brightly painted, rustic, protected by UNESCO, but however construction still is underway as there just aren’t the resources to adequately preserve these treasures.

So alas, we are now flying back to Sao Paulo, for our final two nights in Brasil.


Chapada Diamantina – the cap of diamonds?!?!

28 August, 2009

Driving inland to Lencois and Chapada Diamantina National Park.

So, in order to do this section justice, I must explain the fundamental rules of the Cath and Greg Adventuring Partnership:

  1. The Driver drives the car, the navigator makes no comment about his driving, choice of rental car, the state of the car, his choice of gear (for example when overtaking over a speed bump) etc…
  2. The Navigator makes all decisions relating to the route, roads, music (except if “Foo Fighters” are playing), lunch stops, lollies and direction of travel (in consultation with the GPS). However at any point of time, She, may overrule the GPS.

Roads in north east of Brasil are notorious for not being maintained, badly sign posted and in this particular stretch, even known to have “bandits” on the road.

It was not uncommon to see police vehicles with their automatic rifles already loaded on their laps so we approached this stint of driving with a little more care than what we normally do.

Progress so far:

1,300km so far to get here…

We wanted to head West from Salvador to Lencois at the edge of the Chapada Diamantina national park, which involved finding a mischievous road called the BR 116. This road may sound innocent to you, but it was extremely good at hiding. Anyway, to cut a long story (a story that went on for 140km), I had serious words with the GPS and we managed to get our directions right and we drove back to where we needed to be. Greg was very gracious and only gloated a couple times before I reminded me him of the before-mentioned rules.

And then, the following conversation happened:

SCENE: 300km from Salvador, about to turn on to the BR 242 from the BR 116. The BR 242 is described in our guidebook as “one of the worst roads in Brasil, poorly maintained and littered with potholes”. And don’t forget about the bandits!

Cath: Hey, there’s a cleanish looking petrol station over there, should we get some more petrol. It’s been a while.

Greg: Oh no, its OK, we’ve got a quarter of a tank left.

*** 60 km passes ***

Cath: Hey, there’s another petrol station, do you reckon we should get petrol now?

Greg: Nah, don’t worry, the light hasn’t even come on yet, we just got onto red.

**** 5 km passes ***

Cath: So it looks like the light has come on, do you think we should turn around and get some petrol?

Greg: Seriously, you don’t need to worry until the light is permanently on. And anyway, we’ll come to another town.

Cath: Well, it is true we will come to another town, but I don’t know how far away it is.

**** 20km passes

Cath: It looks like the light has stopped flashing

Greg: Yeah, it has. But don’t worry, we’ve got at least 60km left in the tank before it will run out

**** 2 minutes passes ***

Cath: Hang on, when did you have time to read the owner’s manual of our GM 1.4L Prisma, in Portuguese? How do you know how many km’s we have left.

**** Laughter, OK, nervous laughter

**** Cath pulls out the sat nav and figures out we have 20 km to go until we get to the nearest town. Air con gets turned off.

Cath: Don’t worry babe, you’ll only have 20km to walk to find petrol.

**** More nervous laughter

*** 10km later, Greg pulls off another master overtaking manoeuvre and then, yep, we loose power…. Luckily we were on the crest of a hill and we were able to coast down the hill, which saved us another 500m, until we face the grim reality that…

We had run out of petrol!!!!

So, Greg went hitchhiking along the bandit stretch of highway to try and find the next fuel station. Luckily the slightly scary truck driver who Greg had just overtaken took pity on the stupid Gringos and picked him up after only a couple of kilometres, while Cath stayed with the Car. Then the guys at the Shell garage 10km further down the highway found the whole incident very amusing and even offered him a lift back to our car!

Aaaagggghhhhh

Chapada Diamantina

So after filling up the car and providing the petrol station staff with some light engertainment, we headed to Lencois, but more specifically we headed to Chapada Diamantina National Park for 3 days of nature lovin… its OK, Greg stayed clothed this time.

First stop was the hotel, “Cantos das Aguas” which was literally situated next to a waterfall, and with an outdoor restaurant, massage tents, a 50m pool, and a foyer that smelt fresh jasmine, it was difficult to find something wrong with life.

The view from our room

However, we couldn’t wait for the next morning to arrive to get amongst it. So we got up early, yes, 7am! Outrageous I know, but we managed to buy a map and headed straight for what we thought was a 10km walk, thinking, yeah that will take us 3 hours. First step however was to find the start of our walk. The four locals that we spoke to shook their heads earnestly and said “you need a guide”.

Now, as an observation, Brasilians need a “guide” or “help” to do ANYTHING, unless it involves orientation to a shopping centre or a “pay by the kilo” restaurant so we were sceptical. We explained that we were from Australia/NZ, we had a compass, we had a map, we could see the sun, we understood a topography map, now show us the start… we eventually found a man who did, and we set off.

Things were a little different in a Brasilian Park, no “routes”, no “markers” etc, sometimes we found an arrow etched into a rock, but generally it was hard work. We went to see “Sorrego” waterfall, and after 3 hours of pretty hard walking, climbing, scratching, cursing, we realised we didn’t know how far we had left to the waterfall and we had to turnaround now otherwise we would miss our massage sessions that we had booked prior to leaving! So we headed back …

One of the hiking trails

The locals surf down this waterfall standing up, we tourists on our bums

Cath makes a friend
(this picture is definitely not labeled:
Cath strokes her pussy)

The rocks are stunning, a mix of pinks, greys and greens – and maybe even diamonds!

We almost made it to Cachoeira da Fumaca

Hmmm… so on reflection, we ended up walking for over 6 hours, it was great, but, um, ergh, I would recommend getting a guide!

So the next day, that’s exactly what we did, and he was terrific. His name was Aide Andrade Souza or “Ari” (chapadari@hotmail.com) He is local born and bred, speaks English, has a great sense of humour and has the remarkable ability to literally pull me up onto rocks, trees etc …. I never thought I would do rock climbing like we did, just amazing. We headed out for over seven hours, I am still “sore” four days later, so good!!!

Kids enjoying a waterslide beside another awesome swimming hole

Another day of hiking in the hills

Next day we headed north to see the “Blue Grotto”, unfortunately, we headed out too early. You really need to get there in the afternoon to get the true effect. Still we got to see Lapa Doce, a massive cave, and once again had a terrific guide, all in Portuguese though this time.

Inside the Lapa Doce, Iron oneside, Calcium the other (much like gregs mouth)

As an aside, it is really going to be interesting to see how Brasil copes with the World Cup in a few years time. There is so much to see and do, yet there are so few people who speak English and with the lack of investment in tourism… well, I’m a little nervous.

So, overall, a massive thumbs up for Chapada Diamantina. I think we could have stayed at least a week without too much trouble …

The view from Morro do Pai Inacio

The view from Morro do Pai Inacio looking West

Bye for now!


Down the coast to Salvador….

28 August, 2009

Hi All

We’ve had a super busy four days! The time is really flying now… can not believe that we only have 7 days remaining in this terrific country (is there a word “Brasilaphile”? if not I’m claiming it). Anyhow, it falls upon to me to summarise travels to Salvador:

So here is our map of progress so far:

850km down the coast

Salvador….

Smelly, dirty, rough, old and a little grim. That’s exactly how I imagined her and she delivered! With such an ill fated past, stemming right back to the 1500s, she has had a fairly rough time! Still, the anecdotes from travellers past keep it close to the top of any Brasil itinerary and we were glad we went.

We got in fairly late and, thus, in true Cath and Greg form, headed straight for a restaurant called “Amado” located on the harbourside. Bahia is famous in Brasil for having the best food in the country (which is an envious title to have) and this place was a real gem! One problem with Bahia is the VERY heavy focus on prawns, crabs and lobster, I have been caught a few times with this, luckily Greg has been around to clear my plate…

So next day we headed straight for the old town or the “Upper City”. In this small area of about 1km squared, there are OVER 800 dwellings from the 17th and 18th century. AMAZING! If this were Europe it would have been sealed off years ago and had a preservation order slapped on it and had millions of EU cash spent on it. But alas, the money just is not there to do this. I understand, public funding is always a matter of prioritisation, and with Brasil education and health should always come first, but in a very selfish, Gringo way, I really hope that there is investment soon.

There are some glimmers though, we stumbled upon eight different museums covering various areas of interest; tiles, postcards, pictures, 17th century religious artefacts, really cool, and of course a food museum with a cooking school attached, which served super cheap regional food — yum! We happily got lost in this little 1 km squared for the entire day. It was raining quite a lot, and we could still not be dragged away.

the old town

dirty old town – there has to be a song in that somewhere!

its not just a church, its a really old church

its not just an old church, its a really, really old church

its not just a…. oh heck you get the idea

cobbled streets and all

so pretty

and so much more potential

But now I need to confess something. Okay, I have been into this travelling gig now for over 15 years and through many countries I have always resisted the urge to braid my hair.

But I could resist this temptation no longer!

Like a henna tattoo, like a belly piercing, like trying Yoga, like buying worry beads, it was calling me! Luckily Greg was in a sensible mood (whilst I had obviously fallen into “smelly, backpacker, do I really have a job? cornrows do look as good on blonde hair as they do on afro hair” mode) but he was able to contain my hippie urges to just one braid, but it is so cool!

rasta white chick

Greg suggested that to join in the theme he should buy one of the “100% negro” t-shirts that were on sale everywhere – probably lucky for himself, he didnt!


Ok, we are definitely going to get food poisoning here….

20 August, 2009

I am not sure which of us said it first, but I know we were both thinking it.

You see we had left Aracaju after breakfast, and thanks to our reliance on satnav, got totally lost driving the mere 26km to the historic Sao Cristovao (but more on that later) then after getting a wee bit lost again (thanks to the satnav) we had finally made it onto the Linha Verde (the green line) a stunning stretch of green forests and golden beaches (and an awesome driving road) just north of Bahia – the capital of Salvador.

So we were running a bit behind schedule and running out of time to find lunch, so we took the first road we found that appeared to be heading to the beach, a mere 16km of bumpy pot holed sand blown motor cross course later we made it to a lovely little beach town (but we never found out the name). Unfortunately as it was Monday and well into mid afternoon there wasn’t that many choices for lunch, so we took the only option available, a very tired look beach shack with a set of plastic chairs set into the sand and very bored looking teenager sitting in the front room of the beach shack watching a soap opera on tv. The place looked like a set for a food hygiene commercial, it was dirty, worn out and was the kind of place that tv travel shows don’t show when they showcase a country.

But we didn’t have much option, so after confirming that we were going to surely get food poisoning, we decided to eat, I choose the fried lingüiça (a traditional brasilian sausage and a brasilian pub food stable) and Cath went for the chicken (hoping it was grilled), we placed our order then settled in to enjoy the view (which was pretty magic, a wind blown tropical beach with swaying palm trees and not another person in sight).

After about 20 minutes of nothing much happening we heard a fury of chopping coming from the back of the beach shack, then a pause and another attack of chopping, we figured either the cook had slaughtered the boy serving, or our lunch was going to be really fresh (or maybe a combination of the two)?

Another 20 minutes passed, by this time we had pretty much given up on anything arriving and were just enjoying our drinks and talking about what we would have for dinner that night in Salvador, the our food arrived…

Wow we were sure wrong about this place, instead of food poisoning we got a great lesson in good old fashioned basic brasilian cooking, my sausage was perfect, fried with giant slabs of onion and served with home made chips and a home made chilli sauce, caths chicken (which must have been freshly slaughtered) was again perfectly done with a spicy crunchy crust and a great tomato, cucumber salad with rice and lashing of farofa.

All in all, the perfect beachside lunch, so after enjoying the great meal, we paid our bill, left our hosts a big tip and got back on the road….
Another great and surprising experience on our north east adventure.

But as I mentioned, we started off the day with a trip to Sao Cristovao, one of the oldest cities in brasil, it was created in the Portuguese style up on a high hill overlooking lots of land, unfortunately the much more practical/logical/sensible dutch arrived/invaded some 100 years later and started a new much more practical/logical/sensible city only 20 odd kms away on the coast at a natural port that became the state capital of Aracaju. So as is often the way, the town of Sao Cristovao got basically abandoned and thus was preserved fairly well, giving us a great place to go sight seeing. The pictures pretty much speak for themselves, there is a couple of beautiful churches (all going renovation at the moment), then a really cute town around them on the hill full of lots of postcard pretty little houses and shops:

Olde Churche No 1

Olde Churche No 2

Olde Churche No 3

Olde House No 1

Olde House No 2

My house is bigger than yours!

Still saving for the rest of the bricks?

Much like family, you cant pick your neighbours!

The sign reads:

Bar, door, window

What more could you want in life?


Driving aimlessly around northeast brasil…

16 August, 2009

Ok, we started off three days ago in Recife in the state of Pernambuco, which is pretty much in the most eastern point of Brasil. Now three days later we are in Aracaju in the state of Sergipe about 600km south of Recife. Here is map of our route so far:

Our route so far

So, what have we seen?

Well the north east of Brasil is the poorest and probably the most beautiful part of Brasil.

We have seen endless beautiful coconut palm framed golden sand beaches with warm, clean, green sea. Some are crowded with families enjoying a day at the beach, others are completely empty.

A crowded beach – with a festival like atmosphere!

We have seen miles and miles of waving sugar cane fields and also miles of perfectly lined up plantation palm trees – maybe for coconut farming? we couldn’t tell.

We have seen endless gently rolling hills with big white brahma cows wandering around or relaxing in mud holes.

We have seen an continuous stream of little towns, either right on the coast or strung out along the side of BR-101, the main highway along the coast.

Sugar plantation workers town

We have see lots and lots of potholes! Our poor little rental car has taken some big hits, but like an old boxer she is ploughing on – and Greg is driving a little slower and following the line the locals take weaving in between the potholes and the puddles and the washouts.

We have seen beautiful colonial churches and amazing colonial era shops and houses in varying states of repair (sometimes the unrenovated ones are the most stunning).

Another postcard worthy church

We have seen lots and lots of cars and trucks with stickers about Jesus on them, we have also seen loads of massive modern evangelical churches – proof that religion is alive and well up here!

We have seen some beautiful bayside cities – we stayed for two nights in Maceio which was just lovely, the city is strung out along a bay, there is a reef about 2km from the coast and loads of boats are parked up on the shore with snorkelling gear for anyone who wants to snorkel in the clear green waters.

Maceio was a great, it had a really comfortable, laid back atmosphere, lots of great restaurants, a running path along the shore and a never ending supply of ice cold coconuts for Cath to drink.

Maceio

We also stopped at the infamous Porte de Galinhas, one of the most popular beach spots in the north east, but it was a real tourist trap complete with touts and hustlers on all the street corners, so we enjoyed a quick meal of freshly fried fish and hit the road again.

We have also seen the grim face of poverty, it seems much more prevalent than in Sao Paulo, not just the brick and tin favelas of Sao Paulo that we are now used too, but also the much more basic mud and palm frond shacks that dot the roadside.

We have eaten some great food, from an awesome traditional lamb stew to Peruvian ceviche, awesome parmigiana, breakfasted on ice cream at a shop that had 70 varieties and eaten freshly fried to order potato chips:

heart foundation approved!

But I think we reached a culinary peak today at a truck stop in the middle of sugar cane country, the place was massive and catered to the never-ending stream of truckers zooming up and down the coast. It was a rodizio, an all you can eat meat restaurant and it was great and only about £5 per person for all the beef, lamb, pork and chicken you could eat!

We eventually rolled ourselves out of there and got back on the road to our current location Aracaju in the state of Sergipe, tomorrow we will head to one the best Portuguese era towns nearby then make our way towards Salvador.

More news as it comes to hand!


Fernando de Noronha – wow its terrible!

14 August, 2009

Ever since we arrived in Brasil, everyone has talked about FdN, telling us how amazing it is, how it has the best beaches in Brasil, but no one had actually been here, all this advice was always second hand.

Well now we have been there and here is our first hand review….

Please, do not come here. It is awful, overrated, overpriced. It is better to stay away.

Okay, the smart ones have still kept reading, which means I now need to tell the truth. It was beautiful. Almost as good as some parts of Queensland! For those who know me, I am, unashamedly, a beach snob. Having been fortunate enough to grow up in South East Queensland, Manly, I had easy access to some of the world’s most fantastic beaches being Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Stradbroke Island, not to mention holidays to the Great Barrier Reef, Magnetic Island etc …

So when I first arrived in Europe, I was a little shocked to have seen the pathetic attempts at beaches in England, France, Italy where they seem to have confused pebbles for sand. Hmmm…. Nothing like stretching out on pebbles. The Thai’s and the South Africans put in good attempts but it just wasn’t the same as a good Queensland beach, where the water is always warm enough to swim in, you can leave your wallet and your car keys under the towel so they are safe (no one would ever think to look under there) and where the waves and the water were clear …. That is until FdN:

Our first view of the island from the north

This island is idyllic. Only 300km (a one hour flight) from Recife on the north coast of Brasil, it is a little oasis, whose perimeter is stacked with gorgeous beaches, fantastic dive spots, low-key posada’s, no frills restaurants and a bunch of genuinely friendly locals. The island has 500 residents, 3500 tourists and workers…. The only way you can start a business here or move there permanently is if you were born here or marry a person who was! Which means there are no big name resorts, no chain restaurants, you get the idea.

We spent five days here and stayed at a great Pousada called “Leao Marinho”   , only a 10 minute walk from the nearest beach, or a 1 minute buggy ride, with a very hospitable hostess, and all of the amendities you would ever need.

The first day was spent with our guide “Wellington” he was cool, even spoke slowly enough for us to understand his Portuguese. We did well with most of the Portuguese translations: Turtles = Turtagos, Dolphins = Golfinos, Mermaid = what the ??? Still we managed to figure it out with some excellent charades techniques! At R$60 each for the whole day, it really was terrific value. We snorkelled in 5 spots, saw most of the beaches, learnt history etc …

Cath the mermaid

Greg still looking for his mermaid!

We basically spent the next four days snorkelling, swimming and gorging ourselves on tapioca pancakes filled with fresh coconut, banana and doce de leite… We started off by riding around the island on bicycles, then we realised how many hills there were and we wanted to save our energy for snorkelling, so we switched to a Dune Buggy — so cool, only limited by the cost of fuel – at £1.30 a litre, it hurt a little…

Ours was the litte blue dune buggy!

Keep in mind, it’s a really small island – about 17 sq kms, in fact its so small, there is only one road – national highway 363, a whole whopping great 7kms of it from one end of the island to the other!

It definitely was a “doing /activity” holiday…. , because the beaches missed their usual Brasil traders, there was no beer, hot corn, umbrellas, food etc, coupled with no shopping and no resorts meant that you had to get amongst nature or get bored … which suited us perfectly!!! I feel like I’ve been to a fitness camp.

In the end we saw the following animals snorkelling, and I mean really closely: turtles, dolphins, sea snakes, eels, sting ray, manta ray, heaps of beautifully coloured fish not to mention the birds. Just gorgeous.

It really is one of those places best summarised by photos … My words can not do justice to the WOW factor of this place. So many shades of blue. Enjoy the piccies!

Another day, another empty golden beach!

The two brothers and another amazing snorkelling/diving spot.

The water was this clear as far as you could see!

Bye for now!


My trip to the Amazon, by Cathy Whitaker

10 August, 2009

I feel like starting this way because I feel like I am about to do the Greatest Show and Tell EVERl!!! I was so excited to go on this adventure. I mean how much have you heard about the Amazon in your life? The river, the lungs if the earth, the Toucans, Piranhas, etc …. What does this place not have?

Ever since it became clear that (UNFORTUNATELY) we were leaving Brasil (I’m still devastated about this), I couldn’t reconcile the fact that I had not seen the Amazon or indeed the North East. We just had to. Thankfully we had the opportunity, and the means, and thus we embarked on a 4 week adventure.

We arrived in Manaus last Saturday. It’s a pretty amazing city, 2,000,000 people on the banks of the Amazon, surrounded by over 1,000km of forest in every direction. As you would imagine, being in the middle of the jungle, its hot, damn hot, 30 degrees most days, and humid, really humid – 85% on average. So its hot and wet, even if its not raining!

We did a quick tour around the famous Amazon Teatro (which was beautiful) but still it was very strange as all the materials came from europe…. Except for the gorgeous brasil wood… Its was over a hundred years old.

Teatro Amazonia

But the main draw card for Manaus is that it is the send off point for the Amazon. In Manaus however, we did find another new food, a mixed fruit salad with condensed milk and a little grinded oats makes a very yummy dinner … oh and not to mention the world’s biggest banana market!!!

On Sunday, we set off for our survival tour of the Amazon. This meant no electricity, no hot water, no broadband, no facebook or even Ugly Betty, sleeping outside, finding food and generally enjoying the land for all its natural beauty without contamination from “things”.

We met the “tour organiser” the day before and if I’m honest, I was a little scared. I asked him his previous experience and he told us he worked on border control with Venezuela… We pressed a little further … “oh, so you worked for the (brasilian) Federal Police?” “No”. “so you worked for the (brasil) customs control”? “No”. Fidget, stumble, act cool… “so what did you do?” “I worked in Security….. for importers and exporters….” Ok, no more questions from us!

Thank god we arrived at the dock and realised scary man would not be joining us. Instead we were greeted by Herman, our guide, born in the far north west corner of brasil, who felt vaguely familiar, but as he had never left the Amazon region, I thought it was unlikely we had met before.

So, 6 days to go on our survival tour… On a boat called “great amazon adventure” indeed it was. We putted down the Rio Negro, Cath telling herself that she was not going to get sea sick… And reminding herself that what does not kill her would make her stronger. It was an hour travelling up the Rio  Negro until we met the Amazon river at the perfectly named ” meeting of the rivers” both 2 very different colours but both as equally gorgeous. The mixture of black & white, which for me is a metaphor of Brasil.

The meeting of the rivers

We then headed a further 5 hours down the Amazon and we prepared for our 1st night. A couple of notes first:

– the Amazon has had the biggest floods in 65 years in 2009, meaning that the mosquitos were outrageously bad.
– the Amazon isn’t really one river, or even one really really big river, its more like a giant tree filled lake that goes for kms in every direction. At this time of the year, the swollen river fills every valley around it creating amazingly beautiful flooded forests.
– the “boat” had no hot water, electricity and a serious lack of shade. I know I mentioned this before, but I really do like to shower!
– anyone who knows me, knows I get a sea sick bbbbaaaahhhdddd.  And I was so far feeling OK.

The Amazon, its big!

So, without too much convincing, we agreed to stay on the boat.

Day 2 arrived without too much of a commotion, ooohh, except for the beautiful sunrise, the sound of screeching monkeys and the realisation that I was on the Amazon!!! OMG! How lucky am I ???

So we set off to find Greg’s all time fav animal, the sloth! No, I am not making this up.  A lifetime of reading National Geographic had set himself up for this.. And there was no disappointment. After a 2 hour hunting mission, involving a 5 foot wooden boat, tree climbing, scratches & Cath wondering if it were possible to die from dragon fly bites, we caught one. She was adorable, sharp claws, very, very slow! 200 photos later, we said good bye and she crawled off into a tree, really, really, really, really slowly….

The four toed sloth

That night we stayed on the boat, but beans and rice were starting to lose their appeal as the only food we could eat…

A typical evening view from our boat.

Day 3. We went fishin!!! My grandmother would have been proud. A bamboo stick, dried beef, a line attached the end of the bamboo stick, a rusty hook — and a quick reminder that I had a tetanus shot, at least ten years ago 🙂 was all we needed to catch piranha!! Mean little beggers they were, they had teeth sharper than mine, but god it was fun.

Am not gonna lie and say I un hooked them, and Herman was keen that the little critters gave our bait back, which involved us tapping their nose till they opened their mouth so he could use the hook and scoop the dried meat from their gullet.

We caught 13… To be honest they weren’t that nice to eat. The firmest meat ever eaten, very solid, perhaps it was their Aitkins diet of protein only which gave them this texture? Actually if I had known how they were going to taste I would have left the dried beef in the gullets, it would have tasted better.

Herman and the red piranhas.

Day 4, we had now been putting along through the jungle for three days, we were miles from civilization surrounded by deep, lush, virgin rain forst, it was full to bursting with animals, monkeys, birds, sloths, mosquitos, flies, dragonflies, fish, but also people. No matter how deep we got into the amazon, there were still people eking out a hard and simple life on the banks of the river, fishing, farming, living all in the middle of “nowhere”.

Typical Housing

Riding home from school with dad.

The local pub

It was also around this time that thoughts of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or maybe a Voigner, accompanied by Pringles and perhaps a Magnum White Chocolate icecream came floating into my mind. However, I didn’t think the markets available would be able to cater for this request.

The Floating Shop

So it was now time to spend our first night in the jungle. I was ready! Insect repellent (check), long sleeve top and trousers (check), woollen socks, to protect from leeches (check), wind up torch (check), alcohol (check, ok double check), toilet paper (check)

So, we set up the hammocks, the boys collected wood, I encouraged them, they were so strong, amazing, remarkable, sigh if only I could have helped (someone had to read the books).

Hotel Amazonia -5 stars
And then it got dark… Hmmm…. For the record, mosquitos can get through a net, 2 layers of clothing, repellent, and my lightning fast reactions… Even after half a bottle of straight cachaca. I slept 90 minutes. I cannot explain the joy of waking to find 2 mosquitos up my nose at 4am. So pleasant.

Still, the sky, the stars, the noises, including some animal eating our scraps at 2am in the morning (am told Jaguars were near 2 weeks ago), monkeys screeching at each other, the rustle of passing iguanas and a near death experience with a Scorpion (I tried to balance myself by holding on to a tree stump and there she was, 20cm from my hand, a scorpion). Without doubt, that night will be a life long memory. I am told this was not the same sentiment I was screaming at 4am in the morning, apparently my words were of a shorter nature…. But god it felt good to be alive. Properly alive!

Another iguana!

Just as we were lighting the fire for dinner, it came to me. The familiarity with Herman … I had watched a Discovery documentary 2 weeks prior with a guide who lit fires with batteries… It was him!!! Unbelievable.

A grey dolphin doing a swim past

Next day we were out on the deck of the boat, and there it was, a splash… Yes! It was a pink dolphin. Almost performing in front of us. I didn’t believe it. Just amazing… I had to be part of it, time for a swim! Off we went, piranhas and all, and it was worth it.

So more days of drinking from water vines, swinging on tarzan ropes, eating wild hen, delicious larvae, brazil nuts, making our own acai juice.

Another delicous lunch of beatle larvae

I have become an Acai junkie in Brasil, not only is it delicious, great for breakfast but it has one of the highest sources of iron, all good for my Anaemia!

Cath with a cup of jungle fresh acai juice.

… And we had to go back to Recife… Well Fernando de Noronha actually…. Which aint that bad!

More blogging after our time there!

Bye till then!