Birthday Bash in Beautiful Bordeaux!

9 February, 2011

Well happy 2011!

To make up for a lack of blogging last year, I promised myself that this year I would blog every adventure that we go on.

So here goes…

As most of you know, January 20th is Cath’s birthday, so we try and have a mini adventure to celebrate her big day.

This year we decided to go to Bordeaux France, to see what its all about.

As a kid, Bordeaux seemed to be a very exotic place, where cheese eating, striped top wearing bicycle riding French people living in giant chateaux making garlic necklaces and the most expensive wine in the world. I definitely hadn’t ever seen or drunk any of this famous stuff, and I didn’t know what “Bordeaux” was, or why it was so special, but probably thanks to the movies and British TV shows, i knew it just was!!!

But then after cutting our teeth on new world wines in Australia and New Zealand (and a glass or two of Brasilian wine to give us some perspective), and nearly 8 years living in England , we did get to drink some Bordeaux wines, and after the easy drinking, bold flavours of the new world wines, there really wasn’t enough (to my uneducated palate) to make me bother with Bordeaux wines, but with prices so high, and all the hoopla that goes with great bordeaux we thought we should go and check it out.

Now first for those who haven’t visited some background on Bordeaux:

Bordeaux is here:

They have been growing wine in Bordeaux since the about 48AD, and the English liked the wine (known as claret in England) so much that in the 12th century thanks to the marriage of Henry Plantagenet and Aleinor d’Aquitaine, the region became part of English territory and they established a free trade zone between England and Aquitaine!

There are 60 appellations that make up the region of Bordeaux, some of them (like Margaux and St Emiliion) are really no bigger than a standard kiwi farm, others like haut medoc are pretty decent sized. One of the chateaus we visited explained that 1 hectare of land in a good appellation planted with grapes generally sells for about €1,000,000!!!

The châteaux don’t actually sell their own wine, they sell all of their output to a “negociant” or wine merchant who then sells it on their behalf, this is believed to be why many chateaux still don’t sell any wine at their vineyard door, or in neighbouring shops or wine stores, one staff member told us that they don’t even know who their customers are, as they have no contact with them!

Bordeaux isn’t having an easy time at the moment, exports are falling (in 2004 sales to the USA fell 59% and in the UK, Australia has overtaken France as the largest importer), so they are trying to reduce the glut in Bordeaux, removing about 10% of the grapes to try and recover the price.

A traditional Bordeaux bottle doesn’t actually tell you what it contains, just the chateau that made it, the classification (ie how fancy it traditionally is) and the appellation (or region within Bordeaux) where it was grown, whether or not it was bottled at the chateaux (lots of chateau’s now share trailer based bottling plants, allowing them to share the bottling plant between their chateau’s)!!!, and the vintage.  It is now believed that this complex naming convention is hurting their export sales as almost all of the rest of the world now gives the consumer what they want, the grape variety, the region and the year!

So i hear you scream!  “what is a Bordeaux wine?”

It’s normally a blend of at least a couple of the following varieties: Cab Sav, Cab Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.

* thanks wikipedia!!!

Whites are also grown in smaller amounts including Semillon, Sav Blanc and Muscadelle (generally blended to make a sauterne).

So armed with all small bit of knowledge we headed off for the weekend to Bordeaux, we flew into airport and picked up (very optimistically) a fiat 500 convertible  – hoping that we could get some cold crisp winter sunshine!

The first thing to realise is that its very different to visiting vineyards in the new world, first most of the chateaux* are closed for the winter, then they may only open on weekdays, not weekend, then if they are open (many don’t accept visitors), then if they do accept visitors, you need to book ahead, (our hostess told us of people who arrived 4 minutes late and were turned away)! Then once you get in the door, you cant just taste the wine, you need to do a tour first, as you can imagine the visible parts of the wine making process is exactly the same in every place, so after the first tour there isn’t much to keep up the interest up – except the wine at the end!! Even after you have tasted some of their wines, they may still not actually have any for sale, so if you liked it, you cant buy any at the cellar door, and the wine maker may not even be able to tell you where you could buy it, because they are not involved in the selling process – its an amazing set  up!

But I have to say our host’s at the chateaux we visited were all very accommodating and very well informed on their product, so they made the trip worthwhile. Plus even though it was the off season, we still ate at some amazing restaurants and set a new record for consuming foie gras three times in 48 hours!

* double thanks wikipedia for teaching me that chateaux is the plural of chateau!!!

So here are some snaps from our trip:

 

It was cold, clear and really really windy!

It’s a bit quiet around here (wandering around the village near Château Lynch Bages in the appellation Pauillac)

Really quiet around here!!

They really don’t make wine like this anymore, but stainless steel tanks don’t make such great photos..

Sadly they no longer press the grapes with their feet in these large trays either, they use a whiz bang motorized presses instead!

Barrels and barrels in the cellars – each one containing approximately 300 bottles of wine!

The biggest most beautiful chateau we saw, reminds me of the house i grew up in back in Nelson!

Us at Château Giscours in the appellation of Margaux – not only is this place stunningly beautiful, it has a cricket oval and really friendly staff!

French oak barrels, apparently american oak is not held in high regard here!

Our chateau for the weekend, Chateau Beau Jardin our hosts Jean and Michele were totally awesome!

Grapes growing, you can see nicely rounded river stones poking through the thin layer of soil…

Just in case you thought all the houses were grand chateaux, here is one very cute little cottage

But, some of the chateaux were truly amazing!

Winding our way through the villages of the left bank!

 

Thats all for now folks!


May 2007 – How long do you think it would take to drive to the arctic circle?

17 July, 2010
And of course, the answer to that is that there is only one way to find out, so we packed up our car, our picnic rugs, sleeping bags and some warm clothes and headed off to find out……17 days, 4600 miles (that’s about 7400km to folks from the modern world), and one headlight bulb and just two litres of oil later, we knew….

Heres the route we took, and where we stopped, thanks to the new google maps thingy:

Our plan was to whizz north as fast as we could, then have a nice relaxing drive home. So having zoomed through France, and really, really zoomed through Germany (the Alfa sitting on 190km/hr on the Autobahn) here we are about to cross the bridge between Denmark and Sweden,
The Nordic countries were everything we had heard about them, from what we saw everyone up there has an amazing quality of life, great public services, beautiful cities, great education, public transport…. and really really expensive… well everything!Our third night was spent in Stockholm, a really beautiful city spread over 100’s of small islands:
Stockholm has the oldest open air museum in the world, its packed full of ancient houses that have been collected from all over the country, like this traditionally grass roofed farm house:
We headed from Stockholm up the the east coast of Sweden, stopping in camping grounds overnight, because as with everything else in Scandinavia accommodation is really expensive, its not often you have to pay London prices outside London, but we paid London prices almost everywhere we went.
So it was a holiday of home cooked evening meals and packed lunches, as advised by the locals we even bought our alcohol with us from Germany!
Here we are heading across the mountains from the coast of Sweden up into the wilderness in the mountains:
On our last night before crossing into Norway we stayed in the village of Tarnaby, a massive skiing town in the winter months, it was practically deserted when we were there, so we got a whole ski chalet for ourselves.And yes that is snow you can see falling from the sky!
This far north we were in the land of 24 hour sunlight (which is very interesting experience when combined with alcohol) so here we are standing outside and enjoying the somewhat chilly mid night sun – thus the chilly toe curls:
The road from Tarnaby to the Arctic circle is one of the most dramatic drives we have ever done, beautifully mountains, massive snow drifts, ski field after ski field and here we are beside yet another massive frozen lake:
And here we have a couple of reindeer looking for some fresh spring grass to munch on – we also saw a massive Elk but unfortunately he didn’t hang around to have his photo taken:
It may have been lovely and sunny when we were there, but you can imagine in winter it would be pretty grim with 22 hours of darkness and even more snow  – enough to justify metal spiked tires and a snow plow this big:
Finally after over 2000 miles, we were almost there:
But of course as it was 7th of May everything in Norway was closed for Norway’s National Day, unfortunately this included the Arctic circle visitors centre, which is why none of you got a post card and we didn’t get to pick up a prized fridge magnet!So here we are at the pole:
After reaching our destination, we began the much more sedate trip home – it had to be sedate as the maximum speed limit is 90km/hr and the speeding fines range from 1,000-10,000 euros!Here is one of our first glimpses of the famous Fjords, even in the rain the scenery was absolutely breath taking:
We stopped for three nights here in Sogndal, a cute little village with a lake in one direction and the dramatic  Sognefjord (the worlds longest and deepest glacier – over 200km long) on the other and of course the standard snow capped mountains all around:
Here is our little cottage on the edge of the lake, we stayed on the Svedal farm which was just magic, as well as cute cottages, stunning lake views, an art gallery – Hans and his family also had a barn full of little lambs and kittens for Cath to play with!Here’s the link to their website if you are looking for magic accommodation in the middle of the fjords:

Svedal Hytter

Here we are settling in for nice quiet night of crappy magazines, baileys and a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle:
And heres the view out the window and back up the valley at around 10pm – even down here, theres not a lot of darkness:
Ok to be honest, the weather wasn’t perfect the whole time, so here we have Cath standing at the end of a rainbow (trust me, she is there) Unfortunately the traditional pot of gold at the end of the rainbow never got translated into Norwegian so when Cath got to the end, the pot was empty!
Another day, another beautiful fjord, its a tough life heh?
Another day, another grassy hill, soaring mountain, dramatic waterfall and sheepies and lambies with bells ding-donging and gamboling everywhere:
Luckily for us, if this global warming thing keeps on getting worse, we will be able to tell our grandkids that we actually got to see the rapidly retreating Nigards glaciers before they disappeared completely:
With so many massive mountains, fjords, snow and lakes, you need about 1,000,000 ferry’s and some mighty fine tunnels to get anywhere in this place, here we are about to drive into worlds longest road tunnel:
And after 15 minutes driving straight into the mountain here we are stopped 12.25km from daylight in either direction:
Next stop was Oslo, again another beautiful, civilized, crime-free, litter-free, child and wheel chair friendly Nordic city full of massive carvings of writhing naked people shaped like a giant pencil
Then back into Sweden, and onto Goteborg – another clean, crime free – yeah you get the idea, its a very nice part of the world….
Next stop was Germany, and after a great night and a lovely lunch in Koln as guests of the ever lovely Pitze clan we headed back to Gregs favourite European city (Brugge) for more Belgian beer.We then filled the car to the brim with super-duper cheap french booze, and jumped back into the Eurotunnel..
then, wham, bam, 4600 miles later we were back home safe and sound…
Till next time, see ya!

Venice Carnival 2010

2 April, 2010

After enjoying Carnival 2008 in Rio de Janeiro:

Carnival in Argentina

Then escaping Brazil for Carnival 2009:

Carnival in Rio

For Carnival 2010, we decided it was time to sample a European Carnival.

So with Ana, Piero, Deb and Robert-Michael we headed to Venice to celebrate Carnival 2010 at a masquerade ball.

Now we were all masquerade ball novices so we didn’t really know what to expect, we attended a ball at  Luna Hotel Baglioni:

Hotel Luna Baglioni

A bit of research quickly showed us that you could literally spend as much as you wanted on a ball – from around €150 per person for the evening to well into the €1,000’s of Euros!! Our ball was in the lower middle of the price range, but included a live performance of Opera to start the evening, performers during the evening, a buffet meal and most importantly all we could drink and dance!!!

But the big question was, would anyone actually dress up for the ball?

Perhaps coming from the southern hemisphere, we were a bit sceptical about dressing up, sure we wanted to – but we didn’t want to be the only ones there who did! In the end we figured that with the seven of us dressed up it wouldn’t really matter if anyone else did, so we went ahead and found our costumes.

We looked at costume hire in Venice and were literally blown away at the prices – most hire places we contacted were asking around €400 for a costume, so after a bit of research we found out that for the men, the minimum was a mask, black suit, bow tie and a cape, so we boys agreed to go with that option and to hire our capes in London (for about £30 each)! The girls also found their outfits in London, so we packed up our costumes, wigs and masks, jumped on various planes and met up in Venice.

Looking back on it now, and seeing the amazing costumes that were available in Venice, if we went again we would probably try and scrape together enough cash to hire a costume from Venice, the elegance of the outfits, with matching shoes and stockings, the beautiful luxurious wigs and amazing masks that people hired in Venice certainly put our costumes to shame – but heh, you live and learn!

So here we are cruising into town on Friday night in a beautiful water taxi, RM took the mask theme to the extreme, and he wasn’t seen without a mask the whole time we were there!

Now, Venice is always beautiful, here are some snaps we took on this trip, that hopefully give an impression of the beauty of the city:


Please admire Gregs new top hat, not quite sure when he will ever wear it again!

But Venice takes on a whole new angle when the streets are full of carnival goers, it really is totally surreal:

So we wandered around the city all day Saturday, marvelling at the beauty of the masks and costumes on display

You literally never knew what was going to be around the next corner, including this rather scary group who we were walking silently through the city:

We got ready in our apartment and with an amazing lack of fuss and time, suddenly we were transformed and ready to go to the ball:

We walked across Venice to the hotel, it was about 20 minutes walk and it was pure fantasy, crowds of carnival dressed people filled the city admiring each others outfits as they passed and having an amazing time.

Here we are at the start of the evening, before the opera started:

Straight after this photo was taken, we were approached by a Spanish television crew who were making a show about carnival and the next thing you know, Piero and Ana were doing an interview in Spanish for the show, while we non Spanish speakers sat around like very well dressed extras!

We then sat down and watched the opera, for us it was our first experience of opera, and it was very nice to see it in such a small intimate venue. It was a very pleasant way to start the evening – especially combined with a bellini cocktail or five!

We then moved into the ballroom, which was just amazing, from our research we saw that a lot of the balls in Venice are held in conference centres or new hotels, but the nice thing about our hotel was that it was seriously old, with a beautiful ballroom covered in frescos with chandeliers and portraits, and as you can see below full to bursting with people dressed in the most beautiful costumes:

So we settled in and made the most of the evening, apart from a near brawl with some very hungry elderly Austrians who tried to push into the food queue, the evening was perfect, we quickly made friends with our waiter who spent the whole evening sneaking jugs of bellinis to us and dancing with the girls!

As a group of seven we were the largest group in the ballroom and we were obviously having a ball of a time as people were constantly coming over to join us, talk to us and comment on how stylishly we moved after we performed a group moon walk up to the buffet for desserts….

But seemingly suddenly, the evening was over (it was  actually after 1am), the ballroom was empty except for our group, the DJ and the waiters clearing up the tables, so we headed off home, exhausted, happy and wonderfully over dressed!


So…

2 April, 2010

It’s been a while, but we are back!

As most of you know, we packed up our life in Sao Paulo and moved back to London in August 2009.

Now 8 months later, we are almost settled back into England, we have survived more than a few cultural shocks and life is settling back down into “normality” again and this means we finally have time to update our blog with some of our recent adventures…..

But if you are still looking for updates on the experiences of people moving to Sao Paulo, then I can point you a couple who I think are carrying on where we left off, a couple with kiwi connections have just arrived in Sao Paulo and are blogging about their experiences:

The Brazil Move

So keep watching this space as we catch up with the last 8 months!


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!