Ferrying with the locals

Ferrying with the locals
Manaus, Brazil

Described as an experience and a half, it was something I was dreading but in some crazy way getting excited about. It would also be (I kept telling myself) a great local experience to be living, eating and sleeping with the Brazilian people – no chance to go back to the safety of a hotel, hostel or tent. Prepared with hammock, snacks, water and other drinks I was ready for my three nights and four days on the river with about 150 local people…or was I?

Having put up my hammock up the day before leaving, it seemed somewhat spacious even though the 13 of us had to place our hammocks rather close and I mean arm to arm. However upon arriving the next day the 2nd deck was covered in an array of colours – there must have been 80 – 90 hammocks of all different sizes strung from beam to beam. We had to get our fighting hats on to protect our space, as the local people constantly tried to fit one more hammock amoung ours – Crazy.  Limited Portuguese was a definite disadvantage but soon the international sound of huffing, puffing and tutting started to work its magic.

I was a bit apprehensive about what the food would be like on the ferry especially as the guidebooks all say that you receive brown rice (only brown as it is cooked in river water) and beans. I was pleasantly surprised as we all piled in shifts of 10 into the dinky dinning hall that the food was rather good – yes I had beans and rice but it wasn’t brown looking rice and included some delicious beef , salad and potatoes served a different way each day.

I enjoyed some good sunsets on board with a couple glasses of vino and watched and listened to the local people including children sing and dance to the constant music that played on board. The first night however was pretty much restless and I am sure some bruises will be appearing as I was elbowed in the cheek, hit on the head, sat on and kicked in the back. I did eventually go to sleep only to be woken at 5am with more people coming on board and of course a lot more hammocks!! Let me just say the trip to the bathroom was not just a colourful affair but also meant a lot of ducking and crawling.

After three nights we docked in Manuas at 2am in the morning and carried on sleeping till they kicked us off at 6am. If I had to sum up my time on board it was something that I am glad I did not miss, of course I thoroughly enjoyed my first shower in three days but I would give that all up again in order to share and experience once again this time with the Brazilian people and their way of travelling. I do also think we got extremely lucky with our ferry and maybe if the boat was a lot more packed I might not be singing in the same tune!

TravelPod Comments Downloaded:

Very beautiful sunset!
And hilarious hammock experience. Keep up the great writing!
Louise Brown
TravelPod Community Manager From Louise Brown, on Feb 29, 2008 at 08:29PM

Exploring the Pantanal together with mosquitoes

Cuiaba, Brazil

The Pantanal was something that I had been waiting to see. Having had some long drives to get here I was more than eager to stretch my legs and see the some of the wildlife hiding out in this geographical basin. Lying in a hammock at the Pousada (lodge) – Rio Clarinho – pretty much felt like my Dad´s game farm: extremely peaceful with the sounds of birds and a slight breeze in the trees but disappointedly this is where the similarity ended as their were not too many animals too see. AND I really wanted to see a Jaguar! However the drives and walks were still enjoyable as we spotted Tuiuiu´s – a giant red neck stork, Hawks, Monkeys and some buffalo (much smaller and calmer than the African version).

The pantanal for me will also be remembered as a very hot and sweaty affair as we were forced to put on the long trousers and long t-shirts in order to avoid the mossies and did they come out! I was luckily enough to avoid getting bitten too much but what irritated me the most was the constant buzzing in your ears.

For the second night in the Pantanal we stayed in a lovely lodge with air conditioning and a pool – well I certainly felt like I was stepping up in the world! I especially enjoyed the warm pool water after a long day walking and horse riding. For those that know me really well I am sure you are surprised that I even jumped on a horse and yes my body was wondering the same thing. I concentrated so hard in keeping a brave face that I missed all the scenery!

Pousada Rio Clarinho – Kilometer 40 on Transpantaneira Rd, Campo Grande, Brazil

Mining for Gold

Ouro Preto, Brazil


Leaving Rio had mixed emotions for me – sadness at leaving some great fellow travellers that I had spent the last three months travelling with to excitement at meeting new people and venturing up north to explore more of Brazil. These feelings soon turned to disappointment as my mode of transport, now known as Gus, turned out to be not quite the standard I was expecting, very slow it has meant lots and lots of early morning starts to get anywhere. But anyway I have decided to ignore this and concentrate on the sites…

Winding my way up north, I stopped at a town of Ouro Preto (translated means Black Gold) and stayed at a local international youth hostel which was pretty clean, with a spacious outdoor area and a great view of the town. This great view did however mean a big hike up a hill every time you needed to venture home. It was unfortunate to have to spend a couple of nights with snores (guess that is what hosteling is about) but the one girl and thankfully she is not on my trip sounded like a snorting pig forgetting to breathe. Even shaking and I mean really shaking her bed did not awake her and I got to spend another night listening to the soothing sounds of Jack Johnson and Watershed, while my one friend resorted to sleeping on the couch in the recreation area. Our lack of sleep however did not hamper our excitement at getting out and exploring the town.

The town of Ouro Preto was absolutely gorgeous, steeped in history from the days of slavery it has great charm and you could envision yourself to be somewhere in Portugal rather than Brazil. Half the charm was the cobbled streets which have endearingly received the nickname ´Peanut Brittle` so you can image it is quite difficult to walk on especially in the rain. The Portuguese brought Catholicism to this town and it therefore contains numerous churches, built for the rich, the poor and the slaves. Yes the slaves that were brought here decades ago to work in the mines and the sugar can fields. These (two) Churches were built for the main reason that the slaves bosses felt more at ease knowing their slaves shared the same beliefs and morales – a bit hypocritical?

As part of the history of this town I naturally visited the gold mine ´Mina da Passgem` to find out what it was all about. To be frank I thought it was a waste of time and the only reason to go would be to experience the trolley ride down the mine some odd 100m at a 60degree angle and fancy a swim in the underwater lake.

My most memorable experience in this town was actually on the steam train coming back from Marianna. A local family entered the train and asked the people in the carriage to help celebrate their 7 year olds birthday. We helped decorate the carriage with colourful balloons while they offered us chicken pieces wrapped in bacon and sodas. We then sang ´Feliz Anniversario` and then just for our benefit ´Happy Birthday` to Philippe before we shared in eating his birthday cake. It was a great one hour of the afternoon and really showed the local generosity!

Samba at the Rio Carnival

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It was all excitement when we rolled into Rio in anticipation for the much talked about city and carnival (that runs for 5 days) in Brazil. It was also on our first evening that we would be attending the Red and Black Ball – held at the Scala Club in Rio dedicated to the famous football team Flamengo (strangely their flag is red and black). Leaving the hotel around 11pm that evening we made our way to the club for one of the first balls of the carnival. It was absolutely madness inside the club, with over 1500 (maybe even way more than that) people in attendance it was also extremely hot and sticky …mmmm maybe that is why they suggest to wear as little as possible! They say the ball is not for the faint hearted which is fully understandable when cultures mix and some think it is a free for all affair. But having been warned, my friends and I strategically placed ourselves next to two Brazilian girls who showed us their samba moves and it also meant we were left alone for most part of the evening. The only exception was my trip to the bathroom when I was ´ambushed` by five men with kisses and my friends literally had to pull me out! Any how I had a great time dancing to the beats of the samba music and left around 5am to go to the local pizza place for breakfast – this is carnival so you must do what the locals do. That is my excuse anyway and it would remain so for the next few days of carnival!!

Sugar Loaf and Corcovado Mountain
Having had 1 hour sleep after the Red and Black Ball I pulled myself out of bed to go and do some sightseeing. In hindsight it was a great plan as we had the most beautiful morning full of sunshine – it rained constantly for the next 5 days after wards.

Located on the Corcovado Mountain, the statue of Christ the Redeemer stands about 38m high and is very impressive. To reach it, you travel on a sweet miniature train through the Atlantic rain forest and get entertained by the local samba musicians (I don´t think that beat has quite left my head yet). The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking as you look down on Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

Sugar Loaf (Pao de Azucar)
Another famous landmark giving you great views of the city as you travel up by Cable car. Unfortunately the sky was a bit hazy but you could still make out the endless beaches of Rio.

Sunday night I was fortunate enough to go to the Sambadrome to witness the famous Samba Parade, I have only ever seen on TV. The building itself is not too much to look at but once the parade starts everything changes. The atmosphere is filled with excitement as the people on the stands dance constantly to the samba music and sing for their local team. This combined with the intense array of colour, costumes and different themes of each samba school made everything seem quite unreal and at the same time contagious – you just had to dance! I was in Sector 13 in the Sambadrome which is not the greatest for the view but more to experience the local atmosphere and party. The parades started at around 9pm and the last school danced their way through the walkway around 4:30am – guess sleep does not come into play during the carnival as I had to stay to the absolute end.

Visiting Rio was not just about experiencing the carnival for me so I jumped on a tour to see one of the favelas – which are depicted as the slums of Rio. I was amazed to see how closely the people in the favelas live and socialise with each other. The houses don’t look much from the outside but if you sneak a peek into some of them – they were decked out like a place. Entrance and Exit to the favela is strongly monitored by young youths and they are on alert as soon as someone enters that is not welcome. They say about 60% of Rios population live in the favelas and this is mainly because it is cheaper. With no public transport and only private buses the people move into favelas around Rio to be closer to their work. They also get subsided in terms of cable TV and electricity – I guess by the drug lords. And amazingly they feel safer living here than in the town – a right contradiction when gang fights break out. For the last day of the carnival, my fellow travellers and I went on a sunset boat cruise in Gloria Harbour. I mentioned earlier that it has rained for most of my stay so not surprisingly we did not view the amazing sunset over the city but instead danced on deck to cheesy 80s music drinking Caiprianahs. Which ensured our mood for the ultimate end of the carnival – The Gay Ball

Gay Ball
Televised around the world this is the ultimate ending to the Rio Carnival and what I an eye opener. It was truly and interesting and exotic affair – you have to take in everything as it is and be totally open minded and don’t expect to be able to tell the difference between men and woman. I just loved the atmosphere and the confidence of the drag queens and transvestites that were there. I don’t think my straight male friends were quite that comfortable when they approached – I just smiled and thought ´how the tables have turned´

Accommodation: Augusto´s Paysandu Hotel – Rua Paissandu 23, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The power of water

Foz de Iguacu, Brazil


One of the most dramatic waterfalls in the world, straddling both the Argentinian – Brazil border, I was fortunate enough to be able to see both sides of the Iguacu Falls.

Argentinian side
The majority of the falls lie on the Argentinian side and the national park has lots of paths and trails set out so you can see as much of the falls as possible and from every angle. If you were to visit I would recommend going on the Grand Adventure Tour, through the jungle in jeeps (unfortunately we missed the Jaguar and her cubs by a few days) and then off in a speed boat to not only to see the falls from the water but experience some intense and throughly soaking showers. Great Fun!

To top off this great experience I received a present from my Aunt and Uncle – One night stay in the Sheraton in the national park. Oh my word after camping what has felt like eternity, I could not contain my excitement (and thanks) for such luxury. I also found the fact that that bathroom actually had toilet paper and hot water an absolute treat and it did also take me a while to find the edge of the bed in the middle of the night to go to the toilet!

I totally spoiled myself by making the most of my stay at the Sheraton and enjoyed the view of the falls from the pool deck – I also got to have some Martinis with one of the other guests who enjoyed the the grand adventure with me.

Brazilian side
From the Brazilian side you can take in the whole view of the falls and it certainly is great for taking sunning pictures. I stayed at the Paudimar Campsite some 12km outside the town of Foz. It was one of the best campsites I have stayed at with a pool and bar onsite – it is also convenient to get to the National Park to visit the falls as it is a 10 minute bus ride.

After staying 4 days around the falls it was off to the seaside town of Parti for some good beach time. We drove for about 2 days camping in the forest and then near a beach before we reached Parti. It was the first time we noticed that the bugs were out with some nasty sandflies on attack. We were in for a total disappointment as we arrived at this famous beach resort in a torrential downpour and made our way to a very soggy campsite. It was a week before Carnival and even though the campsite was a floodplain they were still charging an unbelievable 20 Reals!! Having decided that I was watching my budget very carefully I had set my mind to camp even in this great weather, but my fellow female travellers were having none of it and whisked me away to share their room for the next three days – I was literally reduced to tears at the kindness of their gesture.

I had hoped for sunshine for the next few days and I was blessed the next day when the rain had stopped and just for good measure we played ´The sun is shining` by Bob Marley to get us in the mood for our day cruising. The boat cruise was extremely relaxing and went past some great beaches . We got time to swim in the sea, dive off the boat and it was here that I tasted the best Vodka Orange (the secret freshly squeezed oranges). After the boat cruise it was off to explore the night life till about 5am followed by birthday celebrations the next day for my friend Kirsty. My views of Parti – if the sun is shining it is just fantastic – if it is raining best get out that set of cards!

Paudimar Campsite
Sheraton Iguazu Resort & Spa – Parque Nacional Iguazu, Iguazu National Park, Argentina