Days 14-16: Tchau Brazil, Hola Peru

The rest of our stay in Iguazu was a mixture of further salubrious chilling (it was a sizzling 35C on Day 14)…

20111013-183137.jpg

…and visiting the area’s famous bird park (Day 15), which Sophia has already described. She didn’t mention, however, that it poured with rain throughout the two-hour trail and we were a touch water-logged afterwards. That’s the Brazilian rainforest for you though: a land of meteorological extremes.

Wednesday evening saw us say goodbye to Brazil as we flew to Lima. There we stayed in a very friendly hostel near the airport. It’s a pity it was no more than an overnight stop as it was equipped with a fusball table, full-sized pool table, playstation, classical guitar, acceptable breakfasts and a black cat called Sabrina who likes snoozing on people’s shoulders.

20111013-183349.jpg

20111013-183425.jpg

Then on to Cusco: a flight no longer than the Edinburgh-London commute but a journey to a different world. The sharp-banked, precipitous landing was a world away from London City Airport but worth the short-lived terror. Cradled in the arms of countless peaks, Cusco sits 8,000ft above sea level and is the launch pad for South America’s greatest archeological jewel – Machu Picchu. But more of Cusco later…

20111013-183529.jpg

Advertisements

Day 13: Wonderfalls

Day 13 saw us hit Iguazu Falls, currently bidding to be admitted to the inaugural ‘7 Wonders of Nature’. It faces stiff competition from the likes of the Grand Canyon, Ayers Rock, the Galapagos Islands, Indonesia’s’ Komodo Island, the Milford Sound in New Zealand, the Halong Bay in Vietnam, the Masurian Lakeland in Poland and the Bin Tinah Island owned by Abu Dhabi. Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat is strangely absent from the list.

So what are Iguazu’s chances? Well, initial impressions during our 3-hour assessment were ones of shock and awe.

It is surely a good thing that vast swathes of the world’s population now have both the time and the money to experience sights thousands of miles from home. But it is a shock to see tourism on quite a scale as at Iguazu Falls. The Brazilian has a 1.2km walkway which winds its way along the Iguazu River to the mouth of the Falls – the 90m high Devil’s Throat.

Along the way are several viewing platforms. Of the thousands of souls which are driven along the concrete circuit, one speculates how many actually take in the natural wonders on view. How many give themselves time to take in the breathtaking views? How many stop to listen to the raging river and the deafening cascades? Most seem concerned with jostling for prime position, searching for the best settings on their cameras and smart phones, and attempting to possess the moment in a series of zeros and ones.

If you can put up with the turistas, of which we are obviously a part, and ignore the ruthless pursuit of the perfect snap, then the Iguazu Falls are an awe-inspiring sight.

The Falls are formed by the waters of the Iguassu River, which runs 1,300km westwards and reaches its mouth in the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguacu, bordering Paraguay and Argentina. The Falls date from around 150 million years ago (which is old) and consist of around 275 separate waterfalls (which is a lot).

As you travel along the river each spectacular waterfall gives way to an even bigger torrent of gleaming white. When you eventually reach the heart of the Falls – the Devil’s Throat – it is difficult to take in the sheer scale of the scene that presents itself. A massive horseshoe-shaped chasm captures millions upon millions of litres of water. So great are the volumes involved that the water appears to be moving in slow motion, throwing off a dream-like mist in its wake. Well that’s what we thought as we were sucked along, fighting for breath, through the swell of Kodak and Nikon.

Iguazu Falls certainly gets our vote. But if it does make it into the final seven, one wonders how long it will be before escalators are fitted…

20111011-193652.jpg

20111011-193717.jpg

20111011-193745.jpg

20111011-193816.jpg

20111012-093214.jpg

20111012-093252.jpg

20111012-095842.jpg

20111012-095910.jpg

20111012-095935.jpg

Days 11-12: Rio Revisited/Iguazu Uncovered

First off, and for the purposes of good blog-keeping, we’ve short-circuited our Brazil leg and removed our UK return from our day count. So, with Day 10 consisting of our trip to Sau Paulo, we’re counting Day 11 (Saturday, 8th October) as the resumption of our trip in Rio. Got it? Excellent.

Rio needed detain us long. We had a 24 hour stop-off there and rather than taking a Russell Brand approach, we just booked into a hotel near the airport and chilled out on their roof top pool for the day. Glorious sunshine. Just what was required.

The next morning we headed to Foz do Iguazu, just a just a 2-hour flight away. By lunchtime we were firmly settled into our new accommodation. A confession should be made here: in Iguazu we’re not staying in a low rent hostel in town but a 5 star resort only a few hundred yards away from Iguazu National Park. Call it a treat. More chilling ensued this afternoon. The opulence of the place has rather embarrassed our backpacking sensibilities. That’s why you’re not getting any photographs.

Tomorrow, Iguazu Falls.

Days 7-9: Pasteis in Paraty

R&S: Friday lunchtime saw us heading out of Rio on our first South American intercity bus ride. We were both a bit apprehensive as to what the buses would be like, but we ended up being more than pleasantly surprised. The seats were really comfortable and could recline back about 130 degrees, and the aircon worked a treat. The journey was set to be four hours and the cost was roughly £20 each. So not too bad.

20110911-182101.jpg

And what a journey! Once we were clear of Rio’s urban grip, the grime soon gave way to greenery as we headed along the Costa Verde, or Emerald Coast. At times it brought to mind a Latin version of the French riviera or Italy’s Amalfi coast.

Although the bus was ultra-modern the driving was a touch medieval, with the driver taking turns at bus-toppling speeds. But after stopping off once or twice to allow the passengers a comfort break, we soon rolled into Paraty (pronounced Para-chee).

Once off the bus it was a 30 minute walk or so to our Pousada. In normal circumstances this would have been a bind, but the sun was gently on the wane as we walked along the footpath by the river. It beat any taxi ride.

20110911-182352.jpg

Pousada Cafe Rosa lies just on the outskirts of Paraty in a small neighbourhood reminiscent of a Californian suburb. It is owned by Heliane, mistress of a three-legged dog and creator of wonderful breakfasts by Cafe Rosa’s modest but charming pool.

Paraty is a small colonial town that was one of the first settlements made by the Portuguese a few hundred years back. It prospers largely from tourism now. It’s main attractions are boat cruises, kayaking, hiking and exploring some of the 55 beaches which fan out from Paraty’s centre.

During our stay the weather has been overcast but mild so we have spent most of out time simply exploring the sights and sounds of the old town: old-school fishing in the river, a cat sitting astride a shop window, an artist putting the finishing touches to his latest work, and just generally hanging with the locals.

20110911-182524.jpg

20110911-182637.jpg

20110911-182738.jpg

20110911-182809.jpg

20110911-182915.jpg

20110911-182951.jpg

20110911-183212.jpg

20110911-183242.jpg

As a holiday destination Rio still may offer reasonable value but for the first stop on the itinerary of two backpackers’ it pinches a little. The sterling is being hammered by the real at the moment. Our hostel in Rio was in a great location but the facilities and cleanliness made the price hard to bear. Our Pousada in Paraty is actually cheaper and is so much better in every way. Restaurants in Paraty’s old quarter, however, are akin to UK prices or even higher. Many were charging £8 or more for a bowl of vegetable soup, and it wasn’t even Campbells.

Sometimes it is in the face of adversity when the greatest discoveries are made. And the Brazilian pastie, or pasteis, is one such discovery. Stuffed with cheese and other unrecognisable ingredients, it is wrapped in a thick tortilla-like substance and deep fried. Measuring 12 inches in length and requiring a good 30 minutes of cool-down time before approach, it retails at around £4 and can happily feed two adults. So who needs soup?

20110911-183355.jpg

The high cost of Brazilian living aside, tomorrow we head off down the coast to Florianopolis. A five hour bus ride to Sao Paolo and then our first overnight bus journey to Flory, the gateway to Ilha de Santa Catarina and hopefully some windsurfing.

Day 6: Forestopolis

20110908-181312.jpg

After five days in Rio we quit the city and headed deep into the Amazonian jungle where we vowed to live as savages for the rest of the year. Well, actually we headed to Jardim Botanico, a park in Rio which is supposed to be one of the world’s greatest botanical gardens.

Here’s some more pics:

20110908-182658.jpg

20110908-182822.jpg

20110908-183104.jpg

20110908-183215.jpg

20110908-183328.jpg

20110908-183445.jpg

20110908-183542.jpg

Tonight is our last night in Rio. Tomorrow we head to Paraty, an old colonial town four hours west along the Emerald Coast. Rio has been quite a baptism – a screeching, squealing, hissing, hothouse which will be missed. We’ve spent the last few nights in Wave Hostel – a friendly, if not completely clean, place to lay our heads at night (but with great Wi-fi!). Most importantly, it’s entrance is adorned with a sign which we would all do well to heed in this life:

‘Please, when do you come back the beach clean the foots.’

Thank you for all your comments so far. Please keep them coming.

Days 3-5: Rio In Pictures

So you can all have a break from our witterings, we thought we would chart the last few days in pictures rather than words (well, not many):

20110907-195958.jpg

It’s like The White House – never as big as you think.

20110907-200229.jpg

Where is it?

20110907-202250.jpg

As views go, it’s not bad.

20110907-202330.jpg

Following their narrow victory over Ghana this week, some thought that the Brazil team’s celebrations were a bit over the top.

20110907-202524.jpg

‘Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’ – clearly Noel had never been to Rio.

20110907-202637.jpg

Ipanema: no caption required.

Day 2: The Roller-Coaster Rides

R&S: As the sun rose on Copacabana, it revealed a very different Rio to the Disneyfied version portrayed in the film. Although we never lost a rare Macau called Blue, we encountered problems with our supposedly ‘global’ sim cards, Sophia’s Santander card didn’t work at Santander (go figure), the internet access at our hotel was more lo-fi than wi-fi, and a wild goose chase to find a hostel for our third night led us to a man lying in the street on a mattress. Cheap accommodation certainly, but perhaps not the safest.

That said, we did have the pleasure of strolling down Copacabana and lpanema and seeing more oiled-up, pot-bellied, banana-hammock wearing joggers than you would see during a typical Sunday saunter around Arthur’s Seat. Pretentious the Brazilians are not.

The highlight of the day may well have been discovering advertising billboards on the beach which dispensed cooling sprays of mist every time you pressed a big green button on the side. We will be lobbying Edinburgh City Council to get these installed on Princess Street. A slight modification could see these same billboards used to warm the hands of tourists on a cold August day.

All told, Day 2 has been a challenge: jet lagged limbs, a profound feeling of disorientation and a real lack of Brazilian Portuguese have all taken their toll. But would we swap it for the false jeopardy and neat resolution of a cartoon caper? Not for all the trees in the Amazon.