A Round-up Of Sector 2…
It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were camping in the harsh, windswept plains of Patagonia and wrapping up in lots of layers to keep out the cold. Since crossing the border from Argentina into Brazil however, it has been a very different experience as we continue on our overland expedition through South America.
Read on to find out more about our travels through Brazil in our trip summary of Sector 2.
A panorama of Rio de Janeiro from Sugar Loaf Mountain.
From walking boots to havaianas, woolly hats to caps, sleeping bags to hammocks, in Brazil we have had our first taste of sunshine, beaches, caipirinhas and a slower pace of travel.
Drinking Brazil’s national cocktail – ‘The Caipirinha’.
Whereas Argentina and Chile showcased snow capped mountainscapes and stunning scenery that appealed to us as hikers, Brazil has been an amazing place for us to encounter an abundance of wildlife.
A howler monkey we spotted in the southern Pantanal.
Following in the footsteps of ‘David Attenborough’ we’ve searched for anaconda and pink dolphins on the edge of the Amazon and been on safari in the Pantanal, which were major highlights of our time in the world’s 5th largest country.
We arrived in Brazil on the 23rd of December, crossing the border from Argentina just outside the mighty Iguazu Falls, which consisting of 275 individual falls on a 3km front, straddles both countries. If you’ve read our previous round-up of Sector 1, you’ll know we had already visited the falls from the Argentinian side.
Experiencing the falls from the Brazilian side as well was equally spectacular. The Brazilian side allowed us the opportunity to see the falls up close from a different perspective. We certainly wouldn’t have wanted to miss walking along the balcony that stretches out in front of the ‘Devil’s Throat’, the biggest waterfall in the park pouring out from nearly 90 metres height, which provided us with amazing views and some incredible photographs.
What an epic start to Brazil and a great start to Christmas! We just needed to get used to the new lingo as Brazil is the only South American nation to speak Portuguese as opposed to Spanish.
For Christmas, we stayed at a campsite just outside Foz city, complete with swimming pool and caipirinhas, not forgetting wi-fi for those Christmas messages home.
On Christmas Day it was not roast turkey and the trimmings but a barbeque feast in the sunshine. We had a Christmas hat competition and ‘Secret Santa’ presents given out by our very own Santa Ken, finishing the evening off with a few more caipirinhas. Definitely a Christmas celebration Brazilian style!
On Duty – Christmas Cook Group – Danielle with Bartley, Ellie & Toby.
My hand made Christmas tree hat!
Wayne’s clever Santa’s sleigh Christmas hat!
Santa Ken, one of our Odyssey family, handing out gifts!
From Foz we made our way to the popular tourist town of Bonito, which was bustling with Brazilian tourists enjoying their holidays. Here we donned wet suits and snorkels and floated down the pristine waters of the Rio Baia Bonita. Paddling in a boat upstream and floating back with the current of the river was good fun and the water was crystal clear – although on reflection we didn’t see that many fish (especially in comparison to our time in the Philippines or Thailand).
Next we made our way towards the lush wetlands of the Pantanal, camping in the grounds of Pousada Santa Clara. It was a unique way to spend New Year as we enjoyed a range of included activities – horse riding, a nature walk, fishing for piranha on the Upper Brown River and a night time safari. It was here that we saw an astounding assortment of wildlife – capybara, caiman, kingfishers, macaws, howler monkeys, coati and numerous birds all in their natural habitat.
It was a beautiful setting, and the pousada came complete with hammocks for a quiet recovery on New Year’s day! Perfect to help us psyche ourselves up for our first bushcamp in Brazil.
What we quickly discovered is that bushcamps are no way near the scenic spectacle we enjoyed in Argentina and Chile. In Brazil, finding a suitable place to wild camp is no easy task as everywhere is private land and fenced off. So after driving around for an extra hour, searching in vain, we found ourselves pulling off down a muddy track in the middle of nowhere and setting up our tents next to the road. Not the best place to camp it must be said. Luckily, we only had to endure 3 bushcamps like this during Sector 2!
With my new Cook Group, preparing dinner by the side of the road at the only bushcamp spot we could find!
With each new sector of the expedition we are assigned new cook groups and our ‘job’ roles change. This time round Wayne was on ‘security’, his main task to ensure truck windows and doors were locked and all people were accounted for when getting on or off the truck, particularly at ‘toilet stops’ on route. My new job was ‘truck cleaner’, which I was really pleased about. With everyone constantly traipsing in sand and mud getting on the truck, there’s something satisfying about a shiny floor after giving Ithaca a good mop and scrub! With all the wet weather we’ve had in Brazil a clean Ithaca doesn’t last long though!
Sweeping out a very sandy and not so tidy Ithaca…
Performing another never ending task – laundry!
After a wet night bushcamping, we made our way to the stunning colonial town of Paraty. Paraty is nestled between the sea and the mountains and is one of Brazil’s historical gems with cobbled streets and beautifully preserved colonial buildings.
Here, we enjoyed exploring the old town and took a schooner out to some of the nearby islands for a spot of sunbathing and swimming.
We also enjoyed an authentic Brazilian fish stew, a ‘moqueca peixe’, which was delicious with the local rice staple, but far too much! We quickly learnt Brazilians have a hearty appetite and restaurants serve most dishes for two persons.
‘Moqueca Peixe’ – Traditional Brazilian fish stew.
After problems with Ithaca’s gear box, we found ourselves travelling to Rio by air conditioned coach, whilst she could have some much needed ‘r & r’ at a local workshop. We were not too disappointed by that! Rio de Janeiro had been one of the places we were most looking forward to in Sector 2 but also one of the places we were dreading after reading so many stories about tourists being mugged.
We don’t know if because of the impending World Cup more of an effort has been made to tackle crime, but we actually found Rio to be a very friendly city, chaotic and bustling, but not violent or dangerous. Just like any other major city in the world, having your wits about you and a bit of common sense goes a long way. We didn’t wear expensive looking watches or jewellery, and only took out with us the money we needed for each particular day.
With a local guide, we visited Rocinha, the largest single favela in Brazil, which we surprisingly found very different to our expectations.
We also took the local bus to visit Pao de Acucar, Sugar Loaf Mountain, one of Rio’s major tourist sights for breathtaking panoramic views across the city. But our favourite pastime was chilling out with a few beers on the famous Copacabana Beach! We chose not to visit Cristo Redentor, the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, as we had a good view of it from our hotel window.
From Rio, we headed to Ouro Preto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With cobbled streets and colonial buildings much like Paraty, what sets it apart is that they are nestled high in the hills. With 23 churches also clinging to the mountainsides, the hilly panorama makes for a spectacular view. The city is a showcase of Mineiro art and architecture and there are some fine examples of Aleijadinho’s work, one of Brazil’s most famous sculptors.
Our next stop was Brazil’s modern and futuristic capital city, Brasilia, designed by Oscar Niemeyer and built in the 1950’s to redistribute the population. We went on a tour of the city to see its modern architecture and monuments, the most spectacular of those in our view being the Santuario Dom Bosco, a church whose windows consist of 7,500 pieces of blue Murano glass symbolising a starry sky. On entering you cannot help but be swept away by the beautiful blue glow that’s cast over the pews, creating a calming, magical and ethereal scene.
We also saw Brasilia’s football stadium that will host some of the group stage games in the 2014 World Cup later this year.
From Brasilia we began heading to the wild, undeveloped northern Pantanal, experiencing a few wet campsites and another bushcamp along the way as we found ourselves enduring Brazil’s rainy season. With such wet weather we found Ithaca was literally stuck in the mud! With all hands to the ready, pushing wasn’t enough, so we had to enlist the help of a local farmer and his tractor to help us on our way!
After cooling off at the waterfalls in Jaciara on route and camping in the back yard of a local family’s estancia, we made our way off the beaten track to the Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park where we did some much needed hiking. After lots of long travel days on the truck covering a few thousand kilometres it felt like it had been a while as we dusted off our hiking boots and headed for the hills. But what a stunning area of Brazil to discover!
In the National Park, a guide took us on a 20km round trip hiking through dense jungle, where part way we had a difficult scramble up some ridges, before finally reaching a plateau from which we had beautiful panoramic views of the area.
After returning to camp we headed into town in search of food. What better way to reward our exploration of the National Park than with a ‘Churrascaria’ – a Brazilian meat feast! This consisted of the ‘all you can eat’ variety and saw us munching our way through huge chunks of meat served on skewers! Amazingly good!
Mouth watering chunks of beef on a skewer!
From here we were expecting to make our way to the city of Porto Velho. This would be our access point for a 4 day boat trip up the Rio Madeira, one of the major Amazonian rivers, in our quest to head north to the city of Manaus and cross the border into Venezuela, which would become the start of Sector 3.
But it was here that our itinerary was changed. Due to new travel advice from the British Foreign Office regarding the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, our overland company chose to remove Venezuela from our expedition and make significant changes to our route.
So we found ourselves not travelling straight to Porto Velho, but heading west to the little town of Vila Bela de Santissima Trinidade where we camped near to the Guapore River and headed out on a boat trip in search of the illusive pink river dolphin and anaconda. We saw a number of pink dolphins but only fleetingly so didn’t manage to capture them on camera. We also spotted a great number of different bird species nesting along the banks of the river.
The most memorable aspect of the trip was being invited to our boatman’s house for lunch where we met his mother who had cooked up a feast with local ingredients and we were welcomed as part of the family. The children from the local community had also come along, curious to see the gringos!
After lunch, we were then treated to a beautiful spectacle in the form of a local waterfall. Completely off the beaten track, we had to wade across 3 rivers to reach it, where we enjoyed a much needed cooling off after another day in the intense Brazilian heat!
Our final night in Brazil was spent at an Eco-lodge just outside the town of Xaipuri. We arrived during a heavy rain storm where we had to wade ankle deep in water and mud to the lodge which was bathed in darkness as the electricity had just gone out. It was all very rustic and cosy as candles were lit and we found ourselves sleeping in bunk beds in a 12 person dormitory, which we had not experienced before. There’s a first time for everything!
It was here that we also finally learnt where a Brazil nut comes from! (After looking at our photo, Google it, you’ll be surprised!)
The hard outer shell that contains several Brazil nuts inside.
Next border crossing: from Brazil into Peru… And the start of Sector 3!