El Otro Lado

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We’ve been doing a fair bit of border hopping over the last few days. Above is a photo of the current mess that is Paraguay. We took a mini bus across the open border as the shopping is supposed to be incredibly cheap there due to the lack of tax. It wasn’t particularly cheap at all. We were clearly looking in the wrong places! However, our bus driver then miraculously disappeared so we had to ride back on the local motor-bike taxis, which was incredible! 

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We’ve now set up camp for the night in San Ignacio Mini, Argentina, following a brief stop at Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinian side of the falls. The border control was slightly more complicated but nevertheless was over fairly quickly and without too much hassle!

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Here’s some of the group at the ‘devils throat’ of Iguazu falls.

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Three Little Birds

“It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.”
― Dave Barry

It’s night two at our camp near the Iguazu falls. The weather has been alternating between bright blue skies and heavy rain. We’ve had our fair share of rain throughout the trip so far. It’s not much to complain about as it’s still very warm and seems to be counterbalanced by an equal or larger amount of sun…not ideal when setting up tents though!

We had to endure a 16 hour drive from Bonito yesterday. Actually the time passed incredibly quickly; a few of us took over the table at the front of the truck and got pretty competitive over card games, eventually merging into drinking games when the sun went down. Not a bad way to spend 16 hours on the road! However, It did result in slightly drunken, blind and rainy tent-pitching!

We’ve made up for yesterdays inaction by starting early with a visit to a local bird park before heading down to the falls and signing up for a spontaneous bit of white water rafting! It was in hindsight a complete scam as the rafting turned out to be 3 minutes of ‘white water’ followed by an hour of slowly drifting down a calm river. However, doing flips into the water off the ‘trampoline’ that was the inflatable raft, certainly improved the excursion. Particularly the embarrassing slips that started arising as the raft got wetter! I attempted to do a front hand spring into the water and instead spectacularly face-planted onto the raft.

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Here’s the classic toucan which we spotted frequently in the Pantanal.

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Hummingbirds are the cutest little creatures in Brazil.

Scarlet Ibis

And here’s a striking Scarlet Ibis.

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

IMG_0844The falls are crawling with these little Coatis! Very sweet but incredibly cheeky! One of them grabbed a mans camera out of his hand and ran off with it!

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And lastly, here’s a shot of a sneaky toucan taking a peck at my toe!!

I Can See Clearly Now

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson went on a camping trip. During the night Holmes woke up, nudged his faithful friend saying, “Watson, I want you to look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

Watson replied, “I see the stars.”

“And what does that tell you?” Sherlock continued.

After pondering the question Watson deduced: “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Metereologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day today. What does it tell you?”

Holmes considered this for a while then retorted: “My dear Watson, someone has stolen our tent.”

Well there’s a slightly irrelevant joke for the day…

We’re now camping in a little town called Bonito in South West Brazil. We set out to snorkel down the nearby Rio da Prata bright and early this morning and were the first nine people in the river. The water was absolutely phenomenal. By far the clearest water I’ve ever seen, with visibility of up to 40 metres! Despite the lack of colour, the fish were enormous, some up to a metre and a half in length, and in very large numbers. I got a bit of a fright when I spotted some scaled skin right next to me and realised I was right next to a Caiman crocodile, poking its eyes out of the water. It was really bizarre seeing it from an underwater perspective – they’re not quite as inconspicuous!

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Smoke On The Water/ Blood Thirsty Bastards

“They only live who dare”

Voltaire

The mosquitoes on South West Brazil are comparable in number to the population of china and the armies of Mordor put together. At any one moment you can see around thirty or so feasting on the person walking in front of you. The smoke on the water, in this instance, is in fact swarms of mosquitoes heading in your direction. Each person on the tour has become their own unique buffet blood bag. There is nowhere to hide. They bite through clothing and Deet doesn’t even seem to bother them very much. I’m going to have to resort to wandering around in my mosquito net.

We currently staying in a large expanse of wetland called ‘The Pantanal’. The area itself is fantastically exciting. We’ve seen an armadillo, capybaras, howler monkeys, toucans, scarlet macaws, giant blue macaws and the most extortionately large variety of vividly coloured birds.

We’re camped out in hammocks in an equestrian farm which is perfectly situated for the likes of bush walks and boat trips. Hacking out on the horses is fantastically good fun; there are so many wide open spaces that you’re free to gallop about, racing each other. I also tried my hand at vaulting (riding whilst standing up on the saddle) as the horses were so well behaved. Sleeping in hammocks is not particularly my cup of tea, I must admit. However, following the two nights before we arrived here, setting our tents up outside service stations en route, it seems comparatively luxury!

Yesterday we fished for piranhas for a couple of hours. Everybody except me were catching the fish for supper but I have never been one for unnecessarily butchering animals so I was taking out the hook myself and throwing mine back in! Ironically I seem to have caught the most out of anybody! I have to admit that I was rather hypocritical in that I feed a couple to the Caimans (crocs) who were hovering about for a snack. I was, rather cruelly, dangling the piranha right about their heads so that they would jump out of the water to grab them. I accidentally got one caught on my hook for a while before it managed to unhook itself. I feel that is enough to be able to claim that I caught a crocodile whilst fishing. In fact there are so many of them about that we’ve introduced ‘croc or rock’: people have to bet on whether a likely shape in the water is a Cayman or just a log or rock. Great fun.

P.s. My apologies for the lack of posts recently but I’ve been completely cut out of internet since my last post; I can’t seem to get my modem working.

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Stopping to cool down in the piranha infested waters. This is directly following spotting a cayman and our local guide explaining that the piranhas had eaten the top of it’s tail. Definitely an adrenaline rush!

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That’s Entertainment

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I found a cord to connect my big camera to the laptop! Fantastic. Internet connection isn’t so great though so just one photo from the Sambadrome will have to do for now.

Back in Parati: Below are a couple of photos from the boat trip I was persuaded to join in on today (I was dubious about value for money). It turned out to be pretty incredible. Granted, a large proportion of the group became completely smashed as a consequence of the free caprinas on tap! We stopped off at numerous little coves and islands where everyone proceeded to bomb/dive off the top deck! I borrowed a snorkel mask off the staff and spotted a bright orange seahorse! Unfortunately nobody else was interested in snorkelling so my excitement was rather wasted. Apart from the Seahorse the marine life wasn’t very spectacular. There were a few box/puffer fish around but apart from that the fish variety was fairly standard. Other notable moments include seeing how many rungs of the ladder towards the crows nest we could climb before the captain spotted us and me attempting to climb a coconut tree and failing miserably. A great day out though. The few of us left in a reasonable state had to practically carry the others back to the camp site, stopping only for Acai on the way.

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The Island stop off where I found the seahorse!

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Here’s a separate boat that moored next to us at one of the stops. Ours was actually big than this boat, having a top deck, but very similar in appearance.

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Parati town was apparently designed so that at high tide the sea water cleans the streets! It was like a Latino Venice!

The Islander

Image“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” 
Oscar Wilde

Last night, after a few introductory games and a fair portion of alcohol, I persuaded the three others that were still up to join me and swim/walk out to this Island. This idyllic little beach is right in front of our campsite! Unfortunately the water itself is fairly revolting, to say the least. The water was so shallow that it was primarily a walk through deep mud in parts, with the usual annoying creatures out to cut you like cockles and small clams! As we walked out, there were a huge number of fish jumping out of the water in front of us as they desperately scrambled to get away. The moon was bright so there was no problem with visibility and the horizon was speckled with little lights from the surrounding islands and the headland behind. As we neared the small Island, however, it became apparent that there were at least two, maybe three, dogs barking at us. Within a few metres of the shore a light turned on in the only little cabin on the Island! A man then emerged shining a bright torch in our faces, clearly wondering why the hell four tourists were standing knee deep in mud in the middle of the bay at 2:00 in the morning. We decided to make a swift retreat!

Parati is such a beautiful place. We caught a heavily loaded bus over to the national park area this morning which was packed with stunning beaches. I’m particularly fond of the large stone boulders dotted about the shore. It’s my group’s turn to cook the evening meal (for 36) tonight though so I’d better crack on with that fairly daunting task!

Hummingbird Heartbeat

After five hours in the ‘truck’, we eventually reached Parati – a beautiful little colonial village on a coast line dotted with little tropical islands. Setting up tents was not quite as straight forward as I’d hoped as the tents were practically medieval and most were faulty in one way or another. It’s the wet season here so fingers crossed ours holds out! After exploring the town (stopping for and Acai ice cream en route) we went for a dip in the sea. It is without question the warmest sea water I have ever been in. It’s even warmer than the ‘bath like’ Maldives. It’s almost too warm! The surface is cool but due to the mud floor the area really retains the heat from the sun. 

 The locals seem to be far more tourist orientated here, with lots of little street markets selling hand crafted decorations and baskets etc. 

My highlight of the day was spotting a tiny little hummingbird on the walk back to the camp site! No idea what type as have no way of identifying it really, but very pleased that I’ve seen one for the first time!

No photos as of yet, but we’re here for the next four days. In the mean time, here’s one of the Christ the Redeemer statue to mark the end of my time in Rio.

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Smooth Criminal

“In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”
Hunter S. Thompson

It’s always difficult starting from scratch with a large group of new people. Today I left the Art Hostel and headed over to meet the tour group in ‘Lapa’. A few of us headed straight out to Ipanema beach after checking in. Rosie, a bubbly British girl travelling with a school friend, had her camera stolen yesterday from a teenager who actually grabbed the phone out of her hand. We therefore headed to the tourism police where we proceeded to wait for four hours for the office to sign a form which would allow her to claim it on her travel insurance.

Whilst we were there we oversaw a few interesting cases. A large number of people had had their individual bags stolen from the beach. A French couple had been waiting for their form to be signed for four hours. Just as Rosie’s form got to the top of the waiting pile a fairly elderly Italian Lady and her son came bursting into the station in their swimwear. The poor lady, in floods of tears, garbled out a flow of Italian whilst her son tried to explain in English what had happened: They had just arrived and had headed straight to the beach. The son had gone into the sea and two men approached the mother to ‘help her put up her sun umbrella. Apparently one man lowered the umbrella to the floor for a moment whilst talking to the lady. Meanwhile his accomplice was taking all of their belongings behind the screen of the umbrella. They lost everything: passports, phones, clothes…It’s made me feel even more paranoid about keeping two eyes on my possessions  My tactic has been taking out as little as possible (locking my valuables in a locker) and using a plastic bag in an attempt to seem inconspicuous. Also if you twist the bag and hold the top it’s practically impossible for anybody to get a hand in!

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Here’s a glimpse of the largest favela in Rio, which I did a walking tour around yesterday. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to talk a little more about this as it was incredibly eye-opening. For example, 90% of the performers/directors/composers etc in the Sambadrome come from the favelas. As our guide described it, it is the four days in their life when they can “feel like kings”

P.S. Not sure how easy it’s going to be to post over the next month as will be camping – often in the middle of nowhere.

P.P.S. If you haven’t stumbled across Hunter S. Thompson yet I would thoroughly recommendatory him. His wacky, original writing style completely won me over! Try ‘Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas’ or ‘The Rum Diary’.

Shut Up and Let Me Go

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“I have a different brain; I have a different heart; I got tiger blood, man. Do you?”

 -Charlie Sheen

I think Charlie Sheen would fit in here perfectly. The whole city has descended into complete madness. I’m afraid I can’t find a way of connecting my SLR to my laptop as I need to buy a cable but all of the shops are shut. Sambadrome pictures I’m afraid will have to wait 😦 I’ll fill you in more on that mind-blowing experience later!

The picture above is Ipanema beach during the Ipanema ‘Bloco’ (street party). The people were spilling out from the streets onto the beach. Have you ever seen a beach this crowded? I thought Cornwall in the summer was bad enough!

Brazilian men are utterly relentless. They don’t seem to understand what “no” means. The only solution, which occasionally works, is saying that you are ‘otherwise orientated’. A couple of girls in the hostel have just gone out wearing bikinis and hula skirts. I did warn them. It’s practically suicide. I’m seriously worried about them.

Anyway, It’s pretty frantic here so will post more info when I get a moment.

Winning.

P.s. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-21399406 – This was the Bloco I mentioned in my last post!

Dirrty


When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”

Clifton Fadiman

We headed out to one of the biggest block parties this morning. It was as if the entire city had transformed into an overcrowded festival. There were people going to the loo on the streets. I say ‘people’ as it wasn’t just men, and I say ‘going to the loo’ as it wasn’t just peeing. Charming. Any way, it’s perhaps unfair to start on such a low note. The atmosphere was ecstatic. Everybody had some form of fancy dress; masks for the less enthusiastic, full body costumes were the norm. There were stalls and coolers full of beer everywhere and men struggling through the crowds selling metre long tubes of brightly coloured liquid which, through curiosity, we decided to try. Unsurprisingly they tasted highly poisonous and merely had ‘alcohol drink’ as their label.

Parts of the rabble were hilarious such as particularly good fancy dress efforts (the transvestites were superb) and overly vigorous dancing. However the young men were not so entertaining. It would be highly inadvisable to visit one of these parties alone! The Brazilian equivalent to a chat up line consists of the man grabbing the girl as she walks past and forcing himself upon her. Not so great when you lose your friends in the crowd. I’m hoping the Sambadrome tonight will be slightly more civilised; Although at first amusing, I must admit that I’m not entirely taken by the down and dirty 24/7 block parties.

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Here’s an example of some of the debris which accumulated at the sides of the roads. The parties, incidentally, take place all along the main roads of the city centre.

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A standard group of locals. By the way, this is by no means my full costume. It’s supposed to be worn with a long skirt, which I didn’t feel was appropriate for obvious reasons, and the top half!

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I thought this was hilarious: A man sitting on a roof, dressed as a cat, throwing glitter into the crowds. Also somebody was squirting foam from an aerosol in the foreground.