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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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!

Jesus Walks

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“Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left.” 
 – Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo, however much I love him, clearly had never visited Rio. The official carnival holiday does not even begin until tomorrow and already the streets are swarming with hilarious costumes and roaring music.
Today I’ve been pretty busy, firstly heading out to successfully get my costume (yay!), then heading off on a small tour. The tour was great, just a local  man driving a small group of us around the main sights. First came the statue of ‘Christ the redeemer’ which was, as you can imagine, utterly beautiful. Though, I soon realised where the tourist industry had been hiding! We then headed over to the old ‘San Theresa’ district before stopping at the ‘Lapa steps’ (a.k.a. Escadaria Selarón) designed by Jorge Selarón and apparently made famous by Snoop Dogg in one of his music videos. The steps consisted of a mosaic of tiles, with larger tiles sent in from 160 countries across the globe to be part of the spectacle. What really made it a great experience for me, however, was the flock of ascending locals in fancy dress climbing up to a ‘block party’ at the top of the steps. Unfortunately they arrived after this photo was taken so you will just have to imagine the fairies, cavemen, clowns and transvestites.

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The last stop was the sugar loaf mountain, with, rather foggy, but nevertheless stunning views of the city. Our guide told us a couple of stories of eccentric activities which had taken place there: One American man apparently rode a motor bike up the cables to the mountain…a little sceptical about that one…and Falko Traber, a German tightrope artists walked to the mountain! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKxHyGClRMc

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I was interested the view of the ‘Christ’ by night so Sebastian, my roommate, and I headed out to Botofago beach this evening to check it out. The metro was hilarious – overflowing with excited Brazilians in assorted ridiculous costumes. The statue seemed disappointingly far away following this morning’s trip but was still worth seeing! I’m not planning on heading out to join the marauding gangs tonight. My main excuse is that last night we had an addition to our room: an overweight Brazilian with token handle-bar moustache who, more relevantly, snored, as Sebastian puts it: “as if he were in pain”. So I’m looking forward to catching up on some sleep!

Let’s Go Fly A Kite/ Watching And Waiting

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Making carnival masks!

“There is nothing safer than flying – it’s crashing that is dangerous”.
– Theo Cowan

After the usual, urine related, antics at the crèche this morning, things proceeded to go downhill. Very literally in one some cases.  The major time theft of the day was my hang-gliding expedition. I say expedition as I arrived at 11 and didn’t leave until past 5. Basically I was sat at the top of a mountain in my harness and helmet for six hours whilst crowds of gliders gathered, waiting for the cloud to leave a gap so that we could jump off the mountain. I think it would be fair to say that I’m not the most patient soul in the world, so after many false alarms, each involving rushing to the glider and buckling up only to see another swath of cloud roll in, I was getting increasingly pissed off. I was convinced that we were just going to end up having to drive back down. In the mean time my instructor shared some interesting stories. The two that come to mind are: him taking his dog hang-gliding and his ex-girlfriend turning out to be a man. Both stories accompanied by pictures.

                Of course, the actual flight was incredible. A particular highlight was flying alongside a native hawk! It really did make you feel ‘like a bird’.

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However the two hours which followed were occupied by sitting in solid traffic during my lift back to the hostel. I then rushed to Copocabana on the tube to pick up my costume and the centre was shut and I’m not sure if it will open again as the holiday season starts tomorrow – I paid a deposit. Yet another pointless waste of money it would seem. (Although not all hope’s lost yet –  I’m going to check whether it’s open in the morning – fingers crossed!)

I’m getting irritated by being constantly ripped off here. It’s actually an incredibly expensive city, particularly considering it’s apparent state of poverty.

The icing on the cake was coming back to ask around if anybody had a laptop with a cd drive for me to offload my gliding pictures from, of course nobody did, and then noticing an hour later that I had dark purple açai juice smeared over my face.

p.s. I apologise for this rant. I know that I shouldn’t be complaining but it’s hard not to have a little moan after sitting around for six hours in a heavy ‘bib’ and oversized helmet.

Stuck In Guacamole

“Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering; the reality has more to do with losing your luggage”.
Regina Nadelson

I could not agree more. In fact, I have lost my luggage. Well, TAM airlines have any way! NOT a good start. I waited in Sao Paolo airport until the baggage belt stopped. No joy. It gets better: The airport staff didn’t speak a word of English. My kindle having run out of battery before I even got to Heathrow (the major disadvantage of electronic books), I haven’t had the chance to look up even the basics of Portuguese. Luckily an elderly Brazilian man was in exactly the same position as me, also having come from a stopover in Frankfurt, so we were told to see if it arrived in Rio. It didn’t. They’ve told me that they will deliver it to the hostel when it turns up. Brilliant. I’ve been wearing stinking aeroplane clothes, complete with dirty socks and walking boots, around all day. It had better be here soon or this is going to get interesting!

At least these disasters are occurring in small manageable chunks (touch wood). Bite-sized fiascos are easier to manage. I did, at least, have all of my important documents, electronics and money in my hand luggage. The main things I would desperately miss from my backpack are the highly expensive Malarone (anti-malarial) tablets.

My first impressions of Rio were that the ‘favelas’ (Brazilian slums) were completely overwhelming, stretching as far as the eye can see; in contrast, the iconic ‘christ the redeemer’ statue seemed incredibly small! Today has been pretty overcast and rainy so I’m afraid I haven’t bothered with any photos yet.

When I arrived I agreed to go straight over to the volunteer project to introduce myself. The crèche turns out to be around 40 minutes on the metro and then a further 20 minutes walk, which I am now expected to have memorised and be able to do again solo. Hmm. The staff at the crèche are all Brazilian and, again, do not speak English. Ideal. It is so frustrating having such an impermeable language barrier. Don’t be fooled, it is not as similar to Spanish as you would expect. I just spent half an hour trying to explain to the cashier that I didn’t have change for a 50Real note (well that’s at least what I think she was asking about, I really can’t be sure). I was also told that I would have to, as in Papua New Guinea, wear long skirts/trousers for the work. I would have appreciated being told in advance; I can’t really get away with wearing my pj bottoms here. So one revolting dress and a pair of havaianas later, I’m settling down in the hostel which fantastically has free wifi! Yay!