So we had only a month to enjoy this enormous country with a fixed date towards the end of it, the mighty carnival, the greatest party on earth and the only reason I am here at the hottest time of year. Plans soon changed from attempting to visit the Amazon, after all trying to get anywhere in this nation without a flight is the equivalent of bussing it across Europe, and boy paying those bus fares is a smack in the face. We took a night bus from Foz do Iguacu up to Curitiba and stayed with a friend of mine from my Masters, and her husband. It was great to see familiar faces and the city has some fantastic galleries, parks and Niemeyer architecture. We braved a pizza rodizio complete with sweet pizzas covered in fruits, coconut and chocolate. Not my usual choice but we gave it a try and with the distinct lack of Portuguese after crossing the border we had no idea what calzone we were being offered and just tried everything.
From there we headed north to Sao Paulo, a place we only intended to spend a couple of nights, but we got the best Couchsurfing hosts imaginable, we were their first surfers and could’ve easily been their last if we decided to stay forever! There was so much to see and do in 5 days in this massive city, 3 times the population of Switzerland. We were staying in Moema just round the corner from Parque Ibirapuera so we got to see yet more Niemeyer buildings and galleries. We even headed to a waterpark in a SESC community park on a day when the main Brazilian news channel was filming, coincidentally the same day that Seb learned that it was compulsory to wear Speedos. One evening we treated ourselves to the most expensive meal of our lives and ate at Fogo de Chao, an exceptional rodizio with the best steak I have ever had the pleasure to eat. If you can afford a luxurious blow out, this is the place to do it, pay the extra, the buffet alone is worth the price. SP and Curitiba were also two of the cities with unfinished world cup stadiums so we saw the Corinthians Arena accident remains. The nation is pretty furious about the world cup with nao vai ter copa message spray painted about town.
From Sao Paulo it was off to Paraty for a little longer than planned once again thanks to the colossal rain. But we managed to meet some fab hostel mates and venture out to the giant slip and slide waterfalls at Cachoeira do Toboga where the locals skidded down on their feet. I saw one guy slip and cut his eyebrow open but this didn’t stop anyone. Further up the falls was an 8m jump spot, something I couldn’t attempt but Seb managed it twice. We managed to get a group together to charter a boat trip around the islands on the final day with some snorkeling and sunburn!
From Paraty we were island bound for Ilha Grande, a truly gorgeous island with remote beaches in the south. We found an immaculate private room at Espaço Nativo Pousada & Hostel for less than the price of a hostel, with a smart TV and a fridge to boot. Would highly recommend staying here, a superb breakfast and friendly receptionist. Only downside of staying on an island with lots of recent development is that the power supply hasn’t been updated in decades. As a result we watched a firework display when one of the main control boxes caught fire. Maybe not the safest of situations to be near an electrical fire on an island but the electricity was back within a day. The museum in Dois Rios is well worth a visit, the story behind the prison is absolutely fascinating in the tiny museum. The walk is worth it just don’t be put off by the loud howler monkeys.
We then made our way to Rio De Janeiro City to stay with a wonderful Couchsurfing host that we luckily discovered at the very last minute in Tijuca. We had an action filled few days ahead of carnival to see everything in time. We started as we meant to go on by heading straight to Pedro do Sal on Monday night and met some other Swiss folk. The next day we bussed up to Christ the Redeemer to see the third and final world wonder of our trip. The statue itself wasn’t of any particular note but the panoramic views were out of this world. On the way back down we passed through the Sao Sebastiao Cathedral where the newly ordained cardinal showed up 10 minutes after our arrival to red carpet treatments and paps. Quite the holy day indeed. We spent the Wednesday at Ipanema beach and then climbed Sugarloaf mountain, having discovered a way to trek it and get the cable car back down after 7pm for free. We rushed back down and across down to get to the Estádio do Maracanã for my very first live football match. Flamengos were at home and obviously won thanks to the pantomimesque support. The stadium was only 40 out of the 90,000 seats full but the noise was incredible.
The next day we headed on to our second Couchsurfing host in Lapa and collected our Sambadrome tickets that were conveniently located next to the MAR which is quite possibly one of the best exhibitions I have seen since the NY Met. We spent the evening at the relaunch of a new gallery and were bopping alongside Vincent Cassel on the dance floor. On Friday we trawled the fancy dress shops to gather costumes for the next few days. It was a manic cluster of feathers and face masks but we found stuff for a number of days, before heading to Copacabana. Surprisingly the beach was really chilled out, like the quiet before the storm and the water is so cold its refreshing, and on Friday we already began our bloco hopping at a roman themed gathering with the catchiest songs.
Saturday was a hazy mix of blocos all over town, culminating in a brass band at the end of the evening which topped it all off. Somehow we were still going on Sunday and danced all day at a small electro bloco outside a club entrance, which blew the roof for us once the trap started flowing out the speakers. We sadly had to leave to get over to the Sambadrome for the first evening of the special group. The efforts of the parade were mind blowing but it was sad to see a big chief getting beheaded when it clipped the press platform hanging overhead. The stadium looks fantastic from the inside but is pure chaos outside, it is as if it was plonked in the middle of nowhere without warning. We left in the early hours, got 2 hours sleep and jumped on a flight to Salvador.
Our bodies caught up with us up north and we passed out for the entire evening and slept right through so we would be fit for Tuesday and it was worth it, however we were staying at the damp On the Rock hostel that smelled of cat pee so sleeping wasn’t too pleasant but we could have slept through a nuclear holocaust. The Tuesday parade was the last night and we joined a massive bloco following the Nana Banana float. Apparently it was their last bloco as the singer had fallen out with the band so we made the most of the superb reggae. I was through a vest but wasn’t allowed on board, probably because we were the only tourists for miles and stuck out like a saw thumb. We made excellent Aussie friends that night and had an absolute ball, our gang made the evening. We were told that splitting our carnival was like coitus interruptus if you lost the flow of partying mid way through. It didn’t stop us, we found a flight the same price as the bus and took the risk. After all we couldn’t return for carnival for at least another 3 years and we really wanted to experience the difference between the two cities. Rio was more chilled out because our host took us to the more relaxed blocos whereas Salvador was a bit more hectic as its the biggest street party in the world. They were different in their own ways and I couldn’t advise which is best, but either way stay with a Couchsurfing host to get the best experience.
The hardest part was planning where to go next before our flight from Brasilia and we decided upon the expensive resort town of Praia do Forte, the snorkeling and turtle sanctuary alone was worth the hiked room prices. The natural pools surrounded some of the best reef and marine life I’ve seen in ages, I even spotted my first sea snake. The turtles were by far the biggest I’ve ever seen and we got to witness the staff moving the oldest on a stretcher. We were sad to leave paradise knowing we had another night bus, but managed to haggle a big discount to Brasilia.
We arrived late evening the following day a good 24 hours after we left and got a lift from a diplomat, who was the only person we met with world cup tickets, 5 pairs in fact, he explained the layout of the planned city to us which is like a town planner’s wet dream.. We stayed with another Couchsurfing couple in the capital who showed us about town. Its such a bizarre model village with hoards of empty space in the centre in weekends, but on weekdays its heaving with office workers like an entirely different city. Of all of the architecture the Don Bosco church was by far my favourite, the light inside from the stained glass windows was breathtaking.
Leaving South America was a real toughy, luckily we had a stopover in Portugal to look forward to and bridge the gap back in to Europe. Its hard to express my feelings towards Brazil, after all getting anywhere in this massive country is a complete ball ache, but more disappointing is the inequality. The south is unbelievably developed leaving the north cut off and stranded, yet billions of Reais are being squandered on hosting a world cup that no one wants. The infrastructure in some of the cities is really impressive yet Rio has only two metro lines, most of which runs parallel! Its the Brazilians that make Brazil so impressive, not that there is a ‘typical’ Brazilian. Everyone on the streets looks beautiful, beating the reputation that proceeds it, with every shade of skin, hair type, eye colour imaginable. The capacity and creativity exists, the music and art is incredible nationwide. The resources are there but the capital simply isn’t the doctor patient ratio is laughable. This truly could be one of the greatest nations on Earth but there is so much fighting against it. I am anxious for the world cup, the whole world is watching and I want Brazil to shine gloriously. People should be able to express themselves at protests peacefully without police provocation. I need to return to see so much more, including the Amazon and the negatives can’t have affected my opinion too much as I already have the next route mapped out!