A Travellerspoint blog


Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The beach island!

overcast 25 °C


We took the ferry to Ilha Grande where after an hour and a half of navigating through the most picturesque islands and scenery, we docked on the main beach front to the port town of Abraão. Abraão is the only town on the island consisting of about 10 relatively short streets, all purposely built for tourists. There are no cars allowed on the island, which adds to the atmosphere of the bustling cobbled streets.

By night, the beach was tastefully lit up by the bars, which had stretched out towards the water's edge, using a variety of coloured lightbulbs. The whole beach front looked amazing and incredibly inviting. After stopping for dinner on the beach, we went for a walk in the water along the length of the beach, with the waves gently breaking at our ferry.

The following day, we set of at 8.45 to do one of the trails around the island, which was supposed to take an hour and a half, which would leave us plenty of time to catch the last boat to the beaches at 11.30. Our route took us past the former prison of San Lorenzo from the time when the island had been used as a penal colony. The majority of the prison had been demolished when it ceased to be a prison in the 1960s. There was still one dark and dingey cell block left, hidden by the trees looking out onto an empty sandy beach.

Our next stop was the aqueduct in the middle of the woods, next to a natural pool fed by a stream. The whole way round, we were led by a stray dog we'd picked up on leaving town. He was very sweet and acted like a little tour guide showing us the way.

Afterwards, we headed back into town and took a boat to another part of the island called Pousa, before walking 10 minutes over the hill to the famous white sand beach of Lopes Mendes with its crystal clear waters. It was like paradise with palm trees lining the beach edge and small islands in the sea along the horizon, adding to the beauty of the cove. With only a few boats going here each day and the walk time from the main town stated at 2½-3 hours, the beach was pretty empty with a clear view out to sea. Unfortunately it was quite windy on this side of the island and so after an hour or so, we walked back to the more sheltered cove of Pousa and spent the remainder of the time on the golden sand beach there.

We decided to go for a walk shortly before the boat back, and in the end decided it would be a nice walk back. After about 20 minutes we arrived at another beach with a rope attached to a tree, making it a great swinging rope. We spent about 15 minutes here before doing the hour and ten minute walk up and back down over the top of the island to Abraão, where we stopped for a beer at one of the beach bars. Clearly Chris and I are better hikers than we thought as it took half the recommended time to do this trail.

We both felt like we were on holiday here and if we didn't have all the Thai beaches to look forward to, would definitely have spent another day here.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 14:25 Archived in Brazil Tagged beaches night boats beer beach Comments (0)

Paraty, Brazil

Finally hit the beach in this colonial town.

overcast 25 °C

Our 120 mile bus journey from São Paulo did not take six hours, but seven. To be fair, it was mountain roads and foggy but it still dragged.

After our last accommodation, this next one felt like a five star hotel with its shower cubicle that didn't contain a sink and toilet and best of all, a mattress which not only gave a little when you sat on it but better still was not made of plastic. There was also a lovely garden, which as the only guests there only needed to be shared with 2 friendly cats.

Paraty is a colonial town on the coast of Brazil with a small pier, mainly for tourist boats with the mountain forests as its backdrop.

The following day was forecast to be stormy before lunch and again in the evening so instead of taking a boat trip around the islands, we planned to hire bikes and head to some waterfalls inland and afterwards try the beaches. We tried one bike shop; however he wanted to keep the passports as security in his not so secure bike shop come workshop. Having lost them once, we were not prepared to risk this, particularly as the man was incredibly rude and treating us as if we were stupid for not understanding Portuguese, even though I understood him perfectly, just struggled immensely to respond in coherent Portuguese. We suggested leaving a cash deposit, so he asked for 1000 real (£300). That's the first time we've ever had to leave any kind of deposit!

With bikes out of the question, we decided to do a boat tour around the islands, which was definitely the right choice in the end. The water was lovely, the boat was so relaxing and the beaches were very pretty and inaccessible by land. At one beach, there was some black sand, which Chris decided to throw at me. Within minutes, the pair of us were covered head to toe from a watery black sand fight.

In the evening, we wandered around the cobbled streets looking at the whitewashed colonial buildings with their brightly painted door and window frames.

Tomorrow's bus is 2½ hours to do 30 miles to Agra, the port to catch the boat to Ilha Grande. Excellent fun.....

Posted by Roaming Rolts 04:56 Archived in Brazil Tagged beaches sea water boat beach sand paraty colonial Comments (0)

São Paulo

Our Palista adventures according to Chris

storm 25 °C

Hi, it's Chris. So far I've only been proofreader and Zoë's been writing the blog but I thought I'd give this one a go so here goes...

We arrived in São Paulo after a 16 hour overnight bus ride from Iguassu Falls. Fortunately we'd paid for 'cama' seats which are extra wide and a hell of a lot more comfortable than the cheaper 'semi-cama' seats which are just normal bus seats which recline a bit more than normal seats and have a leg rest.

We'd struggled to find a hotel for our budget in São Paulo and ended up booking one with questionable reviews. When we got off of the metro we realised we probably weren't in the most prestigious part of town, what with having to step over a sleeping tramp every 5 meters or so. We eventually found our hotel and it quickly became apparent that the reviews we'd read were spot on. Firstly, the lift had to be reset a couple of times before it would work. When we got to the room, our very dated accommodation had a bed which had a big control panel which at one time would have controlled everything in the room but now just turned the light on and off. We then made the mistake of sitting on the bed which had no give whatsoever. We've had some uncomfortable beds before but here we may just as well have slept on the floor. We tried to ask reception if there was anything they could do the next morning but the language barrier was a problem and they ended up just making the bed and providing clean towels. Oh well.

After a run of bad luck with public holidays and Sundays it was good to finally get to a city that was open and alive. Brazilians are a lively and friendly bunch, especially in contrast to Peruvians and Bolivians who tend to be fairly reserved. As this is the first country where Zoë can't speak the language, whenever someone tries to speak to us it is usually meet with blank stares from us although when they realise we 'not from round here' they will regularly welcome you to their city.

Like many big South American cities, São Paulo appears fairly ugly at first but it doesn't take long to start finding many nice old buildings and interesting parks. It also looks very cool at night when all the high-rises start to light up and the streams of car lights make the city seem ever more vibrant.

We spent most of our time in São Paulo just wondering round and exploring the different neighbourhoods. The most upmarket of which is Jardins which is supposedly modeled on British garden cities but any similarities to Letchworth or Welwyn were lost on us. Unless they at one point were filled with huge luxury apartment blocks...

The city is split into two distinct sections, 'Centro' which is the old town and contains most of the shopping, financial businesses and tracks, and Avenida Paulista which is the new town and has a number of shopping centres and offices.

Most shops and businesses close on a Sunday in Brazil but the main market is open so we made that our first stop. Aside from the typical fish and meat stalls, there are stalls selling exotic fruits and the vendors cut small samples for you to try. Some were slightly odd but some were quite tasty. We decided to buy our favourite but when it came out at over £10 for just one we politely declined. We then went to a small food fair we'd read about on the internet. Although there was a fairly long queue, the blokes selling cheap beer to the people waiting made it bearable. Once inside we tried 4 or 5 different foods, all of which were absolutely delicious. We left stuffed and liking São Paulo more and more.

I was being frequently pestered by Zoë to have my hair cut cut, being told it was 'feral' and an embarrassment. I'd been putting off having it cut until we got to a more civilised country and couldn't really put it off any longer so spent quite a while looking out for a suitable establishment. I finally came across a barbers which was a lot like the one I use at home which comforted me slightly. So with Zoë standing next to me with the phrasebook open at the hairdressing section the barber set to work. The result was perfectly reasonable, although it should be as I'm pretty sure we paid about three times the going rate. Interestingly it is perfectly acceptable to flick through a porn magazine whilst having your hair cut in Brazil. Maybe it has something to do with the robe providing some discretion. Needless to say it wasn't a local custom I partook in!

On our last night in the city we decided to go to a rooftop bar we'd read about. We had to take two lifts, both with attendants, and were then directed up some stairs by a maître'd. As we climbed the stairs we could hear a piano being played and became nervous that this may be outside of our backpacker budget. A quick peak into the bar and seeing the tuxedoed waiters confirmed this. We had a quick peak at the view through the window and without making eye contact with the maître'd or the lift attendants made a hasty exit and bought a can of Coke from the shop next door.

One final note, we saw a small scuffle in a metro station and saw a guy 'leg-it'. It was clear he had tried to take someone's bag. After having to deal with the useless Chilean police we were amazed to see the police give chase and despite the packed station they caught the f****r! So we won't tar all of South America's police with the same brush.

We're now off to Paraty which is a small coastal town between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on a bus which supposedly takes 6 hours to travel 120 miles. We're intrigued and a little nervous to know what takes so long! At least our backs should be able to start recovering in a more comfortable bed.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 12:00 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Iguassu Falls, Brazil and Argentina and the Itaipu Dam

What a dam good river!

sunny 30 °C

Tuesday 24th September - let the border hopping commence: Paraguay - Brazil

We left for the Brazilian side of Iguassu Falls from Ciudad del Este in Paraguay first thing in morning. The journey is only about 20-30km, yet took us the best part of 2 hours. The first bus for some reason left empty and would not take us. The second bus took us to within a kilometre of the border before we were kicked off and made to walk to the bus at the front of the queue, which was about 15 buses up. We explained to the driver we needed to stop at the border to show our passports as the locals do not need to go through immigration.

We then sat at the side of the road for 15 minutes for some unknown reason before changing bus driver. Maybe the new bus driver was late? We forgot we would need to tell the new bus driver we needed to stop and so went soaring past immigration. We got off the bus and walked the hundred metres or so back to immigration to be stamped out of Paraguay. Before alighting, we had been given a transfer ticket for the bus so that in theory we could board the next bus on the same ticket.

The next bus pulled up from the same company, yet would not accept our tickets, saying we had to pay. We decided that seeing as we still had to get off the bus at the Brazilian immigration after we had crossed the river, we would walk the 500m bridge of no man's land to cross the border and catch a bus in Brazil. We cleared the Brazilian immigration and flagged down a bus. It turned out this bus was a Brazilian company as opposed to the Paraguayan company we had started with; however they were more than happy to accept the tickets.

We were not looking forward to having to do it all again the following day when we crossed into Argentina.

Itaipu Dam

In the afternoon we visited the Itaipu dam, which is situated on the Paraná river and forms the border between Paraguay and Brazil. This dam generates 75% of all Paraguay's electricity and still leaves 90% of the supply for Brazil. Itaipu is a binational company and you could tell our guide loved this with endless binational jokes. The tour begins with a 30 minute brainwashing video about how amazing the Itaipu dam is, forgetting to mention any negative consequences which have come from its construction. Afterwards you're driven around the site and it is explained how they use the water to generate electricity. The dam is 200m high. It is unbelievably big. All the equipment they use to generate the hydroelectric power is completely oversized. The turbine hall is a kilometer long and each turbine has a diameter of about 25m. It was really fascinating to see something so different. For this tour, you have to wear a hard hat. For part of it, you are within the working dam; part of the tour takes you through the offices, where you still have to wear the hard hat, to the amusement of the workers.

After the dam tour, we found an all-you-can-eat churrascaria for £8. These are found all over Brazil and for your £8 you get a pretty decent self serve buffet of rices, pastas, salads and a couple of mains. This is not why you go though; the staff continually come round with various different meats on skewers and cut you a piece off. We must have had about 10 pieces of meat. And it was decent meat as well. I think we could be visiting a few over these over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday 25th September - Iguassu Falls, Brazil and border hop number two: Brazil - Argentina

We got up early to go to Iguassu Falls in the hope that we would beat the crowds. Although it was busy at the entry gate and on the bus which takes you around the national park, the bus nearly emptied as people decided to do the visitor centre first. This meant that at the Falls, there were only about 15 of us. The waterfalls were magnificent and well deserved of their title of one of the 7 wonders of the world. That are high, loud and powerful along some distance. They were beautiful. The speed at which the water travels was unbelievable. I am so glad we have seen the Falls as these are definitely something anyone who gets the chance should go to see.

Next door to the national park is a bird park which we decided to visit, not really expecting much. We ended up spending over 2 hours there and have never seen such a vast range of birds. There were a few walk through aviaries, including one with some very impressive toucans. Their beaks look so fake and stuck on the front. They posed very nicely for photos.

Afterwards, we collected our rucksacks from the hostel and crossed the border into Argentina, which was fortunately a lot more civilised than attempting to cross over from Paraguay with only one easy bus change. And back to understanding when you're being spoken to and what is written down. For Chris though, it's all in 'foreign' but at least he's 'got his translator back', which coincidentally was the first reason he listed for not wanting to travel alone. Nice to be valued by your husband.

Thursday 26th September - Iguassu Falls - Argentina and third and final border hop: Argentina - Brazil Enjoying the fact we got our passports back and can therefore re-enter a country.

Once again we got up early to beat the crowds; however this time that was not possible. The Argentinian side of the Falls is reportedly the better side from which to view them and is a lot more accessible with the majority of the route being completely flat. We personally preferred the Brazilian side as you can see the Falls as a whole and get an idea of the magnitude. With the Argentinian side, you are right on top of them and so you can only really see that section of the waterfall. The wildlife is probably better on the Argentinian side with more colourful and exotic birds, as well as a few different smaller breeds of toucan.

We also went on a speed boat ride up to the waterfalls and under 3 of them. It was worth seeing the Falls from water level and looking up at them.

That evening, we made our final trip over the border back to Brazil and went out for dinner. Over dinner, we began to notice the number of very attractive and natural women, to which Chris commented that we were going to need to tie his mouth shut. I didn't get this at first so questioned him. His response was so they can't tell I'm gawping at them and demonstrated his open-mouthed, transfixed expression. Hmm....

Itaipu Dam brainwash part two

Included in the price of our dam tour, were 'free' tickets to their eco-museum which showed more reasons why the Itaipu dam was so brilliant. It was a strange museum with a few unrelated themes, and only English or Spanish translations in the first couple of sections meaning we were really not too sure what was going on in most of the museum or what relevance it had to the construction of the dam. I mean one section was a dirty cartoon comic strip competition.

After a late lunch/early dinner, we caught the 16 hour night bus to Sao Paulo, where the temperature is in the 30s. I can't wait!

Posted by Roaming Rolts 08:23 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls river puerto dam border passport iguassu foz itaipu Comments (0)

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