22nd Sep 2009 - 12th Nov 2009
Ouro Preto to Buzios, Brazil
Dragging ourselves away from the beaches by what's left of our hair, we took a winding, stomach-testing bus to the wealthiest and grandest of all the gold towns in the Minas Gerais region, Ouro Preto. With an undulating skyline peaked with church spires at various points, this steep town dating back to 1711 definitely had us gasping and panting like rabid dogs in the hot sun, as we navigated the twists and turns of its winding streets and the countless breathtaking viewpoints. Some of the churches here had gilt interiors, ostentatiously lauding its status as Brazil's most important gold mining centre. It was a far different Brazil from that of the coast and as the horses and carts reluctantly dredged uphill it seemed a million miles from the trendy, sushi-eating Cariocas of Rio.
Back on the coast, we revisited Paraty and spent a few days in nearby Trindade, which had the kind of undeveloped charm and appeal that we love, it reminded us of remote beaches in Thailand, with impromptu parties, natural pools and deserted beaches, plus plenty of Acai vendors to keep fuelling Dom's newest food addiction. Our hostel host George was brilliant and took us to some great natural spots, like the 'rock that swallows' a racily-named natural part-underground water slide. Our few days here could have easily turned into more.
Our trip then took an unexpected turn when we had to return home to the sad news that Lucy, Darryl's fiance had passed away suddenly. We were both so unbelievably shocked that it all felt such a blur, but one day we were in Paraty and the following evening taking off for Heathrow. The next month was difficult and a sad, sad time for everyone. We found it tough flying back out to resume our trip too, but it definitely made us feel grateful for the time we have left and we vowed to throw ourselves into everything for the remaining few months.
Back in Rio, we did just that and first off experienced the sights, sound and passion of Brazilian football, hardly our sport of choice but the Brazilians know how to create an electric atmosphere. The huge Maracana stadium erupted in fireworks, flags, firecrackers and the mighty roar of Flamengo supporters every few minutes. How perception-challenging to have a 'no beer' policy inside the stadium too - all that energy on the terraces and no beer?!!
Our next ventures were taking the cable car to the beautiful Sugar Loaf mountain and hang gliding over Rio, the latter of which proved to be a big test of my ballsiness (even after volcano boarding, paragliding, cycling the Death Road and mining!). It was only when we arrived at the summit and saw the departure point, like a platform disappearing into oblivion from which we had to jump, that I panicked and started sweating profusely into my extremely thermal jumpsuit, all at a scorching 40oc of course. Fearlessness eventually triumphed over cowardice as I took to the skies and glided for 15mins over the beautiful beaches of Sao Conrado, with views of Rio's coiling landscape to my left, before landing on the sands below.
The paradise island of Ilha Grande (pronounced 'ee-la gran-jee') was our next stop, but not before what is surely the WORST driving experience of our lives. Our ´private transfer,´ despite conjuring images of unlimited chilled drinks, seatback DVD and A/C, consisted of a sweaty, potty-mouthed Brasileiro who insisted on using all 5 lanes of the motorway at varying speeds, weaving between cars, creating EXTRA lanes to squeeze between official lanes. All at 120 km/h, naturally. This guy not only had his 2 yr old daughter in the back with no seatbelt on, he was also tailgating at the same speed, and on several occasions we clipped the car in front, still at 120km/h... oh, and my seatbelt was also broken, probably where a previous passenger had been rudely ejected (hopefully not!). At one point we were reminded by a fellow Israeli passenger that Brazil has the worst RTA record of any country, which quickly erased any tan we had on our faces. Luckily, we emerged unscathed and despite venting our anger on the driver, we were given ´welcome to Brazil´ style shrugging! Tsk...
Finally arriving in one piece on the Ilha, we were lucky enough to enjoy perfect weather here too, where we saw some of the finest beaches in Brazil so far. Lopes Mendes beach was wide and unhurried with perfectly turquoise waters and squeaky, powdery sand, perfect for a swim after the two hour trek to reach it. We met some livewire Brit' girls and spent some fun caipirinha-guzzling time with them, followed by the unavoidable hung over day of groaning and struggling in the island heat. The island was brilliantly laid-back, with just a few vehicles on the whole island and sandy tracks leading to peaceful pousadas, and it was around this time that we realised that Brazil, more than any other country on our trip, had captivated us with its beguiling cocktail of beautiful people, amazing beaches, stunning architecture, varied cuisine and... beguiling cocktails! It is a mesmeric country full of exciting twists and turns and we are now completely and utterlly at its mercy.
Our last stop in the South was famously visited by Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s when it was little more than a picturesque colonial fishing village and Buzios has since transformed into a chic resort with the sophisticated air of St Tropez. Superclubs Pacha and Privilege sit along the waterfront alongside next to stylish boutiques and we fitted into the posh life again like rats crawling down a drainpipe! Momentarily erasing the budget from the memory, we ate in some snazzy restaurants and generally mooched our way around the town in our one token decent shirt (crumpled from the backpack to complete that debonair look). Tonight, as we sit watching the fishing boats punctuate the horizon with the customary caipirinha in hand, I know for sure that we both have in the forefront of our minds our path further up the coast tomorrow, where the vibrant state of Bahia and its Afro-Brazilian heritage are sure to surprise us even more in this spellbinding country... Eu amo o Brasil!