27th Dec 2011 - 13th Jan 2012
Paraty, Ilha Grande and our final stop in South America, Rio de Janeiro
Happy New Year to everyone! Sorry we’ve been a little quiet, this is mainly due to poor internet connection and then the laptop having a small meltdown. You may remember we had a long journey to Paraty that required multiple bus changes. Was it worth it? Well yes, and no. Paraty is lovely with lots of small cobbled streets lined with colonial buildings. There is no traffic in the historic centre which makes for lots of lovely late night strolls past the bars and cafes that spill out onto the cobblestones and the sweet carts have delicious treats – my favourite was the condensed milk and coconut. So far so good but on the down side there isn’t much to do when it rains and the beaches near to town are a bit polluted – a lot of fish bits and heads from the restaurants. The Brazilians make up most of the tourist population here and they go to the beach in the rain regardless but we thought this was a bit of a party pooper. We had also foolishly forgotten how we dislike dorms and had booked ourselves into a tiny 8 bed dorm (with snorers) so we had nowhere to spend our two days and ended up splurging on Havaianas to give ourselves the feel good Brazil factor. We were only in Paraty for two full days and spent these exploring the city centre and the old fort and some of the nearby beaches. We also discovered our favourite ice lolly, the Icegurt, a frozen yogurt stick a bit like a popsicle, cheap as chips at 50 cents each. This was also the site of our first foray into the caipiriniha and caipiroshka mixes. A huge litre bottle of 51, apparently the best Cachaca for making them, is only £2 in the supermarket. Paraty was also the site of my final menu translation error, this time taking the form of ordering dessert as a starter. Intending to order Acai juice I accidentally ordered a strange muesli version which the waiter brought before our pizza, dessert for a starter, hell yes.
From Paraty we made our way to Abraao to take the ferry to Ilha Grande. The book of lies always makes the journeys sound easy but in fact when you’re carrying a weighty backpacks with you and you don’t speak the language it’s more tricky. We eventually found the main ferry to Ilha Grande down what looked to be a back alley behind the main port and it was with much broken Spanguese and hand gestures that we figured out what the plan was. Stocked with New Year Eve supplies we boarded the ferry along with most of the supplies for Ilha Grande it seemed. The island is a national park and so nothing is allowed to be cultivated there other than what occurs naturally, namely coconuts. Our hostel was very sweet and run by a German/Portuguese couple and their son, who spoke perfect English, yippee. Definitely the best breakfast of the trip with lots of fresh fruit and cake on offer. Sadly our English weather was still plaguing us and it rained for the first three days we were there. Not to be deterred this time we took one of the many trails out to the beach called Lopes Mendes stopping at a few beaches along the way for a cool off. The island was very humid and we were very sticky by the time we reached the beach but the view was lovely even on an overcast day and I still managed to get a granny tan – bright red chest and neck area. The next day was New Year’s Eve and rain was order of the day but this didn’t put much of dampener on things as Brazilians love NY and partied on in the rain with a live band and dancing in the main square right by the beach. B and I quickly realised the rain ponchos were not the order of the day and luckily the rain stopped long enough for us to show we’d also worn white in celebration of New Year and fortified with our litre bottle of passion fruit caipirinha we saw in the New Year in style with fireworks from the beach.
Finally the rain cleared for three lovely days which we spent on various beaches around the island. Most you can trek out to in the morning and catch a taxi boat back in the afternoon, if you’re too tired to make the walk back. So we’ve not much to report really other than that we spent a lot of time drinking coconut milk and beers on the beach and sunning ourselves. We also had some lovely food, the fish stew called Moqueca is really good. You can have it with fish or prawns or a whole seafood mix, yum. It’s a lovely place but don’t expect it to be cheap, it’s as expensive as the UK.
After a relaxing week in one place it was on to our final stop in South America, Rio de Janeiro and the hectic whirl that comes with capital cities. I was nervous about Rio and before we even properly reached the city, we had bad experience. We booked a ‘fast transfer’ to Rio which was supposed to take you door to door in three hours. It actually took us over 5 hours in the end. We managed the switch from boat to mini bus we thought successfully but as it turned out they didn’t know who was in each bus and had a bunch of people on the wrong bus. Our driver it turns out didn’t know Rio very well and couldn’t even find Copacabana beach. We had to direct him using the map in the guide book and eventually he got so frustrated he pulled up at a petrol station and told us to get a taxi. This was about 11pm at petrol station in the middle of nowhere in Rio. You can imagine our protestations but the driver didn’t give a hoot and bundled us into the sleepy taxi driver’s cab anyway. Then the taxi driver had to stop and ask directions and when he finally got the road he wouldn’t drive up the hill as it was too steep. There was no sign of the hostel and we began to get really nervous – stuck in the middle of an unknown neighbourhood, with our backpacks in the middle of the night in a city known for violent gun crime – super. Then a door opened and a small old man said in unintelligible English, you looking for Rio Backpackers? Relief doesn’t describe the feeling.
After a less than fabulous start, the second day more than made up for it as we headed to Copacabana beach. Blue skies, fantastic scenery, a packed beach with beers, cocnuts, vendors of every description and the obligatory tiny, tiny bikinis. A note on the bikinis, they are tiny, so tiny you can see why they need the Brazilian wax but for all those hopeful men out there, beware, the majority of the owners of said bikinis are not tall, tanned, young and lovely, oh contraire, never have I seen so much wobbly bottom in a public place. We spent the next couple of days exploring the beaches, soaking up the caipirinhas, coco water, Icegurts and the sun. Ipanema is a bit classier than Copacabana but both are very scenic. We went to visit Garota de Ipanema the place where the song was written and were going to have a drink but the queue was long so we skipped on. The next couple of days we spent visiting the Pao de Azucar (sugar load mountain) and the Corcovado/Cristo Redentor statue, both were picturesque with awesome views of the city. On our last day we returned to the beach and spent the day relaxing before an indulgent meal of rice, beans, steak and farofa in the evening.
We loved Rio with its relaxed, fun atmosphere and apart from the first night we didn’t really feel unsafe. A lovely way to end our South American odyssey and even though we’re sad that the trip is over now, we’re pleased to be going somewhere where we don’t have to rely on my linguistic interpretations or figure out any seemingly illogical processes.
Our flight was at 6am so we didn’t catch much sleep before we set off for the airport, with the usual shenanigans of wrong terminals and no record of taxis booked. We had a long, long day flying from Rio to Lima, from Lima to El Salvador, from El Salvador to Los Angeles and we’re now installed in the most typical American motel style Travelodge outside the airport before our next flight to Fiji tomorrow. Rain predicted – everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you!