Our first three weeks in Brazil were a whirlwind! After crossing the border from Argentina to Brazil at Iguazu Falls, we entered into Foz do Iguaçu. Visiting the world’s largest waterfall from both sides (Argentina and Brazil) was well worth the effort because it absolutely stunned. And yes, we did think it was way prettier from the Brazilian side! From Foz, we made our way to Bonito. Highlights here included snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of Rio da Prata and abseiling and SCUBA diving the Anhumas Abyss. After Bonito, we drove into the Pantanal, where we spent 3 days celebrating Christmas with a wide variety of wildlife, good food, and loads of activities. The follow on stop was the picturesque town of Paraty, which is a cobblestone gem that boasts gorgeous offshore islands. Next up was Rio de Janeiro, where we kicked off New Year’s in style at Copacabana Beach! What a way to ring in 2020 with a bang. While in Rio, we also did the more traditional touristy stuff (Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer, Selaron Steps, Favela tour) and we managed to squeeze in a hang gliding session over Rio! From Rio, we made our way to Teresopolis where we hiked to the Finger of God, and then we hopped over to Ouro Preto, a gorgeous colonial mining town. Here we spent hours walking the cobblestone streets and were wowed by the numerous churches and colonial buildings. Brazil has certainly impressed thus far and we are just getting started. Coming up will be the beaches of Bahia province as we head into a well deserved “beach week” and take it easy for the first time since this trip started.
16 Dec – Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil
Getting stamped into Brazil was equally easy but we all commented on how ugly the Brazilian entry stamp is. It was a short drive to our hostel for the next 3 nights, Paudimar Cataratas hotel. We were told to group up into 7 people and we quickly joined Jason/Hanna, Mitch/Em, Tom/Giles and then Danny reiterated we were supposed to be a group of 7 per room so I quickly booted Giles out of our group. Pretty cutthroat move that got me some boos but he is the loudest snorer! A group was heading to the mall to exchange money into Real so we gave Sean our leftover Argentinean Pesos to exchange for us while we unpacked, set up our room, showered and relaxed. Dinner was included tonight, an all you can eat buffet at 7:30 pm. Most of the group was in the bar getting drunk on the strong caipirinhas and Cuba libres. Danny warned us to get in line for dinner early because there were 150 other guests staying here and we would be fighting with them if we showed up late. Dinner was tasty…spaghetti bolognese, chicken, rice, salads and pudding for dessert. We loaded up our plates twice and waddled back to the room after. Jason and Tom came back to the room in hysterics around 10 pm, giggling at Hanna trying to shush them. We slept comfortably tonight with our AC on full blast.
17 Dec – Foz do Iguaçu – Ciudad del Este, Paraguay
We slept in until 7 since Danny had arranged pickup at 8 and we wanted to stuff ourselves with free breakfast before our day trip to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. The same bus driver from yesterday, Cheto, was there to pick us up. First stop was Supermercado Muffato where we withdrew 1000 Real each from the ATM. Danny only wanted to go to the supermarket so he left us and we sat in horrendous traffic to reach the bridge, Ponte da Amizade, which linked Brazil to Paraguay. We just drove straight through, no customs, no paperwork, no fuss. Once in Ciudad del Este, Cheto dropped us off in front of an electronic shop that belonged to one of his friends. We quickly checked out what they had to offer and made a beeline for the first store, Casa Nissei. Nice store, helpful staff but we quickly found out that shopping online at Amazon back home would get us better deals. Too bad because we were keen on buying a GoPro, a tablet, and a few electronic accessories. So we led the group onward to Mega Electronicos, Monalisa, and Cell Shop before realizing that the supposed 30 to 50% off deals were nonexistent. So we just wandered around with Mitch and Emily and ran into Jason and Hanna at Burger King. After eating, we walked to a nearby supermarket and then to Chiang Kai Shek Park before boarding the bus early at 13:40. We were missing 6 people so Cheto decided to circle around a full loop which took 30 minutes. Driving back to Brazil at 2 pm was a colossal mistake…the traffic was horrendous and it took us 3 hours to cross over the bridge. Cheto stopped to let us shop at the supermarket and earned himself a tip from everyone in the process. Such a nice guy! Back at the hostel, we had time for a quick dip in the pool, followed by a cocktail and then dinner at the kitchen. We prepared steak and salad using Spongebob’s cutlery because the kitchen wasn’t well stocked. After dinner we watched the rest of Bohemian Rhapsody which was an excellent movie. Everyone was in bed by 10:30 except for Tom who went out for all you can eat sushi.
18 Dec – Foz do Iguaçu
We slept in a bit which we later realized was a colossal mistake because it had a butterfly effect on the rest of our day. Breakfast at 7:45 meant that we tried to catch the 8:30 shuttle which supposedly ran every 20 minutes. At 9:15, the bus finally arrived which got us to the Iguacu main complex at 10. Then an excruciating wait in Disneyland type lines where we had to queue for tickets (1 hour) and then queue for the bus (90 minutes). Thankfully there was decent free WiFi so I got to set up an Instagram account and watch the 30 minute YouTube video summary of all the Star Wars movies to date. By 12:30 pm, we were finally on a bus for the 12 km shuttle to the falls. Today was the perfect day, weather wise. The sun was out, the skies were blue and fluffy white clouds were all around. And the crowds were full on. But it was spectacular…almost worth the painful wait. Seeing the falls from the Brazilian side gave us an appreciation for what we had seen on the Argentinean side in terms of scale and size. Walking into the Devil’s throat was unforgettable despite the crowds. We had contemplated visiting the bird park afterwards but were hot and tired from the heat so we waited with Giles, Tom and Ivan for a bus back to camp. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long for the onward ride back to Paudimar where we rested in the room. The AC was turned off but Robby managed to find a way to turn it back on. At 6 we finally took a break for dinner and then worked on our admin stuff until 10. Sean managed to call an Uber for himself, Tom, Giles and Ivan while we ordered one for ourselves and Mitch. At the mall, some of the stores were still open until 11 pm so we did a bit of shopping (snacks for the movie) and then hung out with everyone until it was time to queue for popcorn/drinks and the movie. Star Wars – the rise of the starwalker started just after midnight and about 5 minutes in, VIP guests arrived and they started the movie all over again! It was OK…die hard fans were not happy with so much crammed into the final film of the trilogy but we thought it was good entertainment for $6. After the show, we caught a ride back with Mark (Oasis manager who was here for a few days to oversee maintenance on Spongebob), Izzy and Brad. Everyone else caught taxis and we arrived back at the same time as them. It was 3 am by the time we finally got some sleep. Thankfully tomorrow is a drive day.
19 Dec – Foz do Iguaçu – Dourados
4 hours of sleep didn’t feel like enough but we had to get up at 7 to have time to finish packing, eat breakfast and help fill jerry cans. Mark came over to say goodbye and we were on the road shortly after 8:30. First stop was the supermarket, Super Muffato, so that cook group could do shopping. We bought havaianas flip flops and grapes for lunch and Robby got his Secret Santa present sorted out. It was a long drive day but luckily not too hot. I even managed a brief nap on the beach. Lunch was on our own so we finished our cheese, salami and crackers. Alli donated her cherry tomatoes which were tasty. Our grapes were very good and cheap, 500 grams for $1.25. I started reading “Marching Powder” which is a true story about the infamous San Pedro prison in La Paz, more specifically about its most famous prisoner Thomas McFadden. It rained and thundered in the afternoon and red mud was stuck to vehicles everywhere. The time shifted back an hour as we drove further north. We drove until 7 when we pulled into the lovely house of the Rocha family. Our amazing hostess, Gabi, welcomed us open armed to her home for free. What a gorgeous campsite…phenomenal people abound all around the world. Cook group made a yummy bangers and mash for dinner and we stayed up using the great WiFi.
20 Dec – Dourados – Bonito
We managed to get all our stuff loaded onto the truck and the tent packed away before breakfast. Which meant we had tons of time to soak up the last bit of WiFi before leaving. We thanked Gabi and took a photo of her with Spongebob, Will, Danny and Nick. Then it was a few hours drive to Bonito. We pulled into the Bonito HI hostel and set up our tent before having truck lunch (ham and cheese wraps). Sidney, the hostel host, gave us a briefing on what to expect for our upcoming activities and we were told to report to Abismo for abseil training this afternoon at 5:30. That gave us a few hours to lounge in the pool and finish a book before we joined Jeremy and Rebeca to the abseil shop. We had to get harnessed and pull ourselves up to the top of a 15 meter platform before abseiling back down. Then we went over to the SCUBA shop to get outfitted with a wetsuit and booties and prove our SCUBA certification. Dinner was at Juanita restaurant where we ordered grilled Paco to split with Rebeca. It was delicious and an excellent meal. After dinner, I bought a bikini and we jumped into the pool as soon as we got back. Then it was bedtime by 11. What a long day!
21 Dec – Bonito
Ants were in our tent during the night but we didn’t realize the extent of the infestation until the morning…they were everywhere! So no sleep in for us. Instead, we got up and moved our tent a few feet away from the tree. Fingers crossed that will make a difference. Breakfast at the hostel was good – boiled eggs, fruit, bread with spreads, hot dogs, juice, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. We did hand wash laundry and were ready to go before our departure time of 10. Because a bridge was out, we had to drive double the normal distance to reach Rio da Prata. After signing in, we had a full on Brazilian lunch buffet and we really pigged out. It was nice to have a wide variety of dishes to try. We were in the first group which left at 1. First we met our guide who had us put on wetsuits and booties. Then we hopped in a truck for a short ride to the starting point of our hike through the woods to reach the launchpad. All groups are staggered every 30 minutes, but the group ahead of us was pretty slow so we killed some time by practicing how to leisurely float and maneuver without making loud noises. Then we made our way down the Rio da Prata. Lots of fish, the water was clear (40 meters visibility) and despite the rain, it was very picturesque. A bit like floating in an aquarium. Our guide told us he had recently seen an anaconda eating a capybara but we were not so lucky. But it was a fun day and we enjoyed it. Back at the main complex, we had hot water showers and Tom and I decided to stalk birds. We were hoping to see the macaws again but no such luck. As we were leaving, I ran into our guide and he showed us the anaconda video…pretty epic! He gave us a copy of a different anaconda video because he had promised not to give out the one eating a capybara. It was 5 when we finally left and we had a 2 hour drive back to Bonito. Back at the campsite, we discovered that 2 massive campervans were parked in Spongebob’s space. But Will managed to squeeze into the tiny space and all was good. I paid for today’s activities and verified the taxi for tomorrow morning. Lazy night tonight watching tv and relaxing.
22 Dec – Bonito
What a fabulous day! Up early for our abseil & SCUBA adventure and the hostel set up an early breakfast for us. Our taxi driver arrived on time to take us to Anhumas Abyss and we got there before 7:30. A group of 3 (2 Brazilians and 1 Spaniard) were geared up already so they descended down first. Even though we had practiced abseiling down on our own, we were partnered up and had to interlock our legs together as we went down 70 meters together. Down in the sinkhole, we were mesmerized. Good thing the group is kept small, as we had the place to ourselves. I had to rent an adapter for my Gopro to mount on the helmet for 30 Reals which was expensive but unavoidable. Once everyone was down, we went for a boat ride around the lake. Our guide explained that the world’s tallest underwater stalagmite cone was here and we would dive next to it. Tours have only been available here since 1999, and the number of visitors is kept to groups of 7. We were the only group today which was awesome. SCUBA diving was up next and we got geared up. Our dive master took photos and videos of us and we were impressed with the cone formations. It was absolutely magical to dive next to them. An anteater had the misfortune to stumble down the sinkhole and drown and we got to see its skeleton remains. And then the best part of the morning happened…the sun came out and lit up the cavern with this turquoise luminescent hue. Our dive master got excited and wanted to take our photo but then we lost the light. Apparently, sunlight only reaches the sinkhole in December and January so there is only a small window of opportunity to capture the ray of light. Back up at the surface, we changed to dry clothes and took photos of the beautiful light. The camera couldn’t quite capture the beauty of what we were seeing and we were in awe. Then the best part…we were lifted up out of the cave! I had been dreading the thought of lifting myself up 70 meters and apparently 2 weeks ago, the company decided to streamline the process and help pull visitors out of the sinkhole. So it was easy in and easy out. Much easier than our training! We were back in town by noon and had a siesta at the hostel for a few hours. Then we walked back into town with Jeremy and Rebeca to look at the video and photos. I mistakenly thought they would be free but we chipped in 150 Reals to buy the photos and then I bought a tshirt as well. Then a visit to the havaianas store where we stocked up on 4 more pairs of flip flops (2 each). They are too cheap here! We ran into Danny and Amanda drinking and joined them for a refreshing beverage. Rebeca introduced me to a limonada suiza, which was a lemon juice mixed with condensed milk…delicious! We ordered a fried fish appetizer which tied us over until dinner back at Juanita at 6:30. Rebeca and I went dress shopping and I got a reversible dress for 150 Reals and she got a knockout dress for 190 Reals. I tried to give her 50 Reals as an early Christmas present to help her buy the dress but she refused. Dinner at Juanita was delicious but I was absolutely stuffed and Robby had to help me finish it. We crashed hard after dinner but did manage to squeeze in a shower first. Amazing day and both of us plus Jeremy agreed that even though it was a hell of a lot of money, the excursion was well worth it.
23 Dec – Bonito – Patanal
We loaded up on the free breakfast before our long drive morning to the Pantanal. I scored a back window seat next to Amanda which was breezy but bumpy as hell. Horrible for my back, especially as Nick zoomed over bumps. Wildlife started to appear the further north we drove, plus hordes of mosquitoes. By lunch time, we pulled into Pousada Santa Clara where we were stunned to discover loads of hyacinth and red and green macaws. Beautiful! Lunch was an all you can eat buffet with beans and rice being the tastiest dish. We were given our upgraded room (dorm with AC and fan for 150 Reals each) and ended up with Amanda and Alli. Everyone is super mad at Futoshi. That fucker has refused to pay for an upgrade and put Danny in a horrible position because the staff refuses to allow him to stay by himself at the basic hammock only accommodation. So Danny decided to use local payment to upgrade Futoshi for free and people aren’t having it. We relaxed until the piranha fishing at 3:30 and it was still hella hot when we went. Mosquitoes bit us despite the DEET and I had no luck catching any fish. Robby caught 3 small piranhas which he released and Tom, Jeremy and Mitch caught fish for the kitchen to cook for dinner. Just before dinner, a herd of peccary pigs came over and I got to play with a friendly one that enjoyed an ear and chin scratch. Dinner was another buffet and it was good. Tiny sweet mangoes for dessert and we went back to the room immediately after dinner to avoid getting eaten alive. A cold water shower was the perfect way to cool down for bed. It is great only having 2 other roommates because everyone else upgraded!
24 Dec – Pantanal
Early breakfast at 6:30 so we could chow down before our 7:30 walk with Pedro. The group had to be split into 2 (hiking vs horse back riding) and we opted to walk today and ride tomorrow. Jason, Hanna, Tom, Giles, Mitch, Em, Rob, Lisa, Keith, and Futoshi joined the hiking group, but Mitch and Em opted out of the hike because Em couldn’t deal with the bugs. In retrospect, she was a freaking genius! It was a hot, sweaty and buggy affair. Mosquitoes attacked us in droves and Robby came up with the idea of swatting ourselves with a leafy branch (like a horse’s tail). We did see a porcupine in a tree, and at the very end, Pedro pointed out a few hyacinth macaws on a palm tree near his house. Other than that, no other highlights. Pedro explained that 3 months ago, a farmer had slashed and burned his property, but the fire got way out of control and spread rapidly. All around us, we were walking on new growth, hence the lack of animals. The ones who escaped the fire have yet to move back, and there is a scarcity of wildlife as a result. We had a nice shower and siesta before lunch. Since there was a 10 hour gap between lunch and dinner, we stuffed ourselves silly with rice and beans during lunch. Then another siesta until 3 pm, when 18 of us (everyone except Jason, Hanna, Alli and Keith) crammed into a jeep for the afternoon safari. This consisted of an hour drive (howler monkeys, capybaras, caiman, toucans, a marsh deer, and all sorts of other birds were spotted). Then we had an hour hike through the woods. Again, mosquitoes attacked us and it was hot and sweaty. We did spot a baby toucan (that was still learning to fly) and its mom hovering protectively overhead. And a family of howler monkeys high up in the trees. So the excursion was worthwhile. Then on the drive back to the pousada, the sun had set and the spotlight came out. The caimans’ eyes lit up in the light and a sleeping pair of toucans was discovered up in the tree. Sadly no jaguar! Back at the ranch, we retreated to our rooms for another shower and got ready for Christmas eve dinner. Alli made me a cranberry vodka cocktail, and we listened to Christmas music. Everyone else was outside getting tore up by the bugs and we were having our own mini-party in our dorm room. The Santa hats were forgotten on Spongebob, so Em, Alli, Lisa and I ran out to retrieve them. When we got back, we discovered all the guests had gathered in the dining area in a large prayer circle to give thanks before our Christmas meal. So we held hands and heard a prayer in Portuguese. Then it was time for hugs, champagne and dinner. The staff put on a feast – roasted pig, caiman cooked in a white sauce in a pumpkin, roasted lamb, roasted chicken, rice and beans, salads and a whole range of puddings and desserts. We ate until we felt sick, and Danny was put to bed early because he had started his party early afternoon. So no Secret Santa today! It will be postponed until tomorrow. I stayed up playing the whisper game with Jeremy, Rebeca, Ivan, Bert, Rob, Lisa, Tom and Amanda. Basically, everyone had to come up with a phrase and whisper it into the person’s ear next to them. The last person to hear the whisper had to say it out loud. Needless to say, we never got the phrase right! In bed by midnight. It was a fun Christmas eve!
25 Dec – Pantanal
Got up for breaky at 6:30 so we could be ready for our boat ride at 7:30. Little did we know but it was the best excursion of the Pantanal so far. First, a short 20 minute ride in a jeep to the Abobral River where we (Robby, Jason, Tom, Giles, Mitch, Em and Futoshi) loaded up onto a boat. Then an hour cruise down the river which was loaded with a ton of birds. Pedro got excited at the one hour mark when he pointed out a family of giant river otters! Wooohooo! I had a list of 2 animals I really wanted to see here (giant river otters and a jaguar) and Santa delivered on half of my request. So super cool to see them and I was shocked at how massive they are. The entire family ganged up together to warn us off, like a territorial gang protecting its territory. Very cool. We turned around and headed back to the Pousada, but everyone was feeling happy. Hot but happy. And thankfully this morning excursion was mosquito free! Back at the pousada, we took cool showers and waited for lunch which were leftovers from last night. Still yummy the second time round. Then it was secret santa time at 12:30. Everyone participated except Futoshi (“I don’t celebrate Christmas”) and Alli, who was lounging in the room. Robby chose a pretty interesting gift (blue hair dye, a can of peaches, soap bubbles that wouldn’t blow) so no one wanted to steal his. I was number 11 so I stole Gile’s present which was a portable speaker set. Thankfully no one stole my present, ha. Tom ended up with Robby’s present (Patagonian beer) and Em got my present of a fan and a coffee mug from Ushuaia. As Mitch jokingly exclaimed, “Yay, the one place we didn’t go to” because they had signed off the truck to visit Antarctica. We relaxed in the room to escape the heat and bugs until 4 pm. But our AC is on the fritz, so it was pumping out warm air. A rain storm did bring us a brief respite, and we stopped the AC and opened up our windows for a bit of fresh air. At 4, we went to ride horses along with Futoshi and Tom. The weather had cooled down a bit and there weren’t many mosquitoes. Pedro had seen an armadillo when he was gathering the horses but we didn’t see it. The ride was nice. I had Zeus who was great. We relaxed in the room while we waited for dinner. The cat walked up to me and started rubbing its head and whiskers all over my foot, over and over again. Very dog like behavior and I’ve never seen a cat do that before. Of course I gave it my leftover lamb. I met the pousada dog while leaving dinner…I wonder where it has been hiding these past few days? We have an early morning tomorrow so off to bed at a decent hour. But first, one last cold water shower!
26 Dec – Pantanal – Três Lagoas Bush camp
Departure at 7:15 so we were up early to load up the truck and have one last breakfast at the pousada. I am sure going to miss the toasty machine. After saying goodbye to Pedro, we were on the truck and everyone had to wait for Keith who was still asleep in his room. Remarkably, he was only 8 minutes late, and he even had time to settle up his bar bill. Jeremy announced that Futoshi didn’t contribute a tip and he was going to address it tonight. On the drive out, we spotted marsh deer and Will stopped for photos. Then a hot drive to Miranda, where the next 2 cook groups shopped at Nacagami supermarket. We had to buy our own lunch and settled on freshly baked rolls with salami and cheese. Will decided to macgyver a solution for the side window to allow air flow. It was a brilliant design and Danny perfected it by creating a new cardboard solution on the other side of the truck. Amazing air flow at the front of the truck now and we are really happy. I saw my first ever giant anteater and tapir on the drive. The anteater was trying to cross the road but got freaked out by the traffic so it darted back to safety. The tapir wasn’t so lucky…it had been hit by a vehicle and laid dying by the side of the road. And there were 2 capybara that had been hit and killed as well. Loads of signs warning to reduce your speed and yet no one was driving cautiously. The poor wildlife here…who knows what else has been killed by reckless drivers lately? There was an afternoon rainstorm and only one pee stop. We obviously aren’t drinking enough water! Monopoly ruled up front and I napped off and on. Bush camp at 6 pm and Mitch spotted a tapir in the distance. It was bigger than expected but darted off into the woods before anyone could take a photo. Tom, Ivan and I went in search of it before setting up our tents but no luck. It felt hot and sweaty tonight…hopefully it cools down during the night. Cook group (Alli, Jeremy, Jason) made a vegetarian curry for dinner tonight. While they were cooking, I chatted with Nico about traveling to Australia. He used to work for an overland company and had lots of great ideas of what to see and do, especially on the west coast. After dinner, Ivan told me why cows are the most dangerous animals he has ever faced and his death defying adventure in India where an evil man tried to burn him alive. I sure hope he translates his Croatian autobiography into English because it would be fascinating to read.
27 Dec – Três Lagoas Bush camp – Massaguaçu
A long boring hot drive day. Breakfast was scheduled for 6 am but everyone was up and rustling about at 5 am so it was impossible to sleep in. Plus gnats had invaded our tent and were relentlessly attacking us. Breakfast was fruit and bread with dulce de leche. Then we hit the road, covering a lot of ground today as we made our way to Paraty. Lunch was leftovers from dinner last night. We knew about it ahead of time so we had bought salami flavored chips and a tub of ice cream instead. At 5 pm, Will (he was riding in the back while Nico was driving) told us that we could vote on continuing on towards the beach, getting us closer to Paraty. The only catch was we would drive until 9 pm. Everyone was happy for that option and we continued on driving. Jeremy was visiting a friend at Sao Paulo so we dropped him off at Campinas to catch an Uber there. Meanwhile, the rest of us ordered dinner from Frango Assado. We got the churrasco combo meal which was tasty. Then back on the truck for another marathon drive toward the beach north of Caraguatatuba. It was 10:30 pm by the time we reached our destination (Camping Shaddai) and our tents were up by 11. A quick shower later and we were in bed before 11:30. Can’t wait until we finally get to Paraty tomorrow!
28 Dec – Massaguaçu – Paraty
We slept great and had no problem getting up before 7 to pack up, eat breakfast and be on the road before 8. Traffic was horrendous, just as Danny had predicted. We covered 15 km in the first hour with touch and go traffic. But things slowly picked up and we were in Paraty just before 1 pm. To our immense surprise, Leo was here! Yay, such a nice surprise reunion. We had to do a modified truck clean (lockers and overheads). First we had to figure out our tent situation. We moved it from one side of camp to another but were happy with its placement in the end. Then we scrubbed our tent clean and took everything out of our locker. After sweeping and mopping it, we rearranged our stuff and were done by 2:30. Now we had free time to explore. Paraty is a gorgeous town and we enjoyed its cobblestone streets. We visited at high tide and water was rising rapidly in sections of the town. Dozens of photos later, we felt that we had explored enough for the afternoon. I bought some light weight shorts, turtle stud earrings, and a snorkel set. Back at the campsite, we did a load of laundry (hand wash) and I barely squeezed in a shower before our BBQ dinner was ready. Rebeca, Keith, Futoshi and Brad made a spaghetti carbonara meal to accompany the sausages and it was delicious. After dinner, our second trivia night was hosted by Izzy. I was teamed up with Amanda and Rob and our team name was “If we win, ya’ll have to get waxed”. After 3 rounds, we emerged the victors and won a bottle of vodka. A bunch of us walked into town after for live music afterwards and I had a tasty pina colada. Party in Paraty but we ditched the late night revelers and were in our tent before midnight.
29 Dec – Paraty
Today was such a fun day. We wanted to wander around Paraty without all the crowds so we left a hour and a half earlier than everyone else who was just doing the boat trip. Paraty is so pretty but the cobblestone streets are horrible for ankles. At 10:30, we had to hustle to find our boat, the Netuno II. Thankfully, the rest of the gang was already there because they had reserved the best seats under the shady middle section where we could lounge out. We squeezed in next to Amanda and Giles and started drinking straight away. Good thing we brought our own rum because cocktails were stupid expensive. All we had to do was buy cold cokes and we were set. The first stop was Praia Vermelha where we took a group photo on the rock. Then Danny & Leo challenged everyone to chicken fights and were undefeated champions. Leo is crazy strong and managed to stick on Danny’s shoulders. Someone spotted a rope swing but the tide was too low to safely swing and avoid the rocks. We met two lovely Brazilian girls who were having fun and they vowed to find us on the boat to do shots of whiskey. We kept trying to find single guys for one of the girls but that was unsuccessful. Will and Nico got told off by the captain for returning late. Our second stop was Ilha Comprida which was a snorkel stop. There were some fish but we weren’t that impressed. When we heard that it was Mitch’s first time snorkeling, we lent Emily our mask so they could snorkel together. Back on the boat, we drank until the third stop, Lagoa Azul. After a quick snorkel to determine there were no fish, we hopped back on the boat to have lunch. But first Robby was ripping off everyone’s swimmers as they climbed the ladder up to the boat. A local lady told him off because there were children on board, while the rest of us were in hysterics. Lunch was served and our grilled fish was just ok. The last stop of the day was Praia da Lula where we had more chicken fights (Danny and Leo retired undefeated) and we did a beach pyramid. Everyone had a great time on board and we were sad to arrive back to Paraty. We had a few things we wanted to buy so a quick shopping excursion where we got sunnies and shorts for Robby and I picked up a tank top, summer dress, and shorts. We had 30 minutes to shower and do laundry before linking up with the group for dinner at Thai Paraty. The pork pad thai was delicious but pricey at 51 Reals each. We enjoyed our conversation with Ivan, Amanda & Tom and will be sad when Ivan, Giles, Tom, Mitch, Emily, Jason, Hanna, Sean, Nico, and Rebeca leave us in Rio. It was a loud racket back at the campsite because a nearby restaurant had live music. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t good either. We actually high fived each other when their fuse blew so the speaker system went out but then they carried on with table slapping, cheering, and hollering. No quiet night for us tonight!
30 Dec – Paraty – Rio de Janeiro
Today is the last official day for some people on the truck…boo! No breakfast today as there is a rest stop that we will stop at midway to Rio. We had one final chat session with Jason and Hanna. We are going to miss our seat buddies! Breakfast at the rest stop was ok and there were nice views of the ocean. As we neared Rio, our excitement level grew. Getting off the truck with our bags was a challenge but everyone managed without losing their temper. Since check in wasn’t officially until 2, we stored our bags in room 323 and had free time for a few hours. Mitch, Em and Robby were keen to check out the beach while I wanted a chance to relax in a cafe so I joined Jason and Hanna. The cute cafe was packed so we retreated to McDonald’s where we had a discussion about stocks. Mitch, Em and Robby joined us after a while and by the time lunch was consumed, our room was ready. We spent the afternoon relaxing with AC on our comfy bed. Will came by to dye Robby’s hair with his Secret Santa ecstasy blue semi permanent hair dye. It actually came out looking pretty good but Robby didn’t allow it enough time to set so most of it washed out in the shower. Group dinner at 7 pm was at a pay per KG restaurant (Catete Grill), and it was a nice treat. There was a massive variety of food on offer and you paid per 100 grams. Plus 15% discount if you paid in cash. It was a nice farewell dinner for those leaving us in Rio and a decent welcome meal for Gary, a newcomer from Canada. I was craving McDonald’s ice-cream for dessert but the lines were crazy long so my sweet tooth didn’t get satisfied. Good night’s sleep tonight as our AC was on full blast and our bed was surprisingly comfortable.
31 Dec – Rio de Janeiro
Happy new year! Today was an action packed day. We squeezed into the tiny breakfast room for some fruit, juice, bread roll with ham and cheese while chatting with Sean and Ivan. Apparently Sean’s flight with TAP Portugal got canceled and he was trying to figure out when the new flight would be. Danny canceled his city tour and then found out he was scheduled to fly with Air France. So by the time he tried to rebook with “Be a local” to get Sean back on the city tour, all slots were taken. We said goodbye to him and Nicko (who was flying to Santiago tonight) and loaded onto our van. Joining us today were Brad, Izzy, Jason, Hanna, Bert, Alli, Jeremy, Rebeca plus Gary. Our guide was an older gentleman named Alexander and we liked him as he did his best to make things interesting and informative. First stop of the day was Sugarloaf Mountain. We didn’t know what to expect but our guide quickly sorted out our tickets and had us get in the queue for the cable car up to the first rock dome. We were rushed around for photos and had to board another cable car to the second rock dome Phenomenal views as we rose higher and higher and we had 40 minutes of free time for photos. Rio absolutely stunned from this vantage point…it was gorgeous. We even got to see two marmosets although a hysterical woman tried her best to scare them away as she had a public meltdown with her partner. Our second stop of the day was to the Christ the Redeemer statue. The van was only able to drive up to the Paineiras visitor center where we had to offload and wait for Alex to buy tickets for the shuttle/entrance to the statue. Thankfully the queue went quickly and there were some shady bits to stand under. Up at the Christ the Redeemer statue, we were given another 40 minutes for photos. The place was packed with what felt like hundreds of tourists trying to mimic the Jesus pose. Plus it was hot and crowded, so we tried to take photos as quickly as possible before joining the group back down in the shady snack area. From here, we drove to the Santa Teresa suburb, which has its own artsy, bohemian feel. Very funky section of Rio and we definitely rushed through it because the clock was ticking. The next to last stop was the Cathedral of St. Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro, which looked like a Mayan temple. We briefly took photos before rushing to our last stop of the day, the Selaron steps made of ceramic tile pieces. The artist was from Chile but he fell in love with a girl from Rio who died and this was a tribute he built to the city of his lover. It was crowded and hot and everyone was pretty keen for the tour to end. We tipped Alex and were back to the hotel by 3:30. Just enough time to rush over to the supermarket to get some snacks for our lunch/dinner and a few beverages. Then a cold shower before donning our white tops and we caught an Uber with Jason and Hanna to the meeting point. Danny was super relieved to see us show up…he had been there with Leo since midday and the two of them were exhausted trying to fight for prime real estate as our neighbors kept trying to encroach on our territory. We gave him some relief and rotated meeting the others to escort them to our designated New Year’s eve spot. The beach front got more and more crowded as the day went on. At first we were able to walk freely between the encampments but the crowd grew more hostile as the day went on and they started to become aggressive when anyone tried to approach their turf. Our neighbors had created a make shift toilet in the sand and allowed us to crawl under for a piss. A huge gathering of Oasis friends and family showed up – quite a nice turn out. Giles and Tom’s family (Poppy, Jack and Beth) and 2 work friends showed up, Bert, Alli, Jeremy, Rebeca, Will, Amanda, Ivan, Rob, Lisa, Mitch, Em, Keith and Debbie, Jason, Hanna and the 2 of us. Copious amounts of alcohol were consumed and everyone was still standing by the time the fireworks erupted at midnight. What a fantastic show…fireworks as far as the eye could see and it was absolutely magical. Well worth the effort afterwards of literally pushing, shoving and clawing our way out to the main road while facing belligerent and hostile people who refused to let us cross over their turf. It was a bit intimidating as we pushed our way past hoping not to get punched or slapped in the process! Back on the main road, we caught a glimpse of Jason’s baseball cap so we rushed to join him, Hanna, Jeremy and Rebeca back to our hotel. A taxi driver was willing to take us back for 100 Reals which was a rip off but we were happy to pay it. Back at the hotel, Rebeca went to sleep to prepare for hang gliding while the rest of us grabbed a 1:30 am dinner of KFC. In bed by 2:30 am…what a day to remember!
01 Jan – Rio de Janeiro
Despite not getting to sleep until the early morning hours, I was up before 7 because of the thin curtain allowing the sunlight to stream in. The weather forecast for tomorrow looked dismal and I was afraid our hang gliding would get canceled. So I messaged Rebeca to see if there were still available slots with the company she was using today (JPXFLY) and I wrote Danny letting him know we were concerned that we wouldn’t get to do hang gliding because of the inclement weather scheduled for tomorrow. The company and I were sending WhatsApp messages back and forth and they told me all morning flights had been canceled due to the wind direction, but they asked us to head down to the beach by 10:30 to see if we could get lucky. Danny was cool with us canceling and refunded us the cash that we had given him for the hang gliding through “Be a local”. A 25 minute Uber ride later and we were at Praia do Pepino beach. We had to sit around waiting for the wind direction to change so it was an hour of boredom but at 11:30, everyone started getting busy all of a sudden. Paulo (the owner of the company) introduced us to our guides and had us sign waivers and pay for the mandatory insurance (60 Reals) before we were whisked up to the top of Alto do Voo Livre. My guide, Giovanni, was excellent. He got me equipped, gave me a block of instruction on how to sprint off the platform while keeping my posture correct (staring at the island in the sea, head up, don’t look down and don’t stop running until we start flying). Rebeca flew first, followed by Robby and I was last. What a thrill. I sprinted like crazy and we had lift off, with Giovanni happy that I paid attention to his instructions. The view was magical and I was instructed to stretch my arms out like a bird. There were two GoPros attached to the hang glider (front and side wing) and photos were being taken in 5 second increments. Giovanni even let me fly the hang glider for 20 seconds, which ended up feeling like 20 minutes because the wind shifted and I felt like I would lose control. But we survived, and Sugarloaf mountain was visible in the distance. Rio is hands down one of the best places to do a hang gliding session…I loved it. Back on the ground, Giovanni gave me a copy of my photos, and I paid him directly for my flight. What a brilliant experience and Rebeca, Robby and I were all on cloud 9. Rebeca ordered an Uber for us to take back to the hotel and we changed out of our shoes into flip flops before heading over to McDonald’s for a late lunch. Then back to the room to relax for the afternoon and beat the heat. We have been noticing a strange bug bite since we hit Rio and I initially suspected bed bugs so all our clothes and bags were dumped out and thoroughly examined. No signs of bed bugs anywhere but the bites kept coming. We suspected that the open window to our room is the main culprit and sure enough, after seeing tiny insects flying around, determined we were getting bit by no-see-ums (sand flies). They bite in a cluster and the symptoms were identical to what we were experiencing. Tomorrow we will stop by a pharmacy to see if we can get anything to keep the itchiness at bay.
02 Jan – Rio de Janeiro
Today was a pretty relaxing, low key day. Based on the cloudy weather conditions, I was happy that we did our hang gliding session yesterday! After breakfast, we cracked the code on using the metro and bought 4 one way passes to get to Ipanema beach and return from Copacabana beach. Riding the metro was easy once we figured out which direction to go! From the station in Ipanema, we were about 3 blocks away from the beach where we were immediately besieged by umbrella/chair vendors. The water was surprisingly cold, but that didn’t stop dozens of people from taking dip in the sea. There was a scenic overlook for Ipanema beach that we walked to, and then we continued on towards Copacabana. What a different spectacle today from what we experienced two days ago! Everyone was much more subdued, and we could stroll about unmolested. Heading back to the hotel, we had a couple of key pit-stops to make. First to a pharmacy to pick up antihistamine for Becky’s no-see-ums itchiness. Second stop was a quick visit to a supermarket for lunch stuff, and lastly we stopped by an ATM to stock up on cash. Bradesco gave us 2500 Reals with no withdrawal fee which was nice and should last us a while, especially since we are putting most things on credit card. Back in the room, I finished watching the rock climbing documentary “The Dawn Wall” about Tommy Caldwell and his climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson. It was excellent and I am super stoked to watch the next one that Ivan recommended (Free Solo). At 7:30, we headed out to Outback Steakhouse to say goodbye to Jason, Hanna, Ivan, Mitch, Em, Tom and Giles. Trying to get an Uber was ridiculous so we ended up getting there 30 minutes late. We shouldn’t have worried because the restaurant was overwhelmed. Everyone was fighting for a drink at the bar and it took another 2 hours to get a table for us. In the end, we sat at a booth with Mitch and Emily and chatted with them over dinner (Kookaburra wings). We said goodbye to everyone leaving us soon before catching an Uber back at 11 pm.
03 Jan – Rio de Janeiro
Robby woke me up abruptly at 8 to say goodbye to Jason and Hanna. Boo! I can’t believe today is their last morning with us. They were full of excitement for life after Spongebob and we were chatting with them about their upcoming trip to NZ. It will be cool to see what they get up to over there. We had a 9:15 favela tour scheduled today and our ride was slightly late. Danny, Leo, Cat (new passenger from UK), and Gary joined us. Our guide was Patrick, and we spent an hour picking up other guests on the tour. The weather took a turn for the worse as we drove up to the Rocinha Favela, the largest favela in Brazil. 75,000 people live here and Patrick led us from the top of the favela to the bottom over the course of 2 hours. We got to climb to the top of an art gallery for a rooftop view of the favela. Wow, what a view to the ocean! Then we had a chance to dance with local musicians, followed by an opportunity to purchase some wrist bands made from recycled wires. A stop at a local bakery was a highlight…the banana bread was amazing! Perhaps it was because it was raining quite heavily and the ground had turned into a disgusting river of filth but our time in the favela was quite tame. Very few people were on the streets (too wet and dirty to walk through?) and despite Patrick telling our group not to take photos in certain areas, some people were taking pictures left and right with no repercussions. Quite a different experience from the favela tour yesterday that everyone else had done where they saw armed men who obviously were in the drug trade. We did manage some photos and were given insight into something we wouldn’t have experienced without the tour but it definitely wasn’t a highlight for us. Back at the hotel, we ate our leftover wings from Outback Steakhouse for lunch and said goodbye to Tom who is also leaving us. The afternoon was spent confirming our spaces on the upcoming Madventure Beijing to Cairo trip and making payment in full using Transferwise. What a great method of sending money! For dinner, we went to a nearby Italian eatery (Cantina da Nonna Catete) for pizza but they didn’t have pepperoni or salami so we opted for pasta instead. I’m not sure how this place rates so highly on google as we both found our meals to be mediocre. Back in the room, we did some hand wash laundry and I stayed up watching Free Solo – a rock climbing documentary about Yosemite’s El Capitan featuring Alex Honnold.
04 Jan – Rio de Janeiro – Teresopolis
Departure was at 8:30 this morning and it was sad to say goodbye to Ivan who was waiting by the truck to bid us farewell. We had a short drive day today, covering only 100 km. We stopped at the Teresopolis visitor center where there normally is a fabulous view of the finger of God. But today was cloudy so no view to speak of. Next stop was the Green Fruit supermarket where we had to buy our own lunch and the first 2 cook groups had to do cook group shopping. After that, we drove a short way to Qinta do barra camping which is a nice campsite with power outlets and a lovely swimming pool. We set up our tent, had truck lunch (cheese bread with prosciutto and cheese, served with tomatoes and cucumbers ), and got changed for the pool. The water was a bit colder than we anticipated but was fine as long as we kept moving. Drinking games ensued and our two newbies (Cat and Allison) joined in a game of Piccolo. It was rather tame although we did find out Amanda has been in a three some and a four some! We took a brief intermission to play in the pool and then Piccolo part 2 began. Cook group (Izzy, Futoshi and Allison) made spaghetti bolognese for dinner which was a treat, much tastier than our pasta last night. We were surprised to see Allison, the 60 something year old from Ireland, get super drunk even though she was on cook group. She is going to be a wild one! It was raining and everyone was tired after 6 solid hours of drinking so bed time immediately after dinner.
05 Jan – Teresopolis
It was a loud night all night long with music blasting and people shrieking at the top of their lungs. Apparently someone from the campsite went up to yell at them around 5 am because the music finally cut out and it was quiet from 5 to 7. Breakfast today was granola, yogurt and fruit. We had to rush around to be ready to go by 8:30. There were 13 of us going to the national park (Parque Nacional da Serra dos Orgaos) so we had to get 4 Ubers. We were the only 2 in ours and it came out to 15 Reals, not bad. Once in the park (37 Reals each), we visited the visitor center and then made a beeline to the most popular trail, the hike to the finger of God on the postcard trail. Jeremy and I were the first two to arrive followed by Danny, Leo and Robby. After that trail, we decided to hike up to the suspension trail which had 2 waterfalls. Too bad the visitor center didn’t warn us that the trail was closed! Back down at the main pool, we had lunch while avoiding the coatis. Jeremy, Keith and Debbie left early so the rest of us split 3 Ubers back to the campsite. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and watching TV. I finished up Free Solo which was very good, and caught up on some other stuff. Cook group (Danny, Debbie and Keith) made burgers for dinner with potato salad. It was tasty and there were 3 burgers left over. Danny said to split it amongst ourselves and sure enough, Futoshi grabbed one for himself. Izzy told him off and he ignored her until one of the newbies, Allison, asked him to split it with her which he did begrudgingly. The showers here are on point, plenty of hot water and strong pressure. It rained all evening so we retreated to our tent while a few folks hung out on the truck drinking and chatting.
06 Jan – Teresopolis – Congonhas – Ouro Preto
The rain had relented by the time we had to get up in the morning. Breakfast was fruit, cereal and yogurt and we were on the road before 7:30am. Danny told us it would be a long drive day today. We drove until 1 pm before stopping for lunch by an abandoned building. No one had noticed the heat and sun until lunch but afterwards, it felt stifling hot on the truck. We drove to Congonhas to visit the Basílica do Senhor Bom Jesus de Congonhas, an 18th century Rococo style church with soapstone carvings by Aleijadinho. The carvings were impressive, especially considering that Aleijadinho had no arms or legs! From Congonhas, we had another hour long drive to Ouro Preto which was stunningly beautiful as we drove in. Quite possibly Brazil’s prettiest city! Our hostel, Brumas hostel, was a short walk from town and we started exploring right away. Quaint cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and tiled roofs…we really liked the vibe of this city. Dinner was at a fancy restaurant where we felt a bit underdressed but the waiter happily served us. Back at the hostel, Robby discovered a bunch of bug bites…it appears that the bugs that were biting me are now demolishing Robby. We will need to stop by a hospital or pharmacy to get it checked out tomorrow as the bites are itchy as hell and might be flea bites?
07 Jan – Ouro Preto
Thankfully no new bites during the night! We got up at 8 am to have breakfast. Robby had an eruption of bug bites all over his face and back, so we were wondering if we had to put our sightseeing on hold to visit the hospital. However, a quick visit to a pharmacy and a consultation with one of the employees resulted in prescription antibiotics cream, antihistamines, and anti-itch cream. We’ll see if this helps! Exploring the town was next on our agenda and for the next 6 hours, we walked up and down Ouro Preto, exploring every nook and cranny. We only paid to visit one church (Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora da Pilar), a Catholic church with a gold plated interior. It was well worth the entrance fee (10 Reals). The other churches didn’t look as ornate or were closed, so we didn’t pay to visit any other ones in this lovely town. By 2 pm, we were ready for a drink and lunch and stopped at Pizzeria Satelite for a burger, beer and Smirnoff ice. Good value here and we trudged back up the hill stuffed. A cold shower later and we felt great, especially with a cool breeze blowing. The group convinced us to join them for dinner at O Sotao – Casa de Panquecas, which was incredible value for 35 Reals each which included an unlimited amount of pizza, pancakes, soups, caipirinhas and sodas. What a deal! We don’t know how they make a profit and honestly, our expectations of the pizzas were low to begin with but they were surprisingly good and tasty. Izzy found this gem on a flyer last night so huge kudos to her! Back at the hostel, our room was hot and stuffy so we slept with the windows and doors open.