Country number: 72
Territory number: 79
When? July 2004
How? Minibus, plane, boat,
Who? Group Tour
“In Brazil we have a saying, ‘You’re married, but you’re not dead’.”
Izabel Goulart, to Conan O’Brien
I’ve flown out overnight with some members of the group. Candida is alone, but she’s being met by boyfriend Kurt, who’s been travelling in Peru and Chile. He’s waiting at the airport with a bottle of pisco sour and it’s the first time I’ve been inebriated before nine in the morning. We’re giggling in the back of the bus all through tour leader Gabi’s introductions. I’m sure she’s really looking forward to this tour now.
We start in Rio de Janeiro, surely one of the most famous cities in the world with Copacana and Ipanema Beaches, (don’t leave your belongings unattended), views from the towering summit of Corcovado topped by the immense statue of Christ the Redeemer (too much traffic and too many people) and the cable car up to the huge Sugar Loaf Mountain, from where the late afternoon views of Rio across a scattering of hills and islands are breath-taking. I also squeeze in the bright, but sad favelas (of City of God fame), a football match at the renowned Maracana Stadium (not many spectators at this lower league fixture unfortunately) and visits to several bars. Candida and Kurt are a bad influence and I’ve already learned to love the national drunk, the caipirinha. A typical serving costs about 50 pence and is lethal. One is usually plenty. Kurt and Candida go one better than just getting drunk and participate in a mock wedding at one bar. The ring is a free gift.
Via Sao Paula to Cuiaba and into the Pantanal. This is the world’s largest tropical wetland, straddling the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia and home to over 1000 species of bird and 300 different mammals. The boat trips here, animal spotting in the remote wilderness, are my unexpected highlight, and I get to see capybara (great name), Jabiru storks, toucans, the striking hyacinth macaw, anaconda and numerous Jacare caiman. The locals seem oblivious to the latter and happily fish in the water right next to them, despite the wide-mouthed yawns and glistening teeth. Piranha fishing is less exciting and not very productive, but I can enjoy the painted skies of the gorgeous sunset over the river. I’m on my usual challenge to find the most appalling souvenir and this is a rewarding hunting ground. There are stuffed piranhas (to compensate for the ones we didn’t catch) in fluorescent coloured striped gel at the airport on our departure.
Next, Iguassu, home to one of the world’s largest waterfalls. At 1.7 miles wide, with 275 drops, they are more spread out than Victoria Falls, but there are more tourists and the air is full of spray, so decent photos aren’t easy. Nevertheless, we view from the Brazilian side (quite a lot of wildlife, like coatis, wandering around), the Argentinian side (there’s a close up of the fitfully churning ‘Devil’s Throat’ at the top where the water plunges over the drop, by navigating a series of catwalks) and right from the bottom in a bobbing (very wet) boat.
Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon basin, on the banks of the Negro River, has vast tracts of jungle stretching in all directions. Rubber made it South America’s richest city in the late 1800s and lured many wealthy Europeans to the high life. A quick visit to the extraordinary Grand Opera House, before we board a boat to our stilted lodge, passing en route the spot where the dark Negro converges with the lighter brown, muddy Solimões River resulting in the striking visual phenomenon called the “Meeting of the Waters.”
To be honest, the much anticipated Amazon is an anti-climax after the Pantanal. It’s quiet and beautiful and we swim by the lodge (no nasties here we’re assured) but there is little new to see. There’s a Caboclo village to visit to gawk at the ‘natives’ and we go piranha fishing – again. This time the guide hauls out some baby caiman for us to admire. Much vaunted river dolphins scoot by. Most of us miss them.
I’ve decided I’m never sharing a room on a tour again. My roommate, German Anne, snores mightily, (deja vu) comes in late and puts all the lights on, and insists on setting the alarm at least 90 minutes before we need to leave in the morning, so she can prink.
Our last stop is Salvador, now the capital of the state of Bahia, initially considered to be the nation’s capital and one of Brazil’s most historic cities. It was ‘discovered’ in 1501 by the navigator Amerigo Vespucci. Its magnificent setting and soaring cliffs protecting the bay provide one of the finest anchorages on the eastern coast of the New World. The Upper City atop the cliffs is now designated a historic monument by UNESCO. The Pelourinho area is regarded as the most important collection of seventeenth-eighteenth century architecture in the whole of the Americas. It’s a hotch potch of narrow cobbled streets, gilded baroque churches, and spacious squares surrounded by mansions in need of restoration. The city has a predominantly African feel, not surprising as most of the inhabitants are of African descent (working sugar cane and tobacco plantations); there is a real vibe and some incredibly flamboyant costumes. Bruce and Laurie in the group pose against a cut out for photos and invite me to Fort Lauderdale.
Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country. It borders every other South American nation except Ecuador and Chile, and makes up just under half the continent.
Brazil has been the world’s largest exporter of coffee for more than 150 years.
The Amazon River is the world’s largest by volume of water discharged.
Brazil is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, with a total of four million plant and animal species
Brazil has the highest number of Catholics in the world with over 125,000,000, representing 61% of the population
Brazil is the most successful international football team ever. They have won the FIFA World Cup five times – more than any other country – and are first in the all-time rankings
To see more of my photos of Brazil, visit this page.