Brazilliant

15 – 22 February 2012

For a country as large as the United States, we had allowed ourselves very little time to explore Brazil. This was partly intentional, as we had been warned to expect high prices all across the country, particularly as our visit coincided with carnival celebrations. So, we opted to explore only three places: Foz do Iguassu, Paraty and Rio de Janeiro.

We started off in Foz do Iguassu, after a quick hop across the Argentinian border. The Brazilian side offers the opportunity to view the falls from a distance and take in their sheer size and beauty.  From the viewing platform we could just about catch a glimpse of the Argentinian flag at the Devil’s Throat where we had stood the day before.  Once again, there was plenty of wildlife, and we spotted more Coatis, brightly coloured butterflies and iguanas.

From Foz de Iguassu we took another overnight bus to Sao Paolo, where we changed terminal and caught another couple of buses, arriving in Paraty after around 30 hours on the road. Finding accommodation when we arrived was a little challenging as carnival was about to start and most hostels were only offering (hugely overpriced) five day carnival packages. Finally we found a place – it was among the most basic places we stayed on our trip but was also the most expensive!

Paraty is a compact little city with a lot of charm. It has a beautiful beachfront location and its historic centre is full of uneven cobblestone roads, which make wandering around after dark a little challenging. We decided to catch a bus to nearby Trinidade to do a little sunbathing, and were lucky enough to find the coast virtually deserted. We enjoyed a great afternoon, soaking up the sun and sipping on cold beers with the beach to ourselves.

That evening, back in Paraty, carnival was in full swing with giant effigies being paraded around the streets followed by a band and crowds of locals in costume swaying behind. We joined the crowds, following a couple of blocos (cars pumping music to the trailing crowds) through the centre and joining in the music and dancing in the main square. It felt like the whole town was out in the streets, and the atmosphere was fantastic.

The following day, we were down at the beach enjoying some fresh fish, when hundreds of muddy revellers descended on the beach. Apparently part of carnival tradition making a trip up to a beach a few kilometres out of town and covering yourself from head to toe in mud before parading back to town. When they reached the beach the fire brigade were waiting with their hoses at the ready to wash them off! The party continued that night in the same vein as the previous evening (as it would every night for the rest of carnival week). It was great to experience the festivities in Paraty as they were quite different to what we would encounter in our next stop Rio.

We were very fortunate to be able to stay in the apartment of a friend’s relative in Rio – consequently, we ended up with an entire penthouse apartment to ourselves in the country’s most affluent neighbourhood, Leblon – situated just a block away from Ipanema beach. You can imagine how great this felt after over three months in very basic hostels! As we weren’t able to get tickets to the famous celebrations in the Sambadrome, after spending some time at the street carnival, we settled down to watch the Sambadrome action live on TV. The costumes were absolutely incredible, and the sheer number of people that take part, representing each Samba school, was amazing.

Among the attractions we visited in Rio were the colourful Seleron steps in the Lapa neighbourhood. Using tiles collected from across the world, the Chilean artist has turned this drab area into a beautiful spot to live. The project is still a work in progress and we were able to meet the artist during our visit. Of course, we also made the trip up Corcovado to see Christ the Redeemer, now one of the seven modern wonders of the world. The site was heaving with tourists, but we still got great views of the city as well as a close look at the iconic statue.

During our visit, the entire city was in party mode. Almost all the shops were closed and people dressed in crazy costumes filled the streets. We soon discovered that most of the action takes place in the late afternoon and early evening, when blocos can be found on every other street. We went to several while we were there, mainly in Copacabana and Ipanema. This street carnival attracts literally millions of revellers and creates an amazing atmosphere. We enjoyed soaking it all up, indulging in some Caipirinhas and joining the dancing in the street.

Our time in Rio came to an end too soon, but on our final day, we decided to take a tour to one of the city’s favelas. Our guide drove us up to Rocinho, the largest favela in Rio which sprang up as workers flocked to the city from the north east to build some of the city’s tunnels. Up until three months ago, the favela had been a lawless area, with police banned from entering. However, the recent police occupation has had a positive effect on the community, with banks opening branches, satellite television being introduced and some housing being torn down and replaced with modern apartments for some of the poorest residents. As a result, house prices in the favela have risen by up to 100%. We got fantastic views of the city from the top of the neighbourhood (arguably better than at Corcovado) and learnt a lot about life in this part of the city. I’m glad we were able to experience this other side of Rio, as around one fifth of people in Rio live in similar conditions.

Sadly, that was our last stop in Brazil and marked the end of our four month trip around Latin America.  From here we had a flight back to Chile before continuing on to New Zealand. The whole trip has been an amazing experience and while I am sorry that it has come to an end, I am hugely excited about our next adventure, when we reach New Zealand!

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