Travel Diary – Brazil

I’m going to level with you here, I haven’t done a lot of international travel over the course of the last 34 years. Europe, sure. I’ve been all over Europe. Love the place in fact. As far as distant places go, the furthest I’ve been to is New York though.

The reason I’ve never travelled very far boils down to a few factors: a fear of flying, money and the base factor that travel has never been a big part of my family and friend’s ideals. As a youth I was never bothered about travel that much. We always ended up going to some all-inclusive beach holiday in Spain, a camping holiday in France or some seaside town in England. The most I experienced of foreign culture was confusion over the restaurant bill, an inability to watch English-speaking TV and sunburn.

As I got older most people from where I came from didn’t really think about travelling a great deal. A rare few took a year out after uni, but not many at all. It just didn’t seem like a big thing at the time. The idea of visiting places further than Europe rarely even cropped up as an actual plan, more like a pub chat covering the suggestion “If you could go anywhere…”. Sure, some people had been to amazing paces, and it was exciting to hear all about them. On some level I might even think about how I’d like to visit them. But in reality it was just a passing idea. At no point did I ever look at the feasibility of doing it.

It’s something I’ve regretted over the past few years, as the cold realisation sets in that I’m getting older. So about a year ago I made the decision that I was going to actually go and see some of the places that I’d always thought about. My first was an easy choice.

I don’t know why I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil. I actually knew very little about the place before deciding to go there. I just always thought it sounded like an interesting place to visit. I know so many people who have been to Thailand, China or India, that heading to them felt like I was just following the norm. Hardly anyone had told me anything about Brazil, it was like exploring somewhere completely new.

When you’re planning to go on your own, visiting a place for two weeks that you know nothing about is a pretty tricky prospect. Especially when you want to travel around a fair bit. I’d done it before in Europe, but organising that was actually pretty easy. I knew where I wanted to go, I knew a fair bit about the places and I could actually speak to people there. The only places in Brazil I had any knowledge of where Rio and the Amazon rainforest. That wasn’t really a two-week trip.

So I decided to find some sort of tour group where I could just turn up and be guided for two weeks without actually having to think. If I was left to my own devices I could end up anywhere. I headed to Trailfinders as I’d heard good things about them from a few friends. There was also one on the way home from my work, which was a big factor.

The trips they do range quite heavily in price based on transport options, where you want to go on the tour and what you want to do. With only two weeks I wanted to pack in as much as I could, which meant I opted for one of the mid-range tours. Whereas some of the cheaper ones mean you have to take long distance buses to the various locations, my trip would include internal flights to allow for more time spent actually doing stuff.

After a long chat with the in-store rep (who’d actually been on a few of the trips), I finally opted for a package called “The Wonders Of Brazil” with a company called G Adventures. A thirteen day tour covering Rio, a seaside town called Paraty, Iguazu falls, a town called Bonito and the Pantanal. As I only loosely knew about 20% of the trip I decided to take a gamble and go for it. Adding in the Amazon Rainforest would be pretty tough, what with the fact it was at least 1,000 miles away from anywhere else I was going.

Including the flights, a single occupancy cost for the hotels (£500), an extra night in Rio and the tour itself, I ended up paying about £3,800. After a deposit of about £500 I could pay the rest whenever I wanted up until a few weeks before the trip. That meant I could stick in a bit when I got paid every month using the handy Pingit app.

So after numerous payments, insurance, stocking up on mosquito spray, clothes buying for warm weather and downloading a lot of Family Guy episodes, I was finally ready to head off to Brazil.

Day 1 – London to Rio

My flight left from Heathrow at 11am. I’d actively picked this flight because every other one I’d taken over the last few months had gone around six in the morning. Not an issue for normal people, but when you have to drink to make them bearable, it can become pretty painful. I knew for a fact I was going to have to drink a fair bit on a twelve-hour one, I didn’t want to do that on a couple of hours sleep. I had two beers before we took of.

When you’re used to hell-spawn economy flight like Ryan Air and easyjet, a long haul trip seems like some sort of business class excursion. I sat down with another two seats to myself and started prodding around the in-flight entertainment system. After a couple of wines (my tally by the end of the flight was well into double figures), I decided to watch a film. The first was the new David Brent film. I watched the whole thing, but I have no idea how – probably due to the booze. It’s awful. It’s like someone has made a parody of The Office, attempting to take all the elements that made it good, but whilst ensuring every individual factor doesn’t work. I’m not going to go into detail here, it’s not really the focus of the post. But man. Leave it Gervais.

After that, and combined with an ongoing pushing of the seat attention light to top up the alcohol, I ended up watching the first ten minutes of pretty much everything on the in-flight entertainment (never, ever watch Suicide Squad). Highlights recalled from my drunken journey include The Vicar Of Dibley Christmas Special, a Bee Gees album, a fair amount of playing around with the flight map, Friends episodes and something about wombats.

When I landed I grabbed a taxi and headed to my hotel. Up until now I hadn’t even bothered working out the exchange rate, which is a tradition I like to adopt when travelling. I got there assuming I’d have been fleeced, but it only cost about £20. Things were going pretty well. I checked in, nipped out for a cheeseburger, then went to bed. The hotel was actually pretty damn nice, far better than I’d expected.

Day 2 – Rio de Janeiro

I had the day free to wander around until meeting the tour group in the evening. I sat at the breakfast buffet looking through travel information on my phone whilst consuming an increasingly strange combination of foodstuffs. Chicken nuggets and meatballs are a personal favourite new addition to breakfast. With little knowledge of Rio save for the obvious Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain, I decided to head out and attempt to make them my goal.

For an hour I wandered up the Copacabana beach, stopping occasionally to grab a coconut or take a picture. This was my first time seeing Rio and it is a pretty damn impressive place. A weird combination of city, beach and mountains, with islands dotted around the distant sea. I’d never seen anything like it before. It’s massive. They love fitness as well. The streets and beaches are a sprawling hive of runners, volley ball players and people using these impressive little workout zones dotted every couple of hundred meters. Hell of a lot of Speedos as well. Hell of a lot.

There was some sort of political rally going on throughout the main roads lying parallel to the beach. A pretty heated one by all accounts. I tried to ask a couple of people what it was about but they’re look of confusion left me with little answers. It looked impressive though.

I decided to walk up Ipanema beach next. Which, like Copacabana, is massive, but way nicer. As the day drew on, the clouds disappeared and it suddenly started to get pretty hot. Far hotter than I’d prepared for when leaving the hotel a few hours before. As is a standard protocol for all my summer holidays, I started to burn. So, with no sun lotion on me, I dipped into a bar on the beach and watched as people frolicked about the sand (by frolic I mean the normal sorts of things you’d expect from people on a beach in small pants, like swimming). When I had some respite from the sun, I headed back to the hotel to meet my tour group. Christ would have to wait until I returned two weeks later.

In the evening I wandered downstairs. There were only four of us, me and three ladies. A chap was yet to turn up. Our guide, Natalia, ran us through the logistics of the trip, what her job was, things that we needed to know and general introductions with the rest of the group. After that we headed out to a restaurant to grab some dinner and mingle. I opted for Brazilian steak and some pretty nice rice stuff.  We then headed to the top floor bar of a hotel to look out over a night-time Rio and try the national cocktail, caipirinha. After that I nipped to an Irish bar with a couple of them for some beers. There was a band playing songs from what I assume was a “My first indie songs” guitar book. Which seems to be the preferred selection of open mic songs across many international countries.

Day 3 – Paraty

Our first real day as a tour group would see us jumping in a little van and heading to Paraty, a coastal town colonised by the Portuguese in 1667. I cemented my new breakfast preferences by indulging in yet more nuggets and meatballs, packed up my stuff and stepped into the little bus. The five-hour journey took us through the winding roads surrounding the rainforests in the southern part of Brazil. The driver seemed intent on testing the questionable suspension of the van as he twisted and turned; dodging other cars and various humans in the process.

The dozens of tree strewn hills and mountains filled the horizon in every direction. Unlike the forests I was used to seeing, it was as if someone had wandered in and shoved as much foliage and vegetation in-between the trees as possible. The dense mess of green things makes Sherwood Forest look like your nan has been round to tidy it. Houses of random shapes and sizes are sprinkled across the landscape, some by the side of the road, others seemingly thrown amongst a clump of trees. Some look nice, some look like a loose attempt to make a multi story shed out of items found in a Tesco car park.

We finally arrived in Paraty and headed straight to the hotel. A really nice little square of hotel rooms around a main court space. the weather at this point was quite gloomy. We dropped off our stuff and wandered into the town for some food. After a pretty damn hefty beef sandwich, which was basically pulled pork with caramelised onions, we had a walk around the town. Natalia took us to a cachaç shop, a spirit made from sugarcane and the most popular distilled alcohol in Brazil, to try out a few of versions of it. Neat it tastes like tequila, but there were various flavoured options with varied levels of alcohol. The chocolate one was pretty nice, tasted a bit like Bailey’s. From there we looked at some of the buildings in the colonial area, including the segregated churches set up for the Portuguese, slaves and natives.

Before we met again for dinner and a samba lesson, I had a walk around the beach near the hotel. It was only small, with a few little bars dotted across it. As tourist beaches go it was pretty much perfect for the introverted likes of me. Only a few people ambled about, with a view that looked out on the various island that make up the enormous bay (seriously, its massive, you can even buy yourself an island if you want, there are hundreds of the things).

I met up with the others and we went to a bar on the beach for a samba lesson. Luckily I’d had a few beers so I was primed for some moves. Our instructor came over with some caipirinhas before showing us the footwork. Now, I’ve never tried samba before, save for a rather meagre wine-fueled attempt at Guanabara in London. I’d always thought it looked pretty easy, just a bit of stepping and swinging your hips. Within five minutes I realised it was actually pretty tough to do properly, as the sweat dripping off me probably suggested. It’s not something I’m going to pursue if I’m being completely honest.

Afterwards we joined a capoeira group on the beach for a lesson. If you don’t know what capoeira is, it’s basically a non contact arty dance this that comes from Brazil. People swing around feigning kicks and jumping around (there’s is more to it than that, I just can’t be bothered to research it). It looks pretty damn impressive. As usual I was picked out from the group to try some moves in front of everyone. I was crap and it did nothing to help my already worrying sweat problem. Fun though.

After eating a burger and a few more beers I was pretty much done. The rest of the group headed into town to try out some samba at a bar. I instead was severely weakened and in grave need of a shower. I headed back to the hotel.

Day 4 – Paraty

We met at 11am to catch an island boat trip, so with a few hours spare I went for a walk up a nearby hill to a colonial fort. The view from the top looked out for miles. Pretty damn impressive. I then Went back into town to buy a hat and some vests after realising my packed items weren’t cutting it. The sky was almost cloudless and save for a light breeze, it must have been at leat 32 degrees. After getting burned in just a couple of hours in Rio, I needed to up my game.

Once we met up we walked over to the little port area to get onto the boat. The trip was a five-hour tour of the massive bay, with stop offs at some of the various tropical islands. For about £25 we’d get the tour and unlimited caipirinhas. The boat held about 50 people, however luckily there were only about 25, so we’d have a far bit of space. As we stepped on the boat I was extremely impressed, it looked like some sort of wooden pirate party vessel, complete with a big lounging area with cushions on the top deck.

We set out, my first caipirinha of many in hand as the boat headed onwards to the endless mountainous islands in the far distance. We were also joined by the friendly and ridiculously energetic capoeira crew from the night before. With them were a selection on musical instruments.

After half an hour of taking photos and drinking, we stopped next to the tree line of an island, scaring off a bunch of sun-bathing geckos in the process. Out captain set anchor and we stepped onto a small rock bay to the sight of monkeys clambering towards us for food. Tiny little things called Golden Lion Tamarin monkeys. Quite cool looking. We all then jumped in the water for a bit of a swim. Couldn’t see much in the water apart from a few fish darting about. I was told there were no sharks. I asked a few people.

The next island was where we were stopping for lunch. A little hut on a bay with a load of benches outside. Here we walked up to a buffet where we filled a plate with whatever we wanted. As a frequenter of UK buffets I got a bit excited and covered my plate with stuff. Only to find out that the system in place meant you then weigh your plate and pay for the total value. I cursed the massive pile of rice and pasta staring back at me. The selection of food was mainly fish, presumably from in and around the bay.

After stopping off at another bay, this one with opaque blue water, we landed on a beach and had an impromptu capoeira lesson. Luckily it was more of a fun game than an actually class, so we pretty much ended up just dicking about shouting and trying to do hand stands.

The last stop was a little bay famous for turtles. The only time I can remember seeing a turtle was one at Hunstanton Sea Life Centre, so I was pretty excited to be able to swim with them. We sat on the side of the boat and looked out into the water. I didn’t believe there were any in there until one popped up about 20 metres from the boat. A few people jumped in but by the time they were close it had disappeared. This happened a few times until we ran out of time and clambered back onto the boat.

With my number of caipirinhas hitting its limit. I headed to the top deck to lie down as the boat floated back to Paraty. By the time we returned, I managed little more than a glass of water before falling asleep.

Day 5 – Paraty to Iguazu Falls

We left at 5am to get to Sao Paulo airport, which wasn’t exactly fun. We got on the bus for a five-hour journey that would see us scaling some pretty windy roads that would eventually take us up and over peaks of the various rainforest covered mountains. The road there, twinned with a fairly blasé driver meant for a pretty thrilling journey. At the top, as we passed through the layer of mist, the view was amazing. Unfortunately I couldn’t take a good picture through the tinted windows of the van, so anything I could post would belittle the scene. It was awesome though. Little tree-lined islands floating above the mist. Think The Never Ending Story, but with less rock people and giant bats.

We stopped off at a little service station that looked like some weird room from Blue Velvet. I had some pastry thing that shard some distant similarities with a Cornish pasty.

After another couple of hours we turned into Sao Paolo, a few hours early. We sat about for a bit. Had some snacks, queued for an age, I got a bit drunk, and then stepped onto the plane. Not much else to say about that apart from the fact that after an hour and a half and we landed in Iguazu. From there we jumped on a bus for 20 minutes and turned up at the hotel. A nice place with a pool and various other things.

With a slight hangover we went out to a Brazilian BBQ down the road. An all-you-can-eat buffet where waiters wander over holding various meats, slicing off bits to whoever wants it. Brazilian BBQs are beautiful things, dangerous for the glutinous carnivore, as you can’t seem to say no as your plate builds up with various scraps and bone. But amazing. After about 45 minutes I couldn’t eat any more, almost chewing in slow motion as I tried to finish my last cut of steak. Suggestions of going for drinks at a bar were met with grunts and weak shakes of the head. We all went to bed pretty early.

Day 6 – Iguazu Falls (Brazilian side)

Out guide picked us up at the hotel as we headed to the Brazilian side of Iguazu falls. I’d never seen big waterfalls before so I was quite looking forward to it. First however, I’d opted for a helicopter ride that went over the top of the falls. Based on the fact I hate flying, I was pretty terrified. I’d never been in one before, and the thought of hovering above millions of gallons of fast rushing water didn’t fill me with joy. At £100 it wasn’t cheap for a 12 minute trip either. Still, I wanted to push myself to do stuff outside my comfort zone on the trip, so I paid my money.

Luckily it was a relatively nice day. Cloudy, but without any wind. I was sat in the middle seat of the helicopter, so I couldn’t see a great deal, or take any particularly impressive pictures. We were high though. In fact it actually felt quite nice until the pilot started to turn in circles a couple of hundred metres above the falls. I didn’t like that. At all. The views were pretty amazing though.

The next stop was the national park where we’d make our way through a trail that led past the falls. It wasn’t that long so I slowly pottered along taking pictures. As well as the waterfalls visible on the Argentinian side, there were a fair few animals around. Little coatis (which we found were called nose bears when translated) that tried to tip open people’s bags, vultures flying overhead and some pretty massive ants. The trail led past dozens of falls before reaching the final one known as the Devil’s Throat. Here you can walk out across a walkway that leads over the water. So basically you’re stood a few metres from the falling water, to the point where you’re stood in a shower of relentless spray. Which actually feels pretty nice against the hot humid weather.

A couple more views and we jumped back on the van to head home. The falls were pretty damn impressive, but against the quiet relaxation of Paraty, Iguazu is a teeming tourist destination full of annoying people taking selfies on small walkways.

With a few hours to spare we nipped to a local free zoo on Iguazu. Based on what I’d come to expect from little zoos in England, I expected a few little animals and a couple of birds. This was a bit more impressive: caimans, leopards, monkeys, emus, parrots as well as a load of birds (never been that bothered about birds). Not bad for a little local park. Then we went to a local gym, which was actually pretty well stocked. Based on the fact I was unlikely to do a great deal of exercise any time soon, I stayed for a fair while before we all nipped out for dinner at a sports bar down the road.

Day 7 – Iguazu Falls (Argentinian side)

Setting of at 6.30, we jumped on the van and headed to the Argentinian side of the falls. This would be a longer day, with a few more activities to cover off. For the first part of the day we jumped on a little train that took us to the top of the Devil’s Throat via a massive walkway that lead across the river above the falls. Then we made our way through a much larger trail that weaved around the Argentinian side of the falls. Some of the views from this side were really impressive, with the shape of the river making for more panoramic views of the area. Hell of a lot of selfie clowns though.

For the afternoon we paid to go on a little safari through the jungle before jumping on a boat tour into the falls. The safari was okay, although more of an exaggerated taxi journey to the boat trip. The boat itself was a lot more impressive. I’d expected an overcrowded stand up boat that would slowly take us to the falls, where we’d be sprayed a bit with water. What I actually found was a speedboat which shot down the massive coursing river before finally bombing straight into the falls a few times, it was pretty amazing actually. The boat jumped over the waves before gallons of water covered us as we span into the falls.

With a free night, and an 11-hour taxi journey coming up the next day, I bought myself some food and had an early night.

Day 8 – Iguazu to Bonito

An eleven hour bus ride down a pretty bumpy, straight road was never going to be a highlight of a trip. Especially as the majority of the journey was through a rainstorm which meant we could barely see anything. It’s an adventure tour though, you have to put up with the journeys to get to the good stuff. In this case a little town called Bonito. A place famous largely for its rivers and beautiful scenery.

Unfortunately on the first night, as we turned up at 7pm, I decided I was in the mood for drinking. After stopping for some food we all ended up heading to a late night bar. A couple of beers ended up with another G Adventures tour turning up, shots being consumed and an evening of vague memories. As a result I ended up sleeping until 1pm. When I woke up I had one hell of a hangover. The rest of my day consisted of slowly walking around Bonito, eating a Subway and frequent sitting down on benches whilst sighing. It wasn’t my finish hour, but, ho-hum. It wouldn’t be a holiday if I didn’t get ridiculously drunk, a damn good night in fact if memory serves me right. Apart from the tequilas.

Day 9 – Bonito

With my day of regret gone, I woke up at 6am ready to hit my second attempt at Bonito. We headed out in a car, that definitely had no suspension, to a river about an hour away. We pulled into Rio Da Prata and picked up our snorkelling gear. Whereas the day before was pretty gloomy, it was now getting pretty damn nice.

Our guide drove us a few kilometres into the forest and we had a little 2km trail walk to the river. We hoped to see some animals on the route but the most we got was a bird that made some sort of weird humming noise. I’d been told that previous groups had seen anaconda swimming through the river as they looked at fish. I was both excited and mildly terrified at the prospect. I watched the ground along the trail very closely, sure that I was being watched.

We got to the entrance to the river, a large pool used for testing out the equipment and to see if we floated. Luckily I did, so I didn’t need to wear a cumbersome life jacket. I’d never actually been snorkelling before, apart from some light pool attempts as a child. Initially I found it a bit tough to get to grips with the breathing, mainly because my snorkel was a bit loose and kept filling my mouth with water. After a few attempts the issue was resolved and we made our way from the pool and out into the river.

It was ruddy nice in fact. Granted I did spend most of the time ignoring the fish and looking for snakes, to no avail, but I loved it (the guide had told us that previously someone had seen an anaconda swim past them). The river currents meant we don’t actually need to swim, apart from dodging the odd tree. It also fluctuated from less than a meter from the bed to a depth you could just about see. The current in points was quite strong. In others I just placidly floated and took pictures. It was damn clear as well.

After that we headed back. I, with a cold, presumably as a result of my heavy drinking, went to bed pretty early. I didn’t want to head to the Pantanal feeling ill.

Day 10 – Bonito to Pantanal

The first part of the day was a five-hour van journey to the Pantanal. Nothing particularly interesting to report on that, apart from the fact it was getting ridiculously hot. I watched a tv show called Dual Challenge that I’d downloaded the night before. It was the only thing I could find on Google Play that had anything to do with the Pantanal. It was a bit like Bear Grylls or another one of those survival shows where they put someone in a location that’s hazardous and make them get out. It starred two American blokes, one was military man with a goatee, the other was some sort of native American-obsessed oddball who refused to wear shoes in a jungle (because they didn’t have shoes in the olden days). It was pretty pathetic as survival shows go. They were stuck in a swamp in the Pantanal and had to find their way to civilisation. One built a boat that sank straight away whilst the other made a bow and arrow to kill piranhas, spending most of the episode banging on about calories. They both looked pretty depressed when the crap boat that took them two days to make was rubbish. They got out anyway.

Although it was a lame show it did make me pretty excited about that Pantanal. Even if they did play dramatic music every time they mentioned caiman or piranhas.

We swapped vehicles at 4 hours to a smaller van that would take us to the farm. I watched at the side or the road looking for animals, the driver telling us that he’d seen a jaguar on it the day before.

The farm was actually amazing. A remote self-contained series of buildings including a little restaurant, loads of hammocks, a horse ranch, rooms and a massive lake full of caiman. The surrounding area was also ridiculously impressive, with clumps of trees dotting the horizon as various birds flew through the sky.

After a lunch of rice, spaghetti, beef and chicken. We spent an hour lying on hammocks before heading out for a walking tour of the area. As we walked out past the lake and its caiman, I was actually quite surprised at how normal it all looked. After looking at Google and seeing that crap show about the man with no shoes, I was expecting an uninhabitable swampland. What it actually looked like was more like what I was used to back in Lincolnshire – a flat green landscape dotted with trees. After speaking to the guide it appeared that what I was talking about was flood season, what we were currently in was rainy season. We walked along the fields dipping into raised areas of the land covered in dense foliage. It was these raised areas that become the islands in flood season.

During flood season the islands become full of animals trying to stay out of the water, so creatures become a lot easier to find. Conversely caiman and fish are the opposite. Apparently we’d find this out when we went piranha fishing the next day.

Just to put things into perspective, the Pantanal is the most densely populated animal area in Brazil, it’s also massive. Roughly the same size of France. A fair old way bigger than the national parks we’re used to in the UK.

We didn’t see a great deal of animals on the walk, aside from birds and caimans. We saw loads of birds in fact, ranging from herons and macaws to vultures and storks. So, good if you like birds. There were also a load of cows.

After a shower we nipped over for dinner at the restaurant then went for a nighttime walk down a dirt track. This was actually pretty exciting/terrifying. The Pantanal, and the farm, being away from any towns or cities, was pitch black at night. There were sounds everywhere though. Sounds from the hundreds of nocturnal creatures going about their business. Night is also the time when most predators come out as well. Scary predators. As I spoke to the guide I quizzed him, like a child would, on the various dangerous animals that were around. Spiders, scorpions, snakes, jaguars and other big cats, vampire bats (that apparently like to suck toes) and obviously a shed load of caiman were the main ones. There are loads more. It makes the various sounds filling the air seem significantly more threatening. We found a tarantula and a snake during the walk. Just there, stood next to us. No biggy.

Now, up until coming to the Pantanal, I’d seen very little in terms of scary nature during my trip to Brazil. I had assumed that big spiders and snakes would be fairly commonplace in South America. They don’t really go near towns and cities though. However, they do like to hang around the Pantanal a fair bit.

Our sleeping arrangements for the night saw us bedding down in hammocks housed in a massive shed. There’s no hyperbole there, it was just a big shed. We we warned by the guide that we needed to make sure we closed one of the doors before we opened the other, a bit like an airlock. The reason being, that things tend to wander in during the night. When I asked what gets in, he said pretty much anything: caiman, spiders, frogs. I was pretty careful to close it.

As I lay in the hammock, I sat and listened to the various noises. Little scratches around the room, growls outside, the occasionally splash in the water next to the shed. It wasn’t my ideal sleeping arrangement to be completely honest, especially considering that when you wander out to go to the toilet, you’re suddenly jumped on by a load of frogs. The group I met in Bonito showed me a picture of a tarantula that was sat on the wall when they stayed in the Pantanal. “What did you do with it?” I asked. “Erm, nothing,” they replied, “we just had to go to sleep with it in there.”

Day 11 – Pantanal

After a questionable nights sleep which turned into a lighting storm at some point, I got up ready for a day of horse riding, safari and piranha fishing. After I wafted some sort of giant dragonfly out-of-the-way, I had a quick shower then headed down for a breakfast of cake. Which was nice actually. Cake for breakfast is a lovely treat after a tough nights sleep.

Once done we wandered over to the ranch part of the farm and were given our horses for a two-hour ride through the Pantanal. The last time I rode a horse was when I was about 11. My only memory of the occasion was that Zorro, as my horse was named, seemed intent to walk into every holly bush on the route. Oh how my family laughed as the sharp leaves scraped past me. I wouldn’t say it was a defining factor in me never riding a horse since, but it can’t have helped on some subconscious level.

Luckily, my horse was an absolute dream. All I needed to do was pull its head in the direction it wanted to go, pull it back to stop and give it a little kick to make it speed up. It was like a virtual reality computer game, only with way more mosquitos. Seriously, they’re everywhere in the Pantanal, and apparently we visited at a point where there were hardly any. I’m writing this a week and a half later and I still have the odd itch.

Anyway, the horse ride was by far one of the highlights of the trip. For two hours we pottered around, occasionally stopping to look at animals and trees. The horses waded through deep swamps and through the tropical tree covered islands. It was pretty damn amazing. Especially considering the fact mine neither walked into holly or threw me off at any point.

After lunch we jumped onto a 4×4 safari vehicle to head out on safari, which was a nice chance for me to take a few photos as I could only use my GoPro on the horse. We didn’t see a great deal more, save for a boar, a marsh deer (which are apparently quite rare) and some capybara. After that we stopped off at a lake for some piranha fishing.

I am in fact a fairly crap fisherman by all accounts. Any time I’ve attempted in the past, I’ve caught nothing. I’m not sure if the fish can sense my boredom or just don’t like my bait, either way I don’t think I’ve ever actually caught a single fish. I am pretty good at crabbing though, for the record.

Using bamboo poles, we stuck our meat on a hook at the end of a line and threw it into the lake (as you’d expect). Instantly the piranhas got pretty excited. They’re really strong as well. Apparently the knack is to pull the line out before they get a chance to nibble too much. Which is easier said than done.

After half an hour of trying, the majority of which saw me frantically trying to wipe sweat/mosquito spray out of my eyes whilst wafting away giant mosquitos, I had nothing. I was pathetic at it. I watched as the guide pulled out seven of the damn things, to the point where he got bored and decided to do some trout fishing instead. By the end only one person from the group managed to acquire a piranha. I left, my head hung in shame.

Our final hours in the Pantanal were spent eating dinner then sitting by the fire learning how to make caipirinha. The result of our attempts was probably one of the strongest cocktails that’s ever passed my lips. I don’t remember caring about the frogs and spiders that night.

Day 12 – Pantanal to Rio

Not much to say about the journey back to Rio, aside from the fact we had to get up really early and took a trip in the safari vehicle. Which was actually pretty cool as we got to see the sunrise over the Pantanal.

The day was basically a long journey covering a five-hour bus journey and two flights to eventually turn up at our hotel in Rio. From there we headed out to one hell of a nice buffet where, once again, you pay based on how much your plate weighs. Well, I was wiser now, and chose a selection of considerably higher value objects. Meat basically. I had a big plate of meat.

Day 13 – Rio then home

With my flight leaving Rio at 11pm, I had a full day left to cover off in the city. I, and another person on the tour, booked a car to take us to Christ The Redeemer, then to Sugar Loaf mountain and back to the hotel. A quick, no frills journey covering two of the main sights.

Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy, so after taking the little tram to the top of Christ the Redeemer, we couldn’t get the most impressive pictures. The view was phenomenal though. I’ve never seen a city from a mountain that sits right above it. It’s just a pity everyone else at the top were either lying on the floor or taking selfies. Normally both. Idiots.

Sugar Loaf Mountain was much of the same, apart from the fact you had to ride two pretty high cable cars to get there (as you’ve probably guessed, I’m not a fan of high moving vehicles). It was really interesting to go from one to the other and see the complimenting views from each. Rio is a pretty damn handsome city in fact.

Aside from a bit of shopping (where I had my first McDonald’s of the trip), I did little more than pack my bags, jump in a taxi, and head to the airport to, once again, get completely drunk. Remembering, as I walked towards the plane, that I’d already watched pretty much everything on the flight already.

Summary

As places go, Brazil is pretty amazing, as you’d imagine. It’s far removed from any trip I’ve been on before with geography, wildlife and culture that’s so interesting I barely even touched the surface of the place. Then again, I was only there for two weeks, it was like a Brazil taster session.

Of all the places I went, Paraty was by far the most interesting part of the trip. In my head before I turned up in the country I’d imagined a place where I’d be wandering around jungles with a machete, fending off animals and dancing the night away on beaches lit by firelight. Yeah okay, I’ve spent far too much time watching Romancing The Stone, but the realisation that, even in Brazil, getting that close to nature is limited by the confines of safety walkways and ponchos, lessens the joy. Especially at Iguazu Falls, which, although an amazing spectacle, feels like you’re surrounded by a hundred tour buses.

Paraty and the Pantenal were different. Paraty felt like a relaxed beach world where you could do anything. Jumping off a boat into the sea whenever you wanted to or clambering around an island without knowing where you’re going. The Pantanal, removed from any connection to technology, felt a bit dangerous. It felt like you weren’t part of a tour group, ticking the boxes of some meandering walkway with an illustrated map. The trips around the area where just random journeys, you may see something, you may see nothing. It was exciting, like it’s down to you to find things and not some preplanned guided trip.

Rio as a city is a phenomenal place. The geography alone is incredible. The whole place appearing like some strange juxtaposition between a city and a mountain range. On the side of the mountains sit the favelas, which don’t seem to fit in to the rest of the landscape at all.

The mixture of urban areas and places hidden away in the vast expanse of Brazil, made for a hugely diverse trip, which for someone like me who has a very short attention span, is perfect.

As for G Adventures. I was very impressed with the planning of the whole tour. From the moment I landed the group was moved from place to place with an efficiency I didn’t expect. But done in such a way that never felt anything other than relaxing. Natalia, our guide for the whole trip, was more like another member of the group than a person employed to look after us (although she managed the whole thing without us even noticing).

If, by some miracle, you’ve managed to get through this 8,000 word travel diary, you can see a load of pictures from the trip over on Flickr here.

You can also find more about Trailfinders and G Adventures by clicking on them, obviously.