Saturday, May 31, 2014

Recife, Olinda and then home (23.05.2014 - 28.05.2014)

In Recife we headed to the old part of Olinda. This lovely colonial town lies on and around a little hill which gives you awesome views. The old churches and other houses are quite a contrast to the high rise buildings of Recife in the back.
Our last day then was spent shopping, packing and deciding what to take home or leave behind.

On the day of our departure we got to the airport early enough to fix our visa problem. When we entered Brazil the guy at the federal police station only gave us 30 days of stay, even though 90 days is the usual. It seemed he didn't like us, had a bad hair day or what ever...
So we conveniently "lost" the little paper with the 30 days on it and hoped this would be the end of it. Sadly it wasn't that easy. When we told the federal police we needed a new little paper they told us not to worry, we wouldn't need it anymore.
But when they checked our passports later they found out we had overstayed =/ All explaining, pleading and pointing to the 90 days usual didn't help. Because the sucker at the entrance had entered our names with 30 days into the system! They then asked us the names of our parents (?) and printed some papers we had to sign. All portuguese of course. Afterwards we got an other paper and explained this is the fine we had to pay or would not be able to enter Brazil again. But we could leave, wohoo!
I'm tempted not to pay... It's only 35$ but Brazil really wasn't a good host. I don't know how they gonna do it for the world cup and the olympic games. Almost nobody speaks english (or any other language besides portuguese) and many times we were treated much poorer and ruder than other Brazilian guests.

A 12 hours cramped-tourist-class flight later (what you get if you book the cheapest flight out of Brazil to Europe ^^) we touched down in Frankfurt. Here we got picked up by a uncle of Melanie which pleasantly drove us all the way home to Switzerland! Thanks again Paul!


Sunday, May 25, 2014

How we ended up in Porto de Galinhas (17.05.2014 - 23.05.2014)

After the troubles we had to get to Penedo we wised up (or thought so) and bougth a ticket the day before to Maceio, two-thirds of the way to Maragogi our destination. We left town early(ish) and arrived at three in the afternoon in the capital of the state Alagoas. Surprise, surprise: no more busses today to Maragogi! WTF! This was the third time we got stuck in Brazil! We definitely should have rented a car for this last leg...
Sick of it all we took a direct bus to Recife and decided to look at our options from there. An unpleasant bus ride later (mainly to the fact we had a drunken, booze spilling, stinking, muttering to her self lady hobo behind us) we arrived in the early hours at the airport in Recife. Tempting...!
After some sleep and a walk at the beach we decided to give the coastal towns another try and went south again the next day to Porto de Galinhas.
Porto de Galinhas, literally chicken port, gets its name from the past when they used this little town to smuggle in slaves into Brazil. They hid them in boats with chickens and also used it as code word for sellers. Advertising them as "fresh new chickens"! The name stuck and now it is the major gift/souvenir/crap on sale in town besides bins and phone booths, statues, street signs and much more in chicken form. Its a nice little tourist town, exactly what we needed after the hassle we had to get here and as an end to our epic journey.
We spent the days relaxing at the pool or the long beach. Compared to Rio there where much more hawkers trying to sell you ugly t-shirts or tours. Still not too bad, especially the little carts selling all kinds of food and drink. Can't complain if they bring you a big Caipirsoka to your chair for not even 5$. The Caipirinhas where cheaper but I still can't get to like the Cachaça. I don't understand why they wouldn't make proper rum out of the sugarcane?!
It also felt good to be not the only one wearing surf shorts, was kind of creeping me out in Rio ;)

Chicken with visa, politically not so correct...

Sonia's Place, Rio de Janeiro's Bed Breakfast

At first I have to say I LOVE RIO, it is such a great city! And one reason I enjoyed Rio so much was Sonia. She lives in a penthouse apartment in the center of the Copacabana neighbourhood, three blocks from the beach. She is a fabulous host and has a great taste in furniture. If you stay at her place you get a lot of valuable advices and a feeling how it actually is to live in this beautiful city.
Be quick if you plan to go to Rio, she only rents out two rooms.

Our room!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Nono Penedo (15.05.2014 - 16.05.2014)

Next destination was the colonial town of Penedo at the Rio Sao Francisco. After waiting for three hours on the main road we finally found a bus which at least drove in the right direction, if only half way. Another bus ride later we arrived in the major city of Aracaju where we were told the next bus to Penedo would leave the following day! Being stuck in a ugly city and having a reservation (and down payment) in Penedo we had no choice but to take an expensive cab for the last leg. Our taxi driver took us to the wrong side of the river, according to my "smart" phone, but luckily there was a ferry to take us across ;)
Penedo itself is a nice old colonial town with lots of old buildings in different states of repair and colours. On our second night was a little fiesta on the plaza below our window. It seemed the percussionist and singer had switched places. It sounded TERRIBLE! I most definitely can sing better than the guy screeching away not mentioning the other one banging away on the drums...
Did we mention this whole continent is all quantity over quality? ;)

View from our room

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Venturing up the coast or so (13.05.2014 - 14.05.2014)

From Salvador we took a bus up north to Praia do Forte. This little beach getaway is famous for its turtle beach and the humpback whales which migrate here. Sadly neither of them were in season during our short stay. We took a walk through the little reserve nearby and ended up at the beach with all its marked nest. To prevent predators munching all the tasty turtle eggs they put some wire mesh over the nests and mark them with a post and number. It was cool to see how many nests and how few people where around!
The little theme park/zoo/sanctuary they have in town although is a disgrace. Having giant sea turtles and huge goliath groupers locked in tiny ugly blue painted concrete ponds is just uncool. Also the stingray "petting pool" was quite offensive...

Praia do Forte

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Salvador de Bahia (11.05.2014 - 12.05.2014)

Salvador may not be as well known as Rio but has also a long tradition of colourful carnival. It is even bigger as the one in Rio, says Wikipedia ;)
With a high percentage of African descendants you can feel a change of vibes compared to the south. The traditional and colourful dresses the woman used to wear (and still do to get some bucks from the tourists) or the multicoloured houses remembered us a lot of the Caribbean.

The overcast and windy weather discouraged us from venturing far on the first day. The next day it cleared up and we had a stroll through the historic center. One of the oldest cities on the continent and also first capitol of Brazil, there are still many colonial buildings around. The historic center is well maintained and clearly the highlight of the city.

We looked at the option to rent a car for the trip up north to Recife. Sadly the drop-off charges for not returning the car at the rental place doubled the price and made it too expensive. So we decided against it and took one more time to the bus terminal, a bad decision which we found out later...

Church fence covered in bracelets

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beers of the World

List of all the beers I drank since I left home! =)


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Brasilia, Districto Federal (08.05.2014 - 10.05.2014)

On our way up north we made a stop in the capitol. Brasilia, the artificially city developed by Niemeyer in the 1960s, is quite a weird sight. Planned and built in the golden and glorious days of the automobile, it reminds me a bit about the metropoles I built back in the days in SimCity. With the residential area on one side and business district on the other. Sounds great till you realize you need giant super highways to connect them and still have a monster traffic jam. Unlike Rio or even Sao Paulo there where next to no bicycles or pedestrians to see. Everybody drives around in his car by himself...
We had a look around the Monumental Axis where the museum of modern art, the weird cathedral, different ministries and many more government buildings are located. As this city was built in one go, all the buildings are in the same concrete/modernist style.
Together with the city they also dammed the river Paranoá to create Lago do Paranoá. Sadly there wasn't much around the shore so we returned to the centre after a look at the JK bridge.
Also worth mentioning is the stadium they built for the World Cup. Brasilia doesn't even have a soccer team playing in the mayor Brazilian soccer league, they will never fill it again after the games.
During our stay we didn't see any other tourists although there where hundreds of hotels around (probably catering to diplomats and politics). It also seems everybody eats what room services offers. As our hotel directed us to the next shopping mall when asked for a restaurant... o_O
All in all Brasilia isn't really a tourist destination. The nature of the city (or its lack of it) makes it unbearable during all but dusk and dawn. You can see it all in a day, so fly-in in the morning and out in the evening as it is even duller at night, bureaucrats don't seem to party ;)

One of almost two dozen ministries along the road 

If you're int Niemeyer and his works check out for more of his designs.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Rio de Janeiro: city, beach and mountains (01.05.2014 - 08.05.2014)

Having grown up near the water (just a stroll from the lake) I think a city without access to water (sea, lake, river, etc) is just half as nice. So Rio hits the jackpot, with half a dozen beaches close by. We were positively surprised about them: clean, spacious and next to no vendors bothering you.
But of course we didn't spent (all) our time lounging in the sand ;)

After a look at the "volcanic" cathedral we headed into Lapa. Here they where painting the famous Arcos de Lapa to be nice and shiny for the World Cup. The popular stairs where totally overcrowded but still okay. You can gift your own tiles to the artist, but we didn't have any on us ;)

On saturday we headed to the Jardim Botânico to have a look at the many orchids, nice park grounds and huge palm tree alleys. The supposed market close by was not to be found so we headed to Leblon to linger and eat some tasty food.

The following day was market day! Passing through the food market in Copacabana we took a bus to Ipanema for the "hippie" market. The time has moved on and most of the stalls now sell tourist souvenirs besides the usual trinkets. And you can pay by credit card everywhere... o_O
The rest of the day we spent like the locals on Ipanema beach =)

To have a good look on Rio we boarded the Bondinho (local name for the cable car, made in Stans Switzerland with Victorinox ads inside o_O) up to the Sugarloaf. It was pricy (25USD) but quite worth the view!

Of course we had to visit the Cristo Redentor as a finish to our week in Rio. Sadly it was quite misty, but we had nevertheless a nice view of the city.

The time has passed way too fast and we where already up and away to our next destination: Brasilia.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro

The Jardim Botânico in Rio is famous for its orchids and palm alleys. Besides gazing at the lovely flowers you can also buy dozens of different orchids. Almost every Brazilian had at least one plant in hand leaving the park. 
An other thing which stood out was that this seems to be the place for a photo shoot. So many pregnant women (and bored husbands) with photographer and assistant holding some reflector to adjust the lighting or spare props, usually a stuffed animal...
I loved the big bamboo they had around and also the giant trees. But the main attraction in my opinion was the long alley lined with palm trees. The trees were gigantic, see for your self!

Orchid @ Jardim Botanico, Rio de Janeiro

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ilha Grande (27.04.2014 - 01.05.2014)

Our bus dropped us off at Angra dos Reis at 5 in the morning, so we had to kill some time till the ferry to Ilha Grande would depart. A 45 minutes catamaran ride later we arrived at the big bay which serves as the main harbour.
As accommodation we had a reservation in a lovely little pousada. Next to a little stream and lots of vegetation it felt like staying in the jungle.

Right next to the main town of Vila do Abraão lies the entrance to the national park. When we walked along the path we could spot some tiny monkeys gnawing at the bark of trees. They where so cute, hanging upside down trying to reach the next branch ;)

The main attraction on Ilha Grande are of course the many beaches. The most famous, Lopes Mendez, can be reached by a two hour hike or a 15 minutes boat ride. As a compromise we hiked one way and took the boat back ;) 

Besides lounging at the beach you can also go diving. But the poor visibility and cold water discouraged us, maybe another day.

As the island was getting crowded for the first of may, a national holiday, we decided to continue on to Rio.

Friday, May 2, 2014

São Paulo (23.04.2014 - 26.04.2014)

After a 24 hours journey ordeal, including two bus changes, we made it to São Paulo. The largest city in Brazil, but also in the whole americas in terms of city limits.

Most of the travellers we met before told us to avoid it: nothing to see, dangerous, DANGEROUS!!! So we had fairly low expectations which where totally exceeded. Compared to the ugly and dangerous cities of central america São Paulo is very nice and safe. At least it made this impression on us ;)

We visited Liberdade, also known as little Tokyo. It is the biggest Japanese community outside of Japan. So we had cheap and good sushi and strolled through the many little Asia shops in the area.
The rest of the time we spent on Avenida Paulista, its side streets and shopping malls.

Soon it was time to pack our bags and take another overnight bus up north. This time luckily only 7 hours, olé!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Into the wild Pantanal (19.04.2014 - 22.04.2014)

As Bonito was totally booked out we fled to the Pantanal. We booked the four days / three nights in the hammock version at Fazenda São João, still not cheap. The Pantanal is an enormous wetland/swamp of three to four times the size of Switzerland! This unique environment gets flooded during the rainy season and slowly drys out during the rest of the year, Mosquito heaven!

At our Fazenda we met Daniel from Denmark, the only other guest! Tending to our needs where probably three times as many employees...
The first night our guide (I'm so bad with names, can't remember his...) made us a fire. But soon the heat and insects drove us to seek shelter in our mosquito-proof-shed. This was only the beginning of a loosing battle, I'm fairly certain that the mosquito make up the biggest part of all the biomass in the Pantanal...

After an earlyish rise and breakfast we went for a horseback ride. We saw heaps of birds, cows and even startled a herd of boars. And got like a million mosquito bites, no kidding! The bite you in the face and through clothing, mean! The mosquito cream we've used so fare didn't seem to work...

In the afternoon we hiked stumbled around the fazenda and saw more or less the same animals again. Got some blisters and more mosquito bites, yay.

At night we headed out, but didn't bring our own flashlight. So we had to follow and trust our guide (with the only light) which ambled bare feet into the fields and swamps looking for caimans and what not. Scary shit if you know there is a field full of caimans and snakes around you which you can't see! Was quite cool once we got over the first shock. Saw a big owl, a tarantula and heaps of caimans. When they get blinded by the flashlight they usually stay still and you can approach them. Didn't work all the time, some got angry and started making angry noises! I even pulled one from the street myself, how manly! ^^ On our way back Melanie almost stepped on a quite venomous Bothrops snake (don't google the images, nasty bites) but I saved her in the last moment, no joke! Manly again! =)

The next day we where supposed to go piranha fishing. Our guide selected for this an stagnant pond with around a dozen caimans perched at the bank. After chasing them away we started throwing our lines into the murky water. Everybody can make the connection that meat on a hook and caimans don't mix well. We didn't catch anything besides greedy caimans! Daniel then tried his luck on an other waterhole and caught at least some kind of fish, not a piranha. I joined him and also caught a little fish, still no piranha. Soon we were out of meat and again encircled by caimans so we abandoned this little venture and headed home.

On the schedule as activity after lunch was another hike around the fazenda which Melanie and I gladly declined in favour of some rest in the hammocks. Daniel and the guide still left and promptly got caught in massive down pour. They got lost and had to sprint home to make it back before nightfall, lol.

For the last day we got in some kayaks and floated down the Rio Miranda. It was nice to glide through the scenery including the occasional argument about when and how to paddle ;) Soon afterwards we had to leave to make it back to Bonito.

It may not sound like it but we had a great time out in the wilderness. The mosquitos where unforgiving but the amount of birds and other animals was just awesome! Who can say the slept just meters from a pond full of caimans?

Some blue Aras hanging out at the fazenda