The Amazon and Beaches and Beaches and Beaches...
24.10.2008 - 22.11.2008 40 °C
Here we are in Brazil! We have covered A LOT of ground since we last wrote. I have tried to keep things brief. The people in Brazil have been extremely friendly -moreso than in any other place we have visited. One problem, however -neither Josh nor I speak any Portuguese! Just when we were getting pretty comfortable with Spanish, we cross the border and BAM! We are deaf and dumb again. Written Portuguese is similar to Spanish but the pronunciation is something else! It sounds like how a child speaks when they are pretending to speak a language they do not know.
At the border between Venezuela and Brazil, we were kindly offered a ride to the nearest city, Boa Vista, by a man working in the customs office. The trip was supposed to take about 4 hours because the road is so pot-holely, but our driver, drove an average of 160 km/hr with a maximum of 200km/hr!! This was while he was swerving to avoid pot holes and telling us about all the people smuggling cheap gas from Venezuela whose cars expolde like bombs if they are in an accident! Great! I cut my thumb while frantically digging under the back seat searching for the seat belt. It had been removed! Luckily, Josh had a belt in the front seat.
We arrived safely in Boa Vista and hopped a night bus to Manaus. Manaus is a large city in the middle of the jungle on the Amazon River. It was a really rich place during the rubber boom and has some beautiful colonial buildings and a grand opera house. What is even more amazing is that everything in Manaus -all the building supplies, food etc. is sent via the Amazon River. There are no roads connecting it to the coast.
From Manaus we went on a 4-day excursion into the Amazon Jungle. There we went pirranha fishing, saw fresh water dolphins, monkeys, caiman (alligators) and sloths and spent two nights sleeping in hammocks in the jungle. It was a lot of fun and we emerged from the jungle VERY dirty and covered with mosquito bites...and some sort of rash that could not be identified. Signs of a successful trip!!
After our nights in the jungle, we decided we hadn't had enough nights in hammocks so we boarded a boat headed for Belem, on the coast. The trip is at least 4 nights to Belem but we decided to break up the trip and stay in Santa Rem, a town half way that has a beautiful amazon beach. Unfortunately, when we got to Santa Rem, we were informed that the next boat to Belem wouldn't be for about a week, so we had to leave that day for Belem. The boat ride itself was pretty uneventful. There were about 100 passengers, mostly locals, and we all hung our hammocks together on the middle deck. It was really cramped so the old lady beside me kept kicking me all night from her hammock and the baby beside Josh kept sprawling on him -the baby also kept pooping her underwear and crying. I guess her mother though she was toilet trained, but she obviously was not! I'm not sure how often children usually poop in one day, but this one was a pro. The Amazon River is so big and wide that for the most part, you don't really see much besides water -except for the odd dolphin. At one point our boat broke down so we were marooned in a little town for about a day before we set out again. The most interesting part of the trip was when our boat went through some narrow passages. Natives from the jungle heard the boat and came out in their canoes -even really tiny kids were manuevering their canoes through the wake of the boat! Passengers from our boat threw plastic bags of food, clothes or whatever to the natives and they quickly paddled around to collect them. A couple people even threw a hooks from their canoes to our boat and hitched a free ride. It was a very special experience.
We arrived in Belem and spent a couple of days exploring the city. It also has a lot of old, colonial architecture and quite a bit of charm. It was so hot that we tried to find some respite in a couple of botanical gardens. The gardens were beautiful, but it was still about 40 degrees and humid! The port area was very interesting and we bought mangoes in the market and ate them while listening to a live band.
From Belem, we headed to São Luis. It is another historical city with amazing colonial buildings. Most of them, however, are in some form of disrepair or completely decrepit and inhabited by stray cats! It is still quite beautiful though to see these grand buildings being swallowed up by time and the tropical climate. The near-by Island of Alcantara was much the same but had fewer people and a real "ghost town" feel.
From São Luis we headed to Natal to hit the beach. We stayed in a suburb called Ponto Negro which has a nice beach with HUGE dunes! We spent a day jumping in the waves and then headed south to Praia de Pipa. Pipa is an old hippie town so it is very laid back. The beaches are beautiful too! We spent three days there playing in the water, swimming with dolphins, walking on the beach and eating mangoes. From Pipa we headed further south to another couple of beaches, south of Recife, at Porto de Galinhas (port of chickens!). Here they had natural coral pools in the ocean that you could snorkel around and of course, beautiful aqua-blue water. From there we headed south to Maceio and, you guessed it-another beach, Praia do Gunga. Gunga is amazing and is exactly how you picture an idyllic, tropical paradise in your head -complete with chilled coconuts to sip from.
We thought after all that beach time, we needed a bit more culture, so on to Salvador! Salvador has a very strong African culture. Many, many slaves were brought there from all over Africa and they have kept some of their own traditions, religions and have, of course, modified them to suit the Brazilian environment. The streets are busy with artists, musicians, dancing and food/beer vendors. Very interesting were the capoeira (sp?) performances. Capoeira is a martial art that is performed as more of an extremely aerobic dance between two people. It looks like break dancing with lots of head stands, spins and high kicks. Amazing!
From Salvador we are making our way to Rio de Janeiro. The bus ride is about 30+ hours so we have stopped half way at Porto Seguro for a day of beach. Tomorrow we hop another long bus all the way to Rio.