“There's a race of men that don't fit in, A race that can't sit still; So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will. They range the field and rove the flood, And they climb the mountain's crest; Their's is the curse of the gypsy blood, And they don't know how to rest.”
- Robert Service

Thursday, 3 August 2017

That Spider is Huge!: Our Trip to Brazil

We hummed an hawed about this trip for a while. When your vacation time suddenly becomes much less frequent, there's an incredible amount of pressure to choose the "right" adventure. Is it similar to someplace we've been to before? How long does it take to get there? Does it satisfy a desire to see something uniquely different from home? What's the dollar exchange like these days? Just exactly  how hot is it there in July? We very nearly chose a different continent altogether, and I think Michael was still a little unsure it was the "right" choice up until the moment he booked our tickets.

At any rate, after a full day's travel we landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the start of July. As it turns out, Argentina in July is cold and rainy. It's a lot like Vancouver, except for it's title as "Paris of the South" which appropriately describes the architecture and café culture. In between drying out our sneakers, we did a lot of walking around B.A; doing the usual walking tours and independent ventures. We visited the Catedreal Metropolitana, Pope Francis' Alma Mater and location of the most exclusive Pope gift shop. I should have bought that Pope-puzzle...

Interior of the theatre-turned-bookshop (El Ateneo Grand Splendid)
Of course no visit to Buenos Aires would be complete without a little Eva Peron tourism! We took a visit to the Recoleta Cemetery, which is a sight to be seen in itself! Aside the shock of all of the massive, ornate crypts, you quickly realize that the crypts have doors. They have doors with windows. Basically, you can walk amongst all of these grave sites and see all the old, musty coffins your dreams have asked for... One of my favourites had doors with knockers. I mean, if you're knocking onto the door of a crypt, who is going to answer from the inside?

Anyway, Evita is interred here, too. But that crypt is sealed up pretty tight. 

Nope. No nightmares here!
 But soon we waved buh-bye to B.A, and headed for Niagara Falls' massive older brother, Iguazu Falls.

Initially, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. I mean, it's yet another waterfall. I was assuming it'd be big enough, but I really didn't grasp the true scope of this place until I was standing above it on a little platform and the mists were fogging up my glasses.

The falls have two access points, like Niagara - one from Argentina and one from Brazil. If you ever decide to visit this place, there is no "bad side." It's everywhere. For a little bit of context, on the Argentinian side, you can enter the falls at one end to see it, and then get on a little train which takes you to the other end of the falls. This train ride takes 15minutes. So, it would be appropriate to say that the falls are quite long. Michael also adds that Iguazu is like Niagara if you put several Niagara's end-to-end and then stacked a couple of Niagaras up on top, so there were extra tiers. Here's someone else's visual comparison.

Here's some hot tips:
1. That shit is misty. Bring a raincoat or poncho.
2. Wear good walking shoes. You're gonna log, like 18,000 steps
3. Do take the free shuttle across the water to the island. It's a bit of a hike up to the top, but the views are great (and also free)
4. Don't bother with doing the extra speed boat trips. They look expensive and mostly just wet.
5. Absolutely make an effort to visit the falls outside of busy times. We visited the Argentinian side almost as soon as it opened and the Brazilian side 2 hours before closing and in both cases we had blissfully crowd-minimal visits without having to elbow our way in to see the views.
This is exactly how I felt while looking at that rainbow in person.

Falls from Argentina. Views not so "face on" because most of the water flows from the Argentinian side towards Brazil. It's just SO LONG though!
While we waited for the end-of-day lull on the Brazil side, we indulged a little and visited a bird park. Toucans are surprisingly into selfies
 The next leg of our trip was a long flight up to the northern end of Brazil, to the Amazon! We kicked off from Manaus, where we had booked a stay in a rustic Amazonian lodge. After a 3 hour car ride, we were transferred into a boat (for another 45 mins) and arrived at Amazon Antonio's. I won't go too much into what it's like there except that it's a comfortable lodge where they feed you three times a day and offer several kinds of lodging including in hammocks. Mostly it's the place where you relax and recharge before you go out into the forests for adventures.

We arrived alongside 2 French medical students on leave from Guyana, and the four of use were paired with Christoff, a guide who's been doing this for the better part of a decade at a couple of lodges (one of them being a nudist colony. I cannot fathom being naked in the Amazonian jungle. Just, nope) Throughout our trip, I will learn just how badass this guy is, from trekking in the jungle for 10 days with only a hammock, a rifle, a machete, and salt, to simple things like casually making 5 spoons out of a block of wood and a machete while I made an attempt at stringing up my hammock. Below are some things we did over our 4 days:

Piranha fishing! That's Chris. We ate these fish for lunch. Also, this is the same river I swam in that morning. Chris was pretty confident it was safe. I'm not sure what his baseline for "safe" is, but I still went swimming every day anyway.
This tarantula lives 10 feet from where we eat meals in the lodge. Chris made sure to point her out just after I told him how afraid of spiders I am. I reconsider how much we tip him at the end of the trip.*
A Walking Stick! It was probably 7 inches long!
Ignore my finger in this picture in order to appreciate just how massive this grasshopper is!
Sunrise canoe out on the water. At this time of year all the forests are flooded and "floating" which makes for some fantastic photos!
One night, Christoff guided us into the forest to camp out. It wasn't a tricky hike - only an hour and mostly flat. It was incredibly humid, though, and Chris kept joking about the jaguars that prefer to attack from behind...but I'm not sure he was joking. So here were our little jaguar burritos, aka "hammocks" for the night.
Chris did most of the camp setup, including carving our utensils using a machete. He allowed Michael to try, though we noticed he made sure to "smooth out the edges" after Mike was done.

Not long after we made camp, we legit all heard the growl of a big cat not far off. Chris assured us that it was a Jaguar, but that they "tend not to" wander into camp. We started the prep for supper, and I quickly realized that Chris had put skewers of raw meat into the soft, pink hands of some very green tourists. I made a second note about how much we should tip him**
Campfire setup. I was legit amazed at Chris' stick-balancing skills.
After dark, I had Chris tell us some of his most memorable stories as a guide. I won't write them all here (but I can add them into the comments section), but they include a jaguar coming into camp to investigate an overly zealous snorer, a viper in a pair of pants, a scorpion in a hammock, and a giant tarantula crawling over someones face while they slept. Thankfully, none of those things happened to us and here's a shot of us the next day, completely alive!
We visited a local sustenance-farming family. Not the gourmet kitchen most of us would imagine, but the view was pretty damn good.

I always bring knitting. What's a little canopy-down-time without a few knits and purls?
Aside from Pink Dolphin spotting, nighttime Cayman seeking, and more piranha fishing, we managed to get in a few sunsets. This last one was so amazing even Chris got out his camera for a few shots.
 And that's the bulk of out adventure into the Amazon! We spent one more night in Manaus before heading south again to Rio, but even a few hours in this port city was awesome!
All of these boats are used for passenger travel. The primary "berths" are the hammocks you bring yourself and string from the beams! There were dozens of these boats, all bustling with people getting on or supplies exchanging hands.
We don't speak any Portuguese, but that didn't make this football match near the port any less exciting!\
 Our last destination was to Rio de Janeiro, where winter felt almost exactly like Canadian summer. Due to  a bookkeeping error, our hostel "upgraded" us to their other location, exactly one block from Ipanema beach. It's probably one of the most recognizeable beaches in the world and there were just about as many skimpy men's swimsuits as you would expect.

We did out usual "free walking tour" opening number, which brought us downtown. We spent another day exploring the Beach areas, including Copacabana beach (which is more touristy) and spotted locals walking their sweater-wearing dogs. We took in a football match at the massive stadium and sat amongst the home team fans chanting constantly while they flew massive flags and attempted not to have heart attacks from the nail-biting ending to the match. We took the cablecar up to Sugarloaf Mountain at sunset. We toured one of the favelas - slum districts - to see their mountainside views back towards the ocean and the city, and we made sure to tick off that last "wonder" from the 7-item list.

Ipanema beach. hawt
"Heaven's Gate" from atop a favela
colourful, stacked up homes in a favela.
More of the favela, stacked up. They were build by the people, most of whom were tradespeople who learnt home-building while working below in the city.

The Selaron Steps. Created entirely by one Chilean artist over many years. They go up several flights. Over time, people started bringing him tiles from all over the world

The artist himself, on a tile of his own work. He died rather mysteriously on these steps in 2013
On our very last day, we made the trip up-up-up to see this giant Jesus. He's got the best view of the city.

So that's what happened in Brazil! I still keep a pretty detailed travel journal, so if you want more information or anecdotes I can get you all the dirt. Things I didn't include: How expensive it is, how long it takes to get there (forever), manging your cash flow (my card was flagged a couple of times), why we're convinced that Christ the Redeemer is a soft addition to the "7-Wonders" list and how safe I felt, generally (very, even after a bird poop scam attempt). I also didn't have any issues with theft, though I did manage to leave my phone (it's my old one, and it was backed up) in the Uber car that took us to the airport on the way home.

Latino America Vive!

*yes, we still tipped him
**Are you crazy? of course we still tipped him. I'm alive, aren't I?

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