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A mad dash through Brazil

BRAZIL | Thursday, 26 February 2004 | Views [480]

Well, I've been a bit lazy and forgot to send an update at the weekend, so am obviously a bit late this time.  However, as you can tell from the title it has been a mad few 10 days or so.
We left Manaus in somewhat strange circumstances.  The tour guide had said that he had booked a flight for us and we ended up going to the airport, not knowing what flight or company we were supposed to be traveling with.  All we were told was that a taxi would pick us up from the hotel at 1am.  After going to various airlines desks when we got there, we eventually found that we had been booked on a flight that would leave Manaus at 6am, so had to hang around the airport (trying desperately not to fall asleep and miss the flight).  Occupying yourself in these times is always quite hard and it was a tedious morning, however the flight left on time and we were on our way.  The itinerary was basically Manaus-Belem-Sao Luis-Teresina-Fortaleza, where we would change and get a flight from Fortaleza-Recife.  The flights in Brazil are quite similar to trains in the UK (always stopping in unwanted places and spending longer stationary than on the move).  The first flight to Fortaleza took about 9 hours, as every time the plane landed, we would have to wait for all the checks and new passengers getting on before getting ready to leave again.  In Teresina, the plane experienced 'technical' difficulties and everyone had to get off as they tried to fix the problem.  After a few hours, we all got back on the same plane (which obviously was met with dubious confidence by the passengers) and we arrived in Fortaleza an hour later.  Thankfully, the flight from Fortaleza to Recife was a lot less stressful and started looking around for a place to stay.  Unfortunately, being Carnival time, everywhere we phoned seemed to be either full or very expensive for accommodation (about $100 per night) and after some deliberation, we decided to fly down the next morning to Porto Allegre (with a stop-off in Rio along the way).  The only problem was that we had to sleep the night in Recife airport.  After about five unsuccessful attempts, we finally managed to blag our way into the VIP lounge (I think they were pitying us by this stage) and settled down for the night.  It was only when they saw our tickets (booked for the next day) that they tactfully booted us out on the offer of a cheap hotel not far from the airport.
The next day was another ridiculously early get up (4am) and got the flight from Recife to Rio.  I don't think that the air pressure was right, as Clare had real problems with her sinuses and had to get lots of tablets from the airline staff.  After arriving in Rio, we quickly went downtown and went up Pào de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain), via two cable cars.  From the top, the view over Rio was magnificent and the Copacabana beach looked stunning.  After lunch on the Copacabana, decided to get a taxi to Corcovado (the statute of Christ).  Obviously, he was having a bad day and couldn't be bothered to have any visitors, as a tree had fallen on the train line and no-one could go up.  However, managed to see him from afar.  In the evening, caught the flight to Porto Allegre and had a bit of a scary moment when our baggage didn't come off the hold.  However, it turned out that they had been there all day and were in the corner all day long.
After a couple of days relaxing in Porto Allegre (where the people were a lot more friendly than elsewhere in Brazil), getting my haircut (extremely stressful - it is bad enough when they can speak English, let alone Portuguese), we took another overnight bus to Foz do Iguacu.  This bus journey was one of the worst for a long time (it didn't help that the woman sat next to us spent half the journey being violently ill and the other half eating to replace food that had been displaced from her body).
We spent a few days in Foz do Iguacu and visited the Brazilian and Argentinian side of the falls.  The Iguacu falls were unbelievable - there are about 275 falls stretching as far as the eye can see and about 15 million litres of water pass through them every second.  On the Argentinean side, you are able to get so close to them and feel the power of the water, it really was the best thing we've seen on this journey so far and made you feel very small.  On one of the evenings we went to Carnival do Foz (the local Carnival), which despite not being as big or organised as the Rio, Salvador or Olinda Carnival was very much fun and there were about 30,000 people there.  We spent all night at the very front buying beer off anyone who was under the age of 14 (that was the challenge for the evening) and trying to mimic the dancing (which we may have been slightly less successful at). 
On our last day in Foz, we decided to go over the Paraguayan border to Ciudad Del Este (mainly to get the passport stamp).  After walking around for a couple of hours, we went back over the border into Brazil, annoying the border officials (as I'm sure he must get hundreds of people doing this everyday).  Despite what people had told us, that this was one of the worst cities in South America, I really didn't think that it was that bad and didn't feel threatened or unsafe at any time (it wasn't as bad as Huddersfield, that's for sure).
My opinion about Brazil is still that despite being the fifth largest country in the world, it has extremely little to offer travellers in comparison to the smaller countries in this region, which was quite disappointing and the friendliness of people (with the exception of the far south) was also not what we had come to expect.  However, it does seem to be a very inward looking country and maybe we saw it at a bad time (who knows). 
In the afternoon, we caught the 18 hour bus from Foz to Buenos Aires and our expectations for the bus were quite low (after the previous one a few days before). However, we couldn't have been more wrong, as it was a super luxurious bus and the added services were quite unexpected.  For dinner, usually on these buses they just stop and leave you to buy bad food at over-inflated prices.  However, this time we got taken into a dinner hall with a band playing and given free food, beer, wine, ice cream and to top it all off champagne.  When we got back on the bus, everyone was given a large glass of whisky as a night cap - obviously, had no problems sleeping and my opinion of Argentina was already extremely positive.
In the last couple of days, we have been in Buenos Aires and wandered around the city.  On the trip (so far) it is my favourite city - the people are very welcoming (despite the slight issue about the Falklands, though they respond with a waving hand (Maradona)), the place is so cheap and the beef and wine absolutely amazing.  Last night, we had 2 400g steaks, lots of trimmings, a bottle of wine for about 9 pounds.  We have also started a Spanish course (about time) for a couple of hours a day for a week, so will be here a bit longer than expected.  Plus, we're going to football game on Sunday, the Tango festival and the 1st ever Buenos Aires beer festival this weekend, so things are looking good and I'm still a million miles away from the reality that one day I will have to go back home and get behind a desk again.
Anyway, hasta luego guys - please let me know what's happening back home (or wherever you are) and I'll raise a beautiful (and at a pound a bottle, cheap) glass of Mendoza's finest to you all.

Tags: I should have known better!

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