Monday, November 30, 2015

South America (Brazil) - Day 10 - 13: Paraty

We said our goodbyes to Luciana and Ezekiel the next morning and got a far more reasonably priced boat back to Angra, where we then caught a bus just near the pier to our next destination: Paraty.


The word "picturesque" is overused in pretty much any form of travel journalism, but Paraty deserves it. Whether in the baking sun or the warm evening, you can take photos of pretty much anything in the old town and it'd look good. We had booked into Leo's Clan Beach Hostel, purely based on the stonking reviews it had received. It helped that Leo was available on WhatsApp to confirm our booking too. When we arrived, we weren't disappointed. The hostel is lovely - clean, spacious, and made El Misti Rooms in Rio look like a dive. There is even a pool on the roof!



We dumped our stuff and took a look around the town in the evening with a Greek chap called Dimitris who was in our room and was taking a break from his course in Sao Paulo. Hawkers lined the streets selling all the usual gubbins that you find at these places - bird whistles, necklaces, and other assorted tat. The place is so pretty at night that we took our time wandering the streets which are not so much cobbled, as bouldered. It's like someone took the remnants of an avalanche and dumped it on a mud road. I've never seen cobbles like them. After just about managing not to break our ankles, we decided to splash out on some Thai food at Thai Basil. The food was stupendous, the service abysmal. Still, we were entertained by a clown with a crystal ball while we waited for our food.






A further wander around the town after food revealed a host of stalls selling cheap eats and even cheaper beer - Friday night is a good time to head out, and the streets were pretty crowded. We even saw a tarot card reader peddling her scams to hippy travellers. The atmosphere is incredibly relaxed, and Paraty reminded us a lot of Luang Prabang in Laos where you could wander around feeling completely safe, and just take in the scenery.







We met a decent group of people at the hostel, including Charlotte, Tom and Evana, and Kev and Amy. They were all going on a boat trip tomorrow called the Caipboat, which offered swimming, beaches, and most importantly, all-you-can-drink caipirinhas. Even though the weather looked like it could be pretty rubbish, there happened to be space on the boat so we took a punt and signed up. It was a great decision. Leo was bringing his parents Nancy and Wagner along too, as well as his girlfriend, and they were fantastic sports. Wagner wasn't a confident swimmer, but he chucked himself into the sea like a pro anyway. He was also really keen on selfies, so I happily obliged, even though it made me look like I had eighty chins.





We stopped at three spots to go swimming whose names escape me. Leo had been making caipirinhas since we set off at eleven, so we were more than a little tipsy and therefore very keen to jump off the top of the boat into the sea. This escalated somewhat when at the next spot we trekked up a cliff and decided to jump off that too. Gilly managed to cut her hand open on some barnacles getting out of the water, but despite blood pouring from the wound she chucked herself off the cliff too. I'm not entirely sure it was good for my ear problem, but by that point the caipirinhas had kicked in so I wasn't too bothered.





I felt like I needed to learn how this amazing drink was made, so I tried my hand at it myself. Turns out it's pretty simple. Cut up a boatload of limes into quarters after removing the white rind at the core. Juice them. Add a megaton of sugar, and enough cachaça to floor a bull elephant. Top with crushed ice. Done. For my first go, people seemed to be pretty impressed but that may or may not be because they were already drunk. Charlotte was very happy though.



We stopped for lunch at a beach and chowed down on calamari, fries, rice, and some other fish before heading back onto the boat for the ride back. Given my immense caipirinha skills, it seemed only natural that the last thing I needed to do to launch my own rival Caipboat operation was to learn how to drive the boat. Our captain - Gustavo - was very willing to let me take the reins, although I fear my propensity for drink-boating may mean that I'm probably not cut out for a life at sea just yet.





I relinquished control of the boat long before I would have crashed into the pier, and from there it was back to Leo's place for a Tenacious D singalong with Tom and Leo, accompanied by a fantastic BBQ courtesy of Kev and Wagner and some table football. I managed to beat Wagner, but got trounced by everyone else - and I think my win was mostly because Leo's dad had drunk more caipirinhas than me.



Hangovers were assured the next day, but we were surprisingly OK and the weather was fantastic too, so we took a wander around the ridiculously photogenic town. Charlotte headed to the beach whilst the other couples were moving on to their next locations. Lunch came courtesy of Manuê Sucos, which two days earlier had been held up by an armed robber in the early evening. The owners were advising people on their Facebook page not to visit Paraty at all due to the danger, but I think that was more to do with the fact that Manue had unfortunately been targeted on a number of occasions rather than the area being particularly dangerous. The juices and wraps were outstanding, and the place was pretty full, so it seems the locals weren't bothered either.

We visited the Sacred Art Museum which was still in development (i.e. pretty much empty of anything to look at), picked up some postcards, and tried and failed to buy a bus ticket to Sao Paulo for the following day. It seems that spaces are limited and there aren't a huge amount of buses going to the city, so it didn't take too much to convince us to stay in Paraty for another night.





Wandering down another street we heard some commotion coming from a nearby building and there were loads of people dressed in in white inside, so we stuck our heads in to find out what was happening. There was a capoeira event taking place, with people of all ages forming a circle whilst two individuals would meet in the middle and battle it out. Capoeira is a mixture of dance, acrobatics and martial arts, and the performers ranged from excellent to incredible. Spotting that we were clearly tourists, we were led close to the circle and then Gilly was pulled in to have a go herself!




Despite the trepidation on her face, she threw herself into it and cartwheeled all over the place. I managed to avoid it due to being on camera duty, plus I feared something might dislocate if I tried it... We caught up with Charlotte in the evening and had some delicious falafel and kebabs at Istanbul before finding a cheap chopp (beer) shop for some late night drinks.





Charlotte was leaving the next day but had recommended a hostel for us to stay at in Sao Paulo where her brother worked. The weather was pretty murky so we pottered about the hostel for a while and chatted to a new couple - Emily and Dan - who had just arrived and were on the last leg of their trip before heading home from Rio. Everyone was starving, so a per kilo place (Taberna) was on the cards. It seems that per kilo places are a lot better when they are full of people as it means the food is constantly replenished. This was was empty, and whilst it was filling, the food was lukewarm at best. We exchanged some tips for places we'd been to for places Emily and Dan were going to later on down the line, and then headed to Punto Di Vina - a much nicer restaurant - for hearty Italian food.

We'd managed to get a ticket to Sao Paulo for the following day - we hadn't realised that Brazilians carry ID cards with them everywhere, so even booking something as simple as a bus ticket requires ID. Luckily we had brought photocopies of our passports with us - something I can highly recommend doing - so it saved us a trip back to the hostel. We said our goodbyes to Leo the next morning; he will be coming to England next December, so we'll hopefully be able to welcome him to Bristol!


Monday, November 23, 2015

South America (Brazil) - Day 6 - 9: Island life on Ilha Grande

I think travelling around South America is going to be a lot harder than SE Asia. The language barrier in particular is tough; very few people in Brazil speak much English, which means that we're reliant on my pigeon Portuguese (no DuoLingo, I am not 41% fluent no matter how many times you try and claim otherwise), mime, and Google Translate on our phones to show people how rubbish we are at speaking. It also means that we're more likely to come across hurdles, such as the one we experienced getting to Ilha Grande.

I'd booked the place for us based on reviews; it looked like a fairly isolated slice of island paradise and just what we needed after Rio's mayhem. We'd got a transfer through the hostel, which we'd asked them to confirm on several occasions that it included a boat to the beach we were staying on (Praia Vermelha - not to be confused with the one next to Sugar Loaf mountain) - they said it did. So, after leaving at 6:45am and bundling into a minibus, imagine our surprise when we arrived at the transfer spot in Conceição de Jacareí, only to be told that we were going to have to arrange another boat to the correct beach when we arrived at Abraão on Ilha Grande. On arriving in Abraão we were told the only way to do that was to pay for a private taxiboat at a cost of around £90. Yay. At this point Gilly was almost apoplectic, but fortunately a local tour shop guide beckoned us into their shop and told us that a tour they were running which included a few nearby snorkel spots to Praia Vermelha was setting off in five minutes, and for £45 we could join them and they'd drop us off at the halfway point of the tour.

So, in what felt like battering rain and freezing wind, we slunk onto a tour boat with a number of far happier people, and after a visit to both a green lagoon and a blue lagoon, two and a half hours later we finally got off the pier on Praia Vermelha.




A couple of hundred steps up a forest path later, and we arrived at Pousada Lagamar. We immediately realised that we'd made the right decision. A very pregnant Luciana welcomed us with a glass of guava juice, and showed us to our room - we'd been upgraded to a sea view (which basically meant first floor, not ground floor) and the shower felt amazing after a stressful morning. The power was out on the entire island, which is pretty common by all accounts, so we walked down to a local restaurant on the beachfront owned by a cranky South African named Christian and he rustled up some calabrese via the wonder of gas cooking, whilst I quizzed him on why he had stayed on the island for 20 years if he found it so hard living there. He didn't really have an answer. Island life definitely has its plusses, but I personally couldn't do it full time. I definitely wouldn't stay two decades if I hated it, but that might just be me. I can definitely get used to the amazing hammocks though.




After lunch we went to the main beach where we docked, and came across a penguin! Apparently her name was Lucy, and she'd come over during the whale/penguin/dolphin visits through July to September, and had got separated. She was looking pretty lost but we gave her some space (unlike another couple we saw who thought it'd be a great idea to pick her up...sometimes I despair of people). We took a walk over to a nearby beach: Praia do Itaguaçú. It was deserted other than for a couple who were also staying at the pousada. En route, we saw a green snake slithering through the forest - an early sign of the varied wildlife we were going to encounter. After a brief sunbathe, we headed back to the accommodation where the power was now back on and Luciana's husband Ezekiel was cooking up a storm in the kitchen. He is an absolutely fantastic chef, and before we knew it we were chowing down on filet mignon for the second night in a row, but this time in a mustard sauce with sautéed potatoes. As we ate we were also visited by a porcupine - apparently there is a family of them nearby, as well as a family of black-tufted marmosets. Luciana puts fruit out for them, and they are all very friendly. Even Gilly (who is not a fan of monkeys since one got a bit angry with her in Ubud) came around to their cuteness, particularly after realising one had a tiny baby clinging on to its back.









Breakfast is also special here, as we found out the next morning. A selection of breads, cereals, fruit and juices...and black tea. Our first cup of tea since the flight tasted like heaven, and it wasn't Lipton either. The power then went out again, so we hired some snorkels and took a walk out to Praia Grande, via the forest paths. It was a couple of hours' trek, so we stopped for food at Camping Bem Natural where the bored owner looked positively excited to be cooking for us tourists in what appeared to be a holiday period for Brazil. Fish, rice, salad and farofa (the manioc flour stuff) with juice prepared us for some lovely snorkelling around the beach not long after, where we saw fantastic coral, zebra fish, some angry blue fish, but sadly no turtles. I find snorkelling a lot more difficult than diving usually, but on this occasion I really enjoyed it. We headed back and the power was back on so I finally convinced Gilly to watch Return of the Jedi (my favourite of the trilogy), so we are now fully prepared for the upcoming fourth film. Because as everyone knows, there are currently only three Star Wars films.

Ezekiel was cooking up some more fish and rice for dinner, and Gilly was all over it (she had been craving salad for ages), but I couldn't stomach eating fish for two meals in a row so went for a salami pizza instead. That evening our guest was a pyrophorus - a fire beetle. Keeping on the earlier theme, it looked like something from Batteries Not Included. The fauna here is incredible.




I'd been fighting against an ear problem since setting off from home. It was giving me serious headaches and a stiff neck. I'd been to a walk-in centre before we left, and they told me it was a pimple inside my ear which just needed antibiotic spray. A week and a half later though, and it wasn't showing any signs of getting better. The next morning was particularly painful, not helped by me picking up a bout of traveller's cold; I'd bought more antibiotic drops whilst in Rio and was getting by on a combination of this, paracetamol and ibuprofen. It was staving off the pain, but it is clear that I will have to get checked out when we arrive in Sao Paulo. I felt well enough mid-morning to take a trek up to Gruta do Acaiá - the Acai cave. This was one of the toughest treks I've done for a long time, perhaps ever, because of the unrelenting heat and our foolishness in only taking a litre of water between us, due to the fact that our pousada had sold out of large bottles. The climb up was crazily steep in places, there is a huge area which is completely uncovered so you get the full force of the sun, and by the time we arrived an hour and a half later, we were swaying somewhat. The cave is actually on a guy's property so he happily charges 20 reais per person to show people around. He didn't speak a word of English, but between us we picked up the gist of what he was saying (mostly, "mind your head here"). It is a descent into a very claustrophobic, incredibly narrow space, followed by a scramble along damp rock faces to the bottom of the cave, which is basically a water inlet for the sea which reflects the water in amazing azure colours. It would take 2 to 3 minutes to swim underwater and end up out in the sea - not a place you want to end up trapped under.















It was worth the trek, but we were dreading the walk back given the length of time it took us to arrive at the cave. Fortunately, a combination of the guide giving us an armful of bananas and a couple of cacao fruit to keep us going, as well as routine of stopping in shade every ten minutes, and we were soon back home and in much faster time than expected. It was probably due to remembering the landmarks we'd passed: the crazily muddy bit; the signpost that didn't actually say how far it was; the house with the psychopathic dog, and so on. More delicious fish and rice saw us good for dinner, and we fought with the wi-fi to try and get a booking at a hostel in Paraty, which was going to be our next destination. The booking site just wasn't working though as the bandwidth was too narrow, so in desperation I messaged the hostel owner on WhatsApp and got an instant reply back to tell us we were booked in. Fantastic. We didn't have smartphones on our last trip but they have been almost essential this time around. Navigation, booking, calling, translating - there's an application for pretty much everything we need. Hopefully we'll return with them!

Our last day on Ilha Grande saw us heading back to Itaguaçú beach to read our books in the sun, before catching up on some blogging and photo processing, wandering around the tiny hamlet of Praia Vermelha, and eating a fish casserole courtesy of one of Ezekiel's kitchen helpers. Fish is - if you hadn't guessed - the primary dish on Ilha Grande, and each meal is a very reasonable 40 reais per person; the main tourist area of the island costs a lot more. And it's really, really good food.





We were sad to leave the place as even though the weather had been variable, it hadn't properly rained except for a huge storm overnight on our final night, and on most days we managed to get a lot of sun. Luciana gave me some excellent advice about medical care in Sao Paulo (her home town) and we got our stuff together ready to depart for Angra the next morning on a local, far more reasonably priced boat, from where we'd then take a bus to Paraty.