A Travellerspoint blog

March 2014

Colombia: The Prohibition Era

Dry weekends but certainly not caffeine free...moving from the country's industrial heart to its silver lining.

sunny 32 °C

Our final country...or is it? Do we return home at the end? I can say with all certainty that our dream answer would be that we have many more countries still to go and that we are not returning home...yet. But sadly, it seems the end is nigh. We better make the most of what time we have left then shouldn't we?

Bienvenidos a Colombia! Home to coffee, cocaine(!), the largest exporter of emeralds and the Caribbean.

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With little over 3 weeks left and a lot of distance to cover in Colombia, we decided to make the most of our time and cut out the long bus journeys and fly from place to place. Internal flights in Colombia are pretty cheap so we made the most of them.

Having had enough of cities, on landing in Bogota, we immediately caught an internal flight to Manizales, a small city in the heart of Zona Cafetera or the 'Coffee Region' in Central Colombia. Our flight was only an hour but was in a small twin prop where you could feel every bump, every gust of wind, every single movement.

Manizales is described as having 'abrupt topography', built into the mountains with ridge lines and steep slopes. It is situated high in the hills of Colombia covered in lush green forest and coffee plants, as a result of the combination of hot sunny days and cooler, wetter afternoons and evenings. You can immediately see why Colombia is one of the biggest coffee growers and exporters in the world, with Manizales being the coffee capital.

We had booked a tour around Hacienda Venecia, a working coffee plantation and farm about 30 minutes outside of Manizales nestled in the bottom of the nearby valley. We also discovered that as well as being able to stay at the plantation house (which looked fantastic but out of our price range) they also had on site, a hostel which had all the same amenities and facilities as the house but slightly more basic accommodation. As such, for £20 a night, we got a private double room with ensuite bathroom, a swimming pool to use, more hammocks than you have time to sleep in and all the free coffee you can drink! And even better, hardly anyone was staying there so peace and quiet too (apart from the owners' pug which took an immediately liking to Han's socks and shoes and our Nikon DSLR)!

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On the morning of our arrival, our tour started with a brief history of where coffee originated and how it came to the Americas. We learnt all about the different types of coffee, as well as the different conditions required for growing them and the methods employed for farming, drying and roasting each.

Coffee can generally be split into 3 main bands - robusta coffee which accounts for the largest proportion of the worlds coffee (2% caffeine content); arabica coffee which accounts for the second largest proportion (1% caffeine content); and then speciality coffees such as Blue Mountain from Jamaica and the world's most expensive coffee Kopi Luwak from Indonesia, which involves an Asian Palm Civet eating the coffee fruits, digesting them and then pooing out the beans! Funny, what seems the easiest and cheapest method (less need for machinery etc), produces the most expensive coffee! Go figure... It also turns out London is the place where the price of robusta coffee is set. Who'd have thought!

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Colombia and Hacienda Venecia grow and produce only arabica coffee using the 'wash method' due to the high altitude and wetter conditions. The other method is called the 'dry method' used in areas of lower altitude and greater heat such as Brazil. If you are asking what is the difference between the two, all I'm going to say is book a trip to Colombia and stay at Hacienda Venecia...or google it. The former is much more fun though!

Colombia account for 7-10% of the coffee market and are the third biggest producer. Brazil is the biggest producer followed oddly by Vietnam, who account for 58% of the market combined. Coffee is also Colombia's third biggest export behind oil, minerals and precious stones, specifically emeralds.

When learning about the coffee making process, I was surprised to learn it is not that dissimilar to the wine-making process save for the roasting of course. As part of our 'classroom learning' we got to test out our noses once again trying to identify different 'notes' that might be present in coffee (just like in Mendoza). It turns out that my good nose for wine turns its hand at coffee too! I now have two possible career paths - a sommelier for a wine producer or alchemist for a major coffee producer. Both require a move abroad to somewhere sunny so it can't be that bad. (I recently saw that 'Winemaker' was on New Zealand's Required Skills List - still hope of owning that vineyard on Waiheke!)

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After learning all about the process, seeing some roasting and of course the mandatory tasting (wow!) we got a tour of the working farm buildings and the store rooms full of coffee sacks.

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Our second day at the Hacienda was spent lounging around the pool and walking around the plantation. Hacienda Venecia is large in size, covering 200,000 hectares of the valley floor and hillside. Although it is a working farm, they let guests wander the coffee fields to their hearts content. We decided to hike to the top of the plantation and see the view of the fields from the mountainside, which were outstanding. We also got to see many workers wandering the fields hand picking the fruits from the trees.

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Having had a short but amazing time here (anyone thinking of visiting Colombia, this place is a must), it was time to leave and catch our next flight to Cartagena on the northern coast - via Bogota - for more sun!

Our taxi to the airport was something straight out of the movie Romancing the Stone. Hopping in our SWB Land Rover Defender complete with soft top and snorkel, Han in the front and myself riding in the back with all our bags, our driver decided to take us on the back roads through the fields and tropical jungle. To say I got bumped around a bit was an understatement...but it was so much fun!!

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On our arrival at Manizales 'Airshed' (it's not so much an airport, just a single room with chairs and a little cafe), we discovered our flight was delayed by an hour due to poor weather. Ordinarily, this would not have bothered us but our perhaps somewhat over confidence in Colombia's airline efficiency meant that we had only left ourselves 1.5hrs between landing in Bogota (on time) and catching our connecting flight. So an hour delay was cutting it a little fine. Turns out, it was much worse as we only landed and arrive at the gate 10 minutes before our next flight was due to take off. Whilst we thought we could just about make it through security, the same could not be said for our luggage which was still on the plane and the airport staff had not even started unloading it off of our plane! With two minutes to spare, we made it to the gate. Only time would tell if our luggage also made it to the plane...

Fortunately, it is in exactly these scenarios that 'Spanish time' comes into its own...it turned out that our onward flight to Cartagena would also leave an hour late, giving our luggage time to join us on the plane, phew! Landing in Cartagena late at night, feeling tired, dirty and hangry (yes, that anger and frustration you feel about everything when you're hungry) the last thing we wanted was to find our luggage was stuck in transit somewhere. But appearing through the plastic gates of heaven, on luggage belt número 4, our faces lit up on seeing the safe arrival of our Golden Horde. Woohoo! Spanish time rules!!

Cartagena. The city of many names. The Jewel of the Nile, no sorry, Caribbean (since arriving in Cartagena, I have had a craving for watching 80's Michael Douglas movies - I'd just like to think Han and I are Jack T. Colton and Joan Wilder) or more popularly known as The Walled City.

Cartagena is a beautiful colonial city coupled with the laid-back Caribbean lifestyle. It is also another UNESCO World Heritage Site (it seems everywhere we go at the moment is a WHS).

Visiting a place famed for its historic 'Walled City', we did what anyone would do...stayed outside the city walls. As backpackers on a budget, staying 'inside' was simply not an option. As a fairly big tourist destination (sooooo many Americans) everything was tourist prices where you had to work hard to find somewhere cheaper to sleep and eat.

However, just outside the historic city is the area of Getsemani, a backpackers haven, as well as a haven for many other things too...but less said about those things. Our 'Casa' was just off a little side street, just 5 minutes' walk from the Clock Tower Gate. As soon as you opened the door from the street, it was like walking into a tiny riad, complete with a small but perfect swimming pool in the courtyard with the 'comes as standard' hammock next to it. Heaven!

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Arriving a little late on a Friday, we grabbed a bite to eat at a little restaurant called Cevecheria Wippy in the old town. Cartagena is a vibrant city with a great night life but knackered from all our travels during the day, we decided to call it a night and paint the town red tomorrow - it was the weekend after all.

The next day was spent wandering the historic city, doing some souvenir shopping (purchasing the absolute must - a hammock) as well as photographing some doors! As you do. I even found a peluqueria (barbers) and got a much needed haircut. When he pulled out the straight razor...gulp!

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We then spent some time chillaxing before going out for a few cheeky bevvies in town. Dolled up to the nines, we headed to a nearby lively looking salsa bar we had seen earlier for a couple of cocktails...only to be told they were not serving beers or cocktails. Upon asking in our now fluent Spanish (?!?) ("Tiene solo bebidas sin alcohol?"..."Si") it turned out they were not serving any booze. Thinking they were just being weird, we decided to head into town. We walked from one side of the old town all the way to the other passing numerous bars and restaurants and found it strange that we did not see one person with an alcoholic drink. I guess this is how alcoholics feel when they're trying to sober up - desperately searching for a drink where one is not in sight!?! Do they not drink in Colombia at weekends? Is there a local law against it? What the hell?!

We decided to continue our search for libations at a nice balcony bar overlooking a cute little square and when we asked for a beer, they duly said "yes, no problem". So what the hell was going on? Well, when our beer arrived, it looked like a slushie! Not the tastiest I have to admit so for the next round we opted for something a little more tasty looking, cocktails. It was then that one of the bar staff finally resolved the mystery...as it was the time of the Colombian elections, all over Colombia, the police were enforcing a 'dry weekend' from Sat morn to Monday afternoon! So nowhere was allowed to sell alcohol AT ALL! Not even to tourists! We couldn't believe it. Cartagena is such a lively place with what looked like a great nightlife - trust us to be there on the one weekend when there is no alcohol to be had. With baking hot sun in the day, where only an ice cold beer would quench that longing thirst and there was not a beer to be bought or bribed anywhere...I nearly cried.

But, the wonderful, amazing, best establishment in the world ever, that it was (name shall remain anonymous for fear of reprisals :-)) they agreed to ply us with booze, but any drink would have to be disguised as a soft drink. So rather cunningly, I duly ordered a cocktail usually served in a martini glass - a margarita (a-hmmmm, lemonade) knowing that to disguise it as a soft drink meant that it would have to be served in a bigger glass as a tall, long drink! Han had a strawberry dacquiri (erm, strawberry juice) and we now looked like everybody else.

The following day, after waking from our Sunday slumber, the morning was spent chilling around the pool. The afternoon brought a visit to the fort, which was pretty cool and very Pirates of the Caribbean. Built by the Spanish after they lost Cartagena to the British in 1586, who held the city for ransom (for only 107,000 Pesos or £30 - I could own a city!) and then again to the French before retaking it (the French got bored of the place and just left), the fort is built directly into the mound it is situated on, has extremely thick stone walls and a maze of tunnels beneath it which once led to different areas of the city. Whilst it seems their military weren't very competent, their builders clearly were as the fort and also the city has never been taken since it was built (it took around 208 years to complete the fortresses and walls). It became impenetrable despite the constant tide of pirates which tried and tried to sack the city which had grown quickly in size and wealth.

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Dinner and our evening entertainment in this time of prohibition was once again had at El Balcon (oops sorry, not so anonymous after all!). It seems lawyers stick together and are never too far apart, as not long after we arrived we met a lad from Linklaters who had just arrived in Cartagena and was also looking for a drink. We soon enlightened him about the prohibition times and how to ask for a drink 'wink, wink, nudge, nudge' style. After an evening of "do you know so-and-so?" and how much we didn't want to go back to work and where else we were going on our travels and where we wanted to still travel to, we headed back to our Casa. Not before being stopped by police who insisted on searching us both, rifling through our pockets and Hannah's bag looking for cocaine. Disappointed by their negative search, they were not happy to let us go before they had seen our passports (which we had left at the hostel). Foiled again by the production of copies however, they finally let us go on our way. It certainly reminded us that cocaine is still a massive problem in Colombia.

Our last full day in Cartagena was spent at Playa Blanca where we opted to stay for the night. Dubbed the best beach in the region, we decided to check it out. No accommodation booked, we were just hoping for a hammock!

Our journey involved travelling in an extremely cramped minivan. The kiwi owner bought it as a 12-seater but didn't realise it was for 12 small Japanese folk, not 12 of Europe's finest! Needless to say, it was a sweat box! After a brief respite at the river crossing where we got to stretch our legs for a whole 3 minutes, we were packed back in the minivan for a further 30 minutes before arriving at our destination. I have to say, it was well worth it! White sands, calm turquoise waters and little beach cabañas towards the quieter end. We couldn't have asked for more. We found 'The Wizard' - a recommendation of where to stay - which consisted of several small shelters raised on stilts and directly faced the ocean. Nothing but a roof, a mattress and a small piece of cloth to provide the smallest amount of privacy but also not to spoil the perfect view straight from your bed. Waking up to the sound of lapping waves and a completely empty beach was one of the best alarms I think I've ever had.

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Much of the day was spent catching some much needed rays and swimming in the clear waters. Lunch consisted of grabbing the local fisherman as he walked past selling freshly caught fish and lobster and buying a load of langoustines which he duly cooked in a tasty garlic and white wine butter served with a small salad and plantain chips and brought to our sun loungers! We didn't have to lift a finger.

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Unfortunately, as the phrase goes, all good things must come to an end. Deciding to deliberately miss the clown car back to Cartagena, we caught a lancha (speedboat) back to the city which was a hell of a lot more fun and faster.

Playa Blanca is a must for anyone visiting Cartagena but don't leave it too long as it might not be the same for much longer. Sadly we were told that the Government recently tried to take the land from the locals by blocking the waters with 12 large boats preventing locals from fishing and also bringing in bulldozers, just so that they could build an awful monstrosity of a hotel complex come village on the back of the beach, targeting the many American tourists, more specifically the middle-aged 'all-inclusive-ers'. Having taken the boat back to Cartagena, a little further along the coast is one of these massive town-like hotel complexes which really is an eye-sore on the pristine coastline. Having spoken to one of the staff members at The Wizard, we understand it would've happened had it not been for one of them obtaining a court order preventing the Government from seizing the land, destroying all of the locals' homes and businesses and their community, which has been there for many years. However, many think it is inevitable and only a matter of time before they return and try again. It seems a real shame that this could happen as it is perfect as it is. Relatively untouched save for the businesses on the beach. Let's pray this never happens...

Anyway, from one great place to another, our next stop brings us to The Lost City Trek (yup, more hiking) an Tayrona National Park 4 hours further east along the coast...

...over to you Han.

Posted by shaunandhan 09:36 Archived in Colombia Tagged beaches boats water sunset beach sand historic walls coffee colombia cartagena hacienda colourful turquoise lancha manizales playa_blanca venecia Comments (0)

Rio de Janeiro - Carnival baby!

"Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl, with yellow feathers in her hair..." oh yeah, we're in Rio baby, and it's carnival time!!

So we arrived in Rio and checked into our fab hostel (the lovely Discovery hostel - one of our best yet). The sun was shining and the everyone seemed to be in the party mood and heading to the beach. We too were heading to Copacabana, but rather than to the beach, we were (for the second time this trip) off to the hospital since by now I was in a great deal of pain and feeling pretty unwell - not quite how we would have chosen to spend our first day in Rio but needs must! Anyway, it turned out I have shingles (for those who don't know this is essentially an infection in your nerves caused by the same virus as chicken pox and it manifests itself in adults who have had chicken pox as kids) and I was prescribed some (expensive!) anti-viral meds, painkillers and rest. It seemed I was destined to spend our time in Rio dosed up to the hilt and sleeping - again not quite what we had in mind when we booked to go to Rio for carnival!

Luckily the carnival celebrations didn't start until the next day, by which time I'd decided that, despite feeling pretty awful, I'd have to 'man-up' and try to put the pain out of my mind if I was to avoid it entirely ruining our Rio experience. Since today was the first day of carnival, our hostel was having a mini kick off party before all heading to a 'bloco' together so we joined in. 'Bloco's' are essentially huge street parties, which centre around a truck upon which a band will usually be playing music of some sort (usually samba but there was a Beatles bloco and a Michael Jackson bloco while we were there) and which supposedly moves through the streets for people to follow (although in our experience there were generally too many people for the bloco to move anywhere!). Our first bloco was in Santa Teresa, a bohemian area of Rio close to our hostel and, in preparation, everyone from the hostel donned their brightest outfits or best fancy dress and painted their faces/arms/torso/basically any part of their body that was visible and we were off!

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We had been warned that Rio carnival is "crazy" but I don't think anything prepared us for when we hit Santa Teresa. The streets were absolutely rammed full of people, so much so that it was impossible to get through and actually find the bloco truck! Londoners - picture the central line at 8am on a Monday morning, but 50 times bigger and busier, with everyone drinking beer and half the people in fancy dress and you may get some sort of idea! Despite the lack of music, everyone was still having a great time and the atmosphere was pretty awesome.

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The next couple days passed in a bit of a blur of blocos as we soon discovered that you didn't have to go far to find one (apparently over carnival week there were 147 across the city!) and that the entire city seemed to have turned into one big fancy dress party. It really is quite funny travelling on the metro in the middle of the day and it being completely the norm to be surrounded by 'Supermen', 'Wonder Women', fire chiefs, pirates and belly dancers (along with a lot of men dressed as women)!

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Something we hadn't appreciated when we had planned to spend 6 days in Rio over the carnival period was that these carnival events would be taking place all through the day, as well as in the evening (they often started at 10am!), which makes it hard to do all the carnival stuff as well as doing the tourist sites. So, after a couple of days, we "took the morning off" and took ourselves up to see Christ the Redeemer. As one would expect, the site is hugely touristy and absolutely rammed with people but I have to say was every bit as impressive as we had hoped and I was pretty much wowed by it.

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The next day, we spent the day in Ipanema, the upscale area of town home to the famous Ipanema beach, before (much to my excitement) heading to the Sambadrome in the evening to see the actual carnival parade! Over two nights, the Sambadrome plays host to 12 samba schools, each of which parades and performs along the stretch of the Sambadrome for around 80 minutes, displaying incredibly elaborate costumes and floats, which follow their chosen theme for that year, and demonstrating their most impressive samba skills for spectators and judges, vying to be judged as the winning samba school.

Being the thrifty backpackers we are, we had opted for the cheap seats with the locals so we weren't quite sure what we would get to see, but we have to say, this was absolutely the best £20 we ever spent!! The first school kicked off around 9pm and the atmosphere in the Sambadrome immediately became electric, with everyone in the stands singing, cheering and dancing as the parade made its way towards us. When the first dancers reached the front of our stand we were absolutely blown away by the size and opulence of the floats and the immense detail of the costumes - this was certainly what carnival was all about! Although I was still feeling pretty ropey (to say the least) health-wise, I was determined that shingles would not ruin this for me and I even went crazy and had a whole 3 beers!! Unfortunately though, when it hit 2.30am and we were still only halfway through the samba schools, I realised I wasn't going to be able to make it to the end, so we resolved to stay for one more performance and then we would make a move. We were glad we did though as this fourth school was fantastic, with some of the most brightly coloured and intricate costumes yet and, just when we were saying "these guys will definitely win", right in front of us their biggest float crashed into the concrete bridge above the parade stretch that was housing the cameramen, 'beheading' the giant fibreglass Indian character that was the main feature of the float! We couldn't believe it, somebody clearly hadn't done their height calculations very well! During this parade we had also realised that we had inadvertently sat in amongst the fans of this samba school, as were completely surrounded by people wearing their tshirts and waving their flags. These people were absolutely distraught at the 'beheading' incident; the woman next to us actually started crying. It certainly made us realise how seriously some of the locals actually take carnival! Anyway, we finally called it a night at around 3.30am, having loved every minute of our Sambadrome experience. This was definitely something which lived up to the hype and will go down as a trip highlight for sure.

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On our final full day in Rio, despite the abundance of blocos still going on in the city, we decided to tick off a few more sights, starting with the famous Selaron steps in Lapa.

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This was followed by a trip to Copacabana beach and then up Sugar Loaf mountain, having both felt like our carnival experience had reached its climax the night before. Copacabana beach was predictably rammed, but it's setting underneath Sugar Loaf is certainly impressive and it provided some great entertainment in the form of numerous volleyball and other beach games being played by men in the tiny speedos expected in Rio! Much to Shaun's disappointment, there didn't seem to be any women playing in their thong bikinis though!

We headed up Sugar Loaf late afternoon, in time to catch the sunset and then get a view of the city at night, and this famous view certainly didn't disappoint. Watching the sun set behind Christ the Redeemer, perched up on the mountains behind the city, with the city and the beaches in the foreground was truly magical. Seen from here it would be difficult to argue that Rio is anything other than one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

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Overall, despite my ailments, we still had a great time in Rio - in fact it's pretty impossible not to! Despite the horror stories at no point did we ever feel unsafe and the atmosphere in the city that came with it being carnival time was just fantastic.

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Having said that, by the time we left, the aftermath of the street parties meant that the whole city was starting to look a little like a rubbish dump, with empty beers cans and burger wrappers lining the streets, and smell a bit like a toilet (I'm sure you can imagine why...) so despite the fact we loved Rio and would definitely come back, it felt like the right time to leave.

And so, it's on to Colombia for us - our last stop on our amazing journey. Can't believe it's that time already - I guess (shingles or no shingles!) we'll just have to make the most of every minute in Colombia. Watch this space!

Posted by shaunandhan 16:08 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Brazil! Time to Paaaaaar-a-ty!!

The Road to Rio: Our journey along the Costa Verde...

sunny

12 weeks in...we have a confession to make. We must be the whitest people ever to travel South America for the length of time we have!! And we are not happy about this fact.

So heading further into Brazil, home of eternal sun, it's about time for some proper sunshine, a prolonged period of gorgeous weather...or so we thought!

For those of you who are aware of our route, we were planning on heading to Florianopolis, east of Foz do Iguaçu on the Southern Brazilian Coast. However after much thought and discussion, we decided that we were tired of long bus journeys and going to Florianopolis for only 2-3 days would've meant two 16hr long bus journeys close together and three in the space of 5 days. As such, we decided to head straight to Paraty and just relaxing in the same place for 5 days taking in the many white sand beaches that surround the area.

Our bus took us via São Paulo (16.5hrs) where we had decided to carry on through to Paraty rather than spend a night, so another (6-7hr) bus journey was on the cards with only a brief wait at the station. Two couples we had met previously told us that there was nothing really in São Paulo for tourists so we heeded that advice and moved on. It turned out to be a great decision as looking out of the bus window on our departure through the rain at the grey skyline, we decided it looked more like Birmingham than Brazil! We were also happy to be leaving the rain behind, or so we thought.

Did we heck as like...just wishful thinking. We arrived into Paraty in the late afternoon and it was still raining, head! But this didn't dampen our excitement at being out of a city and able to see the sea! Not the North Sea or the English Channel, an actual ocean! We had not seen one of these since day 1 in Lima! Where have you been?! And with it, we could see white sand. We were in for a good time...if it would just stop p*ssing it down!

On arrival at our hostel, which was a nice little converted house with plush green gardens, a horse(!) and a 20m laned swimming pool (I was a little excited), we dumped our bags and took a seat at the bar next to the pool in need of large ice cold cervejas (Portugese now - so confusing!). With our mood in a state of limbo about the weather, salt got well and truly rubbed into our wounds when the woman working on the bar said that it had not rained there for over a month prior to yesterday with temperatures around 50C! As such, they were all very happy about the rain - we were less so! On that note, we took our leave and crashed out in our dorm, absolutely exhausted from the long day travelling. Tomorrow would bring a new day...

The next morning brought more rain, though much lighter and we were buoyed by the fact that the weather was due to improve the next day. Taking a more positive attitude, we worked out that the weather has generally been good to us so far wherever we have been and so we figured it was only raining here because it [the weather] thought we were in Florianopolis at the moment. So when it gets to the day that we were actually due to arrive in Paraty, the sun would duly appear. Yes, that's it. That's what was happening. Just a slight miscommunication with the weather over our itinerary that's all.

So waiting for the sun's late arrival, we decided to take a brief stroll in the historic centre of Paraty. Paraty (pronounced Par-a-Chee) is the southern-most city in the state of Rio de Janeiro which lies on the Costa Verde, a lush, green corridor along the coastline. It sits in the Bay of Ilha Grande which is populated by many tropical islands and amid jutting peninsulas and secluded beaches with a backdrop of steep, jungled mountains. It is also a preserved Portugese colonial (1500-1822) and Brazilian Imperial (1822-1889) town as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you can guess, we immediately loved the place. Aspects of it, particularly along the rivers, reminded us of South East Asia with the narrow brown-coloured rivers, the low-profile schiffs and the overgrown and overhanging palm trees and vegetation. What made you instantly realise that it was Brazil however was taking one look at the fisherman's boats, which were so brightly coloured, it was like seeing La Boca again, only this time on water! The historic centre is a beautiful maze of cobbled streets, the cobbles so big, you spend half your time looking at your feet and not where you're going (a bit like Bow Quarter). But, if you manage to look up every once in a while, you will see fantastic looking white stone buildings lining the streets with brightly coloured doors and window frames. Being a Sunday, and also that it was raining, meant that many places were closed, so we just casually wandered the streets soaking up the scenes before heading to our new accommodation and where we would be spending the next 4 nights, Pousada Bambu Bamboo.

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This Pousada (hotel) is owned by an Englishman, Ben, a very friendly and amiable chap who immediately and without asking gave us an upgrade! Woohoo! If any travelling couples or holidaymakers are thinking of coming to Paraty and are thinking of staying in a double room (rather than a dorm) then I cannot recommend any other place. For only a little more than a hostel (only 20 R$), the difference is huge and worth every single penny! Bambu Bamboo is a small place, just a 15-20 minute walk from the town centre, in the forest and next to the river. Our room was a minimalist looking, white room with a mezzanine level as the bedroom (reminiscent of our Bow Quarter flat) with ensuite and a second bathroom downstairs (I know!). With a free form pool and breakfast area next to the river, you couldn't ask for a better place to relax. This is the best place we have stayed so far and also the best breakfast we've eaten! Cereal, fresh fruits, yoghurt, toast, eggs, different cakes, juices etc. Amazing. Ben had just returned from the UK and brought back with him a load of Tetley's (and English magazines much to Han's delight) so a brew was the first thing on my breakfast table. I would've felt bad if I told him we drink Yorkshire Tea these days. Mmmmm...

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After a hearty breakfast, our first full day was spent trying to lounge around the pool, reading (I'm on my third book, the most I've read in 2.5 months in a long time...that's not a legal text!) and sleeping, but sadly it rained once again so we found a nearby bar and drowned our weather-born sorrows.

Deciding enough was enough, the next day we chanced the weather and caught a local bus to a nearby beach area called Trinidade, known for its white sand beaches. We headed to Praia do Mayo, a small bay with white sand beaches with a rainforest backdrop and blue/green waters lapping against the shore. It had all the makings of a great beach but the weather did not play ball. Clouds soon filled the sky making the sea look grey and not that inviting. As such, we didn't stay too long and decided to head back. However, in true style, Han had other ideas. Trying to climb a rock, she slipped and scraped her right knee right down the rock, removing a good chunk of skin from it! Not quite as bad as her arm in Peru, but enough to make her feel faint and leave another nasty mark! So Trinidade was topped off with a quick trip to the chemist to tender her wounds before we were back on the bus!

Our last day in Paraty. Today was the day that the weather should have caught up with our amended itinerary. Thinking there would be no more miscommunication, we booked a day trip on a schooner to visit some other beaches around Paraty and it's many Islands. The weather offered a humble apology and duly brought out the sun. Woohoo! Finally!! The day went much better, chilling on the deck with a beer/caipirinha in hand, snorkelling in the blue waters around the boat and when the speedboat took everyone to shore I decided to swim there instead. I wanted to see how much worse I'd got...(not too shabby I thought - winter 'hot weather training' not going too bad). All in all, the best day in Brazil by a mile! This was more like we expected.

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With the good weather finally arriving, we were a little reluctant to leave Paraty but we were due to head up the coast to Ilha Grande. Arriving in Angra dos Reis just in time to catch the next ferry, we took the hour and a half boat to the village of Abraao on the east side of the island, the main settlement on the island. Ilha Grande is one of the most pristine remnants of Brazil's Atlantic rainforest, one of the richest ecosystems in the world, and a hotspot for biodiversity and conservation. The island is largely undeveloped (it has no roads) and noted for its scenic beauty, which includes tropical beaches, luxuriant vegetation and a rugged landscape. The entire island is a protected area with a large part of it not accessible to the public and is solely reserved for scientific study.

But what about the weather you ask? AMAZING!! Scorching sun finally! Woohoo!!

Our first three nights were to be spent in the town, taking in its nightlife, it's many restaurants as well as the many walks and boat rides to idyllic beaches such as Lopes Mendes, a beach voted as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. And we did exactly that! The highlight? The $5 Real (£1.25) Caiprinhas from a mobile bar which was basically a man walking along with a cart full of spirits and mixers, a cocktail shaker and blender. They were the best Caiprinhas we've ever tasted!

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Our second three days were spent in Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) on the far west of the island, completely away from everything else. It was so remote that the only way of getting there was to get an expensive taxi boat from the main village or take the ferry back to the mainland and then get a smaller local boat to Praia Vermalha which only went at certain times and certain days. In true 'thrifty' traveller style, we took the latter option. On the boat across, we saw some HUGE crow-like birds circling above us. I don't know what they were waiting for, but I got a couple of decent shots of these massive creatures...

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As our schiff was approaching our final destination, we saw a tiny little cove to our left and immediately wanted to know where it was and how we got there from our lodgings. It turned out, our pousada was a 1 minute walk away. Hence, we immediately went straight there, strolling through a bamboo forest and it was more idyllic than any beach we had seen so far and it was all ours. Not a soul around!

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Our lodgings, Pousada Lagamar is built into the trees which cover the entirety of the island from coast to coast. Our 'chalet' was built on stilts almost into the canopy itself, overlooking the intensely blue and turquoise waters peeking through the lush green leaves. And my favourite perk, a hammock right outside on the balcony.

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They even had regular visitors from the forest who would come down and say hello and chew on a little snack...

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The next day, we joined some of other guests at the Pousada on 2.5hr picturesque hike to Lagoa Verde, a shallow(ish), natural and tranquil area of water between the main island and a smaller one - and in between - a floating bar! This area is one of the best places to find many species of fish and if you're lucky, turtles and dolphins. Sadly we didn't see either of them but saw plenty of colourful fish! What made it even better was that there was nobody there either! Just the barman who duly served ice cold cervejas and agua. Not fancying the 2.5hr hike back, we decided to get a taxi boat back to Praia Vermalha and our Pousada, only to find the whole area had lost all electricity. Dinner by candlelight...very romantic.

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For our penultimate day, we decided that there was to be no hiking, no boats, just pure relaxation on the little secluded beach we found on our first day in Praia Vermalha. That was until our hosts Luciana and Ezequiel said that there was a boat trip going that day back to Lagoa Verde but also Lagoa Azul for more snorkelling and also another place where there were frequent sightings of turtles...sold! On the boat we got. I didn't really think it could get much better than the day before but I was wrong once again. As soon as I jumped in, a massive shoal of fish swarmed around me so much so that I couldn't really see anything other than a wall of fish!! It may have had something to do with the fact that the Captain had just dropped some food right in front of my mask as I jumped in, not that I'm just a magnet for fish sadly!

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But I am a magnet for turtles it seems! Again as I jumped in, they just kept swimming right up to me. It immediately dawned on me I know nothing about turtles other than that they can be quite big. I had no idea what they ate (found that out pretty quickly!) or how they react around people. Save to say when one was approaching me, I freaked out a little at first. I then realised that my GoPro camera was glinting in the sun making it look like tasty fish food. Whilst filming one turtle and taking my eye off it for a second, another decided to sneak up behind and bite at my camera, which was in my hand. Although startling, it was incredible to be so close to these magnificent creatures and see them in their natural environment. Despite my right hand looking like the speciality of the day, I was able to capture some great shots of the turtles! Han practically wet herself with excitement on seeing them and it was truly the highlight of our time on Ilha Grande.

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Our final day on Ilha Grande was spent relaxing at the Pousada, reading and sleeping (especially me as I had been up until 5am with two great guys staying at the Pousada, drinking too much, trying to right the wrongs of the world and work out the meaning of life - as you do when you've had a few!). Han was also not on her best form so was happy to chillax also. Not only because she was feeling a little rough from the night before, but also was yet again in the wars!! This time, Hannah had managed to pick up some sort of rash on her back and neck, which appeared to be spreading and getting angrier everyday. Frustratingly, we were on a small island, in a remote area with no amenities around at all and no means of getting to the mainland until the day we were leaving. Having tried every cream, spray and tablet available to us (with the help of the Pousada and all of its guests) nothing appeared to have done the trick.

So, the next day, an hour and a half boat ride and yet another three hour bus journey later, we would arrive at 'River of January' where our first port of call would be to the doctor...then the Havaiana's shop(!), then the beach!

Posted by shaunandhan 20:15 Archived in Brazil Tagged water beach white island sand tropical brazil paraty turquoise ilhagrande Comments (0)

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