Dispatches from Brazil… part one

| August 12, 2013

Mike and Chris Simm share with us their entertaining account of events from their time in Brazil, sent to friends and family back home.

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Dear Chums,
I realise that you are a fairly disparate bunch, but sadly time does not permit me to send each of you a carefully tailored account of our fun experiences in Brazil. I’ve had to lump you all together, rather like one of those boring Christmas circulars, but it’s the only way of reporting back before we set off for Europe in 288 hours’ time! So here goes…

Rio De Janeiro
“Tall and tanned and young and lovely” – as the famous song goes – but enough about me! We stayed at the Copacabana Palace – unfortunately the former Governator of California had nicked the Presidential suite, so we had to settle for a room on the side and lower down, but still with a view of the famous beach. The hotel provided us with the best meal of the trip (but Italian rather than Brazilian in origin) and introduced us to the delights of the Caipirinha – a splendid concoction, created by beating the living daylights out of chopped up limes and sugar, adding 2.5 measures of a sugar-cane based spirit and then filling the glass up with semi-crushed ice. It is generally considered that one Caipirinha is enough if you wish to retain mental faculties in full working order – we only lapsed twice in the entire trip, and then when under stress!

We managed to fit in the requisite touring, doing the two cable cars up to the top of Sugar Loaf mountain and Christ the Redeemer, where there were a large number of people standing about with arms outstretched being photographed from ground level – I assume it’s the South American equivalent of the “Look Mum, I’m holding up the leaning Tower of Pisa” photograph in Europe. We also cruised the three main beaches – on Ipanema there are specific areas set aside for the enjoyment of various sub-divisions of mankind, such as sportspersons (sadly old gits weren’t included as a separate entity), and I didn’t manage to establish how things work out if you qualify in more than one category. After the delights of the big city, we rose at 05:00 hours and headed (via two flights and Brasilia) for the Pantanal.

The Pantanal
A vast wetland area with much wildlife – we arrived in the Pantanal just after the end of the rainy season, and many of the heavy-duty animals (jaguars and other big cats) were still hiding well away from the waters where we were based. We did, however, see many different birds and some four-legged creatures, notably agoutis and capybaras (looks like a normal guinea pig but on steroids – and without the associated rage!). We had to complete the journey to our lodge by boat because the roads were still a bit wet and impassable. As we got to the jetty, we noticed that a greeting party of caimans – some lying in the water with eyes and snouts visible, others on the shore – had turned out for us – being a perfect gentleman I let Chris get out of the boat first…

While we were here, we went from Private Journey to group activities. We were teamed up at the outset with two other English couples, with a pair of South Africans arriving the following day. We did have a degree of trouble early on as it was announced on our first full day that after tea we would go piranha fishing, at which six voices spoke as one “No we won’t” – this took them aback somewhat, but we agreed to go for a bird-spotting walk, during which we sighted the much-loved Guinness bird. Other than this walk, we undertook a range of activities – jeep safari, a two-person canoe trip with paddler supplied as an extra, a speedboat trip up and down the rivers and across lakes and, my personal highlight, a two-hour ride on horseback.

Horse riding is an activity last undertaken in December 1969 in the hills of Lesotho, long before I had my right leg fitted with several inches of metal – I think I can safely say that I have lost a degree of flexibility in the intervening years! The first part of the mounting process went fine, as I planted my left foot in the stirrup and hoicked myself up into the air, only to discover that the other leg was incapable of getting to the other side unaided, so we had to employ a couple of locals to shove it up into the air until it had gained clearance. Unfortunately, if one end goes up the other must come down, so that I finished up with my arms round the horse’s neck and my head alongside it. Eventually, equilibrium was restored and we set off along a selection of (mainly watery) tracks at a stately pace.

It was at this point that I discovered that my horse was basically hydrophobic – the others were happy to plod through the water, but mine insisted on mincing along on the edge of the tracks. That would have been fine had it not been for the existence of trees, bushes, and their associated branches, which kept whacking me about the head and shoulders (I began to get the feeling that my helmet was more for protection against these assaults than the remote possibility of a collision between my skull and terra firma). I am fully aware that I had been issued with a rudimentary steering mechanism (a rope), but I felt it would be imprudent to irritate the nag by jerking on it at regular intervals, in case it decided that my patella constituted an acceptable mid-morning snack. Finally this joyous experience came to an end (dismounting involved reversing the mounting procedure), and I discovered why jockeys and cowboys walk the way they do. I am reasonably used to having leg muscles stretched backwards and forwards, but having legs spread out sideways for a couple of hours was a whole new ball game, and resulted in a near inability to walk for some time. Anyway, our time in the wetlands came to an end and we were transferred to the unprepossessing city of Cuiaba for an overnighter before rising at 0330 for a flight (via Brasilia and a change of planes) to Iguassu Falls.

Iguassu Falls
Spectacular is probably an inadequate word to describe Iguassu Falls. We stayed at the only hotel within the National Park, which had a view of the Brazilian side of the falls, and over two days we visited both sides. Though it grieves me to say it, the Argentinian side was the more impressive, probably because it has the Devil’s Throat, which is the largest single waterfall. We were guided on this part of the trip by the splendidly named Tony Toledo. I couldn’t make my mind up whether this name was more suited to a fifties lounge singer or a superhero (Tony Toledo – Man of Steel), but we eventually decided, given a slight facial resemblance to Joe Pesci and a strutting walk, that he was probably a junior Mafioso. He was an extremely likeable chap, with a commendable degree of enthusiasm for grabbing Chris’s camera and posing us against a waterfall backdrop at frequent intervals. It came as no surprise that we had to get up at 0400 for our next pair of flights via Sao Paulo to Manaus for our Amazon cruise.

Dispatches Part Two to follow...

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