Our return to Rio, back along the spectacular Atlantic Forest route was a “coming home”, back to our room 309 and back in time for lunch. Within minutes of finishing lunch Joe, John and welcoming faces from the Going Global group were on the scene. What a great group of individuals full of energy, fun and kindness; three days is all too short a time of their companionship.
Spectacular views of the glistening sea and the lush green hills of the Atlantic Forest were our constant companions during the four hour drive to the coastal town of Paraty. This ancient township is reached only by road or chartered boat and is charming. Cars are only allowed onto the cobbled streets of the town to make deliveries on Wednesdays. Brightly painted blocks of green, blue, yellow and red washed houses are arranged in neat blocks. Mostly they have split stable type doors and entry requires a step up of about 18 inches. A defence against waters which floods the streets at certain high tides. Horses, carriages and their drivers, rest in the shade of the tree lined square, until called to duty on short sight seeing trots round the town. The square peppered with trees and benches makes an idyllic resting spot for those on two legs to ponder the architecture, the history and the lives of its residents past and present. Ever gentle waves lap the harbour which is crammed with gaily painted boats offering cruises to the islands, secluded beaches and for the more adventurous open sea cruises to further flung islands. Our hotel garden lay at the side of the river estuary and from there we watched the world go by as well as enjoying the activities of the many colourful birds that visited the garden or took in a spot of fishing and all the while doing our best to absorb the sunshine and blue skies for later retrieval.
Our big day out from Porto Alegre was a visit to the wine growing valleys which lie about about two hours north of the city. As we travelled from the city we passed through miles of industrial parks. The state is rich in mineral resources, and produces a wide variety of manufactured goods and foodstuffs particuarly cereals. Listed amongst the international names are General Motors, Dell, John Deer with BMW, Audi, Mercedes showrooms in plentiful supply.
Our guide a Swiss national who spoke English in the style of ‘Allo Allo’, was friendly and well informed. He reeled off an impressive list of ‘largest in Brazil’ or ‘largest in South America’ operations, named natural resources and listed the work ethic of the people as one of its greatest resources adding the familiar comment about how the three southern states would be ‘better off’ being independent from the rest of Brazil !
The suburbs gave way to the countryside and soon we were winding through beautiful countryside and up the wine growing valleys of the plateau. The population of the area is predominantly Italian community and the buildings reflect this.
We called at a delightful little family run business housed in a typical Italian building, with a pizza oven in the garden. Our host explained that the unique climate and soil provided ideal conditions for growing merlot. We professed our ignorance and took a sip and said ‘thats nice’ our quide a wine expert and publisher on the subject must have been incredulous of our ignorance ! Reluctanly we left the idylic location but not before purchasing a bottle of his special merlot multi wrapped in readiness for its journey home to celebrate a friend’s birthday. A Greater contrast to our next stop would have been difficult to find. It was a huge plant with cellars that currently hold six million bottles. But our guide a student of wine making( I am sure this has a proper name) at the from the local university was no less friendly and obliging, giving us interesting insights into the industry. For example wine imported from Chile and Argentina is cheap in comparision because it is taxed at 4% whereas Brazilian wine is taxed at 40% because it is classed as a luxury item. Our guide also explained that there is a move to mature wine in none wood vats so that the taste is of pure fruit. He told us that he has a partner and has already bought some land a distance away at a cost of 4000 Reals per hectare against 400 00Reals in this area.
Was the question uttered by the friendly young woman sitting next to me. It was a great struggle not to let slip a smirk of satisfaction. She had heard me making small talk with the air hostess, however, I did manage to give Keith a triumphant but gentle poke in the ribs.
She told us her name is Nivia and that she had been summoned back to Porto Alegre by her mum who felt long overdue for a visit. We chatted for a while and she asked to swop emails so we could keep in touch. It is noticeable how many people live in a place different from their place of their birth, a fact which always jars me.
Driving through Porto Alegre the state capital of Rua Branco do Sul was again a surprise in that it is quite European in architecture and there is a tendency for people to be fair and blue eyed.
Our hotel was located in a resdential area of this flourishing and prosperous city and as we sipped caipirinhas under the hotel palms we were surpirsed by the number of designer dogs been taken out for evening walks by chicly dressed ladies and gents. It could have been sitting in a suburb anywhere in the world.
We saw the old city by night nd were wowed by the square were sits the impressive Government house, Municipal House, the law Courts and the fairly recently newly built Cathedral, and not to be outdone in the show of power and influence the cathedral managed to be the tallest building in the square.
Our day ended with a Gaucho show and a churrasco meal. The couchos(cowboys) entertained us with traditional dances, hair raising displays of boules and churrasco which is a traditional meal of salad with slices of barbecued meats carved from from huge skewers at the table. Some uts too recognisable !
Last week we were visited by teachers and students of the Blessed Robert Johnson Catholic College. The group spent two years preparing for this trip.
The group spent two days with us. The first day we receive them with a June party, Brazilian music, dance and a tasty snack. It was really fun to teach them a little bit of our culture.
On the second day was their turn to teach us some things, with games, making bracelets and some of his music as well. At the end of the day, after sweets and lollipops, still won the Wenlock, mascot of the London Olympics!
We learned that the name Wenlock was inspired by the town of Much Wenlock in England, where in 1850 the Olympic Society held its first International Games, serving as inspiration for the beginning of the modern Olympics.
The Olympic mascot Wenlock has 5 colorful bracelets, each representing one of the Olympic rings. His head is shaped like the coverage of the Olympic Stadium in London and the top of the head is a podium for the athletes of gold, silver and bronze. Wenlock also has a light in the head as the famous London taxis and his eye is a camera to record everything.
Have fun with us watching some of the best moments of this visit! We are happy to have met them and to have made new friends!
Florianopolis the state capital of Santa Catarina is located on an island off the east coast of the state. A spectacular bridge connects the island capital to the mainland. This was our first view of the city, tower blocks and modern plazas crowd along the streets. The four lane highways are packed with shiny new cars. The city has a European somewhat homogenous feel and one felt that one could have been in most developed capital in the world.
The winter population of the town is 400 000 and this swells to over one million in the high season.
The weather has taken a turn for the much better and it was easy to see what attracts this vast invasion of tourists. The town is full of greenery, there are 70 odd white sand beaches, just on the island and the mainland offers more. There is a wide variety of experiences to be had including swimming with dolphins and whale spotting trips.
Our guide for the following day was called Andrey, a dynamo of a man, busy building his tourist guiding business. We went with him to visit the botanical garden in the Atlantic forest and then onto the beach for lunch.
Keith and I found the weather perfect and were soon down to one layer. Andrey on the other hand Andrey complained bitterly about the cold and when we looked around most other people on the beach were wearing top coats. But despite the cold and adding another layer to his head he was soon telling a good tale about his life to date, his values and his dreams. He was passionate about his love for his home state and city and shared thinly disguised criticisms of the north of the country.
We flew out of Florianopolis, feeling our stay was too short, but not before promising Andrey to return one day for a whale spotting trip with him.
Martin is currently living in Puerto Iguasu, over the border in Argentina, patiently waiting for a Brazilian work permit.
He invited us to make the ‘simple’ bus journey across the border to the small Argentine town he calls home.
Keenly aware that we were hovering over the line that divides adventure from recklessness we tracked down a bus, which we later discovered passed just by our hotel.
Contrary to our information we were politeley but firmly invited to exit the bus and have our passports stamped at the Brazil border and then wait for the next bus. There was an irregularity!….….Keith’s passport had not been stamped when we arrived in Brazil….the Federal police were summoned ….I immediately wanted to go home to Chipping.
We were advised to return with the innocuous little forms we had filled in and which had then been stamped when we passed by on arrival in Brazil…….only Keith’s hadn’t! I still just wanted to go home to Chipping.
We decided it would be wise to return to border control and try to get things sorted out. Our second visit did just that and soon we were on our way.
Martin was waiting at the terminal for us and we had a very enjoyable couple of hours exchanging news and visiting the confluence of the river borders.
Standing in Argentine one looks to the left across the ? river to Paraguay and then right across the Iguazu river to Brazil. It seemed a little sad to see the river now calmed after such a climax of magnificence and power.
Our return journey was without incidence infact the official at the border gave us a wave….conforting to know that we were on waving terms with the Federal Police.
Whilst waiting for the bus we were entertained by watching the constant flow of monster like lorries pass through the border.
Passing through the airport at Foz de Iguazu airport I was reminded of the small Irish airport at Knock, built primarily to bring pilgrims to the shrine of Our Lady and seemingly Foz de Iguazu airport built built exclusively to bring visitors to the falls.
Tuesday 7.30 and despite a fairly cold and murky morning spirits and anticipation were high as we made the 25 minute trip through border control to the entrance to the National Park. We transferred onto a little open air train travelling deeper into the Nation Park to the viewing stations.
The first being a bridge walk of almost a km to the far side of the falls to see the iconic Devil’s Throat fall. The bridge walk was spectacular in itself; we were incredulous of the width of the river and then excited when we spotted a huge catfish in the shallow sparking water; the mist having lifted to bathe everything in warm bright sunshine.
Though busy with people we were still able to stand and feel alone with the magnificence of nature before us.
No accounts, films or photographs prepare you for the awesome majesty and power of the falls and the emotions they elicit. We went from view to view of the falls often close enough to be covered in spray. We took hundreds of photographs trying to capture the feeling and wonder of what was before us.
The following day we were offered the chance to view the falls from the Brazilian side and I hesitated thinking nothing could equal what we had already seen. Keith was keen saying that, ‘having come this far’ and adding that it was ‘only fair to Brazil to see them from their side.
And wow the Brazilian views are equally spectacular, the combination complement each other perfectly, Argentine offering close up experiences of the multitude of falls which spill over the cliffs and Brazil offering a panoramic veiw though still allowing close up experiences.
At one point the sun was shining through the spray and causing a huge circular rainbow.
We had travelled almost five thousand miles to see the falls and trebble would have been worth it. Experiencing the falls is a pilgrimage, with it intense sense of the otherness.
The leaving of Rio was made easier knowing that we would return for a few days to join Beth, Joe and the CAFOD group before flying home.
Curitiba city was a great surprise first of all flat as a pancake with roads and streets that are straight and intersect at right angles and a drop in temperature which took us completely by surprise. Our courier conveyed her horror at our lack of layers. Not wanting to look the complete mad English men we put on a brave face and said it was just like an English summer and perfectly fine for us. Later I resorted to wearing one of Keith’s T-shirts as a vest ! Keith described the effect as looking as though I was ready to turn out with Norwich City football team.
Trains are rare in Brazil, the line we were to travel this Sunday morning is important for transporting cereals to the coast. But the train we boarded was for transporting tourist on a spectacular four hour journey over the mountains and through the Atlantic forest to the once important port of Morretes; now a preserved town which trades in tourists providing pretty restaurants , an open market and street entertainment. The train, not a youngster heaved and clawed itself over the mountains, giving unforgettable views especially from the rim of a horseshoe gorge that revealed miles and miles of forestry as far as the eye could see; the vastness and beauty of that natural creation will be an abiding memory. .
Arriving at Morretes our guide Lorenzo took us to lunch on a balcony overlooking the town and river, we had the local dish of borreados helped along with the local wine. It felt like something from a Graeme Green novel. Our guide was friendly and engaging , giving us many insights into the locality and also into the wider politics of Brazil. His opinion was that the present government is neglecting the middle class in favour of production workers, himself once a teacher he told a tale of the neglect of the education system ; a story we have heard often. However a different story was that of the movement of the three southern states to become independent. I had read and heard of this spoken of with contempt by those in Rio, but to hear the reasons for independence spoken of so passionately was intriguing.
Our journey back to Curitiba by car led us to the lovely town of Antoninhas , similar to Morretes it is preserved and has become a tourist centre, providing much needed employment. Brazil exports chicken to mainly China and it is from here that it begins its seaward journey.
Continuing our jouney we began to experienced heavy traffic , ever thickening thick fog and torrential rain as we intermittently crawled and hurtled at breakneck speed over the mountains, none of the above slowed the progress of our oft yawning driver. At one stage I wondered how the emergency services would reach us when we crashed! The delays were mostly caused by huge waggons inching their way to the top of mountains.
Here to tell the tale of our unforgettable day in the Atlantic Forrest.