Wednesday, November 30, 2005

In the air again

Conrado is restoring a 1969 Brazilian plane that looks like a Cessna Skyhawk with a big engine. But it didn't have any seats when I visited it so we weren't able to go up in it.

So instead, we borrowed an ultralight from the aero club and I got to see Campos from the air.

The ultralight had a conventional stick and rudder like a plane, but sitting out in the breeze was something new.

And the all-around view was fantastic.

With only a week left in Brazil, it was time to be moving north again, and I packed up again and hopped on an overnight bus to Porto Seguro.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Cattle country

Old family friends had generously invited me to visit them for a few days near the town of Campos, a few hours north of Rio. It was quite a shift from the backpacking lifestyle to be dropped into the midst of an extended Brazilian family and to enjoy some home-cooked food.

I passed from relative to relative until I ended up in Campos where we visited the family farm (about 800 hectares of rolling green hills). I got to see young cattle being purchased and delivered to the farm in the morning along with a horseride around the farm before we left.

While we waited for cowboys to round up some grown cattle to trade for slaughter for the morning's purchase, a nasty looking snake wandered past.

After the cattle arrived the long process of weighing them and rebranding them began.

It was pretty impressive to see how skillfully the cowboys managed the herd on horseback, cajoling the animals through the various gates and pens, weighing them in groups and juggling which animals were where.

I had been staying with Conrado in Campos, and the next day he offered to take me flying in an ultralight at the Campos Aero Club.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ilha Grande

Leaving the bustle of Rio in the morning, I found myself on a serene beach sipping a caparinha by the late afternoon after taking a bus and a ferry to Ilha Grande.

The next day I sweated my way up and down the jungle-covered hills for 2 hours to get to Lopes Mendes beach which is 2km of almost deserted white sand and a good swell for bodysurfing in. It is one of the nicer beaches out of several hundred on the island.

On the way we stopped for refreshments at this floating restaurant.

I stayed at a hostel right on the waterfront so whenever you had the urge you could climb out of your hammock and dive into the water from the dock. At night we sat around discussing which beach to go to the next day.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Beautiful Rio

The weather changed the day after I arrived in Rio and suddenly everyone was walking around town in bikinis and Speedos. I decided to try hang-gliding from Piedra Bonita that rises spectacularly 600m above the shoreline.

This involved running down a launching ramp into mid-air while tied to an instructor whose instructions in Portuguese I barely understood. But it all went smoothly, including the landing on the beautiful beach below us.

It was a holiday weekend and Rio was packed with visitors. My hostel in Ipanema (my most expensive night in South America) was booked up and so I moved to Copocabana where the hostel was a bit more downmarket but had more of an atmosphere and a good crowd. My days were full with beaches, sight-seeing, restaurants and cafes, bars and dance clubs.

On my last day I did a tour of one of the largest favelas in Rio, something I had mixed feelings about beforehand. But it turned out to be a great experience.

With the weather still behaving itself, I decided to head back to Ilha Grande for a few days.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Wet, wet, wet

It was raining when I arrived in Parati, it rained most of the time I was there, and it was raining when I left. An otherwise cozy little colonial town with cobblestone streets in it's historic centre, sprinkled with somewhat expensive restaurants complete with live bossa nova musicians.

One day the weather was merely overcast, so I tried to make the most of it with a boat trip around the nearby islands and beaches.

I decided that I was better off being in Rio in the rain than on another beach, so that's where I headed to next.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Surfing in Santa Catarina

After an overnight bus from Foz to Florianopolis I found myself on a beautiful beach in a little town called Barra da Lagoa on the island of Santa Catarina. The world surfing championships were being held just down the road on the next beach, but mid-week my beach was pleasantly sleepy. The whole island is one stunning beach after another and suprisingly undeveloped.

I decided to take a couple of surfing lessons, and was pleased to find I could still stand up most of the time. The next challenge is timing the waves on my own which is suprisingly difficult.

When the weekend rolled around, the town was suddenly flooded with people, and I decided it was time to move on. Next stop Parati.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Foz de Iguazu

I arrived in Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinian side of the falls to discover that recent heavy rains had swollen the rivers to the highest levels since 1992 and half of the viewing platforms were underwater or inaccessible.

This was a mixed blessing, since it was a shame to miss out on some of the experience, but at the same time the volume of water flowing over the falls (which is normally enormous) was unbelievable. In the middle of the falls there is a large step which forms an island that is usually reachable by boat with walkways for getting close to the water. This area was almost entirely covered with raging water.

Some of the walkways couldn't withstand the water and had been washed away.

There is an ongoing debate about which side of the falls is the more stunning, and I will weigh in with my preference for the Argentinan side because of how close you get to the water and how humbling the experience of all that power is.