Foz do Iguazu

After our 3 stop bus trip we were a little groggy and not with it, but we were going to Argentina the next day so we had to see the falls that day. 
We caught the bus out to the falls and off we went. The bus cost us the equivalent of $2 so we were pretty chuffed with that. Words cannot describe the massiveness and sheer beauty of the falls. You start at one point and then walk about 1.2kms along the river stopping at several view points. Every view point you were looking at showed a different point of the falls. They are that big that we couldn’t get a photo of the whole falls. The best thing about the falls is that it is not just one fall but lots separated by trees and rocks and then also lots of different tiers.
Towards the end of the trail there were lots of people putting on their rain jackets. I put mine on and Tim was happy to get wet as it was pretty hot. The reason for the rain jackets was that the path actually crossed over the river and snaked all the way to the edge of one part of the falls. It was phenomenal! It is hard to comprehend the sheer mass of water that tumbles over the falls every second. 
Tim and I were both saying that it is one of the best things we have ever seen! Can’t wait for the Argentinian side! 
After the falls we decided to have one last Brazilian BBQ as it was our last night in Brazil. We managed to find a place just around the corner for $10 each that had awesome food and even Tim had to tell them to stop bringing out the meat for him! S

   
Our first view of the falls

 
As you can see everywhere you look as you walk along the platforms it just gets better and better.

   
    
 
These shots show just how close you get to the falls! Pretty amazing

  

Absolutely Brilliant Brazil

Again in no particular order just some phrases to remind me of the great stuff in Brazil. A wonderful country and one we could definitely spend a lot more time in. Great people.
Arriving at our hostel in Rio, had we gone too cheap?
Having our beers on the harbourside in Botofogo looking over the water towards Christ the Redeemer, illuminated on top of the hill
Stuffing ourselves silly at the Brazilian BBQ.
Seeing the Toucans on top of the pylons outside our hostel on day one
Arriving at Buzios and walking down to the water and realizing that we had arrived in some kind of paradise 
The hustle and bustle of Lapa, and having our day where we started in Buzios, bus to Rio, walk around the town center, seeing the tiled staircase, traditional Feijoada dinner, Samba then Maracana for Football.
Being pleasantly surprised as to how nice the bus trip was.
Arriving at Campo Grande, expecting to be mobbed by people offering trips to the Pantenal but finding no one there
The stay at the Pantenal, the great activities, the wildlife and mostly just the experience of feeling like we were staying in the middle of nowhere
The incredible heat in the Pantenal area
Snorkeling down the Rio de Plata, so unbelievably clear an absolute highlight.
The Macaws just incredibly good looking birds.
The cafes on just about every pavement.  
Sharing a cold beer and empanadias, just perfect.
How welcoming everyone was, and although there was usually a huge language barrier, lots of smiles seemed to work wonders. On both sides.
The falls, just spectacular. The first glimpse is something I will never forget.
The coffee, strong and sweet. Just perfect, and available just about everywhere.
Walking around the favalas, certainly an eye opening experience to see so close how they live in the slums.
Really eye opening in general seeing the poverty on show
Seeing football everywhere on every TV in every cafe.
Seeing the different animals, the anteater, the monkeys, the capybaras, the piranhas, the toucans just to name but a few great to see something I have never seen before. T

Tim’s Brazil

My first foray into South America has been extremely exciting. From the moment we stepped off the plane in Rio de Janeiro it was clear that we had arrived in a place like no other I had seen before.
The first thing I noticed on arrival and as we took the taxi to Copacobana would have to be the poverty, particularly the standard of housing which looks as if people have just built extra floors onto their house when needed and using whatever building materials come to hand. We found out later that this is in fact the case that as the children get older and married etc the family simply builds another story onto the house.
The driving was absolutely crazy too yet we didn’t notice too many dents in the cars or accidents. We also learnt very quickly to pay our taxi drivers in the exact money as getting change out of them was quite difficult! Most often they would try and charge whatever change you thought you were going to get as a “bag fee” I guess without speaking the language we were always going to be targets, but more so in Rio than elsewhere.
Although there wasn’t much English spoken people seemed very nice and welcoming this may have been due to the fact that most of the people we met worked in the hospitality industry. But in general we would have to say that the locals seemed very friendly.
Rio we loved, it is a very exciting, vibrant and for the most part a pretty city. The views from Christ the Redeemer and Sugar loaf were brilliant. If we had our time again we would probably have stayed in Ipanema over Copacobana but we still had a magical time.
It was pretty clear that as we left Rio there weren’t a huge number of western tourists on the route and people got even more excited to see us the further away from Rio we got. Maybe this was due to the fact that we were catching buses rather than minibus transfers or planes but we really felt quite quickly that we were off the beaten trail. Again not much English spoken if any at all but we coped fine.
We only barely scratched the surface of Brazil but everywhere we went was superb. The country is absolutely massive! We thought that in Australia we had long distances to travel but our 22hr bus trip really didn’t look as though we had got anywhere at all on the map!!
The land we passed through was incredibly rich and fertile land and most was converted into farmland, cattle sugarcane and soya seem to be the main crops. And the climate and the plants all seem fairly similar to those we get in Queensland we are on about the same latitude.
The roadside cafes have been great and there seems to be a place to have a beer every 50 meters and loads of people sat in plastic chairs watching the world go by. We have enjoyed some samba music but on the whole most of the places we have been to its been the gaggle of talking providing the background noise rather than music. And of course football on TV I swear every single football match worldwide is televised here both live and then on endless replays.
We have chatted politics with a few people and the common theme seems to be corrupt politicians. The Lonely Planet that we are using is a bit out of date and describes the current president as just entering into office and her main credibility is that she is going to stamp out the corruption. Well she is now regarded as bad as the rest if not worse!  
Apparently when she is speaking on TV the practice is to stand up and lean out the window banging pots and pans so no one can hear her lies! Too be fair we have certainly noticed a high amount of poverty and there is obviously a big gap between the wealthy and the poor. It’s certainly difficult to see how spending so much money on hosting the World Cup and the olympics has benefitted the lowest classes. But you do get the sense that the wealthy ones have done well out of it?
The wildlife and the nature was great to see and even though we didn’t make it up to the Amazon proper (later) the areas we visited in the Pantenal certainly felt very much like we were in the jungle.
All in all a fantastic experience, you could easily spends months and months discovering Brazil and never get bored, wonderful people and wonderful country. T

Buses in a Brazilian Heatwave

Well our romanticism of bus rides is officially over. As I am writing this we are two hours into what we think is the first of three buses we are going to have to catch in order to get to Foz du Iguazu. 
We are currently going through a heat wave in this area and so we were looking forward to relaxing on a comfy bus in the air con and getting some sleep in. Unfortunately as we were waiting for the bus to leave we asked the bus driver “air conditionado?” pointing at the bus and boy did he laugh as he shook his head at us!!!
Well we are not laughing now, it’s bloody hot, the last temp we saw was 39 degrees and the trickle of cool air is doing nothing to help, coupled with that the road system seems to have taken a turn for the worst and we are definitely on the “stopper”
Still this is traveling, and for some unknown reason I have stopped sweating which is fabulous so the plan is to see if we can just get ourselves to the falls by tomorrow morning!!
The bizarre thing is is that I was trying to face time Kelly this morning for her birthday and right at this point in time that kind of technology seems a long long way away. We are certainly in the depths of Brazil now.
(Written later) After our first stop things improved and the next bus we bought a ticket for (they are all different bus companies so you have to buy seperate tickets each time and with the amount of paperwork involved in buying a bus ticket this certainly kills a large amount of your waiting time) was an “executivo!” Air conditioning and comfy seats so we both slept the whole way through the night until we awoke at our next change.
Here we had a stroke of luck although did not help for the image of the “gringo” unfortunately.  
We arrived and went to find the company who sold the tickets to Foz do Iguazu and promptly found the lady, who asked us to wait while she ducked out the back. No problem, two things we didn’t know or understand at this point, 1 was that the clocks had changed so my watch was reading an hour too slow. 2 was that she had gone out of the office to get the bus to wait for us to be able to get on!!!
Well after both of our cards wouldn’t work in her machine we eventually coughed up the cash and then were guided towards the bus by a porter, who did seem to be in a little bit of a hurry! But I put our bags on the bus and then seeing as I thought we had 30 mins to wait (or so I thought) Sarah went to the toilet and I went and stood at the cafe ordering some coffees for us. Well considering they had been waiting for a good 15 mins already and were now half an hour late, I can see now how the sight of me stood casually drinking a coffee at the cafe would have caused all the sudden shouting!  
But with Sarah still in the toilet, the bus left! With our bags! At this point I got a little worried and while everyone was talking and trying to explain in Portuguese, luckily a passer by spoke a little English and explained that the bus would be waiting the other side of the bus terminal and there was a guy there who was going to walk us around when Sarah was ready. It was at about this point that I noticed a clock, whoops we felt awful but we hope we managed to convey how sorry we were.  

As they say alls well that ends well and we arrived 18 hours after we started at the Falls.

Public swimming pool, Brazilian style

Today was going to be a relaxing day as we had been going pretty hard for a while. We had been told that just down the road there was a public swimming hole, this seemed relaxing enough so we hired some bikes and off we went. We were meeting Silvia and Werner there, a couple from Austria we met at the Pantanal, who are doing a similar trip to us around South America just the other way around.
The trip there was not too bad and took us around half an hour, though the temperature was around 40 degrees so we were both sweating by the time we got there. When we pulled up you had to produce a voucher that you purchased in town in order to get in. We had left it at home…….. Tim pleaded with the man pretty much by saying please in Portuguese 10 times with puppy dog eyes and sweat dripping down his face. Needless to say the man could not refuse and let us in!
The place was really very cool with a river and lots of grass and shade areas along the bank to relax. The river was very clear and full of fish that were obviously used to being hand fed so they congregated all around you when in the water. People were putting flowers on a sick and then holding it about 10 cms above the water and the fish were jumping out to grab it. Very entertaining!
The bike ride back was not that much fun as it was mostly uphill and into the wind but we managed. Made harder as well because we found out that for the same price we could have hired a private driver for the trip! S

   
A few snaps of the place, the highlight really was being able to float about 100m down the river in the icy cold water.  But the place had restaurants and lifeguards and everything.  It was called the Balneario Municipal.

   

Pretty Bonito

We had got a tip from a really helpful guy in Rio that we should definitely visit Bonito when we were out in the Pantenal. So we did.  
Bonito itself is a nice small town seemingly in the middle of nowhere but with loads of activities to enjoy in the surrounding areas. Sandro our taxi driver had sorted us out with the best couple of things to do so at 6am we were picked up and off on the road.
One of the animals I was desperate to see in this area was the giant anteater and with all the termite mounds around I had my fingers crossed. Sure enough it wasn’t long before we spotted one, what a fantastically unusual animal, just a bit of a shame that the taxi driver wouldn’t hang around long enough for us to get a decent photo but at least we got to see one!!!
The first activity we were booked on was to go snorkeling at the Rio de Prata which was an absolutely crystal clear river. And when I say crystal clear it was the clearest water I have ever seen and it was absolutely beautiful to be able to dip into the cold waters and get out of the incredible heat (pushing 40)
After about a 1km walk through the forest we arrived at the start of the river where we donned our snorkeling gear and eased ourselves into the wonderfully cool crystal clear water, teeming with fish. It was really interesting to be able to see where the river started as you could see the spring bubbling away at the bottom.
The float down the river was amazing and a definite highlight of the trip, we got to see loads of fish who seemed not to be bothered by us at all!! And to be able to just float down the river was great as we were able to just lie there and watch everything unfold before our eyes.
Three hours of floating passed in no time and before we knew it we were back at the farm where lunch was served (it always seems to be a buffet, no complaints here) and then a couple of hours relaxing in hammocks waiting for the heat of the day to pass. Brilliant
The place we were at was quite interesting as it was attempting to be an ecotourist resort and so they grew all their own vegetables for all the tourists as well as having cattle, chickens and just about everything else. So while it was a little expensive the whole experience was absolutely superb.
One of the other main attractions in this area is the Buraco das Araras which is basically the second largest sinkhole in the world and is home to about 50 pairs of Macaws.  
A little history first, the sinkhole exists in an area predominantly used as farm land so was considered pretty useless by the farmers in the area. Well that is until they realized they could dump all of their rubbish in it! But better than that it used to be considered a great place to dump bodies in as there was no easy way of getting down to the bottom!!! 
Then a farmer decided to clean it up and so (and I didn’t quite get the details) but the army were used to get all the rubbish out by abseiling down and then carrying the rubbish back up as a training exercise. This was when they discovered the 20 bodies which had been dumped there.
The farmer then introduced a pair of Macaws into the area and they have attracted other birds and bred to produce the 50 pairs which live there today. (Our guide said fifty but a few of the books claim 200 plus)
It was fantastic to see the birds, and although it was really too hot to see huge numbers we got to see plenty. The animals all looked amazingly healthy and the colors were just something else. Such rich reds, blues and greens. Also it was really interesting to see all the birds in pairs. Apparently the birds can live for 60-70 years and remain with the same partner for that whole time!!
Back in Bonito for the evening it was still sweltering, now I will admit that me sweating is no great surprise to anyone but when Sarah is complaining about the heat you know it’s hot!! And it’s only Spring!!!  
So we went to the main square where there were a whole host of restaurants and cafes with tables out and sat and had a deliciously cold beer and a couple of empanadias which with a little bit of picante sauce were equally as good. No I lie the cold beer was better 😉

   
Above is the start of the river, and below is the actual point where the spring was bubbling up from under the ground.  As we swam above it you could actually feel how much colder that water was.

    
 
Sarah snorkelling down just unbelievably clear.

   
 
Some of the fish we saw on the way down, these ones were all fairly large, about a foot long but were certainly not phased by our presence. Above some Pacu and below a Dourada

   
 
This tree looks fake but that’s actually how the bark grows,  it’s design allows the outside of the the tree to burn whilst protecting the inside.  

   
The sinkhole at Buraco das Araras at about 100m deep it would have been a pretty impressive operation to get all the rubbish out.

 
A few shots of the residents at the sinkhole the Araras (macaws)

   
 

Deep in The Pantenal

Our first day in Pantanal consisted of a transfer from Campo Grande with our own private car driven by the wonderful Sandro. It was a 4 hour trip but with Sandro the time flew as he was pretty much a tour guide as well. On the trip in, we managed to see 3 makaws, a few rheas (Brazilian emus) and 3 dead giant anteaters to name a few! We were also informed that our next stop, Bonito was a busy place and that you needed to book tours for all the top spots. No problem says Sandro who took out his phone and called a friend and had organized a tour with a good company for us within minutes.
The Pantenal is an area in central Brazil bordering with Paraguay and Bolivia and there are plenty of rivers but not too many roads in the area.  It is different to the Amazon as it is more of a wetlands, and in fact during the wet season it is almost completely under water.  We were lucky to be going during the dry season and so the animals should be more concentrated around the available water so seeing them should be easy.  We noticed a lot of farmland as we entered the area and the battle between the farmers and the ecosystem was obvious.  The land is all privately owned and at the moment government regulations dictate that 30% of the land must remain untouched (not a lot) shame really.
On arrival at the Jungle lodge which consisted of a group of huts raised on stilts right on the brown river, we were blown away by the sheer wildness of the Pantanal. Our first activity for the day was Piranha fishing using bamboo poles and cows’ hearts. It was a really fun experience and we managed to catch 2 piranhas, a cat fish and a pacu. Our guide, Shnieder (so named as we couldn’t pronounce his Brazilian name and he was wearing a Dutch football jersey with Shnieder’s number and name) informed us we would be served said fish at dinner. They were really quite tasty though not a lot of flesh on them and lots of little bones.
After fishing we were herded into a boat for a night safari up the river with 5 fellow Brazilian backpackers and we were shown some of the wildlife of the Pantanal. We were very fortunate as the others were all avid birdwatchers and had a book of all the different species and as Schnider pointed out species they would pass us the book which conveniently had a photo and the English name. As it turned to night he got out a torch and showed us all the Caiman (crocodiles) in the water as their eyes reflect the light. We saw about 15 sets of red eyes and even got glimpses of some of them before they went underwater.
The next day we were up nice and early for a Jeep safari. We managed to see lots of Caiman out sun-baking, native deer, capybara (giant water rodent but actually quite cute!) goanna, wild pigs and a native raccoon along with so many more birds. We actually got to get out and have a walk through the Pantanal as well which was great, hunting for howler monkeys. Unfortunately we heard them, saw their poop but just not them.
After lunch we were then informed we would be floating down the river……. Even though we had seen so many Caiman the night before and caught Piranha there as well we were assured that it was safe. It was actually the giant otters you had to watch out for as they could get quite aggressive. We were pretty adamant we were not going to do it but got bullied into it by the others. It was quite disconcerting to know all those nasties were out there but you could not even see your hand just under the water. Needless to say we made it back in one piece.
After that we went canoeing down the river. It’s hard to describe but the Pantanal is just so dense and wild. Being on the water and being able to get so close to the bank was awesome. It felt as if there should have been anacondas everywhere! There probably were but they didn’t show themselves to us.
We had the option of going on another night safari which we were very glad we did as we finally got to see the howler monkeys. It really made my night.
On the last day we were again up early and went on another boat trip to the only hill in the Pantanal which we climbed. It was actually pretty tough as the track went straight up and we even needed ropes at times. Coming down was much harder than going up. The view was great and apparently in the wet season the water covers all the land leaving only the tallest trees exposed. The water level rises by 3 metres. The Jungle lodge then is actually sitting just above the water and the always between the buildings come into their own. Hard to imagine. 
The Pantanal for us was a really awesome trip. You definitely felt as if you were deep in South America. Not only because we had travelled so far by bus but the feeling of being in a very remote part of the world was very evident. S

   
Our bedroom for the stay! Just 30m from the river with wildlife all around us.  One morning we woke up to the sound of the howler monkeys all around us it was pretty magical.

 
Sarah proudly displaying her piranha.

   
You can see its teeth, a pretty ferocious fish.

 
Fishing by the banks of the river right outside the lodge

   
The colours of the birds everywhere were incredible 

    
The capybara, we did see a family crossing the road but were too slow with the camera

 
A goanna sunning itself on a tree

   
A Coati which was similar to a raccoon 

 
We were very lucky to find this pool of water with at least a dozen Caiman sunning themselves

   
This heron was a common sight along the banks of the river and our guide pontes out a whole variety of birds for us

 
The river was full of debris from the banks but as you can see it felt as though we were in the Brazilian jungle.

   

 
The view of the only hilł in the area and then the view from the top where you can see the river meandering through the marshlands.  You can also see how 3m more of water would cover most of the land.