The trip started with an early morning taxi pick-up for a myself and a friend, then a journey from my home town followed by a flight from Heathrow airport in London to Charles De Gaul airport in Paris, France. At the airport we waded though the crowds of tourists whilst searching for other people with 'Explore' tags on their suitcases; trying to establish who we would be spending the next 2 weeks with. The adventure began.
Gradually, I found some of the others on my trip as we boarded our next flight for Sao Paulo, Brazil. So far, so good. It looked like we were going to be in for a great trip.
20 hours later, and completely exhausted we arrived at Sao Paulo with enough time to run from one terminal to another to catch our final flight to Rio De Janeiro. I'd seen enough planes and airports to last me a lifetime (and it was still only the first day!!).
The flight from Sao Paulo to Rio De Janeiro was an experience. We were shuffled onto a small plane and were soon flying over our first sights of Rio. The plane banked around to land, which gave me my first view of Christ The Redeemer - Wow, the holiday has truly begun.
Once we were off the plane, we had our first opportunity to greet each other. Then as we all hauled our luggage through the security doors, we were met by our Tour Guide. I must admit, my expectations of a tour guide in Brazil would have been a very dark tanned Brazilian (and yes, I was hoping that she would be young, beautiful and single). So you can imagine my surprise to find a pure white, bald headed English guy with little round glasses (a true Adrian Edmonson lookalike).
Our first 2 days started with a glorious tour of Rio De Janeiro. The weather was perfect. Our first destination was Sugarloaf. We took a cable car to the summit and admired the scenery.
The sky was blue and the temperature was rising. So, this was Rio de Janeiro. As we looked behind us, we could clearly see the statue of Christ the Redeemer in the distance, and that was our next destination.
After a serious period of sensory overload, we returned to the bottom and jumped on a minibus to take us to Corcovado Mountain. We took a train to the top of the mountain. The views were mesmerising.
I cannot even begin to explain the emotions that ran through my body as I stood at the bottom of the statue of Christ the Redeemer and looked up at his face. It was so calming, so humbling, so inspiring. I looked around at the people who were stood near me, and was relieved to discover that I was not the only person with tears rolling down my cheeks.
The day was drawing to an end, the sun was setting. Most of our group returned to the hotel, but for four of us the experience was too great and we didn't want it to end. We decided to wait until the sun had set before we jumped back onto the train.
The sun finally set and we made our way back to the train and returned to our hotel. A word of warning for anybody who is thinking of travelling to Rio. Make sure when you are in a taxi, that you count out every note/coin when you pay the driver. I made the mistake of giving the driver several notes at once, he then proceeded to put one of them in his pocket and denied that I had paid him enough.
That evening we experienced the local food places. My goodness, the Brazilians do like their meat!!! We visited a restaurant where the waiters paraded around the room with cooked joints of meet on large poles. As they walked passed our tables they kept slicing large steaks onto our plates. We then realised that the brass plaque on the table (which we originally thought was a piece of decor) was in fact an stop/go indicator for the waiters. As soon as we slid the plaque to the stop position, our plates were left alone - Phew! I was almost about to explode. Next door there was a fish/seafood restaurant that was similar.
Well, so I thought..... ...then I was introduced to Iguacu Falls - surely most beautiful waterfalls in the World. The waterfalls lies on the point between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.
The ground beneath our feet was rumbling with the energy of the crashing water. Birds swooping overhead catching the many insects that buzzed around us. Then we saw it... Iguacu Falls in it's splendor. The first day was taken up walking around the Brazillian side of the falls. Awe inspiring, humbling, educational and of course...wet.
The next day we travelled to Argentina, where we had the opportunity to see the falls from the other side of the river - equally as inspiring. This time we were fortunate enough to be able to experience the falls from close up (so close in fact, that we actually went underneath). We all climbed on board the speedboat and put on our wet gear.
The journey, as you can imagine, was bumpy, wet and exciting. The atmosphere was electric, full of energy. The rocks all around us were glistening with mist. Our pilot steered us through the rapids, turning the boat in tight circles to ensure that we got drenched, then slowly steering us underneath one of the many waterfalls, to allow the water to pour down on us, before jetting back up the river. One the journey back to the shore, we all emptied our boots of water - all of us laughing hysterically. Surely the holiday couldn't get any better?
That night we had a more relaxing evening, preparing for our next step of the journey into the Pantanal.
Over the next couple of days we spent flying and travelling in a minibus on our way to our private lodge in the middle of the Pantanal. We had chosen the dry season to visit the Amazon, as some of the rivers had dried up and the water table was lower - this meant that the animals would be in richer density around the remaining rivers.Our minibus was full of birdwatchers, and I was becoming frustrated with the amount of occasions that we had to stop to look at a bird in the distance - they all looked like black dots to me. Then we saw our first caimen. WOW, it looked mean with big teeth and a sly smile. As we travelled further into the rain forest, the abundance of caimen was astonishing. There were thousands of them, all laying on the banks of the rivers.
Occasionally, a stork would brave a journey passed the hungry mouths of the caimen as it searched for it's own food source.We finally arrived at our lodge which was situated in a small clearing in the rain forest - and made our way to our own cabins. My cabin consisted of a small bathroom with a shower that would not meet even the lightest of safety regulations, a concrete slab as a bed and my own personal frog to catch any mosquitoes that made their way into the room.
The next day we climbed into our canoes and rowed through the undergrowth of the rivers to admire and experience one of the worlds most beautiful locations. Snakes, spiders, caimen, piranha, monkeys, tapir..... everything and anything. Once again the noises, the smells and the sights provided a complete sensory overload - everywhere I looked was a whole new experience. We continued through the evening until the sun had set and darkness fell. There was a brief period at dusk where the noise quietened. Then within a few minutes as the sun set, new noises started as the night animals and insects came alive.
(Click on the play button to view the clip I took whilst canoeing down the Amazon.)
The next day few days were spent exploring the area in canoes and on foot - Walking through the forests was amazing, there were crab shells all over the floor. This reminded us of how high the water table could be - the whole area was under water just a few weeks before.
A week later, we returned to civilisation and unsurprisingly back to the airport for another set of flights that took us to Manaus, the city in the middle of the Amazon rain forest. We landed at midnight and the temperature was over 30 degrees and almost 100% humidity. The minibus that collected us from the airport to take us to our hotel smelled of dampness. The hotel was small and very old, the walls were dripping with moisture. I made my way to my hotel room and collapsed into my bed (wondering what else was living in the bed). Luckily, it was only to be my home for one night. The next day we ventured out into the immense heat and humidity of the mid morning sunshine - there was a fish market just over the road from where we were and the smells were like nothing I had ever experienced before.
We soon made our way onto our mini-bus that took us on a journey to a boat that would provide some luxury for while. With cold beer on board, we enjoyed a relaxing 7hr journey up the amazon river with freshwater dolphins along side. With the breeze from the river blowing in our faces, we supped our drinks and admired yet another stunning sunset.
We arrived at our next lodge (this time a floating lodge) and were greeted with a local drink... an extremely alcoholic local drink that touched parts of me that I didn't even know existed. We were then shown to our rooms and then ate an amazing meal before retiring to bed.
The next day we had a very early start, so that we could be in our canoes before sunrise. This gave us to do some caimen spotting in the dark with our torches. The eyes of the caimen light up like cats eyes when you shine a torch in their direction. We also had to duck out of the way of the fish who were jumping out of the water all around us. As the sun came up we came to a stop and sat there in silence. Not moving, not talking, just savouring the moment... another moment that would never leave my heart.We returned to the floating lodge, this was the first time we had the opportunity to see it in daylight. Wow, what a sight!!!
Our final day in the Amazon gave us the opportunity to visit the local villagers who lived on floating boats along the riverside. It was extremely humbeling to see how the lived and it made me realise how lucky I really was and how superficial most of my worries were. Do I really need a new kitchen at home in England? How fortunate I am to know that my house flood during the next rainstorm?
Our Amazon trip was soon over, too quickly. Our tour took us from the heart of the Amazon to Brazillia, the modern city and capital of Brazil. What a contrast, a modern city with modern architecture and lots of money (and politics).
Finally we made our way to Salvador. Another bustling city, but much older archtecture. We had the oppoerunity to walk around the city and sample more local food and hospitality, but were soon in bed for a much needed sleep.
Our final day took us back to the airport, and a few more flights before we returned home to England. A group of strangers had become a group of friends. The experiences that we shared were going to be experiences that we would never forget.
On returning home and going back to work, my first task was to log onto the internet and start searching for my next amazing trip......
xxx The End xxx
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