A Travellerspoint blog

Lencois and Chapada Diamantina

King of Diamonds

sunny 30 °C

Thursday 17 - Sunday 20 August

Our latest overnight bus journey ended in the pretty town of Lencois early on a sunny Thursday afternoon. The cobbled streets and brightly painted rustic houses seemed a million miles away from the shiny, retro-space-age rat-race of Brasilia. The last rush in Lencois - for diamonds - ended 100 years ago, leaving behind a picturesque, friendly and relaxed town.

As soon as we stepped onto the platform of the tiny bus station a man approached us and asked where we were staying. Accustomed to hotel touts at bus stations, we gave him the name of the hostel we'd booked. Immediately, our man made a phone call and gestured us to wait. Minutes later, another man materialised and guided us through a maze of winding backstreets to our hostel; what service!

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After being cooped-up in Brasilia and spending more time on a cramped overnight bus it was time to stretch our legs again and so we booked a hike to the Cachoeira da Fumaca (Smoke Falls) - Brazil's highest waterfall - for the following day.

Friday 18 August

Our guide for the day, Jorge, arrived at the hostel bright and early and herded us into a minibus for the two-or-so-hour journey to the Vale do Capao, our starting point for a 12 kilometre round-trip walk into the hills outside Lencois to the waterfall.

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Once again, the day was hot and sunny and despit Jorge explaining that the walk could be taken 'at our own pace' we ended up trying to keep up with the energetic few leading the way. But, as ever, the effort was rewarded by the wonderful scenery:

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The waterfall itself is named 'Smoke Falls' because the water is dispersed into a fine mist by the wind as it falls over 1000 feet to the ground. As the sun catches this fine water mist, a beautiful rainbow appears...

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Hot, bothered, dry and dusty, Jorge led us back down into the valley and on to one final stop; a large pool beneath yet more waterfalls where it was easy to cool down...

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Back in Lencois, we rounded the day off with 'cooling down' of a different kind in one of the alfresco bars dotted around the cobbled town square.

Saturday 19 August

Something (hopefully) a bit more relaxing today. A nearby wetland area of the Chapada Diamantina region called Marimbus is reputed to resemble the Pantanal; having enjoyed that place so much we just had to take a look...

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Today's guide was Eric, and he drove us and another couple 18 kilometres along a bouncy red-dirt road to our starting point at the river village of Remanso. Here we boarded canoes and took a leisurely two-hour paddle along the mirror-calm Marimbus River, passing through sections of dense vegetation and negotiating the occasional fork in the river until we reached what appeared to be a small beach.

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On Eric's advice, we removed our sandals and stepped onto the sand; in the midday sun it was scalding! We quickly hopped to the water's edge and followed it.

A short walk along a wooded track eventually brought us to our next destination, a series of pools interconnected by waterfalls where the Rio Roncador and the Rio Sao Jose meet.

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The noise generated by these falls has earned the Rio Roncador the nickname 'Snoring River'.

In the heat, no-one wasted time in stripping down to swimmers and enjoying the cool waters, with Eric giving an impromptu (and dangerous looking) diving demonstration.

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"Wheeeeeeeeeeee!"

The time came for our return, and Eric decided that he would show us an 'alternative' route back to the path that would eventually lead us back to the kayaks. Unfortunately, we didn't realise that Eric was making up this alternative route as he went along and thus we found ourselves clambering over high rocky promontories and slippery sections of river bed. Despite the grazed shins and battered feet, our enthusiasm peaked when Eric explained that we were in the midst of the diamond fields, and that tourists had been known to find decent-sized specimens. No such luck for us though...

Sunday 20 August

And so, a lazy Sunday. The idea of booking another tour crossed our minds, but the office in the hostel seemed shut for the day. As we sat in the communal area wondering how to spend our day, we started chatting to David, a fellow traveller who was (is?) motorbiking his way around the world. Being of a social nature, we cracked a few beers and began sharing anecdotes of our travels and travails. Before we knew it, a pile of cans had mounted before us, and the afternoon was wearing on for evening. Our last evening in Lencois; we´d had a great time here, and to finish off we returned to a restaurant that we´d discovered a couple of nights earlier which does a cracking Thai red curry. Tomorrow, we would move on to Salvador - a town that David and another traveller had warned us would be ¨in your face¨.


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Lencois by night

Posted by andymoore 19:35 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Brasilia

So much city, so little time.

sunny 30 °C

Sunday 13 - Wednesday 16 August

Arriving back in Campo Grande, our first priorities were to have a hot (yay!) shower, and to take care of our whiffy Pantanal laundry. Brazil being the huge country that it is, we couldn't afford to hang around and so we booked two tickets for this evening's overnight bus (ugh!) to Brasilia.

By the time we'd completed our domestic duties and undertaken a bit of essential shopping, Sunday had passed and we found ourselves boarding the bus and heading into the night.

Monday 14 August

We'd found it inexplicably difficult to find any available budget accommodation in Brasilia, even though there must be loads. Thus we ended up in one of those anonymous, business-traveller-oriented chain-hotels on the outskirts of Brazil's dynamic capital city.

Arriving in the early afternoon, we spent the afternoon checking out the facilities offered by the hotel (well OK, the restaurant and bar), before turning in for an early night to recover from last night's bus journey.

Tuesday 15 August

This morning we jumped aboard the hotel's courtesy bus which took us to a large nearby shopping mall. With more long bus journeys ahead, we were pleased to discover a decent bookshop and more grateful still to find a Portuguese phrasebook; the hotel staff spoke English just about as well as we speak Portuguese...

Brasilia is famed for its and stylish 'retro-modern' architecture; the work of a single, gifted designer - Oscar Niemeyer. Travelling through the city we were able to admire some of his weird but definitely wonderful visions:

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Wednesday 16 August

Seemingly no sooner than we had arrived in Brasilia, our brief stopover was ending. Another overnight bus beckoned, taking us this time to a small town called Lencois and soon we were speeding along Brasilia's impressive highways and taking our last looks at this unique city.

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Brasilia's 'domino-like' Government Department buildings

Posted by andymoore 18:59 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Pantanal

All creatures great and small. And some with very sharp teeth.

sunny 38 °C

Tuesday 8 - Saturday 12 August

We stepped out of the bus station in Campo Grande and almost straight into the hostel-cum-tour agency with which we'd booked our Pantanal trip. Stopping only for a quick (but welcome) shower and lunch, we hastened aboard a minibus with a dozen other folk for the five hour trip to the camp ground.

Two hours into the journey we heard a loud grinding sound, and a shocked squeal from the back seat of the minibus; the trailer we'd been towing which contained everyone's backpacks and our evening meal had sheared off and careered onto the grass verge at the side of the road, catapulting personal belongings and food over a wide radius!
After a quick rescue effort (no hope for several pulverised water melons), the remaining food and bags were squeezed onto the bus, and the damaged trailer abandoned.

Spirits were high, though, as we reached the lush swamps of the Pantanal at sunset and glimpsed the first of the wildlife we would encounter over the next few days.

Wednesday 9 August

'Home' was a long dormitory containing about a dozen hammocks; as first-time hammockers we were suprised by how comfy they were and awoke refreshed and ready for an early morning's walk.

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Our cosy dorm in the Pantanal

Getting to and from places around the camp meant bouncing along heavily rutted 'roads' in an open-backed lorry; great fun, but a bit sore on the backside.

Our first walk took us through shady woodland and our guide, Paulo, entertained us by demonstrating how to obtain drinking-water from vines, make natural mosquito-swatters and how to identify various plants. Sadly, with the Pantanal's dry season approaching its height, the walk was punctuated by the occasional discovery of a dead or dying cow, starved to immobility by the lack of edible vegetation.

Returning through the woods, Paulo cut some metre-long green leaves from a plant and gave each of us us one to take back to camp; after lunch, he skilfully stripped each leaf down to fibres, and wove them into necklaces adorned with a polished seed. We were impressed!

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"It'll look like a necklace when I've finished, Luv. Honest."

With the hot Brazilian sun beating down on us, we were glad of a relaxing boat trip in the afternoon. Gliding downriver we met some old friends:

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also a basking iguana,

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and many kingfishers, herons, egrets and other birds.

Back at camp, everyone took a cold shower (seemingly the only kind in South America!) and spent the evening swapping stories around a roaring campfire, in the company of fireflies and assorted free-roaming animals.

Thursday 10 August

In fact, the pigs and goats around camp were a little too free; in the small hours they rooted around the unlit camp, making eerie snuffling and scratching noises... at least, we hoped it was the pigs and goats.

Disturbed sleep was soon forgotten though, when at breakfast we spotted wild toucans perching in the trees around camp. Another spot of horse-riding this morning (I'm becoming a pro by now) through open fields and woodland. We'd heard that a group of riders had happened upon a large anaconda the previous day, but we had no such luck, although we did see these incredible Hyacinth Macaws.

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The ride was serene (thanks, in part, to the continual stopping of my eternally hungry horse) and provided further opportunity to take in the tranquil beauty of the Pantanal.

~~~~~~~~~~

How does the idea of wading waist deep into a piranha-filled swamp grab you? This afternoon's piranha-fishing was the most nervously anticipated activity of them all. Armed with a simple bamboo fishing rod and bits of raw chicken as bait, we tentatively crept into the cool, black, weed-entangled water.

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"Look everyone, I've caught a nice hanging-basket."

Mud squished between our toes and unseen 'things' brushed past our legs. Repressing the urge to run away and/or faint, we cast our lines and suddenly - a tug, a flick, and WOW! live piranha dangled from our hooks! Catching the little devils turned out to be fairly easy - the swamp was teeming - and trepidation soon gave way to competition as we reeled in more and more of the ferocious fish. Between six of us we caught thirty; these were hastily 'spiked' on a sharp stick to be taken back to camp and prepared for tomorrow's lunch.

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Piranha: nasty.

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The catch of the day. Holding some Piranha fish.

Returning in the lorry to pick up the afternoon's horse-riding group, we had the opportunity to feed some 'spare' piranha to a few friendly locals...

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"No, I'm not going to stroke his head."

Friday 11 August

Another walk this morning, this time through forest and swampland. "Probably best," suggested our guide, "to do this barefoot so you don't get your boots wet". Foolishly, I agreed and left my boots and socks in the lorry. Big mistake. The sensation was comparable to walking on hot, loose Lego bricks for three hours... but we did get to see yet more wildlife including a large owl. Still none of the expected anacondas, anteaters or armadillos though.

Emerging from woods into a clearing, it dawned on our guide that we were lost. Alarmingly, he decided that the best way back involved crossing a previously untraversed area of swamp.

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A shallow patch of swamp. Lovely.

Wading in behind him, we became more alarmed when he spotted a large caiman slip under the water nearby. "Just follow me," he said, "It'll be okay". And thankfully it was, although we wasted no time in scrambling up the bank on the far side of the swamp, where to our surprise we emerged onto the road about two-hundred metres from where our lorry was parked.

Lunch today was delicious:

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Piranha: tasty.

Given a choice of activity for this afternoon, we opted for another trip down the river in order to rest my battered feet. The sky being slightly overcast, we didn't see quite as much animal life as on the first trip but our afternoon was no less pleasureable than before.

Saturday 12 August

Our last day in the Pantanal. A place where the weather had been glorious, the scenery beautiful and the wildlife unforgettable. A place that we never even knew existed until arriving in Brazil less than a week ago.

Time, then, for one last walk. Setting off from the place we had picked up the horses for riding, we walked through open fields and small wooded copses. Alas, a hoped-for anaconda sighting was not to be (although we had encountered a dead snake, and a small snake which fell out of a tree and quickly slithered away). In fact it didn't seem as though we were going to see much at all until, deep in a shaded wood, our guide held up his hand for silence and pointed us toward...

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...this cute armadillo. Normally, these animals are incredibly shy and hard to spot out of their burrows so we felt pretty privileged to see this one.

At two o'clock we were on the lorry which would take us to the edge of the Pantanal to meet our minibus back to Campo Grande, and once again this was a place we were sorry to be leaving. By dusk, we were back on the main highway, the wildlife far behind us. Or so we thought; in the fading light a large grey anteater calmly trotted from one side of the busy carriageway to the other, seemingly oblivious to the traffic around him.

Posted by andymoore 10:27 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Brazil

May contain nuts.

sunny 30 °C

Sunday 6 - Monday 7 August

Another day, another country. Hmm, sounds familiar. A short taxi ride from Puerto Iguazu in Argentina took us over the border to Foz de Iguacu (note the spelling change between Spanish and Portuguese) in Brazil. Some confusion this morning - the taxi driver assumed we were on a day-trip into Brazil and so breezed past Immigration Control; we put him right, he turned around and we duly had our passports stamped.

Unusually for us, we arrived in Brazil completely unprepared and with no travel guide to assist us. We had a vague idea that we wanted to visit Ipanema, but beyond that we were clueless. Some people would argue that this is the best way to travel...

Fortune smiled on us; when we arrived at the Hostel Bambu a 'Rough Guide to Brazil' stared down at us from the bookshelf. Five quid (British Pounds) later and it was in our sticky paws. A quick peruse led us to the conclusion that the next place we'd like to visit was the Pantanal: a vast wetland area roughly the size of France.

Time limits and finances had ruled out our initial idea of an Amazon cruise, but by many accounts the Pantanal offers better opportunities for spotting a huge diversity of wildlife including anacondas, anteaters, the ocasional jaguar, macaws, caiman, otters and so on and on.

How convenient then, that our host at Hostel Bambu once worked as a guide in the Pantanal and could sort out a decent four-day excursion for us!
The deal done, and with little else to do on a quiet Sunday afternoon, we relaxed at the hostel and encountered our first ferocious Brazilian animal:

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Monday 7 August

It's possible to visit the Iguazu/Iguacu Falls from the Brazilian side of the border, but having been twice we declined our host's suggestion that we go again today, opting instead for a visit to Foz's Parque de Aves (bird park); home to around 900 birds from 150 different species, some of which are severley endangered.

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We'd seen from afar wild toucans in the Iguazu Falls Park, but here the toucans are positively tame and extremely inquisitive...

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Maintaining the South American tradition, we were due on an overnight bus to Campo Grande tonight, so returning from the bird park we thought it best to eat a big lunch. The Rough Guide recommended a 'churrascaria' - a restaurant at which the waiter repeatedly fills your plate with large chunks of different barbecued meats on skewers until you beg for mercy. Absolutely fantastic.

We'd expected Argentina to be a hard (if not impossible) act to follow, but on the basis of the first couple of days in Brazil things were shaping up nicely.

Posted by andymoore 14:39 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Puerto Iguazu and the Iguazu Falls

Still plenty of clout despite the drought

sunny 35 °C

Tuesday 1 - Saturday 6 August

Another one of those much-loved bus journeys brought us to (sadly) our final destination in Argentina - Puerto Iguazu, home of the magnificent Iguazu Falls.

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High in the northeast of Argentina, Puerto Iguazu lies near the borders of Paraguay and, next on our list of countries, Brazil.

Arriving at the bus terminal around midday we hopped in a taxi for the short ride out of town to our chosen accommodation, the Hostel-Inn Iguazu. This place is highly rated by guidebooks and travellers alike, and as we drew up we could see why; this place is more like a luxury hotel than a backpacker's hostel.

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Once checked in, we wasted no time in arranging a trip to the Falls via the in-house travel desk, for the following morning. Then it was time to relax by the pool (Yay! A hostel with a full-size swimming pool!) with a few beers, write some postcards and just chill out for the rest of the day.

Wednesday 2 August

A forty minute trip by minibus brought us to the entrance of Iguazu Falls Park, and at just after 9am tour buses were as yet scarce. Inside the park, a network of walking trails leads off to waterfalls of varying sizes, but to get to the big boys you need to hop on a train. We'd been advised to visit the most spectacular fall, the Garganta del Diablo ('Devil's Throat') early before the majority of the crowds appeared. We jumped aboard the -quickly full- first train, then spedd off after the brief ride onto the series of metal catwalks which lead to the falls proper.

Despite the day being overcast, our anticipation was aroused by the distant roar of water and hastening to the end of the catwalk we were met by the Devil's Throat in all it's glory.

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Well, not quite all - we later learned that Iguazu was suffering its worst drought in nine years and that the falls were far from at their most impressive. Could have fooled us...

We spent a long day investigating as many of the falls in the park as time would allow, but due to the grey weather and the vast numbers of tourists we very quickly decided to return in a couple of days' time for a second look.

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Thursday 3 and Friday 4 August

Time for a quick look around Puerto Iguazu itself. As you might expect the town's main emphasis is on tourism, but it's charming enough and not as 'in-your-face' as some of the places we've been. I was particularly taken with a hairdressing salon here called 'Fanny Coiffure' - the jokes just write themselves...

We couldn't have chosen a better rest-stop for our final days in Argentina; after almost a month of terrific adventures and not-so-terrific bus journeys, the creature-comforts of the Hostel Inn coupled with the hot sunny weather and beautiful surroundings gave us a real 'holiday' feeling and we happily whiled away the rest of Thurday and Friday just unwinding and enjoying the view. Oh, and the Hostel Inn's fabulous barbecues... always thinking with my stomach, me.

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Sharon chillin'

Saturday 5 August

To Iguazu Falls again. This time, the sun smiled down on us making the Falls seem, if possible, even more spectacular than before. Although the Falls are the main focus for visitors, the park is also home to diverse wildlife such as toucans, vultures and the mischievious but endearing Coatie (pronounced Co-ar-tee)

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Naughty Coatie

Exploring the waterfalls that we'd missed on Wednesday, the drought was more evident; some of the smaller falls were little more than trickles. Nonetheless, this did not diminish our awe of the sheer beauty and majesty of our surroundings - drought or no drought, Iguazu Falls is a place not to be missed.

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And so our Argentina experience drew to an end, and we felt a little sadness to be leaving so soon; so many positive aspects - the friendliness of the people, the food, the places, the weather - had contributed to our total enjoyment of the country. We're already planning the return trip.

Posted by andymoore 09:53 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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