Sunday, 22 February 2015

Day 28 - Salvador

Yesterday we arrived in Salvador, the capital of Bahia state dubbed 'Africa in exile' for is mixture of African and European heritage. On the journey via bus and ferry, I reflected on the comments and advise given by fellow travellers who had already visited Salvador; that it was not a safe city and if there was anywhere you'd get mugged, this would be the place for it. However as we were crossing the Baia de Todos Os Santos, the bay which creates the broad peninsular on which Salvador is built, all I felt was excitement to explore the city and see what it has to offer. 
As soon as we arrived at the hostel, we were invited to a jazz night across the other side of town and for R$6 we couldn't resist. Around 800 pessoas (people) turned up to Jam No Mam, an event where musicians turn up and make really cool music. 
The atmosphere was great with a real mixture of people who were relaxing with the continual jazz sound playing smoothly in the background. After a couple of hours jamming, we headed to the 74m-high Lacerda lift which connects the Cidade Alta (Upper City) with the Cidade Baixa (Lower City) which after a short lift up, brought us out near to the hostel in the Historical Centre, a UNESCO heritage site. 
In this area the Portuguese built their fortified city where today stands some of the most important examples of colonial architecture in the Americas. Walking through this area, we weaved between Bahiana selling a wide variety of local snacks and live music spilling out of the bars on every corner. The area still has extravagant carnival decorations up which are amazing. We didn't stick around too long however as it's not recommended to walk around after dark, regardless of which part of the city you are in but our next few days will be spent exploring so we will get to see the sights! 

Day 27 - Itacare

On Wednesday we arrived in Itacare, a small town in on the east coast after a nine hour bus journey from Porto Seguro. Our hostel was located in the middle of a buzzing street where boutiques and souvenir shops sit beside restaurants and clubs. The main pull of Itacare for us was the beaches so for the next two days we spent time exploring the area and the many praias on offer. We made some friends at the hostel so our evenings mainly comprised of dancing and alcohol! On our last night we visited a capoeira club and saw men, women and children of all ages showing a variety of skills to loud music played by a local band. After the Capoeira, we joined in the salsa classes - needless to say, the Brazilians are much better at it than I was but thankfully my dance partners were patient and didnt mind their toes being stepped on too much!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Day 22 - Trancoso

Our journey to Trancoso today took us back on the route we made on our original travels from Europolis back through Fazenda (plantations/estates) territory and Vale Verde which as the name suggests is a vast valley of lush green trees topped with blooming flowers, neighbouring the grazing cows; the reason for the ranches being here feeding the nations meat tastes. The Bahia state is quite consistently green with lots of eco trails and conservation areas protecting wildlife and the forestry. The 40km journey seems to consist mainly of sharp downhills and steep inclines which is interesting in a rickety old bus but we made it and headed straight for the praia where restaurants spilled onto the sand, Brazilian football was played at its best and children rode up and down on horses - slightly more exotic than England's seaside donkeys!
 After a couple of hours soaking up the sun we strolled to the Quadrado, a vast open space lined with stalls selling homemade musical instruments, bracelets and general tourist gifts. 
Further along, the area becomes more sophisticated with beautiful restaurants showcasing their expensive menus, all with a bohemian theme which adds to the atmosphere. We tasted some local gelato which was the perfect both in taste and to cool us down. We paid the R$6.50 and returned to the hostel to prepare ourselves for the Uiki Beach Club carnival party 

Monday, 16 February 2015

Day 21 - Porto Seguro

OToday we set off for Porto Seguro. This is Arraial d'Ajudas big sister, the name meaning safe city following its history as one of the first settlements. After a short bus trip from Arraial d'Ajuda to Balsa, through neighbourhoods full of grand casas with high gated walls and fancy-looking beach clubs, we arrived at the ferry port. Porto Seguro is located across a sea inlet which has made into a peninsular of sorts. The ferry was crammed with people in high spirits and cars blaring Brazilian funk music as everyone is continuing the carnival party. 
Once on land and a quick taxi ride later we arrived at the Rodoviario to book our bus ticket to Itacare on Wednesday (our forward planning is the result of two very organised travellers!). After this, we walked to the historic centre which although a little run down is beautiful with its brightly coloured church houses and colonial museum buildings. We're not entirely sure as to why this part is particularly historical due to the language barrier but our Lonely Planet guide assures us that ALOT happened here! None-the-less we wandering amongst the other tourists and the selfie stick made an appearance. Later on, we followed the coast back in the direction of the ferry port and came across the Carnival preparations taking place on a street whose translation means 'street of alcohol'! We will be visiting the celebrations there 
on Tuesday night

Interesting fact: the world Carnival comes from the Latin carne or farewell to meat because carnival time is the period just before Lent when Catholics have traditionally fasted.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Day 18 - Carnival!

Last night marked the start of the Carnival! The street parades, or Blocos, were organised by districts so we had three to choose from. Rather than race around town chasing them, we waited for them to come to us - one of the perks of living in the town centre!! At around 10pm the air was filled with the sound of drums banging, people cheering and loud Brazilian music blaring from the floats as they made their way down the streets. We quickly grabbed a cerveja and joined the crowd of dancing locals behind the floats, going in the direction of Rua do Mucuge, the gently sloped hill that leads to the Mucuge beach and the centre of the nightlife buzz. Most people were wearing vests depicting which district they came from, but some were in fancy dress, others just with extravagant party wear, feather boas, wigs and that kind of thing on which was great to see. Everyone is in high spirits and party mode, and none more so than the other guests at our hostel who are partying, singing, shouting and generally loving carnival season pretty much 24/7

We feel like we made the right choice coming a little away from Rio as although that would no doubt be incredible we were much happier here strolling inbetween friendly locals without worrying about pickpockets and enjoying the cheap price of alcohol!
 After the parade was over, and once we'd have a few Caiprinha cocktails we made our way to Morocha club, a half indoors-half outdoors club with a live band and great crowd. The fact that neither Max nor I speak Portuguese and the majority of people here don't speak English, the basis of most of our interactions were hand gestures and crazy Brazilian dancing which was an experience to say the least; Max seemed to do just fine, especially with the ladies! 

Overnight the inevitable foreign stomach bug arrived so today was spent moping around the hostel, the weather matching our moods with a little cloud keeping the sun away. We have booked to go to a beach party on Monday so fingers crossed we are back on top form for then! 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Day 15/16 - The journey to Arraial d'Ajuda

If long distance bus journeys have taught me anything, it's that air conditioning is the enemy. What I used to see as a helpful piece of technology now prevents sleep on the 19 hour bus journey we have just made; no fun for anyone as you can well imagine! Enough of the moaning though, as we were lucky to be able to catch that bus at all. After our failed attempt last week to book a direct bus to Porto Seguro (see blog post titled Day 4) we arrived at the Rodoviario or station back in Novo Rio with the hope we could get tickets. Max had pre-empted me of the bus station as when he had been there four years ago it had been quite suspect. But it turns out there was absolutely nothing to worry about: shops, food outlets and Internet cafes sit beside the bus company kiosks and there is a military presence in the backgrounds to keep the order. Typically it turns out the bus to Porto Seguro was full, so with out best broken Portuguese, Spanish and English, Maria the very helpful lady at the bus company was able to book us tickets to Eunopolis to then get a connecting bus to Arraial d'Ajuda. (Porto Seguro is the biggest town close to AdA so I have referenced it as that before if there is any confusion). So 24 hours after we left Ilha Grande, a boat, a bus and a taxi later, we arrived at the hostel to find a quirky interior decorated with Carnaval masks and floral garlands and... A POOL! I'm also in a girls only dormitory which is a relief from sleeping in a room with 8 snoring stinky men for the last 4 nights! Needless to say, Arraial d'Ajuda has made a good impression already :) 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Day 14 - Lopes Mendes beach

As the weather was fine yesterday when we woke up, we had our complimentary breakfast (cake on the buffet is always a winner!) then headed to take the trek to Lopes Mendes, a beach on the other side of the island. Whilst it is possible to get a ferry to take you there, we decided to make the three hour walk through dense jungle instead. Call it money-saving, call it madness, call it what you will. In reality it was a sweaty, hardcore trek up gruelling climbs and down knee-juddering descents in 85% humidity at temperatures nudging 32 degrees. Thankfully I had my walking boots on to save my ankles on the various times I slipped on the rocks and vines protruding from the floor - turns out dad is always right, big shout out to him for taking me boot shopping! After an hour and a half of really hard walking we arrived at a beach which I foolishly thought was our destination. After rolling my towel out, a solemn shake of the head from Max told me otherwise. Turns out this was just a beach on the way!! So I begrudgingly packed up and we started back on the trail. Just before midday and after almost three hours after we first left the hostel, we finally made it to Lopes Mendes. Our efforts were rewarded with the beautiful scenes which we were welcomed with. Drinking in views of the purest white sand stretched as far as the eye could see, lined with crashing turquoise blue waves, we both felt a huge sense of accomplishment. The sand here actually makes a squeaking noise when you walk over it, apparently due to its colour (and inevitably the way it's formed) but the locals assure us that all paradisal beaches are the same!I know I have previously mentioned beautiful beaches but this tops them all; an really outstanding area of beauty! This time I finally was able to de-robe and have a well deserved sunbathe in the radiating heat and I might have even snuck in an afternoon snooze...! Thankfully we caught the water taxi home and needless to say, we fell to sleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow! 

Monday, 9 February 2015

Day 13 - Ilha Grande

My blog posts have been lacking a little these past few days. The reason being that whilst in Paraty we had nothing planned but a little bit of exploring but mostly sunbathing. As we only had one full day of sun, it meant that other than the trips I have documented, we spent most of the time relaxing, reading, drinking and eating... And it was lovely! Today we got our transfer to catch the boat to Ilha Grande. This small island is quite popular with tourists and after the 5 hour journey we were able to see why. Lots of boats are bobbing in the small bay which is lined with pousadas - guesthouses -, bars and kiosks selling boat trips and hiring kayaks. There's a really nice relaxed feeling here with a steady flow of tourists mingling amongst the locals. Although it is a popular destination, it definitely still has an island-y remote feel to it; summed up by the fact there are no banks or cash machines here nor are there any westernised plug sockets - thankfully we came preparedness We are staying at Che Logarto which is situated right on the coast; one of 106 beaches on this small island in the Rio de Janeiro province. We can only hope the weather improves to really maximise our stay here! 

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Day 9 - Baia De Paraty Boat Tour

Today the sun was shining again when we woke up so we caught a island boat trip from the local port and headed out.

It was great to see the little islands that are inhabited by only one or two houses which are all pretty impressive, with the only connection to the outside world being a little boat moored next to the islands. 

In the seven hours that we were out on the tour, we visited three islands and after a quick speedboat trip to the shore, spent a while at each swimming, snorkelling and exploring the small islands. It was a shame that on our way home the rain started again just in the time for our walk back to the hostel - typical!

And tonight, we've eaten a really good meal so I am in better spirits after eating noodles for the last week! The combination of trying to save money and having limited kitchen facilities is not much fun come dinner time but tonight I am happy :) 

Day 8 - Trinidade

Having spent yesterday enduring the rain and thunderstorms here in Paraty we were so happy to wake up to blue skies. Around noon we took the bus to Trinidade which is around 40 minutes away and has a reputation for beautiful beaches. 

We arrived to find a hippy village with Bob Marley posters everywhere and dreadlocked locals mingling with tourists; it has a great vibe. The first beach we came to was lovely but overrun with the tourists straight from the bus so we followed a trail through Parque Nacional Serra da Bocaina in order to reach Caixa D'Aco beach, and Piscina Natural which are natural pools formed within a group of rocks. After a 30 minute hard walk through the jungle we reached Caixa D'Aco, most amazing secluded beach.

Copacabana and Ipanema beaches were beautiful but here there are no skyscraper buildings or blocks of flats towering over the beach, just dense jungle occasionally broken up by a wooden shack serving delicious Pastels, a light pasty of a similar size to a pizza!

The walk along the beach is peaceful and quiet and you can spot tiny crabs scuttling around, in and out of their underground habitats. A further walk through the woodland and we found the natural pools complete with small striped fish swimming around the sunken rocks.

We happily floated in the blue waters for a while then dried off draped on the rocks under the glorious sunshine. The beach directly over the road from our hostel is nice but thick with silt from the estuary further along so it was so nice to be able to swim and relax in cleaner waters. Definitely worth the R$3.50 bus fare to get there!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Day 6 - Thoughts en route to Paraty

Moving on to Paraty today we caught a coach to take us on the five hour journey south. A benefit of this long and tireseome way of travelling is that we could get a taste of what the real Brasil is like. It is clear to see that the economic boom that cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, to name a few, are having hasn't yet reached the rural and suburban areas of this vast country. Towns are still made up on favela-esque homemade shacks with no real structure. It's a little sad to see that these beautiful places are being side stepped by mainstream tourism and at the same time, missing out on the vital money that comes with it. This trip, although only in its early days, is opening my eyes to how the rest of the world live, away from my comfortable home and life in the UK. I am slowly becoming ever more grateful for the opportunities I have and am also realising just how blessed I am. 

Driving through rural Brazil brings with it comparisons of home. Matters which would cause outcry and uproar are quite insignificant to what life is like here. Road conditions for example would see complaint after complaint to local councils after a bout of bad weather creating pot holes. A fair enough argument for those shelling out to have their cars fixed. However when compared to the infrastructure conditions in rural areas here, that argument pales into insignificance. Road sections are not properly joined up so every 10 meters or so the minibus is thrown around. Not only this but some parts of major roads have crumbling tarmac and uneven surfaces and you can forget road signs or markings! In short, our journey can only be likened to that on a rollercoaster and I can only be grateful I don't suffer from car sickness! I can't complain too much though as the beautiful scenery is mountainous and a lush green colour with small shanty towns dotted around. Residents here probably don't feel it but they are lucky to have the rainforest on their doorsteps. Thinking forward, we should be in Paraty within the next couple of hours which promises paradise. 
Until next time and as the Portuguese say... Tchau!