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Wonderful Brazil

Author: Audrey H.
Date of Trip: July 2006

I have returned safe and sound (and tired!) from Brazil. The trip was exhilarating, exciting and exhausting. We stayed in 7 cities in 18 days and visited 4 more cities en route. That meant a lot of hotel changes and much time on the coach (bus), trains, planes, canoes, boats and footwork! The weather was hot, hot, hot (75 – 85o) and humid, but it only rained at night.

CAST

There were 10 of us and a Tour Director (for the whole trip) and a local Guide at each city. Our little group of 12 was all great people and great fun. Five (Evelyn -VA, Dick -VA, Frank -N CA, & Gail -Chicago) knew one another (including my girlfriend Jolene) and then me; add the Smith family (Mom Dorace, Dad Lynn, and 23-yr daughter Lindsay) from Ft Wayne Indiana, and 1 fun crazy lady from Tampa (Margery). Our Brazil tour director was Eduardo Allende (55 yr old single parent, 20 years touring); an extremely knowledgeable and interesting guide, and entertaining – he knew how to have fun and enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed him. Mike Kartwright was our director for the Amazon rain forest extension trip – another great guy, quite worldly and educated.

Arrived Sao Paulo Airport en route to Iguassu. The airport closed due to fog, so our connecting flight was canceled. Evelyn (who was fluent in Spanish) managed to communicate (barely) with the Portuguese airline people, and happily got us on another flight to our destination.

7/13 THURSDAY

Two nights in Iguassu (Hotel Continental Inn). Iguassu Falls is similar to our Niagara Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil, but wider with more variety (275 falls) and more beautiful green foliage (and wild animals and toucans – picture ops galore!). Here’s a comparison of world-famous Falls: Niagara Falls, USA 1 mile wide, 167 feet high Iguassu Falls 1½ -2 miles wide 230 feet high 275 falls (The “Devil’s Throat” is 70% of water at Iguassu Falls.) Victoria Falls, Africa 1 mile wide 400 feet tall Angel Falls, Venezuela 3,212 feet tall Iguassu Falls was formed over 200,000 years ago as a crack in the earth’s surface created a stairs. Iguassu River flowed over the crack and the rocky terrain splintered and gouged, slowly giving shape to 275 falls.

We bused to the Argentina side of the Falls; funky train ride (30 minutes) to a way-post, butterflies galore, walked the raised catwalk above the jungle floor (about 45 minutes) to the edge of the Falls, (posted signs warned NOT to leave the path – snakes!), many photo ops.

TRIVIA

Did you know? Argentina has 486 different birds. There are 6 kinds of Toucans in the world and 5 species are in S. America!

7/14 FRIDAY

We bused to the Brazilian side; paved path along the ridge to view the Falls from different perspectives – more photo ops; feed the Coati’s (small animals with striped tails; South America’s equivalent of our raccoon), lunch by the pool at a lovely old hotel, Tropical Cataratas Hotel, and shopping, shopping, shopping (great jewelry and gems!).

7/15 SATURDAY

FLY to Rio for 3 nights, (Hotel Luxor Continental) one block off Copacabana Beach. We have dinner at an open-air restaurant along the beach.

7/16 SUNDAY

City tour, and up to the top of Corcovado mountain where “Christ the Redeemer” (155 ft tall including the base, Christ 122 ft tall, 114 feet fingertip width, 1.2 tons of cement covered in small soapstone triangles) watches over Rio Harbor. It is a 30-minute train ride to the top and then stairs or use the escalator to reach the statue. Spent the afternoon at the center city vendor flea market (lunch and shopping), then a casual (!) one-hour stroll back through the city and along the Le Blon, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches to our hotel.

7/17 MONDAY

Visit the Samba University (some ladies including Jolene suited up in the samba costumes – feathers and plumes and flowing material – much like our Mummers). Then we visit the St. Sebastian Cathedral (an open-dome church with four, floor to ceiling, beautiful stained glass windows). We finish with a ride to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain via a cable car (what a view and what a ride – whew!)

7/18 TUESDAY

Motor to Paraty (pronounced Para-chee), a living museum, now preserved as a national park because of its importance to the Brazilian Gold Rush. It’s only 6 blocks square with 2-story colonial buildings, four (4) 18th century churches, and no cars allowed ( not hard to understand as you attempt to maneuver the unpaved stone streets – not even as smooth as our Philly cobblestones). I could barely walk the streets – I still don’t understand how the locals ran along and rode bicycles?!?!

Our hotel (Pousada Porto Imperial) was most relaxed, charming, and well-appointed (onyx sets of chess, checkers and backgammon at tables around the pool), stone walls, beautifully-caged love birds, small tropical garden, common sitting / reading area, bar & breakfast areas, lounging room with fireplace (why?!?), sauna, high ceiling rooms with inside-shuttered windows, thick lace curtains and mission style furniture; pretty, pretty, pretty!

7/19 WEDNESDAY

A lovely boat ride along the coast, in to the beach and swimming with the fishes, lunch on the boat, more swimming and sun. That night, Gail, Margery and I had a super evening at an unusual puppet show, preceded by dinner at a Thai restaurant (yes, Thai – a nice change from Portuguese, Portuguese, Portuguese – great food, great company, great atmosphere!).

The PUPPET SHOW Em Concerto was in a small 100-seat theater. Started by a Brazilian couple in 1971 as street performers in NYC, it gained popularity in Brazil and now tours the world, but remains local to Paraty. The 2′ puppets are not controlled by strings or wooden poles. The stage is matte black; the 2 puppeteers are dressed in black head to toe to fingers and with black netting over their faces. They hold and manipulate the puppets elbows or head or joints. You may see the black fingers at the puppets head or elbow for the first few minutes, but then you are so entranced by the puppets movements as they play a violin or flirt with one another that you don’t notice the puppeteers anymore.

7/20 THURSDAY

Motor to Sao Joao dei Rei (Hotel Ponte Real) one night and a walking tour the next day. It’s another colonial town along the Gold Route. Interesting history, beautiful little churches, great dinner (and pewter shops).

7/21 FRIDAY

Our morning walking tour of Sao Joao dei Rei ends at the train station. And there we take the “Smoking Mary” train (an old Baldwin USA steam train) to Tiradentes. Jolene befriends of group of young ladies and they converse in their ESL English. I am busy snapping pictures along the countryside. When we arrive in Tiradentes, we disembark and join other travelers to watch the engineer unlatch the steam engine, and drive it back alongside the passenger trains. Once at the front of the line, the steam engine settles into a round-about, and it is manually pushed around, re-hooked to the cars for the return trip.

After a guided, walking tour of the city’s historic sites and some leisure time shopping, we meet for lunch at a delightful little restaurant.

Board our bus, and off we go for a visit to Mina de Passagem, an 18th century gold mine. Since its discovery, approximately 35 tons of gold have been extracted from this mine. To get to the mine galleries, we ride in a 14 passenger, single-cable, rickety open trolley car down a 90o slope into the mines; which are 120 meters deep and 315 meters long. As we walk around the mine caves, our Guide explained the elements and 17th century mining and a miner’s day.

On to Ouro Preto (Black Gold and the center of Brazil’s 17th century gold rush). On the way, a stop at Congonhas do Campo to view the famous works of Aleijadinho; 12 life-size, soapstone carvings of The Prophets and (in 6 small chapels) 66 polychromatic wooden carvings of The Stations of the Cross. I was surprised that the soapstone carvings are still exposed to the world and its elements, and not in a protected museum (like Michelangelo’s David), but our Guide explained that issue is still under discussion.

7/22 SATURDAY

It’s a full day in Ouro Preto. We do a walking city tour, including some churches and the School of Mining, and have some free time in the late afternoon for exploring and shopping. One of the richest churches in the world, Church of Our Lady of the Pillar is in Ouro Preto. It is a small church but its altars and carved works are painted entirely in gold.

7/23 SUNDAY

Return to Rio via a motor coach tour of Petropolis – a lovely mountain resort town – a favorite with the nobility, and rich & famous Brazilians vying for a quiet get-away from Rio. Late lunch at a lovely, large restaurant. It’s a buffet for the appetizers and salads, but waiters continuously circulate, serving chicken, beef and fish from skewers at tableside.

7/24 MONDAY

Fly to Manaus for a boat ride to our Amazon Rainforest; 3-days at Ariau Amazon Towers, a treetop hotel along the Rio Negro (black river). What a unique (!?!) resort; suggested by Jacque Cousteau to a friend who built it in 1986. (If you build it, they will come!) There were 8 round, tower buildings (4-5 stories tall, no elevators), spaced throughout the complex, made entirely of wood and tree limbs. Each floor level was round, with seating surrounding the tree trunk in the middle, and your apt doors (thickly carved with tropical flora and fauna) along the outside of the circle. Our semi-air-conditioned room (excluding the bathroom) was wood floors, walls and ceilings, with one light bulb in the center of the room, one over the bed, and a pedestal fan (no TV, no phone). The room sloped so much to the outer wall, that our beds had blocks on one side to keep them level.

When you left the room the humidity was stifling, squirrel monkeys ate bananas from your hands or jumped on your shoulders to leap onto the apartment levels, green parrots amiably walked your arms length and perched on your shoulders, brilliant blue or red macaws sat watch over the pool, and butterflies (not mosquitoes!) were abundant. Mother Nature was at her utmost splendor!

EXCURSIONS

I went piranha fishing, swam with the pink dolphins, visited a native home and a small village, watched rubber being smoked and formed into bowls, and watched an Indian ceremony (complete with a woven glove covered in vicious-biting ants).

On our sunrise walk we encountered a tarantula on the path, and huge blue macaws waking and swooping in pairs overhead.

As you walked/bicycled (or in my case — golf-carted), the elevated path into the forest, you meandered (one hour + by cart) past a heliport, Jacques Cousteau’s home, a UFO-landing port – painted with a large infinity sign and “Welcome Brothers. This is the land of peace and love” printed in 4 languages, Tarzan’s house, a round open-sided chapel, a metal-sided pyramid with (inside) clouds, prayer rugs and an aquamarine stacked-pyramid on the floor inside matching the aquamarine peak outside, a Fountain of Youth (a large 7′ tall x 3′ wide Amethyst geode with a waterfall inside), the Sumauma tree (one of the world’s largest trees), and marvelous views of the rainforest vegetation above and below you! Photo ops everywhere! Sooo interesting !!

(Thursday some of the group boated to the Meeting of the Rivers; the merger of the black-watered Rio Negro and the Peruvian muddy-brown Rio Solimoes create the start of the Amazon River in Brazil. It takes approximately 12 miles before the rivers have fully merged.)

7/27 THURSDAY

Boat back to Manaus for one day/overnight at the Tropical Resort, a 5-star hotel. What an extravagant treat after the rainforest. I spent the afternoon relaxing in the pool with the wave machine and a poolside bar … such decadence! Dinner and a samba show, and it was off to bed.

7/28 FRIDAY

We have a leisurely morning to prepare for the flight home; a lovely breakfast at the hotel and some last minute shopping.

7/29 SATURDAY 2AM

Return to my apartment … travel complete, but new friends and many memories abound!

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