Friday, June 29, 2007


It's been a little while and it feels like we've done a lot, but I'll try and keep this brief.

After spending a couple more days in Manaus, in the pretty nice Anna Cassia Palace Hotel with a swimming pool on the roof and view over the docks (see photos), it was time to make the move towards Venezuela. We debated flying as far as Boa Vista, but ended up taking the bus due to the cost saving. Actually it was a total palaver due to miss-information but we eventually got the tickets and were set to go.

The road from Manaus to Boa Vista must have just about the worst Karma ever, much much worse than the Newbury Bypass. This is due to the fact that it passes through an Indian reserve, and when the indigenous people protested at the building of a tarmac strip straight through their land the government simply bought in the army and did away with anyone in their way. Picture Swampy being gassed out of the tunnels. However, flying is kinda bad Karma too since it is so polluting so we took maybe the lesser evil. And we were punished too since the road surface resembles corrugated iron with the odd chasm thrown in for luck, so sleep was out of the question and we arrived at Boa Vista sleepy and fed up. We then had to jump another bus for three hours or so that took us up to and across the border into Venezuela! Border formalities were thankfully very easy, the most chilled out looking bunch of immigration people you can imagine, even laughing and joking with each other...they were more concerned with our Yellow Fever vaccination certificates.

So then we arrived at Santa Elena a few kilometers over the border, a pretty small town but useful as the first stop and a place to change money. It's great to be back somewhere where Spanish is the language, they understand me and I understand them, fantastic. Didn't stop us from getting ripped off with our first street-side money exchange however...

Here in Venezuela there are many exchange rates. The official one is about 2000 bolivars to the dollar. But on the street you can get up to about 3800 if you´re lucky, and 3300 for travellers cheques. Kinda irritating that we got 2600...oh well, you live and learn. It´s funny to hand over a few hundred dollars and walk away with over a million bolivars. "one miiiiilllioon..."

We spent one night in Santa Elena before heading off on a tour of the Gran Savana. That area is home to the unique mountain formations known as Tepuis, which are formed when the rest of the land is washed away and only the harder stuff is left over. This means that on the top there are unique ecological regions, which strange fauna and flora adapted specifically to those environs.
From Gran Savana
You can take a trip and walk up one of them, Riorama, but we opted for a two day tour around with Adrenaline Tours instead - which involved lots of walking up rivers, jumping into pools and sliding down rapids. Unfortunately it´s rainy season and our second day was a bit of a wash out, however our guide was great and led us on a tour of the area explaining about the lives of the local Indian populations and the wildlife.
From Gran Savana
Last night we took yet another night bus for ten hours up to Ciudad Bolivar. Thankfully we only stopped at one of the dreaded military checkpoints, where they took a cursory glance at our day-packs and passports. After hearing so many stories of entire bags being searched through in the dead of night we were pretty grateful to get away so easily - no doubt it wont be long before we are party to the full blown affair.

My back has gone all stiff after riding around in the jeep the last two days so I´m planning on staying horizontal for the next day or two before we continue north to the Caribbean coast! We´re back in the Northern Hemisphere now, come on summer!

Told you I'd keep it brief.
Oh, and I bought a cheapo guitar too...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Amazon Jungle with 'Jungle Experience' tours

sDay 1: Wed 20th June
Our trip into the jungle started early at six in the morning, a ride through Manaus at Taxi speed Mach II and then a three hour bus ride 200km east to Lindõia. On the trip along with us was Marie, from Sweden, Merche and Iñigo from the Basque country and two guides Francisco and Leo. From Lindõia we hopped in a small boat and set off up the Urubu river to find the base camp. Since there was no wind the surface of the river formed a mirror reflecting the tops of the submerged trees and the clear blue sky. We had not gone more than half an hour when the guides spotted a rare pink dolphin crossing the river in front of us and brought the outboard motor to a stop. We drifted in awed silence as the peculiar looking animal surfaced to breath only a few meters in front. Another bum-numbing half an hour or maybe more and we arrived at what was to be the main camp during our trip; a collection of open, palm thatched shelters on the side of the river.

From Amazon jungle

After setting up our hammocks and a brief tour around the camp we chilled out and got to know each other before lunch was served. Marie was at Hostel Manaus with us so we´d already spoken to her quite a bit, but it was great to be speaking Spanish again with Merche and Iñigo after so many months of Portuguese. Good practise for our impending trip into Venezuela also!

After lunch Francisco took Leah and I out on a small canoe to explore the canopies of the submerged forest. We crossed the open river and then pushed through the branches in to a darker world of trees, spider webs, shadows and peculiar bird calls. Once again everything was mirrored buy the dark waters of the river.

From Amazon jungle

After a while of pushing through the branches and brushing off the cobwebs from our faces it was time to try piranha fishing for our dinner. We each had a simple rod with a length of fishing line and a hook with a lump of chicken for bait. Fransisco splashed at the water violently to imitate the sound of an animal in distress and then we lowered our hooks and waited. It took only minutes for the first bites and with a sudden jerk of his rod Fransisco had his catch and pulled aboard our first piranha. After taking it from the hook he demonstrated with a leaf it´s seemingly automatic biting reflex, which was very effective at taking large chunks out of the foliage, and no doubt would have done the same to our limbs had they gotten too close. Soon enough I felt the nibbles pull at my line and tried the same aggressive snatch I had just observed, and was rewarded with my own thrashing piranha fish, albeit a fair amount smaller that that of our guide. I think Leah was a little alarmed by the whole process, gnashing teeth and all, so we swapped places and she moved to the front of the boat to take some photos. We caught a couple mor each, moving the boats position once or twice once the fish got wise to our tricks, and then headed back to the camp with our haul...

From Amazon jungle

After dinner of more chicken, rice, and, you guessed it, Piranha (bony but very tasty) we headed out into the starlit night for some alligator hunting. Once again it was perfectly still which meant that the stars and the moon were also reflected in the now black water, adding a surreal depth to the scenery. This time we were all in the boat, occasionally shining our torches into the black forest edge to see if there was anything to see, which there never was! Our guides led the boat back into the the submerged trees from the open river, which was still, dark and exciting! I have to admit that I though we were looking for some two meter beast that could tip the boat and gobble us all for it´s dinner, but it turned out that the alligator we caught was pretty small, just over a foot I'd say and very scared looking. Never the less it was quite exciting to hold onto it and feel it's leathery skin in my hands.

After we got back to the camp it was time to sample our first night in a hammock, which turned out to be a lot less comfortable than I had imagined. I didn´t sleep very well at all, but poor Leah I think spent the whole night waiting to be eaten by some terrible jungle beast as she was awake every time I opened my eyes to try and find a comfortable, warmer position!

Day 2: Thursday 21st June

I got up before sunrise and left with Fransisco to watch the sun come up over the trees. I think Leah had finally managed to drift off so there was no way she was getting up to come along! We headed out onto the still waters and drifted in the silence as gradually the sky changed colour through the blues and reds and the sun rose up over the dark line of the trees. We spent a little while exploring the canopies again, eating a few more cobwebs, and then headed back to camp for breakfast. In the time we'd been out a thick mist descended and it was eerie and still back at camp.

From Amazon jungle

From Amazon jungle

After breakfast Leah and I headed out with Fransisco on a three hour jungle walk. As we went we were shown various trees and their medicinal qualities, which we got to smell, taste or simply look at. There was a lot of noise of birds and crickets, and we got to see some monkeys in the distance shaking the trees. I think my super jungle camouflage white shirt may have given us away though, and Leah and I were certainly not stealthy as we crashed through the trees, so we didn't really see them up close. Not that I minded, being there in the Amazon Jungle was enough for me! The scariest thing was when Fransisco poked into a hole and tempted out the tarantula that was asleep inside - Leah had run off to a safe distance, but I stayed to take to necessary tourist snaps. I wouldn't want one of those in my bed. After a few hours, tired and sweaty we headed back to the camp for lunch.

From Amazon jungle

After saying there was no way were were going to do it, we decided to spend a night out in the jungle after all - no point coming all that way a not doing so really. I felt very safe and in good hands with Fransisco anyway, so was sure that there would be nothing to worry about. Only the Amazon Jungle after all. So after lunch and a bit of a rest we packed our hammocks, some water and insect repellent and headed out once again into the trees, this time with Marie as well. We were lead back along paths we had come along that morning and then after a while Fransisco broke off and began cutting a new trail through the undergrowth. This was slow going and tiring even for us, and we didn't have to swing the machete or carry more than a small bag each. We reached a point near some waters edge and Fransisco decided that building a small bridge across would be better than going around due to the change in water level, so he set about cutting down some smaller trees to use as planks. At that point in time I think Leah had become a little anxious about the whole staying out a night in the jungle thing so we had a long talk about whether to head back to the safety of the camp. It was the no going back point, so a good time to decide if going on was what we wanted. Thankfully we decided that we would go through with it and made our way across the water and once again onto dry land and eventually back onto ta clear path. Soon enough we were at our camp for the night; a couple of lean-to shelters in a clearing in the trees.

Fransisco set about fetching some firewood and then headed off to a nearby stream to prepare the food. I helped Marie get the fire going and Leah busied herself inspecting for anything dangerous that might have been lurking in the camp waiting for us to arrive. Thankfully nothing was. It was great to watch our guide prepare the camp using only his machete and the green resources around us - spoons, plates and a table were made and the chicken and sausage skewered and hung above the fire. The only concession was a pan to boil water and make rice. We ate like kings under the forest canopy, with only glimpses of the moon and stars above to reassure us that it wasn't about to rain.

Leah and I shared our hammock that night and spent much of it awake listening to the sounds of the jungle around us and holding tightly to each other in case anything was sniffing us out for a tasty midnight snack...once again, we didn't get much sleep! The most scary thing was probably a howler monkey doing just what it's name would suggest and sounding a lot like someone in terrible pain.

Day 3: 22nd June

After breakfast was skillfully whipped up by Fransisco once again, coffee, boiled eggs, pineapple and bananas, we broke camp and headed back the way we had come to the main camp. It was a fantastic experience and I am very very glad we decided to go ahead with it! Getting back to the camp was like returning to a five star hotel and swimming in the river like a sauna and hot tub combined it felt so good. City slickers.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing and learning how to make rings and handicraft stuff ,with only a short trip up river to the site of the new Jungle Experience base which is being built by the owner Antonio. It is a great location, slightly elevated and open to the river, creating a great view and spot to watch the sun go down, so that's what we did before heading back for dinner.

From Amazon jungle

That night we all slept well.

Day 4: 23rd June.

After waking up early there was time to pack, have breakfast and go for a swim off a boat out in the wider river before we gathered our things and headed back downstream the way we had come. I spent the time reflecting on what a wonderful experience it had been and enjoying the last views of the sunken forest.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Flight over the Amazon

Yesterday we took a three stop flight from Sao Luis to Manaus via Belem and Santarem. Belem is at the mouth of the Amazon river and would have been the principle port of trade for the rubber heading out from Manaus. The river is massive. No joke, it's big. Taking the plane proved to be awesome since the route from Belem to Manaus follows the amazon almost exactly, offering amazing views of the river, its tributaries and the seemingly endless Amazon Rain Forest. It's like a childhood fantasy to see the Amazon and tomorrow at six AM we're heading off for a four day adventure somewhere in the jungle, 200km from Manaus and up the river Urugu.

Today we've been hanging out in Manaus trying to sort out a few last details for the jungle (such as a raincoat...) and having a look around. It's a pretty run down city in truth, with loads of buildings in need of some serious attention. Since the Brits smuggled rubber tree seeds out to India and undermined the honey pot that was, the government introduced a tax free trading zone to encourage industry into the area. Subsequently there are loads of electronic goods shops, cheap looking clothes and pirate / cloned MP3 players etc. I nearly bought a camera lens, but realised it would be cheaper in the UK anyway - so much for tax free.

On another note, I've been wondering whether proves the old 'seven-degrees-of-separation' adage about people knowing people knowing people....? Anyone care to find out?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lone dancer

This guy was well into the festivities...

Cant see it? click here

Chariot of Fire

Had to interject with this video we took back in Itacaré since we found it highly amusing. It's the town rubbish truck at about eight in the morning, you'll need sound to appreciate since it was blasting the Chariots of Fire theme tune as it cruised the streets. For the first few mornings we were completely baffled as to who would be playing that tune so proudly so early in the morning....

Cant see it? Click here

Saturday, June 16, 2007

São Luis

After a two day stopover in Olinda, in which we stayed in the dampest, most cavey room ever, we flew up so São Luis with GOL airlines - our first flight in Brazil, and possibly the newest plane I've ever been in. Took a load more photos of Olinda since the weather was a bit better...

From Maracaipe and...

From São Luis

The old town centre here is a Unesco World Heritage site due to the excellent examples of old colonial architecture, although much of it is in a pretty dire state. Everything is covered in "Azulejos" a type of tile brought over by the portuguese which helps to protect and decorate the outside of the buildings.

From São Luis

We have arrived right on time for the Bumba Meu Boi festivities, which means there has been fantastic dancing and music in the streets every night till the early hours. There is a strong Afro-Carribean influence here, and due to the promiscuous Portugues there is every colour, shape and size or person you can imagine.

Cant see it? Click here
Here is a photo of some of the dancers, seeing as the video seems a bit dark...

From São Luis

Less than ten days left in Brasil now, with the Amazon jungle still to come!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Back in Olinda

This time we took the bus route, and it wasn't bad at all, and it cost almost three times less than the taxi...but then we did know the route, and that makes it much easier. In fact as we entered Recife I recogonised Olinda on it's hill and was able to ask the driver to stop and let us off, which meant no long metro ride or extra taxi costs.

Anyway, we're here for tomorrow and then the day after we fly up to São Luis. It's been raining a whole lot, which is a bit boring.

We never saw dolphins in Pipa in the end, mainly 'cause it was raining loads so we didn't go back to the beach. We did buy some art though.

There was a nasty incident last night though when one of our fellow guests at the pousada found that his room had been broken into and his camera and laptop had been stolen. Oddly enough the thieves took the time to go through his bag and empty it of his TAG watch, money and passports and just took the camera stuff. This lead us to believe that whoever it was knew what they were looking for, particularly as that morning he had taken the bag out and was showing me the photos on his laptop in the open communal area. Another reminder for Leah and myself about how important it is to keep your stuff as safe as possible, and assume nowhere is secure!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bye bye board, bye bye

Well, we just sold the surfboard, bag leash an'all for 50 Reais - about GPB12.50! Kinda sad, but it served us well and it's going to make getting on buses much easier!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Olinda and on to Pipa

OK, we know it was lazy but it felt good; we took a taxi from Olinda to Pipa yesterday to avoid the 5 hour bus ride. We have to go back to Olinda by bus anyway, so cheating on one leg of the journey isn't so bad...

Olinda is a very pretty town/suburb of Recife, which is an enormous imposing city of skyscrapers - we didn't go there. Olinda is made up of narrow winding cobbled streets and colourful little houses, which double as artist studios, cafes and pousadas (like hostels). We stayed in a rather nice, if very overpriced place called Cuatro Cantos, which was based in an old colonial holiday home. It had high ceilings, polished wooden floors and plenty of character, the only down side being that the rooms we could afford would have previously served as a store room or something similar! Clean and pleasant enough though. Olinda is a great place for just wandering and taking photos and stumbling upon things; music, art, whatever. We'll be back there on tuesday to take our flight to São Luis.
From Maracaipe and...

From Maracaipe and...

Pipa is also a lovely little town, cobble streets etc etc. It also has pretty good surf and the beaches are different to everywhere else we've been in that they are backed by cliffs, though not very high ones. I've been out on the board a couple of times, but we're going to sell it now (or have to give it away) as it's too much of a pain to carry it through the jungle and up to Venezuela - plus the airline will charge us more than it's worth just to stick it in the hold!

Tomorrow we're hoping to go and see some dolphins that are apparently in great numbers just round the headland.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


After a three hour wait in the bus station due to ticket confusion, we split from Maceió and headed further north on yet another long bus ride towards Recife. We got off at Ipojuca and jumped in a Combi van to Maracaipe, which is a lovely quiet beach village just south of Porto Galinhas.

We were in an over priced pousada at first but after dinner on the first night we stubled upon a bunch of lovley little apartments, where the owner and some friends invited us to join their little party. Many whiskies later we had arranged to come and stay for the rest of out time here - it's great as we have a little kitchen, living space and a veranda looking out to the sea. The party was made up of a couple of doctors, a physcologist, a journalist, a stylist and a couple of other people, who were acting like teenagers getting drunk and falling over and generally having a good time. We felt right at home.
From Maracaipe and...

I've been surfing quite a bit here on the beach break and had some great rides the first day - really felt I was getting somewhere again. Yesterday though I managed to put a hole in the board and have just picked it up from the repair shop. I'm going to head out again this afternoon and tomorrow before we head off to Olinda for a couple of nights. Only a week or so more and we'll be selling the board before we board a plane to São Luis. :(
From Maracaipe and...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Rainy day in Maceió

The incessant rain hasn't stopped since last night, it could be Wales here. We arrived yesterday morning at 7.30 after a nine hour overnight bus ride on which we didn't sleep much at all. It was a beautiful sunny day and very hot, but we crashed out in the hostel for a few hours trying to shake off the journey.

We made it out for a short walk to the sea, which is an amazing green / blue and very beautiful, especially in the sun. I have a feeling it wont look so nice today, but we've not been down to have a look. After some crap spaghetti we headed back to the hostel. A bit of a nothing day really.
From Maceió and jo...

I was hoping to head to a local surf beach called Praia Frances today, but the rain has stopped play. Instead we're just hanging out and staring into computer screens. There is another traveller at the hostel called Tim who's coming to the end of a nine month trip on which he's been to Africa, Australia and South America. He's looking forward to being back at home and going to Glastonbury...

Tomorrow we're going to continue North. There is a Marine park fairly near by where there is supposed to be excellent snorkeling, but if the rain continues like this it wont be great. May be better to head on further north to Porto Gallinhas (another surf spot) or Recife, we shall see.