Iguazu Falls

by Emma. Cliquez ici pour Iguazu vu par Damien, en Français. Click here for Iguazu slideshow.

Tumbling rivers in a rainforest setting, immense Brazilian panoramas, snuffling coaties with hand-like paws and burrowing noses, maté-guzzlers, gasping balconies, giant yellow butterflies, waterfall spray, delight and goosebumps, fantastic fanged hairy mollies, wide eyes and greedy cameras, toucan side-steps, wooden clacking of oversized beaks, feather-covered voices, sunbeams and rainbow clusters, stolen breath and pointing fingers, Argentinian close-ups, bright drenching mists, Guaraní crafts, jungle trails, jaguar tracks, monkey troops high overhead, a rickety bridge over lurking caimans, primal wariness, another’s bridge’s skeleton visible in a watery grave below, faster steps, a devil’s throat, the void’s compelling draw, darting swifts, hypnotic cascades, a full moon in a starless sky, a cancelled night walk, an eerily empty park, a first experience of Argentinian steak and a ruby glass of Malbec, a broken voice, classical guitar. Happy being.

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Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

A yellow fanged hairy molly (well that's what I'm calling him anyway!)

A yellow fanged hairy molly (well that’s what I’m calling him anyway!)

Toucan in the Bird Park, Brazil

Toucan in the Bird Park, Brazil

Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat Falls

Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat Falls

Sunset on the Iguazu river

Sunset on the Iguazu river

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Les Trois Frontières

par Damien. Click here for Emma’s Paraguay, and here for her Iguazú falls.  Et pour le diaporama c’est par là!

Un des rares vols internes que nous prendront sur ce continent, de Rio vers Foz de Iguaçu.
En arrivant, on survole l’immense barrage d’Itaipù, le plus grand du monde, ou peut-être le deuxième plus grand.. Plusieurs fois on n’essayera de nous en vendre la visite que j’imagine très intéressante, mais on n’est pas vraiment ici pour une leçon de mécanique hydraulique…

Quelques heures, quelques tampons sur le passeports

Que faire les quelques heures restantes le jour de notre arrivée? Allons traverser ce pont, et une frontière par la même occasion, nous voici maintenant au Paraguay, on y passe le reste de la journée à déambuler le long de cette ville-marché, où on nous vends toutes sortes de vêtements, bijoux, pilules bleues qu’on me propose discrètement, et surtout matériels électroniques divers, le Paraguay étant le paradis fiscal local. Aussi l’un des pays les plus corrompus en Amérique Latine semble-t-il. Ce bref passage côté Paraguayen nous rappelle ce film “7 cajas“, film de mafia et de brouettes qui nous avait beaucoup fait rire. On retraverse le pont, retour au Brésil.

Ponte da Amizade (Friendship Bridge)

Ponte da Amizade (Friendship Bridge)

Les chutes d’Iguazú

Au petit jour, nous arrivons enfin à l’entrée du parc d’Iguaçu, près des frontières brésilienne et argentine, impatients de découvrir les fameuses chutes d’eau formées là où la rivière Iguaçu (ou Iguazú en espagnol) se jette dans le Paraná, 90 mètres plus bas. On entend déjà le grondement sourd des cascades. On les devine à travers les arbres, et enfin elles s’offrent à nous. Panorama indescriptible de beauté, et sentiment de petitesse face aux forces de la nature. On vide la batterie de l’appareil photo pendant 2 heures, et on reste sans voix, admirant lesnombreuses cascades sous tous leurs angles.

Rainbows and waterfalls

Rainbows and waterfalls

On visite ensuite le Parque das Aves, où de nombreuse espèces d’oiseaux et quelques reptiles sont observables, dont plusieurs d’entre elles en voie de disparition, suivant ici un programme de reproduction et réinsertion. On entre dans différents enclos où on se retrouve nez à nez avec différentes sortes de perroquets aux couleurs si exotiques, et surtout les nombreux toucans, pas farouches, qui posent avec nous pour quelques clichés. Les amateurs de Guinness apprécieront.

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Dernier enclos, celui des papillons et des minuscules colibris.

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On vérifie également que mon attraction irrésistible sur les insectes protège toujours Emma. Après les moustiques, les tiques m’ont cette fois attaqué, épargnant Emma et son sang insipide…

Nouveau passage de frontière

Le jour suivant, nous voici en Argentine, à Puerto Iguassu, où on visite l’autre versant des chutes, sous un ciel gris cette fois-ci. Le parc du côté argentins propose des chemins installés au plus près des chutes. Si le côté brésilien offre de nombreux panoramas très photogéniques, ici on ressent encore plus cette force assourdissante du flot de ces milliers de mètres cubes d’eau qui tombe de la falaise.

Garganta del Diablo or Devil’s Throat Falls

Garganta del Diablo

On s’aventure également sur un sentier au milieu du parc, où on a la chance de croiser quelques singes en liberté, des capucins à houppe noire, bien plus gros que les ouistitis rencontrés à Rio.

Black-capped capuchin

Black-capped capuchin

Une tempête? Quelle tempête?

La nuit approche, le parc se vide, mais nous on y reste! On s’était assuré de venir un soir de pleine lune, et on a mis la main sur des tickets pour une visite des chutes en nocturne. J’ai le trépied et l’appareil photo, près à jouer. Malheureusement, une “tempête” arrive. La visite nocturne est annulée. On voit bien les nuages, mais on soupçonne les gardiens de juste vouloir rentrer plus tôt. Il y a peut-être du foot à la télé… Petite déception, on avait vraiment hâte de voir ça.

Full moon in Puerto Iguazu

La pleine lune était pourtant bien au rendez-vous…

On partage notre déception avec un jeune couple argentino-suisse, et on finira la soirée avec eux dans un grill traditionnel, la célèbre parilla (prononcée “paricha”, les “ll” devenant “ch” en espagnol argentin). On se console autour de notre premier steak argentin, au pays si réputé pour ses viandes tendres. Un généreux 600gr. Accompagné d’un bon vin local, un Malbec, un vrai régal! A suivre: Buenos Aires!

Paraty

by Emma. Cliquez ici pour Paraty vu par Damien, en Français. And click here for the pictures!

Paraty – a historic colonial town of white walls and irregular cobblestones, cachaça, and kitsch craft shops

As we scoured the interweb for somewhere to stay in Paraty, we were bemused to find that accommodation prices had trebled and rooms were scarce on the ground for the weekend we had planned to visit. Very puzzling indeed…until we discover that the town’s cachaça festival (31ª edição do Festival da Cachaça, Cultura e Sabores de Paraty) is due to take place that weekend. Excellent!

A cove, a view and winged jewels

Our guesthouse, Pousada dos Navegantes, is a gem hidden away in the nearby Praia Grande. Our balcony looks out over the garden which stretches down to a small cove. The view is spectacular! That night, we wander down to one of the beachside restaurants in the tiny fishing village and using our very best Portuguese (ehm…) order fresh fish and salad – steak and chips appear! Classic!

Praia Grande at dawn

Praia Grande at dawn

The next morning I’m up at dawn again and pad out to the balcony to call home. Darts of electric blues and greens flit about below me. Hummingbirds!!They are tiny and jewel coloured and incredibly fast. I adore Brazil!!!

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A  cachaça-steeped Paraty

After a feast of sweet watermelon and freshly baked chocolate cake, we hop into a minivan crammed with locals. Destination: Paraty. My favourite thing about the van is the home-made device the driver had rigged up to slam the sliding side door closed. Ingenious! We need one of these at home – imagine no more of that leaning out like an eijit trying to drag the post-pub taxi van’s door closed to the calls of “Nope, not closed. You may try again!”. This could be a dignity preserver!

We arrive in Paraty under grey clouds and drizzle and zip directly to the historic centre. The buildings are pretty, white and low. The cobblestones are excellent. They are basically just randomly strewn rocks of various sizes and shapes masquerading as cobblestones. I do a double-take when I see a group of high-heeled ladies picking and teetering their way across them. Bravery comes in many forms!!

Paraty

Paraty

We continue on to the festival tent. It’s 11am, a live samba band is playing and the cachaça drinking has begun with gusto. Cachaça is a Brazilian spirit made from fermented sugarcane. It’s the key ingredient of Caipirinhas, the national cocktail of Brazil. All around us people are swaying to the samba and drinking from little mugs the size of shot glasses strung about their necks. It’s still abit early for us so we wander around the port and explore the town. Lunchtime arrives and we head back to the marquee for a meal of prawns flambéed in cachaça and rice, and feijoada, a traditional and delicious black bean stew. We then make our way to the cachaça stalls where we try both pure and flavoured cachaça. One sip is enough for me and I snaffle a cachaça-infused chocolate truffle instead. Nom nom!

Cachaça

Cachaça

All in all Paraty is an undeniably pretty little seaside town but the myriad of tourist-orientated craft shops leech the colonial settlement of its original charm and leaves me a little underwhelmed. I’m far more enamoured of the basic authenticity of neighbouring Praia Grande.

Dockside Paraty

Dockside Paraty

Après le paradis, Paraty

par Damien. Click here for Emma’s Paraty. Et pour les photos, c’est ici!

Nouvelle journée, nouvelle destination: Paraty

On quitte la superbe Ilha Grande en direction de cette petite ville à l’architecture coloniale, d’où partait les bateaux exportant l’or brésilien vers Lisbonne.

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Hasard de calendrier, on arrive le weekend du festival de la Cachaça. Tant mieux, on aura de la musique et on goutera à ce fameux alcool typique du Brésil! Et tant pis pour le coût de l’hébergement, trois fois plus cher pour l’occasion, et surtout complet partout! On finira dans une petite pousada à quelques kilomètres de là, avec vue sur la très jolie Praia Grande.

Praia Grande at dawn

vue de la chambre…

On passe donc un dimanche à déambuler les ruelles de cette jolie ville au murs blancs, volets et balcons colorés. Il pleut toute la journée, on doit donc s’assurer de marcher sur les quelques pierres émergées des rues pavées inondées. Malgré l’heure matinale, on goûte diverses cachaças, et quelques spécialités. Certains dé-saoulent pendant que d’autres s’enivrent. C’est que la Cachaça, c’est un peu plus fort que de la badoit…

Cachaça

Cachaça

Aurait-on un avis différent s’il avait fait beau? Toujours est-il qu’on se dit qu’on aurait pu se passer de Paraty, pour profiter d’une ou deux journées de plus sur Ilha Grande. La ville est très jolie certes, mais elle semble avoir perdu ce qu’on devine être son âme d’autrefois, à coups d’ouvertures de boutiques touristiques et restaurants divers. Il parait que les ballades en bateaux vers les îles autour de Paraty sont magnifiques, mais la météo du jour ne le permettra pas.

Nouvelle journée, jour de départ matinal, grand soleil, classique…

Paraty

Paraty

Nouveau bus, pour un bref retour à Rio, d’où on s’envole le lendemain, direction Iguazu!
On s’installe dans une auberge dans le quartier de Santa Teresa. On arrive le soir, le taxi nous dépose dans une petite ruelle sombre, face à l’auberge qui ressemble vraiment à une maison hantée. La chambre est pas ce qu’on appellerait propre, et une forte odeur de boules antimites nous prend à la gorge. La poignée de la salle de bain me reste dans la main. D’ailleurs on n’utilisera pas la salle de bain cette nuit là…

Lapa!

On sympathise cependant avec la réceptionniste, une française installée depuis quelques mois à Rio. Elle finit sa journée, et propose de nous accompagner vers un bar qu’elle nous recommande. On traverse quelques quartiers peu éclairés. Elle nous confie que si on n’avait pas été là, elle ne serait pas passé par là à cette heure.
On arrive à destination. On est dans Lapa. LE célèbre quartier festif! Ceux qui ont lu le post précédent sur Rio comprendront…

Ilha Grande

by Emma. Cliquez ici pour Ilha Grande vu par Damien, en Français.

Ilha Grande – a tropical island free of roads and cash machines where monkeys roam and fish bite

String bags overflowing with bananas, papayas and watermelons, sacks of rice and flour, and gallon bottles of water crowd the wooden benches on the ferry from Angra Dos Reis. Damien and I eye the mounds of groceries and hope that we weren’t supposed to have brought supplies. I think that there may be a squashed cereal bar lurking somewhere in the bottom of my bag. It might be a hungry couple of days! As the shore recedes from view and we peer out our porthole at the islands dotting the bay, we decide that we’ll take our chances!

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Abraão is the tiny capital of Ilha Grande (pronounced Eel-yha Granj). It perches on the shoreline at the edge of the luxuriant Atlantic rainforest. The streets are, variously, cobblestones, dirt tracks or requisitioned stretches of golden sandy beach. There are no cars and the locals transport their goods using wheelbarrows. Seafood restaurants (phew!) and small shops advertising diving and boating excursions cluster around the village’s wooden pier.

Unloading the shopping

Unloading the shopping

Ecotourism has recently become the economic heart of this former fishing village and penal colony and there are signs of this new wealth in the sleek schooners that bob alongside the tiny, weather-worn fishing boats in the small harbour.

Arrival in Abraão

Arrival in Abraão

Beaches, jungles and tree frogs

Our guesthouse, Pousada Riacho dos Cambucas, is nestled amongst the trees on the fringe of the jungle. The sky is grey with clouds threatening rain but the strange calls from the trees are too tempting to resist. Eager not to waste a single moment of our time near a rainforest, we pull on our hiking boots and set off on a trail through the trees. The roots of incredibly tall trees and lines of red ants snake across the track and we pass abandoned natural beehives hanging paper-like from branches above our heads. The sounds of the birds in the canopy is wonderful … and then the rain begins. It’s like somebody has flipped a switch in the forest and suddenly we’re surrounded by the almost deafening whirring and croaking of frogs. It’s magical! Determined to find some tree-frogs, we stare into the trees and bushes but it’s like a game of ultimate Where’s Wally and we have to admit defeat.

Jungle trekking

Jungle trekking

 Puffing, we clamber around mangrove swamps and bamboo groves until we reach our destination – Praia Lopes Mendes. The beach curves before us, lined with palm and almond trees. The sand is so fine and white, it squeaks like snow beneath our feet. The lifeguards have hidden away from the elements in their hut and the waves are rolling in high and fast. It’s a “winter” beach – perfect in its beautiful emptiness.

Une plage juste pour nous! Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande

Une plage juste pour nous! Lopes Mendes, Ilha Grande

 Night falls at a disconcerting speed in the rainforest and for fear that whatever else is hiding in there will come out and eat us when darkness falls (jaguars! Because, sure, it could happen!), we take a watertaxi from a nearby beach with a French couple. They look just as bedraggled and happy as we do. They tell us that they’ve travelled over for the Capoeira festival which is due to begin on Ilha Grande the following day. Our ears prick up and we promise we’ll be there. The sun is setting as we round the headland and a pod of dolphins surfaces to race alongside our boat. I pinch myself to make sure I haven’t stumbled into a cheesy Woody Allen location movie. Nope, I’m definitely here and grinning like a loon!

Flying bloodsuckers!

 That night, Damien isn’t smiling so much as pacing around the room at 3am scratching his several brand new mosquito bites and rooting through our first aid kit for an antihistamine. Unfortunately for Damien, this was to become a pattern. Repeated dousings in insect repellent are to no effect. In fact, he thinks that it’s actually attracting them! To his disgust, I haven’t been bitten once (yet! Asia might be a different story!). During my pre-trip research, I stumbled across an article recommending some natural ways to avoid being eaten alive by flying creatures, namely, to avoid bananas and to take Vitamin B complex, which I did religiously. I wasn’t about to take any chances with Amazonian beasties. Damien reckons I just have insipid blood! Who knows but here’s hoping my luck holds out!

The high(ish) seas

 The next day, we’re up at dawn – sleep is not an option when I can hear the rainforest outside! We feast on the breakfast of papaya and mango before we set off for a day trip to the island’s Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon). The schooner takes us around the north of the island past wild headlands, hidden coves and drops its anchor an hour later in this natural swimming pool. The bad weather the day before means that the visibility isn’t as good as usual but we merrily snap on our snorkel masks and spend the next half an hour following small schools of yellow and black striped fish. When we finally look back up, we see the rest of the passengers shivering on the desk on the boat. We clamber aboard and the sun comes out. Everybody heads up to the roof of the boat where we bask in the heat as we continue on to our next stop – a white sandy beach bordered by palm trees. The water is crystal clear and bath warm. I could spend the entire day there. Well that is until my traitorous skin turns against me. The sunlight against my pale Irish skin in the water has transformed me into a luminous lure for all the fish in the area. I’m surrounded!! It’s pretty fantastic … until they start to bite! Really bite! Lots of little mouths chomping away! Horrendous! I’m very happy to escape back up onto the boat!

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Rythmic beats and leg sweeps

That night after a meal of traditional fish and banana stew, we stroll over to a community hall to watch some of the Capoeira festival. Capoeira is a Brazilian material art that combines elements of fight, acrobatics and dance. Music is integral to Capoeira and the combination of the berimbaus (arc shaped instruments which dictate the tempo), the chanting and the smooth movements of the fight is almost hypnotic. A group of about 20 children of between the ages of 6 and 11 sit in a circle before 5 musicians. The mestre (master) chants and the children sing out responses while two of their number face each other in the centre of the ring. There appears to be no weighting according to size, age or sex and their enthusiasm is infectious. It is beautiful to watch. There is no violence, no body contact. Instead, it is a dance where the two mini capoeiristas weave and dive around each other’s movements. A local sits beside us and welcomes us to the event. We comment that the dance is beautiful and he explains that the purpose of the dance is to mask the fight. Capoeira’s origins are thought to lie in the development of methods of self-defence by African slaves in Brazil. In order to disguise their training and avoid detection, music and dance movements were incorporated. When the adults later take to the floor, the previously obscure fight element becomes apparent. Cartwheels, rhythmic movement and impressive flips are interspersed with kicks, elbow strikes and leg sweeps. The dance had suddenly become alot more intimidating. Yet at all times the combatants are smiling at each other. They are positively beaming through the kicks and jabs. Naïvely, I just think that they are only delighted with this fighting lark – sure it takes all types! I read later that capoeira is always played with a smile to symbolise that the capoeiristas are not afraid of the danger they face.

A jungle, a witch and a beast

 The following day, we head back into the rainforest again to hike to Cachoeira da Feiticeira (Waterfall of the Witch) – with a name like that, it’s impossible to resist! The going is steady and, admittedly, my thighs are burning. My muscles are obviously going to have to get used to post-desk life! A noise ahead of us snaps my attention into the moment. Damien and I stare at each other. There is something growling really loudly just ahead of us. We fumble rapidly through our back packs for our minuscule pockets knives, safety whistle lying usefully on bedside table in the guesthouse. We creep forward tiny knives outstretched ridiculously before us. Hand to hand combat with a jaguar? Ehm I know who’d win! The noise gets louder and louder. We see some other tourists crouching on the path ahead of us. They are staring into the trees. Our feared adversary isn’t a jungle cat but a monkey, a male defending his territory against us, and, be to honest, I wouldn’t fancy my chances against him either! My previously burning thighs are only delighted to whisk me up the rest of the track at a trot!

Cachoeira da Feiticeira

Cachoeira da Feiticeira