Archive for June, 2011

Paraguay – Ciudad del Este

Posted: June 28, 2011 in Paraguay

Ciudad del Este – Run down, drab, tatty, dirty, cluttered, littered, smelly, rough, depressing and full of hard selling electronics shop keepers… crap

Back over the border



 The waterfalls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu, the Iguazu River originates near the city of Curitiba. It flows through Brazil for most of its course. Below its confluence with the San Antonio River, the Iguazu River forms the boundary between Brazil and Argentina. Legend has it that a god planned to marry a beautiful woman named Naipí, who fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in a canoe. In rage the god sliced the river, creating the waterfalls and condemning the lovers to an eternal fall.

Spectaculor, photos to follow!

Off to see th Argentinian side of the falls today.. yippee

I had thought I would be making a simple flight of just over 2 hours from Belo Horizonte to Foz do Iguaçu…Hadn´t planned on flying into a tropical storm. The turblance was the worst I have EVER experienced and the landing was something else! Zero visibilty, bouncing around violently, drinks being knocked over, pitching from side to side. Under carriage was down, flaps fully extended and down, plane slowing and loosing altitude. I guess we were coming in with the assistance of ILS

a ground-based instrument approach system that provides precision guidance to an aircraft approaching and landing on a runway, using a combination of radio signals and, in many cases, high-intensity lighting arrays to enable a safe landing – wikipedia

 This relies on the pilot making visual contact before making the final decision to land. It was at this point I experienced my first MISSED APPROACH,

if the pilot flying or the pilot in command determines by the time the aircraft is at the decision height (for a precision approach) or missed approach point (for a non-precision approach), it the that the runway or its environment is not in sight, or that a safe landing cannot be accomplished for any reason, the landing approach must be discontinued and the missed approach procedure must be initiated immediately – wikipedia

Sounds pretty harmless and simple enough but wow it is pretty intense! Basically the pilot pumps the accelerator to full blast, the engines howl and over 50 tonnes of falling Boeing 737-300 bottoms out with a jolt and starts to lift again.

Some very scared sick looking locals who were clearly distressed by the experience. We were re-routed to Porto Alegre which was the nearest ILS catagory 3 airport and all put up in the 4 star Intercontinental Hotel.

First day on first project was amazing, everything I had expected except slightly more chaotic perhaps.

The project offers hot meals, showers, games, friendship, basic bible study, television and pastoral support for 200 children aged from 5-18. It is staffed by passionate volunteers, who don’t receive an income for the 40 odd hours a week they commit to, instead receiving a meager living allowance that covers their travel and living costs.

The children are all really lovely, however by and large they are either orphaned, living with extended family, living with alcoholic/drug addicted parents and/or suffering border line neglect/abuse. They are starved of positive attention, support, affection or love and the staff there make it a priority to hand out plenty of cuddles, smiles, high 5’s and quiet time with them.

They are not hindered by English cumbersome paperwork, obtrusive/over bearing child protection legislation or a legal non-contact work ethic, in fact would say the polar opposite! Staff are free to love, laugh, cuddle, teach and support children who seem to enjoy their time away from desperate home lives and experience a few hours of peace, calm and happiness.

As the project runs alongside regular school, they do not offer a full curriculum, instead offering classes in English, the Bible, art/craft, life skills, responsibilities, ethics and manners. I sat in on the English lessons and when the teacher introduced me to the class there were fits of giggles. Apparently my name ‘Benjamin’ means blessed in Hebrew but sounds like ‘kiss me’ in Portuguese. I was extremely amusing when the smaller children spoke to and the teacher said that I didn’t speak Portuguese, they looked at me bemused and starting talking again in Portuguese. The teacher explained that they could not understand the concept that I was unable to speak their language as I was an adult. After he explained this twice one little girl said to me in her best voice, ‘you is from England’ to which I nodded and smiled!

Most the day was spent me telling them what different things were in English, e.g. pencils, rulers, chairs, books, football, etc.

I realised within hours that working for a project like CEPHAS  is something I could happily do full time if I didn’t need to consider mundane things like work, money, flat, visa requirements, not being able to speak he language, etc.  It is a calling I have had and prayed about for several years and am now more certain than I have ever been before. All I need to do now if try and work out in what way I can get involved and assist in this field of voluntary work.

Arrived in Belo Horizonte after a smooth uneventful flight, local time 7pm and 25 degrees, distance travelled 1200 miles in just under 2 hours.

Following morning found a coffee shop in town. Very posh, many suited and booted business men and woman, lots of contempory features,  engineered glass and wood everywhere, cozy cubicles to sit and and stunning waiters/waitresses… and yes the coffee was the best I have tasted so far. Good job as it cost 4.80 R$ for a single espresso (2 pounds  ish) whereas most coffe shops, cafes and eateries charge 1.50/2.00 R$.

Did I say it was 31 degrees,  blue skies and sunny today? Brap

Lencois – Chapada Diamantina

Posted: June 17, 2011 in Brazil

Reading my trusty lonely planet on the Real Expresso bus out to Lencois it says,

Lençóis is the prettiest of the old diamond-mining towns in the Chapada Diamantina, a mountainous wooded oasis in the dusty sertão. While the town itself has charming cobbled streets and brightly painted 19th-century buildings, which are framed against lush green hills, the surrounding areas are the real attraction. Caves, waterfalls, idyllic rivers and panoramic plateaus set the stage for some fantastic adventures, with the town of Lençóis serving as a base for treks into the surrounding Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina and for sights outside the park.

I am very excited about visit the Chapada Diamantina mountain area, which is often likened to the Grand Canyon (USA) and Blue Mountains (Australia)

I left at 4pm and was due in 10.30pm that night, although from my experience of  driving on Brazils many ´auto-estradas´ it can be vehicular carnage! Although officially there are two lanes (one in each direction), buses, lorries, cars and motorbikes race at break neck speed nose to tail, using excessively heavy breaking at the last minute (only when absolutely necessary to avoid certain contact with man or machine) and then choosing to over take where ever and when ever they see fit (often flouting double yellow lines, oncoming traffik or slow moving pedestrians or men on mules!)

I am always too hot, as many of you know, so was thrilled that the bus had a superb air conditioning system. Unfortunately it was stuck on full power for the journey, much to the shivering indignation of fellow passengers.

After I dinner break I actually witness an intercity express coach overtaking a lorry, using most the opposite lane forcing oncoming lorries to swerve onto the side of the road which for all intentions is a dirt verge, kicking up a dust storm in their wake with furious hand gestures and horn honking… all this at 65-70mph. Throw into this a few high revving 50\125cc scooters in the mix and you have the picture! We were in the coach following and my driver seemed more interested in making conversation with the blonde rather vacant looking ´coach hostess´ who had not done an awful lot since smiling blankly at me and ripping a stub off my ticket on boarding the bus. She had spent over two hours applying lipstick and fluffing her hair in the mirror.

As I watched the miles race by and sun set from out the window I remember how much I love road travel over flying. Yes you can fly in a tenth of the time, but you do miss so much off life and nature when sat at 50,000 feet.

Miles travelled today 260 miles

Arrived safe and sound in ten minutes early, photo below is from the morning after.

I decided to do a tour of the surrounding area so I asked several tour/sight seeing operators and most offered a day out for 100/130 R$ which is about 40/55 pounds. As I am a bit of a bargain hunter I noticed that there were several young lads sat round on motorbikes not doing much. They normally act as a taxi service for people wanting to get around the town quickly and cheaply, as there are many steep cobbled streets in the centre. I figured they could potentially offer me a far better rate, as a 125cc bike has a far better mpg than a mini bus.

Undaunted by my lack of basic Portuguese I approached a group of them and entered into negotiation. I had a flier from  ‘eco mini bus tours’ to explain what I wanted to see and asked them for there first offer, which came back at 90 R$. Obviously they underestimated my stubborn nature and expert use of indifference so I rolled my eyes, wagged my finger and said ‘non.’ I let them chat for a while in portuguese and one came back with a better offer of 80R$. I laughed and signalled 50R$ with my hands. This put two of them off and they walked away leaving three potential riders. One said 80R$ followed by ‘this my best price mate’ in broken english.  I gestured my disapproval and decided to call their bluff and looked dispondant and sat down in a nearby cafe and ordered a fanta.

10 minuted later one approached me and offered to do the trip for 60R$ and saying, ‘I offer you 60 so you don’t cry now.’ I can assure you I was not crying so can only imagine it was his attempt at humour or a local saying whose meaning was lost in translation. I nodded with non-commital approval and thought the deal was done. He had a phone call and wandered off. Immediately after one of the others came over and said, ‘you my friend so I do you for 60.’ Hmmm anyway I explained to an English speaking friend of his I had already done a deal for 60 and was obliged to go with the first guy. He seemed a bit desperate and thought for a while and said, ‘ok I do 55…’ Deal done, shock hands and everything!

I thought his lack of English and my lack of Portuguese would lead to an interesting day out anyway!

The outline of the day as follows,

Rio (River ) Mucugezinho flowing out the nearby muntains, a “escorregadeira” natural bed of the river, with several natural pools, culminating in a well of deep, dark waters.

Poço do Diabo, (Devil’s pool) downstream of “escorregadeira” the river is a broad and deep well dug into sandstone and conglomerate. I waterfall drops 50m to the pool for those who brave the cold water and take the plunge.

Gruta da Lapa Doce, one of the largest quartz caves in South America and second largest in Brazil. Formed from rocks and conglomeratic sandstone (the others are of limestone formation) by an underground river.  It is 1200m long, 10m wide and 60m high!

Gruta da Pratina a blue lagoon where you can swim with fish and micro whelks.

Gruta Azul a cave next to lagoon which has crystal blue water which you can kayak and snorkle in.

Morro do Pai Inácio, a climb to the summit takes about 30 minutes as there is an access road taking you most the way up, leading to a 360 ° view of the mountains in the region, 250 meters high and 1,120 meters above sea level, the views of  Pai Inácio valley at sunset are stunning.

In all about 150 miles travelling in and around Chapada Diamintina

Sights from Salvador

Posted: June 14, 2011 in Brazil

So today after yet another ham and cheese sandwich breakfast with an array of mixed fruit (papaya, guava, mango and melon) and STRONG black coffee (x 3)

I wanted to get around the city and see as many of the sights as possible, it was a bit overcast and a storm was threatening out to sea, the question was whether it would head inland or not!

So far I have learnt that not speaking portuguese in Brazil puts you at a significant disadvantage with the locals. I am getting by though by using sign language, comedy actions and over enthuastic body language. I often find myself gesturing wildly over a mundane request for something simple such as a road map or bus number.

As each bus trip was less than a pound I was able to cross the entire width and breadth of the centre.  Starting just outside my hostel,

Forto de Santo Antonio da Barra, built in 1698, Bahia’s oldest fort is more commonly called the Farol da Barra for the lighthouse (South America’s oldest) within its walls. It is only from this penisula where it is possible to watch the sunset over the ocean in Brazil (which I did last night.)

Mercado Modelo, which is situated in Grando Campo, was the original customs house for the city. Buit in 1861 it was partially destroyed in a fire in 1986. After reconstruction, it was transformed into a tourist market. Live music, free capoeira demonstrations, art pieces, wood work, lace and nick nacks all for sale inside this impressive building.

I was assaulted by the usual crowd of hawkers and street vendors selling all sorts of tourist rubbish at,´special bonus price´ for me, all of which I passed on. They obviously were unaware of the lack of space in my 35 litre ruck sack. Still is was lovley wandering around the place which had a real buzz to the place, not completely unaided by the 20 odd clearly drunk locals drinking various non specific intoxicants singing various sea shanties and yokel songs, mainly out of tune (I think!)

Elevador Lacerda, also situated in Grand Campo built originally in 1610 by Jesuits, a manual rope-and-pulley elevator around 1610 to more easily transport goods and passengers from the port to the settlement.

In 1868 an iron structure powered by a steam engine, later electrified when restored in1928. Today the Art Deco Elevador Lacerda is made up of four elevators connecting the Cidade Alta and Cidade Baixa.

The elevators travel along a set of 72m (236ft) vertical cement shafts in about 20 seconds, shuttling more than 50,000 passengers daily..whooosh

Catedral Basílica built  from 1672 and is a great example of Jesuit architecture. The interior is elegant and simple, with marble-covered walls and pillars that emphasize the height of the place.

Igreja NS do Bonfim, the street vendors in Pelourinho who hand out coloured ribbons or  fitas as ´free gifts´ get the practice from this church. Fitas are a souvenir of the church and have come to symbolize Bahia itself. Bonfim’s fame comes from its power to effect miraculous cures, which has transformed it from a rather ordinary church into a popular shrine.

In the Sala dos Milagres (Room of Miracles) on the right side of the church, devotees leave photos, letters and ex votos – wax replicas of body parts representing those that were cured or need curing. I can only ask you to imagine what wax work ´bits and pieces´ I was faced with on entering the room!

Due to Candomblistas’ syncretization of Jesus Christ (Nosso Senhor do Bonfim) with Oxalá, their highest deity, Bonfim is their most important church, apparantly it attracts huge services  on Fridays, Oxalá’s favorite day of the week.

If you tie a fita around your wrist, you are making a commitment that lasts for months. With each of the three knots a wish is made, which will come true by the time the fita falls off. Cutting it off is inviting doom… hmm interesting x

Total miles covered for the day you ask… I would venture a guess at 15 miles (HOT STICKY MILES)

Night night you guys x

A Salvador Stroll – Pelourinho

Posted: June 11, 2011 in Brazil

After getting a sun burnt stomach on my first day I decided to go for a walk around Salvador today. Many people I have met to far rave about Salvador as being one, if not the most, interesting cities in Brazil. As the lonely planet puts it,

Salvador da Bahia has an energy and unadorned beauty that few cities can match. Often called simply Bahia by locals, Salvador is the country’s Afro-Brazilian jewel and the once magnificent capital of Portugal´s great New World colony. Its brilliantly hued center is a living museum of 17th- and 18th-century architecture and gold-laden churches.

I have noticed that Brazil has embraced the the grafitti is part of it´s culture and art scene, some it rubbish some is rather impressive. This section is on the wall down the street of my new hostel I booked into after the first was place was dreadful.

I also walked by the oldest tree in Salvador on the way to the historic centre, the photo does little justice to the enormity of it. Don´t misunderstand me, I am no tree hugger, but this was an impressive piece of wood.

Many photographical points of interest today… not ALL of which were building before you joke. I had lunch not far from here off a few side streets to save a few R$´s! The Pelhourinho is ´old town´ in Salvador, mostly dating back to the 17th-century, the blue building here to the left of the photo is now a museum, originally it was a hostpital (the first in Brazil.)

Alas my bargaining skills came a cropper on landing in Salvador at 23.30. I missed the last bus which would have cost R$2.50 (1 squid) and entered the fast and furious verbal malstrom that is taxi fare bargaining… The airport price is R$100 (40 squid) so expected ´unofficial´ taxis to start at half that R$50. I guessed my opening gambit would be R$20,  which is still 8 times more than the bus. After AN HOUR of hard bartering he had dropped to R$40 on the condition another passenger doubled up with me… I was tired and gave up… another 30 minute wait and the deal was done and the taxi prompted whisked me off to a club 18-30 1980´s souless white tiled hospital-like hotel/hostel, some you win and some you loose.

I popped out for a brisk ceveja and within 10 minutes was offered cocaine, marijuana and the services of 4 ladies (2 of which I think came together?) I sensed it was time for sleep…

By the way, welcome to Salvador everyone x

This morning I went for a quick work out in the outdoor gym on the beach and had a coconut, scrambled egg on toast and double espresso for breakfast