The World Cup is in Brazil. I don't like football. I'm off to Brazil.
I'm not sure where the idea came from the spend the summer of 2014 in South America but the more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a good idea.
First time booking through a company!
This is the first trip I've taken where flights were booked by a company on my behalf. Normally I like to price things myself and I have the patience to sit for hours comparing packages etc. However, this was Summer 2014. This was Brazil. This was the World Cup! Flight prices were easily £2000 as I wanted to fly into Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and out of Lima, Peru.
I did some research with various trusted flight comparison sites, Skyscanner, Kayak, Expedia and I didn't seem to be getting anywhere. In the end, I turned to STA Travel. They were able to find flights (international and domestic) for just less than £3000. They did pretty well in my opinion!
As I was flying to Brazil with a seven-week trip ahead of me and three days of accommodation booked for Rio, I suddenly panicked and thought 'I can't afford to be here!' but it was too late. In a few hours I would be landing at GIG with a significant part of the rest of the world- predominantly football fans.
It was late when I got to my very simple and basic, yet expensive hotel. I was staying just a short walk away from Copocabana Beach. I had booked to stay three nights and on the first day I knew that wasn't long enough and that I would have to enquire about staying longer.
The front desk team were very helpful with booking a Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer visit. It seems that it is becoming increasingly difficult to visit the Redeemer statue on your own. If you're looking to do it this way, ask around before you set off. There are certain restrictions with how far taxis are allowed to go along the road etc. I chose to go to Sugarloaf and the Redeemer on match day in the hope it wouldn't be so busy- it was!! And hazy too!
I had spent some time mingling with the crowds on Copacabana Beach at FIFA's Fan Fest. There was a great atmosphere and the chance to meet lots of people. Not to mention, watching the games too. One evening I met a lovely couple from New Zealand. I was sitting in a packed bar at a table and they were looking for seats so I offered them my table. We got on great and spent the next couple of days together. I had to leave my hotel and suddenly everything had rocketed to £100 a night! I ended up in a homestay- literally, someone had rented out their spare room, it was the most awkward place I have ever stayed in! I got the feeling the daughter hadn't informed her parents that she had let the room out. Basically, when I turned up there was a very strange atmosphere. I only lasted one night there before I accepted my fate and went off to spend £100 a night on a hotel- I chose the nicest one possible and decided to treat myself.
Over the next few days in Rio I did a helicopter sightseeing tour of the city and visited Rocinha Favela. Rocinha opened my eyes and showed me that a favela is not necessarily a dangerous or scary place. It was full of people, making a living and making the most of their lives. I toured with a company whose profits supported a favela school. The guides were well informed and I hope they continue their work in educating people about the reality of favelas.
I will now tell you the funny story of the helicopter flight. I walked from Copacabana Beach to Ipanema and over to Lagoa to find the helipad. A very enjoyable stroll! I arrived at the main office and despite telephoning ahead, now they weren't accepting solo-passengers, only couples. I stood outside on the street trying to recruit someone to fly with me when a middle-aged Brazilian guy shows up and we become a 'couple'. Great I think! It's flying time!! I go back to book us on a flight and suddnely... the rules have changed again and actually we have to have another couple to fly with us. I stand back on the street and find an American father and his son. We then had four people! That was a helicopter-full so there would be no denying us this time!
I called shotgun on riding upfront and just as we were hovering over Christ the Redeemer, I see the Americans behind me squirming in their seats. There's also powder blowing around in the air. Confused, I realise that in the Brazilian's pocket he has ashes which he is throwing out of the window over the statue, only they're not going out of the window, they're being blown back in, all over the American guys! It's one of those situations where laughing is totally inappropriate but you really can't help it!
Just when I thought my days filled with coconut water, touring, caipirinhas and beaching would never end, I had a reality check.
I had arranged to meet my new pals- Alice and Mattias (the New Zealanders) downtown, for a change, seeing as we were always hanging out in Copacabana. Whilst walking around looking for somewhere to have a drink, I was approched by a guy who grabbed my phone. Why my story doesn't end there, I shall never know! Instead, I decide to fight him (because in my head I am Lara Croft) and I end up with a large chunk bitten out of my shoulder scrapping on the floor. When I finally realise how stupid I'm being, I lie on the floor and surrender as he runs off taking money and other bits with him.
There are a few things to note from this tale,
1. Where was Mattias? Well, we hadn't stuck together (as we would have done in hindsight) and we were on different sides of the road. He gave chase but we told him to stop as we didn't want him getting hurt.
2. Why did I fight? I will never know the answer to this, perhaps I've watched too many Jason Bourne movies?
3. I was bitten!!! Yes, by a human. I've joked that as it was World Cup time then I put it down to Suarez. What about diseases you may ask? I've been tested and fortunately the only incurable disease I'm carrying is stupidity.
4. Is Brazil safe? I stayed another three weeks in Brazil after this incident and I honestly never felt unsafe. This incident occured because we were walking around in the dark, in the dodgy end of town (there wasn't anyone around, seriously no-one), we didn't know where we were going and we split up from each other.
Whilst I was fighting with the guy, I didn't realise that Alice was also having a tug of war match with another guy and her bag.
In hindsight, we could have done a lot of things differently but we didn't and I know that Alice is still travelling, as am I. We're not going to let this incident get in the way of our plans to see the world!
The Amazon Rainforest
To recover from the mugging, I booked a flight to Manaus and took a trip into the Amazon Rainforest. I figured spending four days with nature and a bunch of strangers wouldn't do me any harm. Except if my shoulder wound became infected. I had opted not to go to hospital but to self-medicate in the hotel room using cotton pads and medical tape... turns out, I wouldn't make a bad first-aider!
Back to Manaus, it was muggy in the rainforest. Muggy and hot and sticky and actually quite horrible! There was no escape from the humidity but depsite this, it was still one of the most incredible places I've ever visited. The sound of all the bugs and birds, so difficult to see but so difficult to ignore. Day one started by taking a boat about two hours along the river to the lodge. We dumped our stuff and then headed out in a small kayak to the floating forest. As I was there in wet season, the trees were in water up to five metres deep. In the dry season, it would have been a normal forest. The trees had adpated well to spending half of every year under water. It was quite the tour sailing through all of the trees, having to duck under branches when the kayak didn't quite go the way we wanted it to.
If you are thinking of doing this trip, you don't need malaria tablets. The company is proud that the river water is quite acidic and this kills the eggs which means there are very few mosquitoes around. A strong repellent should be enough to keep them away. I got bitten lots (as I always do) but I'm living proof that malaria tablets weren't necessary. However, some people did have them and it would be a personal choice. I enquired about buying the pills in Brazil and couldn't seem to find them over the counter so it may be worth taking supplies with you if you're worried about it.
On the first night there was a choice of sleeping in hammocks in a sort of barn, in a dormitory style room with two bunkbeds or in a little cabin. I was interested in the hammock but ended up with a cabin- it was a fortunate misunderstanding as the hammock-inhabitants had no sleep because it was so freezing cold during the night!
Day two was a big day as we headed off to the other side of the river to go for a trek. Through the trees searching for monkeys, birds and hopefully some tarantulas. With the greenery being so dense, it was difficult to spot anything. I spied some creepy crawlies and heard lots of howler monkeys. I've never sweated so much- if you're looking for quick weight loss, go and spend a few days in the Amazon!
That afternoon, we set off again carrying everything we would need for the next twenty-four hours. And I have another funny story here, of course.
I was told when I booked this trip to only bring one small bag. I obeyed these instructions and left my big backpack at the hotel. When I meet up with all of the other people doing the trip, they've got small backpacks, big backpacks, carrier bags and everything except the kitchen sink.
Fast forward to leaving for our overnight trip into the jungle and there I am with my belongings which are too big to fit into my small backpack... what do I do? Put everything into a bin bag... well, you can imagine. Everyone waiting in the boat with their zip-off trousers, their North Face backpacks and I come along with a carrier bag. I'm then presented with my share of the group's equipment to carry. The couldron for cooking with... I really wish I had a photograph of this disaster. I also had to sit at the front of the boat because I was a solo traveller and didn't have a 'partner'. I could feel everyone whispering and laughing at me (even though they were speaking French!!) It was so embarrassing!! Imagine being the person in the rainforest with a carrier bag and couldron. Not to mention, my carrier bag kept catching on the trees and eventually ripped to shreads so the rest of my belongings were shoved into pockets or wedged under my arms!!! Oh dear... Jess is a hopeless cause. If I was a TV travel presenter, it would be so much more glamorous!
All in all, my Amazon Rainforest experience was amazing. From treading carefully through the jungle to washing in the river and sleeping out in a hammock, the whole few days I was there could not have been more perfect. (Except for maybe the French mocking me with the plastic bag and the couldron...!) We even had the chance to see river dophins on our last night, of course I wasn't quick enough with the camera to catch them but I saw them with my own eyes, perhaps it's more meaningful when that happens sometimes?
After being in the Amazon, I flew down to Curituba as Wolvo was flying in to meet me and we were off to find some jaguars in the Pantanal. I stayed in hotel room 1408 and if you've ever seen the movie, you'll know how brave I was! If you haven't see the movie, watch it and you'll appreciate my concerns!
Wolvo arrived and we flew to Campo Grande where we picked up a minibus onwards to the Pantanal. It was just a short trip as we had a flight to catch in a couple of days to Iguazu Waterfalls. Brazilian side. See below for a selection of pics from the two trips.