And so onto Brazil. I gave myself three weeks to head from the see-and-be-seen beach mecca of Florianópolis up to the inimitable city of Rio de Janeiro. In real terms, I saw a tiny fragment of what the country has to offer. In reality, my agenda was jam-packed…
Is it cheating to use bullet points?
- I played in water on the island of Santa Catarina, lazing in a rock pool, kayaking across a lagoon and skirting jellyfish in the crashing waves of Lagoinha do Leste.
- In Curitiba, I got caught up in a glitter-infused, student-filled street party. I also read a book in the park as Capybaras and their babies sunned themselves in muddy pools nearby.
- I took on the Southern Hemisphere’s largest city, São Paulo, sampled Brazilian cuisine on a food tour, wandered through the slice of preserved rainforest that predates the sprawling city around it, and sat in a whole lot of traffic.
- I got my fix of jungle-fringed wild beaches on Ilha Grande.
- I caught a preview of the shimmying, shaking, stamping, swivelling, sequin-clad festivities when I attended a Carnival rehearsal at the Sambadrome in Rio
In amongst all of it, my favourite of all was when I headed to Paraty, a colonial town perched on the coast. Rather than stay in the town, I stumbled across one my favourite spots on the trip to date: The Happy Hammock. A speed boat picked me up from Paraty harbour in the evening and rushed rapidly away from the bustling harbour. Twenty minutes later, it rounded a curve in the lush, rocky coast, and pulled up to a wooden pier decorated with palm trees.
I spent three days there over the course of which I snorkelled in the crystal-clear water amongst brightly coloured shoals of fish. I went on a stroll through the jungle to a hidden beach. I made the fatal error of walking up a steep path in wet flipflops and skidded as if in slow motion into a writhing path of leafcutter ants. They immediately diverted their route up my ankles and shins and wrist and arms, biting as they went. Which was beyond unpleasant.
It was I feasted on amazing home-cooked food and drunk ice cold caipirinhas. Mostly though, I spent my time lying in a hammock making my way through the contents of the bookshelves. It marked a welcome change in pace.
On the last night, with the sky looming darkly above me, I found myself standing on the pier placing a snorkel and mask on my face. I steeled myself and before I could question my judgement again, I jumped off into the abyss of the black sea below. The cool water hit me and I could see absolutely nothing. I was terrified. What was that that just grazed my arm? What if something grabbed my ankle? What about underwater night gremlins?
Once the fear had subsided, I ducked my head under the surface. Everything was black. And then, as I moved my hand to paddle a little, I caught sight of some specks of light glowing green-blue in the disturbed water. I waved my hands in front of me again, and the thousands of tiny dots glowed more vigorously like underwater stars. Bioluminescent algae – the reason I’d waited for nightfall to hurl myself off the pier. I paddled around and ignored my fear to dive deeper into the darkness, watching the sparks glow and fade, glow and fade. Eventually I returned to the shore, guided by Patrick – one of the Happy Hammock hosts – who stood on the beach guiding me in (and warding off night gremlins) with a torch.
Brazil is memorable to me because of the abundance of colour everywhere. Everything was vibrant and brilliant and bright. I spent every bus ride craning my neck to gaze through the window. Vivid lilac blooms burst into life and spread throughout the lush green of the jungle. The sea was turquoise and azure and deep, deep blue. People strolled around adorned in neon and gold and silver and every colour of the paintbox.
I didn’t have much time or cover much ground in this vast country. If there’s one downside to Brazil, it’s that it’s not backpacker-budget friendly. At all. Nothing comes cheap – especially in the height of summer and in the run up to carnival. I explored as much as I could realistically could without totally bankrupting myself, but I was being naive thinking I could travel in the same way through Brazil as I had been going through Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. There’s so much more that I want to see – the otherworldly nature of Bonito, the wildlife of Pantanal, the colonial towns of Minas Gerais, the unique African-influenced culture of the North East and, of course, the mighty Amazon. I have a ‘next time’ list as long as my arm. But for this trip, it was time to get out and head onwards.