As autumn was arriving in Argentina, I decided to head north and get me some sunshine, and where better to hit the beaches than Brazil? Looking at a map, I saw that the little town of Punta del Diablo in Uruguay where I’d been in December was only 60km from the Brazilian border, so I hopped on a boat, a couple of buses and went back there. It hadn’t changed much, just become a little more expensive but I had a nice couple of days eating fish empanadas and lying on the beach. Went to a little restaurant down by the beach I’d seen last time but didn’t eat at called El Viejo y El Mar. Was run by an Argentinan guy called Ernesto who was either drunk or had taken far too many illicit substances in his time. Incapable of remembering an order, he spent the evening bouncing from table to table chatting to people. Luckily the girl doing the cooking was a bit more on the ball and kept coming out to check exactly what we wanted to eat. At the end of the evening Ernesto wanted a comment in his book, and as I started to write his equally drunken pal who was sat at the bar shouted in Spanish “Write that he poisoned you, that it was the worst meal you’ve ever eaten!”. And when he found out where I was from he switched to English and yelled “The food, it is shit! Ernesto is a fucker!”.
Heading into Brazil was of course not as easy as it looked on a map. It involved buses, jumping off at border points, more buses, taxis to get to another border point and another bus. And even then, still 9 hours to the nearest big town. Which on my map looks like it’s on the border. I was starting to realise Brazil works on a big scale. The town itself, Porto Alegre wasn’t really very special. Checked into the hotel and was told by the man that in no uncertain terms were we to go further than the corner of the street after dark. The town centre was a no-go area. Didn’t stay there long and headed to Florianopolis, another 8 hours up the coast. It’s the big town on the Isla Santa Caterina, a major beach resort with something like 40 beaches of all kinds. It was lovely. We swam, sat around, ate, drank and made friends with a parrot.
Another bus, another 11 hours and leaving the beaches behind us we headed to Sao Paulo home to 15 million crowded souls, the 3rd biggest city in the world (Mexico City is number 1, where’s number 2?). The thing with Brazil is that you hear it’s dangerous, that around every corner a mugger is waiting with a gun to steal your passport, a street kid will watch you take a picture then follow you for an hour waiting for a chance to steal your camera, your pockets will be picked at every available opportunity. And of course, the worst places for this are the big cities. Now, I’m not afraid to admit, I am the worst kind of chicken, I hate this sort of thing and spend my entire time checking my pockets and worrying. Got an idea of the situation there when I saw an armoured car picking some money up from a bank, surrounded by 5 security guards all with shotguns or pistols. Not just safely tucked away but actually holding them, with the finger on the trigger and looking ready to use them. Never saw that in Dorchester. But overall I was pleasantly surprised by Sao Paulo. The hostel was in a “safe” area about 5 minutes from the main drag of Avenida Paulista, with some cool little bars and restaurants round the corner. Didn’t feel threatened once, and nothing got nicked. Place was bloody busy and packed though, absolutely ridiculous.
So, it was a relief to get on a bus, all belongings intact, and to escape the city for the sea again. A short 5 hour hop to the little colonial town of Paraty. After leaving Sao Paulo (took about 2 hours to get clear of the place) the scenery started to change and the forests started to look a bit more like jungle (to my untrained eye at least) and things got a lot more hilly. Paraty was picture postcard material, all cobbled streets, old churches and arty, crafty shops. We went to big sweeping beaches backed by jungle-covered mountains, swam in a natural swimming pool, had my feet nibbled by fish, had a day on a boat, snorkelled, saw a sea turtle, all the usual stuff! Did have one moment of drama when 2 boys in the hostel who had been sharing a dormitory with a Brazilian guy woke up to find their big rucksacks, passports, wallets, cameras and the Brazilian guy had all disappeared during the night.
Only a couple of hours down the road, and a 2 hour ferry trip is Ilha Grande, which was by far my favourite place. An island, with no cars, 1 little town, 100 or so beaches and jungle. Not much else. But it was gorgeous, didn’t get to stay there as long as we would have liked as it was coming up to Easter and everywhere was booked after the 2nd night, but it really had the tropical island paradise thing, complete with torrential rain in the evening and glorious sunshine during the day. The highlight for me was walking along the dock at 11 at night, hearing a noise in the water and looking down to see a 3ft turtle surfacing right beneath us. Totally unperturbed by anything, it swam past us, looking right at us with its wise, sad eyes and then disappeared under the water. 2 minutes later it was back. Sat watching it for 20 minutes or so, one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life. Also, one of the few times I didn’t have my camera with me. Dontcha just hate it when that happens?