Panthers in the Pantanal

28 – 31 May 2014

To cut a long story short, I wasn’t lucky enough to see any. But I did see a bunch of other cool animals, which still made the trip to the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil totally worth it.

So, I said my goodbyes to Tracy, Daniel and everyone else, and headed off on my tour of the Pantanal. I had booked a 4-day tour expedition with Pousada Santa Clara, a nice lodge in the Pantanal that organizes a variety of activities for guests, such as river cruises, horse riding and night walks. My tour van came to pick me up from Miranda early that morning, and after about two hours, we arrived at Buraco das Piranhas, where a 4×4 was waiting to take me to Pousada Santa Clara, an hour’s drive away on a dirt road. On our drive in to the lodge, I spotted two caimans basking in the sun along the road and very excitedly asked the driver to stop the vehicle for me to take a picture.

My first caiman sighting! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

My first caiman sighting!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

He stopped, but not before laughing at my childish excitement and informing me that I would most definitely see many more caiman before my tour was over. I arrived at around noon at the lodge, and was quite taken with the proximity of the lodge to the river and the delightful sleeping arrangements. Pousada Santa Clara caters primarily to backpackers, and so, had come up with quite an ingenious idea for sleeping arrangements at a low cost – hammocks, strung up in a large airy room.

Hammocks at the chill-out area! (Our actual sleeping quarters looked far less cool) Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Hammocks at the chill-out area! (Our actual sleeping quarters looked far less cool)
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

(They obviously had rooms with proper beds in the other section of their premises, but who would pass up a chance to sleep in a hammock right next to the river?) Lunch was a most delightful spread of meats and veggies, which I ate while watching random birds flying around and squawking at each other.

Once lunch (and post-lunch relaxation) was over, it was time for my first activity of the tour – horse riding! I was quite excited, my last time on a horse having been about 20 years prior, when I sat on a horse while it walked lazily in a circle around its corral. We all got on our horses and after a few quick instructions about how to control the horse, we were off!

All geared up and ready to go! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

All geared up and ready to go!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

I never realized how much I enjoyed horse riding, and got a total kick out of it. We even saw a cute little armadillo on the ride,

Armadillo butt! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Armadillo butt!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

as well as some cool birds

Red macaws perched high up in the trees Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Red macaws perched high up in the trees
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

so it was pretty fun.

This part was particularly fun :P Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

This part was particularly fun 😛
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Up on my high horse Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Up on my high horse
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

When we got back, it was time for dinner – another delish spread – and chilling out by the river for a while.

We took a walk around and spotted some geese Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

We took a walk around and spotted some geese
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Wild boars are pets at Pousada Santa Clara Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Wild boars are pets at Pousada Santa Clara
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

The green parrots got fed every day Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

The green parrots got fed every day
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

A very short while, because we started getting attacked by lots of mosquitoes and so retreated indoors to hide from the vicious bugs till our next activity.

Snapped a picture of the sunset first though Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Snapped a picture of the sunset first though
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Our activity for that evening was a night safari. We all piled into the jeep and headed off to look for the nocturnal creatures of the Pantanal. We didn’t have much luck seeing any spiders or snakes, but what WAS really cool was the caiman we saw in the river when we drove by. There were literally dozens of blinking red lights drifting right about where the river was supposed to be – the coolest (and possibly, creepiest) thing I had ever seen.

Those tiny red lights are caiman. Waiting to get you. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Those tiny red lights are caiman. Waiting to get you.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

We got lucky on our way back and spotted a deer dashing away (from our noisy jeep).

Deer! If you can see it. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Deer! If you can see it.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Night safari over, we were returned to the lodge, where I spent some time chatting with the others about our trips and travels. Eventually, everyone else went to bed, but I still wanted to lie in the grass for a bit and do some stargazing, so Winfred kindly accompanied me to lie in the grass (on his sleeping bag). It was simply spectacular – thousands, if not millions, of stars, and it was such a clear night we could even see the Milky Way stretching right across the expansive night sky. Magical doesn’t even begin to cut it. Anyway, we eventually headed to bed, where I realized that sleeping in a hammock required some skill. It was all wobbly, and moving around and it was kinda tough to get into a position where I wasn’t draining all the blood from my legs, but I still managed to get some shut eye in preparation for the next day!

Day 2 began after breakfast with a boat ride down the river.

Delightful view Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Delightful view
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

It was a great opportunity to see some of the birds that hung out by the river,

Heron Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

A heron of some sort
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Bird Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

We saw tonnes of kingfishers, but they are so hard to photograph!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Monkey Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

A pair of monkeys made an appearance
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

and we even spotted a caiman basking in the sun on the river bank.

Caiman Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Caiman
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

I was hoping to catch sight of the river otters that some others had seen on their boat ride the day before, but sadly, luck was not on my side. Still, it was a fun cruising down the river and I really enjoyed not being tortured by mosquitoes.

Our welcome party when we got back from the river cruise - really noisy hawk Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Our welcome party when we got back from the river cruise – an animal I christened the “Really noisy hawk
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

It was a gloriously warm day and the river looked so inviting that a couple of us decided to go for a swim. It was a great way to cool off from the heat of the day, and I didn’t get bitten by a single piranha, so that was cool. Also, now I have bragging rights to say I swam in a river full of caimans.

If you zoom in, you can spot a few caimans on the far bank! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

If you zoom in, you can spot a few caimans on the far bank!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

It was time for our jungle trek after that, so off we went, into a mosquito infested jungle. It was pretty fun, despite the relentless bites of mosquitoes.

This is why the Pantanal is called the wetlands of Brazil Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

This is why the Pantanal is called the wetlands of Brazil
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

One of the girls who went one the trek with us told me that my back was almost constantly covered in a swarm of mosquitoes, and I am quite sure I swallowed a few of them as well. Even the tonnes of repellent I applied (every 20 minutes) did not help fend them off. I guess that’s one thing I’m good for – being food for mozzies. We saw some more birds

Arara, also known as macaw are commonly found in the area Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Arara, also known as macaw are commonly found in the area
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

and learnt a lot about a bunch of plants

And fungi too! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

And fungi too!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

and trees whose names I’ve forgotten heh.

Except this one - the strangler, so named because it strangles other trees in the jungle :O Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Except this one – the strangler, so named because it strangles other trees in the jungle :O
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

After our walk, we watched our guide tame a wild horse. It was very intense. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

After our walk, we watched our guide tame a wild horse. It was very intense.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

That evening, we had a visitor to the lodge – a fox, which apparently turns up quite regularly to scavenge scraps from the lodge. It was very cool how it came up to within a few meters of where we were sitting and watched us hanging out.

What did the fox say? I forgot to ask. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

What does the fox say? I never found out.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

He was eventually joined by his partner, and they spent a while chasing each other around while we watched, quite amused by their antics. After a while, they wandered off, and we decided to go on a walk about the premises in the hopes of seeing some interesting creatures. We didn’t see anything, but we did hear a whole bunch of interesting animals that we couldn’t identify. Still, it was a good way to wrap up the day.

The next day,

after the sunrise Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

after the sunrise
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

we all got on our jeep and went off on a jeep safari, the highlight of which was to see the dozens of caiman that emerge from the river to sunbathe during the day.

Caimannnnnn! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Caimannnnnn!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Before that, we saw some cool birds,

YOU CAN, TOUCAN! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

YOU CAN, TOUCAN!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

but my word, the sight of all those caiman just calmly sunbathing without a care in the world was something else altogether. Very cool stuff.

More caimannnnnn! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

More caimannnnnn!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

We returned to the lodge after that for lunch, and another quick swim in the river. Still in our swimming attire, we set out to go piranha fishing, the last activity for my tour. Our guide gave us a quick lesson in fishing piranha, and then, armed with our bamboo fishing rods, we started trying our luck.

Piranha-fishing poles Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Piranha-fishing poles
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Wily little buggers they were though, eating all our bait and swimming off quickly before anyone realized they had started biting! At the end of the hour and a half we spent fishing, out of the seven or eight of us, only one guy had managed to land a piranha. -_- still, it was great fun

The great heron watched us fail. Mockingly. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

The great heron watched us fail. Mockingly.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

and we saw two capybara chilling out by the banks of the river too!

Whatchu lookin' at? Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Whatchu lookin’ at?
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Having failed as piranha fishers, we returned to the lodge only to find that the other guide who hadn’t accompanied us had fished a good six or seven piranhas while we were gone, right at the lodge itself. Inspired by his success (and possible embarrassed at our failure) a few of us gave it another ago, but gave up after about 30 minutes, when the mozzies arrived at dusk to eat us alive. Dinner that night included the freshly caught piranha, fried to perfection and surprisingly delicious! The mozzies were driving us nuts though, so we retreated indoors and played UNO (the game that knows no borders!) till we felt ready to turn in for the night.

The next morning, I was wondering what I was supposed to do till after lunch, when I was supposed to leave the lodge, but when I found out the others at the lodge were going horse riding, I asked if I could join them. My guide very kindly allowed me to go with them, although I had already been horse riding once – super nice of him.

We spotted a caiman on our ride! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

We spotted a caiman on our ride!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Giant ant/ termite nest. But sadly no giant anteaters :( Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Giant ant/ termite nest. But sadly no giant anteaters 😦
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Round two of horse riding was even more fun, when we got the horses to gallop for a while.

All set to gallop! Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

All set to gallop!
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Very bouncy fun indeed!

A young foal decided to join in the fun too Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

A young foal decided to join in the fun too
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Well, horse riding was over all too soon, and we still had a couple of hours to kill before lunch, so I decided to wander around in the jungle close to the lodge for a bit.

Mushroooooms! (Of the non-magical variety) Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

Mushroooooms! (Of the non-magical variety)
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

An emerald ibis! One of the most beautiful birds I saw. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

An emerald ibis! One of the most beautiful birds I saw.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

And what should I come upon but a dead caiman carcass, still fresh and not smelling awful yet!

So very dead. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

So very dead.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

I decided it would be a good souvenir of the Pantanal to get myself some caiman teeth, and I set out to acquire a knife and return to the carcass.

This dead caiman had been pecked clean Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

This dead caiman had been pecked clean
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

I also tried to get some support for my get-some-teeth-from-a-dead-caiman plan, but only Sumer, a guy who was also staying at the lodge, seemed interested, so off we went. Acquiring the knife proved slightly tricky, but I finally managed to borrow one from the kitchen, but getting the teeth was impossible – they were just too firmly attached. In the end, I cut off the nails of the caiman as a souvenir instead, and Sumer got one as a reward for his cameraman duties. It was a pretty cool way to end the tour and now I have a bunch of caiman claws as a memory of the Pantanal! Soon enough, it was time for lunch and then off we went, back to civilization. Of course, it wasn’t that straightforward, and the wheel on our pickup fell off about midway back to Buraco das Piranhas

The wheel that fell off. Right in the middle of the road. Because that's how we roll in Brazil. Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

The wheel that fell off. Right in the middle of the road. Because that’s how we roll in Brazil.
Pantanal, Brazil, May 2014

and we had to wait for another pickup to bring us there, but all in the name of experience, eh?

From Buraco das Piranhas, there were buses headed to Corumba, a town on the border with Bolivia, but since it was still bright and early, I decided to hitch a ride. After waiting for about an hour, I managed to get a ride on a truck transporting…cows! Any ride is better than no ride though, and I got on and things were going quite smoothly, till it was time to make the cow delivery. We ended up driving through some tiny dirt roads and spent more than an hour delivering the cows, so by the time we arrived in Corumba, it was well past sunset. The guy who gave me a lift offered me a place to stay in his mechanic shop for the night, but I declined in favour of a bed and a hot shower. I spent the night reliving the cool experiences of the Pantanal and the next day, it was off to Bolivia, destination: Santa Cruz!

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Mellow Miranda and not-Beautiful Bonito

14 – 27 May 2014

Owing to the vast distances between states in Brazil, I was on the bus a good long time before I alighted in Campo Grande, capital of Mato Grosso do Sul. However, that was not my final destination, and a few hours after I alighted, I jumped aboard a different bus headed west – destination Miranda, a small town in the Pantanal wetlands region of Brazil. I had arranged to be a Workawayer for a host there for the few weeks of my time in Brazil (my visa was sadly, expiring). My host, Tracy, was supposed to pick me up from the bus station, but as my bus was delayed (of course, why had I ever expected it to be on time?) she sent her partner/husband, Daniel to pick me up instead. Once at their place,

Which had a really cool gate Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Which had a really cool gate
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

I was introduced to the two other Workawayers – Danielle and Nick – as well as some of the kids who frequented the place.

Part of the evening's activities was lighting up the fire by the gate Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Part of the evening’s activities was lighting up the fire by the gate and playing with lasers
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Laser show in the smoke Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Laser show in the smoke and trees
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

It was a nice evening we spent together, sitting around, chatting and relaxing.

The chill-out place Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

The chill-out place
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

And play with more lasers! Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Playtime with more lasers!
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Really a good chance to unwind, and of course, my quarters for the night (and the rest of my stay there) were absolutely lovely! I got to stay in a Native American tipi – super cool stuff, and so much better than just a regular room. I was immediately in love ❤

Mega tipi! Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Mega tipi!
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Being inside the tipi was like being in a magical wonderland Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Being inside the tipi was like being in a magical wonderland
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

The next day, it was to work to earn my food and board. So, Tracy and Daniel are a cool couple who do a lot to help their small community, and one of the things Tracy does is to give yoga lessons. The project I was helping out with was to turn empty glass bottles into a yoga studio. A remarkably simple idea, with a great impact on recycling efforts. What they do is they get glass bottles of the same size, cut them up and stick the bottoms together to make glass bricks which they then use in place of regular bricks. The result is a stunning glass structure, with tonnes of natural light filtering in. Of course, for something the size of the yoga studio they had in mind, thousands of bottles had to be cut to make bricks, and that’s where I came in. My job, along with Danielle and Nick, was to sort out the glass bottles,

A small fraction of the bottle collection Daniel and Tracy had going on Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

A small fraction of the bottle collection Daniel and Tracy had going on
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Infinite bottles! Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Infinite bottles!
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

cut the them,

A bare wire connected to the eletrical mains becomes hot enough to cut through glass cleanly. Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

A bare wire connected to the eletrical mains becomes hot enough to cut through glass cleanly.
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

wash them clean, wipe them dry

Washed and dried bottles being stuck together Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Washed bottles drying before being stuck together!
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

and stick them together.

Ta-da! Glass brick! Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Ta-da! Glass brick!
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

It was relatively simple, but quite fun, once we got into the rhythm of working as a team. We worked till we felt quite sick of the bottles, and our stomachs were groaning for food, and then sat down to a lovely lunch prepared by Daniel and Tracy. Our post lunch activity was to chill out and chat with each other and the kids who often came by to the space to hang out. The kids only spoke Portuguese, and Nick and Danielle spoke almost no Portuguese, and my Portuguese was rather limited so our conversations with the kids almost always involved lots of hilarity. I also decided to have a go at making tetra-purses, wallets made from tetrapak cartons, and my first one turned out quite well, even if I say so myself (:

First ever tetrapurse! Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

First ever tetrapurse!
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

From drink carton to tetrapurse! Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

From drink carton to tetrapurse!
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Getting into the flow of things, in the next couple of days, we continued making more glass bricks after our delish breakfast of bread, fresh honey (from Daniel’s own bee farms!) and a fruit shake. I still miss the lovely honey sometimes – that’s how yums it was! In the evening, we all headed to town for a wander around,

Miranda has the cutest mosaics on its pavements Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Miranda has the cutest mosaics on its pavements
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

and some lovely dinner by the train tracks.

So pretty that Nick and I had a full discussion about whether these tracks were actually functional. Tracy informed us that they were. Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

So pretty that Nick and I had a full discussion about whether these tracks were actually functional. Tracy informed us that they were.
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Saturday was spent in pretty much same way, with movie night at the end of the evening with tonnes of freshly popped popcorn – Daniel truly makes the best popcorn in the world. Pretty interesting film too – Garbage Warriors: All About Earthships – talking about the sustainability of earthships, or houses made out of recycled glass bottles (available on YouTube if anyone is interested).

Sunday was our day of rest after being hard at work cutting bottles, so we slept in and lazed around the space, not really doing much. It was also Nick and Danielle’s last day at the space, so we decided to take it easy and enjoy our time together. In the evening, we went on a bike ride with Fumaca and Guch, two guys who hung around the space quite often, to the rice fields to catch the sunset. It was a pleasant ride, but once at the rice fields, we were attacked by swarms of vicious mosquitoes that seemed hell bent on eating us alive, so we didn’t stay long, despite the lovely view.

Sunset in a rice field Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Sunset in a rice field
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Still, despite the bites, it was a cool excursion heh.

Our failed attempt at a jump shot Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Our failed attempt at a jump shot – Fumaca, Nick, Guch, Danielle
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

The next day, Danielle and Nick left pretty early, so I was left to pretty much my own devices, to cut, clean and stick bottles together, with occasional help from the boys who frequented the space. It was very therapeutic in a way, focusing all my attention of something so simple (it needed a lot of attention, because the slightest wrong touch meant that you would be cut by one of the razor sharp glass bottles, something that happened to me quite often). Afternoons and evenings were also very low-key, spent mostly chatting with Daniel (about very interesting topics)

Usually in the kitchen, where this amazing painting of a 3D elephant existed Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Usually in the kitchen, where this amazing painting of a 3D elephant existed
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

or the boys (in broken Portuguese) or just absorbing the energy of the place. It was exactly what I needed to rest and recharge my travel batteries.

Occasionally I wandered out to the town Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Occasionally I wandered out to the town
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

It also got really cold suddenly, so we built fires to keep warm in the evening. Here, Daniel is making the fire while Fumaca grins like he usually does. Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

It also got really cold suddenly, so we built fires to keep warm in the evening. Here, Daniel is making the fire while Fumaca grins like he usually does.
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

It was cold enough for Tracy to break out her (synthetic) furs. Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

It was cold enough for Tracy to break out her (synthetic) furs.
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

After a week of routine, I felt quite up for an adventure, so I decided to head to a small town nearby named Bonito. Tracy said that it was quite easy to hitch a ride from Miranda to Bonito, so I decided to do that. Tracy dropped me off at the edge of Miranda on her way to work, and after a while, I managed to hitch a ride with a cheery delivery guy who very happily dropped me off in Bonito. It turned out to be quite an uninspiring town (despite being named “beautiful” in Portuguese)

The most interesting thing about Bonito - telephone booths! Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

The most interesting thing about Bonito – telephone booths!
Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

and most of the attractions were quite a distance from the town itself. The overpriced town also has a rather confusing system of only allowing tourists to visit the attractions via organized tours, so I was left rather disappointed by my trip to Bonito. I decided to take the only recourse available and to the Balneario Municipal – a section of the river reserved by the town for locals to go swimming with schools of fish. Before heading to the Balneario Municipal, I decided to check on the bus schedule to get back to Miranda that night, only to find out to my dismay that the only bus to Miranda left the next morning. I couldn’t do anything about it anyway, so I headed to the Balneario Municipal, which turned out to be quite underwhelming.

There were some monkeys to greet me when I got there, but not much else Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

There were some monkeys to greet me when I got there, but not much else
Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

The river was pretty,

Surprisingly cold, for a sunny day in Brazil Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Surprisingly cold, for a sunny day in Brazil
Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

and it was fun to watch the fish swimming about,

Tonnes of fish just chilling out Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Tonnes of fish just chilling out
Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

but the water was way too cold for a swim, and there was nothing much else to do there,

A dip in the ponds formed by the heavy rainfall, perhaps? Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

A dip in the ponds formed by the heavy rainfall, perhaps?
Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

not even a nice hike in the surrounding forest (it was protected by the municipality and required a guide to enter). Even so, I hung out there for a couple of hours enjoying the relative peace and quiet.

Everyone else was also enjoying the peace and quiet Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

Everyone else was also enjoying the peace and quiet
Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

It was almost closing time when I was about to leave and I got to talking with a guy who worked at a restaurant there,

The reason why we started talking - he offered to show me the araras living in the area Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

The reason why we started talking – he offered to show me the araras living in the area
Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

and asked them about hostel recommendations to spend the night. He recommended me a couple of hostels and his friend offered me a lift back to town so that I could find a hostel. He and his friend ended up driving me to a couple of hostels in town, looking for a place that wasn’t full and/or charging exorbitant rates, insisting that they couldn’t leave me to wander around the town by myself. It was a very nice gesture by them, considering I didn’t even know them and they had no obligation to help me, but they did anyway. Good people do exist! Well, I settled into my hostel (i.e. huddled in bed with two blankets pulled up to my chin because it suddenly got really cold and I only had my light jacket I used in the day time) for a while, before my hunger got the better of me and I headed out in search of jacare burgers (burgers with a patty made of caiman meat), something of a must-try in Bonito.

Short of jacare, but Giant Fish still jumpo out of the fountain in the centre Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Short of jacare, but Giant Fish still jumpo out of the fountain in the centre
Bonito, Brazil, May 2014

I asked at a bunch of places, but to my disappointment, there was apparently a shortage of jacare, so I settled for some rather normal fare for dinner and headed back to the hostel to huddle some more and try to stay warm. The next morning, instead of taking the bus, I decided to try my luck hitchhiking back and walked out to the edge of Bonito. I got lucky and caught a ride after just a short while of waiting, and the guy who picked me up even dropped me off quite close to Daniel and Tracy’s place, so I was home well before lunch time. Awesome (Y)! Post-lunch was back to my routine of cutting bottles and hanging out with the kids at the space – I actually felt quite happy to be back in Miranda, after the disappointment that Bonito was.

Home is a place of comfort, even if it's surrounded by empty glass bottles Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

Home is a place of comfort, even if it’s surrounded by empty glass bottles
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

I even missed the little (noisy) toucan who frequented the space! Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

I even missed the little (noisy) toucan who frequented the space!
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

I would have loved to stay much longer at the space, but as it was, I had somehow come to the last week of my 4-month Brazil visa, and I still wanted to check out the Pantanal wetlands, so I made some arrangements with a tour agency Tracy recommended, and the next day, after saying my rather sad goodbyes to Tracy, Daniel and the rest of the boys who hung out at the space (who weren’t there when I left),

With the amazing mural of the space Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

With the amazing mural of the space
Miranda, Brazil, May 2014

I was off on my Wild Wetlands adventure, in the heart of the Pantanal!

Brasilia – a tribute to Oscar Niemeyer and an hour in Singapore

09 May – 13 May 2014

The capital of Brazil, Brasilia (not Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo). I arrived earlyish in the morning, and my CouchSurfing host, Fredson very kindly came to pick me up from the bus station to take me to his place. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, Fredson dropped me off at his workplace, close to the “centre” of Brasilia, with a couple of tips about things to see and a promise to meet me after work. The thing about Brasilia is that there is no real centre, in the way other cities have centres.

Brasilia is a huge, sprawling city,

Huge, sprawling city indeed Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Huge, sprawling city indeed
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

built on absolutely nothing in the middle of absolutely nowhere (locals say Brasilia’s odd location was strategically chosen to dissuade discontented citizens from launching an attack on the city). When the then president Kubitschek conceived the idea of Brasilia, he imagined a rich and prosperous city where the common mode of transport would be the personal automobile. Obviously, his slogan for Brasilia “Fifty years of progress in five” didn’t quite come to fruition, as even today, lots of people in Brasilia don’t own any personal automobiles,

Some people don't even have places to stay. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Some people don’t even have places to stay.
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

which has led to Brasilia developing an extensive bus network. Anyway, the point is. Brasilia is not a pedestrian friendly city. My exploration of Brasilia hence had to be spread out over a few days, and on the first, I decided to walk towards the “head” of the airplane (Brasilia is designed in the shape of an airplane, with the body called the Monumental Axis – home to many monuments and office buildings, and the wings being where the residential areas are concentrated).

With odd buildings. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Brasilia, of the odd buildings.
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

It was a long, but thankfully interesting enough walk,

Weird building, thy home is Brasilia! Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Weird building, thy home is Brasilia!
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

with lots of quirky monuments to marvel at.

UFO masquerading as the national museum Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

UFO masquerading as the national museum
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Massive alien doves. Also masquerading as a museum. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Massive alien doves. Also masquerading as a museum.
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Brasilia, besides being the capital of Brazil, also stands as a tribute to Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil’s famed, if eccentric architect.

Winner of the strangest church in the world award. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Winner of the strangest church in the world award.
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Because pillars shouldn't be straight. Or columns. Or anything mankind has ever seen before. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Because pillars shouldn’t be straight. Or columns. Or anything mankind has ever seen before.
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

If there’s an odd-looking building in Brasilia, chances are Niemeyer designed it – as chief architect in the Build Brasilia project, Niemeyer was given practically free reign over most of the buildings and accordingly, flavoured them with his unique touch.

How much oddity can one city hold? Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

How much oddity can one city hold?
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Yup. we're weird. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Yup. we like oddly-shaped buildings.
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

The day went by quite quickly,

Brazilllllllll Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Brazilllllllll
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

A more normal looking odd building Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

A more normal looking odd building
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

with the amount of walking I had to do to get the head of the airplane

United, we stand Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

United, we stand
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Nice sunny day it was. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Nice sunny day it was.
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

and back

Flags of the various Brazilian states Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Flags of the various Brazilian states
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

and that evening, Fredson invited me along for his birthday celebrations with his friends. His friends turned out to be quite a jovial bunch, although I didn’t quite get most of the conversation which was in Portuguese. Still, it was fun (and I forgot to take pictures as usual).

The next day, Sarita, Fredson’s flatmate who works at the Finnish Embassy, invited us to go to a Europe Fair hosted by some of the European embassies, so Fredson and I dropped by for a bit, before I continued with my aimless wanderings. I went to a random park/garden that was huge (like everything else in Brasilia) and wandered around for a while,

Even the parks are dotted with odd sculptures Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Even the parks are dotted with odd sculptures
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

feeling quite sorry for the park that was kinda lacking in vegetation due to the hot and dry climate of Brasilia.

Even the trees were sad looking :( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCYcHz2k5x0

Even the trees were sad looking 😦
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCYcHz2k5x0

I eventually

After passing by random buildings Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

After passing by another random UFO
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

arrived at the huge football stadium where some World Cup 2014 matches were going to be held, and just my luck – there was a match about to be played between two national teams!

It reminds me of the Colosseum in Rome Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

It reminds me of the Colosseum in Rome
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

I was just standing around, watching the spectators stream into the stadium when a random kind stranger offered me an extra ticket he had. I thought – hey, why not? Especially since I wasn’t going to be around for the World Cup itself.

Not a sold-out match, by any stretch of the imagination Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Not a sold-out match, by any stretch of the imagination
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

It turned out to be quite fun, surrounded by ardent fans of a losing team, who kept yelling encouragement and tactical advice to the footballers, and occasionally breaking out into song. That was pretty much the end of my day,

There was a random circus of sorts in a field nearby on the way home Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

There was a random circus of sorts in a field nearby on the way home
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

and I spent the evening watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones with Fredson and Sarita. TV transcends borders 😉

Unfortunately, I didn't get to go up the TV tower to get a view of the entire city as it was under construction Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Too bad, I didn’t get to go up the TV tower to get a view of the entire city – it was under construction
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Day 3 in Brasilia was time for me to cover the last section of the body of the airplane. Feeling a little more wise (and confident of my bus-taking abilities), I rode the bus all the way to the end of the strip to check out a cute little church there,courtesy of Niemeyer.

A triangle. As a church. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

A triangle. As a church.
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

I enjoyed the walk back to the bus terminal, stopping along the way at a monument to Kubitschek

Kubitschek and his wife, immortalized. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Kubitschek and his wife, immortalized.
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

and an indigenous museum,

Pretty cool stuff Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Pretty cool stuff
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Gorgeous colours Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Gorgeous colours of woven baskets
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

amongst other things.

Site of the first mass held in Brasilia Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Site of the first mass held in Brasilia
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Lone palm tree Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

A lone palm tree – at the Palacio do Buriti
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Bust of a man, in the middle of not-really-anything Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Bust of a man, in the middle of not-really-anything
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Cool tree Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Cool tree propping itself up
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

The planetarium where I listened to a lecture on constellations in Portuguese. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Near the planetarium where I listened to a lecture on constellations in Portuguese.
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

More randomness Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

More randomness
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Fredson wanted to show Sarita and me the sunset from a great spot he knew of on the other side of the lake, so I headed over to meet them in the afternoon, satisfied with having checked out most of the monuments in the centre strip of Brasilia. The other side of the (man-made) lake was quite beautiful, with lots of space for families to hang out just by the lake.

This is what Brazilian families do Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

This is what Brazilian families do
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

The sunset was also gorgeous, and it was a good way to end the day.

Sunset! Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Sunset!
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Unfortunately, my tummy decided that I had been having too many good days, and decided to act up on me that night. I threw up my dinner and several bottles of water before settling down for a feverish night. I wasn’t feeling much better the next day, so I lounged around at home for the most part, trying to organize the most important part of my trip to Brasilia – my trip to the Singapore embassy. To cut a long story short, I arranged for my bank to courier the replacement for the credit card I had lost/cancelled in Chile several months ago to the Singapore Embassy in Brasilia so that I could pick it up from there. After a bunch of emails back and forth from Embassy Dude (Darius Lim), I finally managed to set up a meeting with him to get my credit card the next day.

Thankfully, by the next day, my tummy was feeling tones better and I decided to head to the interstate bus terminal to buy my bus ticket to Campo Grande, in Mato Grosso do Sul where I had my next Workaway stint lined up, before heading to the Singapore embassy. Thanks to the meticulous organization of Brasilia into sectors, all the embassies are located in roughly the same area, so I took a detour to the Bolivian embassy, the next country on my itinerary, to check out the visa requirements. That turned out to be quite an unpleasant visit, with the embassy representative informing me that I needed all sorts of rubbishy documents (read: certificate of criminal records, only obtainable from the Singapore Police Department) and 2 weeks processing time to get my visa. Well, there was nothing I could do since I was leaving that day, so I quite dejectedly left and made my way to the Singapore embassy. Sweet taste of home. Well, not really but anyway. I got my credit card (Yay!) and when I explained my Bolivian visa crisis to Embassy Dude, he informed me quite apologetically that other Singaporeans had tried to get the Bolivian visa as well, only to be stumped by the requirement for the certificate of criminal records. He very did very helpfully take my fingerprints for me in case I decided to send them to Singapore and get them verified by the Police Department for them to issue me the certificate, so I left the Singapore embassy with one credit card, and one set of fingerprints, should I ever need to use them.

Home? Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Home?
Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Well, my mission in Brasilia finally accomplished, I packed up my stuff, bid farewell to my very nice host, Fredson, and his flatmates and off I went to Campo Grande!

***Bonus! My impressions of Brasilia, written during my stay there.***

Brasilia – My Impressions

I’ve been in Brasilia for three days. These are my impressions

  1. It is a huge city, definitely not built for pedestrians. Public transport, while seemingly comprehensive, is also incomprehensible to the average tourist.

    Which is why everyone has cars...duh! Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

    Which is why everyone has cars…duh!
    Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

  2. It feels like something out of George Orwell’s 1984. Very organized and structured, it’s supposed to be a symbol of modernity and human willpower (to create something out of nothing), but I just get the sense that it’s too rigid, clinical and something rather unimaginative.

    Slabs of concrete are all the rage Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

    Slabs of concrete are all the rage
    Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

  3. Which brings me to my next point – because all the buildings in Brasilia look the same. Apart from some iconic works by our crazed “genius” Oscar Niemeyer, all the buildings are almost exactly the same. In the residential areas, this makes it really easy to get lost. Add in the fact that the streets don’t have names, just numbers, and you have the recipe for lots of lost tourists.

    Building 1 = Building 2 = Building 3 = ... Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

    Building 1 = Building 2 = Building 3 = …
    Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

  4. The city is a tribute to Oscar Niemeyer. If a building looks like it wasn’t mass produced but instead belongs in a sci-fi film, chances are Niemeyer designed it.

    Even his bridges are weird Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

    Even his bridges are weird
    Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

  5. There are no dogs/cats/stray animals on the street. It is so strange. Not many people have pets either, and those who do, keep them very securely leashed. It’s like Brasilia isn’t even part of Brazil, with its numerous strays and people who let their pets run wild.

    Perfect place for dog-walking. Except there aren't any dogs. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

    Perfect place for dog-walking. Except there aren’t any dogs.
    Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

  6. People are rather odd here. Not that they are weird or anything of that sort, but it definitely is true that people aren’t as friendly here. People seem…more fake.

    But the nuts who put hangers on street signs give me hope. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

    But the nuts who put hangers on street signs give me hope.
    Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

  7. Everything is expensive.

    Except selfies. Selfies are free. Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

    Except selfies. Selfies are free.
    Brasilia, Brazil, May 2014

Chapada Diamantina is where I didn’t find any diamonds

01 May – 08 May 2014

My bus pulled into a town called Lençois in the Chapada Diamantina National Park at 430am in the morning and ignoring the touts of the mototaxis and horse carriages, I headed off on foot towards the cheapest accommodation in what is ordinarily a very expensive tourist town.

At 430am, Lencois is a very quiet tourist town. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

At 430am, Lencois is a very quiet tourist town.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Arriving at my accommodation site, I dumped my stuff into a tent (the cheapest option – tents provided!) and tried to catch some shut eye before starting my day of exploration. Unfortunately, the rooster that lived on the campsite had other ideas and stood right next to my tent, crowing incessantly. I finally gave up trying to sleep and headed out to get myself some breakfast before hitting the town to find a good deal on a tour of the national park. I managed to get myself a decent package, paying only R$50 (roughly SGD 25) for a 6 hour tour that included some of the highlights around Chapada Diamantina – Morro do Pai Inacio,

Morro da Pai Inacio, so named for the slave to ran away from his masters and took refuge on this particular mountain Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Morro da Pai Inacio, so named for the slave to ran away from his masters and took refuge on this particular mountain
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

View from the top - amazing Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

View from the top – amazing
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I like pretty (weird) flower! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I like pretty (weird) flower!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

and guided trek through Serrano

Serrano is a popular place for locals and tourists alike to escape the scorching heat Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Serrano is a popular place for locals and tourists alike to escape the scorching heat while enjoying gorgeous views
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Beautiful natural rock formations Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Beautiful natural rock formations along the trek
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

stopping at various waterfalls

The water that runs in these rivers is so rich in iron that it is not clear, but a reddish brown colour instead Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

The water that runs in these rivers is so rich in iron that it is not clear, but a reddish brown colour instead
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Lovely little pools that would be perfect to swim in...if they weren't freezing cold Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Lovely little pools that would be perfect to swim in…if they weren’t freezing cold
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Nice little waterfall, and Rebecca and Katie, my tour friends! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Nice little waterfall, and Rebecca and Katie, my tour friends!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

to swim along the way.

We didn't do so much swimming as getting soaked. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

We didn’t do so much swimming as getting soaked.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

It was a fun day for the most part (except for the moment at the end of the trek when I discovered that I had dropped my wallet somewhere along the way) and two of the girls I met, Katie and Rebecca, invited me to have pizza with them that evening, so it was a nice end to a good day.

Team Trek-Serrano! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Team Trek-Serrano!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

The next morning, I set off to the information desk to find out more about treks I could do on my own and found one that seemed perfect for a day trip – trek to a waterfall called Sossego. The woman at the info counter tried to dissuade me from going on my own, but I headed out undeterred, armed with water and food supplies for the day.

Great day for a hike! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Great day for a hike!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

It turned out to be a very memorable hike which I was very proud of being able to do on my own.

Follow the river - very useful piece of advice when trying to find a waterfall ;) Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Follow the river – very useful piece of advice when trying to find a waterfall 😉
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I did wander off the path a little but by asking random people I met on the way,

I would never have figured out I had to wade through the river to cross over to the other side and then back again to get to the waterfall on my own Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I would never have figured out I had to wade through the river to cross over to the other side and then back again to get to the waterfall on my own
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

 

And following trail markers! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

And following trail markers!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I finally made it to the Cachoeira Do Sossego . And guess who I should meet there but Katie and Rebecca!

Finally at the waterfall! Not as impressive as I would have imagined, but the journey more than made up for it Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Finally at the waterfall! Not as impressive as I would have imagined, but the journey more than made up for it
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

They had hired a guide to bring them there and were quite surprised (as was their guide) that I had done the hike by myself.

My water bottle was empty by the time I got there, so I decided to fill my bottle with a trickle from a stream upriver. The iron supplement didn't hurt either heh. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

My water bottle was empty by the time I got there, so I decided to fill my bottle with a trickle from a stream upriver. The iron supplement didn’t hurt either heh.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

 

A good place for a well deserved rest Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

A good place for a well deserved rest
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

On the way back I tagged along with them and we even stopped at Riberão do Meio

A good place to hang by the river to escape the heat Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

A good place to hang by the river to escape the heat
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

for a whiz down the toboggan there.

Sunset at the toboggan Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Sunset at the toboggan
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

That evening, I met a Spanish couple at my hostel who very kindly gave me some information about other places to visit in Chapada, so off I went the next day to Vale do Capão.

I headed first into Palmeiras on a bus, before catching a little minivan to Vale do Capão, a town known for having a really relaxed atmosphere and for attracting hippies.

Attracting hippies and tree huggers. I hugged this tree because it was beautiful. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Attracting hippies and tree huggers. I hugged this tree because it was beautiful.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

When I arrived, it was immediately evident that Capão is a hippie haven, but I felt strangely at ease and comfortable there.

Perhaps because even Indian Elephant Gods go camping there. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Perhaps because even Indian Elephant Gods go camping there.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I plonked my stuff down at Camping Seu Dai, a place with a reputation for great views and a chilled out owner before wandering around the tiny town for a bit. I had a delicious Pastel de Palmito de Jaca, a fried pastry filled with some sort of jackfruit filling, and chatted for a bit with some of the locals before heading back to the campsite to join the people who were cooking, chatting, singing and making music till the wee hours of the night.

I wanted to see Cachoeira da Fumaça, the tallest waterfall in Brazil (380m) the next day, a waterfall so tall that during the dry season, it doesn’t even reach the pool below, being blown away as mist by the winds instead, hence its name, “Smoker”. The trailhead starts some distance away from the town, but I was lucky enough to hitch a ride from a truck that was heading that way, saving me a good half hour of walking in the hot sun.

Beautiful day for hiking! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Great view of Morro do Pai Inacio in the distance
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I left my name at the ranger post, politely refused the guide they offered (assured by my successful solo trek to Sossego, no doubt) and headed off on the clearly marked trail. It was a straight trek up for twenty minutes and up on the plateau was where trouble started.

View from the trouble-starting plateau Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

View from the trouble-starting plateau
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

The plateau was covered in sparse vegetation, which unfortunately for me, meant that after a while of walking, everything suddenly started looking like a trail to follow. I could see random hikers in the distance though, so I followed in their general direction, only to find that what I thought was the trail, disappeared into prickly thorn bushes or ended abruptly at wide crevasses I could not cross. I realized, with no small amount of dread, that I had been lead astray by what I now term…pee trails. Trails people make when they go off into the bush to take a leak, but over time, start resembling a real trail.

I found this cool beetle at the end of a pee-trail Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I found this cool beetle at the end of a pee-trail
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I managed to retrace my tracks to the original trail, and tried again…only to find myself in the middle of nowhere again.

In the middle of nowhere, with no trail whatsoever to follow so....I took a selfie. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

In the middle of nowhere, with no trail whatsoever to follow so….I took a selfie.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

It was getting quite close to the time limit I had set myself (on solo hikes, I always set myself a time limit to reach my destination, failing which I would turn back and head to safety for fear of being lost in the wilderness at night) but I managed to find the original trail I was on. I was feeling quite disappointed at not having reached my destination and was heading back down the trail when I met two hikers heading to Fumaça! What luck! I sheepishly told them I couldn’t find the rest of the trail and they very happily let me tag along (one of them was a professional guide). Yay me! Following them on the trail, I could not figure out how I had gotten so lost but eventually put it down to the universe teaching me a lesson about being cocky. Lesson learnt, universe! Well, we eventually made it to the waterfall and while the waterfall itself wasn’t too impressive,

That tiny trickle of water is the waterfall. Not what I expected at all. Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

That tiny trickle of water is the waterfall. Not what I expected at all.
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

there were some stunning views from there, which I appreciated very much.

Very impressive view of the National Park Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Very impressive view of the National Park
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Woohooooooo! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Woohooooooo!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

My companions walking down to the edge of the waterfall Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

My companions walking down to the edge of the waterfall
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Really not much of a waterfall Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Really not much of a waterfall
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Hard to imagine the little pool there is 380m down Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Hard to imagine the little pool there is 380m down
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

I headed back with my newfound friends after a while, and spent the evening with the hippie gang (odd mishmash of Brazilians, Argentinians, Venezuelans and one Swedish guy, amongst others) at the campsite.

One of the great things about Vale do Capão is that it is very close to lots of the waterfalls and rivers that run through Chapada Diamantina, so the next day it was off to two different waterfalls – first, Cachoeira da Angelica, and further along the trail, Cachoeira da Purificacão. A Venezuelan girl I met at the campsite, Diliana, wanted to check out the waterfalls too, so we headed out together after picking up some supplies.

lalala Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

The river we were supposed to be following
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

It was a pleasant walk, but after a while, the trail kinda…disappeared. It seemed to head to the river…and then disappeared. This stumped us a little, but we decided to head across the river and found the path again! Onwards we went, wandering through the jungle, and…the path disappeared into the river again.

And there were these little rock piles which are usually set as trail markers, but also seemed to be mocking us :/ Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

And there were these little rock piles which are usually set as trail markers, but also seemed to be mocking us :/
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

This time, we felt less sure, especially since nobody we had spoken to about this trail had mentioned that river crossings were involved! Diliana wanted to head back, but I decided to continue onwards, and some distance away, found a waterfall!

What we thought was Cachoeira Purificacão Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

What we thought was Cachoeira Purificacão
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

 

Well, at that point, we stopped for a swim and decided that this waterfall we had found was the Cachoeira da Purificacão and the other pathetic excuse for a waterfall was Cachoeira da Angelica.

Waterfall but just barely Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Waterfall but just barely
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Really, they should put up some signposts or something. We eventually decided to head back

But not before wandering around a little first Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

But not before wandering around a little first
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

 

Diliana my trekking companion! Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Diliana my trekking companion!
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

and once back in town, we asked the guys we had asked for directions earlier in the day to confirm if the waterfall we found was Cachoeira da Purificacão.They did, and we felt quite satisfied with ourselves and our hike. I went to bed quite early that night, exhausted after all the hiking I had been doing the past few days.

The next morning was an incredibly wet one, with rain pouring down for hours on end. I chilled out at the campsite with the others who were similarly rained in, but at about midday, the rain finally stopped so off I went again, this time on a very easy walk to Riachinho along the road.

Long but easy walk to Riachinho Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Long but easy walk to Riachinho
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

It was a rather long walk, but I met another guy who was heading there as well, so it turned out to be a pleasant walk during which we even encountered a gorgeous (but probably extremely dangerous) snake. Random googling says it’s probably a Brazilian Coral snake, a poisonous variety of snake whose bite can cause respiratory failure within hours. Good thing we didn’t step on him by accident.

Happily slithering across the road - Mr. Snake Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Happily slithering across the road – Mr. Snake
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Dude (I forgot his name) was also kind enough to show me his photos of the REAL Cachoeira da Purificacão, after hearing about my adventure the previous day. Apparently, the waterfall we had reached was Cachoeira da Angelica. -_- well, I guess I had to save some waterfalls for a return trip to Chapada Diamantina. Riachinho was nice enough, quiet and less freezing cold than the rest of the other waterfalls,

Quiet Riachinho Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Quiet Riachinho
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

so I had a nice afternoon swimming

My private infinity pool Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

My private infinity pool
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

and exploring a little bit

We discovered the river flowed on to another set of waterfalls Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

We discovered the river flowed on to another set of waterfalls
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Not really much space to hang out there though Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

Not really much space to hang out there though
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

before heading back to the campsite for another evening of quiet conversation and music.

The next day was a completely wet one, which thwarted any vague plans I may have had (I didn’t), but I spent the afternoon dealing with my bank, trying to get them to send me a replacement credit card for the card I cancelled earlier that year when I lost my wallet in Chile. I tried to get my sister to settle the details of sending the card by courier service to the Singapore embassy in Brasilia so that I could pick it up, but the bank refused to work on her instruction, despite my written request via my secured iBanking account and insisted that I call in to confirm the details myself. I couldn’t even use Skype to call them because Vale do Capão has very limited internet access, so in the end, I had to make several *very expensive* phone calls and yell at several different people before I could get everything sorted. Moral of the story – banks are awful, and if you happen to have to deal with them from faraway lands, sucks to be you. Also, I don’t understand why banks boast of being global institutions if they have no dealings with their branches in the various countries and consider themselves essentially separate entities. /end rant

All too soon, it was time to say my goodbyes to my hippie (and some not-so hippie) friends and spend an entire day in transit

In transit in Seabra, a small town in the middle of a very long road Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

In transit in Seabra, a small town in the middle of a very long road
Chapada Diamantina, Brazil, May 2014

– before arriving in Brasilia, capital of Brazil!

Alienation

I wrote this almost two years ago, when I returned from my year abroad in South America. The sentiment has not changed; indeed, it may well have grown stronger.

—-

I sit in the living room of my sister’s house. It’s half past six and everything around me is slowly being illuminated by the pale morning light. I have just arrived, after having been on the road for a year. I am suddenly struck by a wave of…something, and I choke back tears, startled by their appearance. It takes a while to recognize it, but eventually, I find the word I’m looking for. Alienation. Despite having arrived home, I have never felt more out of place.

I am no stranger to this feeling. It has struck me many times. In the house of a stranger, surrounded by friends, on the side of a cold mountain, on a sunny afternoon at the beach. Alienation is a feeling I am familiar with, having spent an entire year abroad, away from home. All those other times though, the feeling had never been this strong, and I had accepted it as a part of being away from my family and friends. This…this caught me by surprise.

I wasn’t supposed to feel alone in my own home.