Monday, 31 March 2014

Mount Roraima the climb

So starting off from Santa Elena the group to headed to the mountain. The group consists of myself, Johannes, a German architect, Rose a girl from Taiwan and Beatrice a girl from Hong Kong, they meet each other online and are travelling for a year together. After driving for 90 mins we are at the point where we sign in with the park rangers and start the trek. Only a half day today, 12-14km till the first camp. Nice rolling hills and our first look at mount Roraima, it is quite impressive from a distance and it seemed that over each hill it was looking more impressive, especially in the lovely sunshine. The ground was really hard to sleep on but the tents were really good at keeping out the wind. Only issue is that we are supposed to keep the bags inside with us but the tents aren't all that roomy for 2 grown men plus two large bags, so we are just going to keep them outside but heavily wrapped in plastic.
Day 2 again this is just over half a day but starting the uphill climb with 2 rivers crossings which took some time to navigate. If there has been a lot rain on the top of the mountain then the rivers can be too dangerous to cross as the water is too fast and too high. Luck was with us and there had only been very light rain overnight. Second base camp had a great view and we can see the clouds coming over the mountain from where we are. There are a lot of small waterfalls that line the mountain, across from Roraima there is another table top mountain called kookinan and this has a 610 metre waterfall that you can see from the base camp, this water fall is not permanent and so does not count into the highest waterfalls, as sometimes its dry.
Day 3 the climb.
This started very steep and only got steeper, its not really fair to call it a hike but more scrambling or mountaineering, I really don't know how getting down is going to go. We had some luck in the fact it was not raining but I still got soaked because we have to go under 4 waterfalls, that seemed so lovely the day before from the base camp. Again if it had been raining we would have to wait for them to subside before being able to continue the climb. As we reached the top thick cloud came over the mountain and we cannot see a whole lot. We are now camped at a hotel on top of the mountain, which is just a rocky outcrop which should provide some shelter from the wind. However we cannot peg the tents in meaning mine and Johannes tent went flying off down the path, queue some choices words from the guide Alex :). Unfortunately because of the waterfalls and general cloud I didn't get my camera out on the climb but now I know what to expect I can get some much better photos on the way down, just after falling in the Amazon and somehow the camera surviving I didn't want to risk it with water again.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

To Venezuela, but really really slowly.

Well the Amazon trip is over :(.

Now to start the bus trips to Venezuela, now I had heard this bit is a tad confusing but its not that bad. To get to Santa Elena from Manaus, you do the following.

1. Bus to boa vista.
2. Second bus to pacarima.
3. Walk to Brazilian border and through immigration.
4. Walk on to the Venezuelan border and though immigration.
5. Taxi to Santa Elena.

Simple steps, but the bus to boa vista was late meaning I missed the only bus to pacarima, so wait a day for the next one, then the next one is late, queue me panicking because immigration is only open in the morning according to my trusty guide book ( thanks so much Chris). Now I had read horror stories about not walking and there being terrorists, robbers, scoundrels and pirates ( ok not pirates but you know what I mean) in the bit where you are not in either Brazil or Venezuela, but there was just a guy selling juice, fresh orange juice actually. So I am now safely in Venezula, begin the trek up the mountain tomorrow, so not post for a while, as there are no pictures of today as you all know what a bus looks like. So added a few more from the Amazon to keep you entertained.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Amazon part 2 fishing madness

Im going to start dating the entries a little because i have lost track of what day I've done things....Tuesday the 18th, so me and Adam were all ready to head into the jungle for round 2, when Ralf asked us how deep we can dive. Thinking back to swimming at central pool in Reading, I could get to the bottom of the diving pool which is 12 feet, so I said 4 to 5 metres maybe, Adam likewise. He said " great can you give us a hand?" , we have a fish on the bottom of the river we need to hock and get up. We said sure thing, got changed and headed off on a small fishing boat. On route we asked him about the task, he said the fish had been harpooned, and to try to get away had swam into the weeds at the bottom of the river. Our task was to follow the harpoon rope to the bottom whack a fish hook in its mouth and then come back up. Sounds easy right. Well the part of the river that the fish had flew into was in the flooded forest, so it has weeds on the surface and it had also gone under a tree. So we slipped into the water,and I got the task of going first. First go was to get to the bottom and find the fish, I didn't hit the bottom but I got some nice scratches up my arms and legs. Next go I got to the bottom popped my ears, open my eyes and see nothing and I don't know what I am feeling for either. Adam's turn, he gets to the bottom both times but can't see a thing and doesn't know what to feel for either. Ralf's English in this respect was kind of limiting what he could tell us. Then Ralf stepped up to the plate, first go he came back up and said he saw the fish and could get the mouth. So he went down and hooked the mouth, then the older guy who had harpooned the fish in the first place started pulling it up. Watching the rope go by the fish was roughly 13 feet's under the river, then the head appeared, mouth open and you could fit a mans arm in it easy ( I know this because this is how I carried it later). The fish kept on coming, hitting almost 2 metres long. Don't believe me pictures below :) In the evening we headed into the jungle to sleep again, in the evening we headed out in the boat to find more caiman and ended up missing a huge one but found one at 1.3 metres not huge but bigger than last time, they are very soft to hold. We also came across a green tree boa that we resting in a tree.
Wednesday the 19th. We headed into the jungle to find monkeys, sloths and other jungle creatures, ended up seeing a few moustache monkeys, basically they look like they have a big white moustache. Rested the rest of the day as it was raining heavily.
Thursday the 20th. Hunting day, we started out as soon as breakfast finished and went back to where we were the previous day as there was evidence of wild pigs, followed the trail for hours till lunch time then we failed to start a fire as the lighter ran out and it had been raining more overnight and so everything was very damp. However this turned out well as we ate with Ralfs family instead which was very nice and had everything authentic, plain rice with manjoca flour which they make from the roots of the manjoca plant which if eaten raw are poisonous. In the evening we went spear fishing which was much more complicated than I thought but on the second chance I got a snakehead fish, no pictures as I forgot the camera again, sorry guys.
Friday the 21st. Morning started with a second chance to learn to do cast fishing, which went well as i caught another snake head fish. This time i got a picture of a happy me with the fish. So its the end of my time in the jungle but I am very happy with the time I have spent here. Time to get ready and plan for Venezuela.......

Friday, 21 March 2014

Amazon part 1

The last day in Lencois was a lot of trekking 7km up and 7km down, very little flat ground at all up to see Fumaca, means smokey in Portuguese, and its amazing. It gets its name from the wind creating a smoke effect from the tiny water droplets that form as the water falls. However since its very dry right now in Brazil, it has a slightly bigger effect on the waterfall. The wind whips up the entire waterfall and it actually falls upwards once it reaches half way down the waterfall. Its an amazing feeling when the wind whips the water in the direction of the plateau above the waterfall that you are standing on. At the bottom of the water fall is a pool of water the looks very calm and still, considering it should be fed by a waterfall.

Then another little trip in the car to another natural water slide and a big pool which we could swim in. The water was coloured red because of the tiny bits of rock that were in the water. Was very pretty, however my camera ran out of battery on the way up Fumaca which was disappointing but I will be getting pictures from a German guy called Timo, he has quit his job and is going on a year travelling, he asked if he could read my blog for ideas, not too sure what ideas you going to get from my ramblings mate but good luck.

Getting to Manaus means a 7 hours bus, a taxi to the airport, two flights and a car ride to the office. Very excited about this part of the trip.

After a long trip to Manaus, and then another long trip involving two trips by boat and two taxi rides I am now in the Amazon basin. I arrived at the camp early in the morning, I have lost track of the actual day of the week now completely. Meet two British couples and a guy from Denmark who I am going to be spending the night with in the jungle, so we headed out on the boat after lunch. The setting here is beautiful, there are trees all along the way and the river opens out the huge lake like areas, without a guide you would get lost easily. On the way we saw sloths in the trees and a few terrapins. We got to the camp roughly two hours latter and started setting, there was a long hut with no walls that we would sleep under and it had beams to hang hammocks. Beside it was a small lean too for starting a fire under, which was the first thing that Paulo our guide did.  He cooked rice and one and a half chickens on the fire, the food was surprisingly tasty. After dinner Adam the guy from Denmark found a few tarantula, another larger spider and a few leeches crawling through the forest. Then came sleep time, crawling into the hammock without ripping the mosquito net was difficult.

In the morning I learned I had been bitten badly on my legs and back, and in the afternoon it started to itch. I had left my antihistamines back in the office and was regretting this choice now. Once we had had a quick breakfast of pineapple and biscuits we headed back to the jungle lodge. We briefly stopped at a little local house to see a pineapple plantation, this was enlightening as we also got to see a rubber tree and try various other fruits, guava, orange lemon, papaya and a few others I have never heard of. Since myself and Adam are staying longer we are going to have a different guide and head off deeper into the Amazon over the next few days, not sure exactly how this will work but it should be an adventure.

So the guide did not turn up that afternoon, so we were with the main group having no idea what was going on, ended up fishing for piranha using chicken as bait, caught quite a few and they are much bigger than I expected. I was useless however and failed to catch a thing, fishing has never been my thing. Next day headed out early to see the sunrise from a good vantage point, got a few good photos. Mine and Adams guide has arrived and we are going to go out rowing into the swamp land and try to find some of the rare wildlife, then fishing in the afternoon and a caiman hunting in the evening, I really hope it goes well.

We now have a new guide Ralf but pronounced Half in Portuguese. He knows a lot about the local area and the row into the flooded areas of the forest was good, my camera is not good enough to take the distance shots, but we saw howler monkeys along with various birds and an owl. He was explaining that the water level changes by up to 12 metres at some points, and that during the dry season this is a normal forest but during the wet season it floods. The water does not mainly come from rain, but from further up the right river in Peru the mountains get the rain and the water level of all the Amazon rivers gets higher as a result. Once back we went fishing, Adam has brought a casting rod with him and I had a few goes at casting, it's a little more complicated then I thought. Then more piranha fishing, this time I actually caught one and since we were fishing outside the protected area we could eat them. On the way back I lost my balance getting out the boat and ended up in the river, camera luckily came out rather undamaged even if it took a few dodgy photos in the middle which I am super grateful for, but I have some large bruises on my right leg now grrrrr. Caiman fishing turned out a lot better however and we caught and got pictures with it. We tried catching a larger one but it did not want to happen and we lost the one that we hooked, from the boat the head was at least twice as large as the one Ralf caught by hand.

Morning of the 18th we headed to a local school and Ralf's house which is a short trip up river from the jungle lodge. This afternoon myself and Adam will beheading back into the jungle for round 2.………………

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Last day in lencois......

Yesterday was trip number 2 was even better then the first day and I took over 65 pictures and I managed to steal a few from one of the other guys who has much better picture sense than i do :) first up was the highest peak in the Chapada, at 1120m its not overly high but gives a great view over the park. Next was two underground caves that have sparking blue water, I forget the names but they were great. Last up was a trip 70m underground, through a cave system that used to be a river, saw a huge amount of stalactites and stalagmites but just being underground was awesome in a natural cave.
Today I went to the natural water slide and swam in the huge pool that it has created, got a bit burned on my head and neck so will have to be careful tomorrow. I guess I wouldn't have that issue if this stuff was in the UK thou. For those of you that like the pictures I'm in the process of uploading a bunch to flicker, as I'm pretty sure I'm going to run out of space when I get past the Amazon part of the trip.
So its my last day here in Lencois tomorrow, since I didn't get a great feeling from Salvador I'm only going back for a little bit before my flight to Manaus, heading on one last outing, got to see Fumaca. Its the second tallest waterfall in Brazil, the tallest having only recently been found apparently, the brochures still tell me its Brazil's tallest.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Lencois and Chapada Diamantina

A change of plan, up till now i have been in big towns, and i saw a picture of a waterfall and thought i need to go see that, had a few days so i am just going. 6 hours bus ride out of Salvador is a sleepy little town called Lencois, this town happens to be on Chapada Diamantina national park in Brazil famous for it's blue water lagoons and waterfalls. I got there late yesterday and checked into my hostel but still had enough time to do a 6km hike to a small waterfall over some rocks.

Today I got down to the bigger stuff. Inside a cave is a clear blue water lagoon, called Poco Azul. You have to shower before getting in to make sure you don't have sunscreen or makeup on to keep the water as pure as possible. You also have to wear a life jacket because diving down is not allowed, however this meant taking picture from within the lagoon was possible. Light lunch then off to mosquito waterfall, named because of the size of the diamond s that were found there. The view from the top was awesome but even more so was swimming under the water fall.

On the way back to the hostel we managed to come across a tarantula :)
Hope there is more to come tomorrow......

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Salvador and a change in plans

Salvador, I am staying in a lovely hostel in the oldest area of the city. The hostel serves a great breakfast, from 8 till 12 so both mornings it has been possible to have an early breakfast head out to see parts of the city and return for lunch. The first day I headed down to the beach with various members of my dorm, two Swiss living in Switzerland and a Swiss girl living in Brazil from Canada, strange people to meet but cool none the less. I felt like a needed to relax from the bus trip to be honest, the change in prices from copacabana was huge, a parasol was only 3 reols compared to 20. Hopefully that is a good sign of things to come. Got a little burnt whoops....

Next day I headed out on a walking tour of the old town, the tour was organised by the hostel and a Brazilian history teacher took us around the oldest parts of the town, quickly flipping from Portuguese to Spanish to German to English, just in case someone asked a question. Basically Salvador was the first place that the Portuguese settled in Brazil, they liked a tree that had a red dye here and its colour gave rise to the name Brazil. Various boom and bust economies have brought wealth and then destroyed it leaving a very strange mix of high rise building s next to run down 1700 buildings.

I had planned to stay in Salvador and see the area a bit more but I have seen something that I cannot pass without going to see, I have to get on another bus for a few hours but hopefully this should be well worth it.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Beach and the 28 hour bus ride......

So last day in Rio, we headed to the beach not just any beach, but Copacobana beach. Now you'll have to excuse the lack of photos of the wonderful white sand and the many fine ladies that were on the beach as I forgot my camera. But you can Google for some nice ones and imagine me there amount the people I'm sure. The waves were quite good and we ended up getting wiped out as we got caught in two waves at the same time andi ended up doing a handstand In the shallows as I tried vainly to right myself. As we were leaving I decided that I would head out to the beach gym that I had heard off between copacobana and ipenenama beach. I only know this from googling but it was a 5km beach walk there and back. Needless to say my legs were killing me just after that torment. Let alone a beach gym workout :) after which i headed back to arrange the next part of the trip, having been recommended a hostel called galleria 13. So I expect great things.

So now to book the bus to Salvador in the morning, one catch, you need Brazilian ID to book a bus online, even on the foreigner tab. So I have to be at the bus station in the morning before the bus leaves at 915 and get a space of which only 2 remain. Luckily there is another company, also have to buy at the station but this one leaves at 11 but takes 28 hours, decided on the latter. The bus its self was not uncomfortable, but due to a lack of any timekeeping in Brazil the trip took a total of 33 hours so now a full 39 hours later I'm safely in the hostel.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Carnival and aftermath

So I didn't know this but there is a special building in Rio for the carnival called the sambadrome, think of stadium seating but for a runway. Its not far from our hostels in lapa so we walked there seeing all sorts of costumes and samba bands out in the street. As we got closer we could hear the first samba school starting off as a mass of fireworks went up into the sky. We had to work our way around the sambadrome as our section was the opposite side, but this gave ample time to see the schools getting ready for their part in the show. It was extremely busy but there didn't feel to be any massive rush on anyone's part. Once we got to the seating we realised there was no seating just a concrete bench to stand on. The first school was still going on when we arrived. They each had a theme and a name but my programme got destroyed by the throngs of people so I can't remember any of them. I took lots of pictures to make up for it. I cannot explain how detailed the costumes were, the saying a picture is worth a thousand words to is very fitting here. I have added a few pictures below. We left at 330 but it was only half way through at this point. One bit to note is that one of the floats lost his head on the way through, there is a concrete over hang for the cameras and the the float hit it and the statue lost his head...whoops.
So obviously I did not get up early the day after, but myself and Elena heading up to tijuca national park with a few people from her hostel. We taxied to the top of one of the hills in the park and walked down, on the way I got to see a marmoset, some of the more adventurous spotted a path into the park next to a waterfall, the path was mostly a climb, over rocks and tree roots, I took a single picture and ran out of battery.  Ended up walking back most of the way to the hostel because of the throngs on people heading to the carnival and the road closures. So a lazy day is called for today.

Monday, 3 March 2014

First days in rio

So headed out to a street party with some folks from another hostel. Everyone is painted or dressed up in crazy ways, I even have a mask from Elena with bright yellow feathers, don't have any pictures as I was advised not to take anything in my pockets. So on the way we grabbed beers from street sellers with polystyrene boxes full ofid ice. The costumes are either very well done or just enough to give you an idea of what they are meant to be, captain america with a face mask and shield, men in fancy dresses and high heels, people decked out as mushrooms from Mario, devils, fairies all dancing to the samba beat and having a good time. We finally get to the float with a live band and a big samba band behind them, driving slowly through the streets. It gives me a taste of what carnival is going to be like and its going to be great fun. We carried on following the float till about 1, that's 1pm not early in the morning.
Me and Elena then decided to try to see Christ the redeemer, we did not fair so well. We tried to take the metro, once we had fought our way through the crowds the station we wanted was closed, we headed to the next nearest station but that had extra barriers up and made Paddington at rush hour look like a piece of cake. The walking alone had taken about 2 hours because of the number of people on the streets. Back to the hostel for a nap, I didn't wake up till the morning, whoops.
Second day, much better we walked most of the way to the train station for the redeemer after getting off the bus rather too early. There is a tram to the top of the mountain but it was having issues so we got on a minibus, which felt like a bit of a scam as they picked us up and took us to pay the fare, then dropped us off and we paid another fare to get on another minibus to take us into the national park in which the redeemer stands. Awesome views from the top :)
Time to head back to the hostel and get ready for carnival tonight.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Flight madness

It's the small details that make all the difference in life they say. So if your not allowed on the flight for some reason they should obviously let you know beforehand. Air Italia have a little unnoted rule where unless you have a booked ticket out of Brazil they will not let you on the flight to Brazil. Its not just me that has been caught out, the couple in front of me were caught out and the couple behind, they showed booked accommodation in Argentina, however it has to be a plane or bus ticket leaving Brazil. Cue 30 minutes of stressed calls and texts to my family as I cannot get on the free WiFi. So right now I have a flight from Rio to Paraguay on the 14th, the whole thing seems to be airline specific, so I won't be going Air Italia again anytime soon. UPDATE Brazilian passport control just wanted to know I was leaving by bus GRRRRR

So at least I'm on the plane now, tons of time to myself. I had William, my brother shave my head and I feel more bald than normal on a plane full of Italians who seem to never lose their hair. There is a group of pensioners two rows in front and each one has a full head of greying hair, maybe they dye it but they definitely have hair. Another side effect is that everyone seems to have identified me as an Englishman, I've been on a few long haul flights but normally the air stewards say hello, goodbye in their native language, not for me straight to English, as thou shaving my head is quintessential English or I have a stamp on my forehead at least I have space for it now.

Arrived ahead of schedule and got to the hostel really early, so heading out for a street party ahead of carnival, it's only 10 in the morning.....hahahahaha