Sunday, February 24, 2008

Treking In Brazil

The last several days have been perhaps the most memorable of the trip thus far. The excursion began late on Wednesday night when we headed out to the town of Lencois which is several hours west of Salvador by bus. Our bus left the city at 11:30pm and arrived in Lençóis at 5:30am. At the sacrifice of a good sleep we saved ourselves the cost of accomodation for a night. Without a plan or reservation we set out to see what the town had to offer us. Lençóis attracts tourists because it´s the starting point for treking in the national park of Chapada Diamantina which was our destination.
Finding a guide was easier than one might have thought. As we were leaving the bus terminal a man came up to us and asked if we had a guide. After a little bit of discussion, we agreed to hire him. We explored the town a little bit while our guide went to buy supplies for the trip. We agreed on a three day trek that would take us ultimately to both the top and bottom of Cachoeira da Fumaça, the smoking waterfall. It´s of of Brazil´s highest waterfalls but since there is not a huge flow of water the water becomes mist before reaching the bottom thus earning its name.
Finally we set out on the trek. We hiked for a little while, long enough to get hot and sweaty when we came across a stream flowing down a steep but smooth rocky incline. At the bottom was a small pool. Following our guide´s example, we ditched our packs at the top and used the rocks as a natural waterslide before landing in the cool pool below. It was good fun and a refreshing break before we headed up a hill. The next part of the hike was a long, steep climb but at the end we were rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Not like the Brazil of my imagination, the area was somewhat reminiscent of Greece or Italy with the dry rocky terrain and short trees and scrub. The valleys were more verdant and after a rest at the top of the mountain we descended into the valley.
I guess I can´t complain too much about being tired though. Most, actually all except Luis and myself, of the other tourist came to Lençois with big treking backpacks filled with lots of supplies. Luis and I had ditched our big packs at a friend´s house in São Paulo taking only one small pack each. In Lençóis we had downsized further consoladating our stuff into one pack and leaving the other. In this way we took turns carrying the one small backpack, the guide´s big pack with the food and having a break from carrying anything at all. I think at first our guide was nervous when he saw how we planned to trek, one small pack and me only in sandals but once we hit the trail and offered to take turns with his pack it went well. As to my sandals, he was wearing flip flops and couldn´t really make too many complaints.
At the end of the day we arrived at the first camp, close to a small pool that was attractively filled by a waterfall. We swam, ate lunch and I watched and photographed a small green snake that I had almost stepped on. Later with nothing but time on my hands I lay down beside the pool and the snake for a nap. When I went to sleep there were only the three of us there by the pool, myself, Luis and the guide. So you can imagine my surprise to wake up to several other people swimming, two of them young women who were swimming and sunbathing topless. A while later everyone clustered together to look at another snake that the guide had noticed. That could have been the realization of my greatest fantasy as a 13 year old, snakes, a jungle trek and topless women, in that order.
That night we had a delicious dinner while being seranaded by the croaking of frogs. I always loved animals growing up and really I haven´t grown up yet. I have a beard so I can fake it, but really I´m still just a big kid. I grabbed the flashlight and searched the rocks to catch a glimpse of some more Brazilian wildlife. Eventually I found the frog which I guess was somewhat rewarding. A little while later in the evening I heard another frog and couldn´t resist trying to find it as well. Part of me was reluctant though.
So often when I engage in childish whimsy something happens to make me regret giving in to the inner child. I had a sudden vision of me tripping and falling and breaking the flashlight. It wasn´t hard to imagine the guides laughing at the foolish gringo breaking his flashlight on the first night because he was looking for frogs. I ignored these pessimistic thoughts and shined the light down to where I heard the frog croaking. I didn´t fall and break the flashlight, something worse happened.
As soon as I turned on the light I saw a flash of moment on the outskirts of the beam of light. I tried to use the light to track whatever creature was there but it was so fast that I could only catch glimpses of it as it scurried from the light into the darkness. The images I could see though weren´t pleasant. I was sure that I had seen one of these things before on the X Files. Eventually the insect gave up trying to run and instead became totally motionless so I was able to study it closely. I It was some sort of big insect with far too many legs to be benevolent. It was just the sort of animal that I instinctively knew loved warm dark places, specifically the inside of sleeping bags.
We didn´t bring a tent and so I realized my chances weren´t good. I decided to place my bed feet towards the cavern where the insect lived, and to zip tight the zipper. It was my hope that these minimal precautions would be enough to keep my bed from being infested. I later set up my bed in the flatest, softest place available. It was marginally flat but by no means soft. There weren´t a lot of rocks there, the whole area was one large rock. My matteress didn´t offer much protection. It was probably an eighth of an inch thick when it was first made in 1976 but now it offered no more comfort than a layer of two ply toilet paper. I then crawled into my sleeping bag and realize that the zipper was broken and I was entirely at the mercy of that thing.
Eventually I managed to think happy thoughts and drift off into the land of nod. Ten minutes later I woke up my back terribly sore. I roled over onto my side, and marginally more comfortable I fell back to sleep. A while later I woke up, now my side complaining and I had to roll back over onto my back to fall asleep again. I repeated this cycle several times. Every time I woke up I would be aching. I would open my eyes praying that it would be light but more often than not I would open my eyes, see the stars, curse the rock I was sleeping on, roll over and fall back to sleep. When morning came I was glad to get up, though it was likely before seven am. The trip is all about new experiences.
That day was an easy hike of about an hour where we left our back packs and continued on to the base of the waterfall, another two hours or so. It was incredibly beautiful there, and to add to my happiness another pool was there where we could cool down and swim. We spent a few hours there and then hiked back to where our bags were to set up camp.
That night I found a spot where there was a thing layer of sand over the rocks. It wasn´t much but I had learned to be grateful. Later that evening, after dinner, the guides excitedly shouted, "Aranha, aranha!" which I had the misfortune of understanding. "Spider, spider!" I couldn´t resist and headed over to see a huge tarantula. As if there weren´t already enough creepy things to crawl into my bed.
When I set up my bed I realized that in fact my zipper did work, there was a second zipper that opened the other way that I hadn´t seen in the dark. I crawled into my bed grateful for the added protection against insects, snakes, and now spiders. After ten seconds I was roasting and flinging my covers off I took my chances. That night was impossibly, a worse sleep than the night before. I don´t know why, but I woke up twice as many times. I didn´t suffer anything worse than a few mosquito bites though.
We left camp early that day to trek to the top of the waterfall. It was a long fairly steep climb but once again the view from the top made it worthwhile. Eventually we reached the top of the falls. It was crowded with people, many who do a shorter day hike from a different town to reach the falls. A man had set up a little store selling drinks. I somewhat eagerly, somewhat anxiously made my way to the edge of the cliff. Crawling on my stomache the last couple feet I peaked my head over the edge.
Miles below I could see small pond where only yesterday I had swam. The height was incredible. My stomache did tricks as I tried not to think about how far of a fall it was to the bottom. Later from a different vantage point I realized that I hadn´t been lying on a solid cliff, but actually a rock that jutted out from the edge of the cliff. This is likely where the Warner Brothers went when they wrote the Wile E. Coyote cartoons.
We left the top of the mountain and headed back to another town where we caught a car back to Lençóis. I learned that day that guitar legend Jimmy Page owns two houses in Lençóis and on the walk down I sang Led Zeppelin songs and hoped for a chance meeting. In never happened though. We spent a little time exploring, a little time visiting and then had dinner. After dinner we caught the 11:30 bus back to Salvador where I am now, very tired and very smelly but very content. In a few hours we fly to Rio where I can make more memories to share with you, my dedicated reader. (I love you Mom!) Until then, tchau!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Something New Around Every Corner

I have fallen regrettably behind in my blogs. A lot has happened but if you want to hear all of my stories you´ll have to take me out for beer when I get back because I don´t have time to share everything right now.
We left Curitiba and returned to Sao Paulo. The friends we stayed with, Silvia and her daughters Carina, Patricia and Veronica, took us out all around the city. Art museums, parks, historical museums. It´s no surprise that a city the size of Sao Paulo has so much to see. There´s nothing that´s really grand on an international scale, such as the Tower of London or the Eiffel Tower, but definitely enough to pass some enjoyable days. Probably the most unforgettable thing though wasn´t one of the museums or parks. On a Friday night we headed out to the Praça da Sé with members of Patricia´s college and career group. There they handed out food to many of the homeless living in the area. They also talked and prayed with the people there. It was sad to see so many people living on the fringes. In Calgary, there´s places to go but here in Brazil there is very little to help people get out of the trap of poverty.
I started writing a blog the other day but it wasn´t going anywhere so I deleted it. I was trying to explain how hard it is to see the inequality of life here. I get a little bit angry when I see the corruption here, and of course I see very little of how much there actually is. I have a renewed appreciation for life in Canada.
After spending a while in Sao Paulo we headed north to the city of Salvador where we are currently. Salvador was formerly a major slave centre and this is reflected in the culture which shows very strong African influence. Salvador is city where music can be heard around every corner. Tonight while walking around the city we passed countless musicians and groups playing in the streets or on small stages. Probably my favourite group was the one that passed us while we were eating dinner. It consisted of four of some of the smallest, skinnest, frailest old men that I´ve seen in a while. One played the accordian, another a drum, the third the triangle and the final and frailest collected money. Their costumes consisted of leather hats and the man collecting the money had a toy pistol in his belt and a wooden rifle that doubled as a cane most of the time.
They played down the street from us and then started walking up the road to where we were eating. Being a "wealthy" tourist in a poor city I had been urged to part with my money all day, for the weakest of reasons. Finally I found some people who were actually doing something, weren´t up in my face demanding money, and furthermore I feel that people of that age ought not to have to work. I didn´t have any small change on me but Louis had two bills, 1 Real and another of 2 Reals. A Real is worth a little more than 50 cents Canadian. As they walked up the street they stopped playing. I didn´t want to give them money for nothing but they had been playing earlier. As I tried to think of what to give they passed by. I called back to the rifleman/money collecter and handed him 1 Real. He accepted it gratefully and then called back to the band to come back and play for us.
Reluctantly, we hadn´t given much, the band came back and started to play. I was thinking to give the other 2 Reals but then inexpicable the rifleman ran off, with surprising speed. We wondered where he had gone, I suggested he ran off with the money. A little while later he returned and the band had headed back down the street and since he never came back we never gave any more money. Down the street though we heard a blast from his rifle leaving us to speculate he used our money to buy a cap for his rifle. I hadn´t my camera with me but I hope that I will see them again and be able to get a picture.
The other great band was made up only of drums played by young guys with long dreads. They made a huge racket but the rhythm was so infectious that even I had the urge to dance. So many more stories to tell, and I´m not so happy with the way this blog has turned out but I´m tired now so I´m going to wrap things up. Soon I´ll be leaving the city to enjoy a hike in the Brazilian forest.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Who Knew Quitting Your Job and Traveling Could Be This Fun?

-The author pictured by the beach. (Note the cut from falling glass on his forehead)

Well the time is just flying by here in beautiful Brazil. I´ve got enough material for several long, boring blogs but I think that I will try and compact everything into one long boring blog.

I guess I´ll begin with the wedding. I did have to fend off several questions about how my hand was doing. It´s fine people, let´s move on. I was taking a picture while we were driving to the wedding and then my low battery light came on which is an indication that I have approximately sixty seconds left before it dies completely. So I don´t have any good pictures from the wedding but that´s alright. The photographer took all the relevant pictures of the bride and groom and other than those shots there wasn´t a lot worth taking pictures of, only a room full of some of the most beautiful women that I´ve ever seen.

I met a girl, though not at the wedding. Beautiful. A girl so beautiful that it would seem small sacrifice to leave one´s home and country to be with her, which I promptly imagined myself doing. That night I considered and solved all the problems of where we would live, how I would support her etc. The next day I met her boyfriend. He seems nice.

It seemed quite plausible that in a couple of days, with a huge language barrier, I could get a girl to fall for me enough that the even bigger distance barrier would later be broached but I guess it´s a little much to assume that perhaps the most beautiful girl that I´ve ever seen would be single. Ah well. I´m not worried. There´s still a lot of country to visit. (Though meeting a girl is not why I came here, despite what Luis keeps telling everybody)

We later went to the coast and caught a boat for a small island, Ilha do Mel, or Island of Honey. I didn´t eat any honey while there but I did get a taste of the sweet life. The island is very small and most of it is protected park land. There are no cars allowed on the island so the town there is traversed by walking along small trails. We stayed there for one night. The day we arrived we went for a bit of a trek to the far side of the ocean. We explored the islands cave, it takes about 5 seconds to get from the mouth to the back of the cave, and climbed a hill that looks over the island. There was a nice beach there. I suppose most people would rave about the huge expanse of soft white sand and the warm clean water but I think that my favourite part was the crabs that lived on the beach.

They dig little holes where they run when there´s danger. It´s fun to catch them out of their holes and to chase them. I love watching them run sideways. Because I had my camera and money with me we couldn´t go swimming simultaneously so while Luis went for a dip I stayed to watch the crabs and get sunburned.

Later I went for a swim as well. It was my first time in the Atlantic ocean for many years. The last time I went was on a beach in Nova Scotia. What I learned about the Atlantic ocean there is that it´s cold and inhospitable. So I was surprised to enter the Atlantic ocean here and realize that it´s warm and inviting. Well I thought it was hospitable but my watch, did not. My faithful Timex ironman took a licking and quit. Maybe the catch phrase was never meant to apply to digitals.

The next day we left the island for the town of Paranaguá which we promptly left for the town of Marretes where we lingered for less than an hour. The reason for the haste is that we had a train to catch. We had heard about this train ride. It runs in between Curitiba and Marretes, to Paranaguá only on Sundays. Apparently this ride offered spectacular views. We had made plans to catch the train from Curitiba so early on Monday morning, 6:30, we got up to catch the train. We arrived about 5 minutes too late which is why we went to the island first. So now in Marretes we had a train to catch.

I wasn´t too keen to take the train because it cost considerably more than the bus but the money was very well spent. The views were spectacular. We did have a bit of rain and low cloud cover but for the most scenic part of the trip the view was unobstructed.

We returned to Curitiba and went out for Churrascaria at the Recanto Gaucho with our hosts, André, Fernanda and their son Timóteo. I ate half a cow and Luis finished the other half. Later we were allowed into the kitchen to see where the magic is made and take some photos. Then we went home and had ice cream. This morning I was craving bran flakes.

Today has been relaxing. We now have to decide where to go next. Brazil is big, and time is short. We can probably budget two more weeks here and then towards Argentina, where we can really start eating meat, so I realize that I´ll have to come back because this country is amazing.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I Don´t Make it Easy On Myself, To Impress the Brazilian Women.

Instead of sightseeing yesterday, Luis and I spent most of the day visiting with Jason and some of his friends and family. I realized once again that I should have brushed up on my Portuguese, and by "brushed up" I mean "learned more than one word. " For most of the time I was listening, understanding one word out of ten, if I was lucky. Portuguese is very similar to Spanish but I don´t speak Spanish particularly well so I would recognize a word, translate it to spanish, then spanish to english by which point I´ve missed twenty other words. However, it wouldn´t matter because I wouldn´t have understood them anyhow.
Later in the afternoon Luis and I went out for beer with Jason´s cousin Daniel and his girlfriend Camilla. Let me just state that the weather was warm and sitting on the patio, the first sip of beer was so good. That´s not the point though. The point is that it was very enjoyable and since Daniel and Camilla spoke slower, or in English, I understood much more. Afterwards we headed back to Jason´s aunt´s house where we were to be met by some of Jason´s friends who had offered to host us. We got back to the house and met our new hosts, a very lovely couple indeed. Before we left for their house I decided to use the facilities.
After using the washroom I walked passed the back door. The thing that I like about houses outside of North America is that they are usually quite unique. It´s impossible to know what might be hidden behind a door or whether a yard will be a tiny concrete patio or a large garden oasis. So with this in mind I decided to poke my head out the window and see what the yard was like. However, the window wasn´t actually opened, jus particularly well cleaned rendering it invisible. I smacked my head against the glass. It was of the thin, quick to shatter variety. The incredibly loud crash quickly summoned a crowd of people to discover what the Canadian goon broke. They found me standing by the window, somewhat dazed, bleeding from my forehead and the back of my hand.
The cut on my forehead was superficial but a falling shard of glass cut open quite a deep wound on the back of my hand. Jason´s aunt thought I should go to the clinic for stitches but I didn´t agree. It´s bad enough to get a reputation as a "clumsy, walking disaster" without having to be known as a "clumsy, walking disaster who faints while getting stitches." I managed to convince everyone that I would be fine and I think that I am. The cut was taped up and it seems to be much better even after 24 hours. The other interesting thing about the incident is that after the shock of the crash I looked down and realized that I had instinctively caught two large shards of glass in my uninjured hand without getting the slightest cut. Catlike reflexes I suppose.
Well I have to go get ready for the wedding, hopefully I´ll manage to make it through the evening without making too big a fool of myself. Granted, I´m quite used to having a room full of people making jokes about me in a language that I don´t understand.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Small Helping of Brazil and a Large Helping of Steak.

It's been far too long since my last blog. I've been busy. This is a history making blog though, perhaps worth the wait, my first blog from Brazil.
The flight went well. It was long but not too tiresome. It wasn't until I saw Brazil from the plane as we descended that I realized what a huge mistake I had made. Speaking with people before I left I lied a little bit. When I said I was really looking forward to my trip it wasn't totally true. I knew that I loved traveling so I was excited to go but I wasn't really looking forward to my trip. But then we were coming in for a landing, I saw a green land stretching out before me and all of a sudden the travel bug hit me, I felt the need to start traveling with little desire to ever return to Canada. When we landed and and I breathed in the warm tropical air what little desire I had to live in Canada again disappeared completely.
At the airport we were met by a friend who had stayed at our house when she came visiting Canada. I knew her but not her two friends. I enjoy making people laugh, and it was long before I inadvertantly won some laughs by the Brazillians. I knew that Brazillians greet with a kiss so I gave Patricia a kiss but I wasn't sure about the other girl who I had never met. In Canada if I were to start kissing girls within a second of introduction I would expect a slap. So I somewhat nervously assessed the situation and decided that I should greet her with a kiss but it ended up being a little bit awkward. They didn't laugh then but it came out later that yes, they were laughing at me.
We spent some time exploring Sao Paulo, the biggest city I've ever seen, and enjoyed some good food and company. I realized that I should have learned a little bit more Portuguese. Traveling is infinitely better if you're able to communicate at least a little bit with the locals. I understand enough to know when they're laughing at me, so I understand what's going on fairly regularly.
We later headed to Curitiba where the wedding is to be. We eventually found a hotel hat was cheap enough to make us happy yet safe looking enough to make Jason happy. Actually, he wasn't really happy with our choice but so far so good. We locked the door at night which is considerably more than we do in Canada so I feel fairly safe.
The one danger I definitely do have to worry about is obesity. Jason and some of his friends and family took us to a restaurant called a churrascaria. What it means is all you can eat food, of the delicious and varied variety of steak. I tried various types of beef, lamb, boar and I don't know what else. All I know is that I can barely move. Apparently the one we went to was mediocre, I'll tell you for sure later on. We intend on trying more of these churrascarias before we leave. Well, I should head back to my hotel soon, scare off any kidnappers and that sort of thing.