Manaus to Ouro Preto

Trip Start Aug 08, 2008
Trip End Aug 31, 2008

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

We are having a great time. We landed in Manaus in the early hours of 08.08.08 and met our travelling companions for the Brazilian leg of our trip later that day. There are 9 of us in total, including our two guides 5 of which are British, 1 Canadian, 1 Danish, 1 New Zealander and 1 Finnish. We are learning from them as we go along as they have been travelling for longer than us and know how to travel light!
Itīs very hot and extremely humid.

On Saturday 09.08.08 we embarked on a jungle trip - a speed boat across the river to a waiting bus. We saw the meeting of two rivers (not got my book, so canīt tell you any more). Everything was going well until the fan belt on the bus broke. We were stranded for a few hours at a bar in the blazing sun. Only one thing for it - we dived into the river for a swim. We cooled off, but were dirtier when we came out than we went in! Eventually the mechanic came, he fixed the fan belt, but in doing so broke something else! Eventually some of us got into a car and the others into a hippy van and made our way to the jungle lodge via another speed boat.
The jungle lodge was worth the wait. It was like a scene from Tarzan or James Bond - a wooden jetty and wooden walkway led to the wooden lodge. A very cheeky monkey and a raccoon lived there and kept jumping all over us and stole anything they could get their hands on. The raccoon kept nipping everyone. Pete (from Denmark) decided to air his hammock and the monkey got in it and weed all over it! 
We ate very well at the lodge. We were up early on the first day (5am) and 5 of us jumped in a small boat down  the river to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful, the river was like a mirror with trees on either side. We saw dolphins, toucans, and mocking birds.


We then went to a village where the chief had 16 children, but only one wife! We then had lunch at another house. The lady of the house had done wonders - fried fish and spaghetti and rice and fish soup. Her coffee was good as well.
We had a swim in the river back at the lodge a go in a canoe. After dinner we went hunting for caymans (a kind of crocodile). We were in 3 canoes and had to be still and quiet as the guides shone their torches to pick out the eyes of the caymans among the flooded forest. It was very spooky and scary, especially when the guide, Fabio, said keep your hands in the canoe and donīt touch anything - we donīt want to frighten the spiders and snakes! After a while our guide wrestled through some branches and pulled out a 3 ft long cayman. Fabio was ecstatic. We took the Cayman back to the lodge (one of the group held it all the way back). We also caught a smaller one near the lodge. Both cayman were released back into the river after the photoshoots!
The next day we went fishing for piranhas with bamboo rods and bits of chicken as bait. We caught nowt. We then went on a jungle trek and got wet - it poured down, but what do you expect in the rain forest.
After the jungle trip we made our way back to Manaus and boarded a ferry boat to Porto Velho. This was something else - about 200 were on board for the 4 night journey. We had to board the boat with all our luggage from a small speedboat in the docks at Manaus. We put up our hammocks after having found a space - these were our beds for the next 4 nights! There were 4 decks - the bottom deck was full of cargo (it took about 5 hours to load this stuff) - the lower deck full of cargo crew and a few hammocks and the next deck full (and I mean full) of hammocks - the top deck more hammocks and a bar! We moved our hammocks to the top deck - not to be near the bar, but because it was less claustrophobic. It was okay, but we were near the speakers which blared out music until midnight and then the Olympics from 6.30am! We woke up to the sound of gooooooaaaaaaaaallllllll (goal) one morning when Brazil were playing! Sleeping in a hammock was fun - rocked to sleep by the breeze and woken up by the sunrise.


The food on board was okay, although very repetitive - rice, beans, spaghetti and meat for lunch and the same for tea! They had an interesting system - a cross between Oliver Twist and Tom Brownīs Schooldays. You had to sit at a long table (for around 12 people) which was facing a wooden wall (the toilets were on the other side) and then the food was brought to you. You had to wait until someone had finished eating before slotting into their space. It was a lengthy wait at times because they kept running out of plates.
The toilets on board were pretty disgusting, but we just had to get on with it. There were showers, but they were in the same cubicle as the toilet, and the hooks to hang your clothes on were nails (if you were lucky).
In all, it was a once in a lifetime experience - a little primitive and prehistoric, but an adventure, and you have to remember that itīs a way of life for the people of Brazil - like catching the train from London to Manchester!
After four nights in a hammock we met and got acquainted with Elle (our truck and mode of transport for the next few weeks). We were allocated with our truck jobs - Dan is responsible for the back locker (where all the bags are stored) and the tables and chairs (when we camp); Judith is responsible for security (ensuring that the truck windows and doors are closed/locked) and cleaning (sweeping up inside the truck)! We were also given the cooking rota and the cooking teams. Dan is with Liz ( a very good cook (I struck lucky there)) and Judith is with Lee and John (all the same standard).
After spending a welcome night in a hotel at Porto Velho we headed South en route to Rio. Dan and Liz were on cooking duty and rustled up some hot-dogs for lunch. Judith was on washing up duty!
Our first taste of bush camping was in someones back garden in the middle of nowhere with no facilities - just a river! Dan and Liz cooked a delicious chicken curry, which went down well. Our tent is called Copacabana (very apt) and we emerged from it to the sight of blue and yellow macaws - a beautiful start to a Monday morning which made our day.
After another long day driving we found ourselves in the state of Matto Grosso (big forest) and camped overnight in a spot at the side of the road and had to dodge round an ants nest!
Eventually we arrived in a beautiful town called Pocone -pastel coloured houses and nice squares. We had dinner at a pavement cafe (meat kebabs) and then had a wonderful ice cream (chocolate flavoured cone with a dollop of coconut ice cream) all for 35p - heaven! We frequented a pool bar where bikers arrived on their mean machines and parked them inside the hall next to the pool tables! The beer was cheap too!
We spent the next few days in a pousada (guest house) in the Pantanal region, which was fantastic. En route to the Pousada we sat on the roof of the truck (we had seat belts) and Julio, our guide in the Pantanal, pointed out the wildlife as we trundled along. The pousada was excellent (spacious en suite rooms and a swimming pool); the food plentiful and delicious; the wildlife wild. Pantanal means marsh or swamp and during the rainy season the rivers overflow, flooding 75% of the region. Luckily for us it is the dry season. The area is vast and people experience it for its solitude and the wide variety of wildlife. We werenīt disappointed. Purple colured trees (piuve) dotted the landscape; many species of birds were in full flight (there are around 700 species in the Pantanal) - we saw snail kites, egrets, blue macaws, kingfishers, storks, ibis, savanna hawk, vultures, parakeets, a flightless bird called a rhea (related to emus and ostriches). The mascot of the Pantanal is the Jabiru stork, which at close to 5ft tall, is the largest stork in the world. The mammals were also out and about. We saw raccoons, pampas deer, water buffaloes half submerged in muddy pools (it looked like a macabre buffalo soup). The cayman were basking in the sun - baby ones as well as monster ones! 
During our stay in the Pantanal we also went for a bike ride (very rickety and not as good as our bikes); a trek; a night safari; horse riding (thankfully the horses were placid); and pirahna fishing (Dan caught 2 and Judith caught 1 - one of the group caught about 18!) - we fed our catch to the resident cayman which was great fun!

Reluctantly we headed back to Pocone and went to a school disco with a live band!
En route to Chapada dos Veadeiros and 3 weeks into our holiday (must savour every moment). Judith found herself on cooking duty and together with Lee and John and fed the group hot-dogs for lunch and bangers and mash for dinner. The sausage theme was a hit with everyone. We surprised ourselves. The bush camp was more of a surprise - a dirty and derelict petrol station in the middle of nowhere! It was like a scene from a horror film. Nevertheless, we survived and after a long day driving we reached a village called Sao Jorge, which is next to the entrance of the Parque National Chapada dos Veadeiros - land of the fairies, spiritualists, clairvoyants and the brightest spot on earth when viewed from space.
The pousada wasnīt very nice so some of us booked into a nicer one, which had a very good breakfast. The food in South America is tasty (cheesy bread rolls are my favourite) and the coffee is good (and often free).
Itīs a nice little dusty village with many pousadas and restaurants and very nice people (very welcoming and trusting even though they donīt understand a word we are saying!). The area was once used to mine crystals and was full of quartz (leftovers could be seen glistening on the paths). The table top mountains (the Santana range) looked down on the black river (Preto) and the gorges. We spent two action packed days here: we jumped into the cold water pools from a great height and slid down waterfalls; we stood under some of the falls for a kind of hydro massage which literally knocked the breath out of us; swam upstream and climbed up a waterfall (Franz, our guide, likened it to swimming through the belly of a dinosaur). We went on a great hike with a local guide called Marie. She was very eccentric, but fascinating. She skipped over the rocks like a mountain goat and was full of information about the fauna and the wildlife (pointing out wolf droppings and snake tracks). She had us biting trees to taste the sweetness, putting oil from plants on our lips for balm, plied us with potions for ailments, and daubed our knees with ointment to keep them supple. She even taught us a few yoga moves. She kept bursting into song as we walked along and at one point played the mouth organ and showed us where the fairies lived! She took us to three great spots where we lay under a gushing waterfall (Dan looked like a drowned rat); swam in a canyon and sunbathed. It was cowboy and indian territory. As we bade farewell, Marie had us stretching out our hands toward the waterfalls to get energy! 

We had some great meals in Sao Jorge - pasta where we chose our own ingredients; fillet steak to die for; and a buffet of meats and rice and vegetables. These were swilled down with beer and cocktails aplenty!
We also managed to do some laundry. We asked the man in the pousada to take us to the laundrette. We followed him 200 yards to his mother`s house where we washed our clothes in her sink outside! She gave us some washing powder and let us hang out our stuff, but wouldn`t take any money from us. We bought her a nice box of sweets and she was over the moon. With hindsight we should perhaps have bought her some washing powder!
After saying goodbye to Sao Jorge we made our way to Brasilia - a city built in 1960 and now the capital of Brazil. It is designed like a bird and is very symmetrical and split into four zones (North, South, East and West). It is very business orientated with lots of Government Ministries. We had a city tour where we visited a TV tower (got a good aerial view of the city); a beautiful church (Dom Bosco) full of blue stained glass windows; an art gallery; a theatre; and a cathedral (based on Liverpool Cathedral). It is a strange place - the buildings from the outside look a little scruffy, but the beauty is within. There are many shopping malls and restaurants. It was Kateīs  birthday today, so we went out to celebrate.

Now at Ouro Preto (once the richest city in the world). Weīve been to the disused gold mine where they dug out 35 tons of gold. As out guides who couldnīt speak any English told us though sign language. We also went to Mariana and looked around the churches there. Weīll see more of the Ouro Preto sights today then weīre off to Rio.

We should reach Rio on 04.09.08.
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