Twins on tour

Trip Start May 01, 2005
Trip End Mar 25, 2006

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Flag of Brazil  ,
Thursday, August 18, 2005

It is a fact that bus stations around the world attract mad people, like Buckingham Palace attracts Americans. But bus stations in South America also attract very kind people who will show you how to buy your platform ticket, where to get your bus and most importantly, how to avoid the mad people.

And so after far too long without either English books and other travellers, I decided it was time for some serious sunbathing and, via a lovely bus station with helpful people, I headed for Jericoacoara, a trendy beach village famed for its relaxed and laid-back feel and the beautiful dunes that surround the beach. And it was all that. If you get a chance to go, stay at the Pousada Calanda, it's wonderful. Jericoacoara is a very romantic place, and a week of watching moon-faced couples simpering over each other became rather nauseating until I finally met another lone traveller, a posh English girl from Hampshire who spoilt it all slightly by discussing the fox-hunting ban and complaining that now "what on earth does one do on Boxing Day?". Always stumps me too. I had fun though with some local little kids who were pretending to be beggars and annoying me for money whilst I was eating lunch one day. I stood up, put my hand in my pocket as if to retrieve some coins and instead gave them the international finger. This of course, like Mastercard, is recognised around the world. Priceless.

From Jericoacoara, I made my way down the coast to Salvador, and my sister. It was fantastic to see Julia. She arrived well-prepared for the rigours of Brazil, having brought champagne, gin, chocolate buttons, books and magazines, plus lots of birthday presents and cards from home. I think I talked for five straight hours. We both liked Salvador, and spent a few days wandering round the Pelourinho, the beautiful and colourful old centre of Salvador, eating some great food (apart from a cheese incident with a risotto) and drinking lots of the national drink, the caipirinha (very nice with pineapple juice). The main church in the Pelourinho, the Igreja e Convento Sao Francisco - or the Church That Drips Gold, as we like to call it - is something to be seen. Built by slaves in the 18th century, they got their own back by creating scores of cherubs who stand in a very risque manner sneering down at the worshippers below. Allegedly some of the statues were sculpted with a number of, shall we say, over-sized organs, but these have been disappointingly hidden behind more conservative statues.

We had lots of lovely conversations with friendly Brazilians in Salvador who asked where we were from and, at the mention of England, would always respond with a shudder and "oh, frio!" (cold). Lencois, a town six hours inland of Salvador in the middle of a beautiful national park, is however the only place where instead you get the response "oh, Led Zeppelin!" because the legendary Jimmy Page has a house there. We spent almost a week in Lencois in a great hostel called Pousada dos Duendes (translated appropriately enough given my stature as 'Hotel of the Dwarfs') which had a resident three-legged cat with a weak miaow who frequently got stuck on the roof. The town is very peaceful, great for wandering around and recovering if, like us, you're fool-hardy enough to undertake a trek in the national park. Led by a guide who looked exactly like Ian Wright, we did a two-day trek through amazing scenery, leaping over rivers, rock-climbing up mountains and swimming in freezing cold lakes. And all (apart from the swimming) whilst carrying a full-size rucksack filled with clothes, food, and cooking and sleeping equipment. We slept in a cave overnight, an interesting experience made even more fun when Julia sat on a baby scorpion who bit her backside in revenge. I don't know who was more surprised, Julia or the insect. The trek was a great experience, but we were crippled for a few days afterwards. I have since discovered that a single pineapple can weigh 2kg, and if you carry a number of them on your person and this is not part of your usual fitness regime, you will damage certain important muscles in your shoulders. Why do you think it's taken me so long to update this travelogue?

A bit of exercise should always be rewarded, so after Lencois we made our way via Natal to Fernando de Noronha, a paradise island 250 miles off the Brazilian coast. Populated by just 2500 people, the island has managed to retain its unspoilt beauty by restricting the numbers of tourists to 100 a day. I've never seen such beautiful beaches, most of which were completely deserted. We swam, snorkeled, saw dolphins and turtles (well, one turtle) and mainly sat on one of the many beaches drinking cocktails and staring at the aquamarine water with a lovely Dutch couple we'd previously met in Lencois (hello Britta and Ewald!). As the only evening entertainment on the island - apart from the 9 or 10 restaurants and bars - is church on a Sunday when the priest flies in from the mainland, we decided to go to mass to observe how they do it in Brazil. This was also for me to give thanks for our safe journey to Fernando, given my increasing nervousness of flying in small propeller planes where the passengers make the sign of the cross and applaud once the plane has landed. The mass didn't disappoint. The priest wore something akin to an ice-cream seller's white coat with no dog collar, the hymns sounded suspiciously like versions of 'Happy Birthday' and a Simon and Garfunkel song, and a scruffy dog wandered in during communion and was warmly welcomed by the congregation. Afterwards, us tourists were invited to stand up, take the microphone, say our names and where we were from, and sit down again, similar to what it must be like for foreign journalists at one of the Prime Minister's press conferences.

It was never dull sitting on the beach in Fernando because we could play the "are they real?" game as numerous busty women tottered past. I thought all Brazilian women would be thin and beautiful, but actually they are quite well-rounded and proud of it. Even those women with bottoms so large you'd need planning permission to put a pair of trousers on, squeezed themselves into teeny-weeny bikinis and looked fabulous.

A week in paradise was followed by numerous night buses and one wonderful 13-hour train ride from Vitoria to Belo Horizonte to make our way down to Ouro Preto, where we are now, a beautiful old colonial mining town. On the way, we stopped briefly in the towns of Ilheus and Vitoria, discovering that they offer a variety of accommodation decorated in homage to different film genre. One hotel described in the Lonely Planet as "a decent hotel with clean affordable beds" was I think used as a set for 'The Shining'. At times like these, and especially after two consecutive nights of dozing on night buses, my advice is to always head for a hotel with more than six floors and a number of flags-of-the-world standing to attention outside. This way you can be assured of a mini-bar, hot water and possibly even cable television. I'm afraid I don't hold with those travellers who insist on sticking to their budgets even if it means sleeping in a filthy cell-like room with no natural light and sharing a bathroom with three different strains of malaria. I'm much more shallow than that.

Some things I have discovered about Brazil so far:

- the women all wear those bras with transparent straps, which make them look like they have sellotaped their shoulders to their chests. Plus C&A is very popular over here, which is disturbing.

- Brazilian television is rubbish, from the awful but funny soap operas to the 'Polishop' channel which sells power tools and lathes and the numerous channels featuring a variety of religious services overseen by shouty men with pointy beards

- breakfast in Brazil is mainly bread and cake. Now, I can eat cake with the best of them (especially the cappuccino cake from Eat) but not at 7 o'clock in the morning. I miss cornflakes and tea with proper milk. While we're on to things I miss (apart from of course family and friends), the list includes fish-fingers, spaghetti hoops, fry-ups from Norma's Deli in Twickenham and BBC2's Big Cat Diary.

Travelling with my sister in Brazil has been fantastic, and I'm dreading her return to the UK in just over a week. The Brazilians we have met have all been incredibly friendly, and they seem to love the fact that we are twins. From here, we head to Rio. Forget the mountain, we have some serious shopping to do.
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