Curitiba, Ilha do Mel, Mococa, Sao Paulo

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Brazil has something that's lacking in the rest of Latin America, and that's a low cost airline. It's called GOL and we're hoping to use it to get to our next destination Curitiba, avoiding a long 10 hour bus ride. However, after booking our ticket, we've since realised that one of their planes crashed not long ago over the Amazon, so we're kind of hoping that low prices don't mean low safety! 

After a finger crossing hour long plane ride from Foz do Iguazu, we arrive in Curitiba, where we are met by Patty's brother Iñaki, who has been living there with his Brazilian girlfriend for the past 5 months.

Brazil's Model city

Curitiba,  is a pleasant city of around 1 million people, and is located some six hours south of Sao Paulo. With a relatively low crime rate, clean streets, good public transport, large green open spaces, good shopping, restaurants and nightlife, it is seen by many as Brazil's model city.

The area was mainly populated by Polish, Ukrainian, German and Italian settlers, and during our time here we visited representations of all communities. This included a Polish memorial park, full of recreated traditional Polish houses, and a huge Italian restaurant in the Felicidade area, which claimed to be the largest restaurant in the world.

Curitiba is also the starting point for the Paranagua train ride, one of south america's few remaining train lines which is now a tourist attraction and which takes passengers down through a dense jungle, hugging the side of mountains on the way to the coast. A tip for future train tourists here, the best views are on the left hand side of the train, overlooking the valley, so book early. We were outsmarted by the locals who'd completed booked out the left hand side, so we ended up on the right, with a view of a side of a mountain for most of the way! After a break in the colonial town of Morretes, we arrive at the coast and hop on a boat to Ilha do Mel (Honey Island) where we hope to relax for a few days.

Ilha do Mel, one of Brazil's many Small Islands.

Ilha do Mel was a nice enough place, though the beaches weren't as impressive as we'd hoped they would be. On the second day, we decided to hike across the island, the sun was strong, and despite regularly applying sunblock, we made the usual mistake of missing bits, and ended up with random red marks over our face and legs.

After 2 more days on Ilha do Mel, and staying well covered up to recover from our sunburn episode, we head back to Curitiba, just in time to hit the weekend party scene. So Patty's brother Iñaki and his girlfriend Andrea, rev up their motor, and take us out on a great bar crawl around the trendy areas of the city.  

Relaxing in luxury in the Brazilian Countryside

From Curitiba. we headed to Sao Paulo, where we met up with a Brazilian friend, Francisco and his daughter Laura, who we met on our Tran-Siberian train ride many months back. From Sao Paulo, Francisco drove us up to Mococa, a small rural community some 3 hours away, where we relaxed in an old family style mansion in the countryside.

That evening we went out to try some fantastic local fish dishes, and the next day got up early to visit the family's coffee plantation.

Whilst Patty trotted around the extensive estate on horse back, Marc ran behind, saying that he needed to get some exercise, that all worked out well until we got down to the bottom of a valley where it was very muddy and we had to cross a wide stream. So as Patty rode through the mess like royalty on horse back, Marc got both wet and muddy. Patricia got dirty a bit later on though, after being dragged into the cow shed to help out with milking time.

After a great lunch, we chilled out in a hammock on the balcony terrace of the main house, over looking the estate's chapel and the accompanying impressive gardens. This was really living it up after the last few months in hostels.

The family's country estate was really spectacular, the surrounding countryside beautiful, and the hospitality that we received from Francisco and Laura was great. Thanks to both of them for making our stay comfortable, enjoyable and memorable. It's a bit of a coincidence when we think that they were amongst the first people we met when our trip commenced back in August 2005 and that they will be the last people we meet before we take our flight back to Europe.

Sao Paulo, one of the world's largest cities.

We returned back to Sao Paulo, in a much more relaxed state after our few days in the country. Sao Paulo appears to be as extensive as London, but even more dense, so I can quite believe it when they say that more than 10 million people live just in the city boundary area.

In Sao Paulo we decide to splash out on a comfortable 4 star hotel, this ensures we'll be staying in a nice area, something important in this city, which can be dangerous if you stray in to the wrong place. Our hotel was in Higienópolis, a lovely, clean, and safe area, with a ultramodern indoor shopping centre hosting all the famous world wide chain stores.

In terms of Sao Paulo sightseeing, we visited the wide skyscraper lined Avenida Paulista, the Italian district of Bixiga, and the Asian district of Liberdade.

Whilst in the Asian district, we noticed a rock band playing in the street. Of the 4 members, one was white, the other black, the other asian and the other indigenous latin american. We took a picture as we thought this kind of summed up Brazil's ethnic makeup, a complete mix of everything, and although the ancestors of most of today's Brazilians came here a long time ago, and most people now only speak Portuguese, this ethnic mix still lends a cosmopolitan feel to the air.

With the sightseeing complete, and just two nights left before we go home, it's time to party. So on the first night we headed out to Vila Magdalena, a trendy area with loads of restaurants and bars, and on the second night we popped in to Vila Olimpia, which is further out from the centre, but certainly seems to be the place to dance in this city. As it was the last night of our trip, we did of course get completely plastered, and Marc certainly seemed to be getting the hang of Portuguese, well at least his drunken Spanish/Anglicized version of it, by managing to argue about football with the taxi driver, all the way back to the hotel:-). N.b. Comment from Patty: "but Marc, you don't even follow football!"

It's strange to think that we'll be flying back to Europe now, after so long on the road. After a total of 18 months and 18 days since we left London, we'll be checking out of a hotel for the last time tomorrow, and heading back to Europe. A Europe which is hopefully about to shake off winter and head in to spring.

We'll be writing a further entry to sum up our thoughts and experiences of our trip. So here are just a couple of paragraphs to sum up Brazil and then South America.

Summing up Brazil

We haven't seen enough of, or spent enough time in Brazil to warrant a very long entry but would say for the most part, the people have been very friendly and helpful, and even though we can't speak Portuguese, we've had less communication problems here than in some other Latin American countries where we speak the language:-) If you have money here it seems like you can live a very good lifestyle, not dissimilar to that in Europe. 

The country's infrastructure and facilities, along with Chile, probably lead the way in Latin America. However, there is a very big disparity between rich and poor, they say one of the largest in the world, probably the cause of a lot of the crime problems which the country is notorious for. However, don't let crime put you off, if you are sensible, take care of your belongings, don't stray in to the wrong areas, and take taxis at night, you shouldn't have any problems. We had no trouble whatsoever in Brazil, although we heard stories from fellow travelers who hadn't been so lucky, but in most cases it was their own stupid fault.

South America's Turn

We have kind of semi-looped this large continent, starting at the tip in Colombia, where it joins Central America, and heading down the Andes spine of the continent, all the way to Torres de Paine in the South of Chile. From there we started to head back up, seeing the north of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and the South of Brazil. It's involved an incredible amount of bus journeys, and because of the Andes mountain range, we've traveled on our fair share of bendy roads.

To us, there have been three marked major differences in South America, the distinction between the Indigenous/Mestizo dominated countries of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia, the European dominated countries of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, and Brazil, which because of it's different language and origins, is distinctly different to the rest of South America.

Our favourite? It's hard to say. Chile has the most amazing and varied scenery, Argentina the great price/quality ratio and Colombia the feeling of discovering somewhere exotic where there are still very few tourists. On this trip we haven't managed to see Venezuela, the Amazon or the central and north coast of Brazil, so hopefully one day we'll revisit this great continent.

Two travelers, two backpacks, two day packs, into a taxi! The airport here we come!!
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