South America begins....

Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
Trip End May 31, 2004

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Friday, March 28, 2003

To start the South American leg, i took a 20 hour flight from Gautemala City stopping in Costa Rica and Peru and finally reaching the land of Order and Progress....Brazil. Or maybe they shold change their flag slogan to something more suitable like "Football and Beer".

The interesting point about Rio De Janeiro (translates to River January) is there is no river. The Portuguese discoverer on arrival saw the Guanabara bay area and thought it was a river estuary and named it accordingly. The setting for this city is pretty spectacular. With its huge bays and hilly terrain it immediately makes a strong visual impression. And to have a statue of Christ overlooking your city is like saying "This is no ordinary city". The bus drivers drive so fast they are probably on commision. The beaches (Copacabana and Ipanema esp.) are used like football training schools and are always teeming with activity. Futebol is like breathing over here. Its easy to see why they are such a successful footballing nation.

After arriving in Rio i checked into what would turn out to be my favourite hostel so far (and most disorganised) run by some friendly Argentinians.
It was the kind of place where it was common to find two people booked to a bed!
So to kick off Rio i headed down to the famous Copacabana beach and happened to stumble into the World Beach Soccer tournament. Brazil were playing Portugal and the game was looking pretty even. The score was 0-0 and when both teams had great chances to score, they both squandered them. I actually thought Portugal might cause an upset as they looked dangerous, but this is Brazil. And they seem to have this belief that when they play there is only one result. And so they won 7-2. Not surprisingly they went on to win the tournament.

Ipanema beach is cleaner than Copacabana and also where the rich folk can be found. Both these beaches are the heart and soul of Rio. This is where you will find all the different Cariocas (Rio inhabitants)rich and poor alike bronzing themselves, bodysurfing, playing football, jogging, cycling and generally wiling away the hours from dusk til dawn. And when the sun disappears behind the tower hills of Ipanema, the nightlife takes over. Unfortunately the beaches do attract crime and it is not uncommon to hear about people being robbed. From the hills where the favelas (slums) are located the young criminals run their errands, be it for the drug barons or for themselves. During my stay there were several incidents where busses had been attacked and torched. The drug lords were bringing the war onto the streets, because the new government would no longer tolerate them. There used to be a lot of bribery between the police and drug lords. But now the police were infiltrating the favelas and hunting them down. So during Carnaval the army was brought out to deter further trouble.

Carnaval is the mad celebration before lent. The idea being you overindulge yourself in all the things you are about to give up before you abstain. The name Carnaval actually means Goodbye Meat - Carne Val. During the week before Carnaval a lot of bandas (bands) will practice in the streets bringing traffic to a standstill. The bands are normally led by the people dancing up front with the drummers and singers driving them forward from the back. And when the drums start, you are no longer in control of your legs. Your eyes roll back, and the samba trance begins. The tribal sounds seem to awaken this primal dancer inside that you didnīt know existed. And you thank God that no one back home can see you. During the pre-Carnaval week I probably enjoyed myself more than the actual Carnaval itself. It was more spontaneous and people were less inhibited.

Just before Carnaval started I also went to the famous Maracana stadium and watched Fluminese beat Botafogo 5-1 in a football match. For those avid football followers, Romario scored a hatrick. I watched the sunset over Rio from the top of Sugar Loaf Hill. And went to the famous Scala nightclub to experience the nightlife of Rio.

Carnaval itself was a mixed affair. Having chosen our outfits, Luke and myself were ready to let our last strands of hair down. However upon arriving at the Sambodromo where the main procession takes place we found we were in the minority. Most people were dressed to unimpress. Normal casual clothes. And as more and more people arrived into our sector, the more territorial people became. But the show itself was exceptional. The costumes and the floats brought new meaning to the word flamboyant. It was all or nothing. However when you are stuck in a stand for 7 hours you tend to get a little tired and the procession starts to loose its novelty. Plus the people down in the procession look like they are having more fun than you. The procession started at 8pm and ended the following morning at 6am. We only managed until 3:30am.

Finally after 2 weeks I left Luke in Rio and headed into western Brazil to the Pantanal. During the wet season (February - April) the Pantanal is flooded by constant rain and the whole area becomes a huge wetland. They say if you want to see wildlife (anacondas, jacara, capybaras) this is the place to come. However wet also means lots and lots of mosquitos. When we arrived we were greeted by a huge cloud of mosquitos. I could never understand why the driver decided to drive the van into the middle of this cloud, because as soon as the doors opened we were being eaten alive by hundreds of the little blood suckers. And this set the tone for the 4 days I was there. During my stay I did a boat trip down one of the rivers, horse ride, piranha fishing and a night walk through jacara (like alligators) infested waters. And after the Pantanal it was down towards the Brazil/Argentina border to the famous Iguazu falls. According to Indian legend, the falls were created when a warrior and his love decided to escape one of the Gods down the river. The God caused the river Parana to collapse and the girl plummeted to her death into the gorge. The warrior was turned into a tree overlooking his love below who was turned into a rock. What makes these falls special is the setting. You have huge cascades of water tumbling from the steppes or thin white ribbons pouring from the lush green vegatation. I have seen Niagara and found this more impressive. Especially as you can walk around and get very close to the falls (on the Argentinian side). And the Devilīs Throat is immense with tons of water pouring into the gorge and then from bottom this fine veil of mist rises up like smoke. And as you wonder around the falls, you see many strange butterflys and huge spiders waiting in webs for their next meal.

Iguazu was the end of Brazil and the beginning of Argentina. Time to head deeper into the land of Che Gueverra, Evita and Maradona....and Gervasio (happiness is a warm gun).
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