Our coach got into Curitiba at about 6am on Saturday morning. I'd managed to have a reasonably good night's sleep, probably helped by the fact that I'd had hardly any sleep the previous night due to more important matters like drinking large amounts of alcohol. Unfortunately, this meant that most other people didn't get much sleep due to my lion-like snoring and weren't they a grumpy lot when I woke up! I wasn't allowed to do anything on this tour - no snoring, no farting, no dirty jokes - where was the love? We checked into L'Avenue Apart Hotel and since most people hadn't had much sleep, Mike suggested we meet again at 10am. The single guys (me, Nashy and Peter) had to share another triple room again, which didn't exactly lighten our moods.
Curitiba is one of Brazil's most beautiful cities and a model in urban planning the world over. It was also in the top three greenest cities in the world, with an abundance of public parks and over 50 square metres of green space per resident. At our meeting, Mike highly recommended the city tour, but after one or two less than exciting city tours in previous cities, I think everyone was very wary and decided to give it a miss. However, Mike had found out that Curitiba would be playing a home football match that evening and most of us decided we'd be up for going to that - they'd be at hone to Fluminense in the Serie A. I spent the next couple of hours having a walk around the historic quarter, Lago da Orden, where the architecture is based on German design and paid a visit to one of the picturesque parks near the hotel. In the afternoon, we walked to the football stadium to get our tickets, a pricey Rs80 each (about £30, but probably what you'd expect to pay for English Premier League ticket), and strangely, had to show our passports (or copies) before we could buy them. Me and Nashy had a McDonald's which we would later find out wouldn't take too long to pass through us.
At about 4.30pm, we met up and headed off to the footie stadium, stopping along the way to partake of some tinnies of Skol which were conveniently being sold from cool-boxes on the pavement at regular intervals from the ground. No having to queue up at bars to get tanked up before the match over here. I had contemplated buying a home shirt for the match until I saw they were green and plastered with the logo of their sponsor "IRA" - that quickly put paid to that idea, not really a shirt I'd be able to wear back in the UK! Inside the ground, we found some suitable terracing on the top tier and had our one and only beer of the match when we found out that the alcohol content was only 0.5% - something to do with Brazil wanting to present an acceptable face at their grounds before they host the World Cup Finals in 2014. The match was won by Curitiba with three first-half goals, eventually ending up at 3-1. Amongst some slick Brazilian passing football, divine ball skills, and a succession of free kicks every time a player "fell over" when one of the opposition was within touching distance, the match was notable for the brilliant atmosphere in the crowd. Supporters in the main home terraced stands spent the whole match singing, dancing, and generally partying to the loud band in their section, so much so that even our stand at the side of the ground was shaking and swaying!
On Sunday, we spent the day on a coach to Sao Paulo, the industrial and economic heart of Brazil and the biggest city in the southern hemisphere with an estimated population of 17-24 million. We got taxis from the bus station to the Hotel Itamarati, warnings ringing in our heads from Mike about how dangerous the city could potentially be. Keep a careful watch on our luggage at the bus station, don't put our bags on our laps on buses or in taxis, don't walk around at night, don't wear watches or jewellery, don't pick up soap that someone has dropped in public toilets. Okay, the last one was made up, but maybe wasn't so out of place as we found out that the Tucan hotel was right in the middle of the gay and transvestite district of Sao Paulo! A perusal of the Tucan trip notes on the city stated that there were many "special" bars and clubs near our hotel, which we found out that in Tucan's very non-politically correct terminology meant gay! It was certainly an eye-opener when we met up outside the hotel to make our way to dinner - it was a case of the men being men, and the women being men too!
We had a walk around the Japanese quarter of Liberdade in the evening, (Sao Paulo has the highest number of Japanese immigrants outside Japan) and settled on a Japanese restaurant for dinner. We paid a few Reals each to hire their private room, fortunately they had a space under the table for our legs which meant we didn't have to sit cross-legged during the meal. Not being a great fan of fish unless it's wrapped in a newspaper and comes with chips, I decided on a steak served on a sizzling hot plate which came with a fried egg and steamed vegetables and was absolutely delicious. We also ordered a jug of warm sake, Japanese rice wine, which certainly packed a punch. The food wasn't the only thing which was mouth-watering though as the final bill came to Rs/1208, about £500! After the meal, we headed to a bar near our hotel called Mary Jane, which inevitably was a gay bar. I must say that the sight of girls making out whilst chugging bottles of lager wasn't unappealing, although the sight of guys making out in the corridor on the way to the toilets was slightly less so! Still, the place was packed, everyone was having fun, dancing and drinking, and so did we.
On Monday, we had a free day in Sao Paulo. Looking through the list of places I wanted to visit, two stood out - Butanta Snake farm, which contained one of the largest collections of snakes, lizards, scorpions and spiders in the world, in glass cages as well as open-air pits, and the Football Museum which gave a fully interactive history of Brazilian and World Cup soccer, and reviews had stated it was a must-visit place even for people who didn't like football. Unfortunately, it appeared that in Sao Paulo, Monday was the new Sunday and both places were closed. Instead, we went for a tour to a couple of other places around the city - a walk through the 1.5 million square metre tranquility of Ibirapure Park, complete with restaurants, sports facilities, museums, greens, ponds and lakes, and a trip to Avenida Paulista in the heart of the business district. After lunch, the others went to visit a havaiana factory, this being a brand of flip-flop made in Brazil and apparently, the height of flip-flop fashion. Unfortunately, I must be a fashion victim because I'd never heard of them before and didn't want to spend the afternoon trudging around a sandal factory in my uncool trainers so I headed back to the hotel for some internet time.
In the evening, we all met up again and headed to the 41st floor of the Edificio Italia tower for sunset views over the metropolis that is Sao Paulo - skyscrapers stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. It wasn't cheap at Rs30 entry to the viewing deck which we'd have to pay if we had drinks or not, so we decided to have a couple of beers at Rs9 a pop while we were at it. The views were worth it though and definitely recommended. After dinner at a nearby restaurant, it was back to Mary Jane bar, but it appeared that tourist attractions weren't the only things shut on Mondays as we were the only people drinking in the bar that night. Me, Peggy, Simon and Crystal headed off to another bar afterwards, a type of cabaret club with singers, dancers and women who looked suspiciously like blokes but were classier in that they'd spent more money on their operations.
On Tuesday, we took a six hour coach trip to the coastal city of Paraty, passing on the way through some stunning cloudforest and catching glimpses of picturesque towns on the Atlantic coast. We checked into our small hostel, Pousada dos Contos, another small triple share room for us single blokes, the beds so close together that we could fart over the bed next to ours in our sleep. Nice.
With colonial Portuguese architecture, cobblestoned streets, whitewashed buildings, and lots of bars, restaurants and shops, Paraty certainly cut a pretty picture. Once a month at full moon, about 6-10 inches of seawater floods the city at high tide, washing over the cobblestoned streets until the tide falls again. We found a restaurant in town for dinner, Paraty 33, unfortunately, my steak was as dry as an old boot and they had the cheek to stick an Rs8 cover charge on each of our bills for some bloke playing an electronic gizmo who we didn't want to hear. I did find a new tipple of choice though (helped by the fact that they had a 40% off special) - a caipirinha, a traditional Brazilian cocktail made from sugar cane rum, sugar and lime. It was very strong! We'd met a few people from the Tucan overland truck tour earlier and been invited to a beach party near their camp/hostel, about half an hour walk away from town. We didn't need a second invitation. After a few drinks at a beach bar on the way, it was off to the beach party, where a fair few more caipirinhas meant I couldn't actually remember how I got back to our hotel, although apparently it was about 5 or 6 in the morning.
The highly recommended activity in Paraty was a boat trip to nearby islands, with opportunities for swimming and visiting some nice beaches (the beach at Paraty is a bit muddy so locals tend to go out in boats to visit better beaches). Fortunately for me, there was also the opportunity for drinking so I spent the trip in a semi-vegetative state sipping tinnies of Skol lager. Afterwards, we visited the top ice-cream parlour in Paraty and stuffed ourselves full. A few of us ate at a small churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse where your buffet meal is sold by weight) and I called it an early night to catch up on my sleep.
On Thursday, we were all very excited to be heading to Rio, the final stop of our mammoth tour, tinged with a hint of sadness that we'd be saying goodbye to each other too. The relatively short 4-5 hour journey hugged the Atlantic coast in parts, passing by beautiful small coastal towns, with yachts harboured in the bays, backed by Atlantic rainforest. We even passed by Brazil's only nuclear station power, which obviously had some interest for me even if not to anyone else. Upon reaching Rio, we checked into the Hotel Regina, where a single room was an eye-popping Rs300 (~£120) and a triple (yes, another triple) was Rs450 (~£180). Brazil hadn't been cheap as we'd been travelling through it, with prices akin to or higher than the West, unlike the rest of South American. Rio raised the bar another notch. After dumping our bags, Mike took us on a bus trip to Copacabana where we had a couple of beers by the beach. However, it was getting late in the afternoon and all the lovelies had waddled off. We had an evening meal at Catete Grill, another churrascaria, then a few of us headed off to a couple of nearby bars where we promptly downed a few buckets of ice-cold lager, joined by a few of the Tucan overlanders who we happened to meet out. An enjoyable last night for me, drinking and chatting, lots of beautiful Brazilian girls, and a relatively early night at about 3am.
Our Tucan trip officially ended on Friday morning. However, everyone else in the tour group was spending additional time in Rio to see the sights of which there were many - I had wanted to visit Sugar Loaf Mountain for sunset views, Christ the Redeemer, which had been recently voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, and do a favela tour. However, I had also arranged to get back to the UK for a wedding reception on Saturday which meant I'd be off to the airport on Friday afternoon, so I bid a sad farewell to my fellow travellers as they headed off for a favela tour at Friday lunchtime. After my final meal of the tour which rather sadly was a McDonalds burger, I got a taxi to the airport for my trek back to the UK. I'd spent over two and a half months in South America, seen some amazing sights and performed some challenging activities, made many new friends, partied till I nearly dropped, and had a wonderful trip. There were also some things I wouldn't miss, like having to put toilet paper in the bin and stinking out the room, mosquitoes and triple share rooms but these paled into insignificance in the face of the mostly brilliant times I'd enjoyed during my trip. Till next time, ciao!
After leaving Iguazu Falls, the next week would see our tour group hit a succession of Brazilian cities before eventually finishing our tour in Rio. We left Foz do Iguazu on Friday night catching an overnight coach to Curitiba. Mike hadn't been able to allocate seats for the couples next to each other which meant some rearranging of persons. After nearly everyone swapped around, to allow Dan and partner Chips to sit next to each other, me and Melissa would also have to sit next each other - Mike had a couple of seats to himself. However, when Mike saw the revulsion on my face and bile rising in my throat at having to spend the night so close to Melissa, he graciously decided to sit next to me and let her have the two seats. Potential for mental scarring avoided.