Rather than waiting 30 minutes for the next local bus to pick us up for our official entry into Argentina, we slung our packs on our backs and hoofed it.   What was supposed to be 20 minutes, turned into close … Continue reading

Brazil’s Finale

Our bus journey from Rio to Paraty (pronounced “par-a-chee”) was the most beautiful transit yet.  Driving out of Rio we recognized how huge the city is, it seemed to go on forever.  Big box stores sandwiched between hills plastered with … Continue reading

The Redeemer

Compared to the North, Southern Brazil is like crossing into an entirely different country.  Sao Luis was the happy medium between the poor, underdeveloped north and the affluent, beautiful south. Rio is a beautiful city.  It reminds me of a … Continue reading

Holidays in waiting…

There are just some things about travel that we could do without.  One is terrifying transportation, and the other is trying to live on food that is so far from what you’re used to, it almost makes you sick.   Not literally sick, but just sick of it.  At times, we find ourselves craving the comforts of home.  For me, it starts with healthy food.  As a vegetarian, travelling through Brazil poses a bit of a challenge.  Unless, that is, you are willing to nurture yourself with deep fried pastries filled with cheese (aka deep fried fat).

The morning we were misinformed regarding boat times from Sao Luis to Alcantara was one of those times the food issue became amplified.  We had a 2 hour wait, so what better way to spend it then to have breakfast.  Yeah right.  Breakfast in Brazil is akin to the Ontario bagel and cream cheese.  Although, at least there is the option of whole wheat bagel and “light” cream cheese to give the illusion of a healthy choice – AND you can have a coffee with it that’s not loaded with 1/2c of sugar.  Well, not unless you ask for it.  A piece of fruit, some scrambled eggs and maybe some whole wheat toast… is that too much to ask?  Apparently it is.  We had to settle for café com leite and pão com ovo, which was the healthiest thing we could find. “Café com Leite” (coffee with milk)… which has an automatic addition of so much sugar, you don’t know whether to love it like toffee or hate it  as you pretend it’s coffee.  I miss my bodum. “Pão com ovo” (bread with egg)  is a white bun soaked both sides in butter and put on the grill, add a fried egg and obligatory presunto (ham).   Neither of these would be a choice we’d make at home, but when you need sustenance, you settle for “almost” anything.   Dale gets extra ham on his because he gets mine.

Next…. the terrifying transportation.  There are a few trips that instantly come to mind for me as “thank God it’s over”, ”lucky to have survived that one”,  and “I will never do that again.”  The boat ride on a Pirates of the Caribbean-type sail boat from São Luis to Alcântara  fit into all three categories.    I don’t easily suffer from vertigo, but I do get seasick.  Knowing that, I dipped into the “vomi-stop”, Brazil’s answer to Dramamine, like clock-work 30 minutes before boarding.  Good thing  I did or things could have been much worse than they were.   I didn’t get sick, but the pills didn’t rid me of visions of the boat tipping completely over as it rolled from side to side on the massive waves.   Have you ever played the game of trust?  You know that moment before you’re caught,  the rush of fear you feel because your not 100% sure someone is going to catch you.  Dale luckily doesn’t experience that feeling in the game,  not did he on the boat.  Mainly because he trusts, and in the case of the boat, he trusts the experts.  He is secure in his belief that the boat wouldn’t be operating if it were dangerous or had a high probability of tipping.   Me, on the other hand, I hang on for dear life knowing accidents happen and in a foreign country and environment where I have no idea what’s “normal”, I’m a little more on edge and less likely to trust. The difference between the game and this boat –  in the game, once you’re caught you can relax, you feel safe.  On the boat, we crashed on the down slope of a wave and for a split second as the boat begins its counter-rock we  could relax, only to repeat it again for the opposite side of the wave…. Over and over again… for 90 minutes.

After being tossed around like a pancake for over an hour in the little sailboat, we were both happy to put our feet on solid ground with our packs dry as a bone.  Ahhhhh…. More cobblestone.  Excellent, maybe we’ll find a real breakfast here.  No such luck. 

The boat ticket across the bay should be advertised as a ticket to Colonial Brazil by means of puke-potential sailing.  The village was a beautiful place.  Walking up and down cobblestone streets, with ruins mixed among the local shops, houses, parks and lanchettes (snack bars), was a pure joy.  Something else also happened… the over-sized Brazilians had disappeared.   We figured this was because of the strong military presence.  The food didn’t change much, but self-catering from the local grocery store, along with the backyard of our pousada where papaya, mango and avocado grew in abundance supplied us with more nutrients than eating out.     

Our time in Alcântara was the perfect quiet for Dale to continue some course work for his upcoming exam, and a good change of scenery from São Luis.   The boat ride back wasn’t nearly as terrifying.   Maybe because we knew what to expect, or maybe because we made sure we bought a ticket for a bigger boat.  Either way, it still rocked as much, but was easier on my nerves and Dale’s stomach.

Back in São Luis, we were disappointed to find out that our camera wouldn’t arrive for another week.   This meant our intention to be on a small town beach with surfing for Christmas would be nixed.   Staying a week meant for sure we needed to find a better place to stay than Pousada International.   Just down the street, Cantaria Hotel was excellent.  Because we were staying so long and over Christmas, we negotiated (in Portuguese) a good deal and use of their kitchen  for free on Christmas.   I made a trip to the local Cosco-like grocery store on Christmas eve, waited an hour and 45 minutes in line to pay, but made it back to our pousada in one piece with all of the ingredients to make us a Christmas feast; an all day feast complete with wine.

The day was memorable.  Outside the streets were bare, in a Catholic country Christmas is a family day.  We cooked up a storm together and had enough food to share with our front desk attendant and a friend of his.  We had met Andy from France a few days prior.  He didn’t make it to the market before Christmas, and there was nothing open so he joined us for some dinner.  Along with Andy was a chef from a local Italian restaurant who had no access to money after fraud on his debit card, so we fed him too.   No, it wasn’t your typical north American Christmas, but we spent it in the best way we knew how for where we were and what we had.

Another check at the correios (post office) for the camera, and again we came up empty.  “Next Week”.  Okay, now we were starting to get a bit concerned.  So New Years in Sao Luis…..

It was a bit nuts waking up at 5 am on Dec 31st.  The party from the night before (the 30th) was still going in the street.  Wow, we thought, “if that’s how they party on the 30th, New Year ’s Eve is going to be nuts.”   It was, but not in the way you are thinking.  It was totally dead.  One café on the street open, and not a soul around.  Another family night?  Who knows.  Welcome to 2012.

A quick note on where we’ve been in 2011, before we move forward.  We both left our careers of 10+ years,  we got engaged,  Arielle packed up and moved across the country, we planned a wedding, got married, bought some property, and began a trip through the southern hemisphere.  From experience, life gets better every year, we can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store!

A few days later, we were happy to have our new camera in our hands.  The two weeks in São Luis meant we had to miss the coast of Bahia in order to make it to the southern tip of the continent to sail to Antarctica at the end of the season.  We changed our plan and flew to Belo Horizonto then bussed onto Rio.  In Rio, Brazil changed.

From Dogs to Cats

We are beginning to get used to overnight buses.  This doesn’t mean we sleep well, we’re just used to sleeping like garbage.  Bonus on this boat-minibus-bus combo from Algodoal to São Luis is that we met Ama and Joseph from France.  They had just begun their travels, spoke Spanish and French and were happy to find us speaking Portuguese to help navigate and find food.  Pão com ovo (bread with egg) goes down really well at 7am when you’re absolutely starving, even if it is bus station food.

Our city bus ride to the historic centre didn’t reveal the real São Luis to us.  In fact, that bus ride is a good way to scare tourists away.  Outside the centre, the city of 1.5 million resembles the other large cities in northern Brazil… broken stone and sand sidewalks lined with garbage and hordes of people waiting for buses or just sitting around.  But once you hit Centro Historico (the historic centre) the charm of cobblestones, original Portuguese architecture, little shops and less people make it a much easier place to spend a few days.  Our plan, check the post office to see if the camera we had shipped from the US has arrived, if not, then when it will.

We were able to navigate the Portuguese well enough to find out from the post office that the camera would be at least another week.  Ok, so we spend a few days then head across the water 30km Alcântara and come back to continue on our path south down the east coast.  Easy – or so we thought.  It was all business our first day as we had been without contact to the “outside world” for over a week.  Sometimes, you just have to take a moment to organize your stuff, do laundry, chat with family and have a look at what the next few weeks might entail.

After a day of info seeking, our dinner with Ama and Joseph at La Pizzeria was excellent.  Good pizza, excellent company and our first decent taste of wine in South America.  Though we can both manage ourselves in French, we found it extremely challenging to move into French, having been speaking Portuguese for the last few weeks.  Luckily, we were able to revert to mostly English with Ama and Joseph.

Dale waking up with a cockroach on his leg in our bed, was an indication we needed to hunt for a different place to sleep our second night.  It was futile.  We were in the cheapest place around.  The stairs were falling apart, and the concrete ceiling beams were so low if you didn’t watch yourself, you might end up with a mild concussion.  Our bathroom had no light.   And, did I mention the cockroach?  We decided to stick with it out for two more nights.

Our self-guided city tour, by local bus took us to the north side of the city; across the bridge.  We knew we may have to be here for a while, and thought we might find a place to stay along the beach when we needed to come back to get our camera.  Again, the search for something even moderately priced was impossible.  Although, the beaches were beautiful.  The whole area reminded us of  Southern California or Miami Beach… roaring beach surf, light sand, high rise hotels opposite the beach with a bar every 10 min steps away from the ocean.  All at triple the cost of where we were staying.   We didn’t find a place to stay, but we did enjoy walking along the boardwalk, people watching and noticing the difference in the culture as compared to the Amazon.  Here, there is definitely more affluence.  And another thing changed.   There were no more stray dogs.  We had gotten so accustomed to them that we didn’t notice until there were none.  Instead, there were cats.  A nice change.

After Joseph and Ama left for the south, we met up with couch-surfer Ana.  What a delight to meet someone local, have dinner and a few drinks and learn a bit about the area.

By day 3 it was time for Alcântara and the wildest boat ride yet.