The decision to go to Brazil came relatively spontaneously when we were invited by friends to a wedding in Belo Horizonte – an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. So in February 2014, just a few months after our Australian tour, we headed overseas again. This time in the other direction. Of course, flying halfway around the world just for a few days wasn’t worth it. So we traveled a bit more through the country and fulfilled a long-cherished dream: we visited the Iguaçu Falls. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the world. But not only this natural wonder will be remembered forever. The incredibly hospitable, happy and warm people were also a highlight of our trip to Brazil.

The tour started in Belo Horizonte, where we stayed for five days with the newlyweds’ family and friends. The time felt like an endless barbecue party with people celebrating exuberantly, lots of caipirinha, even more meat, endless sun and samba by the pool. The German winter and everyday working life were already forgotten on the first day.

Five nights in the same place, that’s pretty rare when we travel! And of course our urge to explore has sometimes driven us out of the city. We spent one day in the old baroque town of Ouro Preto – quite a contrast to the metropolis of Belo Horizonte. Colourful, old houses nestle between green hills, and there seems to be one church for every 20 inhabitants. While walking down the steep cobblestone streets is a sweaty affair in the Brazilian summer, exploring the alleyways on foot is a must. Because every few steps a new, fascinating perspective of the picturesque buildings and streets opens up.

We then traveled by plane to the Iguaçu Falls, which lie on the border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In order to really enjoy our four days there, we rented a room in the “Hotel das Cataratas”, the only hotel that is located in the national park itself, not in the town of Foz do Iguaçu, 30 kilometers away. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every penny, and not just because the hotel was a dream. Before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m., the national park was only accessible to hotel guests. Being able to admire the breathtaking waterfalls in peace without the crowds of tourists was a unique experience that we would not have missed for anything in the world.
Every day we took the chance to be at the viewpoints at either sunrise or sunset – or both – to enjoy the sight and the roar of the mighty waterfalls and let the spray rain down on us properly. The falls, especially the viewing platforms at Devil’s Throat, are something for all the senses.
Although we still had to fight our way through one or the other spider web in the early morning, we also encountered all kinds of funny animals on the empty hiking trails. Hordes of coatis plundering the rubbish bins, cute monkeys and easygoing monitor lizards.

We were lucky enough to be at the “Cataratas do Iguaçu” when the moon was full. This even resulted in a picture of the falls in the dark with a rainbow cast by the moonlight in the spray.

Of course we wanted to see the falls from all sides. So we also made a day trip to the Argentinian part of the national park. But we caught the hottest day in 50 years: 45°C and humidity that reached almost 100 percent due to the spray at the viewpoints. When the wind picked up, it was like someone shoving a hair dryer in our faces. In these general conditions, having to fight the crowds of tourists for a seat at the front railing is not necessarily a piece of cake. But it was still worth it. The Argentinian side revealed a whole new perspective on the falls.

With a heavy heart we said goodbye to the “Catarats do Iguaçu” and our dream hotel and boarded the TAM plane to go to São Paulo. We saw nothing of the city, just collected our rental car at “Localiza” and went straight to São Sebastião. Here we waited with a horde of local weekend tourists for what felt like an eternity for the car ferry that would take us to the Ilhabela. Even if the crossing didn’t take long, the two-night trip was hardly worth it due to the long waiting time at the ferry. We spent our day on the Ilhabela with a jeep tour, which initially led to the less spectacular Cachoeira do Gato.

If you’ve just been to Iguaçu, this small waterfall seems more like a trickle. To make matters worse, the “Borrachudos” were up to mischief on the island. The Ilhabela mosquitoes perforated our legs in no time at all, causing us to bleed. The mosquito spray that had gotten us through Southeast Asia and Australia without a sting was apparently powerless here. Luckily there were fewer pests at Praia de Castelhanos, the actual destination of our tour.

Back in the island’s capital, it began to rain. Real masses of water fell from the sky. After realizing that it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, we made our way to the nearest restaurant. When we had just arrived in front of the gates – dripping wet despite the umbrella – there was a spark in the high-voltage line and the city sank into darkness. Luckily it didn’t take too long for the power to come back, so we managed to get something to eat after all. However, the rain kept getting worse. On the way back to the hotel, the water was up to our knees and our German umbrella was leaking.

The following days the weather remained mixed, but it rained only briefly and no longer torrentially. Before we left the Ilhabela, we strolled through the village of Vila and observed a horde of blue crabs going about their daily business in a river bed.

We then drove to Ubatuba, where the sat nav of our Renault tricked us not for the first time. It misled us a good 30km and claimed our hotel was a barbed wire fortress between swampy roads. Luckily we found our “Pousada” in the jungle on the second try.

We spent a great day in the historic old town of Paraty with its quaint old houses, colorful boats, good restaurants and a unique cobblestone street that was a challenge both on foot and by car.

Our route then led to Ilha Grande near Rio de Janeiro. Since no cars are allowed on the island, we returned our rental car in Angra dos Reis. Sounds easy, but it wasn’t. Mainly because our GPS missed the target by 35 kilometers again – this time we landed in front of the entrance of a nuclear power plant – and because the “Localiza” branch was hidden in a shopping center that we could only reach through a restricted parking garage.

After our taxi driver rushed us into thinking the ferry to Ilha Grande was already gone, we waited two boring hours for the boat to actually leave. There was no infrastructure in our area, so we took the only option for lunch and bought chips and cokes at a snack stand.

The 80-minute crossing was similarly uneventful, but activity then broke out in the port of Abraão. Bags and boxes of food were frantically passed out through the ferry’s windows, where they were loaded onto carts. On the car-free island, hand-drawn carts are the most efficient way to transport heavy objects. But over the bumpy sand paths that is also an arduous affair.

In general the infrastructure is pretty rudimentary. The day we arrived there was no electricity until 3am the next morning. So we went out in the evening with a flashlight. Still, there was a lot of activity on the streets. Some bars and restaurants ran on generators, while others used fire. This gave us a really cozy evening in the “Kebab Lounge”, where there was excellent food from the grill and delicious caipirinha. The power went out again for the next two days, but not for as long.

We first explored the island on foot, then by boat. That’s exactly what it’s designed for. There are many hiking routes; we decided to go to the famous Praia Lopes Mendes. Since it was really hot again, the way through the jungle and over beaches was quite tedious; but we were also rewarded with great views.

The following day we spent a few hours with a group on a speed boat that visited several beaches and bays. Sounded good, but we can’t recommend it – unless you aim to have bathed in as many places on the island as possible. There wasn’t that much to see. In retrospect, we would have preferred to do something on our own by taxi boat.

Our island conclusion: If you have to decide between Ilhabela and Ilha Grande, we recommend Ilha Grande. Since you can’t get around here by car, the audience is different, life is much more relaxed. That has charm, we think! However, you should definitely arrive with a flashlight.

The last stop on our trip was Rio de Janeiro, where – similar to Belo Horizonte – the construction work for the soccer World Cup was ongoing, and the preparations for the carnival were also raging. Getting to the city on the Sugar Loaf was not as easy as hoped. We had booked a transfer from Ilha Grande. With “EasyTransfer”. Unfortunately, the name doesn’t live up to what it promises. On the mainland we waited ages for the minivan that would take us to Rio; and the ride – crammed into the hot bus – was anything but a blessing. Our suggestion: Rename it to “Take it Easy Transfer”.

The next day was significantly better. We had booked a private city tour with a German who has lived in Rio for 23 years and writes for the Dumont travel guides. With Helmuth Taubald we saw corners that we would hardly have gone to on our own.

We were particularly impressed by the stop in a favela. There we climbed a “viewpoint” through a private stairwell onto the owner’s balcony. Narrow, winding alleys, adventurous power lines that wrap themselves around lampposts in thick tangles, mountains of rubbish. But also a lot of shops that sell everything you need for everyday life and are apparently also on the way to opening up the target group of tourists.

In addition to a few other stations, we particularly liked the “Escadaria Selarón”, the work of a Chilean artist who died in 2013. He decorated a 250-step staircase in the Lapa district with colorful tiles from all over the world. The staircase was a gift to the Brazilian people. Jorge Selarón only earned money with his other works, on which he exclusively painted pregnant women; his self-portrait with a big belly is particularly interesting.

The stop at the Dona Marta viewpoint, below the Christo, was also great. If you want to enjoy the view of the city without crowding around the railing with other tourists, this is the spot for you.
Of course we also practiced in the tourist crowds, the next day on the Sugar Loaf. This program item is not to be missed on a tour through Rio.
We spent the afternoon strolling along Copacabana. The beach and promenade were packed and it was great fun watching the hustle and bustle.
After spending the previous evening in the Lapa music district, we stayed on the beach for our farewell evening. From a promontory we watched the sunset behind Ipanema Bay with live music.

With many great impressions of the country and people and a whole lot of new Havaianas in our luggage, we flew back to cool Germany.

Addendum September 2014:
I always believed that memories are permanent. That a once beautiful moment remains forever as a positive experience in our mind. But that’s not the case.
When you hear a faint whimper, while being on a journey somewhere far away from any civilization, and you find an injured and emaciated stray dog in a hole in the ground, pull him out, dress his wounds and share most of your provisions with him, than this experience is only going to be a wonderful memory until that dog jumps in your face and, out of sheer greed and selfishness, makes off with the rest of your rations.

You can forgive this mutt. Animals act mostly instinctively and outside of our moral values. That distinguishes them from us humans.
In September 2014 I discovered Julia’s true colours. The person she was pretending to be had very little to do with her true nature.

Since then, I no longer consider this blog post as a record of my favorite memories of Brazil, but only as a reminder to never forget that it is not important whether you share a beautiful moment with someone, but with whom.

3 thoughts on “Brazil 2014”

  1. Andrea Richey

    …mal wieder eine tolle Urlaubsreportage! Eine fantastische Bilderserie…
    LG Andrea

  2. Sehr beeindruckend! Ich finde es gut, dass Deine Bilder ungewöhnlich, trotzdem sehr stilsicher, intensiv aber nicht kitschig sind.
    Alleine die Idee, den Angler im drittletzten Bild ganz an den Rand zu quetschen und gerade deswegen einen nicht-Touri-Shot herauszubekommen…super.

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