Brazil in a Nutshell
In Buenos Aires (which is a shabbier but slightly less pretentious version of Paris with 50p beers) we met a Brazilian mother and daughter travelling together. Esther, the mother, wondered why she lives in Brazil when she doesn't like Carnival or beaches. This struck a chord with me.
I don´t much like beaches and it was the wrong time of year for Carnival. Having seen Rio, Ihla Grande, Salvador de Bahia, Fernando de Noronha and a bit of Amazon near Manaus, I was wondering why Brazil was on our Itinerary.
I have seen Rio described in some disreputable guidance materials as the most beautiful city in the world. I agree that it has (arguably) the world´s most beautiful location for a city, the only problem being the actual buildings they´ve plonked down on it. I didn´t see one which wouldn´t be scheduled for urgent demolition if it was blighting the face of New York, Hong Kong or even London. Or Slough. From a very long way away, in the dark, they turn into specks of light on Rio´s naturally impressive panorama.
There are only two things you need to know about Ilha Grande. One is that it is an island, and the other is that it is quite big. I didn´t take any pictures.
Salvador is probably one of the best cities in the world for getting mugged or otherwise assaulted in a criminally violent way. It has some quite colourful, although decaying, colonial architecture in the Pelourinho area. When the boys in the streets who have not yet grown to full mugging size take time off from picking pockets, they flap and screech like electrocuted chickens. The Pelourinho also features a musical waterfall, awful Italian restaurants and an almost total absence of places to buy crisps. If you go there, loud music will assault your eardrums constantly, only some of which even pretends to have a tune. I´d feel safer, and probably have more fun, dressed in a Newcastle United shirt at the Sunderland side of the Stadium of Light with "Sunderland are crap" tatooed on my forehead.
Fernando de Noronha is a ¨paradise island¨ in the same vein as Rarotonga, but Rarotonga is better and much cheaper. It is supposed to have good diving but (in our experience) doesn´t. It has what are apparently Brazil´s best beaches, which were fine but made me wish I was on a really pretty beach like Whitehaven on Whitsunday Island, Australia, or somewhere more interesting such as Bamburgh or Tynemouth.
In the Amazon, the most notable wildlife I encountered were mosquitos and a large, ugly, poisonous spider which crawled inside my mosquito net. The weather was grey and damp. I took a few pictures (largely to make sure the camera hadn´t seized up from lack of use in Ihla Grande, Salvador and Noronha) but they were all crap. I guess it could be spectacular in the right light, but the mozzies would probably have sucked all your blood and given you malaria by the time you´d waited for it.
Then we went to the Iguassu falls. This is one of the most amazing places I´ve ever been, and singlehandedly made up for a month trawling around stressful and mediocre sights in the rest of Brazil. On arriving, Sonia and I were both startled by the beauty of our first glimpse. The falls were huge, the mist from their crashing flow painting a perfect rainbow from which a black bird of prey flew toward us. I took hundreds of photos, only to realise there was an even more impressive view around the next corner. And the next. It is impossible to take satisfactory photos of the falls, as whatever you leave out of the frame is generally just as magnificent as what you include. The falls mark the border between Brazil and Argentina, and the Argentinian side was bigger and in some ways even more impressive than the Brazilian one. Wildlife was teeming - we encountered giant lizards, toucans, a snake, small racoon-like creatures, some little unidentified rodents and even my boss from London. The huge numbers of tourists was the only downside, but the falls were so spectacular we hardly noticed them.