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Trip Report Adventure in Brazil : 2011 Trip Report

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It has been a few days since our return from a 16-17 day Brazil trip, and we have just recovered from our jet lag. The journey fatigue is all but over, and normal life is fast returning. It was our first trip to South America, and what an adventure we had ! From jumping off a cliff in Rio with a hang-glider, to walking through the tropical rainforests of the Amazon, to sleeping in hammocks on the choppy waters of the Amazon River, we did more that what we should have dared to do at our age.

Brazil has always attracted us as a country - its samba dances, the lovely beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon river and rainforests - have always beckoned us. When I started doing the planning for this trip several months in advance, it was easy to see that Iguassu Falls and Salvador should be an integral part of the itinerary as well. We are a couple in our 50's, avid travelers of the independent variety, whose primary interests are culture, cuisine, architecture, sights and vistas, etc. But we are not really the beach crazy types, who would love to lie on beaches for days on end. This ruled out Buzios or Ilha Grande from our schedule. So our final itinerary was as follows :

Rio de Janeiro : 4 days
Foz do Iguacu : 2 days
Salvador : 4 days
Amazonia (via Manaus ) : 4 days
Sao Paulo : 2 days

We relied on the Lonely Planet guidebook, and several excellent websites for planning, such as www.ipanema.com and www.bahia-online.net (both websites are excellent for Rio and Salvador respectively). We have to plan our food options quite seriously, as we are vegetarians, and finding veg food in Brazil is not the easiest of tasks ! However, we did draw up a long list of veg friendly restaurants for each city, and we had no actual problems at all. I usually rely heavily on the Fodors Talk forum for my planning tips, but there does not seem to be much activity on the Brazil forum here, so the responses to my queries were few and far between. I had to use another travel site's talk forum to get answers to my questions, but as I am a loyal Fodorite, my Trip Report is still being posted here.

We blocked our seats on Emirates for flying from Mumbai to Brazil and back (via Dubai in both directions). We booked TAM airpasses and reserved our tickets for the internal Brazil flights. And we fixed up with Swallows and Amazons as our tour operator for the Amazon portion, where we opted for a 3-day / 2-night Riverboat trip through the Amazon region (we ended up having the boat all to ourselves). Hotel bookings were all done based on ratings on Tripadvisor, which has never let us down , and proved to be all excellent choices this time too.

I intend to post the Trip Report in 7-8 installments, as time permits. It is as much for the edification of the Fodors readers, as it is for us to go back and read, and cherish the trip of a lifetime. So here goes the first installment.

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    Day 1 : Friday 16th December :

    This was our travel day, as it is a long haul from India to Brazil. Had to reach Mumbai airport at 1:30am after a 3-hour drive from our home city, and boarded an early 4:20am Emirates flight to Dubai. Emirates is indeed an excellent airline, and we fortunately got 3 seats between the two of us. We slept peacefully throughout the 3-hour flight to Dubai.

    Reached Dubai at 6am local time. Freshened up in the toilets, had a breakfast of spinach and cheese pies, accompanied by some Indian snacks that we were carrying. Roamed through the airport shops, and bought some dates. Our onward flight to Sao Paulo at 10:15am was on time. This was a long flight, and once again we were lucky to get 3 seats between the two of us. This made the 15-hour flight very comfortable. We slept a lot on the flight, saw some movies, enjoyed the wines and good food, and were well rested when we disembarked at Sao Paulo at 7:40pm local time, just 10 minutes behind schedule.

    This was the one part of our itinerary that I was morbidly scared of. We had a tight connection at Sao Paulo. Our outgoing flight to Rio was at 9:40pm on TAM. In between, we had to clear Immigration, collect our baggage, clear Customs, and then walk to the domestic side of the airport to check-in all over again. I had heard horrendous things about Sao Paulo airport's inefficiencies and long lines, and many travelers had advised me that this connection was going to be tough. Although the entire ticketing had been done by Emirates, and they would be technically responsible for a missed connection, I knew that TAM had no more flights after this one from Sao Paulo to Rio, and did not want to spend a night at Sao Paulo airport.

    Our flight into Sao Paulo was 10 minutes late, which meant that 10 precious minutes had been lost in the tight connection. We walked really fast as we got off the aircraft, and when we reached the Immigration area, we found that there were hardly any lines at all. Good start, and we sailed through Immigration in 5-10 minutes. Baggage clearance was also not bad, and there was zero wait at the Customs. We rushed towards the domestic terminal No. 1, which was a short walk in the same building, and were there by 8:40pm local time, i.e. within an hour or landing. Not bad, and we started feeling relieved.

    The tension was yet to begin. As we reached the check-in area of TAM, we found that it was a crazy mess. Huge crowds, and total chaos. The airport was woefully inadequate to handle the traffic that was visible. Had great difficulty in locating the correct line to stand in, and finally we were checked-in at 9pm. We then had to dash to reach the gates, where another long line greeted us. After clearing that, we noticed an even longer line inside for security ! We were giving up on making the flight. Fortunately, some airport staff proved very helpful, and kept pointing at us and calling us "foreigners" and waving us through to go ahead of every line. This was the start of the warmth that we encountered throughout our trip in Brazil from the local people. Thanks to their assistance, we could make it ahead on time, and could even change some US Dollars to Brazilian Reals enroute to our boarding gate.We boarded our flight on the nick of time !

    The flight finally took off about 30 minutes behind schedule, and we reached Rio at about 11:10pm. Baggage was very very slow, and took an hour to appear on the belt. We headed to the Radio Taxi stands in the Arrival Hall, as we did not want to take chances so late in the night with a possible unscrupulous cab driver. Radio Taxis are expensive, and the rate for Copacabana at that hour was almost R$ 100. A little bit of bargaining brought it down to R$ 80, and we hopped in, and were securely taken to our Hotel Windsor Martinique at Copacabana, reaching there at about 1am. We had booked a Superior room, which was speedily allotted; we showered, changed and crashed into bed. Very strangely, we both slept peacefully through the night, with no sign of any jet lag, despite the 7.5 hour time difference from India.

    The Windsor Martinique was a nice hotel, with good English speaking staff everywhere. We had no complaints for the 5 nights that we spent here. It was half-a-block away from the Copacabana beach, and a very short walk from Ipanema beach also. The last station of the Metro (which has been extended recently) lies on the same street as this hotel, so is just 5 minutes walk away. There is free internet in the rooms, and a very decent breakfast spread. Could not have asked for a better location.

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    Day 2 : Saturday December 17th :

    We got up at 8am, after a very restful sleep. We had also slept well on the flight, so we were feeling great. It looked like a wonderful clear day, and by 9:15am we were down for breakfast. A sumptuous spread, and well-fed, we left the hotel by 10am.

    We walked to Ipanema beach, Posto 8, which was fairly close from our hotel. From there, we walked along the beach on the sand, towards Leblon. We were clad in shorts and flip-flops. It was a lovely beach, with beautiful bodies all around. The water looked enticing, but was a bit cold for us to venture in. There were lots of vendors everywhere, selling an assortment of goods. The most interesting were the bikini vendors, carrying a mound of bikinis hanging around them !

    We walked till Posto 9, and then rented two deck-chairs with an umbrella for a combined sum of R$ 10, and settled down. Vendors kept calling on us, and DW bought a nice wrap cloth for R$ 15. I had my first caipirinha of the trip, which was delicious but very wicked stuff ! DW had tender coconut water, which was sweet and refreshing. Against all advice on various talk forums, I did carry my DSLR camera in a concealed bag, and enjoyed clicking pictures with them. It was a lovely day, on a lovely beach, with zillions of lovely bodies all around, and I was not going to miss this opportunity to click pictures ! What threat were people talking about in Rio ? I could see no sign of any threat or danger, least of all on the touristy Ipanema beach on a Saturday morning.

    After spending over an hour lounging under the umbrella, doing some top quality people watching, we relinquished our post, and walked to the H.Stern headquarters. Had a short workshop tour, after which we were taken to the shop where a lady showed us lots of earrings and pendants, convinced that we were serious buyers. We played along, and enjoyed the experience, promising to come back the next day for serious shopping. We were also taken on a short "museum" tour of precious stones which was interesting, and we finally managed to break free by 1:30pm.

    We walked back to Ipanema beach, but by now the sun was too strong and stifling. So we walked to Leblon on the shaded side of the beachfront. It was a longish walk, made more difficult by the heat. It was time for lunch, and we found the place we were looking for : "Vegetariano Social Club" on Rua Conde de Bernadotte. We had a good lunch of Salads (Heart of palms, beetroot & olives), Pancakes with Tofu, and Grilled Vegetables, accompanied by fresh juice of Passionfruit with ginger. A decent filling meal, followed by a short taxi ride back to our hotel at 3:30pm, where we snoozed for about 2 hours.

    When we awoke at about 5:30pm and looked out of the window, we were surprised to see that it had rained cats and dogs during the past 2 hours, and the streets were flooded with water ! And it was bright and sunny when we retired for our siesta. Anyway, the rains had stopped, and the street water was being fast drained, as we ventured out by 6pm. We took a taxi to Santa Teresa, getting off at Largo de Guimaraes.

    The neighborhood around Largo de Guimaraes looked quaint and bohemian, with many lively cafes, bars and restaurants around. We snooped around, and then walked up the steps to reach Letras das Cafe - a bookstore cum cafe ! It was on a terrace, where it shared space with an open-air pub, where live music was in progress. There was a local music group seated around a table, generating some fantastic foot-stomping music.

    We had a round of excellent coffee at the bookstore, where the owner spoke fluent English, and guided us on the areas to stroll around in Santa Teresa. Then we walked over from the bookstore to the open-air pub, where we joined the crowds of tourists swaying with the music. Music runs in the blood of Brazilians, and they do know how to make you sway your body and tap your feet.

    We next walked up and down the "happening" street of Santa Teresa, on both sides of the Largo de Guimaraes. Walked into a lovely store called "La Verede", which had great handicrafts, and popped in and out of other cute shops. Saw a lot of bars with very unusual decor, and many with great live music in progress inside. You do not have to go inside to enjoy the music ! This place was so different from the rest of Rio as we had known from pictures, and my camera kept clicking.

    At about 8:15pm, we boarded another taxi to the Lapa area, getting down near the famed Arcos da Lapa. The arches looked wonderful. Too bad that the Bonde had been shut down a few months ago, else we would have loved to ride it over the arches. The place was full of life and activity, as this was the nightlife area of Rio, and it was a Saturday night. We walked along Avenue Mem de Sa, and found the "Carioca da Gema" pizzeria that we were looking for. A very popular place, on the first floor, with nice ambiance and lots of crowds , good thin-crust pizzas and very helpful staff with no language barriers.

    When we left at about 9:30pm, it had started to drizzle again. We walked quickly towards the Escadaria Selaron, which we wanted to see. But as we progressed, the rain kept getting heavier. Finally, we ducked for cover in a deserted restaurant. We were only a short walk away from the tiled steps of fame, but the rain showed no signs of relenting. After waiting for over an hour, we finally gave up on the wonderful sight, and decided to move on .

    This was Saturday night, and we were determined to visit a samba school. All travel sites had recommended that tourists should go to either "Mangueira" or "Salgueiro". Our hotel had advised in favor of Salgueiro, as it was nearer (and they claimed was "better"). So we took a taxi from Lapa to Salgueiro. The owner of Letras das Cafe at Santa Teresa had taught me the correct way to pronounce "Salgueiro" with a local accent, assuring me that if I said it right, the cab driver would instantly understand ! He was bang on target, and our cab driver understood us completely. The taxi ride from Lapa to Salgueiro cost only R$ 25, and we were there by 11pm. Paid R$ 30 pp at the gate and went in.

    It had been a long day for us, after a long day of travel from India, and some fatigue was setting in. But this was our only chance of seeing a samba rehearsal for the Carnaval, and we did not want to miss out. I was told that rehearsals are at an advanced stage by December, and a treat to watch. As we entered the main dance hall of Salgueiro, we were totally unprepared for what we saw, and our sleep/fatigue vanished in an instant ! It was a huge huge place, very well lit up, and there was electricity running through the air !

    Shortly after we entered, their musicians took the stage and started belting out great non-stop music. A few tourists took to the dance floor, trying out their samba steps. At about 11:30pm, the Salgueiro samba performers slowly emerged from the shadows, and started setting the stage on fire. They were clad in costumes probably of the last year's Carnaval. There were two male dancers with divine footwork and grace in their movements, along with 12-15 young female dancers, who were skimpily dressed and very energetic and accomplished in their dancing. The crowd was up on its feet, surrounding the dance area, and loving every moment of it.

    After a while, post midnight, a large percussion ensemble took stage opposite the main musicians, in a special arena on the first floor. The music that they churned out was even more heavenly, and it was impossible to stand still as one heard the sounds. The samba dancers were now in full flow, and they egged the tourists to join them ! Most tourists happily joined in, followed by great fun, culminating in the samba dancers posing for pictures with all the tourists. It made for wonderful pics, me standing with these lovely ladies draped on my arms, and my DW clicking away pictures !

    When this "touristy"" phase of samba was over, the serious rehearsals for Carnaval 2012 started. The performers emerged in the costumes for the next Carnaval, the selected theme song for Salgueiro kept blaring away, and the dress rehearsals started with serious samba dancing. Awesome stuff, and views of a lifetime. This was definitely one of the high points of our entire trip. We had enjoyed every moment of it, and it looked like it would go on through the night. The heart was willing, but alas the flesh was weak, and after 1:30am at night, we decided to call it a day. Very reluctantly, we left the premises, and took a taxi back to our hotel. By the time we hit the bed, it was past 2:30am. What a start to our trip !

    On the advice of the hotel staff, I did not carry my DSLR during the evening, but had carried my pocket P&S camera instead. I regretted it. There was no sign of any threatening situation anywhere, and would have loved to use a more powerful camera at the samba school. Who said Rio is unsafe ? Probably some idiot. Junk and nonsense.

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    Day 3 : Sunday December 18th :

    We had intended to sleep till late, but were wide awake at 8am. Got ready, had breakfast, and left the hotel by 10:15am. The weather was heavily overcast, but no rain. Pleasant weather, as no stifling sun. We walked over to Copacabana beach, and walked along the beach towards Leme. One side of Av. Atlantica was closed to vehicular traffic on a Sunday, and converted into a pedestrian zone. Kids had full control of that highway, on roller skates, on tricycles and on toy cars. A lovely sight to behold.

    The absence of sun meant that there were very few bodies on the beach on deck-chairs, but there were many lovely ones playing beach volleyball or Fast-ball. Copacabana seemed to be a more "sporty" beach than Ipanema. We walked a good deal on the beachfront, almost from Aproador to Hotel Copacabana Palace. The latter was a lovely property to stare at. We sat at a stall just opposite it, and had a lovely glass of dark draught beer.

    Then we slowly retraced our steps and returned to the other end of Copacabana beach. There were beautiful sand castles carved out everywhere on the beach, and Av. Atlantica was a splendid sight. We proceeded further towards Ipanema, and finally reached the venue of the Sunday Hippie Fair by 12:30pm. It was a huge flea market, with a lot of good stuff on display. We did pick up some good handicrafts, but did not have time to explore it fully.

    At about 1:30pm we headed for lunch to the nearby "Frontera" restaurant on Rua Visconde de Piraja. It was a very popular place, packed to capacity. Fantastic lunch buffet spread, where you pay by the kilo. Had a great meal, as there were enough vegetarian items, and enjoyed the place. Then we returned to the hotel, thinking we could use the Metro underpass as a short-cut. After proceeding a long distance into the underpass, we realized that we were not permitted to emerge on the other side without buying a metro ticket. When we explained our mistake to the metro security personnel manning the gate, they were very helpful and understanding, and allowed us through without tickets ! Once again, great Brazilian people, and their warmth towards foreign tourists.

    Rested at our hotel for about 45 minutes, and left again at 3:30pm. We took a taxi to the base of the Sugarloaf mountain. Got tickets for the cablecar, and went up immediately. We had intended to first go to Praia Vermelha, and doing the walking trail of Pista Claudio Coutinho. But we noticed that the sky was suddenly very clear, and had been warned to expect rain later in the evening. So we decided to make the most of the excellent weather, and head to the top as soon as possible.

    The 2-stage ascent was accomplished very speedily, and very soon we were on top of the Sugarloaf. The weather was crystal clear, there was no haze over the horizon, and the views were spectacular in every direction. There were a few clouds, with the sun playing hide & seek with them, but otherwise the sky was clear and blue. We were indeed very lucky. What can one write about the views from Sugarloaf on a clear day ? It is something that defies words. We still could not believe that we were actually on top of Rio's iconic mountain, and eyeing Rio in all its glory. The views of the Corcavado with Christ the Redeemer, the lovely Guanabara Bay with the tiny boats anchored everywhere, the Santos Dumont airport, the Copacabana beach, the cute Praia Vermelha beach and the shady Urca - everything looked spectacular ! We walked all around the viewing platforms, and clicked pictures from every angle and every vantage point. The weather just kept getting better and better as the evening progressed.

    We had reached the top of Sugarloaf at about 4pm, and ended up staying there for a full 4 hours ! It was too beautiful to come down. We would sit on the deck-chairs at one spot for 30 minutes, admiring the views, then shift our seats to a different spot and gaze in a different direction, and continue this game all evening. In between we had some wonderful coffee, and some frozen acai sorbet. Watched the sunset from atop, and the fading light made for some great pictures. Waited some more for the city lights of Rio to get turned on gradually, then clicked more pics, and finally at 8pm we were ready to leave.

    We descended to the base, and took a taxi to Botafogo, to Cobal Humaita. Turned out to be a great place - a huge complex with about 10-15 different restaurants housed within its compounds, all overflowing with people. We strolled through them all, and finally selected "The Mother Road - Route 66", a Tex-Mex restaurant which seemed popular. Had a caipirinha which was so-so (the one on Ipanema beach had been great), followed by some excellent burritos and quesadillas. The food was excellent, but the portions were too large to handle.

    After dinner we took a taxi back to the hotel, reaching by 10pm. We needed to turn in early to bed, and get a long night's sleep. Rio was a superb city, and we were thoroughly enjoying it. At the end of just our second day in Rio, 3 myths were becoming obvious, and needed to be debunked :

    1. Is Rio safe ? This sounded like a joke now. It is as safe or as unsafe as any other large city. We never felt threatened in even the remotest way. Wonder what that brouhaha was all about.

    2. Are Rio taxis reliable ? By now we had done almost a dozen taxi rides, and no one had tried to cheat us. This held true right till the end of our entire Brazil trip. I am sure there are a few unscrupulous cab drivers in Rio, as in any other city. No reason to malign Rio taxi drivers at all; our experience with them was excellent.

    3. Is there a language problem in Brazil ? We had read so much hype about English being barely spoken, that it was strange to see that there were not much of language problems at all. Almost every restaurant had someone who could speak English, and all hotel staff seemed comfortable in English too. Of course, knowing a few Portuguese words are very helpful, and shows that one has made an effort to learn the local language. After that, the warmth of the Brazilian people takes over, and we had no problems at all.

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    I applaud you for writing such a very interesting report. I read all of Part I and lived vicariously from what was penned. I have been fortunate to have visited Rio de janeiro eight times during the 2000s, my most recent was in October of 2011.

    When you wrote about Lapa and the activities and Santa Teresa and alluded to those very "famous steps," my lovely situations and experiences began to return to me; I'd wanted to have been right back enjoying the vibrant culture and people that is "Rio de janeiro!" Thank you very much!

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    Encouragement will keep me going...thanks al998, Femi and Eddwarm. Keep the encouragement going ! Next installment coming up soon.

    Eddwarm, I envy you for having visited Rio 8 times in the last decade. I doubt if I will ever be able to go there again. Such a marvelous city.

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    Day 4 : Monday December 19th :
    RIO DE JANEIRO (Cont'd) :

    For some strange reason, we both got up real early today, by 5:30am. Tossed and turned in bed till 7:15am or so. Finally got ready and had breakfast by 8:30am. Walked about 3 blocks to a Cambio, and changed some dollars into reals, getting the best exchange rate so far (much better than airport).

    We had been using too much of taxi in our daily commutes so far, which is not quite our style of travel. We always like to use public transport during our foreign travels, as it is so much fun. You get to interact with local people and observe their daily life. Today we had planned on going to Corcovado, and the hotel was again recommending using a taxi. We enquired about public transport, and were told that there is a City Bus No. 583, which we could catch from around the corner. So we trooped over to the bus stop, and got our bus within 5 minutes. An air-conditioned bus, with ample seating, costing only R$ 2.60 pp, which got us there in 25 minutes. Good and efficient.

    The bus dropped us right at the Corcovado cogwheel train station. We had been warned of long lines, but at 10:30am, there were no lines at all. We bought our tickets and rode the train to the top. It was a long and steep ride, with nice views on the way. Roving musicians climb the train somewhere in between, and regale the audience with their music, with expectations of donations at the end. On reaching the top, an elevator ride to still higher up, followed by two sets of escalator rides, and you are finally at the base of the statue. One of the modern wonders of the world, and here we were !

    I must admit that the Christ Redeemer statue did not give us the goosepimples that we experienced at the other "wonders of the world" like the Egyptian pyramids or the Great Wall of China, but it was a great sight nonetheless. The statue is more awe inspiring than what you may imagine, and quite powerful once you come face to face with it. The views in all directions were great, and lot of picture clicking happened. The weather was clear, with a slight haze in the air. The views from the Sugarloaf are probably better, except that you can see the lovely Sugarloaf itself from up here ! We spent about 90 minutes up there, then retraced our steps down, and caught the 584 bus back to our hotel.

    We lunched at a boutique veg restaurant called Bio Carioca on Rua Xavier D'Silva, very near our hotel. It had been greatly recommended on some travel sites, and it turned out to be the best one so far on this trip. It was a 100% veg restaurant. We enjoyed a wonderful soup of hearts of palms, some brown rice with beans and a lentil dish. There was super acai juice to go with it. It was an excellent meal in lovely settings, with English speaking staff who were very helpful.

    We returned to our hotel for our afternoon siesta. The hotel managed to fix the internet problem in my room, so I could check my mails. Called up a few hang-gliding operators listed in Lonely Planet, as this is something I have always wanted to do. They all said that the wind condition on that day was not favorable, and to check back the next day. Of the several operators listed in the guidebook, our hotel recommended Tandem-Fly, and I liked their quote the most. The offered to do the flight for R$ 250 plus a R$ 15 tax, and they would arrange pick up and drop from our hotel. Also, DW could come along and watch for no extra charge.

    WE left the hotel at 4pm, taking a taxi to Jardim Botanico. It was a lovely place to stroll around in; very beautifully landscaped from inside. It had waterfalls, lakes, and lots of exotic plants and flowers. We had barely enjoyed the serene surroundings for 30 minutes when the rain came down real hard (it had been clear skies a short while ago !). We took shelter in a greenhouse on the premises. When the rain stopped, we strolled again, but within 15 minutes we had to make another dash to the greenhouse because of rains. Alas the gardens close at 6pm, and we had to slowly make our way towards the entrance. We sat at the Jardim Cafe and sipped coffee, waiting for the rain to subside. Finally, at about 6:30pm it looked clear and we departed.

    We walked to the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, which was not far away, and started walking around it. One has to spend one evening in Rio around the Lagoa; it is very pleasant, with families and kids strolling everywhere, and joggers and cyclists in large numbers. After walking a bit, we sat down at a lakeside eatery called "Arab de Lagoa". Had a dark beer while DW enjoyed a pineapple + mint juice. Great place to sit and people watch. We ended up staying there for dinner, having Baba Ganouche with Pita Bread (which was great) with some pizza (average). The weather had totally cleared out by then.

    After dinner, we resumed walking around the lagoon. By now the giant floating Christmas tree in the lagoa had been lit up, and it was a very pretty sight. We continued walking till we reached Rua Garcia D'Avila in Ipanema, when DW complained to exhaustion. So we rode a taxi back to the hotel. Reached the hotel by 9:30pm, and hit the bed an hour later. Nice eventful day, with the weather cooperating again, except for a brief spell in Jardim Botanico.

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    Day 5 : Tuesday December 20th :
    RIO DE JANEIRO (Cont'd) :

    Once again we awoke early, and lazed in bed till a more opportune hour. Called up the Tandem-Fly pilot at 8am to check on the weather conditions. It looked like a beautiful clear day from our window. The pilot Ronny confirmed that there was no rain forecasted for the day, but that wind conditions for hang-gliding would be right only in the afternoon. I promised to call back at about 3:30pm and re-check.

    Had breakfast, and changed more currency at a nearby Cambio. Exchange rate was even better than the previous day. At about 10am we left for Centro, taking the metro to Cinelandia. As we emerged from the subway into Praca Floriana, we gazed at the lovely buildings all around, especially the Teatro Municipal. This place felt like Vienna or Prague, and not like Rio. Excellent colonial architecture.

    We paid the entry at Museu Nacional de Belas Artes and went all around. Fairly decent stuff, although no "masterpieces" by the legendary painters. It was stifling heat outside, so the air-conditioned environs of some of the galleries were extremely comforting !

    After exhausting the art supplies in an hour, we emerged and walked to Largo Carioca - a very lively place indeed. The quaint old church of Igresia Sao Francisco loomed over the square. Stalls and vendors all around. Had a round each of frozen acai juice (it is really quite addictive).

    We walked further to Confeitaria Colombo, and could not help but exclaim OMG when we entered. An exquisite and ornate Victorian tea-house, with large old-fashioned mirrors all around and a wonderful ambiance. We sat down and enjoyed a savoury snack with an Espresso with Chantilly ! This place cannot be missed on any trip to Rio. After finishing our coffee, we ventured out and did window-shopping in the lovely shops in that area. The shops had classy stuff, but were understandably over-priced.

    We walked towards Praca XV Novembro, and went for lunch at a veg restaurant called Tempeh (on the 1st floor). The place had a very arty decor, it was pay by the weight, and they had a huge huge buffet spread of veg items. This turned out to be the most delicious and also the most reasonable meal of our entire trip ! Excellent juices to go with the food, and very friendly staff.

    It was about 2:30pm when we finished lunch, and we walked to the ferry terminal nearby and bought return tickets for Niteroi. The ferries leave every 20 minutes, and the journey to Niteroi is slightly less than 20 minutes. The ferry ride was quite pleasant, with nice views of Rio and the Sugarloaf. On alighting at the ferry terminal at Niteroi, we made our way to the bus stop and boarded the 47B bus to MAC Museum. The museum was exactly what we had been told to expect, like a flying saucer from outer space ! The views in every direction were great, and we clicked pictures while enjoying really well chilled coconut water.

    We had no intentions of going inside the MAC Museum, but had intended to walk all the way back to the ferry terminal along the shore, which offered very pretty vistas. We had crossed some lovely beaches on the way to MAC, and were eager to go there on foot. However, it was 3:30pm, and time to establish contact with the hang-gliding pilot. This time there was good news. The wind condition was excellent, and I should rush back if I wanted to hang-glide ! I promised to return ASAP, and we decided to skip everything and head back, as this was our last day in Rio, and my last chance to hang glide.

    We boarded the 47B bus back to Niteroi ferry terminal, rode the ferry back to Rio, and briskly walked to Carioca metro station. Just before boarding the metro, I alerted the Tandem-Fly pilot Ronny about where we were. He suggested that once we reached the last metro stop in Ipanema, I should get into a taxi, which he would pick up the tab for (rather than sending his vehicle for pick-up). As we emerged at Ipanema metro station, we got into a cab. It was already 5pm, and Ronny spoke to the cab driver on my cell phone, explaining to him where to bring us. The traffic slowed to a crawl, and what should have taken 15 minutes ended up taking 1 hour. I was sure that we were too late to make the flight, as it was getting close to sunset, and some dark clouds were appearing over the horizon. Ronny kept in regular contact, assuring us that we could still make it.

    We finally met up with Ronny at 6:05pm. He took us straight to the Aeronautical Club office, where I had to deposit the R$ 15 tax, sign a waiver, and freshen up. Then Ronny started driving us up the Pedro Bonito mountain, briefing me along the way. He kept stressing repeatedly that I should run HARD during take-off, and that was the only thing I had to do properly. I assured him that I was in good shape, that I had badly wanted to do this, and that I would not let him down.

    When we reached the top of Pedro Bonito, Ronny's assistant started assembling the hang-glider, and Ronny started practicing the tandem run that we would have to do during take-off. Very soon I was up to his expectations, but he kept repeating the importance to run HARD during take-off. Wondered what he was worried about !

    Finally, I was all strapped up, with helmet and gear, and hooked on to the hang-glider. We did a last practice run, this time with all the burdens on us. Then he pointed towards the take-off ramp, as it was time for the actual flight. I had expected a horizontal take-off run, and not anticipated on seeing the 2000ft drop until we had taken off. I was very wrong. The take-off ramp was downward sloping, protruding beyond the edge of the cliff, and one could see all the vertical drop as we approached it. OMG, I would have to race downwards on a sloping ramp, and take-off beyond the cliff's edge, with the precipitous fall in full view ! My heart sank. Did I really want to do this at 54 years of age ? Ronny kept insisting that I could still call it off if I felt scared, but under no circumstance should I falter or hesitate once we started the take-off run.

    What if my heart sub-consciously caused me to pull back at the last moment ? I was scared, and asked some foolish questions, enquiring about Ronny's accident record (not the right time and place to do so !!). I didn't just have butterflies in my stomach, but there were large creatures growling all inside me.

    I managed to steady myself, regained my composure, and told Ronny that I was ready. He waited for a few seconds until he felt the right wind, and commanded me to start the synchronized run. I did not hesitate or falter, but did exactly what was taught in the last 30 minutes. Before I knew it, we were airborne, and Ronny was congratulating me profusely for a faultless take-off ! The scary part was behind me now - the fun part had started. I knew that the flight would only last about 8 minutes, and I was enjoying every bit of it. The rush of adrenalin had blurred the senses, and I was too excited to fully enjoy what I was experiencing. Great to see tall buildings and the lovely beach far far below. Alas, before I knew it, it was getting time to land on the beach. The landing part was easy, and there was not much that I could do wrong. Ronny had explained that any mistake during landing would not be serious. However, there were no mistakes, and we had a perfect landing. Ronny congratulated me, and I felt delighted at accomplishing this cherished desire of a lifetime.

    DW joined me a short while later, and I was still in 7th heaven ! Ronny transferred the pictures and video of the flight into a DVD, and arranged for a cab to drop us off at our hotel. We decided to get off a little earlier, at Praia Arpoador. I kept thinking about the downward inclined take-off ramp : it seemed more scary in memory. How did I get myself to do it ?!!

    We had wanted to see the sunset from Praia Arpoador,but we were a bit late. Anyway, we had almost seen the sun set at the Sao Conrado beach, where we had landed, which was also very pretty. We started walking towards Copacabana as it became dark. Saw a Pizza Hut on the way, where we ducked in for a quick dinner, as we were both tired. Stuffed ourselves, went back to our hotel, packed up and crashed into bed. We had to get up early the next morning to depart from Rio. What a glorious 4 days we had spent in this lovely city, blessed with excellent weather all through.

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    Thank you for the awesome report - love your writing style! Please keep writing...returning to Brazil in December (this time, the Northern Coast - Salvador, Bahia as main focus). Would love to get your insight, particularly around the Amazon Rainforest...unsure about committing to the trip...appears to be a hassle...

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    Crisher, the Salvador and Amazon portions will appear later in this Trip Report. Awesome places.

    As regards Amazon region, I guess you have two alternate approaches you can take. One is to base yourself at a "jungle lodge" where you can enjoy all creature comforts, and do short day trips on canoes or boats to see regions of the river. The other approach is to stay in a Riverboat or Houseboat, and be continuously on the move on the Amazon, stopping at shore to do some treks through the rainforest or some other activity. In the second approach you will sacrifice some comfort, but see more. This is what we opted for. It involved sleeping on hammocks for 3 days, with hammocks strung across the upper deck of a riverboat, and sharing the toilet with the crew of the boat. Wasn't bad at all, and gave a feeling of adventure.

    However, I understand that the first approach is more popular. See what suits you more, then look for an appropriate tour operator, who will tie up everything for you. Really no hassle.

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    indiancouple - we are spending the first 4 nights at an Amazon Lodge (we fly from Manaus to Tefe and then boat for a couple of hours!) then 5 nights in Pipa, then 3 nights in Salvador then 4 nights in Rio. We then go to Argentina for 6 weeks so will visit Iguazu and Sao Paolo in March on our way back home. You have inspired us to look into hang gliding (but not hammocks!)

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    Treepol, you are welcome.

    Great itinerary Elizabeth. Do not know much about Pipa. I am sure you will love the Amazon. Ditto for Salvador and Rio. At Iguazu, be sure to see both sides of the falls, especially the Argentinian side which is far better.

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    Day 6 : Wednesday December 21st :
    FOZ DO IGUACU :

    We had set the alarm for 5am, but I was up at 4:30am, with the hang-gliding take-off moment flashing before my eyes ! Gave the jitters even the next morning !

    We got ready, had breakfast at 6am, and checked out of the hotel. Called a yellow taxi, and negotiated a fixed price of R$ 55 for GIG airport from Copacabana. We were off by 6:30am, making it comfortably to GIG by 7am. GIG airport is far better organized than GRU, so we had a smooth check-in without hassles. We had purchased a 4-destination TAM airpass, and this was the first sector of the pass : Rio to Foz do Iguacu. When I had purchased the pass, and called up their helpdesk to book all the flight sectors, I realized that not every TAM flight is available for travel on the airpass. Although there are quite a few direct flights from Rio to Iguazu, I was forced to fly Rio - Curitiba, and Curitiba - Iguazu. Anyway, our baggage was booked through to Foz do Iguacu, and our flight to Curitiba left ahead of schedule by 9am, reaching Curitiba at 10:30am.

    We had a 3-hour wait at Curitiba, which I utilized to download all my Rio pictures to my netbook, and to sort and label them. We had a light lunch of some cheesebread and coffee, together with some snacks we were carrying from home. Our onward flight was late by 20 minutes, and it was 3 pm by the time we landed at Foz do Iguacu.

    We were scheduled to stay only 2 nights at Iguazu, and had planned on viewing both sides of the Falls. Everyone had advised to budget for a couple of hours for the Brazilian side, and a full day for the Argentinian side. Today we had planned on covering the Brazilian side. The airport is quite some distance from the city, although not very far from the falls itself. It made no sense to go all the way to our hotel, dump our bags and come all the way back to the Falls; it would certainly close by then. Fortunately, I had planned for this, by seeking advice from the park officials by mail a few weeks earlier, and did exactly as I was told.

    From the airport, we hopped into a taxi to take us to the Visitor Center of the Falls at the entrance, which was barely 5 minute drive from the airport. At the Visitor Center, we went straight into the Souvenir shop, which sold keys for luggage lockers. The man at the souvenir shop counter was very helpful, and offered to come out and see whether we needed 1 or 2 or 3 lockers ! He managed to stuff our luggage into 2 lockers (we had a lot !!) - extremely helpful guy. Then quickly purchased entry tickets, and we were seated on the complimentary park bus before 4pm, less than an hour of landing at the airport. Although the ticket counter closes at 5pm, the park itself is open till 6:30pm in summers, and we had just enough time to cover it. Two hours is par for the course on the Brazilian side.

    We rode the park bus to the Trilha Cataratas Stop, where we alighted and took the 1.2 km walking trail to the falls. It was spectacular, with photo ops appearing every 50 meters, and super panoramic views of the entire stretch of the falls before us. Be prepared for high humidity here, and I was sweating profusely. Needed to partake of water and sodas at frequent intervals to avoid dehydration.

    Finally, at the end of the trail, one reaches the climax, which is the Devil's Throat. The lookout point is well designed to give a great view of the water dropping on all sides, with the constant spray of water making you wet. We spent a good 45 minutes here, enjoying getting soaked in the spray mist. The views are to die for, leaving Niagara Falls miles behind. No heat or humidity here either, and the cool breeze makes you feel wonderful.

    All good things must come to an end, and we rode the elevator to the top of the falls, clicking more pictures. Then at 6pm we rode the park bus going back to the Visitor Center at the entrance. On reaching there, we quickly retrieved our luggage from the lockers, and just made it on the 6:30pm bus leaving the Falls for the city (this was the last bus leaving the park !).

    The bus went right in front of our hotel, but refused to stop there. We had to get out at the final terminus, and walk back about 200 meters to our Hotel Del Rey. We were allotted a large room with 3 beds, and a huge toilet area. The hotel is nothing very fanciful, but very clean, spacious, has excellent English speaking and friendly staff, and very well located. We were in our rooms by 7:30pm, and we were happy with our hotel choice.

    We enquired about veg food from the reception, and were advised to try an Italian trattoria in the city, which even sent free transport to pick-up guests from hotels. The Cantina 4 Sorelle turned out to be an excellent choice. Very fashionable and popular place, where I feasted on superb lasagnes. Then opted to walk back to the hotel, showered and went to bed by 11pm.

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    Day 7 : Thursday December 22nd :
    FOZ DO IGUACU (Cont'd) :

    We knew we had time on our hands today, as all that was planned was to see the Argentinian side of the Falls. So although the alarm went off at 7:30am, we lazed in bed for an extra hour. Had a decent breakfast at the hotel, and left by 10:15am. Argentina was an hour behind in time, so it was only 9:15am in Argentina.

    Many nationalities do not require a separate visa for Argentina to view that side of the Falls. To play safe, we had obtained our Argentina visa in India before departure. From just outside our hotel, we caught a bus going to Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. Fare was only R$ 4 pp. After riding for about 30 minutes or so, we reached what appeared to be a border crossing. The bus stopped there briefly. The driver did not say a word, and no Immigration official popped his head inside to check. We enquired from the bus driver; he casually said that if we wanted our passports stamped, we should get off, and catch the next bus in the same direction (with the same ticket). We knew that we were required by law to get our passports stamped, so we got off.

    It turns out that the Brazilian border station and the Argentinian border station are separated by about 4-5 km (God knows why ?). We had reached only the Brazilian border. The norm is that at the Brazilian border, the bus will not wait for you, but you are expected to get off and catch the next bus. However, at the Argentinian border, the bus will wait for 5-10 minutes to permit you to do the passport formalities. This applies to travel in both directions.

    Anyway, we were quite unaware of these fine intricacies. We just got off, and the Brazilian authorities swiftly stamped our passports. When we enquired if this process was really necessary, we were told that it certainly was ! When we further questioned as to why no one had forced us to get down from the bus, and why the bus driver was all set to proceed without our getting off, we were told that "these bus drivers are crazy" ! Seemed like a very loose and lax border crossing - you complete formalities if you want to, otherwise no one cares !

    The next bus in the same direction did appear very soon. We got on, along with several other tourists who were in a similar situation. We showed our tickets from the previous bus ride, but we were all told that it was not valid. Apparently there are 4 different bus companies that ply on this route, and the same ticket would be valid only if we caught a bus operated by the same company as before (which was highly unlikely!). So we all paid the R$ 4 pp all over again ! A few minutes later, the Argentinian border crossing appeared. This time the driver asked us to get off, and indicated that he would wait 5-7 minutes for us to get our passports stamped. There was no queue, and the stamping process was quick. Everyone, including my wife, were done in no time, but the officer inspecting my passport was highly suspicious, and taking a long time. The bus driver was frantically gesturing that I should be quick else he would leave. Finally, I was cleared and we proceeded.

    Brazilian currency is accepted for everything on the Argentinian side (including bus rides, food etc), except for the entry ticket to the park, for which you need to carry local pesos. I knew that we had to carry 100 pesos pp to make the entry into the park. There was a currency exchange counter at this border, where I wanted to change some currency into pesos, but the driver threatened to leave (indicating that I could catch the next bus in that direction on the same ticket !!). Alternately, he offered to provide the currency exchange himself, albeit at a slightly unfavorable rate ! I did not want to wait for a third bus, and pay the bus fare for a third time, so I accepted his offer, got 200 pesos in my pocket, and proceeded. This was getting to be quite an adventure !

    Finally we reached the Puerto Iguazu terminal in Argentina, where we had to get off and catch another bus to the Falls. There were a line of travel agents there, and we bumped into a particularly helpful guy. He gave us return bus tickets to travel to the Falls, and gave us complete dope about bus timings in both directions etc. The next bus to the Falls was only 10 minutes away, and the fare was R$ 5 pp in each direction. We hopped on, and very soon we were at the Falls entrance. It had taken 90 minutes from our hotel, and two border crossings ! It was early in the day yet, as it was only 10:45am Argentinian time.

    We paid the 100 pesos pp entry fee and went in. Strange that for everything else you can pay in Brazilian currency (including for all food inside the park, the buses on the Argentinian side), but not for park entry. And they refuse to have a currency exchange counter at the park entrance ! With the amount of tourist traffic in both directions (to see the other side of the Falls), one would imagine that the border crossings, currency conversion etc can be all done in a more customer friendly manner.

    Once inside the park, we rode the free train to the Cataratas station, and set off on the Upper Circuit walking trail immediately. Every guidebook had recommended first doing the Upper Circuit, as otherwise it would be anti-climactic to do it after the Lower Circuit. The Upper Circuit is doable in about 40 minutes. The Argentinian side was far more spectacular and interesting than the Brazilian side. The Brazilian side gives you a panoramic view of the entire stretch of the falls, but the Argentinian side is more fascinating. More up-close and personal, and more intense. Clicked large number of pictures. It was a beautiful clear day, but again very hot and humid in this region.

    After completing the Upper circuit, we sat down at one of the Park cafes and had lunch, resting our feet for a while. Then embarked on the Lower circuit, which is longer, more strenuous and more spectacular. It far surpassed any water fall that we had ever seen. Niagara did not even come close.

    From the lowest point on the Lower Circuit, we took the Adventura Nautica boat ride into the falls. A fantastic experience not to be missed. We were prepared to get wet by the water spray of the falls, but had not bargained on the boat going under the falls for a full 1-2 minute of soaking ! Great fun, and everyone loved it !!

    We emerged drenched from the boat ride, and started the arduous climb up, with our clothes dripping wet and heavy. Fortunately, on the way up you have to negotiated inclined ramps instead of steps, which makes it easier on your legs. Once we reached the Cataratas station, we boarded another train going to the Devil's Throat, which is at the far end of the park, about a 20 minute train ride away.

    There is a longish walk when you get off from the train, but when you finally reach the Devil's Throat, it is the ultimate climax of the two days of fall viewing. It is a spectacular experience, which cannot be described in words. Too powerful a sight to behold.

    After spending a lot of time at the Devil's Throat, we reluctantly made our way back to the train station, and took a train back to the park entrance. Then the bus to Puerto Iguazu, then change of buses to return to Foz do Iguacu. Once again, the 5 minute stop at the Argentinian border, where our exit from Argentina was stamped. At the Brazilian border, we were told to get off and catch the next bus.

    This time there was a line at the Brazilian border, with many travel agents in queue, each carrying about 15-20 passports. There was only one immigration official on work. A gentle requests to the travel agents, and they allowed us to go ahead in queue. Got our Brazilian entry stamped, and caught the next bus into town (obviously paying the fare for the 2nd time !). As we entered Foz do Iguacu, we got down near the same restaurant that we had dined at the previous night, Cantina 4 Sorelle. The meal was wonderful again, and they arranged drop back to our hotel.

    We had left a load of clothes for laundry at the reception, which we collected, completed packing our suitcases, and dozed off to sleep.

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    Day 8 : Friday December 23rd :
    SALVADOR :

    We were due to fly out at 9:30am, to Rio and then on to Salvador. Got up by 6am, had breakfast, cleared the hotel bill, and popped across the street to catch the airport bus. The bus came at 7:30am, and we got on. However, it was quite crowded, and we had to stand for over 50% of the journey. It was uncomfortable, with all our baggage, and the bus driver who had a penchant for sharp braking and sudden thrusts, but we made it to the airport by 8am.

    The flight to Rio was on schedule, getting us there by 11:30am. We had a two-and-half hour wait for our connecting flight, which was utilized once again in downloading and sorting photographs from the camera to the netbook. And managed to eat something by way of lunch at the airport. We reached Salvador on time at 4pm. This time the baggage retrieval was very fast. The hotel had arranged a car to pick us up, which was waiting outside. We sped away, and reached our Bahiacafe hotel in Pelourinho at 5:15pm.

    The Bahiacafe hotel is a cute, arty, bohemian boutique hotel situated right on Praca da Se. We had read that it had no air-conditioning, but were pleasantly surprised to know that they had recently installed air-conditioning in all rooms. It now had all the luxury trappings, in a very arty atmosphere. Its owner Michel, and the support staff, were all wonderfully friendly and helpful (and spoke excellent English). Its location could not be beat. We were very happy with our choice of hotel yet again, and so glad that we had not opted to stay in the Barra area of Salvador. After all, we had come here for Pelourinho and the Bahian culture, and not the beaches.

    We walked out by 6:15pm, deciding to make most of the remaining time of the day. Decided to restrict ourselves to Pelourinho only for the evening. We walked out on Praca da De, and turned into Terreiro de Jesus, which was extremely lively at that hour. We walked down to Largo Pelourinho, then back up to Sao Francisco church, and back to Praca da Se. It was a Friday night, just before Christmas, and the start of the summer holidays there. So Pelourinho was in full element that evening (according to our hotel staff, this was more lively than the traditional Olodum evenings on Tuesdays). There were Christmas processions on every street, with people dressed in all kinds of costumes and dancing away. There were various performances going on on stages set up at Largo Pelourinho and Sao Francisco square. There was loud music emanating from every house and every bar. And percussion bands were wandering the streets creating lovely music !

    It was a pleasure and a privilege to see Pelo in such glory, and we made the most of it by popping into arts & crafts stores, strolling the streets and squares, and soaking in the festive atmosphere. The architecture was so colorful and rich, that it was hard to stop clicking one's camera. And the music just made you want to dance. You could feel the vibrant culture and spirit in the air.

    We went for dinner to a place called Bar Zulu, of which we had read so much on various travel sites. It had seating both inside, and outside on the street (we opted for the outside seats of course), and a live band playing music on the street just a few feet away (on a makeshift stage). The band was belting out some fabulous music, and had everyone enthralled. The owner of Bar Zulu was a Britisher, and he personally came to take our orders. They have a large selection of veg dishes, which is why we were here. I had a Kiwi caipirinha, DW had a Watermelon juice with ginger and mint which was divine. We had Patata Bravas (with some excellent hot sauce), a wonderful soup, and a Moroccon lentil dish which was excellent. Had the owner sent two people along to help polish off the dishes, there still would have been food to spare !

    At 10pm we slowly started to make our way back to the hotel. It was our first evening in Salvador, and we were loving its feel.

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    Day 9 : Saturday December 24th :
    SALVADOR (Cont'd) :

    After a decent breakfast at the hotel, we left at 9am in the morning. It was a clear and sunny day. We were told that Christmas celebrations in Bahia take place mainly on 24th Dec instead of 25th, and Michel warned us that most things would start closing down by afternoon, and that we may have some difficulty in finding a place open for dinner.

    We walked towards Praca Municipal, crossing some acaraje vendors on the way. The ladies behind such kiosks, who were busy frying acaraje, were all dressed so beautifully, with rounded skirts, matching headgear, and vivid eye-shadows. They all looked so pretty and full of life. DW insisted on having her pictures clicked with several of them. They were all sporting and game, and seemed to enjoy the attention.

    From the Praca Municipal, the views of the Bay were fantastic. There were lovely buildings all around the Praca too, including the Rio Branco Palacio on one side. We then rode the Lacerda elevator down to the lower city, or Cidade Baixa as it is known. Was reminded so much of Lisbon, where similar elevators connect one part of the city to another.

    On reaching down, we crossed the street to reach Mercado Modelo. This is the best place to shop for souvenirs in all of Brazil. The place is crammed with stores of every variety, and prices are a fraction of what you will find in Rio stores. And you can bargain to your heart's content (striking a deal at about 35-40% of the initial offer price!). A fantastic collection of arts and crafts, and for the next 3 hours we went berserk shopping for souvenirs and gifts. Finally, our arms started paining from the weight of our purchases; so we went up the Lacerda elevator, dropped off our shopping in our hotel room, and were back in 10 minutes to resume our shopping ! This time the upper floor of Mercado Modelo.

    Finally, we decided to curtail our shopping spree at 1pm, and took a taxi to Solar de Unhao (pronounced with a difficult nasal twang). Unfortunately, it was closed for Christmas. Then asked the taxi to take us to a particular veg restaurant nearby, but that too was closed for Christmas. We returned to Lacerda, rode it up, and noticed that most places had already shut down for Christmas. Walked to Bar Zulu where we had dined the previous evening, and luckily it was one of the few establishments that was open. We had juice glasses, some Nachos (with hot sauce !), and Alu Gobi + rice. Food was good as usual, and we were hungry, so it was devoured quickly.

    After lunch we visited Igreja Sao Francisco, and were stunned by the rich gold interiors. Very ornate and jaw-dropping. And entry was free on account of Christmas. Walked over to the nearby Afro-Brasilerie museum, but that too had shut down. Had our pictures clicked on the roadside in a stall where you could dress up in Bahian attire, and had a blast.

    The great thing about our hotel location was that it was only two minutes walk from Lacerda elevator, and we could go up and down at will. So we rode the elevator down again, and caught a bus going to Ribiera, getting off at the last stop. Near the bus terminus is an 80-year old ice cream parlour, where we seated ourselves and had some wonderful ice creams. The views of the Bay were very nice from here, as we slowly walked along the shoreline for the next 45 minutes till we reached Bonfim church.

    There were a million ribbons tied to the railings outside this church. The church itself was simple yet impressive. Christmas mass had just started inside, and it was packed to capacity. We sat inside and witnessed the lovely hymn singing and various rituals being performed. Then emerged and took a taxi to nearby Ponta de Humaita and Monteserrat fort. A lovely place to stroll around and great views of central Salvador from here. Then took a taxi back to Lacerda, returned to our hotel, and rested in our rooms for awhile.

    Most of Pelo was deserted today, on account of Christmas. Michel had warned us not to carry a camera around today in the evening, and we heeded his advice, although we witnessed no threat anywhere. Very few shops or restaurants were open. There was some activity on Terreiro de Jesus, where we sat for some time. We walked around Pelo one more time, and were forced to dine once again at Bar Zulu, as nothing else was open. Had a nice dinner and returned to our hotel.

    Christmas mass was in progress at the Cathedral Basilica on Terreiro de Jesus. Looked in briefly, then returned to the hotel and went early to bed. Not much else to do.

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    Day 10 : Sunday December 25th :
    SALVADOR (Cont’d) :

    Today was a double whammy; it was Christmas and a Sunday. Everything was likely to be closed. We had selected to visit the one spot that would not be closed, which was the beach area of Salvador.

    After a leisurely breakfast, we boarded a bus from Praca da Se bound for the Barra area, getting down at Porta de Barra, supposedly the best beach of Salvador. It was quite nice, and quite crowded on a holiday. One should not compare this with Ipanema or Copacabana beach, but on an absolute scale, it was quite a good beach.

    We had reached here at about 10:30am, and we immediately made ourselves comfortable by renting two chairs and an umbrella. Started off with an ice-chilled fresh coconut water, followed soon after by some excellent limao juice tended by some roving vendor, which was divine in taste. After that, I went for a plunge in the water. The water temperature was just right, and the water was as still as a swimming pool. Lots of families swimming all around.

    After spending 30 minutes in the water, I returned to my chair and indulged in top quality people watching. The views and atmosphere was quite like Ipanema beach of Rio. Then I went back to the water for a repeat plunge. Finally, after a very relaxing and enjoyable morning at the beachside, we were ready to go for lunch at about 1:30pm.

    We had heard great things about a veg restaurant here called “Ramma”. We found it easily, but alas it was closed for Christmas. However, quite nearby we spotted an upscale Italian restaurant called “Manitoba” or something similar. We sat down there, its strong air-conditioning feeling very refreshing after the outside heat. Consumed a wonderful dark beer, followed by a delicious plate of penne pasta with three-cheese sauce. Their hot sauce was even more delicious than anything we had tasted on this trip !

    After lunch, at about 3pm we took a taxi up Avenue Sete Setembre to the Museu de Arte Bahia; closed too for Christmas. Walked to the nearby Carlos Costa Pinto Museum, and that too was closed. Very frustrating. The only place to go back to was the beach. We debated whether to go to the nearby Farol de Barra Beach, or travel some distance to Itapua beach. Someone had told us this morning that the further out we went, the more secluded and beautiful the beaches would get. We had time, so we rode a bus for the next 25 km out of town, getting down at Itapua beach. We were there in 25 minutes, after quite a scenic drive on the bus.

    What we saw on getting there was totally contrary to expectations. It was a very very narrow strip of beach, packed to capacity with locals, with everyone trying to get drunk. The water was too filthy for swimming. There was a large run-down bar near the beach, where hundreds of locals were dancing away merrily to some music. We immediately realized that this was not the kind of place where we would like to spend time. Had some good fresh sugarcane juice, and immediately boarded a bus in the reverse direction.

    We had planned on spending the evening at Rio Vermelho, which is known for party life in the late hours. We decided to stop at Rio Vermelho and check out the place, although it was still afternoon. The town had no real beach, but a rocky coastline. Sat on the waterfront and had another round of chilled coconut water. Then we checked out the various spots that we had marked out for dinner and music, and found them all closed for Christmas. Realized that there would not be much of a party scene today, as most establishments were closed. We had wasted the last 3 hours traveling up and down on buses, getting nowhere. Well the drive had been nice, but we would have been better off at Farol de Barra. That is where we decided to return.

    Boarded a bus yet again, and got off slightly before the Farol de Barra, at the Christo statue atop a lovely hill. We walked on that hill, which was extremely pretty, with lush green grass, and swaying palms, and lovely views of the setting sun. It was 6pm, and getting close to sunset. We just sat there and watched a lovely sunset, with the sun sinking into the ocean around 7 pm. Very scenic and relaxing.

    After sunset, we slowly walked along the coast to Farol de Barra, and then continued walking till Porta de Barra. There were very few places open for dinner, and we sat down on a pavement table at one such place. It was called “Oasis de la Porta” or something. The ambiance was quite nice, and the environs were lively. We had a pizza which was decent in taste, but ridiculously small in portion. Finally, at 9pm we boarded a bus back to Praca de Se. Went for a short stroll to Terreiro de Jesus, but even that was semi-deserted. Decided to call it a day and retire to bed.

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    Day 11 : Monday December 26th :
    SALVADOR (Cont’d) :

    Originally, we had planned on taking a day trip today, either to Itaparica or to Praia de Forte. Out hotel owner Michel explained that all we could expect to see at either places was beaches, beaches and more beaches. We had experienced enough of beaches the previous day, and we had come to Salvador to explore the culture here, and not the beaches. So we decided to give these day-trips a miss, and stay put at Salvador. We had missed out a lot the last two days, on account of things being closed for Christmas. We decided to catch up on all the missed sights today.

    We started off by visiting the “lavanderia” near our hotel, to deposit another batch of clothes for laundry. It was run by a nice old Dutch gentleman, who promised to deliver the clothes back to our hotel. At 9::30am, we went to the capoeira school of Mestre Bimba, who is a veteran of the “Regional Style” of capoeira. We were allowed to sit and watch without paying any charge. There was a solo girl student at that time, who had travelled all the way from Slovenia to learn capoeira here ! A lady instructor was coaching her, and together they were going through the steps very smoothly. We were told that if we came back at 7pm in the evening, one of the Mestre would be teaching, and many more students were likely to be there.

    We started walking towards the Santo Antonio area, but the road was mainly uphill and steep, and seemed quite a climb. So we soon opted for a taxi, which deposited us at the far end of Santo Antonio, to the erstwhile prison which is now the capoeira school of Mestre Joao Pequeno of the Angolan style. This was a spacious place, with several training rooms. Once again, tourists were permitted to sit and watch without paying any fee. In one room, a Mestre was at work with 3 students, who all seemed to be at an advanced stage of learning. We watched for a long time, and it was fascinating. The stamina required for capoeira is quite immense, and one requires a high degree of flexibility and coordination. The students kept going through their steps for a very long time without taking even a moment’s break. In an adjoining room, another instructor was working with an Argentinian couple, who appeared to be novices. I found capoeira very interesting to watch.

    After leaving the capoeira school, we decided to slowly walk back to Pelourinho, as it was mainly downhill. Lots of lovely houses in Santo Antonio too, but perhaps not as well maintained as in Pelo. Lots of pousadas, cafes and bars. Seemed like a safe place (hotel owner had also vouched for safety of this area), so I freely clicked pictures with my DSLR. As I walked, a local lady saw me and scolded me, advising me to put my camera away or risk having it snatched. I did as I was told, although I saw nothing threatening anywhere.

    On the way to Pelo, we spotted a lovely jewellery store called “Gersons”, who had stationed a beautifully dressed Bahian lady outside their store to draw the customers in. We succumbed to her charms and went in, and enjoyed killer views of the Todos Santos Bay from the shop interiors . The air-conditioning was excellent, and we finally ended up buying a nice pair of earrings for DW !

    When we reached Pelo, we went inside a huge record shop called Cana Brava. It is a massive shop for music and CD’s, owned by an American, who is also the author of the best website for tourism for the Salvador area, called www.bahia-online.net . We were looking for some nice samba music, and some percussion music typical of Salvador. The owner played out various CD’s for us, and helped us make our selection. A very nice man, and we got just what we were looking for. Then we stopped at a Cambio near Sao Francisco square and changed some more currency. Tried one more time to visit the Afro-Brasilerie Museu, but it was still closed and would re-open only after the New Year. We popped into a few more stores, and did some more last-minute shopping. Then we sat down at Terreiro de Jesus, where open-air free capoeira was in progress. Unlike what I had read in guide books, the performers were not at all aggressive in demanding money from onlookers. You were welcome to go upto them, and have your pictures clicked with them performing capoeira all around you. A small donation was expected, but not aggressively sought. We had our photos clicked, and thoroughly enjoyed their performance.

    For lunch we went inside “Ramma”, a veg restaurant near Igreja Sao Francisco, which had a great buffet spread where you pay by the kilo. We had a wonderful meal of great variety, and then went back to our hotel to rest for about an hour. At about 3pm, we left again, walking towards Lacerda elevator. We saw a roadside artiste, painting beautiful tiles with just his fingers. Fascinating to watch him, and bought one of his tiles. Excellent quality stuff, and very cheap.

    On reaching the bottom of the elevator, we took a taxi to the Carlos Costa Pinto museum, and fortunately it was open today. Rarely have I enjoyed a museum more than this. The collections of silverware, porcelains, jewellery, paintings, furniture, crystals etc were fabulous, and superbly laid out and displayed. One should not miss this museum in Salvador – it is a real gem. We spent over an hour inside, and then more time at its lovely café in a picturesque backyard, where we had an excellent coffee. Then boarded a bus back to Praca da Se.

    By now it was 5:30pm, and we went straight to Theater San Miguel and purchased tickets for its evening folkloric show. Then wrapped up our final remaining bits of shopping (Salvador is just such a great place to shop, it is hard to resist). There is excellent local craft work of straw, and they make lovely articles with them. We went back to our hotel, and did our packing for the trip, as we had made huge purchases during the last few days, and it was a tough job fitting everything in our bags. We really had no business buying so much, and it took a lot of effort to pack everything away.

    At about 7 pm we went to Mestre Bimba’s capoeira school again, where a Mestre was at work with 3 students, all very advanced. Enjoyed watching it again. Must say I was impressed at the level of practice and stamina required to master this capoeira art.

    Then we made our way to Theater San Miguel, for the 8pm show. It has a lovely compact theater inside, which gives a very personal up-close feeling with the performers. This show turned out to be the high point of our Salvador visit, and a fitting climax. A Candomble dance, a Fire dance, a Fisherman dance, a Harvest dance, a Capoeira performance and a Samba dance. Outstanding stuff, and thoroughly enjoyable. The Fisherman dance and the Capoeira performance were beyond description. Too good and never to be missed.

    Went for dinner to an Italian restaurant called La Figa. Excellent food, washed down with Chilean white wine. The streets of Pelo were alive again, after a two day Christmas break. Music blaring everywhere. Drum bands in the streets. Freaks visible everywhere. Large groups of tourists floating all over, clicking pictures. This was the Salvador we had come to see, and enjoyed so much. We were feeling remorseful on leaving. We slowly walked back to our hotel at 11pm and went to bed.

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    Day 12 : Tuesday December 27th :
    MANAUS :

    Today was our travel day, with not much of planned itinerary. We got up at 4am, and were ready to leave by 5:15pm, when the taxi arrived. At that early hour, we made good progress, and reached Salvador airport well in time by 5:45pm. We had a smooth check-in, despite our bags having increased manifold in weight and volume, courtesy our shopping. Had a skimpy breakfast at the airport.

    We had a 7:20am flight to Rio, which landed at Rio on time at 9:30am. Once again a two-and-half hour wait for our connecting flight, utilized as usual in downloading and sorting our Salvador pictures. Also had a light lunch at Rio airport.

    Our connecting flight to Manaus was late by an hour, and after a long flight we finally landed at Manaus at 3pm local time (two hours behind Rio and the east coast of Brazil). Our Amazon tour was booked through Swallows and Amazons, and they had sent our guide Naresh to receive us at the airport, with a car. We were transported to our hotel Atlantica Go Inn in downtown, and checked in. It was a fairly decent hotel, but nothing to write home about. Naresh left us, promising to pick us up next morning.

    At about 4:15pm we went for a stroll to the famous Teatro Amazonas, which was a 2 minute walk away. Impressive building, but I was quite underwhelmed. They had only one more tour inside remaining for the day, but it was in Portuguese. So we skipped it, and just strolled outside.

    We walked in and out of some souvenir shops near the Teatro plaza, and finally settled down for dinner at Casa do Pensador nearby. It is right next to the famous Africa House restaurant. Had a decent meal of Veg Stroganoff, and then went back to our hotel. We were tired after a long day of travel, and retired to bed. Had to be fresh for the Amazon the next day !

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    Looking forward to reading your report. I'm only up to the mess at the airline counter. Must be the status quo.

    You two go the places that I find interesting. Will the Indian couple be doing any nature travel in India?

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    Sorry, I was out of town the last few days. Promise to complete the trip report tonight !

    Yes Femi, I do keep notes everyday of our travels.

    Which other place of our travel do you find interesting atravelyn ? We have already done a lot of travel within India, including visits to various "nature and wildlife" resorts and parks. Any particular ones or places that interest you ?

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    Day 13 : Wednesday December 28th :
    AMAZON :

    We were up by 7am, had our breakfast at the hotel, and stored most of our luggage in the storage room of the hotel. We had packed whatever little we needed for the next 3 days in one small suitcase. Best to travel light on the boat.

    Our guide Naresh had promised to come by 8:30am, but arrived only at 9am. He suddenly informed us that the taxi ride to the docks was not included in our trip expenses, and would have to be paid by us. We had booked an all-inclusive trip, with airport transfers, hotel accommodation and the Amazon boat ride all included, and now someone was showing the fine print that a taxi ride costing barely R$ 10-15 was extra ! Not a good start. We decided to take time out for 5 minutes, and enquired as to what else was not included – come out with it all at one go ! He said that sodas, alcohol, toiletries, towels, blankets were not included, and we would have to bring our own. Thankfully, I had gone in some detail while booking the trip, and was able to show him the fine print of what we had paid for – it specifically included sodas, towels, blankets etc. It was well understood that alcohol and toiletries were not included. I got pretty annoyed, because after paying 100% advance to a supposedly “reputed” operator, who happened to be a Britisher, I had not expected this, and made my displeasure felt quite loud and clear.

    On reading the details, Naresh apologized, as his owner was presently not in Manaus, and promised to arrange for blankets, towels and sodas. He expressed his inability to do something about the taxi ride, but managed to hail a friend who was driving by, and offer us a “free ride” to the docks. We went along, but it had already left a sour taste in our mouth. We were worried that this was a forerunner of things to come during the next few days. Fortunately however, the unpleasantness did not carry forward any further, and there were no further unpleasant surprises. However, it indicated to what extent one should dot the i’s and cross the t’s when booking such tours. Not that these surprises amount to much in monetary value; it is just disgusting to have to pay trivial extra amounts for having gone along in good faith about details.

    When we reached the docks, we found that there was a huge indoor market by its side, selling all kinds of stuff. Nothing fanciful, but very interesting and a cheap place to stock up on everything. Naresh helped us purchase some beer and wine, sun-block cream, mosquito repellants, flashlight etc, which we felt we ought to have on such an adventure. Naresh stocked up on necessary purchases that he required on behalf of the tour operator, such as vegetables, flour, and various other boat supplies. The hour that we spent roaming around the market was actually quite enjoyable.

    Finally we clambered aboard our Riverboat, called the “Ajauro Junior”, a modest double-decker vessel. A rustic “captain”, his wife who would function as our cook, our guide Naresh and ourselves. The upper deck was allotted to us as our “private” quarters, and three hammocks were strung across for us : one each for us, and a third to function as our “wardrobe”, so that small objects would not roll off the deck ! There was a shared toilet on the lower deck, along with the engine room and ship’s controls, hammocks for the crew and guide, and a small dining table. Very rustic but cute. We liked it and soon settled down.

    We set sail at about 11am, and for an hour or so we traveled down the Rio Negro river, going past various floating gas-stations ! Even stopped at one and filled our boat’s fuel supply tanks. Then we continued our journey towards the “Meeting of the Waters”, where the Rio Negro river meets the Rio Solimoes to form the actual Amazon. The tea-colored water of the Rio Negro and the white muddy water of the Solimoes flow side by side for a full 9 km before they finally merge and become indistinguishable. The delay in mixing is caused by the high difference in the temperature, acidity and flow-rate of the two rivers, causing them to retain their identities for a considerable distance. Unforgettable sight that I will remember for a very long time.

    We sat down for lunch, which was understandably “country style” : rice and beans, with veggies and fresh salads and fruits (we had requested for veg food; otherwise fish would surely have been provided). It was simple but very tasty. We had requested Naresh to stock up on green chillies and hot sauce when he was shopping in the morning, and his green chillies were pure dynamite !

    Then we sailed back upstream on the Rio Negro , and after a while diverted off the Rio Negro towards Lake Janauari, where we alighted and took a short walk to reach the lake which was filled with giant water lilies. The largest water lilies had leaves with a diameter of 2.5 meters, and could supposedly support a weight of 25 kg ! It was a very picturesque spot, and looked extremely beautiful. Clicked lots and lots of pictures.

    This was the last of the planned activity for the day (we had passed up the opportunity to do pirhana fishing, as it was not of interest to us !). As we set sail from Lake Janauari, a storm broke out on the Amazon (apparently quite common at this type of the year). We had to remain anchored and wait till the storm died down. It was over in an hour, and we moved on. However, the river was quite choppy in the aftermath of the storm, and the riverboat rolled from side to side. We were worried, but Naresh assured us that we were taking no chances with safety and it was perfectly safe.

    We traveled for a few hours, with the waters becoming calmer with passage of time. Finally we reached the place where we were scheduled to drop anchor for the night, by around 6pm. Early dinner was served at 7pm. Darkness set in very quickly. We were tethered to some bushes near the shore. The spot was called Anaconda Bay – not the most reassuring place to spend a night ! However, we were assured that sighting an anaconda was highly unlikely, and we could retire peacefully to sleep on our hammocks at 7:30pm.

    The weather suddenly became very cool. There was complete silence, but for the sounds of the rainforest – sounds of birds and insects, with not a soul in sight. Sleeping on a hammock on the Amazon river, in the midst of the thickest rainforests in the world, with birds and insect sounds to keep company, and the wind causing the bushes to make a constant rustling sound against the boat’s tarpaulins …this was adventure par excellence ! DW was scared all night that an anaconda will clamber aboard ! The sounds of the bushes against the tarps scared her. I had no problems about getting sleep at all. Managed beautifully in the hammocks, and slept peacefully for a full 11 hours, getting up at 6:30am next morning !

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    Day 14 : Thursday December 29th :
    AMAZON (Cont’d) :

    We got ready quite quickly after getting up. The toilet and shower were really quite adequate, and we had not expected 5-star luxury here. Breakfast was served at 7:15am; it was quite an elaborate spread : bread, eggs, cheese, fruits, unusual pancakes made of manioc flour, fried bananas, juice and coffee. We stuffed ourselves. The rustic environment and the fresh cooking tasted heavenly. After we finished, the boat went into motion by 7:45am.

    The first point of call was at the Rio Negro State Park, where we were scheduled to take a three-hour walk through the Amazon rainforest. We reached our pre-selected spot by around 9:15am. We learned that this was the spot where the in-laws of Mark Aitchinson (the owner of the tour group “Swallows & Amazons”) lived. We walked up to his father-in-law’s house, where Naresh picked up an additional local guide (a diminutive old man, who was apparently very knowledgeable of the area), and two dogs ! By 9:45am we were off on our hike. Within 5 minutes we were in thick forest, with the sun not finding its way to the ground. In fact we were already in such thick forest cover, that we would never have been able to find our way out without a guide !

    The walk was very interesting – we felt that we were intrepid explorers of National Geographic or Discovery channel ! Naresh and the local guide walked in front, with machetes in hand, clearing the way by constantly swiping at vines or cobwebs or branches that blocked our path. The dogs ran all over the place, sniffing away. Naresh had mentioned that there was not much of a threat from jaguars; what we needed to be worried about were wild pigs, who walked in herds of 50-100 together, and could devour a live human. The dogs were with us to smell them out from a distance and warn us if ever such a herd was near. Thankfully, no such danger confronted us.

    We were shown very unique medicinal trees and shrubs at every turn. There were trees from which you could get pure drinking water, milk, treatment from diarrhea, cure for skin problems, cure for malaria or headaches or liver problems etc. Saw trees whose bark is used for making ropes, and the rope making art was demonstrated live by using it. The same bark could also be used for roof thatching, or for making skirts ! Each time we passed such a unique tree, Naresh would cut across the relevant portion of the tree, and demonstrate whatever use it was meant for. A very educative and interesting journey.

    We also saw some interesting animals, birds and moths. We watched with fascination the Giant Spider, including a demo on how to make it come out of its hole, and how to send it back ! Could never imagine a spider so huge, and apparently quite dangerous too.

    The first two hours of the rainforest walk was great. After that, the last hour was a bit tiring. The humidity in the rainforest was very high, and I was perspiring profusely. I was feeling quite tired and a bit dehydrated, as we were carrying limited water with us. The last 45 minutes of the walk felt like an ordeal to me, and I was glad when we finally emerged back in the clear. By the time we walked back to the boat and climbed aboard, it was about 12:45pm. I rushed to the toilet to have a cold shower, and downed lots of water, followed by a chilled beer, and finally felt normal again.

    We had lunch, and by 2pm we were on our way again. In 30 minutes, we docked again, this time near a village of the local Cabocles people. There was a long set of wooden stairs to be negotiated before we reached the village, and just as we reached the rain came down heavily without any warning. We took cover in the porch of a large local family’s house, where the family members were busy grating, sieving and cooking manioc flour. They surprisingly spoke good English, and it was interesting to watch them go about their daily lives.

    When the rain subsided, we went for a walk around their village, which was quite spread out. We were very impressed with their school building, which looked extremely good. There were decent houses everywhere, with TV, dog kennels, and various other “trappings” of modern life. Not too interesting for us coming from India, as it resembled various poor Indian villages. Perhaps of more interest to a Westerner.

    We returned to the boat and sailed towards the Anavilhas Archipalego, which is a unique cluster of 420 pristine rainforest islands, which are all uninhabited forest reserves, where even setting foot is prohibited. After going through this picturesque portion for a while, we again had to stop and tether our boat, as another storm had broken out on the Amazon.

    This time the storm was a major one, and lasted full 90 minutes, when it rained cats and dogs. When we started moving again, we found ourselves in the midst of a very wide expanse of water (the river was over 20 km wide here !), and the water was extremely choppy after the storm – more so than the previous day. We were quite scared as the boat rocked and rolled, but we were constantly assured by Naresh that there was no risk and we were fine. As time went on, the water gradually calmed down again, and we breathed more easily. Finally we docked at a point, where we had to pick up canoes. It was a huge floating house on the water, where we were greeted by a lady with 8 grown up children, and as many dogs. There were a lot of pink dolphins swimming about in the area. Her teenaged sons had just returned from fishing on a canoe, and were slowly removing the catch of the day from the fishing nets in the canoe.

    Once the fish removal was done, the canoe was tied to our riverboat, and we set off again. Not far away, we dropped anchor and tethered our boat for our night halt. We got into the canoe with Naresh, and rowed out in pitch darkness, armed with only flashlights. We were on a caiman spotting expedition. We spotted several, although all we could see was their eyes in the light of the flashlights. I was enjoying it, but DW was feeling scared and uncomfortable. So we did not do the caiman spotting for long, and returned to our riverboat.

    We had a simple but sumptuous dinner, and by 8pm it was already late for bed-time in the Amazon ! This night there were no rustling sounds, and no possible “anaconda” threats, so DW slept as peacefully as me.

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    Day 15 : Friday December 30th :
    AMAZON / MANAUS :

    After sleeping for a full 10 hours, we woke up at 6am. By now we felt quite comfortable in our hammocks. Today the sky was overcast. We sat on our deck chairs for an hour, admiring the peace and tranquility of the environs. It had started to rain.

    We gradually got ready, and had a repeat lavish breakfast as the previous day. We were waiting for the rain to disappear, but it would not stop. There was no wind to accompany the rain, but the rain itself was light yet continuous – the kind that does not go away in a hurry. We were due to go on a canoeing trip in the area with Naresh. When we gave up on the rain stopping, we donned our raincoats, and climbed into the canoe. We went on a 90-minute canoeing trip around the area in Lake Acajatuba, amidst light but persistent rain. The water was still, and the rain did not bother us after a while. The sights were lovely. Lots of birds, despite the rain. We saw vultures, parrots, kingfishers, herons, green ibis, swallows etc. Naresh would keep pointing them out to us. There were shrubs everywhere on which red colored berries grew. We were assured that they were edible, and we enjoyed plucking them and devouring them as we rowed everywhere. It was a perfect place to click lots of pictures, but unfortunately I had left my camera in the boat because of the rain.

    We returned to our riverboat by 11am, and returned to the place where we had rented the canoe the previous evening. Lots of tourists had already arrived by then, to see the pink dolphins. The rain had completely stopped by now. We got into our swimming gear, walked to the platform where the teenaged boys were feeding the pink dolphins. Finally, we climbed into the water and had a great time alongside the pink dolphins. They were being hand-fed fish which had been caught the previous evening. They would keep coming near the boys and emerged from the water to take their fish. As they emerged, we could feel their bodies and stroke them. Finally, I went for a swim in the waters, with lots of pink dolphins swimming beside me. It was an unforgettable moment.

    Finally we returned to our riverboat, and set sail for our return journey to Manaus. It was noon, and the journey ahead would take 4-5 hours. Had a cold beer and some snacks, and packed up our stuff which was strewn all over the upper deck. Had a decent lunch at 1pm, our last meal on the boat. Then just sat on the upper deck or lay on the hammocks, as the boat moved forward without stopping anywhere. The river was calm and peaceful today, and we had no anxious moments. Finally, we reached the Manaus docks at about 5 pm. We clicked pictures with the entire “crew” of the boat, and got off. It had been probably the greatest true adventure of our lifetime. Naresh helped us get a taxi. He had been a great guide, and we tipped him handsomely. The traffic in Manaus was pathetic, and it took a while to get back to our hotel. Once there, we checked in again, retrieved our luggage from the storage rooms, and went to our rooms.

    We decided to go for an early dinner, and retire early, as we had a very early morning flight to catch the next day. We strolled towards the Teatro square, and went to a popular pizzeria called “Scarola”, a short walk from the Teatro. Had a decent meal, and returned to our hotel, to crash out to sleep. Had to set a wake-up alarm for 3:30am, as we had a 5:50am flight to Sao Paulo.

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    Yes Femi, it was a great adventure, and very different from what we had ever experienced. The Amazon feels less like a river, and more like a sea - it is so huge. One is in constant awe of this mighty river.

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    Day 16 : Saturday December 31st :
    SAO PAULO :

    Got up around 3:30am and got ready quickly. By 4:15am we were down with our luggage and checked out. Naresh had arranged for his brother to drive us to the airport, and he was on time. A smooth drive at that hour, and we were at the airport in no time. This was the first direct flight we were taking on TAM, where we did not have to transit through another airport. Straight to Sao Paulo, where we reached at 11:30am local time.

    Took a taxi from the airport to our hotel, which was the Mercure Jardims Hotel. You are forced to take a fixed fare taxi at Sao Paulo (the cab company has a monopoly here), which was a steep R$ 105 to Jardims. We liked the look of the city as we drove through it, and loved the feel of the Jardims area when we reached there. Once again, we were very very happy that we had selected a hotel in this neighborhood. It was safe, lively, and just two blocks away from the happening street of Av Paulista. The hotel itself was nice, with spacious rooms and friendly English speaking staff.

    We had experienced an excellent run with the weather all through this trip, and our luck was due to run out now. There was consistent rain forecasted for the next two days, and that was exactly what was visible – a constant pitter patter all the time. To make things worse, we discovered that the city virtually shuts down for two days on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Here we were on 31st December, hoping to enjoy the holiday period, where finding a restaurant open for lunch was getting impossible.

    We had earmarked about 5-6 great veg restaurants in Jardims, within walking distance of our hotel. We went to each one of them, and they were all closed for the New Year festivities. We were tired and hungry after all this walking around. We found a salad bar open, and sat down before this place closed down too. Managed to get some lunch, and fill ourselves up, as we had virtually gone without breakfast too. Then went back to our hotel and rested for a few hours.

    Everything that we had planned to do today was now ruled out, as everything was shut. The famed MASP museum was closed, all shops on nearby Oscar Freire street were closed, and it appeared that we were going to just sit in our hotel room for the next two days. Finally, at about 4pm when the rain had stopped, we took a taxi to the Ibirapuera Park, which was fortunately open. It was a lovely park, with lots of places to stroll around, and sit down and people watch. All museums etc inside the park were shut down, but the outside areas were all accessible. We strolled around for about an hour or more, and although there were people everywhere, it seemed semi-deserted.

    We exited the park, and walked to a place nearby where some crowds were visible. Turned out to be the terminal point of a city marathon run, and the crowds were cheering the runners as they came in. After a while we got into a taxi, and asked him to drive us to Daslu, the famed over-the-top shopping center of SP. We were not sure if it would be open, and neither was the taxi driver. We took a chance, but it too turned out to be a disappointment. Closed. Asked the taxi driver to take us back to Jardims, where we got down at Oscar Freire street.

    The supposedly fashionable shopping street of Oscar Freire was also completely shut down, and we slowly walked back to our hotel. We were visiting Sao Paulo as we had to catch our return flight to India from here. We could have boarded a flight home the same evening, but had deliberately booked ourselves on a flight for the subsequent night, thinking that we would explore the city for 1-2 days. Turned out to be a wrong decision. We had not realized how badly the place would shut down for New Years. There was little else to do but sit in our hotel room, and watch the rain come down in a steady drizzle.

    The hotel told us that there was no hope of finding any place open for dinner, and we would be better off having dinner at the hotel itself. The hotel restaurant was also closed, but they were serving a few limited items as room service. We ordered some pasta, and had an insipid dinner. Kept waiting for the rain to stop, but it refused to go away. Finally, at about 10pm, we put on our raincoats and stepped out to walk to Av Paulista, where the New Year festivities were supposed to take place. There were huge crowds visible on the streets, all headed in the same direction. Everyone was wearing a raincoat, and many were already drunk by now !

    The police would not allow people to walk straight to Av Paulista, as that portion of Av Paulista had already become jam packed with people by then. We were all forced to walk on a street parallel to Av Paulista, for atleast a kilometer or more, before access to Av Paulista was permitted. It was a huge street party on Av Paulista, with a giant stage and music performers, and huge TV screens set up everywhere. The buildings were beautifully lit up, and the place was packed to capacity. Thousands were still pouring in every minute. The New Year mood was visible everywhere, and crowds were dancing on the streets.

    We enjoyed the scene for an hour or so. Then it started getting tiring. There was understandably no place to sit down, and we were not interested in dancing on the streets. A bit too old for all that. We had planned on staying here till midnight, but the fatigue of the entire trip was setting in, and the constant rain did not help matters at all. So we decided to leave the scene, 45 minutes before the dawn of the new year, and made our way back to the hotel. Watched the rest of the proceedings of New Year celebrations on TV, where the Copacabana festivities of Rio featured very prominently. Looked great even on the small screen. And we could hear the firecrackers go off all around us as we retired to sleep.

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    Day 17 : Sunday January 1st :
    SAO PAULO (Cont’d) :

    This was our final day in Brazil. We got up very late quite deliberately, as there was not much to do. We had originally planned on visiting the downtown area, and strolling around the very pretty buildings there. There were also some great flea markets which emerge in downtown SP every Sunday, which we had planned to visit. But our hotel had warned us that no flea market was likely to operate today on account of the new year, and that the downtown area would be completely deserted and not very safe to stroll around. We had been fortunate on the security front till now, with no threatening incident so far. We wanted to keep it that way, and heeded the hotel’s advice to avoid the downtown area today.

    So we slept till very late, and by the time we were ready, it was almost lunch time. We enquired as to what would be open for lunch, and the hotel recommended a place which was about 5-6 blocks away, which they knew was open. We followed their directions, and reached our destination – a delightful place called Galeria dos Paes on Rua Estados Unidos. It was a huge bakery on the ground floor, with hundreds of bread varieties for sale, and a buffet restaurant on the upper floor. Seemed a very popular place, as it was packed, and there were lines for the restaurant. We had an excellent lunch there, as there were enough vegetarian items on offer. Everything was freshly cooked or baked, there were wonderful soups and salads and bakery items, with champagne too ! We spent a very long time here, doodling over our food and subsequently over coffee, and had a great time. Later found out that this place was also highly recommended on the Lonely Planet guidebook. And the buffet lunch was quite reasonable, at about R$ 25 per head.

    We walked back to our hotel, and thanked the reception staff for their recommendation. Then we quickly checked out, as we had to vacate our room by 2pm, and stored our luggage in their storage room. Went for a stroll to Av Paulista, to see it by the day. They were still clearing up the mess of the previous evening. We walked all the way to the MASP museum, which was understandably closed. The Sunday street antique market which emerges below the museum was also not in existence today. Then slowly walked back to the hotel and perched ourselves on the sofas in their spacious lobby.

    By evening, the city was slowly limping back to life. Establishments were gradually opening their doors to dinner patrons. We had identified quite a few eateries that would be open for dinner in the neighborhood. We went out for a stroll, and finally selected to sit down for an early dinner at Margherita on Alameda Tiete, a huge pizzeria spread over two floors, quite fashionable and apparently very popular with the locals. It was filling up fast. We got excellent window seats, and within 30-45 minutes we noticed that the entire restaurant had filled up. The pizzas were truly remarkable, and the best of the numerous pizzas that we had eaten on this trip.

    We returned to our hotel. We had negotiated with a cab driver in advance, to take us to the airport for a fixed fee of R$ 70, and he was waiting for us. Loaded our luggage, and reached the airport in a short while (no traffic today at all). We had not seen much of Sao Paulo, but had seen much of Brazil. And we had enjoyed the country in all its diversity, and the warmth of the people which was present in every corner of the country. Our Emirates flight was at 1:30am in the night, and we had plenty of time. Spent our time going through every shop at the airport, and shopping for perfumes, coffee mugs and other souvenirs. Finally, we boarded our flight back to India, with a change of aircraft at Dubai. Long flight, but did not notice it thanks to our fatigue.

    This completes my trip report of one of the most unusual vacations that we have ever had, and a thoroughly enjoyable one. Would be pleased to answer any question that any reader may have.

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    Thank you for a great report - we've never been to Brazil, and now I am really considering it for the near future. Sounds amazing!

    If you do not mind sharing, please post a link to your pictures, I would love to see them (especially the Amazon ones).

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    Watermelon juice with ginger, I’ll have to try that someday even if I must whip it up myself in the blender.

    DW should be more considered about those wild pig herds than the anacondas. The combination of the two, plus high waves during the storm to rock the hammocks all adds up to quite an adventure.

    It was only you on the boat? You had your pick of hammocks then. Would you recommend Swallows and Amazons, which is the company you used to book the boat? What was the boat’s name? Sorry if I missed it.

    You saw the pink dolphins! Wow! It appears you had both a sighting from the boat and a communal snorkel with them. Beware a slew of pink dolphin questions.

    Was the pink dolphin encounter a scheduled stop on your boat trip? Is it common to see the pink dolphins from this boat? Were you planning on snorkeling with them? How long did you snorkel? Was the water clear enough for photos with a basic underwater camera? Who were the boys that were feeding the dolphins? Did you wear mini wet suits? How cold was the water? What were the dates of your trip and is there a better/worse time to go to see the pink dolphins?

    "Which other place of our travel do you find interesting atravelyn ? We have already done a lot of travel within India, including visits to various "nature and wildlife" resorts and parks. Any particular ones or places that interest you ?"

    Other places you’ve gone that I like are New Zealand and especially Kenya/Tanz. I went to India a year ago for a once in a lifetime trip. I thought Kanha was just magical. Also enjoyed Bandhavgarh and Corbett. I will be visiting India again less than a year after I left—so much for once in a lifetime. Compared to Africa, it is much more affordable. This next trip I am especially interested in the wild ass sanctuary, Little Rann of Kutch. Also blackbucks in nearby Velavadar. What are your fav wildlife spots in India?

    A good place to mention some of the Indian parks you have visited and describe your experiences is in this inquiry.
    http://www.fodors.com/community/asia/wildlife-tour.cfm

    Photos, please, at your convenience.

    Wishing you many more unusual vacations. Thanks for a fantastic and detailed account of this one.

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    Enjoying your recollections and vivid writing style.

    Some thoughts/impressions/responses on your Salvador section for you and any future readers who might think of visitng here:

    “a huge record shop called Cana Brava.,….owned by an American, who is also the author of the best website for tourism for the Salvador area, called www.bahia-online.net . The owner ….A very nice man,” is Randy, known as Pardal (Sparrow), a great resource on Salvador and especially on the traditional music of the region. Glad you managed to encounter him. His website is www.bahia-online.net
    For future visitors, he is now doing unique guided evening visits to a small traditional village to see the music performed live, a great opportunity for anyone interested in traditional Bahian culture..

    Note: “Theater San Miguel ….. for its evening folkloric show.” better known (in guidebooks) as the Balé Folclorico de Bahia, which also tours worldwide on occasion.

    “Porta de Barra, supposedly the best beach of Salvador” Porto da Barra, an urban beach, IS the most lively for people watching, has the best variety of vendors, great service people, and the sun setting into the water, with the local boys in silhouette on the jetty, is indeed a photo op not to be missed. “Best” is pretty subjective though. The most beautiful are out past Itapua, Guarajuba for example, or Jacuipe (reachable by bus, but a little more of a challenge/adventure).

    “..we rode a bus for the next 25 km out of town, getting down at Itapua beach. We were there in 25 minutes, after quite a scenic drive on the bus…….What we saw on getting there was totally contrary to expectations. It was a very very narrow strip of beach, packed to capacity with locals, with everyone trying to get drunk. The water was too filthy for swimming. There was a large run-down bar near the beach, where hundreds of locals were dancing away merrily to some music”
    In fairness, bear in mind that Salvador has about 2.5 million residents, augmented by many foreign and domestic tourists, all of whom want to be at a nearby beach on a holiday. Itapua is not “out of town”; it’s a neighborhood of the city itself, and the beach there is very popular, especially on some weekends/holidays. You may have been at the “piscina”, which kids absolutely adore, at a time when the incoming tide brought all the holiday trash back into the small cove, though. I’m sorry you had a one-time experience at a small sliver of Itapua’s extensive beach at a not ideal time and did not experience its true beauty. The water itself is clean, but IMO Brazilians in general could use more public education in more responsible and “eco-friendly” trash disposal. That area is much calmer and more scenic on a non-holiday. We have moved a table onto the rocks, with the clear clean blue water lapping at our toes, and blissfully watched many a sunset while eating a yummy moqueca (seafood stew with coconut milk)out there near the farol (lighthouse).

    And a couple of thoughts about (perceived) safety for tourists:
    “got off slightly before the Farol de Barra, at the Christo statue atop a lovely hill. We walked on that hill, which was extremely pretty, with lush green grass, and swaying palms, and lovely views of the setting sun. It was 6pm, and getting close to sunset. We just sat there and watched a lovely sunset, with the sun sinking into the ocean around 7 pm. Very scenic and relaxing.”
    Elsewhere you say about Rio “There was no sign of any threatening situation anywhere, ….Who said Rio is unsafe ? Probably some idiot. Junk and nonsense.” and “Is Rio safe ? This sounded like a joke now. It is as safe or as unsafe as any other large city. We never felt threatened in even the remotest way. Wonder what that brouhaha was all about.“

    While I agree in general that there is no reason to be constantly worried, looking over your shoulder instead of at the scenery, what you may not understand is that you were extremely lucky, in Salvador and perhaps in Rio too. That particular hill in Salvador is notorious for robberies, esp. at that time of day, and you might not have seen it coming until too late, thinking all the while you were quite safe. You may not have read Randy's site as thoroughly as you might have, because he also says "The Cristo (the hill with the Christ statue just north of the beach at Farol da Barra) should definitely be avoided at night" and IMO as it arrives. It does not do to be overly alarmed, but neither should anyone, especially a casual tourist, ever minimize the risks in Brazil as “junk and nonsense”.


    Note: Pelourinho is part of the Colonial historic district which attracts tourists, and Santo Antonio is the adjoining neighborhood with many pousadas.
    “Lots of lovely houses in Santo Antonio too, but perhaps not as well maintained as in Pelo. Lots of pousadas, cafes and bars. Seemed like a safe place (hotel owner had also vouched for safety of this area), so I freely clicked pictures with my DSLR. As I walked, a local lady saw me and scolded me, advising me to put my camera away or risk having it snatched. I did as I was told, although I saw nothing threatening anywhere.”
    This is what the neighborhood is like, charmingly crumbling Colonial houses. The part that you describe as “well maintained as in Pelo” got that way only because the government forced out all the local residents to pour money in, to pretty up the area for tourists, and now leases the buildings back to those with lots of money to use for commercial purposes. Sad, really, that what a tourist conceives as nicer to the eye came at such a high price to some locals.
    Speculation is rife in Santo Antonio, esp. along the street with views over the bay from the back of the houses/pousadas, pushing out more longtime local residents. Many pousadas on the main street have been fixed up and freshly painted, anticipating some gentrification of the whole neighborhood that would make them a good profit. You might be surprised what luxury lurks behind some shabbier private facades, though; best not to call attention to what valuables might be inside. Again, the local lady was correct and those streets in Santo Antonio are also notorious for robberies, which again you might not have seen coming until too late, thinking all the while you and your camera were quite safe. Hotel owners have an investment in not alarming paying guests. Again, best to remain vigilant at all times.

    As I mentioned above, I enjoyed your recollections of Brazil, and appreciate your efforts in posting such a long and complete account.

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    atravelyn, lots of questions - let me answer them one by one. And yes, Brazil does conjure up strange combinations of ingredients in their fresh juices. And there are many fruits there whose names we are totally unfamiliar with, as they are not to be found anywhere outside Brazil. Don't ever try the acai juice, as you will get addicted, and start drinking it everyday !

    We had wanted a private boat all to ourselves for the Amazon tour (plus crew and guide of course). Swallows and Amazons does not guarantee private tours, but they said that there is a fair chance that there would not be any other tourists with us. So it is all a matter of chance. We were promised a 10% discount if some other tourist joined us; I am glad that no one did. Yes, I would recommend Swallows and Amazons if you want a Riverboat trip like us, as they specialize in such tours. But do go through all the inclusions and exclusions with a toothcomb. We had a wonderful experience with a safari operator in Africa, who had sent a very detailed list of what was included, and what was excluded. He had surprised us by offering more that what was promised at every step. Not so with Swallows and Amazons, as you do need to go over the fine print about exclusions, which is unfortunate given that all their other arrangements were perfect. They are however quite well established and reliable in service. We were on a riverboat called Ajuaro Junior, but I don't think the boats are owned by Swallows; they rent them out from private owners.

    The pink dolphins are found at a particular part of the Amazon, and I believe that they exist there year round (we were there in December end). It is an optional "extra" in the trip, for which a small sum of extra money has to be paid directly to the owner of the floating house, from where you go swimming with the dolphins. The boys feeding the dolphins were the teenaged sons of the lady who owned the place. The water temperature was most comfortable, and there was no requirement of any wet suit - just our regular swimming trunks. They have a platform on which you can stand, just outside their house, where you will be chest-deep in water. The boys stand on that platform and feed the dolphins, who come there. So you can stand on the platform and enjoy everything, feel the dolphins etc, and not go swimming if you don't want to. However, it would be criminal to go there and not take a swim - something to brag about when you return ! I don't think there is a time restriction on how long you can stay there. I guess anywhere between 30-60 minutes, and you will be quite satisfied. The water was quite clear, but I don't know if it was suitable for underwater photography; probably not that clear.

    The wildlife parks that we have visited are Ranthambore (in Rajasthan), Gir Forest (in Gujarat: only habitat of Lions in India), and Betla (in Eastern India), plus a few smaller ones. Plan to visit Kanha someday. Of course, wildlife viewing anywhere has to be anti-climactic anywhere after Kenya & Tanzania, where we had our lifetime's fill of wildlife spotting.

    We will post photos soon. Thanks for your wishes for many more vacations for us !

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    Equestrian, thanks for filling up a lot of useful details for readers about Salvador.

    We were at the Christo hill at sunset time, when there were atleast 100 people there,if not more. Cannot imagine a robbery taking place amidst so many people. If someone has recommended avoiding it at "night time" that is perfectly understandable. Basically, anywhere we went, if there were enough people walking all around, common sense suggested that it was safe, irrespective of what anyone may say. And if any place was deserted, we got away from it fast, whether night or day, whether rated as safe or unsafe. An experienced traveler can easily "sense" the danger factor, and if basic caution is observed, I still maintain that Brazil is extremely safe. However, I agree it is always better to err on the side of caution.

    Thanks for your appreciation of the TR.

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    coldupthere, I am enjoying reading your own TR on the Inca trail in Peru right now. I also recall reading many of your posts and TR on the Turkey board a few months ago, when we were planning our Turkey trip last summer. I wish I had your sense of humor, as I am always laughing from side to side when I read your reports ! Great writing !

    Thanks for the compliments - and I will keep your suggestion about welcoming anacondas on board in mind, next time I am on the Amazon !

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    "Cannot imagine a robbery taking place amidst so many people."
    example: Local friend answered her cell phone on the (full) bus out to Itapua the other day. Guy sitting next to her showed her a knife. No one either noticed or moved to endanger him/herself to help. What would common sense suggest? He took the cell phone from her before he exited. Read a similar recent report about a couple of tourists walking on a populated street in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio, approached and robbed by an armed teen in sight of people there.
    Again, while Brazilians and longtime foreign residents have developed a relaxed vigilance that a tourist could well imitate, no one should trivialize the risks as “junk and nonsense”.

    Very glad you stayed safe.

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    Great detail!

    Very vivid account of the hang gliding -- congratulations. Not for me, but I enjoyed reading about it.

    Amazon sounds fantastic and more our speed (no altitude).

    Thanks!

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    Hello Indiancouple,

    Just saw this trip report and am bookmarking it to return and read at leisure !
    Looking forward to it - you write very vividly and can tell a story so well as I recall from your previous trip report that I enjoyed very much.

    M.

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    Have loved your TR - we're in Pipa now which is a fantastic beach town with great restaurants. Came here after our trip to the Amazon - we flew into Tefe and spent 3 nights at Uakari Lodge. Also saw pink dolphins there and had a fascinating presentation by the dolphin researchers.

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    I enjoyed your excellent report. Thanks. We too were at that floating dock where the pink dolphins gather. We were even given plates of fish to feed them. Got great video. Your report is as close as we'll get to handgliding!

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    Yes Femi, you must go to Salvador. The colorful architecture and the drums on the street will linger long in your mind.

    Glad to hear from another Brazil visitor Marija. And why the scare about hang gliding ? After all, you only live once - got to experience all that life has to offer !

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    From dancing girls to pink dolphins. Those dolphin shots are superb. Really magnificent creatures!

    Your selection of shots gives a great overview of the trip.

    I hang glided with you vicariously, which is the only hang gliding I'll do, so thanks. I'm with Marija on that. My tummy doesn't even like merry-go-rounds.

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    Hello
    First let me thank you for the wonderful report on your Brazil trip. I'm planning to visit Brazil in the month of July.
    would you please send me a list of restaurants you found in Brazil. I'm a vegetarian too. What was the cost of the trip?, excluding Mumbai to Sao Paulo air travel.
    I will be there from July 1 till 16th. How much money I need to carry ( Not planning on shopping in Brazil).
    I appreciate all the help you are doing to our travel community.

    Once again Thank you.
    Happy traveling

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    Thanks for the kudos amazonian. I think I have mentioned the names of the restaurants we ate in, on each day of our stay in Brazil, in my Trip Report. If you have difficulty in placing any one of them, do let me know, so that I can furnish the exact address.

    We spent approx US $ 6500 for the two of us together, not counting the airfare from India and back, and excluding shopping. The above amount includes the cost of TAM airpasses, and the cost of the Amazon riverboat cruise. Also included are all hotel nights, food, entry tickets, local travel etc.

    Hope this was helpful.

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    Indiancouple, Please suggest a best way to handle currency.
    Cash or credit card? I'm thinking of taking a laptop with me, is it safe? My 2 week trip includes 3 places( Sao paulo, Iguacu Falls, Buenos Aires. Do you speak Spanish & Portuguese? How did you manage negotiations with cab drivers in RIO and currency exchange deal with a bus driver in Iguacu falls?
    I really admire your trip research skills.Any tips and pointers would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you for mentioning about border crossing tips (Brazil & Argentina).

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    Amazonian, I used a combination of Cash and Credit cards. Usually paid my hotel bills by credit card, and carried cash for most other transactions. You could just as well carry your ATM card and withdraw cash as you need it. Just carry enough cash for the day's requirement, leaving the rest secure in your hotel safe.

    I had carried a mini-laptop with me, which I would leave at the hotel room. Never had any problem of security. Sao Paulo and Iguacu Falls are very very safe, so nothing to worry at all. I had bought a small language handbook from amazon.com : the GLOBETROTTER series book on Brazilian Portuguese (they have a different one for general Portuguese !). It is a small pocket handbook, costing about $15 or less, which teaches you enough Portuguese to survive in Brazil. It is very well designed for a tourist, and very easy to master the rudimentary words and phrases that you need. All you need to do is to make a genuine effort to speak their language and display a little humility, and they will gush forth to help you and understand you. Language problem in Brazil is greatly exaggerated on these sites - we did not encounter any significant problem anywhere at all. Not even with cab drivers. And when all else fails, sign language always works everywhere on the planet.

    As for researching my trip, I used the Lonely Planet guidebook, supplemented with other internet sites. Best of all was to post questions on travel forums like Fodors and Tripadvisor. I am a dedicated Fodors fan, but for Brazil I found the traffic on the Fodors forum to be somewhat low, compared to Tripadvisor forum. I used both, and received answers to all my questions.

    Any other questions, please let me know.

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    indiancouple, this is an excellent trip report. I really enjoyed your trip report on Switzerland too, I remember reading it shortly after I'd visited the country. I will be in Brazil later this year and your trip report is full of excellent tips and useful information. Thanks for sharing details of your trip on this forum.

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    Indiancouple
    My 15 day trip to Brazil is confirmed. Will be staying in Sao Paulo for 4 nights , Iguazu (both sides and stay at Argentina side 2 nights) and Buenos Aries 5 nights. Again 2 nights in Sao Paulo.(July 1 till July 15.) Will be staying in Mercure Jardims Hotel. Agian Thank your for yor detailed TR. It is really helping me a lot.

    Based on your advice I bought GLOBETROTTER series book on Brazilian Portuguese. Book is really good. Thank you so much.

    Thanks for forex & credit card suggestions.

    I know it sounds silly but now I need your help with packing list.Items to pack and any special items I would be needing for this trip?

    I need to prepare a list of veg friendly restaurants in SP, Iguacu and Buenos Aries.

    Once again Thank you so much.

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    Glad to be of help amazonian ! You will really like the Mercure Jardims hotel; cannot beat the location.

    As for things to pack, I guess it depends all on what you intend to do. I am not sure what the weather will be like in those parts in July (since we went in December). You can easily check that out on any website / travel book, and take clothes accordingly. Otherwise, I do not recall packing anything special for the trip - just regular clothes, good walking shoes, a light jacket etc. Brazil is a pretty informal place dress-wise, and I imagine so is Argentina. So I cannot imagine what special item you may need.

    As for veg restaurants, look at www.happycow.net ; it is a great site for locating veg restaurants anywhere in the world, along with user ratings. Also, just google for "veg food sao paulo" and so on for each city; you will be surprised as to how much information is available. There are a very large number of veg restaurants in the Jardims area of Sao Paulo (unfortunately most were closed for New Year when we visited). Do not know much about Argentina.

    Have a great trip !

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    indiancouple, I'd like to trouble you. I have sent an email to the Bahiacafe Hotel in Salvador asking about room rates and airport transfers. They have not responded. Did you book directly with the hotel, if so how? Their website doesn't allow online bookings.

    I am thinking of the Mercure in Sao Paulo. I do understand that many places in the city were closed because of the New Year Holiday. I've read some negative comments on the Mercure's location, mainly that it's not in Jardin district. Are there many shops/restaurants, etc within walking distance of the hotel? I am thinking of spending two days, three nights in Sao Paulo and plan on hiring a private guide for the first day and sightseeing independently on the second day.

    Any information you can provide will be appreciated. Thank you.

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    Hi RJames - I remember that I had booked Bahiacafe Hotel through Venere.com ; but booking directly with the hotel should work as good. Immediately after I had done my booking through Venere, I started getting emails from the owner of Bahiacafe - I recall his name was Michel (or something close). I sent several emails to him after that, and I always received a very prompt reply. He arranged the airport transfer. If he has not replied to your email, he is probably traveling or something, because he was extremely prompt each time I wrote. Highly recommend that place for a stay.

    As for Sao Paulo, Mercure has several hotels in that city, and one of them (Mercure Jardims) is located in the heart of the Jardin area. This is where we had stayed, and it was within perfect walking distance of everything in Jardin area. There are probably two dozen restaurants within a 5 min walk.

    Hope this helps.

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    amazonian, I could look up my notes and locate various veg restaurants of Sao Paulo that we had researched :

    1. Gopala Prasad : Rua Antonio Carlos 413 & 429
    2. Sattva : Alameda Itu 1564
    3. Vegacy : Rua Augusta 2061 (probably disappeared)
    4. Apfel : Rua Bela Cintra 1343
    5. Cheiro Verde : Rua Peisoto Gomide 1078
    6. Piola : Alameda Lorena 1765
    7. Margherita : Alameda Tiete 255
    8. Vegethus Veg : Rua Haddock Lobo 187

    One or two of the above may have disappeared; some may not be pure veg but veg friendly. They were all within a short walk of the hotel.

    Have fun !

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    indiancouple- this is AMAZING. My bf and I have booked our trip for this coming October... we have 15 days. Your trip is truly an inspiration and your recount is wonderful. I felt like I was there, just while reading your posts.

    I do have an important question now (and will likely have several more questions later on)

    Did you have to get any shots for your Amazon trip? (to protect against insect bites, malaria?) This may seem like an odd question, but I am from NYC and everyone we speak to is telling us that we must get shots as a precaution if we choose to make the trip.

    Looking forward to your answer!

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    @qanikse7-
    First of all, you should consult a travel medicine specialist, preferably one who has been to Brazil, and not go by advice given by amateurs on a travel forum.

    You should have your "regular" travelers shots up to date (hepatitis, tetanus, etc).

    That said, if you intend to be in the Amazon, you need malaria medication, usually started 10 days before the trip. Other areas of Brazil, like Rio, don't require doing this.

    However, the most common mosquito borne illness in Brazil is dengue, for which there is no shot. The mosquitos are active during the day, as well as in the evening, so use a high percentage DEET spray in cities with poor areas with standing water and in the countryside. Read up on the flu-like symptoms (for both regular and the more life-threatening hemohagic) so that you can get medical help promptly if needed. Also be aware of this in the days after you get home, since you may not connect the dots and most doctors not in tropical countries might not think to ask about dengue.

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    Thanks IsabelaS-

    Going to a travel medicine specialist is a given. I just want to be prepared with at least some information before I go so that I can ask the right questions.

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    Ah, and ask about Yellow Fever shots, more for returning/traveling to some other countries than for risk of contracting it in Brazil.
    Do try to find a doctor who knows Brazil and is not just reading what the CDC has written. (On my first trip, I ended up taking some malaria meds--and getting sick from them-- I really didn't need because the doctor couldn't understand that regions/destinations within Brazil don't have the same disease risks.)

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    Ah, and ask about Yellow Fever shots, more for returning/traveling to some other countries than for risk of contracting it in Brazil.
    Do try to find a doctor who knows Brazil and is not just reading what the CDC has written. (On my first trip, I ended up taking some malaria meds--and getting sick from them-- I really didn't need because the doctor couldn't understand that regions/destinations within Brazil don't have the same disease risks.)

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    Hi anikse7, sorry for the delayed reply. Well you certainly need to take Yellow Fever shots ( should be taken min 10 days before departure; valid for 10 years ), as it is a mandatory requirement. Other than that, I don't think anything else is required. We did carry some malaria medicines, but never needed them. I feel the risk of mosquitoes is over-hyped for Brazil. If you are going on the Amazon (as we did), and sleeping on an open boat, you can buy effective mosquito repellents locally, which are very effective. Elsewhere, nothing is required.

    Will be glad to answer any other questions that you may have.

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    Yellow Fever is NOT required to enter Brazil. It may be required to enter other countries if you recently have been in an area of Brazil considered to have an outbreak.

    The prevalence of mosquitos depends a lot on where you are located and particularly how well the local residents are dealing with standing water conditions. In some places, they are quite bad. However, apparently the acid quality of Amazon water discourages their breeding. Repellents ar very expensive in Brazil and high DEET content ones are hard to find in most places.

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