Thursday, October 30, 2008

Manaus: In the heart of the (concrete?) jungle :-)

Manaus just takes your breath away. It is a urban concrete jungle like any other city, with shopping malls, luxury hotels and global brands but just take a river taxi across the Rio Negro and the sounds of nature become louder than the sounds of the city. Of course you won´t see any wild anacondas or panthers here, but still you get an impression of what the 'selva', the amazon rainforest can be like.

Today we took a bus to the CISG zoo, a kind of zoo operated by the Brazilian army. It consists mainly of animals rescued (or supposedly rescued) by soldiers during their training in the jungle. We where not sure what to expect so decided to sacrifice a morning for it. Actually, it´s kind of sad. The cages are pretty small and don´t seem very animals friendly. Also the animals themselves look pretty sad. As one friend put it, the crocodiles don't even have a tail and the anaconda sits in a wheelchair. Well, we saw a 5m long anaconda but to be honest the species most worth seeing in the CISG are of the human kind, specias militar brasileiro ;-)

Later on we went to the market Mercado Municipal Adolfo Lisboa, a copy of Les Halles in Parism, where I bought fresh `barbosa` (aloe vera) for my various cuts and bruises. The market area is very lively, you can buy about everything here, dead or alive and even have your hair cut right on the street. One of my favourites, as usual, was the market toilet. It is very cosy and well equipped and it is stated that the 50 centavos entrance includes use of soap and towel. Its definately worth a visit.

After visiting the market we got kind of kidnapped by a guide who took us by boat over the Rio Negro to the Janaury reserve. There he showed us the huge sapahuma tree, which the indians used as a kind of `phone` by beating a branch to it and making a kind of signal that travelled for miles. He also wanted to show us the crocodile `Bau`, which lives in an enclosure in the wood, but `Bau` seemed to be asleep, lazy or dead - he didn`t come out. Before going back to Manaus we had to pay another 5 Reals to see an ageing anaconda... Even though this was kind of a typical tourist thing it was quite nice, especially the ride in the small boat over the huge Rio Negro.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Encontro das Aguas, Manaus

Geovanny from Ecuador and me on the Meeting of the Waters, where the dark water of the Rio Negro and the light water of the Amazon river meet.

Belém, you'll never walk alone...

Belém is one of the places where you'll never be alone or lonely for a long time. People are welcoming and friendly and are happy to talk to foreigners without any financial or whatsoever intentions. They might just stop you on the street and ask you if you need help or if they can take a picture of you in front of some monument... of course I was a bit scared or cautious at first but then I really began to enoy it. Especially since for the first time in weeks I was travelling alone again.

On Monday I went to a boat tour on the amazon river to the island of Trambioca. I was a bit scared that, Monday being a local holiday, the boat would be full of families and lovebirds and I took my Lonely Planet to read, postcards to write and was well prepared to spend the 'paseo' alone. Well, I had not taken into account the friendliness of the Para-people. About 10min after we left the pier the first people asked me in English where I came from, if I was travelling alone, if I liked the trip... and just my luck, there where neither families nor lovebirds on the boat but the company outing of a beauty salon!!! So apart from a very few guys the boat was full of nice ladies between 20 and 50. Most of them had never travelled further away from home than on this boat trip (that's what they told me) and were delighted to have a 'gringa' with them. They forced me to eat up their lunch packages and wanted to know everything about my trip, where I was staying, if I was not scared alone and so on. Once arrived on Sirituba beach we all went to a 'barraca', a simple place on the beach serving local food and drinks. When I got out my camera to take some pics of my new friends they all got excited and we went all over the island together doing funny poses and playing foto shooting. Here one of our best shots ;-)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Finally on the way to Belém

After a wonderfull weekend in Sao Luis with Atila and his friends (the Elza Soares show was great and from there we went to a great night club and at 5am in the morning directly to the beach!) it was, this time for real, time to say goodbye and take the night bus to Belém.

We decided to have a last farewell dinner (we had about 3 all in all, I guess ;-)) at our favourite spot, the 'Antigamente'. As we were both too tired and too sad to eat a lot we invited a little street kid to share the meal with us. I had already shared some lunches with him, as they meals are huge in Sao Luis. At first he was a bit shy too sit down with us but then - I have never seen someone eat with that speed! He shoved everythin on his plate and then asked for a spoon and worked it away. I asked for his name but he seemed really shy so I thought better to leave him eat his meal in peace. Atila and I started talking about my trip to Belém and suddenly this little guy joined in, telling us he had been there once and that is was a really pretty show. And guess what, he told me to hurry up as the bus was going in about one hour! He remembered the exact departure time and the name of the bus company! He also knew at what time it would arrive etc. Then he asked me where I was from and he knew that there was no direct flight from Sao Luis to Germany... what a smart little kid! And when we left he wished me a save trip! I would not expect this from any kid his age, and definately not from one that lives on the street, more or less alone, not going to school... somehow it really broke my heart seeing this cute and smart little boy in this situation. Atila then told me about a project for which he worked some time back. The project tried to keep kids of the street and give an initiative for going to school. Kids do get kind of stamps when they go to school and at the end of the month the family gets an extra bonus if the kid has gone to school regularly. Unfortunately the success rate is not very high... but as Atila put it, if you help one kid get off the street, it is already worth the effort, 'Valeu a pena'.

The night bus to Belém was comfortable but really cold, I arrived there deep frozen. Unfortunately I didn´t see Vanessa at the station (or she didn´t see me).. anyhow, we missed each other and after waiting for some time I took a taxi and went to a Hotel.

I directly went out to see the mighty amazon river. I've been dreaming of seeing this river for so long that I couldn't wait anymore. There is a place called 'Docas' in Belém where they have renovated the old waterfront warehouses of the port and turned them in a really nice place with many cafés, restaurants, some shops... It's really lovely because they haven't overdone it and it has kept it's charme. I was just about to take some pictures when a guy asked me in English if he should take some of me and the boats... we talked a bit, he seemed ok and he offered to show me the place. We then went to a place called 'Ver o rio' (see the river) at the other side of the port. This place is a bit simpler then the Docas with barracas selling coconut, beer...

Later I wanted to check out the Fort and some Museums but because of the second round of the elections everything was closed. I walked throught the old town (even though every taxi driver told me I would be robbed immediately) and was surprised by Belém's beauty. Everybody, even the people of Belém itself, underestimate it, saying that there is nothing to see, nothing to do... But Belém has lot of nice little squares, churches... it has a somehow Italian or French athmosphere and is definately worth a visit.

Sunday night was the last night of the Cirio de Nazaré, a century old religious festival in Belém. The statue of the Nossa Santa Senhora de Nazaré is said to be made in Nazareth, then brought to Portugal and somehow to got lost and reappeared in Belém in 1700. Since then, every year there is a big procession and celebration to honour the Virgin of Nazareth. Uusually the statue of the Virgin is kept in the cathedral, but during the two weeks of the festival she is kept in the Basilica de Nazaré. On sunday there was a huge mass outside of the Basilica. It was a bit strange for a 'German' catholic to see because right next to the square where the mass was held was a funfair and people where screaming in the merrygorounds and it smelled of popcorn and all kinds of food. Also the priest asked people all the time to clap hands and cheer for Jesus, Mary, God, the holy Trinity... ('Viva Jesus!') But the strangest thing was at communion. Of course it was impossible for a single priest to give out communion to all hundreds and hundreds of people on the square so around 10 ministrants where helping ho, out - and not to get lost in the crowd, they where followed by a guy with a flag each ;-)

Friday, October 24, 2008

NOT leaving Sao Luis ;-)

Well, leaving Sao Luis is not as easy as expected. This morning I waved off Thomas (sniff!), packed my bags and went out in search for a public phone to call Bill in Rio. Unfortunately I didn't find a phone that was working but I bumped into Atila and his uncle, again ;-) Since Wednesday they were planning on leaving, too, but now it looks as if they wil stay at least for the weekend, too.

We decided to have lunch together and Atila told me about a show of Elza Soares tonight in Sao Luis. I went back to my hotel wondering if I should stay one day longer when my other new friend, the fake taxi driver ;-) called, too. I told him about the show and he immediately took me to the agency to change my bus ticket. So here I am, for one more night in Sao Luis. Atila and I spend the afternoon in 'our' bar having lots of beer (him) and crazy juices (me) and watching handsome men walk by (both). Can't wait for the show tonight! We will all meet again tonight at the same place, the 'Antigamente', go for drinks, watch the show and then go to some special night clubs ;-)

Leaving Sao Luis...

Tonight I will take the night bus to Belém do Para and stay the weekend with Vanessa from Couchsurfing and her family. On the 28th I will then continue my travel to the legendary amazon - finally, a dream come true! - and meet my friends Igor and Geovanny in Manaus for a Brazilian, Ecuadorian and German Couchsurfing summit ;-) We've already agreed on Portunholese as our official language ;-)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Arriving in Sao Luis after D-Day, the longest day...

After a very long day on the road we finally arrived in Sao Luis on Wednesday morning at 4:00. We didn't have a place to stay so I tried to call a few pousadas and hostels listed in the Lonely Planet from the Rodoviaria, the overland bus terminal. Unfortunately only one place answered and they wanted to charge us the full price for the same night, so we decided to just take a taxi to the historic center and look for a pousada there. So far we never had problems a place to stay as it is low season right now and pretty calm...

Unfortunately the pousada we tried first was full, the streets deserted and no other pousada or hostel to be seen. The guy from the pousada sent us to a hotel round the corner that on first sight looked out of order but then... well, imagine a beautifull and stylish hotel with a spacious lobby, red carpets on the stairs, crystal candelabra, hotel boys wearing gold embroidered liveries... and now forget about that place for about 50 to 60 years, and you get the Lord Hotel as it is now ;-) They didn't renovate or renew anything (apart from part of the staff - maybe ;-)) and it looks like a hotel museum or museum hotel. But as the rooms are clean, the rates ok and the staff very friendly we decided to stay...

The historic center of Sao Luis is a mix of say Porto and Havana. Most houses have the typical Potuguese 'azulejos', the colourfull tiling protecting the building from the heat and humidity of Sao Luis climate but unfortunately are in a typical Cuban state of decay and break-up. And compared to other historic centers like for example the Pelourinho in Salvador, the center of Sao Luis is not very touristic and commercialized. Most buildings are still in their original use as home, shops, craftshops or little factories. So on one hand its good that the place has not been renovated yet as you get a good impression of what it used to be 'before the tourists came', but on the other hand it seems that many houses are beyond repair. From one big and beautifull building in the very center for example only the outer walls are left, inside many trees are growing.

Apart from the historic center, which definately is the most interesting part of the city, Sao Luis also has a nice modern part and a huge strip of beach with many barracas and bars. The city seems laid back and people are friendly... it's a pity that we don't have more time to explore the place and its surroundings.

And, of course the Brazilian phenomenon of meeting people works here, too - very efficient ;-). On our first day here we had to share a table in the famous restaurant 'Antigamente' with a Brazilian guy. A Maranhese living in Manaus. We started talking, got along well, decided to meet again at night to go out... he introduced us to his uncle, a gold digger from the Amazon, who took us in his car to the beach. The uncle went back earlier and then we had to discover that it was impossible to get a taxi back to the city center. Our new Brazilian friend flagged down a white car which he mistook for a taxi... and the guy was ready to help and drove us back to the center for free. And guess what, yesterday when Thomas was on a day tour to the Lencoes Maranheses the fake taxi driver called my hotel and asked me out for dinner. We had a great time and when we went back to meet Thomas after the tour... guess who me wet? The gold digger and his friends. A half hour later also our initial friend showed up. So after only two days in Sao Luis we already started to bump into 'friends' downtown. Its a great feeling, makes you feel less a tourist and more at home. But of course, every time you leave you also leave behind some new friends. I guess, my Facebook, Orkut, MSN etc will explode by the time I get back ;-)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Leaving Jeri...

Tonight we organized a beach buggy that will take us to the little fishing village of Camocim tomorrow morning. From there we will take the bus to Parnaiba. Maybe we will then take the night bus to Sao Luis or stay one, two nights in Parnaiba... depends on the connection but also on my different wounds and bruises ;-) Right now I am a kind of purple-blue and have scratches all over my body. Here is a picture Thomas took of me today. Show's the beautifull bruises on my legs ;-)

(And by now I already know how to explain what happened perfectly well in Portuguese as I have explained it to the girl in the internet place, a waiter, everybody at the pousada, my friends online and on the phone... ;-))

Crash Boom Bang

On Thursday night we went to book a quad tour with 'Trilhas & Dunas Jacaré' to two lagoons close to Jericoacoara. The girl at the quad place was really nice and told us, two other couples had booked the tour already and would be going with us. At that time she even spoke a bit English...

But when we arrived on Friday, we were the only ones to go on the tour, which was already a bit strange. So it would only be a guide on a motorcycle and the two of us on one quad. A guy explained to us how the thing worked (in Portuguese) and just before we took off the girl gave us protection glasses. Because of a little dispute between Thomas and me he refused to drive, so I had to (I should write about that later on ;-)) The guide took off on a motorcycle and we tried to follow...

After working out how to switch the gears etc. it went quite smoothly. We drove out of town, over the dunes and down to the beach. Our guide was speeding like crazy, showing off quite a bit, and we followed. Down at the beach we really had fun. The only problem was that the guide's motorcycle catapulted little stones right into out faces. So far this seemed the only problem and we enjoyed the ride - a lot! After some time on the beach we arrived at Prea, the next little village. We left the beach and followed our speeding guide on little county roads. etime we had to break for a cow, that was blocking our way. The road got narrower, then we went round one corner, another one - and suddenly the guide took another corner without giving us any signs. I tried to follow - and yep, landed us in a barbed wire fence. Or actually two.

From then on I don't remember much. The first thing I remember again was trying to get the water bottles out of my bag to wash off the blood from my face and eyes. The guide then grapped the bottle from me and I remember that I got into a kind of a panic that he would pour water over my camera which still was in my bag on the ground. I didn't feel any pain and couldn't remember what we where doing there. I had no idea in which place we were, how we had managed to go there, where we were staying... I asked Thomas lots of stupid questions. I only noticed from the look in his face that they must have been really stupid. At one time he told me about something that had happened the Sunday before which refreshed my mind a bit and made me very happy ;-) (Espero que voce vai leer isso - nao esqueci de voce ;-)) Somehow by then a group of people had arrived and took us to their home. They sat me down on some chairs and told us that somebody would drive us to the Posto de Sauda, the medical point. Our guide organized a doctor who turned out to be dentist but was young and nice and took good care of us. He closed the deep wound in my head with a couple of stiches, desinfected and cleaned all other wounds and gave me some antibiotics and painkillers. Somehow I had served as Thomas airbag, as he only had a few scratches and bruises. I only realized how bad I looked when Thomas showed me the pictures he had taken in front of the Posto de Saude. At that time I was still smiling and making faces as I didn't feel any pain whatsoever and didn't really realize what had happened.

Anyhow, after a couple of days in bed and in the hammock I finally feel better and we can continue our trip.

I am very greatfull to everybody at our pousada, the Pousada Ibiscus, as they offered all the help they could. They didn't complain about the bloody sheets and towels but gave us as much new ones as needed. They let us use the kitchen to make juice (the cuts in my face really hurt when eating solid food) and they even offered us a quieter room and gave me an ice bag to cool the bruises. I really felt at home there and therefore can recommend this place to everybody who's heading to Jeri. I hope, none of you will ever need the special assistance I got, but be assured, even without a hole in your head this Pousada is the perfect place to relax.

Not so perfect is the agency that organized the quad trip. We went there yesterday to talk to them and ask our money back. We explained why we thought they acted unprofession: first of all, our guide was going way to fast all the time, then he didn't make any signs where to go on time and last but not least, they didn't supply any protection. And even with protection, a narrow road fenced with rusty barbed wire doesn't sound like a good idea to any person not used to driving a quad!

But the owner of 'Trilhas & Dunas Jacaré' didn´t show any understanding or regret. He told us it was our responsability and we should have asked for protection, we should not have followed the guide's speed and we should not have taken this road. We were only waiting that he would say that it was our fault altogether to book this trip with him. Which in a way was true.
All the time that this guy was talking to us he was playing around with his... well, you can imagine. So before leaving Thomas patted his shoulders and told him in German to 'wash, don't scratch', which was really hilarious.
Anyhow, we will definately make sure to write about our experience in the Lonely Planet forum and others travel forums online. No idea if it will make a difference but maybe we can warn a couple of people of this unprofessional agency!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The long and winding road to Jericoacoara

After a kind of 'pitstop-day' in Fortalelza (relaxing on Praia Futuro, Thomas got his hair cut, I got my legs, feet and nails done as well as my laundry...) we took the bus to Jericoacoara on Wednesday morning. The bus took about 6 hours to reach Jijoca, where we had to change to a 4WD kind of truck-bus. The bus ride to Jijoca was interesting as the landscape changed from very dry, desert like to green, and full of Cashew trees and we crossed many little cities and villages. But the best part of the ride was definately the last 1,5 hours in the 4WD truck. We left the paved road shortly after Jijoca and went on dirttracks through farmland, little villages and right along the beach. In one of the villages I noticed what must have been the local night club. A kind of wall with a hole for the 'bilheteria', where you could buy the tickets, and a door labeled 'entrada'. The place was called 'Giga dance' and a shack beside it 'Giga byte cafe'. When we drove by I could see that there was about nothing behind the wall, just a patch of sand. But I guess when they turn on the music the place will be crowded soon - it seemed to be the only place of that kind for miles and miles.
When we reached Jericoacoara a crowd of Pousada owners came to the bus. After about 8-9 hours on the road we were kind of overstrained with the offer - especially as the prices where all very good and most of the pousadas seemed to be ok. We then picked one, Pousada Ibiscus, and it was a good choice - its colourfull, has spacious rooms and a little garden and the breakfast is fine, too.
Today we went walking on the beach untill the 'Pedra Furada', a kind of stone archway right on the beach. From there we went back to the village over the dunes - you have a spectacular view from there. The colours are so amazing - white dunes, colourfullstones, blue sea and even bluer sky - Jeri just takes your breath away!
After a relaxed afternoon in the hammock we watched the sundown on the famous Duna do Por do Sol, the sundown dune. Everybody goes up there at around 18:00 to watch the sun go down on the sea. Once again, the colours just leave you speechless- its so beautifull! After the sun had gone down we went back to the beach to watch a round of Capoieira...
For tomorrow we have planned a Quad ride to two lagoons...
(More pictures will follow soon!)

Monday, October 13, 2008


This morning, after a very short night, Thomas and I took the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Fortaleza. We will stay here for two nights and then take the bus to Jericoacoara. From there we want to travel up to Sao Luis by beach buggy, bus... whatever :-)

Especially after the fantastic weekend in Rio de Janeiro Fortaleza seems a bit boring. The city center is pretty dirty and shabby and there is not much to see. The central market is quite nice to go shopping for souvenirs (cashew nuts from the region, baskets, hammocks) and the Dragao do Mar cultural center has some nice shops and cafes. The beach here in the city center is not very special... tomorrow we want to check out Praia do Futuro, according to the Lonely Planet the best one around Fortaleza.

Tonight we are going out to the Pirata Bar, the place with the 'craziest Monday' also according to the Lonely Planet ;-) Lets see what the pirates have on offer ;-)

Rainbow over Rio

One of the reasons of meeting up in Rio de Janeiro with Thomas last weekend was the Gay Parade on Copacabana beach. I expected some beautifull drag queens, handsome halfnaked boys and good music but didn't plan to stay for the whole day.

Now, I have to confess that we were definately one of the last ones to leave the 'crime scene' ;-) It was without doubt one of the best parties I attended, ever. First of all the location is just perfect, right at Copacabana beach in front of the beautifull backdrop of the sugarloaf and the 'cidade maravilhosa', the marvelous city. Nothing better than relaxing on the beach after dancing the night away. (By the way, it is amazing how Brazilians can dance in thongs - its an art of its own!) Second, my fear that I would be totally lost between snogging halfnaked boys and intimidating lesbians didn't came true - on the contrary, I met so many interesting and lovely people, gays, lesbians as well as straight people and it was actually quite nice to meet lovely and handsome men that asked for your number without the intention of getting you into bed ;-)

Last but not least the party had its fair share of handsome halfnaked hetero sexual boys who were happy to be 'protected' from the gay boys by a lady ;-)

Friday, October 10, 2008

I made it to the Sugarloaf!

On my 3rd visit to Rio I finally made it up the sugarloaf :-)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What´s there to do in Praia do Forte?

There are lots of things to do in Praia do Forte, and nearly all of them are overpriced. The shopping, the bars, the turtle project and the day tours as well. Still, there are some nice things to do that don´t cost much. If you want to get out of the disneylandish and styled village of Praia do Forte for a day and see something different, why not walk all the way to Imbassai on the beach? It´s a 10km walk and the last 5km of the beach are absolutely beautifull and deserted. We didn´t see a single person for the last hour of our walk and felt kind of relieved when we finally saw a fisherman - Imbassai lies behind a bend of the beach and we where getting nervous already that we wouldn´t make it there ;-) Imbassai is very quiet and very different to Praia do Forte. Nearly no tourists, no stylish shops, no paved streets... and the beach is absolutely beautifull and deserted! From Imbassai you can take a minibus back to Praia do Forte or to the next village of Costa Sauipe, a further 5km north. Another nice 'get away' for a day is the castle of Garcia d´Avila, also known as the Casa do Torre (Tower House). The castle, or - the ruins of the castle - lies about 5km from Praia do Forte on a hill overlooking the sea. The way to the castle leads through the ecological reserve of Sapiranga, its definately worth walking instead of talking an airconditioned bus ;-) The Casa do Torre has been founded in 1551 and is considered the first large Portuguese building in Brazil. The Casa da Torre played a remarkable role in the history of Brazil´s colonization and defense for more than three centuries. In 1835, with the extinction of the morgados regimen (the first-born son being the heir to an entailed state), the Castle was abandoned and soon began to decay. In 1938 it has been rediscovered and the renovation had started. Unfortunately the management of the site invested more in a huge restaurant then in information which is a pity, as the hisotry of this building and its inhabitants definately must have been very interesting! (