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Lufthansa – never again

Finally time for my next long journey. But the preparations have been anything but calm last week, thanks to the strike by Lufthansa cabin personnel and major problems with the train track just north of Stockholm-Arlanda Airport (unsurprisingly).

Lufthansa strike had already lasted six days and that my flight to Frankfurt in the morning was cancelled was 99% sure. Luckily, I had read about the strike and followed on internet and TV news right from day 1 and was therefore early on by double-book a flight ticket with another airline (before all other passengers did the same). Fully refundable of course in unlikely event the strike would be called off and the Lufthansa flight would departure after all. Only option available that suited the flight from Frankfurt to Fortaleza, Brazil, was with AirBerlin from Stockholm-Arlanda via Berlin. Unfortunately with very short stop-over in Berlin. Well. What was I suppose do? Cancel the whole trip because of the strike by cabin staff at Lufthansa? Never!
And the train problematic then? Well, yesterday’s gear fault north of Arlanda had stopped all rail traffic to Arlanda and on to Stockholm and the passengers had to take replacement busses. Some long-distance trains had been canceled completely. But it purported to be fixed now… but you can’t trust that *sigh* So I had phoned near and dear one’s and guard myself having someone able to drive me by car to Arlanda with short notice in case of canceled train. Well, SJ… do I need to say more???

Today, during morning, I received the expected text-message that my Lufthansa flight was canceled and I could now focus on flying with AirBerlin instead. And the money spent on the flight with Lufthansa was going to be refunded, every penny. Finished packing my suitcases and went downstairs to wait for the train taxi. Hmm. The longer I stood there waiting the more I started thinking; “What if the taxi doesn’t show up?!” That was the next anxiety, a taxi no-show. But the taxi showed up in time and I could take a breather. The train was at the platform, but the cleaning staff wasn’t done yet so all passengers had to wait outside. Once aboard the train I could sit down at my seat in the quiet department. Little butterflies in my stomach though, because you never know with SJ. If something can go wrong - it will - and therefore it is best to take the train to Arlanda the night before your flight. But knocking on wood… the train arrived in Uppsala problem-free and rolled out from the platform towards Arlanda.
Suddenly the train braked quickly into a complete stop and it got completely silent. What the hell?! No, no, no. Not now… the train was so close to Arlanda that I could even walk, if necessarily. After a while the train driver announced there was “machine failure” and that he would try to restart the train. The train was left standing a while during restart. Eventually the train started to slowly roll again. It took about more 10 minutes until the train stopped at Arlanda C and I could ride the escalator up to Sky City. Went straight to Forex Bank and collected the preordered amount of Brazilian currency Real that waited for me there. The scent of brand new bills and holding wrinkle-free money felt luxurious. You also know that they are non-counterfeit money when withdrawn from the bank brand new. Then I took my suitcases one floor up and bought a Chicken McWrap. Looked and found bus stop no. 7 for transfer to Best Western Hotel in Arlanda Hotellby. My bus transfer back to Arlanda was leaving at 5am tomorrow morning so I had to get into bed as soon as possible.

So what have I learned from all this? Well, will avoid Lufthansa as much as possible in the future. Only this year Lufthansa has gone on strike several times, and I’ve been affected twice directly or indirectly by that. So sorry Lufthansa…

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged traveling Comments (0)

Are you superstitious?


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Okay, now all about Friday 13th… the belief in this specific day being bad luck is ancient. The old mathematicians got annoyed about number 13 being indivisible and it was disciple number 13 who betrayed Jesus contributes strongly. But how has Friday the 13th affected air traffic? A quick look-back in time and you’ll soon find a dark day in flight history. The year was 1972, Friday 13th October. A small plane from Uruguay, with members of a rugby team on their way to Chile for a game, crashed into the Andes and more than half of the passengers were killed. The very same day a plane crashed during landing in Moscow and all of the 176 passengers died. But I don’t really believe that this day would be more of a bad luck than other days and dared to book flight tickets for Friday the 13th. Or maybe that’s why the tickets were extra cheap? ;) But yet some aircraft manufacturers seem to be superstitious since they exclude row 13 in their planes… think about that next time you board an aircraft, check if row 13 exists.

So, up early in the morning to have time for breakfast and get onto the bus transfer back to Arlanda at 5am. True to one’s usual habit I jumped off at terminal 5, went inside the terminal and had a look at the TV monitor in front of me. Quickly found the cancelled Lufthansa flight clearly marked with Cancelled. The AirBerlin flight would departure at 6.30am, thus 5 minutes earlier than the Lufthansa flight. But no matter how I looked at the TV monitor, I couldn’t find the AirBerlin flight. Is this a joke, or? Did I book the wrong date? Got a small panic but tried to keep calm. Discretely picked up my confirmation papers and glanced through it. No, the date and time were accurate. Walked further along the terminal to another TV monitor and realized I was in the wrong terminal! Moron! Amid all fuss I managed to miss that small detail about AirBerlin operating from terminal 2. Such a relief. After a brisk walk for 15 minutes I arrived in terminal 2. Found the check-in counters for AirBerlin way back in a corner, next to terminal 3 (the terminal God forgot – since there are only two gates there). I had splurged with Business Class, so I could use the Priority Lane at check-in as well at the Security Check. So convenient! So I had time for a few minutes in Business Lounge prior boarding the flight to Berlin – despite the terminal mix-up.

I’m taking the opportunity to throw in some information regarding development of the air traffic safety which pilots, air traffic controllers and aircraft themselves utilize. All aircrafts fly in so called air corridors in different altitude, direction and speed. The air corridors are monitored by air traffic controllers in towers on the ground handling all air traffic in their air space. If the air traffic controller would fail (despite advanced radar technology) to guide aircrafts on safe distance from each other, TCAS (Traffic Control Avoiding System) exists. The system is installed on every commercial aircraft since 1993 and help avoiding air collision that would occur due to human factor. TCAS consists of transponders on the aircrafts which signals to each other within a 64 km radius and keep track of altitude and speed of the planes. When the system detects two aircrafts on collision course it informs both pilots on the planes and choose which plane to climb up respectively descend. So one pilot gets the vocal message: “Traffic! Traffic! Climb up!”,while the other pilot gets: “Traffic! Traffic! Descend!”
Shouldn’t the pilots themselves see if they are on collision course with another aircraft through the windows? No way. The cruising speed for airplanes is about 1000 km/h, which means the oncoming plane also whiz at 1000 km/h. So if a pilot is lucky and early enough to see a plane on collision course, the pilot has about 6 seconds to react and make a maneuver before impact… which is impossible.

After 1 hour and 30 minutes it was time for landing at Berlin-Tegel Airport. But the pilot had announced he couldn’t bring the plane down due to bad sight. Perfect! Just what I needed when having a short connection flight. The aircraft circulated a few laps before it finally was cleared for landing. And as always when you’re super stressed, it felt like an eternity from touch-down until reaching the gate. Did indeed sit on first row and disembarked fast, but that didn’t help since all passengers had to embark a bus for transfer to the terminal. AAAH!!! The bus drove in snail’s pace it seemed! And as soon I disembarked the bus I rushed through the terminal. Gate was still open… how lucky! I got on the plane with a few minutes to spare. Puh! Even though I got onto the plane, it turned out upon arrival at Frankfurt Airport an hour later that my checked-in bag did not make the change in Berlin. Shit! That was almost expected though. Reported my bag missing and the very same second I stood there it was confirmed in their computer system my bag was still in Berlin. So really – my bag was never lost. It just missed the flight change. Lucky though I’m used to traveling and packed some clothes in the carry-on bag and toothbrush and other necessary things you can’t do without. But had it not been for the Lufthansa strike (so I had to fly with AirBerlin via Berlin to Frankfurt), I had been able to check in my bag all the way from Stockholm-Arlanda to Fortaleza, Brazil… without unnecessary stop in Berlin… oh, well…

So I went on a little disappointed to the check-in counters for Condor, the airline taking me to Fortaleza, Brazil. The queue to Business Class winded long and it didn’t seem to move at all in front of me. Lucky me for understanding German. Cause I was attentively listening when the guys before me started to talk to the lady behind the counter that they were traveling to Fortaleza (same as me) and that it wasn’t much time left for check-in. The guys were asked to go to the Premium Class counter instead. So I joined and followed. Finally got my boarding pass and rushed to Security Check. Thanks to Business Class I had access to Priority Lane and got fast to the gate. Soon thereafter boarding started.
The aircraft was a Boeing 777, with Business Class in front. In larger aircrafts there are usually a separate entrée to Business Class, but not in this one, which meant all people in Premium and Economy Class had to pass through Business Class. Seemed like it would never end embarking passengers but eventually boarding was completed. Before the plane had left the gate I had gotten a glass of Champagne and that was only the beginning of all service included in Business Class.

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As soon as the plane was airborne the serving started with snacks, meals and beverages non-stop. You did not have to be hungry that was for sure. Starters, main courses and desserts were served on white pressed tablecloths. TV entertainment with movies and so on onboard was of course included in Business Class (neither in Premium nor Economy though, who had to pay extra for that). I was mighty impressed that the menu language was selectable in Swedish. Big plus for that! The reason for choosing Business Class on long-haul flights is pretty obvious. Not only for all food and beverages included but also for the possibility to stretch your legs. On this aircraft the seat was adjustable to 180° recumbent position, which I took advantage of of course.

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The plane landed after 9 hours and 30 minutes on Pinto Martins – Fortaleza International Airport, 6.10pm local Brazilian time. Many people have asked me how many hours in difference there is between Sweden and Brazil. It depends entirely on where you are and when during the year. Because Brazil consists of three different time zones; each time zone consists of different states and some of those states use summer time while others don’t – within the same time zone. So why make it simple when it can be difficult? But in general I would say between 2-4 hours after Swedish time this time of year.

The heat hit me when I disembarked the plane and it felt like hitting a wall. After being in a well air-conditioned aircraft for hours, I was met by +27 °C air with about 95% humidity. But after a while when acclimatized I felt better. But I hadn’t reached my final destination yet. Now I had to wait for a 2 hour domestic flight with TAM Airlines to Manaus, before I could check in at the hotel and get a few hours of sleep.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged traveling Comments (0)

Fishing Piranhas


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Landed at Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes – Manaus International Airport just after 1am and it was a small airport for being an international airport. Now you were pretty messed up in your head and been awake for more than 24 hours. Because you don’t get any quality sleep during flying and especially not during turbulence in the air as it was during both the transatlantic and domestic flight. Even though it was after 1 am it was hot. Got fast through the arrival terminal and since my checked-in bag got left behind in Europe, I could just pass the baggage belt and go to my awaiting transfer to the hotel. My guide and driver to the hotel was named Peter and originally from Switzerland. Got the question if I spoke German since it was his native language, but considering my brain being out of function and my mental activity almost didn’t work, I preferred English. Due to love Peter had moved to Brazil and lived in several cities in the country before Manaus and he now spoke Portuguese almost fluently, which is why he now works as a translator within tourism. Perfect when you visit a Portuguese-speaking country as a tourist and don’t know much Portuguese. Almost right away he asked me if I had heard about the terrorist attack in Paris earlier during Friday. “No, what?” I answered. “What has happened?” I guess he was most nervous about whether I had flown via Paris and had any problems with my flights. But I hadn’t, since I flew via Berlin – Frankfurt. Time being late at night didn’t seem to bother him at all, he talked and gave useful good things to think about. So I just had to ask him if he wasn’t tired. I got the answer back that he was used to pick up tourists in the middle of the night. He also said that the Brazilians take the airplanes like we ride the bus, day and night. There is no law in Brazil to prevent airplanes from flying during night time, since no one seems to be bothered by the noise from the air traffic.

Arrived at Hotel Go Inn Manaus at 1.30am. Check-in went fast and I got my room at the bottom floor. So I could just crash into bed and try to get as much sleep as possible before my transfer to Amazon Ecopark Jungle Lodge at 8.30am. At breakfast the news on the TV was dominated by the terrorist attack in Paris and pictures were shown over and over again. How could that be such big news here in Brazil? I sat there for a while and managed to figure out that two Brazilian citizens were victims and hurt in the attack. After breakfast I packed down all my things and went down to the reception to inform the staff that in case my bag showed up, they could call the Amazon Ecopark Jungle Lodge. But in contrast to the night staff’s good knowledge in English it was not as easy with the staff working the dayshift. Even though there were several people working, one better than the other at English, it wasn’t easy to make them understand what I was talking about. But the Brazilian people must be very friendly and never treated me like an idiot for not speaking English. They called another guy who spoke English that I talked to, and who later explained to the staff in Portuguese what I meant. So it all worked out in the end.

During that time my transfer to the Amazon Ecopark had shown up. The driver spoke very little English, but said it would take about 20 minutes. After spending the morning in a well air-conditioned hotel, the humid heat hit me like a wall during the short walk from the hotel entrance to the car. It must have been well over +30 °C. After a while we came outside the city and the airport, which I had arrived last night, piled up on the left side right in the middle of the jungle. We drove along more and more solitary roads and the thought hit me… “Oh well, here I am sitting in a car with a complete foreign person”. But pretty soon thereafter we arrived at a harbor, from which the canoe would departure to the Amazon Ecopark. The boat was already there waiting together with a group of Japanese people and their translator. It was just me they were waiting for.

As soon as I sat down in the canoe it started to chug away on Tarumi River, a contributory to Black River which in turn is contributory to the Amazon River. It was really warm, even though the wind fanned during the boat ride. In the end of November it’s still dry season here in the Amazon and just about to change into rain season. During really warm days the Amazon water evaporates between 40 – 100 centimeters per day. It was clearly visible how much the water had evaporated day by day on all the sandbanks. And usually the water in Tarumi River is very dark, almost black, but now it was more of a muddy color due to the low water level. After a canoe ride for about 15 minutes we stopped by a sandbank and disembarked.

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Since the water level was too low that the canoe couldn’t ride all the way to the lodge, we had to walk for a kilometer in the jungle. Our bags were moved by a tractor and trailer, while we had to walk in the heat.

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Checked in at the reception and got my room key. Each guest received a bracelet that showed they had paid for all inclusive… or well, “all inclusive”… water and beverages were not included. You had to register all your beverages with a card and pay for it at check-out. At the complex there is 20 wooden bungalows, each bungalow has 3 rooms with separate entrance, veranda and bathroom. Each room has air-conditioning, shower and screened windows. The difference between the heat outside and the more cool air inside the room was obvious and after being in the room for a while you didn’t want to go out in the tropical heat. Now I had some time before lunch to explore the complex. At the reception I met my guide Anthony, English-speaking of course. I was going to meet up with him here at 3.20pm and together with two Russians we were doing our first excursion.

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I kept on exploring the surroundings and eventually ended up in the bar, where the bartender Ivan offered me Cashew apple. Tasted strange, but okay. In Sweden we’re most familiar to the Cashew nut and not the actual apple (“fruit”). The Cashew apple (that looks like a fruit) grows on a tree and is oval or pear shaped and has a yellow and/or red color as mellow and is between 5 – 11 centimeters long. The real fruit of the tree is the kidney-shaped drupe growing under the Cashew apple and inside the real fruit is one single seed, the so called Cashew nut. Botanically it is a seed, but within the food industry it’s called nut. Went to the complex counterpart of a pool.

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They had made an area called Natural Swimming Pool Area, with shallow pools with running water from fresh water creeks. Took the opportunity to cool down my feet during a day like this when the temperature approached +40 °C. The staff had said it was safe to swim, there was nothing dangerous. Oh yeah, but with the jungle just a few feet away it didn’t feel that way… Pretty soon I could hear and catch a glimpse of monkeys swinging in the trees and discovered fish swimming in the pool. And who knows, suddenly a 4 meter-long snake might swim by in the water…

At 12.30pm it was lunchtime. The dining area was in an enormous tent, in the middle of all bungalows. Each day a large buffet was served and as guest you could eat all you wanted. A lot of meat, chicken and fish served with rice, pasta and potatoes, all heated up on a gigantic iron stove that I initially thought was heated up by firewood but realized it ran on gas. On the salad table there were vegetables creatively dished up on big plates, together with bread. For dessert it was coffee, fruits, cookies and sweets. Jesus, you didn’t have to leave the table hungry, that’s for sure. After all this amazing food you fell into a food coma and lucky me I had some time to digest the food before the first jungle excursion.
I went to the reception with plenty of time before the meeting with Anthony and could use the complex WiFi, that’s the only spot. Even Svetlana and Sergei met up in the reception though in the very last second. Sergei didn’t speak many words of English why he had his wife Svetlana translating everything Anthony said into Russian. We got through the jungle to the canoes and cruised on the Tarumi River water.

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After about a 10 minute cruise we disembarked and walked up the sandbank to the neighborhood homeopathic drugstore. Here you could find everything under the sun; roots, barks, nuts, flowers etc. considered having healing properties against various diseases or help with the potency.

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We hiked the area and learned about the unique flora and fauna and saw a few Niña Pineapples. Anthony picked one and opened it with his machete and we got to taste it. It was so sweet and delicious!

After that we headed back to the canoe, because now it was time for Piranha fishing! After another 5 minute boat ride we disembarked at a long floating bridge. Anthony got us fishing poles and bait (pieces of meat) and we sat down on a chair each. Anthony showed us how to do, because it demanded some skills to be able to catch a Piranha on the hook. The Piranha likes being at the bottom of the river and to catch their attention we were supposed to hit the water surface with the fishing pole every now and then. Then you had to pay attention to your float, which you had to pull up with all your force as soon as it started to bob. If you didn’t pay attention enough the Piranha would just steal your bait. Sometimes you didn’t even notice they had stolen the bait, that’s how clever they were.

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But after many “empty biting” I managed to pull up a Piranha on my own. We sat there until sunset and went back to the canoe. Now it was time for search for alligators, or Caymans as they really were. With the boat we got to a cove, where they knew Caymans would be found. Two of the staff members jumped out and went for a search. We guests had to remain seated in the canoe due to safety reasons of course. We could spot the two younger guys walk of along the shore since they held a lamp. Anthony told us they would try to catch a Cayman and bring it along so anyone who wanted could hold it. Now the guys were pretty far away so we could only see a faint gleam. Suddenly we heard intensive splashing and we understood they had found a Cayman and wrestled it. After a while the guys came back and cruised back to land with the canoe. We disembarked and gathered around the guys holding the Cayman. Anthony told us the Cayman was pretty young, about 3 years old. Of course I got to hold the Cayman (mouth was bound together with rope, don’t worry) and that was a pretty cool feeling.

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Then we walked back to Amazon Ecopark for dinner at 7.30pm. It was the same structure with buffet for salad, main dish and dessert. So delicious! And you might not believe it, but you get pretty hungry even though it was close to +40 °C during the day. Important to hydrate as well. I guess that’s why water and beverages is not included, so they can earn some extra money on that. You fell asleep pretty un-rocked that night.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged piranha amazon_rainforest Comments (0)

Meeting of the Water


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I got up after many hours of sleep too breakfast at 7.30am. Like lunch and dinner it now was set up for breakfast. Bread, salad, ham, cheese, yoghurt, cereals, coffee, bacon, eggs etc. But now also water and juice to drink (without paying for). Today we were meeting in the reception at 8.15am to go to the Meeting of the Water. I was well on time, but Sergei and Svetlana was a no-show. Anthony and I had to start walking since we had to take the canoe out to the larger boat. And the large boat departed at a certain time. If we missed that it was all over. When we had almost gotten to the canoe the Russians came half-running behind us. Anthony was not satisfied with their behavior, because they had been late for each and every meeting at Amazon Ecopark.

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The canoe chugged away and we cruised for a while before it docked with the larger boat, in the middle of Tarumi River. There were many groups on this cruise and we sat down on upper deck, under the roof. Even though it was hot, the head-wind created a nice breeze in the shadow. Slow but steady we cruised to the Tarumi Rivers inlet, where the city of Manaus is. Manaus is a city that stretches along the water and consists of several municipalities. The first airport ever built in Manaus had its runway so short the aircrafts had to take-off using a catapult, just as jet planes on a hangar ship.

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When the boat left Tarumi River and in on Black River (Rio Negro) we were still following the dockland of Manaus. We passed big cisterns and Anthony explained that’s where Manaus’ tap water was gathered from the river. In there the water was filtered and chemicals added, before pumped out in the water pipes. Short thereafter we passed a natural gas plant with one of those chimneys in flames. How great is that for the environment? Gas or oil is neither that much better, really. Yet, the cars in Brazil are built for gasoline and/or ethanol refueling. How come the Brazilians don’t refuel ethanol? Partly because the engines take more damage but also due to the cheaper gasoline prices, which won’t pay off. But that is all about to change thanks to rising oil prices. Just next to this natural gas plant was the loading port of Manaus who have had an important meaning for the city export. Because the only transport communications to and from Manaus is either by airplanes or by boat, that’s how remote the city is from the rest of Brazil that no passable roads exists.

After 3 hours we arrived at the highlight of the day – the Meeting of the Water – where Rio Negro and Amazon River meets. The confluence by Rio Negros dark, almost black, water and the sand-colored acid water of the Amazon River is a main tourist attraction in Manaus. The waters of the two rivers flow side by side for more than 6 km without mixing! This phenomenon occurs due to differences in temperature, speed and density of the two rivers.

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The boat circulated a couple of times on both sides of the Meeting of the Water before putting course towards the restaurant where we ate our lunch. Long tables were set under the trees in the shadow, with the lunch buffet in the middle. The watermelons there, shopped up in smaller pieces, tasted so darn delicious! So much better than back home in Sweden. After lunch we went for a short hike among the trees and stopped by a shallow freshwater lake, created by Amazon River. Now during dry season there wasn’t much water, but we could see the gigantic leafs (can be up to 3 meters in diameter) of Victoria Amazonica – giant water lily. The giant water lily grows naturally here in the Amazon and blossom for only two days each year. On the first day the flower is white, second day being pink.

When everyone gathered at the boat again a long cruise back laid ahead of us to the Amazon Ecopark. It actually went a little faster now when we cruised in fair wind, but it also meant a pretty much non-existing breeze. The heat became even more present now and even though you hadn’t made an effort you were tired! But we eventually arrived at Tarumi River and got picked-up by the canoe for a ride back to the sandbanks close to Amazon Ecopark.

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Anthony chose to walk back along the sandbanks the Ecopark. It was scorching hot in the sun and by now even I had a hint of a tan. So then you know it was really hot and sunny ;) After a well-deserved shower and cool-down in the room, there was some relax time before dinner at 7.30pm.

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When passing one of the lodges (where the Japanese’s stayed), they stood watching something. I curiously walked up to them and wanted to know what it was. They had some problems with one of the Macaws living at Amazon Ecopark, standing outside the door and trying to get in as soon as they opened the door. Ha ha! Perhaps it wanted to get in to the coolness, or get some food? What do I know? But it was kind of comic. Took the opportunity to get some great pictures of it since I managed to get pretty close up.

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As mentioned, dinner at 7.30pm. Served as earlier as a large buffet with meat, chicken, fish together with rice, pasta and potatoes. After a long, warm day you fell asleep pretty fast.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged amazon_rainforest meeting_of_the_water Comments (0)

Nature hike to Monkey Island


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After breakfast we gathered in the reception at 8.20am. A group of Australians joined my group and they had arrived yesterday. They were a happy bunch of elderly ladies who now after retirement traveled around the earth to see the world. They were really nice and we got along very well. The Russian couple honored us with another late arrival to the gathering. Anthony was moderately happy. But when all gathered we started to walk into the jungle. Anthony told us it was very important we did not touch any trees or plants (unless he told so) since some trees/plants were toxic. It was also important for the group to stay together on the track so no one got left behind alone, since they had seen a Puma in the area with two cubs. Oh well, so they claimed… first you got scared as hell. But after some logical thinking, would they really bring tourists out in the jungle if there really was a puma nearby? Felt more like a made-up story, just to scare us.

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Another guide, an Amazon Native Indian, by name Antonio joined us and contributed with his knowledge and interesting information during our hike. Compared to me, Antonio was short a thin, just like his ancestors. That is necessarily for the Amazons to survive out in the Amazon Jungle. The Amazon children are taught to live according to the jungle laws by their grandparents. At 8 years old they are sent out into the jungle to survive on their own during 90 days. By then they have the knowledge about which trees who gives fluid to drink, which ones that stops bleeding wounds and which trees to sleep in. The trees chosen to sleep in, must be thin enough for a jaguar or puma not to being able to climb up. Therefore it is very important for the Amazonians to be short and thin, so they can sleep in slim and thin trees. When an Amazonian hunts they wear only pants. The visible skin gets camouflaged and they cover the smell of human. During dry season they use formic acid and during rainy season flowers to cover the human scent. Anthony stopped by a tree with a large ant house hanging on the tree trunk. Even though Anthony had been very clear on us not touching anything, Sergei started to pick on the ant house and the ants got pretty upset and attacked him. He has himself to blame for that. But it was just what Anthony wanted to demonstrate. How the Amazons camouflage themselves with formic acid to be able to sneak up on their prey.

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Anthony let the ants calm down and then took a stick and hit the house. Furious ants came out and wanted to know what the hell was going on. Then Anthony put his hand there and let the ants climb up his arm and crushed them to death. The scent, formic acid, is then spread and covers the human scent. Many are allergic to formic acid why the Amazon people are sensibilities at early age.

When the man in an Amazonian family go out to hunt he only tells his wife he’s going out to hunt, never how long or when he’ll be back. The wife expects the man to be gone for 2 months. Hasn’t she heard anything by then, she waits another 2 weeks. Thereafter she telegraphs a message by using a special tree that transports the sound up to the crown and can be heard up to 50 kilometers in diameter. Anthony stopped by a tree just like that and demonstrated how it’s done. He grabbed a stick and hit the message “Hello” on the trunk. The tree did look very strange. The trunk looked in cutaway like a V and when you think about it you could understand how the sound accumulated in the tree and be heard at long range. And if we are scared of human being cutting down the Amazon, the nature helps in its way just as much. The trees here in the Amazons have large superficial root systems, just to hang on to the sand bottom and root. Due to this phenomenon the trees fall easily during storms, and according to the law fallen trees cannot be moved. According to Anthony, Amazonas itself will contribute in becoming a sand desert, even though the human devastation would stop tomorrow. But how do the trees receive their nutrition if they grow on a sand bottom? All nutrition is in the crowns, in the green leafs and flowers. When these fall down to the ground the trees have only a couple of hours to soak up the nutrition.

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After an hour we arrived in an area without any trees, just a lot of sand like a desert. On distance we saw a few vultures sitting in a dead tree and look at us. Nice. Are they waiting for someone to break down so they could eat? Ha ha, almost felt like that. Slow but safe we walked towards Monkey Island. But really, there wasn’t an island but a peninsula. The monkeys there had been rescued and taken care of. The monkeys are slowly changing diet and rehabilitates before they released into the wild again. I guess you could call it a Rescue Center.

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The monkeys presented were Woolly Monkeys and Red Faced Monkeys. When we were there they fed the monkeys so we had opportunity to take pictures pretty close up. One woman, I think she was French, was chosen to have a monkey on her shoulder holding a piece of fruit for the monkey to take from her. Had been cool to try, but at the same time you never know what diseases they possibly could have in case they would bite.

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Monkey Island wasn’t that far from Amazon Ecopark, we had been walking in like a circle. It didn’t take many minutes to walk back and at 12.30pm it was time for lunch. Just as outstanding lunch buffet as the days before. Now I had no more jungle tours or excursions. Could just enjoy the afternoon and try to figure out where my checked-in bag was. I had not received any email or update about its whereabouts. It could be in Australia or Antarctica as far as I knew. I mean, how difficult could it be to get the bag on the very next flight? There must be X number of flights each day bound for Brazil… so what was the problem? Really bad! Took a power-nap in one of the hammocks suspended somewhat aloof by the reception. It was very peaceful to lie there and listen to the sounds, smell the scents knowing you had no time to care about. Last dinner at 7.30pm. The complex was pretty much empty. Guess the others were out on an evening tour. Almost at eight o’clock the dinner tent started to get crowded.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged amazon_rainforest Comments (0)

Manaus – gateway to the Amazon


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The lovely ladies from Australia joined me at breakfast today. They told me they were very fascinated by our nature here in Scandinavia and that a few of them had visited Sweden among other countries. One of them even had the opportunity to see our royal Family live out on the streets in Stockholm, and was completely amazed by that. Yes well, unfortunately that will become rarer now due to change and increased terror threats in the World etc. They also said Anthony told them that the Amazon state tries to introduce diseases which the Amazon Native Indians are not immune to, just to remove them out of the Amazon Rainforest. All this because the state found Uranium out in the Amazon Jungle they want to break and sell. And all this is made with high secrecy so the rest of the world won’t find out. If this is true, it is just horrible. I mean, why? There must be other ways. The gathering was at 11am for the transfer back to Manaus again. First a canoe ride to a floating bridge in the outskirts of Manaus. Then a ride in a warm minibus on bumpy borderline whiplash provoking asphalt roads back to Manaus and the hotel I stayed at just a few days ago – Hotel Go Inn Manaus.

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I checked in and my guide Jorge Leal de Souza approached me and introduced himself. He is known from many different TV- channels as Discovery Channel, National Geographic, CNN among others, so that felt a little special knowing he would guide me at a private tour in Manaus.

The city and municipality of Manaus is located in north Brazil and is capitol city of the Amazon state, also known as the Heart of the Amazon. Manaus is located in the middle of Amazon Rainforest and easiest to access by boat or airplane. Thanks to its isolated geographic location its nature as well as culture heritage has been preserved and most certainly protected the Native Brazilian Tribes. When the city was founded in 1693 it was at first a small oasis in the rainforest where Rio Negro falls into the Amazon River. The rubber boom was blooming during late 19th century and Manaus became the richest city in South America and eventually got the nickname Paris of the Tropics. Many wealthy European families settled in Manaus and brought with them their love for sophisticated European art, architecture and culture.

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We took a taxi to Rio Negro Palace which was built by Karl Waldemar Scholz, German baron who imported most things for his palace from Europe. Furniture, clocks and other furnishings in luxury style. A tour in this magnificent palace was included in my tour with an English-speaking guide. I was pretty impressed by many of the art work hanging on the walls. Probably imported from Europe as well.

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The development bubble led to installation of street lighting, waterworks, drainage and a tram system and also wide tree-lined avenues were built. Bear in mind that these mega-rich families were overloaded with money and even sent their laundry to be done in Paris, France. The barons erected Mercado Municipal which was strongly inspired by the famous market halls Les Halles in Paris and the arts center Palácio Rio Negro located in the towns Portuguese district with fascinating facades. We walked to the Mercado Municipal and I got to try a local dish for lunch – Pirarucú – fish (Arapaima Gigas) with rice and spaghetti. Good taste, even though I’m picky when it comes to food. When walking around on the streets you couldn’t help noticing the majority of the cars had sunscreen on every window, even the front window. I just had to ask Jorge, if that wasn’t illegal. Oh, yes, he answered. But if you get pulled over by the police you just pay some money and they will let you go without fixing it.

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They even built a replica of Grand Opera de Paris – Teatro Amazonas – a luxurious opera house with room for an audience of 700 people. Extravagant gilded balconies, French glass, Italian marble and European brick made the perfect shrine for Manaus active culture elite. A visit in this magnificent theater was included in my tour. The chairs in the saloon are nowadays dressed in silk and they installed air-conditioning already in 1925, after a famous French ballet dancer refused to perform due to the heat. The stage curtain itself is one big painting that moves up towards the ceiling in one piece without being folded or pulled aside.

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In the saloon is a gigantic ceiling painting giving the visitors the impression of sitting underneath the Eifel tower. Upstairs is a debutant hall where 16-year-old girls danced to celebrate the step into adult life in becoming a woman. Huge marble pillars, Mahogany tiled floor mixed with lighter colored woods gave a luxury impression.

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Even here is a ceiling painting spectacular in its way, since the ceiling is vaulted and gives the impression that the persons in the painting are looking at you everywhere you go in the hall.

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The streets nearby the opera house were covered with rubber preventing noise from passing carriages outside to interrupt during performances. Today the opera house accommodates opera seasons but also theater productions and jazz festivals, and a part of the rubber street is still present outside. I just had to walk over there to experience walking on it. It was a strange feeling, but I totally understand how it reduced various noises from the traffic. The Amazonas State Government has since 2001 sponsored the Amazonas Film Festival, which annually takes place in November, to revitalize the opera house and art scene of Manaus.
When the rubber boom burst, the wealthy families abandoned the area and the city got into an economic crises. To attract foreign enterprises during 1970-ies Manaus became a foreign trade zone. Today Manaus is the largest city in Amazonas region with its 2 million inhabitants and does export nuts, rubber, timber, crocodile skin and cacao among other things. The harbor is the most important trading center for all trading in Manaus, both regionally, nationally and internationally. Many of the world’s rubber factories are here in Manaus, which 11 produces only motorcycle tires. Many of the famous brands like GoodYear, Bridgestone etc. were founded here.

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After my private tour, which had been very giving and interesting, I could rest until dinner at the hotel restaurant. Dared to try a local white wine, but it wasn’t that good unfortunately.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged cities Comments (0)

Traveling south


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Could spoil myself with a sleep-in, since this day was dedicated to traveling and transfer myself, i.e. no guided tours today. No news about my bag. Made a few attempts to call both Baggage Express and Frankfurt Airport, but without results. In pure anger I packed down my things and checked out from Hotel Go Inn Manaus. Had about 1 ½ hours before my transfer to the airport would arrive and pick me up, so I had time to write an email or two in anger to AirBerlin so I at least get a response. The transfer showed up at 12.30pm and he spoke well English. He looked a little surprised at me and wondered: “Only one bag?” So I had to tell the whole story again how my bag got stuck in Berlin. During the ride to the Airport he called Peter (if you remember, the driver during my first transfer here in Brazil a couple of days ago). Peter got as upset – as I already was – and promised to call Germany himself to speed up my baggage delivery. That felt good, since his native language was German.

Once at Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes – Manaus International Airport, check-in went efficiently since I only had my hand luggage. Even though the guy at the counter friendly asked if I wanted to check-in the bag, I said no. I was not going to check in the only baggage I had, so it also could get lost – hell no! I held hard onto my bag and had constant vision of it through Security Check. Then it was time with my poor Portuguese to try and get some food. It went okay, as long as they speak slowly you can figure out what they mean. They seem to like buffets here in Brazil; you take how much you want and then pay at the register. Had time to eat in peace before boarding started for the flight to São Paulo Guarulhos International Airport, also known as Governador Andre Franco Montoro International Airport. Yes, why have only one name, when you can have two? The flight departed at 3.12pm local time and now a 4 hour flight to São Paulo with TAM Airlines was ahead. The aircraft was a Boeing 767 with 2+3+2 seating with TV-monitors in the seat in front of you, with various entertaining. I don’t know if it was due to the movies that I watched, or what, but these hours just flew by. And during these hours I had transferred one time zone, but 2 hours in time difference. Oh, why make it so complicated and let some states (within a time zone) have summer time and not all. Why simple, when it can be difficult?

When the plane approached the runway it had gotten pitch black outside and I sat far away from any window, so I couldn’t see when the plane took ground. One reason why I want to have window seat when flying. Now you had no idea whether we would land at an airport, in the ocean or straight towards a rock face. Uncomfortable feeling. Though there are so many smart systems that many aircrafts, with help by autopilot, can land themselves. Thanks to ILSInstrument Landing System – airplanes can land in the dark and in poor visibilities at runways that otherwise only are used during great visibilities and day light.

Anyhow, landed at 9.15pm local time at São Paulo Guarulhos International Airport, busiest airport in Brazil. Then you might expect the airport to be well developed, that you board your flight from the gate, that it is well-signed and big in general. But no. The aircraft I arrived in (Boeing 767) is yet a large plane and you would probably expect to disembark at a gate. No. We had to disembark and embark a bus to the terminal. There it was crowded and full of people in a more or less hurry. To then come as a single tourist trying to find the next gate didn’t feel quite okay. Looked frantically for a monitor to see which gate to go to. When I finally found one, the next problem occurred… to find the gate. The signs were completely vanished, or they were very small, because I saw none. There was no point in asking a random person due to the poor odds that person spoke any English. But after wandering around for a few minutes I realized I need to ask someone. To be sure being able to ask in English I went to a check-in counter. Haa!! It turned out I was on the wrong floor. Hmm. And where was that sign posted saying I had to go up a floor??? Well then. Took the escalator upstairs and from there I could orient myself to the right gate. Well, gate and gate… it was the smallest waiting hall I’ve ever seen, and so crowded. It was warm and loudly and you really had to pay attention to the TV-monitors because you couldn’t hear the announcements made. From here we embarked a bus to the aircraft, an Airbus 319, with 3+3 seating.

When the plane was basically full, one last passenger had to embark. An elderly man with plastered feet, had to be bussed onboard with some kind of wheel chair. When he switched from the wheel chair to his seat he started puking in the isle. Wonderful! Just infect the rest of us. So they had to call in the cleaning staff to wipe and clean. When the plane finally taxed out (just after 11.10pm) I heard a child behind me having a running nose. That’s just perfect! If I don’t get sick now… And the child coughed and sniffled all the way from São Paulo to Foz do Iguaçu, a flight for about 2 hours.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged traveling Comments (0)

Waterfalls, birds and butterflies


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Landed at Foz do Iguaçu – Cataratas International Airport at 1am. Even if you managed to doze off during flight you were totally mushy in your head. For an international airport it is a very small airport. We had to disembark and walk on the ground into the terminal and since I had no checked-in luggage to pick up I could continue out to the arrival hall and look for my transfer. But there was no one with my name. Okay, I guess I could wait a few minutes (how would he/she know I wasn’t waiting for my checked-in luggage?) before I started to get worried. And sure enough, within two minutes my driver showed up with my nameplate. His name spelt João and I didn’t even dare to pronounce it. But I could call him Joe. He told they just had a period of rainy season during last 3 weeks, but that it now would become dry weather. Obviously – now that I’m here ;)

We walked to the car and he wondered why I only had one small bag with me. So I had to tell the story once more, how my bag got left in Berlin. It was pitch-black outside and humidity out of the ordinary. From the airport we went long on a straight road. Passed a round-about and kept on going as straight as before. After a while buildings and hotels started to show on both sides of the road, which was still dead straight. Joe stopped the car outside Hotel Viale Cataratas, where I checked in. Before I went to bed I logged on to the WiFi and happily saw an email from Baggage Express. But the joy quickly switched into anger while reading that my bag had been in Manaus already the day after my arrival there. WTF?! Why wasn’t I notified? Had they just sent the email – like 1 day earlier – I could have picked it up before flying from Manaus to São Paulo!!! Stupid idiots! I wrote back that they could send the bag a.s.a.p. to Foz do Iguaçu and the hotel I stayed at.

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Was able to sleep a few hours before breakfast. Though I didn’t woke up to the cell phone alarm as intended, but from the light outside the window. What time was it? Quickly checked the cell phone… the alarm had sounded without me hearing it! What now?! Tried to play the alarm melody again, but there was no sound… Turned up the volume at maximum, but still nothing. Hoped not my cell phone was about to break down on me, not now! Tried to restart the phone, then the sound got back to normal. But how fun is it traveling with a cell phone you cannot trust to wake you up as planned!? Joe picked me up at 11.30am and we headed to Iguaçu National Park. I had been told that this was a guided tour in group here in Iguaçu, but Joe told me that I was the only one, i.e. a private tour. Even better – especially when I’ve paid for group tours (=cheaper).

Iguaçu National Park is in south west Brazil and borders to Iguaçu River in the south. The National Park consists of subtropical rainforest and nature which leaves the humidity at 95% all year around, independently of rainy/dry season. The park houses over 400 species of birds together with cougars, jaguars, deer’s, raccoons, iguanas and so on. The National Park shares together with Iguazú National Park (Argentina) one of the World’s largest and most impressive waterfall – Iguassu Falls. The Iguassu Falls is shared by Argentina (80%) and Brazil (20%) and is one of the New Natural Seven Wonders of the World. With a height of 82 meters and depending on which season (rainy or dry season) Iguassu Falls has between 160 to sometimes over 270 individual waterfalls spread over 2,7 kilometers. And now after 3 weeks of rain the water flow was extremely high according to Joe. Normally 1 million liters of water passes every second, but now during rainy season it was about 5-6 million liters of water each second.

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Joe collected my ticket and I passed through the entrance, while Joe drove the car around and met up with me inside the park. We went through the park for 20 minutes and drove to the Path of the Falls, which is a 1,2 kilometer trail with panoramic views over the Argentinean side of Iguassu Falls. The first we saw was a raccoon close to the trail. The raccoon showed no fear for humans, rather the opposite. Apparently tourists had fed them to get close up for a picture. But I kept myself on a safe distance, since this one probably had rabies and I didn’t want to get bitten. Joe showed me the direction I needed to go in and that he would meet me at the end of the trail at Naipi Square, a high tower by the waterfall Devil’s Throat. Joe said it would take about an hour to walk. A bit skeptical, I started walking… an hour to walk 1,2 kilometer? The positive about this trail was that it basically went downhill all the way, wet and slippery here and there due to mists from all waterfalls.

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Only at the end, at Devil’s Throat, it got damn steep uphill… thank God you could take an elevator. Along the way there were views points, there it was the best outlooks over the waterfalls. For the more brave people you could use walkways and stand in the middle of the water basin, but since the water flow was strong and created serious winds with mists (close to rain) from the waterfalls around, I passed. I had brought a rain poncho but you would get super wet anyway, I could see that on the people walking back from the water basin. Just as Joe said, he met me up in the tower at Devil’s Throat and it had taken me 1 hour to get around. Must have been for all stops taking pictures that took time.

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We drove back and out of the park and parked the car at the Bird & Butterfly Park, just next to the National Park. Now I was starving and bought lunch inside the park. Joe then followed me.

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As the name implies there were obviously butterflies and all kind of birds; macaws, parrots, pheasants, peacocks, owls, flamingos, toucans among others. There were many loud noises inside the park. It was warm and humid and the smells inside the park varied from place to place. When we had walked around the entire park, Joe drove me back to the hotel. After a hot and sticky day a shower was longed for.
Just before dinner a thunder storm gathered. The low clouds came very fast and the wind changed rapidly. Then the rain came. And the thunder. The lightning lit up the entire sky in the evening darkness and it was like a magnificent spectacle up in the sky that kept on going for hours. Nice to be inside and the thunder storm didn’t bother me at all since I didn’t have to be outside.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls iguassu_falls foz_do_iguassu Comments (0)

Don’t cry for me Argentina


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Today was a full day on the Argentinean side of the Iguassu Falls. Joe picked me up already at 8.00am and then headed for the border control to Argentina. Even though it was only for about 8 hours, I had to bring my passport to get in to Argentina. Got my passport stamped and we drove further on towards Iguazú National Park. I think it is fun to get the passport stamped, a small proof you’ve actually been in a country. Sad we stopped doing that within EU. Argentina is a Spanish-speaking country which is why Iguazú spells with a z, and not with ç as in Brazil. As soon as we had crossed the border into Argentina we set the clock back 1 hour. Joe explained that Argentina and east Brazil has the same time zone, but east Brazil now apply summer time. As tourist it’s impossible to keep track of all that. And to complicate things even more, people living close to the Brazilian/Argentinean border have a language called Portuñol – a mix between Spanish and Portuguese. I would probably understand Portuñol better than just Portuguese, since I know more Spanish.

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We drove about 20 minutes more before arriving at Iguazú National Park. As soon as the entrance opened up we went to the little train that took us the more than 3,5 km to Devil’s Throat, the trains end station. The speed of the train wasn’t very fast, but was faster than compared to walking the same distance. From the train station you could already hear the waterfalls muffled rushing and Joe pointed out where the walkway I had to take to the falls started. Well the walkway, it wasn’t that stable as I had wished for. The pillars looked good and reliable, but that metal net you stepped on felt anything but reliable. It wasn’t that thick and looking down you could see the strong current underneath. I tried to have an internal dialog; “Suck it up. Be cool.” It took about 20 minutes to walk those 1,2 km’s out to Devil’s Throat and the sound from the rushing water was deafening.

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Tried to take panoramic pictures of the falls, but it looked more like my cell phone had gotten an epileptic seizure or something. All choppy and strange. Guess the camera couldn’t relate to any useful reference points to create a panoramic photo. Turned and walked the same way back to meet up with Joe at the train station again. I had to ask Joe how deep that water was, underneath that walkway. He told me it wasn’t deeper than 1 meter, but due to last 3 weeks of raining the current was really strong and the water was all brown from all sediments that come with the water. With normal water levels the water is turquoise and current is not as strong.

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We took the train and disembarked at the Upper and Lower Circuit, two trails bringing the visitors close up with the waterfalls. The Upper Circuit was easy and manageable without any huge affords thanks to a level trail and easily becomes full of elderly people and families with strollers. You had great views over the falls. Though it took one hour to walk back and forth. For the fit person you could walk the Lower Circuit which contains steps, uphills and downhills. That probably took 2 hours for Joe and I to complete that trail, and then both he and I were well fit. You can definitely not be scared of getting soaked, since the trail will bring you very close to the falls and with high water levels the mist blew far in over us visitors.

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The boat tour under the falls was schedule at 11.15am, or well… at least up to the falls. Due to the high water levels we couldn’t embark the boat at the usual place, but further down the Iguassu River. We rode a jeep along a bumpy and rough road to get there. Equipped with a life jacket and waterproof bag each, we embarked the boat. Did put on the rain poncho (underneath the life jacket) and flip-flop, because we would get wet. I wrapped myself in like a cocoon to minimize the risk of getting completely soaked with water. Then you just had to hold on. Full speed with sharp turns that meant cascades of water spraying in over the boat. Though the air was warm, the water was freezing. Or well, it was probably not freezing but the difference between the air and the water made I felt like it. The boat stopped just in front of the falls for those who wanted to take some pictures sitting in the bow. I had already taken pictures of the waterfalls from every known angle, so I skipped that. The last turn the boat made was to get as close to the falls as possible. I don’t know how close the boat eventually got, but it felt like very close. Because we weren’t hit by drizzle but more like a massive monsoon rain. When back at the floating pier and you finally got off your life jacket and rain poncho I realized I escaped pretty well from being soaked or wet. All in all it took about 2 hours, even though it didn’t felt so. What took time was the jeep transportations to and from the boat (20 minutes one-way), the boat ride itself felt like 10 minutes. When I met up with Joe again he looked at me like “You’re not soaked. Did you even embark the boat?” But I explained I had wrapped myself like a cocoon and only got my lower legs wet.

Now I was starving and stood in line to buy something to eat. But bear in mind two things; 1: They have Argentinean Pesos (AR$) in Argentina, 2: They only accepted VISA credit cards in the entire park. And I had neither Argentinean currency nor VISA credit card, so I just had to accept it. I told Joe I would buy something later at the hotel, it was easier that way. After a long and warm day we drove back crossing the border into Brazil again. Crossed the bridge over Iguassu River, where the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet. Had I been smart enough I could have paid Paraguay a visit too…

This morning I had asked Joe if he could drive me to the airport so I could search for my bag, because my patience was over now. It would probably be easier on site, with passport and everything, to get the bag on a plane here to Foz do Iguaçu. And since we would pass close to the airport on the way back he was kind enough and dropped me off the airport and waited outside. Found TAM Airlines and tried to make myself understood. Got sent around to one after another before ending up with Deborah, that was responsible for lost baggage. I don’t know if she either understood me, her English wasn’t that great. Eventually I got to speak with flight attendants from TAM. Finally someone able to speak English. It took him five minutes to call to Manaus, locate my bag and put it on the next flight via Brasilia and then on today’s last flight to Foz do Iguaçu (arriving just before midnight). With careful optimism a smile spread across my face, thanked the man for the help and went out to the car and let Joe drive me back to the hotel.

Those of you who knows me, know I’m a realistic pessimist and believes in things when I’ve seen it, i.e. in this case holding my bag in my hand. So it wasn’t over by a long shot. Back at the hotel I notified the reception staff they could call my room as soon as the bag arrived, didn’t matter if it was in the middle of the night. The staff was probably dead tired of my frantic nagging about my bag by now.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls iguassu_falls foz_do_iguassu Comments (0)

Suddenly it happens


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Woke up before the cell phone alarm sounded. The hotel staff had not called me during the night, so my bag had not arrived yet. What now? Tiptoed away to the reception and asked yet again asked about my bag. But no. The hotel staff tried their best to get in contact with TAM Airlines by phone, but without result. It was morning and also Saturday. What were the odds of get in contact with that small airport a day like this? Aaah!! Now I was ready to give up. If I didn’t receive my bag today they could just as well send it straight back to Sweden, so I didn’t have to worry for the rest of my trip. I miserably walked back to my hotel room and packed my things. Checked out from Hotel Viale Cataratas and had a few hours now to kill before Joe came and drove me to Foz do Iguaçu/Cataratas International Airport.

Sat down on a soft and comfortable couch in the hotel lobby and had just sunk into my own little world when one of the hotel staff calls for me. Barely made it up from the couch and walked up to her. Finally great news! Suddenly it happened! TAM Airlines themselves had called the hotel and announce that they now had my bag delivered by courier. For real? With careful optimism I returned to the couch and it felt really good now – almost too good. Time wise, it felt like 3 weeks from the great news until the man stepped into the hotel with my bag. A total happiness arose the very second I spotted my bag – like a child waiting for presents on Christmas Day.

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There it was. My bag! Weird you can be so happy about getting your bag back. But hey? No ID inspection??? Seriously? In other words he could have delivered my bag to the very next person?! But right then I could care less.

Joe arrived at 12.45pm to drive me to Foz do Iguaçu/Cataratas International Airport. The transfer took about 20 minutes and just inside the departure terminal it hit me – I must check in my luggage again after just hours in my possession again. Walked up to the check-in counter, took a deep breath and handed over the bag. Oh well. Dear bag. See you in Rio then? As mentioned earlier, Foz do Iguaçu/Cataratas International Airport is a rather small airport – despite the international status. There weren’t many gates to choose from, even fewer restaurants to eat at. The airplane departed just before 4pm and it took about 1 ½ hours to reach Galeão International Airport in northern Rio de Janeiro. The rain pattered against the aircraft and it was a gray and overcast weather. Got pretty fast from the gate to the baggage belt to pick up my bag. Bag after bag came on out the belt, but my bag never seemed to show up. Minutes ticked away and also my pulse, that after a while most surely was at 160 bpm. What the hell! I had time for many thoughts and felt the devil’s horn started to grow out on my forehead. But eventually my bag showed up, as one of the very last bags out on the belt! Whew!

In the arrival hall, I met up with my local guide Renato. We left the rain over the airport and the slum districts (favelas) in the northern Rio de Janeiro and traveled through one of all car tunnels towards the southern and wealthier part of Rio. The weather somewhat eased up the more south we got and caught a glimpse of both Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer. The vast contrast between the favelas as we passed in the north to the luxury hotels that lined up along Copacabana Beach in the south was overwhelming. Renato drove an extra turn in the neighborhood and pointed out great restaurants and local stores so I could easily orient myself before dropping me off at my hotel, Hotel Windsor Martinique Copacabana. Definitely the most elegant hotel so far during this trip. I had barely gotten out of the care before a bell boy grabbed my bags and took them inside the hotel lobby. Check-in went fast and then a bell boy followed me up to my room with my bags. Perhaps not the biggest room in the world, but I wasn’t here for the hotel.

A local store was situated just around the corner from the hotel where you could buy both water and snacks to a much cheaper price than from the hotel room mini bar. Close to eight o’clock in the evening I went to a Steak House that Renato had recommended. There was a buffet, just as several other restaurants I had visited here in Brazil. Take whatever you want, how much you want and pay the weight at the counter. Super smooth! Typical Brazilian food is meat, fish, chicken, rice and pasta in all cooked forms. Stews, fried, steamed, grilled – you name it.

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Then had time to visit a local market along Copacabana Beach, organized during weekends. Here you could buy typical souvenirs, clothes, snacks etcetera.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged cities rio_de_janeiro traveling copacabana_beach Comments (0)

Sugar Loaf Mountain


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I got up early in the morning in time for breakfast at 7am and being in time for pick-up at 8.25am. Hasn’t had a working air-conditioner during the entire night so I made a report at the hotel reception while I was down there for breakfast anyway. They called for the janitor who came to my room within 3 minutes. The first thing he checked was if the window was closed. I had the window opened yesterday evening but I then closed it… or well, at least I thought so. But obviously I must have missed a millimeter or two, since the air-conditioner was linked to the window and apparently didn’t work if it was opened. He opened the window and closed it again and then the air-conditioner started again. Ha ha, was it that simple, really? Well then.

Continued to get ready and later on went down to the hotel lobby in time for my pick-up at 8.25am. I waited and waited and ogled the watch more and more irritated. All other hotel guests waiting in the hotel lobby had been picked-up by now except from me. During that time I had built up anger inside at the same time I started to get nervous they had forgotten me. Then I suddenly remembered something that Peter, my first transfer driver in Manaus, had said; “it’s more of a rule that Brazilians are late to an appointment or meeting and that by 30 minutes or more”. So I convinced myself not to worry and that they hadn’t forgotten me. Eventually a short-grown lady by the name Maria picked me up. We walked outside to a full-sized bus and she told me we would be 44 people in the group today. The bus driver drove along Copacabana’s beach towards Sugar Loaf Mountain. Most of the streets in the Copacabana district are one-ways. They can be one-way in one direction in the morning, switch to the other direction during the day and get back to the other one-way direction in the afternoon. So confusing! But it has to do with traffic and ease the traffic flow during rush-hours in Rio de Janeiro.

Copacabana Palace is a *****-star hotel built in 1923. It was the first and only hotel on Copacabana Beach until 1945. The hotel is easily recognized by its magnificent facade and distinguishes from surrounding hotels. Even Princess Isabella, who freed the slaves, has gotten a street with her name – Isabella Avenue. The bus made several stops by hotels along Copacabana’s beach and I got a nice surprise when a group of people also from Sweden embarked the bus. So nice to talk Swedish again.

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The heat hit us when we disembarked the bus at Praia Vermelha to collect our cable car tickets. After being on a comfortable bus and a well working air conditioner you almost got shocked. The sun burned and the short matter of time we had to wait outside in the sun almost became a hassle. We rode the cable car up to the first top, Morro da Urca at 220 altitude meters. Maria had clearly told us that we wouldn’t have time to stop for pictures here now during our ride up, but continuing on with the next cable car to Sugar Loaf Mountain. Said and done.

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We walked through the woods where trees with Jackfruit grew. Every fruit weights about 15-40 kg and smelled very weird. You really don’t want that kind of big fruit hitting in your head. We disembarked the cable car up at Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açúgar) at the impressive altitude of 396 meters. Sugar Loaf Mountain consists of granite and quarts like many other surrounding hills and mountains nearby.

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The view from up here was pretty impressive, partly over Copacabana beach but also the Guanabara Bay, where several water events during the Summer Olympic Games will be held in 2016. We got half an hour to walk around for photos.

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Up here were also a souvenir shop, an exclusive glass figure shop with soaring prizes (even though the figures were very well done it was pure rubbery) and minor snack bar with hotdogs, candy and of course bottled water for sale. When we were about to gather again Maria had a busy time gathering us all 44 people but managed to get us all down back to Morro de Urca again. Now we got some time for photos. Here they displayed the very first cable car.

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Right next to it was another cable car that had been used by Roger Moore in one of the Bond movies. When Maria gathered us all again 2 people in the group wanted to stay longer. But since Maria had a time schedule to follow the rest of us had to leave Morro de Urca without these two people.

How Rio de Janeiro did have its name? In year 1500 the first Portuguese arrived in Brazil and started to conquer. Rio de Janeiro was founded in 1502 and its name came up due to heavy fog so they thought they had arrived at a river (Rio), and not an ocean. That was in January (Janeiro) 1502, as the name of Rio de Janeiro occurred. One of the first things you think about when hearing Rio de Janeiro, is the annual carnival that is always being held 40 days prior to Easter Sunday. To participate you need to be older than 8 years old and the original purpose was for the Samba schools to compete against each other. The parade has been held since 1984 at the Sambodrome to gather audience and to sell tickets. Some Samba schools take their carnival train out to Rio’s street festivals to spread their message in the whole town.

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On the way back the bus stopped at the Sambodrome, but we weren’t allowed to disembark the bus due to the troubled neighborhood. But we managed to take some photos from inside the bus.

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The bus continued to drive back towards Copacabana and made a quick stop at a catholic cathedral, Metropolitan Cathedral, which is shaped like a pyramid. It was beautiful inside with big colored glass windows that literarily reached from the floor all the way up to the top of the pyramid. The cathedral is dedicated to Sankt Sebastian, the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro and the seat of the Archbishop.

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Each Sunday a Hippie Market is being held at Praça General Osório and has been so since 1968. Over 700 market stalls are set up and people sell souvenirs, food, jewelries, handy craft and clothes among other things. A fun element in a vibrant city, which attracts many tourists. I can tell you that it wasn’t just regular cigarettes that were smoked there.

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Back in Copacabana and its beach later that afternoon. At 5pm a joyful carnival-dressed-up crowd of people gathered and formed a small parade. They danced to the grand and loud music along the entire Copacabana Beach. Nice finish for the day.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged cities rio_de_janeiro sugar_loaf_mountain copacabana_beach Comments (0)

A foggy Corcovado and Evening Samba Show


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I had woken up during the night due to thunderstorm that hit Rio de Janeiro with rainstorm and lightning which lighted up the entire hotel room, even though the curtain covered the whole window. When it was time to get out of bed and eat breakfast the thunderstorm had past. When I stepped outside the hotel I could feel the air was cooler now and that drizzle was still in the air. I ogled up towards Corcovado and noticed the entire peak was embedded in fog. Damn. I’m having a trip up there to see Christ the Redeemer in the afternoon. Well, the fog has all morning to ease up so it should be a problem. Walked via Copacabana Beach towards Ipanema Beach. The sun made a few brave attempts to pierce through the heavy clouds but in vain. The clouds were so heavy and low today. Not many souls were swimming today, only a few surfers looking for the perfect wave.

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There is a small foreland between Ipanema and Copacabana, Pedra do Arpoador, with cliffs breaking the ocean waves. Apparently that place was ideal for cactuses since a lot of cactuses were growing there and I think it was some kind of Prickly Pear.
Then I walked back to Copacabana and found a lunch buffet place. So practically and smart that you take how much you want and then pay in weight.

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At 2.20pm I had the pick-up for my afternoon tour to Corcovado and Tijuca Forest. The guide Jaolber “Joe” picked me up in the hotel lobby and we embarked a full-sized buss, even though we weren’t that many people, I would say totally 25 people. Unfortunately the fog had decided to stay and Joe informed us during the bus ride that we probably wouldn’t be able to see that much of the statue itself, nevertheless the amazing view. Such shame! The bus parked down at the train station wherefrom the mountain train departed from every 20 minutes. Alternatively you can drive up on a narrow lingering road. We embarked the train and thanks to non-existing queues we all rode in the same train. During high season the queues are long and the waiting time could be several hours due to the limited amount of passengers (540) transported each hour. The train steeply ascended the almost 4 kilometers up to the top station. The first locomotive was steam-powered and started operating in 1884, but today they are electrically driven and it’s not unusual that the trains are out of service. Joe had told us that the trains had been out of service just yesterday and that his tourist group had to cancel the tour since the bus cannot drive the narrow road up the end station for the trains.
From the end station you had to make a choice. Either walk the 223 stair steps up to the observation deck or ride the elevator combined with escalators. Since it wasn’t too many people up here today the obvious choice fell on the elevator + escalator. When up there on the absolute height of 710 meters above sea level the fog was so dens you couldn’t even see the foot of Christ the Redeemer. A huge disappointment since I had paid for the tour and wanted to see the statue or at least the magnificent view. But no! The weather God’s wanted neither of that for me.

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Occasionally you could imagine a silhouette of a statue through the fog, I never got to see more than that before we had to gather again for the downhill ride to the bus again. Even though we had gotten small notes to attach to our clothes with Joes name on it, 2 people actually managed to get lost and never rode the train down with us. Joe just shrugged and said they had themselves to blame. He had been very clear about when and where we would meet again. Down by the bus we embarked and started our ride back to our hotels. On the way back we passed through some of Rio de Janeiro’s over 30 car tunnels that had been built due to the mountainous area.

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We passed Guanabara Palace where Princess Isabell once lived and nowadays houses the town’s governor. Along the way we passed many street arts/tags on houses, buildings and walls. Some were just scrawls whle others were like true art. Eventually we arrived in Copacabana, which by the way means “Shiny Horizon” in Bolivian. The Bolivians brought that name when visiting Brazil a long time ago. One after another disembarked the bus and so even I, when the bus finally stopped outside my hotel.

Next pick-up was at 7.20pm for BBQ dinner and later Samba Show. I was well in time in the hotel obby and waited. I waited and waited and remembered Peter’s words: “It’s common that people are late, sometimes up to 30 minutes”. But when time was close to 8pm I contacted my local guide Renato and asked if they had forgotten me. It didn’t take him long to reach back to me and told me that a misunderstanding had occurred and I needed to take a taxi to Shenanigan where the BBQ dinner was held. It took about 15 minutes with taxi and when I stepped inside through the doors into the restaurant it was practically crowded. I got a seat with people from America that was also going to the Samba Show later. Very nice people! It was a little tricky to understand how it worked there, but my friends at the table told me. I had to get vegetables, potatoes, rice and pasta at the pre-heated tables further away and then the staff came at the table serving newly grilled beef, meat, chicken or whatever and cut it up on your plate. If you didn’t pay attention and said no if you didn’t want any, you got a slice. A lot of great meat and chicken were served in all its shapes and tastes. When the dinner ended with ice cream you were full. But you can always make room for some ice cream ;)

Then we walked out to the bus and got driven to Plataformas Samba Show. We were entertained with a spectacular show with live music, rhythms and dances with lurid colors and glitz and glamour. Totally amazing! The show went on for about 1 ½ hour and arrived back at the hotel just before midnight.

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Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged cities rio_de_janeiro corcovado samba christ_the_redeemer samba_show Comments (0)

Shopping and history


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I could afford another sleep-in today since I didn’t have any day tour but a tour in the evening with dinner and entertainment in Lapa. The clouds were really low and it was grey and cloudy but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. During the bus ride back to my hotel yesterday I had scouted a few places worth paying a visit. Partly a shopping center called Shopping Leblon and had by a coincident I spotted a street with my name. I knew there was a street out in the World with my name – and now I had found it! :)

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The clouds were lifting during the walk over to Ipanema Beach and the intense sunshine warmed up Rio de Janeiro. I crossed the street to, wherever it was possible, walk in the shadow and not overheat. It felt like forever before I got to “my” street. Then walked a few streets towards the city center to get to Shopping Leblon - a large shopping center with multiple floors with clothes, shoes, stuff, perfume among other things. They had really embraced the tradition of Christmas.

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The entire shopping center was wrapped with big gift strings with a big bow over the entrance. And just aside from the entrance was a gigantic teddy bear in fabric, which was about 10 meters high while seated. Inside the center was 2 meter high peppermint canes, Christmas trees (plastic) that reached 10 meters high for sure and in the middle by the escalators were 3-4 meter high teddy bears hanging down from the ceiling. It was glitz and Christmas tree orbs and the Christmas music was played everywhere. Really cozy though a bit exaggerated. Even though the large contrast between the +30 °Centigrade heat outside and the extreme Christmas spirit inside, Brazilians know how to celebrate Christmas – no doubt. And there were a whole lot of branded clothes too.

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Among other stores… Calvin Klein! My favorite! There is a heaven in Rio de Janeiro after all ;) Unfortunately I was anything but fit for shopping after that warm and long sweaty walk. So I really had to get back here later today, after a shower and change of clothes.

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Walked back to Ipanema Beach and found a bench and sat down. The sun had come to stay now and really broiled.

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Since it was Tuesday the Forte de Copacabana was open, which is a military base at the south end of Copacabana and opened for public and display a Museum of Army History and the coastguard’s actual fort.

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The fortress was an important part of Rio de Janeiro’s history and defense against enemies at sea due to its location.

During the way back to my hotel I bought a warm Chicken sandwich. It tasted really good with that warm sandwich even though it was really warm outside. Back at the hotel for a well-needed shower. Changed into new fresh clothes and went down to the hotel lobby and asked for a cab. A bellboy walked straight away out to the busy street behind the hotel and waved in a taxi for me. I asked the driver to get me to Shopping Leblon, which took about 10 minutes and cost R$15. Now finally time for shopping! Calvin Klein of course ;) Later on when it was time to go back to my hotel, there was a taxi place just outside the entrance where the taxi cars waited to pick up costumers. Perfect! You just took the very first taxi back to your hotel. I must say it felt totally safe to use taxi in Rio. You will have an advantage knowing Portuguese since the taxi drivers most certainly doesn’t speak any English. But you will get to your destination by having the address written down on a piece of paper as well.

In the evening it was time for my Private Tour in Lapa. Met Renato down by the hotel reception at 7.30pm. I received the money I had spent on that taxi ride to the BBQ dinner yesterday, when they forgot to pick me up. Renato apologized once again for the inconvenience and he was sure that his information was right, while the organizer claimed I had the BBQ dinner and Samba Show tonight. Oh well. Then Renato drove towards Lapa and made a short tour in the neighborhood.

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Lapa is a financial district and a wealthier neighborhood with very popular pubs and bars. The house facades have been restored and are from 19th Century with much influence from the Portuguese conquering. Renato parked the car and we went to Rio Scenarium – Pavilhão Cultural. It was a nice building and the interior had been kept in an elderly style.

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The staff dressed like they did 200 years ago and a live band – Edu Krieger e Convidados – performed on stage and was great. A professional dance couple danced around in the room and they were the best of the best and danced perfectly together. If you only had a scrap of what they showed off, you would be happy. They were awesome! We had a reserved table close to the stage, which Renato had booked in advance. If you want a table here you must reserve in advance due to its popularity – but so well worth it! During the evening I ordered the national drink of Brazil – Caipirinha, it was pretty strong, but okay.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged cities rio_de_janeiro lapa copacabana_beach Comments (0)

North to Fortaleza


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Woke up to my last day here in Rio de Janeiro. Thanks to the low season I was able to keep my room until 2pm before I needed to check out. In other words I got enough time to pack my bag without stress. Renato came and picked me up at 2.30pm. It was heavy traffic and we got stuck in long queues. And that so even though Renato drove on roads with the least amount of traffic, it took almost an hour to get from Copacabana in southern Rio de Janeiro to Galeão International Airport in the northern part of town. We passed yet again the poor parts of Rio and several favelas along the way and you couldn’t help yourself thinking about whether it’s healthy to live like that. When at the airport I received clear instructions from Renato how to find the TAM Airlines check-in desks since he needed to meet up his next guest’s arrival. “No problems”, said I and found pretty easily to TAM Airlines. Unfortunately the queues were long and there weren’t many people behind the desks serving us costumers. I had to wait almost 30 minutes before it was my turn to check in but when it finally was my turn it went fast and smooth. The big baggage weighted 18 kg and they didn’t even care about my backpack. Weird! In Foz do Iguaçu they were super strictly about the carry-on, which had a 5 kg limit, but now they didn’t even check. And before anyone asks, yes it was TAM Airlines. However I got a little surprised when they asked me about my closest relatives in case of emergency… uuuuhmm, okay!? So you do expect something to happen, or??? That was at least the first thought that popped up in my head. Because that’s the first time I ever got that question asked while traveling. And during this trip it’s my 5th domestic flight with TAM Airlines, and I get that question just now?!

Boarding took time due to some passengers who took the liberty to it on other seats than they were supposed to according to their flight tickets. When these persons finally got in their right seat the flight was 25 minutes delayed. Sigh! When the airplane had been pushed out and taxed to the runway it took off at 5.30pm. After 3 hours of flight with a lot of turbulence in the air I landed at Pinto Martins – Fortaleza International Airport. Time was only 7.30pm here though, since I had changed time zone again. So chaotic and complicated with several time zones in one country and when some of them apply summer time and others don’t. I got my checked-in bag and quickly found my local guide Rodriguez and our driver.

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It was already dark here in Fortaleza and during my transfer to my hotel I wasn’t able to see much of the city. But I could feel how bad constructed the roads were, and if you never have been in the risk zone of whiplash injuries you definitely were that now! Eventually we arrived at my hotel Sonata de Iracema. Rodriguez helped me to check in and I got my room key. I took the elevator up and walked up to my door and unlocked. I was shocked to find a guy inside painting the ceiling. He looked as surprised as I was. He didn’t speak any English and I only some Portuguese. But I think he understood and phoned the reception. The hotel staff immediately came with a new card and apologized. So I grabbed my bags and took the elevator even higher up to my “new” room. The room wasn’t well cleaned and had low standard. Since time had run late it felt most convenient to eat dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged cities traveling Comments (0)

Fortaleza – a vacation paradise?


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Now when it was daylight outside the hotel window I had a look and saw Iracema Beach, a 4,5 km long sand beach named after a female Indian chief. Even though the hotel had low standard it had the best view so far. Fortaleza’s main income is tourism why the beach plays in important role and during New Years a New Year Festival is being held here at Iracema Beach. The people of Fortaleza enjoy another beach though – Praia de Futuro (Futuro Beach). But as a tourist you should avoid that beach, especially at nighttime when the beach is deserted.

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Rodriguez came and picked me up at 8am for that City Tour I had in the morning. He showed up with a private driver who drove us around to different parts of Fortaleza. Fortaleza is located along the coast in northeast Brazil and known to be the best of two world’s – an exciting city right on the beach. The sunny sandy beaches combine with city tours among well-known landmarks as the cathedral or the Palacio da Luz. Metropolitan Cathedral of Fortaleza took about 40 years to complete and consecrated in 1978. Even though it is newly built they made sure to make it look old and about 500 years old, with cracks and other signs of old. It is built in Roman-gothic style and counts as the third largest cathedral in Brazil. The city history begins during 16th Century when Spanish entered Mucuripes Cove. Though the colonizing itself started in 1603 when the Portuguese Pero Coelho de Souza constructed his Fort of São Tiago and founded the settlement Nova Lisboa – New Lisbon. During 17th Century Northeast Brazil was invaded by the Dutch who constructed their own fortress. After intense wars the Dutch surrendered and gave the fortress to the Portuguese, who renamed it Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora da Assunção (Fort of our Lady of the Rising), after which the city Fortaleza got its name. Fortaleza was founded as a village in 1726 and on the same location as the fortress once was standing.

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A huge different between Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza is that the favelas in Fortaleza is very close to the wealthier areas. Maybe that’s why the central parts of Fortaleza are full of junk blowing in the wind? Rodriguez explained that the people here in Fortaleza are happy but poor. We stopped by a big market. The market was spread out on several floors and it was escalators and elevators to get from floor to floor. Lots of clothes and local products like Cashew nuts, alcohol, souvenirs and food was for sale here. I’m lucky I had Rodriguez with me because none of the people here spoke English. Before we left the market we bought fruit drinks that tasted great. But after watching how the drinks were made I understood why. Apart from fruit and ice crushed together, they scoped cups of sugar. Rodriguez recommended graviola that is a fruit supposedly preventing cancer. But I felt for pine apple/orange drink instead.

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Then we went to a leafy park where the shadow gave well-needed coolness. The sun showed off with its best shine and broiled heavily, most certainly more than +30 °C. We walked towards the most central parts of the town and stopped by a square with a complete nutcase of a man who split coconuts in half with almost every body part he had. If it wasn’t the head, elbows or hands he used his butt, feet or mouth. He was insane. I wonder what he was high on? Rodriguez explained that the man actually earned much money from the audience watching and that the crazy man earned even more money in one day than Rodriguez did as a guide.

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Back at the hotel for lunch and then the afternoon free. I didn’t felt to do anything so I went down to the beach and chilled. The sun was still high up in the sky which it is when so close to the equator. So a lot of sun block, cool clothing and a cap was necessarily. Just next to my hotel is a pier that stretches far out in the sea. Took the opportunity to walk out on that pier just in time for the sunset.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged cities Comments (0)

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