Paraty was the perfect antidote to the madness of Rio and we calmed down considerably. The only person to put themselves in an embarrassing position turned out to be me, which was damaging to my personal sense of pride but hysterically funny to everyone else.
It is a prime example of the extent to which your privacy is invaded by other travellers. Anything that holds the potential for laughs ultimately becomes fair game. That day in Paraty, I was fair game.
We decided to take the hostel kayaks out to a small island across the bay, I am completely inept in water as Ipanema beach will testify. On the way back from the island I capsized halfway between the island and the beach, by this time the others had already reached the shore. I was a pathetic sight as my flip flops were floating away and I was slipping on seaweed trying to get back into the kayak without any success whatsoever.
When the boys clocked what I had done it was all eyes on Adrian to come to my rescue which was humiliating and also faintly heroic but the emphasis was on the humiliation as far as I was concerned. Adrian and I went back to the hostel to get changed as the others retired to the beach bar as soon as they set foot on dry land. They began downing the imaginatively titled ‘Sandy Shandys’, the Paraty equivalent of coconut beers.
I felt that after the rescue effort and as the hostel room was empty, that now was the time for Adrian and I. Unfortunately, biology ruled that today was not the day. I took this very personally and I arrived back at the bar beach wearing sunglasses to hide my rage. Adrian was dragging his feet behind me as he was probably much more aware of what was about to happen than I was, having known the boys for many years.
Nick broke the silence by grandly announcing that ‘Something has changed’. There was a dual shaking of heads and finally, Adrian gave into the questioning to reply that no, nothing had changed and admitted the reasons why they hadn’t. I distinctly remember the corners of Nick’s mouth turning upwards as he launched into his Cheshire cat grin and said ‘now I’m happy’.
Happy he was, as this gave him and Sandy enough material for a solid three hours of ripping me, with what I can only describe as joyful abandonment. Little did I know that he had been rehearsing the ‘something has changed’ line in various different forms for the whole time that we had been gone.
As I had sunglasses on, Nick said ‘Let me see your eyes’, there was no way that I was taking them off, lest I turned him into stone. All loyalties lay by the wayside as Steph was enjoying herself more than she ever had in her life (bar having sex with Nick and Tom the previous week). Watching my dignity being shredded into little pieces and blown out to sea was almost becoming a sport to see who could come up with the best one-liner. I think it was undeniably Nick and he knew it.
A few choice jokes to describe the environmental disasters that sleeping with me would cause were spiders falling from the ceiling, whales beaching themselves and plagues of frogs. These were some of the most memorable events upon climax…
Adrian and I had our photograph taken on our last night together, he took one look at it and said ‘that picture describes our relationship – I look happy and you look pissed off’. It was most definitely the end. Nick told me during the goodbyes that he enjoyed spending time with me but that he didn’t like it when I argued with Adrian. This didn’t stop him sending me Facebook chat messages reciting simple plan lyrics to me for the next three years.
The next stop for Steph and I was Ihla Grande, an island a couple of hours away from Rio where tourists go to escape the madness. We were fairly depressed and the farce continued when we discovered that another of Nick’s conquests was staying there. This caused a fair amount of awkwardness between her and Steph, the island was certainly not big enough for the two of them.
In Ihla Grande I met some nice people and enjoyed chatting with them. Steph wasn’t so keen which makes me wonder if she only likes guys who are carnage-loving wreckheads.
We went for drinks with some hostel friends and I was chatting with a guy who looked weirdly like my ex-boyfriend from uni. My ex was a musician as well as a pretentious Robert Plant wannabe sociopath. We also discussed the same things that myself and my ex also to discuss, US politics, religion, how Spinal Tap is a great film and how funny Bob Dylan is when he’s stoned etc. Basically, standard issue student lets talk about things without actually saying anything bullshit.
Anyway, Steph wasn’t feeling it and bailed on the whole thing, I reluctantly went with her so I never got to hook up with my exes doppelgänger. I don’t know how triggering that would be on an emotional level. The only thing not broken in that relationship was the sex.
There are lots of lovely walks that you can do in Ihla Grande, like hiking through the forests, but we didn’t do any of those things. We did find an underground abandoned building but we had no idea what it was. We mourned not being with the guys and lazed around, trying to figure out where to go next as we just didn’t have a clue.
We stayed in Rio back at Mellow Yellow for one night and we bumped into Martin and Tom. Martin gave me my grey hat back that I had left in his room so that was a win. He then got it on with the Israeli barmaid and Tom made an offensive comment about my breasts. He’d clearly seen them at some point during the haze of Florianopolis. Thankfully this was the third and final time we bumped into each other. We decided to go to Ouro Preto the next day after much deliberation. I was relieved to close the door on Mellow Yellow once and for all, it wasn’t the same being there without the guys.
Ouro Preto is a town built from the gold rush. In common with many big Brazilian cities, it has favelas up the mountainsides and scary people hanging around near the bus station. It is a UNESCO world heritage site due to the cobbles, churches and plazas of the old town.
Brazil was not a healthy place for Steph and I as you may have gathered by now. It is also quite expensive so we would load up on piles of junk food and cheapass wine and get pissed and sugar high back in our hostel. There are also dangers in going out at night, and you’re confined by favelas to only exploring the centre of towns so we got very little exercise.
People speak highly of Ouro Preto but I just didn’t think there was much to do. We went to the station to look at the trains as Steph’s nephew loves trains so she would send him pictures. I didn’t really get it at the time but now I have a niece I totally understand how you’d do anything to make them happy. After two days we’d had enough of OP.
So I had an anxiety attack at the bus station where we had planned to travel to Diamantina, another mining town up in the mountains. Knowing what I now know about panic and anxiety attacks, I believe it was triggered by my fear of making the wrong decision. I found Brazil overwhelming in that it is so big and not many travellers we’d met had travelled any distance beyond Rio and didn’t have much advice on places to visit. Instead of Diamantina, I decided we should go on a three-day bus journey to Belem in the North of the country and work our way down.
Belem is Portuguese for Bethlehem but there is nothing biblical about it. It is the mouth of the Amazon and I hated it. Its website claims that it is very touristic, but we didn’t see any tourists and our hostel was pretty empty. It is a city built on the sugar industry in the 17th century. We went to look at the river but it was brown and unattractive, not green and rainforesty as you would imagine. A weird guy started following us so we swiftly returned to the centre. We wandered around a shopping centre and we thought about going to go back to see a film later but we couldn’t be arsed.
One of the only people in our hostel was a Dutch girl. We were absolutely starving after our uberlong bus journey and we asked her to order pizza as she spoke Portuguese. She ordered one pizza. ONE PIZZA. It was the worst night. We found her prom dress in our room and Steph tried it on and I have pictures. Yes, we really were that immature. Needless to say, we swiftly moved on to Sao Luis which was an overnight bus away.
The centre of Sao Luis is world heritage listed, I thought that it looked like a film set. The historical area was rundown with tiled colonial houses and cobbled lanes. The Lonely Planet website describes some of the streets as ‘sketchy’ and I think that is more than fair.
We stayed at the YHA hostel which was as empty as the one in Belem. We met a pair of girls who were travelling and they really loved Brazil, one of them spoke Portuguese which helped.
We went to a shopping centre and bought loads of junk food and cheap booze. If we weren’t on a bus then we were drinking and eating crap. We were doing this in our hostel when a fifty-year-old woman came to talk to us. I had previously been in a good mood as I had been doing impressions of Stephen Fry being a quantity surveyor in A Bit of Fry and Laurie.
Anyway, this woman started lecturing us on the War on Drugs and how they are spraying the rainforest where they grow coca and these chemicals poison people. She’d stolen my favourite rant about the injustices of South America so I just wanted her to fuck off. How she thought this information was new to us I don’t know, probably a taste of my own medicine as a rent-a-rant all the same. In the background, I could hear firecrackers going off in the street, not the most restful sounds but something that for me with always be synonymous with South America. The next day we got another bus to Natal.
Apparently Natal has the largest cashew tree in the world and the name means ‘Christmas’ in Portuguese. We stayed at Ponta Negra which is the beach resort area of the city and we slept in a YHA hostel that was built in the shape of a castle.
We did go to the beach and the food down there was good – it was very touristy and clean and just didn’t feel like Brazil somehow. It is mostly Brazilian tourists that frequent it and they were, of course, a bit more upmarket than our bedraggled backpacker selves. We tried to get our washing done as we hadn’t stayed anywhere long enough to do it, we were pretty minging and I’d been wearing my bikini bottoms for more days than I’d like to admit. The good thing about Natal was that it had a pharmacy that sold contact lens solution – something I’d been wanting for a while.
We went to a café for a Brazilian speciality – the tapioca pancake. We had it with chocolate spread but I think it lends itself more to savoury dishes as it isn’t very sweet. The tapioca means that it is very white in colour.
Inevitably, we went drinking in a weird dungeon bar that was part of the hostel. A Brazilian guy was chatting me up, Steph told him I was sixteen and if anything this encouraged him. It was odd experience as Steph and I had been happy in our dungeon drinking horrible red wine. The next day we picked up our washing, we were in such a rush that we left part of it behind as they’d barely had enough time to wash and fold it! We legged it to our bus to Olinda.
Olinda is a world heritage town built on the sugar economy. The Dutch looted and set fire to it and the Portuguese rebuilt it.
The colonial buildings are set on an incline towards the 16th-century church of São João Batista dos Militares, it also has the seaside and surrounding gardens. The beach was pretty rough and ready as it is a town in decline and the hill slopes are causing problems for the 18th-century buildings.
To get there you get a bus or taxi from the much bigger and less picturesque Recife. I read that Recife was a great city but I can’t say it seemed that way to us.
When we got to our latest YHA hostel (we should have had a tick chart), the man behind the desk brought out a map and crossed off several areas that we couldn’t go. It was already a small place so it really limited us, this seems to be an ongoing problem with travelling in Brazil.
We went to the post office to post some stuff home, visited a pizza van for tea and then relaxed in our hostel. There may be a nightlife in Olinda but not within the areas that we could go. Luckily the hostel had a nice garden in a hangover from the colonial days so this made it a tranquil place to be in the madness of Brazil. Our next stop was Salvador, which is proper Brazilian heartland.
Salvador de Bahia, Brazil is not in the top google searches for Salvador as it is beaten by Dali and Allende, which goes to show how overlooked it is. Personally, it was one of my favourite places in Brazil and although it is a cliché it certainly does move to a different beat as it is heavily influenced by African culture.
It was the capital of Brazil for over 200 years from the mid 15th to the 17th century and the mix of cultures comes from the slave trade as it was a sugar plantation colony. The renaissance buildings have been well preserved, more so than the other colonial towns I visited. The people are friendly and it is beautiful. You still need to avoid the surrounding favelas though.
In our hostel, we had the TV to ourselves – a rare treat! We watched Before Sunrise which I was really pleased about as I’d watched Before Sunset before my trip. Both films are about relationships with all talking and very little action, my favourite kind.
In the historical centre, Steph bought a sandwich for a Brazilian lad and he gave her a thread bracelet from a church as a thank you.
We got another insanely long bus journey back to Buenos Aires for Christmas and New Year. Steph was near the back in the baños seats and next to a load of kids so that sucked for her. I had a kid next to me but he was happily playing games on his Nintendo so my journey was peaceful.
We needed our rest before finishing what we started in Buenos Aires.