After a shaky first few days in bustling, non-touristy cities where the locals stared at us like exhibits in a museum and the language barrier left us feeling a bit isolated, it was a real comfort for us to arrive at Foz do Iguacu and be welcomed into a friendl, laid-back hostel which felt more like some kind of hippy commune. Called Hostel Bambu, it was full of young travellers (who mainly spoke English - hooray!),who were gathered at the bar comparing travelling tips and downing absinthe and various other dodgy-looking spirits. Everyone left their doors unlocked, there were valuables chucked everywhere and everything operated on a trust system, whereby you write down what drinks and internet usage you owed for. This was what we had thought of when we booked the trip, and it was a relief to find this was accurate. Up until this point we had been alone and not met one single traveller,and I think we were both secretly panicking that we´d end up like those couples you see in restaurants who eat in silence.
On Monday morning a group of 11 of us from the hostel drove across the border into Argentina to see the spectacular Iguacu Falls, where 275 waterfalls collide to create the most awesome sight. The park really exceeded all our expectations,with hundreds of species of wild birds and animals. We spent a great day viewing the falls from all different angles and taking pics (beware of an invite to our slideshow night when we get back), before goingout in the evening with the group for a typical Brazilian meal, which was a barbeque and self-service affair,whereby the waiter brings the meat to your table and carves it onto your plate. I drew the line at chicken hearts when they came round, but Liam tucked in, heartily devouring 2 hearts after painstakingly removing the major valves. I was almost retching watching him eat them.
The next day we viewed the falls again, this time from the Brazilian side,where you cannot get as close,but you can see the entire view in all it´s glory. This was a flying visit though, as I´d tried to flex my Portuguese skills and asked a woman which bus to get on and she misunderstood and sent us about 30mins in the wrong direction in blistering heat. After a whistlestop tour of this,we hurried to the bus stop to catch our bus to Campo Grande, where we would get our connection to the Pantanal.
About 22 hours later, we arrived in the Pantanal, a wetland region the size of France,which is so remote that it took us 6 hours to get there from the nearest town,and we didn´t pass more than about 4 cars in that entire time. It is teeamingwith wildlife and exotic birds,more so even than the amazon.The weather here has been really changeable - 35 degrees one day and about 5 the next! This was a super-hot day and we were so happy to arrive at our camp,which was to be our home for the next 4 days. Assoon as we arrived we jumped into the (outdoor, ice cold) showers,only to be greeted by 3 frogs, who took great pleasure in scaring me by crawling around me as I dodged the freezing shards of water.
We slept in hammocks, went on jeep safaris,fished for piranhas (I caught 4, plus a couple of innocent Austrians who were with us on the boat.I kept swinging my hook around by mistake, nearly taking peoples eyes out). We also did horseriding,trekking, boat rides, jewellery making (as I type I´ve got a couple of bit of jewelleryon that I helped to make. With alligator bone round my neck,I look like a proper indigenous tribeswoman).
Our guides were amazing and by mimicking the noises the animals make can literally call them down from the trees or out of the water. Regular Dr Doolittles they were.We saw so many animals,such as alligators (there are 35million ofthem in the Pantanal and we even swam in the river with them in there!), wild boar, giant guinea pigs called capybaras which were 1m long (I loved these!), armadilloes(one ran at me and I started shrieking like a big baby), deer, raccoons, otters,vultures,toucans,anteaters and many,many,more. It was so cool to seethem all in their natural habitatand get so close to them. I felt like a proper Steve Irwin. Luckily I didn´t suffer the same fate as the lovely late Mr Irwin, and thoroughly enjoyed roughing it with nature.
I even went without make-up and had curly,wild hair. (ok so I did sneak a bit of mascara on when noone was looking..)
Next stop, Rio de Janeiro....