Monthly Archives: May 2015

Iguazu, Brazil, Saturday 23/05/15

The first thing I noticed about Rio de Janeiro was the Frigate birds wheeling in the sky above the city. Perhaps not the most attractive species on the ground, but in the air, with their size, zigzag wings, pointed tails and black and white colouring, they are truly impressive. 

Next I admired the mosaic pavements, which I was told resemble those in Lisbon. Flatter than cobbles and with several designs, they add an air of sophistication to a stroll around the city. 

My first day in Rio, it was a little cloudy, so I visited the Botanical Garden and Lage Park next to it. It may be that I lack originality in my choice of places to visit, but I’m always interested in discovering the flora of a region. As it turned out, the garden seemed more like a park, but one with tropical plants, marmosets, small charcoal-coloured squirrels and flocks of parakeets.  

A peculiarity of this place is that it is where extremely pregnant women come to have their photo taken, either by or with their partner and wantonly exposing the enormous bump in their bellies. This theme is replicated by the thousands of figurines of brightly-dressed women in an advanced state of pregnancy for sale in the souvenir shops. I have no idea where this comes from. 

Still waiting for the sun to appear, the next day I toured the city centre. While there are some pleasant enough streets and buildings, the highlight for me was the Selaron Steps in Cinelandia. Selaron was a Chilean artist, settled in Rio, who started decorating the stairs outside his house in the colours of the Brazilian flag, using bits of ceramic tiles scavenged from building sites. The project grew and became a part of his life. Soon people were sending him tiles from all over the world. He was found dead in mysterious circumstances but the work is a tribute to him and to Rio.  

   There is even a familiar recurring figure.  

At last, the sun came out and I headed to the beach. Well, actually, along the eastern and southern sides of Rio it feels like one long beach, but there are landmarks that distinguish one from the other. I headed for Arpoador, the rocky outcrop to the east of Ipanema Beach.  


 The sand was silvery and soft, the Caipirinha was ice-cold and the beach not overcrowded, so I happily wasted a few hours there. Caipirinha, by the way, is a national drink made with cachaca, made from sugar cane, and lime and can be lethal. 

I ended the day by taking the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain. I timed it just right.  

 Christ the Redeemer is the tiny speck of light at the top of the first peak on the left. 

A complete change of scene for my next stop, Paraty, a small but beautifully formed old town of colonial houses and stone streets.  

  There’s a harbour and a river, with pretty boats.  

 It rains frequently, (though fortunately not for long while I was there), and when the river rises it floods the streets. I found a street which was not completely paved in which hundreds of little fiddler crabs had made their homes in the ground.  

 It sounds impossibly touristy, but real people live there and there is a lively new town. They celebrated the Feast of the Holy Spirit one Sunday, gathering in the church and on the streets in a small town way. 

Other diversions are the nearby waterfalls, including the “slide” – 

 which I did not try out, and tastings at the cachaca distillery, which I did. There was live music of quite high quality at one of the restaurants. A few days passed easily

Along the coast and a short boat ride away is Ihla Grande. Here I soon settled into the island vibe, approaching the hostel reception each day and asking to “stay on another night”. I was staying up the hill in Vila do Abraao, went for walks along the coast and along a mud path to the beach of Lopes Mendes.  


 Thanks to an invitation from a lovely young English woman at the hostel, I went on a private boat trip to some of the coves and beaches, with ten or so others I was able to chat to in English. The weather was fine, but not too hot. I eventually got back to the hostel at 2.30am after listening to some “reggae” in the port and indulging in some Samba dancing in a club. 

It was definitely time to get off the island and see some more of Brazil. 

I’m now in Foz do Iguazu, which is on the Brazilian side of the borders with Argentina and Paraguay. Before I continue I need to explain about a slight dip in my state of health. The Brazilians are LOUD. They have shared  dorms with me here and in Chile, stay up late/ get up early and talk a lot. As a consequence I became somewhat sleep deprived. Then I picked up a cold on the island which led to a very uncomfortable night bus ride here from São Paulo. Nothing serious, but it meant it was a couple of days before I went to see the Iguazu Falls. 

I will try to describe them. First, they go on and on. At first view I thought I was seeing a large waterfall, but then I spotted other smaller falls downriver to my right. Following the trail to my left, there was another long stretch of cascading water with further falls breaking through the jungle. Finally I reached the Devil’s Throat, a U-shaped finale. There is every kind of waterfall you can imagine, from those that resemble a Chinese painting, trickling and tumbling over crags, to lacy sheets, to crashing cataracts. 

Then there are rainbows to be seen everywhere, coming into and fading out of focus with the angle of the sun. 

The water itself changes from ripples over rounded pebbles, to bubbles like a fizzy drink or swirling eddies, which in one place appeared to flow backwards as the pull from another precipice exerted its force. 

It is probably the most beautiful waterfall I have seen. I admit I did take some photos but I’ll only share a couple of them with you now.  

   I should add that along the trail I was accompanied, not only by scores of people, but by all sorts of brilliant butterflies and the inquisitive coatis. 

I walked back to the Bird Park a few hundred metres away, which was another wonderful experience. The birds were all in excellent condition, though many of them had been rescued from intolerable captivity. Though I am off to the Pantanal today, where I hope to see some new wildlife, I probably won’t get up so close to the birds.  

 There will be no free WiFi where I’m going so I will publish this blog now and may have to edit it later. 

Just a couple of asides. It sometimes sounds as if I’m writing a blog about the alcoholic drinks of South America. That might be a book worth writing, (and doing the research for), but it is surprising how each region has its own speciality. It’s also a good way to make friends with the locals, by sharing a drink with them. But I assure you I do not often overindulge. 

Also a couple of links. In Santiago I met a young woman called Ming, who is also writing a blog, but hers is largely focussed on women’s lives. She asked me if she could write about me and has done so at

Also, as I was going to the boat off Ihla Grande, the guide of the transfer company asked if he could take my picture to put on their website as an Instagram  as he thinks I’m “an example to people about how to live life”. Ha! Little does he know. I haven’t looked at it but the website is

Looking forward, but trying to stay in the moment. 

Paraty, Brazil, Monday 11/05/15

A quick catch up on Chile.

Valparaiso sprawls over the hllls in an exuberance of colour.  

 It revels and rebels in street art, of variable quality.  

 You can get around using the metro, crazy speeding buses or one of the many funiculars, all of which are cheap. Bars and clubs seem to be open all night – Chileans don’t seem to eat much before 10pm or later. They have their own version of “Pisco Sour” which is slightly different from that of Peru, and is a favourite with locals and tourists alike. 

I stayed in an eccentric hostel tucked away behind a fruit and vegetable stall in the market. The owner took a small group of us to a private beach by his idyllic home in Tunquen, nearby.    

 There was even an artist painting a mural at the hostel while I was there.  

 I arrived back in Santiago in time for May Day. The main thoroughfare of eight lanes (O’Higgins Avenue), was closed for a demonstration in favour of greater democracy and against corruption in politics.   

  There was singing and dancing – 

 and flags of Che Guevara and the hammer and sickle. The police presence was minimal – a handful of them here and there, with no riot gear or body armour. It was good to see this happening in Chile, of all places. 

Like many people, I visited the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, where you can see just how bad it was here under Pinochet. Though it was not on the same scale and no-one was keeping such scrupulous records, the mass graves and accounts of torture were disturbingly reminiscent of Cambodia. 

On a lighter note, in Valparaiso and Santiago I visited two of the three houses of Pablo Neruda, poet, Nobel Prize winner, national treasure, diplomat and self-proclaimed Communist. After his death the houses were vandalised by supporters of the military regime, but have been lovingly and remarkably restored. You’re not allowed to take pictures of the delightful flights of fancy that clutter the interiors of the buildings, (very 60’s), but I bought a small book of postcards as a reminder. 

On 6th May I flew to Rio. In the end, Chile did make me smile, but sometimes it was because that was all I could do. It was a pity that I did not go further South, as I am now unlikely to ever see Patagonia. But a page has turned and my next post will be about Brazil.