Santa Marta, Colombia, 06/06/15

My last week in Brazil consisted of two very different halves. 

The first was spent in the flat, swampy area of the Pantanal, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, close to the borders of Paraguay and Bolivia. I was joined at the lodge by four other people; a couple from Holland and two young German men. They were good companions, – quiet when we were searching for wildlife but sociable and amusing in the evening, when there was not much more to do but talk or take a dip in the pool. 

We went on walks, took the boat down the river and rode on horses. Much of the land nearby has been cleared for raising cattle, but there is still plenty of wildlife to see, an abundance of tropical birds and deep jungle coming down to the river’s edge.   

In fact, my favourite time was during the last afternoon boat ride. On our way back to the lodge we encountered hundreds of black ibis, with orange bills, which were preparing to roost for the night.   As we approached, they took to flight and flocked away in front of us. They then tried to settle on the slenderest of reeds and branches before we again disturbed them. Each time this happened, there were more and more of them. As we looked on, the sun was setting above them in a glorious swirl of red and gold. Unforgettable!

Macaws, Parakeets and Peccaries came into the lodge.  

Capybaras and Caimans were completely unfazed by our proximity. 

   I finally got to see Howler Monkeys. On one occasion there was a troupe of them crossing trees close to the river. The second time it was a small family group of male, female and youngster, which I could see clearly through my binoculars. 

I also saw a mother tapir and her youngster in a clearing by the side of the road during a night ride. 

The Pantanal has much smaller animals, however. Namely, mosquitoes in abundance. They swarm around you when you stand still and I actually got bitten, which is very unusual. Thankfully, Aloe Vera soon soothed the irritation. 

I had a flight to catch in Rio, so it was time to get a move on. This involved a truck ride back on the very rough and dusty road to a meeting place under a tree. From there it was a minivan to Campo Grande. After a night there I took a bus in the afternoon to São Paulo, travelling  through that night, and caught the next bus to Rio in the morning. I’m pretty used to these long bus journeys now, but I never sleep much. 

I stayed in a different hostel in Rio this time, which was closer to the airport. It was very comfortable and spacious, with some of the friendliest staff I’ve met. The first night they invited me to a Samba party nearby in Santa Teresa district. The place was large and packed, but we got in for free because someone living in the building used to work in our hostel. After a couple of beers and some dancing, we continued on to a local bar and a shared pizza. I wandered back with two other women at about two in the morning. 

The next day there was a barbecue on the terrace for all the guests and staff. One of the members of staff was having a leaving party, as she had taken a similar position on Fernando de Noronha, a “Fantasy Island” according to the Guardian, 220 miles off the Brazilian coast. There was a lot of drinking and mountains of meat and though I didn’t indulge in either, it was an enjoyable day. 

So goodbye to Rio. There’s lots of fun to be had there, the people are friendly and the location is lovely. Rio is to be host to the 2016 Olympics and I do have some concerns. The metro is quite clean and efficient, but does not cover parts of the city, while the buses can be snarled up in traffic. The iconic white arched viaduct is closed to the trams and half of the road in Santa Teresa is dug up because they are intending to lay new tram lines. However, the people I was with were upset because it has been like that for a year, tourism is down there as a result, the roads are not safe and they feel that no-one cares about their predicament. There is still a great deal of work to be done. I wish them well. 

To get to Bogota in Colombia, I first had to fly to São Paulo, which was a bit of a detour, especially since I had come through there by bus two days earlier. 

The plane took off about fifteen minutes late. There was a lot of what appeared to be turbulence. The seat belt sign never went off and there were several, rather shouty, announcements to remain in our seats. After about an hour, the captain informed us that the right engine had been hit by birds and that we were returning to São Paulo airport to assess the damage and carry out repairs. 

When we had landed, about half an hour later, things got rather chaotic. An explanation was made in Portuguese to small groups at a time. None of the airline staff there spoke English, even in an “International airport”, so I was at a loss. At this stage I was helped out by a man who later turned out to be a Professor of Anthropology, who informed me that we were to collect our luggage and wait for further instructions. 

However, my bag was not on the carousel and there were no airline staff around to help, even if they could speak English. Once again, another passenger, female this time, told me there were some bags thrown in a corner as “overweight baggage”. Even though my bag was not overweight, this is where I found it. 

By the time I got through baggage claim I was almost last in a line waiting to be informed what we were to do. This time it was a young couple, with only a little English, who told me we were being put up in a hotel for the night and also helped me get a seat in a taxi, as by then all the buses which had been organized were full. 

In the end it all worked out. I had a free dinner and breakfast in the hotel, a room to myself and an interesting talk with the Anthropologist. We were taken to the airport by bus in the morning, took off about midday and arrived safely, even if there was turbulence due to the jet stream. In addition, this time I was sitting next to a sweet young Colombian woman, who lives in Brasilia and was going back to see her family. Although we didn’t talk for long, we said a warm goodbye at Bogota airport and she gave me a bracelet!

I can’t pretend I didn’t get a bit agitated during this little episode. It was largely the language barrier, as I do not believe many Europeans speak Portuguese and even those passengers from South America who spoke Spanish were having difficulty. Then thinking that my luggage had been lost was frustrating. I tried to think that we had been fortunate that we hadn’t had to make a more emergency landing, as it turned out there had been a fire in the engine. But I will never forget those people who turned to help me when I was in trouble and eased my way, even when it meant delay to themselves. Their selflessness and kindness was exemplary and will remain with me. 

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