Deep within the South American continent lays one of the worlds most fascinating and enigmatic environments, the Amazon Jungle. Bizarre creatures roam the dense impenetrable forest with alien-like limbs and fluoro skin full of poison, alongside uncontacted tribes of primitive Indians. The Amazon is like an ecological war zone with every animal, plant, insect and organism defending itself against one another, battling for air, sun, water and a precarious place in this untamed wilderness. We survived twelve days travelling slowly along the Amazon River, now that we had hit dry land we were eager to launch ourselves into the depths of the unknown to learn how this fascinating ecosystem thrives.
If we told you we were going to take a boat up the mighty AMAZON River you would most likely begin concocting images in your head of a boat passing through narrow river passages, dense jungle teeming with monkey’s, birds and snakes jumping in the boat, and the murky mysterious water where giant anaconda’s and man eating Piranha’s lurk. The reality is the Amazon River is MASSIVE, and quite the contrary to your ‘wild’ imagination. We spent twelve tranquil days travelling some 6000km on two boats along the worlds second longest river from the Atlantic Ocean to near it’s headwaters in the Tri-border region of Brazil, Peru and Colombia, and even our imaginations were taken aback by the harsh reality of this now heavily populated and over-worked region.
Paradise can be found all along the coast of Brazil. The swaying palms, golden sand and rustic beach villages sprinkled along the Atlantic coastline will fulfil all of your tropical fantasies. We found one such slice of paradise in the quaint beachside village of Jericoacoara, an isolated hideaway nestled amongst soaring sand dunes and crystal clear lagoons. Although incredibly popular on the backpacker circuit, the town, hidden within the Jericoacoara National Park, remains somewhat inaccessible, making the journey in and out challenging and left only to those with time on their hands. We couldn’t resist the temptation to find the ideal oceanside nirvana where we could lie back on the beach with a Brazilian cocktail in hand, and explore the alluring turquoise waters of the tropical north.
Long before the futuristic city of Brasilia was established, the first capital of colonial Brazil was Salvador, nestled on the shores of the expansive All Saints Bay by the Atlantic Ocean. Today this antiquated city is the capital of the Bahia state of Brazil and is a toy town of colonial splendour melded with the exotic influences of the Afro-Brazilian culture. With a deep-rooted history of industry and slavery, this once illustrious port city of northern Brazil will entice you with its vibrant atmosphere and perfectly restored colonial buildings.
The largest city on the planet that did not exist before the 20th century is, surprisingly, the celebrated capital of Brazil, Brasilia; a modern day urban design experiment of astronomical proportions. Designed around the scale of a car – making a walk to the corner shop an hour round trip, or just crossing the road a six lane jog – this futuristic city is a symbol of Brazil’s power and wealth. Constructed on virgin land, over an incomprehensible period of only forty-one months, this young city took over as Capital from Rio de Janeiro at it’s inauguration in 1960, since then it has grown into a wealthy centre of government and commence. With the most outlandish architecture seen in South America – think 1950’s space-age modernism – the pilgrimage to the Capital became a must on our Brazilian hit list.
Never would one imagine that in the tropical hills of Brazil lies a traditional Portuguese hillside village of postcard perfect, rustic, whitewashed houses on steep cobblestone streets, alongside fantastically decorated Baroque churches. Ouro Preto is a rare historical gem in the heart of Brazil. This is where one can get a glimpse of the grandeur of Portuguese colonialism over five centuries old.
Burrowed between jagged rocky peaks and voluptuous mountains, covered in dense, luscious green jungle, is the spectacular city of Rio de Janeiro. Rio is the pulsating heart of Brazil, with an irresistible culture of music, parties, and sun seeking. By day and night it will lure you in and leave you begging for more. Our sojourn in the city coincided with the end of the Carnaval festivities, despite the legendary parade being over the streets were still full of revellers persisting on making the party live on. We came to Rio, like all backpackers, ready to embrace the sun and the Brazilian way of having fun in what is one of the world’s most magnetic cities.
As a land locked country Paraguay certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of water. Lying to the north-east of the country, and shared with Brazil, is the world’s largest wetland, the Pantanal. Dissecting Paraguay in half is the immense Paraguay River, the great drainage system of the Pantanal which empties its waters thousands of kilometres away in the Atlantic Ocean. The Rio Paragauy is the lifeblood of this isolated region of northern Paraguay, acting as the primary source of transportation for people, animals, food and goods to the communities spread along the river banks. To experience this alternative way of life we jumped onboard an old, very slow, rickety river boat called the ‘Aquidaban’, the only commercial trade and passenger boat which traverses these remote waters, to visit a small community called Fuerte Olimpo. The days ahead would require patience and a cool head in an otherwise steaming hot environment – a challenge of our resolve to travel like locals.
The biggest, most colourful party on the planet, would have to be the world renowned Rio Carnaval in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. What many people don’t realise is that this month long festival is in fact celebrated throughout South America in varying forms of colour, music, parades, and racy costumes. Rio may know how to do it best, but the tiny city of Encarnacion in Paraguay certainly gives it a good shot. We knew we weren’t going to make it to Rio in time and discovered there was a smaller version of the event in Paraguay, which is identical in every way only with 5% of the immense crowds that swamp Rio, and at 5% of the price – this smaller event seemed far more appealing. The Carnaval, for Treeny in particular, was one event in South America we couldn’t miss, we were excited to be heading to Encarnacion without the masses to experience the event somewhere a little different.
In the geographical heart of South America lies the forgotten country of Paraguay, the country no one visits and no one really talks about. Only 20 odd years ago the country was under the fierce and terrifying rule of one of South America’s most gruelling dictators, General Alfredo Stroessner, who was in power for a staggering 35 years, and left the country plagued with corruption and economic woes. Aside from all the trouble Paraguay is a really interesting place, from the dodgy border towns for smuggling and exporting counterfeit goods, the world’s second largest dam, the most exciting Carnival party outside of Brazil, remarkable Jesuit religious buildings, to the isolated Pantanal region along the Paraguay River, there is plenty to do here if you have time to spare.