Brazil: Christ, Capybara and Cheeseballs

Ah, Brazil. The first question anyone asked us when we said we were going was ‘are you going for the Olympics?’. The answer, however, was no – in fact we’d changed our trip planning entirely to avoid the crowds and extra expense, meaning that our trip to South America isn’t quite as geographically tidy as it otherwise might be.

No matter. We arrived in Rio, tired and frazzled, via Sao Paulo airport. In fact, we spent an awful lot of our time in Brazil in Sao Paulo airport. We now know it intimately, and it seems impossible to cross this huge country without spending some time there.

What our time in the constantly-under-construction airport taught us was that Brazil really isn’t ready for the Olympics. The current airport tagline ‘A new airport everyday’ could be translated as ‘no-one knows where the heck anything is’. Then there’s the hole in the runway – always a worry, despite the reassuring orange cones someone has placed around it. Then there’s the small matter of the only half-constructed beach volleyball court. But I digress.

We started our trip to Rio on the sunny side of the street – Leblon to be precise. Someone told me that Leblon is the most expensive place to live in South America and I can well believe it. Every other shop seemed to sell outfits for your beloved fluffy dog (pugs particularly popular, particularly in tiaras), while the supermarket was a bit like Waitrose – if your local Waitrose had a pianist and sushi bar.


We had a nice flat, and when we managed to resist the lure of Waitrose-a-like, even managed to get out for dinner a bit. The flat was two blocks from the beach, and how the children have missed the sea! The waves were fierce but they didn’t deter them, and – if we hadn’t covered as many tourist destinations as we’d hoped by the end of our first three Brazilian nights – we had had a very good time.

We’ve not really got to grips with Portuguese, however. Paul has been practising on DuoLingo, which promises him that he is 18 per cent fluent. Since he can only say ‘I like a woman’ and ‘I can’t speak Portuguese’, I think he’s got a bit of a way to go before not just coming across as incompetent or creepy.

From Rio we flew to the Iguazu Falls (via Sao Paulo, naturally, even though we’d booked a direct flight, that was cancelled – always good to see my favourite airport again). The falls, which sit on the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, are immensely impressive. The width and power of them is unimaginable. We spent one day on the Argentinian side of the falls, where you can get up close to the water, and another day on the Brazilian side, where you can take in the wider view.

The Falls are also home to many, many coatimundis – raccoon-like creatures that are supposed to live in the forest on nuts and berries. But these coatimundis like to live in the cafeteria area and snaffle baguettes. And boy, are they sneaky!. Clover was somewhat terrified – even though the cafes employ ‘coatimundi shooers’ using a bottle of stones on a stick to try to drive them away. We watched many, many people lose their lunches. Daisy preferred the endless butterflies, which rested happily on her hands.

From Iguazu we flew to the Pantanal via (yes, you’ve guessed it) Sao Paolo. The Brazilian wetlands are home to an immense range of creatures, including the jaguar, capybara and many, many birds. The area is impressively remote – a flight into Campo Grande, followed by a long minibus trip, followed by a long trip on a jeep.

We stayed at a farm that was long on authenticity and short on tourist comfort, which would have been less of a problem if it hadn’t been freezing cold. Still, if flocks of macaws outside the window and capybaras wandering across your path at breakfast are what you are after, the Pantanal is the place.

From the electric shock you got if you touched the shower taps with wet hands, to the poisonous snakes in the strangler fig trees – the Pantanal took us out of our comfort zone with the children. We were fine with the horseriding, and mostly OK with the night walk where we were shown sleeping coral snakes and woke up sleepy macaws with our torches. When walking through the flooded fields in the morning and the guide suggested Paul picked up Clover ‘because of the Caiman’ we were a little more freaked. Clovy is a bit big to make a tasty snack for a caiman, but we didn’t want to take any chances.

We didn’t see a jaguar, alas, but we loved seeing the armadillo, macaws, flamingos and other stunning wildlife – and we did see a big cat in the distance on the way home. And the girls LOVED the horseriding they did with Paul (and not with their allergic mother). Clover’s horse even managed a canter…perhaps it doesn’t like caiman either.

And it was three nil to us versus the scary local wildlife, when Daisy, Clover and Paul caught three piranhas using raw meat on a bamboo rod. We had them for dinner, lightly battered.

We returned from the Pantanal on my birthday, allowing me to have a birthday trip to (yes!) Sao Paulo airport. Daisy was pleased – apparently the airport’s Montana Grill does ‘the best tomato pasta in the world’. Sadly we returned minus Clover’s carry-on bag, which had fallen off the jeep somewhere in the wilderness. In it were her tablet computer (almost new) and a variety of favourite dollies. Thankfully though, not ‘Special Monkey’ as losing him would mean immediate return to the UK. No monkey, no sleep.

We finished our trip back in Rio de Janeiro, in the far-too-hip-for-us’ Santa Teresa district. Finally we did some proper tourism, including Sugarloaf Mountain at sunset (under some serious construction at the top – guys, the Olympics is really soon), and the ‘Big Christ’ which both girls were desperate to see.

“He doesn’t look very happy” announced Clover. I guess having all of the sins of the world on your shoulders can do that to you. Unfortunately our final afternoon on Copacabana beach, whilst lots of fun (the girls found a little Chilean girl to play with, while Paul watched the surfers) led to the Great Flood -a huge wave from which our belongings barely escaped with their lives. Some didn’t – including Daisy’s Kindle and my iPhone.

Brazil, then, whilst not being kind to our technology, was kind to us. It was perhaps fitting that we said goodbye to it during a six-hour layover at Sao Paulo airport – at least this time in the posh lounge at the international terminal. Many cheeseballs and glasses of champagne later, we were bound for Lima – without so much as a marmalade sandwich to sustain us.