Brazil Travel post #13: Ciao! Goodbye, Brazil (intro post is here).
For our last night on the Tucano, the crew picked up a samba singer and dancer and we had a party on the top deck. The night was beautiful and one of the guides taught me how to make the perfect caiprinha.
The day we disembarked, we went for a city tour of Manaus before our afternoon flight. Below you’ll find the entry sign for CIGS; which is both a public zoo and a military installation.
Here soldiers train for intense, jungle warefare, and at the same time have devoted themselves to protecting wildlife from poachers.
As we continue our Manaus tour, we saw the famed Teatro Amazonas, an operahouse built by the first Portuguese settlers so they could still enjoy European-style High Society when they weren’t busy exploiting locals into rubber production. Sure is a beautiful spot!
That’s all she wrote! Or in my case, all he wrote. 16 days total spent travelling, and almost that long telling you about it. Was the trip worth it?
And now we have a baker’s dozen Brazil posts. I might as well put it all in one place:
Brazil Travel post #12: A River Runs Through It (intro post is here).
Picking up from yesterday’s river post, let’s start with freshwater dolphins. Unlike their seafaring cousins, river dolphins don’t often jump out of water, nor are they known for chasing wake. So, my best pictures look like this:
Some places will take you to feed dolphins, though this isn’t very eco-friendly, so our outfit did not. However, their photos look like this:
According to the folkloric stories told to us by our guides, river dolphins are revered friends, and are never killed or eaten. It’s specifically the pink dolphin that holds their attention, but the grey dolphins gets extra protection too. Why, you ask?
According to local legend, the following story has been known to happen from time to time. When the villages unite for festivals and parties, occasionally a handsome stranger will arrive in all-white, wearing a straw hat. He might take a fancy to one of the young women and make her his girlfriend. Invariably, she’ll wind up pregnant and he’ll disappear, but it turns out the man was a river dolphin all along! He wore that straw hat to cover his blowhole and had to return to sea. Instead of a negative, this event is seen as a blessing. The dolphin will give special powers to his new child, who will be the smartest kid and everything will come easy. They will eventually become the village chief or shaman.
To me, this sounds like a story told by a suave, handsome sailor at port, who said he has to head back to sea. Either way, good news for the pink dolphins! We got our best views early in the morning on our kayaks, or at sunset on the top deck of the Tucano.
Rare tree frog sighting
Here’s another fun story for you. One of the guides suddenly pulled his skiff over to the shore, and called the second longboat over to see what he had found. Ready? This is what he saw from a moving watercraft.
It’s finally time! With all my foreshadowing, you probably guessed that piranha fishing was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
First, some background. For those of you without rod-n-reel fishing experience, let me give you some basics: Sneak up on the fish, hide the hook in bait or a lure, and don’t spook it–you want the fish to come to you.
Here’s how you fish for piranha: Take a bamboo rod, thread about 10 feet of line with a hook on the end (a reel isn’t necessary). For bait? A piece of raw steak, no bigger than a fingertip. Remember that reference.
To get the fish’s attention, you slap the bamboo on top of the water’s surface, creating a thrashing motion to simulate a panicked animal. Then you throw in your wounded animal chunk (your bait) and within 10 seconds you either have a piranha or your bait is gone.
Your only real worries are getting the thing off the hook, since it can bite off a fingertip. Oh, and my sure you wear close-toed shoes, because they can take a toe and can get pretty big:
Although the best part? Tastes like chicken!
The Meeting of the Waters
As I’ve said, we spent our week exploring the Rio Negro because it’s more remote than the Amazon River and allows for more wildlife exploration. On the last day, however, we went to the famous point where the Rio Negro and Amazon converge. It’s an amazing site, and an incredible viewpoint, because the waters don’t mix easily. Here’s what I mean:
That’s it for today, and we’re almost done with our trip. I think that means tomorrow is the final post!
Brazil Travel post #11: Rollin’ on the River (intro post is here).
Today we see the river by boat. We towed along smaller watercraft to use on sightseeing expeditions, like the one you see below. Plenty of wildlife can be seen in the trees from the banks, and the river itself is teeming, so get ready for some fantastic pictures.
Overall, you get the feeling that you’re surrounded by life, but that the jungle is very shy. Animal noises echo out from the canopy, birds shriek, yet it’s difficult to spot just who you’re hearing. The trees will stand still–the jungle an unbroken curtain–until suddenly, it’s not.
When you travel by riverboat in MURDERED, your experiences are much the same:
A monkey’s ululating howl comes from somewhere in the treetops and branches sway in reaction to movement that can’t be seen from beneath the thick canopy. A nesting family of egrets calls out as a fledgling egret loses its balance and falls into the river below. The bird is quick to come to the surface but, not yet able to fly, it squawks and flails its wings in a panicked swim.
The river suddenly explodes in a cacophony of fish and churning water so powerful that the bloody spindrift hits the boat. The egret doesn’t have a chance against the piranha feeding frenzy and you watch in awestruck terror as the bird disappears in only a matter of moments.
“Do not worry; the piranha don’t eat people. They can take a finger, but he is what you need to be careful for: Caiman.”
You follow Neto’s outstretched finger toward the far bank, where a crocodilian animal at least ten feet long slips into the river and silently swims toward the commotion, which is over before it gets there.
“They eat people?” you ask.
“They drown people.”
For this reason, one of my favorite excursion-types on the riverboat Tucano was early morning Kayak. Without an engine, it made it much easier to “sneak up” on wildlife.
In fact, on one such kayak trip, we saw something swimming in the water…
It seemed we spooked it, because it started away from us at a high speed. We tried to catch up to get a better look…
That’s when we realized just who’d we had been chasing….
The guide later informed us that the caiman we saw was probably 4 meters long, or roughly as long as our kayak!
Bring a good pair of binoculars.
If you ever decide to take a trip like this one, make sure you have some way to see the shore from the boat. We got some great views from our binoculars, but check out what our new friend Jerry caught through his camera lens.
Now the hunter becomes the hunted.
The caiman may be the most dangerous animal in the river for people, but this powerful saurian is far from king of the river. That title goes to the “water jaguar” — the giant river otter. Not quite as big as a seal, these guys owned the waterways and they knew it. When we approached with our cameras, they responded by showing off their teeth.
Here are some of the amazing shots captured by Jerry Peek:
I actually saw a few river otters tangle with a caiman. The otters swarmed around the caiman in the water, nipping at the crocodilian’s tail until the caiman burst forth from the water, its legs practically windmilling as it sprinted ashore for safety. The whole thing happened so fast that my camera wasn’t able to capture the moment, but I did find a video of a similar situation online. It’s from “Plizzanet Earth” narrated by Snoop Dogg, and it’s certainly worth your time.
I think that’s probably the perfect note to end today’s blog post. Tomorrow, we’ll continue on the river where we’ll see dolphins, get a special tree frog sighting, and go piranha fishing!
Brazil Travel post #10: The Mighty Jungle (intro post is here).
So now that I’ve officially exhausted jungle-themed songs as titles, let’s actually go into the jungle.
Each day, we had 2-3 excursions from the main boat. Morning, afternoon, and night. Some of those days included jungle hikes into the pure, unadulterated wild. This wasn’t like those jungle hikes in Rio, where the trail is wide and flat from thousands of tourists. From what the owner of the Tucano told us, the areas we went in only we went in. Judging by the machete-clearing techniques used by our guides, I believed it.
The main problem, however, was footwear. We didn’t bring hiking boots, we brought hiking sandals. Which wouldn’t really be a problem except for the fact that we could sink into six inches of dead leaves and other rotten vegetation with each step (where, of course, spiders, scorpions, and vipers love to hide).
So…that part was unnerving. The hikes themselves, however, were extraordinary.
While the Amazon jungle has the greatest diversity of life in the world, it actually has low density of each kind. So each type of animal you come across should be treated like an unexpected gift.
Here, you’ll see the “greatest hits” of our jungle hike excursions.
Story time: Bullet ants (pictured above) are known to have one of the most painful stings of any ant. In fact, apparently, it feels like you’ve just been stung (with fresh pain) for about 24 hours. It’s so bad, that there’s a tribe whose “manhood ritual” involves wearing a glove filled with bullet ants. Once a boy does this, he is now a man, and can accomplish anything.
Story time: The site pictured above was run as a “company store” and the natives that worked here were essentially tricked into indentured servitude. Those that tried to speak out were never heard from again…. Despite all the natural beauty here, it’s important to keep in mind the history (and current activities) of exploiting the rainforest. It’s a fragile ecosystem, despite its size.
Story time: Souza showed us this specific type of ant (which frenzies in response to noise) that doesn’t sting, but their body fluids make for a great natural mosquito repellent. All you have to do is clap nearby to get them to rush out of their nest, then you let them on your hand, and rub them onto your skin.
Story time: The protagonist in this story is our guide, Souza. The antagonist a giant bird-eating tarantula. Here’s the setup. Souza is a self-proclaimed “Coboclo” (a person of mixed ancestry where half is a native) and grew up in the jungle. So he knows his stuff. He knows hundreds of bird calls. Can identify dozens of types of ant nests. Hundreds of plant types, along with their uses. And…he knows how to “charm” giant spiders out of their burrows.
He put his scent (sweat and spit) on a stick, the tricked the spider into defending its burrow against said stick. When the first spider came out, there was a collective gasp from the group.
Though we had some adventure and excitement, mostly what we found was natural beauty and new experiences.
Seeing the jungle “up close and personal” was definitely worth it. And no bites or stings! Next time I’ll show you all the things we could see from our expeditionary watercraft. Hint: A lot more animals!
PS — I’m taking the weekend off. Michaela’s mom is in town, and I’m meeting up with a friend from out of town for some quality dude time. Catch you on Monday!
Brazil Travel post #9: Welcome to the Jungle! (intro post is here).
Okay, here we are, finally heading into the jungle. And great timing too! One of our fellow travelers, Gerald Peek, took some amazing photos and I was able to access them yesterday. He graciously agreed to let me use them for this blog, so you’ll find a mix of Schannep and Peek photos below.
I’m still sorting through the photos, so that’s all for today, but coming up we’ll have jungle hikes, boat excursions, and river night life! Stay tuned.
Brazil Travel post #8: Cristo Redentor (intro post is here).
For our last stop in Rio de Janeiro, we’re headed to the top of Corcovado mountain to see one of the New 7 Wonders of the World (two down, five to go!). Cristo Redentor translates to “Christ the Redeemer” in English, and is one of the most iconic statues on earth.
In MURDERED, you head up to the top for a major clue in the interactive mystery, and if you so choose, you can take the tourist cog train to the top.
So, of course, I made it a priority to do so myself. You’ll find plenty of warnings out there about how hard it is to get tickets day-of (during a holiday! When the cruise ships are in port! Oh my!), but when you’re travelling in a pair, things can go your way. As soon as we got to the station, the ticket salesman informed us there were two more tickets available for the next train. Despite an afternoon rainstorm, we went for it.
The cog train takes you through the Tijuca forest, up the side of the mountain, and offers several in-car views of the city below.
Once you make it to the top, you’re shuffled past a half-dozen souvenir shops and multiple restaurants.
Eventually, you’ll make it to the top.
And what will you see?
And once you’re done trying to take your picture in the same pose, you can look out over the city yourself.
Brazil Travel post #7: Sightseeing 2 (intro post is here).
Today, let’s head back into the Atlantic Rainforest for some super amazing views.
Tijuca National Park
It’s likely that some of you noticed the lush and verdant Rio scenery and after yesterday’s post thought, “That’s only 10% of the original forest? Whoa.”
Whoa, indeed. But that’s because what you’re looking at isn’t the original forest. The Brazilian government actually brought the jungle back, replanting nearly 12 square miles of forest, thereby creating a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the largest and oldest man-made forests, having been restored in the late 1800s after concerns that the massive deforested farm lands were sucking the area dry of drinking water.
We enjoyed this restored rainforest with a guided jungle hike up a storied trail, all the way up the mountainside to the best view in the city. I must say, if I hadn’t been told, I wouldn’t have known this was “new” jungle.
Escadaria Selarón — The Tile Steps
After a late lunch we went to the famed tile steps, known as the Escadaria Selarón.The steps are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who began by simply repairing the steps in front of his own home with brightly colored, ceramic tile. The project eventually consumed the artist and continued to grow, expanding even to this day.
There are literally thousands of tiles, brought in from all over the world, so here you’ll see a small selection of those pieces that caught our eye.
That’s it for today!
Tomorrow? Let’s finish up our Rio sightseeing tour with a grand finale….
Brazil Travel post #6: Sightseeing 1 (intro post is here).
From the outset, I can tell you I’m going to have to split this topic into multiple parts. There were sooooo many sights to see, especially with a “MURDERED Bucket List” in my back pocket.
Jardim Botãnico — The Botanic Garden
Rio de Janeiro was once home to the expansive Atlantic Rainforest, a different type of jungle than its more famous Amazonian cousin. Once Rio was declared the capital of Brazil, the city flourished and the rainforest dwindled to roughly 10% of its original size. This was largely intentional, as Brazil became an important produce exporter, and as demand grew, so did the demand for farmland.
The botanic garden was founded in 1808 by King John VI of Portugal (Brazil was in the Portuguese empire at the time) who decreed that a garden should be built to see which foreign plants might best thrive in Brazil’s climate. Thus, the botanic gardens were born, and once that job was completed in 1822 they became a public site.
Today it is a beautiful park full of exotic flora, including 900 varietals of palm, as well as wild monkeys and hundreds of jungle birds. Here are a few of the fantastic images we captured:
MAR — Museu de Arte do Rio
From natural beauty to created beauty. The MAR holds some of Brazil’s most impressive artistic pieces. Let’s see a few.
Brazil Travel post #5: Food & Drink (intro post is here).
Brazil was a culinary delight. Travel not only serves to open one’s mind, but to broaden your palate as well. Join me now as I show the best this self-proclaimed foodie discovered on our trip.
Brazil is known for red meat and a “Churrasco” is the ultimate steakhouse experience.
It’s a special experience where young men (sometimes dressed in traditional cowboy garb), bring choice cuts of meat to your table, slice you off a bite, and continue on. You choose how much you’d like, which cuts, and if you’d like to make room for the salad bar. Hint: you’re not here for salad.
This type of experience can be found in MURDERED if you choose to go to São Paulo with Agent Bertram:
“Ever have churrasco?” Agent Bertram asks when he picks you up. Before you can answer, he adds, “There’s a great place near here.”
Flames leap out from the kitchen, kissing the meat as the chefs rotate each skewer, trying to keep in as much of the juices as they can. You’re in the Churrascaria now, a high-end restaurant dedicated to Brazilian beef. Churrasco is synonymous with barbeque in this country, and they have a specialized way of cooking it. The sizzling spit from the grill and the smell coming from the kitchen is intoxicating and on an empty stomach, you start to salivate.
“You’re in for a treat, Hotshot. Good luck looking the same at steak back in the US ever again.”
While we weren’t able to make it to São Paulo, we did go to the famed Churrascaria Búfalo in Manaus. If you’re in the area, go.
As mentioned, the exchange rate in Brazil is currently very favorable for those with American dollars to spend. To this end, we went for a gourmet sushi experience for our first night in Ipanema at a restaurant called Tenkai. We ordered specialty sake cocktails that blended Brazilian tastes with Japanese style. The Brazilian-made sake with lychee fruit was to die for. We couldn’t quite decide what to eat, so we opted for a 60-piece sushi feast. It was so big, they had to sail it in on a boat…
Aside from red meat, if you’re eating like the locals, you’re eating seafood and some variation of manioc (a root that’s a staple of the diet). Stews are ubiquitous, usually accompanied by rice. Breaded and fried entrees are common.
One of the best places for this type of food was at a restaurant in Urca called (wait for it)… Bar Urca.
Unlike most countries with a large oceanic border, Brazil seemed to serve primarily river fish. With the largest freshwater waterway in the world, this isn’t very surprising, but the entrees themselves certainly were. We tried many variety of fish on our Rio Negro boat tour (blog posts on this topic will arrive eventually, I promise!), and each one was new and exciting. If you’re someone who’s not into seafood because of that “fishy taste” — I’d recommend trying some river fish.
Bebidas — drinks!
Brazil also offered a full array of new and exciting drinks, from coffee to fruit juices to alcohol.
The drink you’ll find everywhere is the caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. Sugarcane rum, lime, ice, and more sugar.
Beer is also common, and even those imported from outside of Brazil could be exotic to us.
To end our drink experience, we decided to try to the Brazilian take on Colorado craft brews:
That’s it for today. I tried not to retread over the food/drink mentioned in previous posts (like the amazing breakfast at the Copacabana Palace!) or spoil too much for the future (piranha fishing! piranha fishing! OMG, piranha fishing!).