söndag, augusti 16, 2009

Iguacu falls!

Often compared to, and in many people's thoughts overshadowing the Niagara and Victoria falls, the Iguacu waterfalls in southern Brazil is one of the contenders to the title "World Wonders of Today".

Having returned our rented Opel Zafira at the international airport of Säo Paulo, Guarulhos, we were sitting tired and with filled stomachs at midnight of August 8. Originally we had thought of rising really early the next day in the beach house on the Paulista coast, drive all the way to Guarulhos, return the car and hopefully check in in time for the early morning flight to Foz do Iguacu. But what if the GPS we had brought showed up not so reliable? And if we did not find the rental firm in time? No, I thought it best to drive with security margin the evening before instead. I may also add that it is not the same thing driving on Brazilian highways as in Sweden.

But the drive worked fine. We stopped in Mogi for our first tryout of Brazilian pizza. In Swedish style we ordered one pizza each.

Don't make this mistake...

When the first pizza arrived, it was BIG and cut into slices for all of us, and we gladly started chewing. The second one was also OK, but we knew by now we had made a grand mistake. After 2.5 pizza we were completely full, but we had to keep eating as picanha (=rumpsteak) pizzas kept coming.

Guess the waiter had thought we were REALLY hungry ordering so many Brazilian pizzas. The only solution in the end was the doggy bag of course. But later, sitting at the airport at midnight no-one cared for the last pieces, so it all went into the garbage can.

Me and my daughter Jasmin went to find somewhere we could rest. And we were lucky! There is something called "Fast Sleep" at Guarulhos Airport: at the bottom floor, there is a small "hotel" with minuscule rooms including double bunk beds. And you can rent them by the hour or "full day" which means 5 to 8 hours. We had six hours to our flight so three such tiny rooms, with immaculate bathrooms in the corridor, saved our night. Just imagine if we had had to try and sleep - probably unsuccessfully - in extremely uncomfortable chairs the whole night...Brrrr.

Arriving in Foz do Iguacu we had rooms in Continental Inn, an if not luxurious then in any case very good hotel in the city centre, complete with pool table, swimming pool and an impressive breakfast buffet which we sampled right away, having received nothing but toast on our TAM flight.

Soon we were set to go. Our plan was to do the Brazilian side of the falls the first day, and the Argentinian side the next day. We walked to the closest bus stop. Bus fare was only 2.20 reais per head, not much. Twenty minutes later we were there, and weather was quite good. Following a short ride on a double decker bus, you are at the place where the common trail begins. It is also the location of a pink, grand hotel "Des Cataratas" where I wish I will get the opportunity to stay some time. Boy were there photo opportunities along the trail. The many falls are so impressive they defy description. Just the heavy sound of them (see attached video...! Below us, people in rubber boats went all the way close to to streams, but I at least was happy to be here on the side and just watch it all...

The grand finale is called Garganta do Diabo in Portuguese (The Devil's Gap), and here you are standing right beside the falls. We all walked out on a manmade ramp, and you really really needed a raincoat not to get soaked (if you weren't of the same type as some of our fellow visitors, AC/DC fans judging from the tattoos, who took the chance to pose in the mist with bare overbodies making fitting heavy metal devil signs when they were photographed.)

Our family made an entertaining photo featuring each one of us balancing on a rope above the falls. Maybe you'll get one for Xmas!!!

Taking the elevator upstairs we had decided beforehand that we wanted to try the Brazilian buffet served in the restaurant. It was a good choice. Feijoada and Moqueca were available and I believe we made the table full justice.

The next day it was pouring from the sky. But as a good tight little unit we are, we stuck to our plans and walked to the bus (3 reais this time) to go to Argentina.

The entrance is less impressive than the Brazilian side. And Lonely Planet had forgotten to tell us that the entrance fee actually requires to be paid in Argentinian pesos to get inside. So we had to find an ATM...

The green Eco-Train takes you to the station where the trails begin. Eavesdropping on a guide we decided to start at the Devils Gap this time. I got SOAKED.

Quite a walking distance away, you find yourself in the middle of the falls, impressive enough with water coming from below. But now it was also coming from heaven...Once again that murmuring sound. You have to experience it yourself to understand.

A short while after having been to the Gap we almost considered it a day. However we decide to give the remaining Superior Trail a shot, once we had dried up a little. And it was really worth it. The same falls we had seen from the other side the day before were now actually experienced very closely. Many good photos were taken here.

We had eaten very little during the day, because we knew what was in store. A real Brazilian churrasceria in Foz do Iguacu with good reputation from several travel guides: Bufalo Branco.

The price of the buffet including transfer from the hotel was 48 reais and it was worth every penny. The buffet includes salads, vegetables and sauces and desserts and is very fresh. And you get all the meat and sausages of various types you can ever eat: rumpsteak, cutlets, fillet, chicken, sausages and whatever. Don't miss this when you are in Foz!!!

lördag, augusti 15, 2009

Brazil: São Paulo and Paulista Coast...

Just came back from an amazing trip to Brazil. The origin is no less fantastic. In my previous job as a project manager at publishing agency Appelberg, I worked with freelance photographer Paulo Fridman based in São Paulo. Paulo is a great photographer and photo artist whose work you may find at http://www2.uol.com.br/paulofridman/.

During one of our phone calls, it came up that we both had beach houses - ours at island Ven, Sweden, and the Fridman family on the São Paulo Coast, Brazil. "Why don't we visit each other and just borrow each other's houses?" It was a wonderful thought. I have no links to Brazil whatsoever, and this would make an opportunity to see a country most of us have dreamed about. We exchanged photos of the houses, marveled at the thought, and well, if the stars wanted it to happen...

For a while Paulo and I lost contact (I changed jobs etc.) but early last year I received an unexpected phone call: "Hi, it's Paulo Fridman. My family is visiting Scandinavia this summer, since my daughter is an exchange student outside Copenhagen. Why don't we make our plans happen?"

So, last summer Paulo with family were in Sweden (and Denmark, and France, and the UK, but that's another story...) last year, and borrowed our houses in Malmö and on Ven.

And this summer it was our turn to visit them in Brazil.

Planning is half the fun. Ours is no little group, with six family members, so it did require quite some thoughts. We knew we were going to the summer house on the coast, and that we would fly in to São Paulo, and return home from same city (much cheaper that if we had wanted to fly home from Rio, which we looked at.)

The realistic length of the trip was about two weeks, considering schools, vacation etc. In the end, it was Lufthansa tickets that was the best option. We were set to fly out on July 27 and home again August 13. But beside the coast we wanted to see São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and also the Iguacu waterfalls in the south of Brazil, on vote for being one of the global wonders of today. So this was squeezed into our schedule as well.

We spent three days in São Paulo. Of course this is too little for one of the world's really big cities, but we tried to make the most of it.

It all started with a Brazilian super breakfast at Paulo's house: nothing seemed to be missing, and we learned to appreciate pão de queijo, Brazilian cheese breads, Minas cheese (close to ricotta), and many other things.

We walked to the Vila Madalena metro station which gave us a first impression of the city. Initially, we were set for Avenida Paulista, the centre of the city, where we had lunch at Americana, a nice grand hamburger place which really took care of serving beer in a champagne cooler (a great Brazilian habit, we learned later) and also managed a quick peak at MASP, the famous art museum in midtown, showing portraits from grand master painters.

São Paulo is huge, and we only sampled a few of its delights these precious first days. After having bought Brazilian telephone cards at shopping centre Eldorado, we took cabs to Vila Madalena. Vila Madalena is a really good, somewhat fashionable area with lots of restaurants, bars and boutiques. One of Brazil's most famous dishes is feijoada, a filling stew of black beans, chorizo and various meats served with rice, farofa (roasted manioc flour), chili, orange slices and grated kale (grönkål in Swedish), and, in this particular case, roasted pork. The place we selected for our grand premier was São Cristovão on Rua Aspicuelta, a restaurant which everyone interested in soccer just has to see and get the feel of: every wall is filled with clippings from Brazilian football feats during the decades, no star worth mentioning is missing. The youngsters had already started to appreciate guarana soft drinks, especially the brand Antarctica. Everyone enjoyed the food immensely,and from Vila Madalena it was not difficult to walk home...We passed a deli and picked up some wine bottles as I was curious to taste a little more of Brazil's homegrown wine.

Brazilian winter, at least in Sampa (as the city is called locally) can vary from sunny and hot 30 degrees Celsius down to drizzly, cold 12 degrees which we learned during these few first days. Strolling through Jardins, the centre of fashion in SP, the kids (I must be able to call the so although the youngest is sixteen) found a waterhole in Doc Dog, where the seasonal liquidacao (SALES) offered some nice options in fancy t-shirts and other clothing...we lunched at a place recommended by the reliable Lonely Planet guide, the sushi restaurant Kazan at Rua Doutor Melo, where we sampled the whole menu it felt like: miso soup, mushrooms, various rolls, sushi, sashimi. It was really good!

We were invited home to Paulo's wife Leonor's parents for an exciting dinner in real Brazil style the day before we were to leave for the coast. Also here, nothing was missing and just as real countrymen we should have beans and rice every day! We also got some valuable tips on what we should see once we were at the coast. The youngsters ended the night in style at the club Gloria, together with Brazilian and American friends.

One of this trip's real challenges was to fit our whole group into the same rental car. Strict orders about keeping us all down to four suitcases had been issued before flying out, and it was only by sheer luck that all this (and quite a few pairs of newly shopped Havaiana flipflop shoes, which really is a bargain in Brazil compared to here in Sweden) fitted into our Opel Zafira, one of the few cars that can actually house six people. But it did.

Finding our way out of the city São Paulo was, as expected, the most difficult part of our traveling to the Paulista Coast. The goal was Praia do Engenho, which is one of a group of three beaches between Boraceia and Boicuganga on the coast. Once we had found the highway Imigrantes leading from SP to coast city Santos (yes, hometown and club of Pele...)there were no real problems.

The last part of the road leading to the house was the funniest, a dirt track that really deserved its name. The superbumpy bumps here produced laughter in the car every time we passed it during our week on the coast.

Brazilian winter seemed to keep its grip on us, so we made some trips to see the surroundings. São Sebastião is the central city on this part of the coast, so we went there and did some recce, and courtesy of Lonely Planet had a really good lunch at friendly seaside place A Canoa, where I acquainted myself with Moqueca, the brilliant fish stew in Bahia style that contains coconut and various vegetables, served with both fries and rice.

We returned to the same city a few days later in really sunny weather, when heading for Ilhabela, which is a must-see island a fifteen-minute ferry trip away from SS. We had heard a lot about insects so we were armed with mosquito repellent and far too much clothes for this temperature. Vila Ilhabela is the centre of the west side of this island, and here we lunched at Cheiro Verde, which is a typical prata feira place (I noticed that local shop-keepers picked up their lunches to go from this typically Brazilian kitchen). I had fish again, moqueca variation featuring lula, i.e. octopus rings...Some of the youngsters had a short swim to cool down, and we others had to do with a cold beer, lager-style. Probably the best one during this whole trip, and it was in fact Uruguayan.

The amazing Praia do Engenho beach next to the house we stayed in showed its best during one whole day that we spent there, among a few Brazilian families, early surfers and the lonely ice-cream man who was at a seasonal low this week. The beach is 450 running steps long, I counted while taking a barefoot morning exercise. Waves were perfect for our amateur bodysurfing skills, and the water temperature perfect for Nordic tourists like ourselves. And this day the suntan lotion we had brought was happily brought out of the bottles.

Nearby village Juquehy, also a surfer centre, made for a daytrip, only one mountain away, with a little shopping centre and another good restaurant...

(Iguacu falls and Rio will get own stories)