At our arrival in the Brazilian metropolis we were welcomed by Ale's uncle (Ale is a friend who accompanied me on the trip) who lives in South America since many years. The first night we were guests of some friends and we moved when we saw the great generosity they demonstrate us despite their lifes on the edge of poverty. This will be a constant of our trip around Brazil
: the people here have a sense of hospitality stronger than we have in Europe! The first day in Sao Paulo we faced the city traffic, taking about two hours to reach the center by bus. Here, after a short walk along Avenida Ipiranga
and Praca da Republica
, we climbed on the top floor of Palazzo Italia
, the tallest building in the city, where we see the huge urban expanse. The next day, due to the few point of interest in the city, we drove to Campinas where we found Ale's uncle to guide us. Enormously grateful for the hospitality we strive to find, as soon as possible, a ticket on a bus to Foz do Iguacù
on the border with Argentina and Paraguay.
Cataratas do Iguaçù
The journey was about 1400 km-long during the night and then we find ourselves in a quiet town, completely different than the two chaotic cities seen in the early days. The purpose of this long night of travel is to visit one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the world: Cataratas do Iguaçu, formed by the Iguaçu river, the Cataratas are a collection of about 275 waterfalls (up to 350 in the rainy season) jumping down, in separate steps, 76 m. The visit requires at least two days, one for Brazilian side and one for Argentina's. The atmosphere in this place is magical: the tropical vegetation, the roar of waterfalls and friendly people gives us awareness that we are in a unique place.
With the spectacular view of the falls still on our eyes, we get on a bus that will take us to Capo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, the southern gateway of one of the largest wetland ecosystems around the world: the Pantanal. From there, another six-hour trip takes us up to Corumba, on the border with Bolivia. In this isolated town on the banks of the Rio Paraguay, the only profitable work is smuggling. In recent years tourism is reaching these places and some fazendas in the area are being converted into charming eco-lodge. We're carring a tent and decide to join an Australian group who enters Pantanal. The journey on the back of a pick-up is not the most comfortable trip i ever made, on dirt roads with many wooden bridges that cross rivers full of cayman. The spectacle that surrounds us makes me forget the pain in my lower back! At the edge of the road you can see many groups of capybaras, the huge South American rodent. Caimans at this time of day does not seem interested in the tasty prey that pass by their side and stand motionless with their mouths wide open basking in the sun. Many "pantaneiros", local farmers who are very reminiscent of the Argentine gauchos, during brief pauses of their grueling work, stay on the banks of the thousand lakes fishing piranhas. In the following days we do a little hiking in the area: monkeys are fun to hunt... with our camera, we spot the now rare hyacinth macaws. I woke up one morning and while i was bathing (just on the open air around our camp) i got to know a toucan that was using the same tree for its needs: he only was 10 m above me and that was the problem! The most exciting meet was with a giant anteater appeared out of nowhere in a clearing near our tents while elusive puma that is so hated by the local farmers remained a pipe dream for us. The bath in a pond inhabited by piranhas (they don't really attack unless they feel threatened.. well, so they told me!) and a night walk to see wild-eyed caimans concluded this memorable excursion in the earthly paradise of birdwatchers!
Ouro Preto churches
The journey has reached the halfway point and we start our slow return to San Paulo. The first quick stop is in Belo Horizonte, the starting point for anyone wanting to visit this mountainous area. The region of Minas Gerais where we are, is the historic heart of Brazil. From its name you can figure out what was its main asset: the subsoil. The historical towns scattered through these mountains are a preserved testimonial of Portuguese colonial period, and we begin our exploration of the area from the capital of the Gold Rush, Ouro Preto. This university town is an Artistic World Heritage and rises nearly 1000 m above sea level on numerous hills, alleys and narrow streets that cross link the main square, Praca Tiradentes. There is an infinite number of churches, the most notorious of which is the Igreja Sao Francisco de Assis, developed and decorated with various wooden sculptures by the most important Brazilian artist, Aleijadinho. After walking miles up and down and enjoying spectacular sunsets over the churches of Ouro Preto, we moved to Mariana, another colonial mining town where we stayed, only disappointed by discovering that the gold mine we wanted to visit in September is still closed. Finally, to complete the visit of the historical towns of the area we get to Congonhas do Campo where we could admire, after a long uphill walk, the church of Bom Jesus do Matosinho, by Alejiadinho, destination of pilgrimage during Semana Santa. Once again we could see an unconventional Brasil, away from traditional tourist destinations: as often happens, it was a pleasant surprise.
Rio de Janeiro
Continuing south we reached the most colourful city of Brasil: Rio de Janeiro. This city lies between ocean and mountains and perfectly represents the contrasts typical of the whole country. By the sea there is a touristic city, with the various neighborhoods of Ipanema, Flamengo, Botafogo, Copacabana, just names that evoke images of white beaches, beautiful girls in bikinis and huge hotels where pomp reigns. The hills are covered by slums where violence and poverty reigns and where children grow up on a roadside. Our tour of the city starts from a cable car ascent on Pao de Açucar, the block of granite that rises on the sea and offers spectacular views of the beaches of Rio. Then we reach the Corcovado and its huge Christ with open arms by a railroad, but the clouds hide the spectacular panorama. We are getting ready to drop down a little disappointed when within a few minutes the air sweeps the clouds away from the royal grandeur of the statue dominating the landscape
Paratì and the Atlantic coast
The trip is nearing the end, but before returning to Sao Paulo and from there to Italy, we take a few days of rest on the Atlantic beaches. However we decide to move away from the hubbub of the city to enjoy the tranquility of a fishing village that offers the opportunity to experience more contact with locals. The town of Parati is a beautiful and secluded harbor that in summer doubles in size. Fortunately we are out of season and the campsite where we stay is only for us. A boat trip allows us to discover many islands that dot the bay across the town and allows us to also try the thrill of diving among the fish.
This trip will remain engraved in our minds thanks to the view of the spectacular Iguaçù waterfalls, for exciting encounters with the wildlife of the Pantanal, the vision of the historic city of Minais Gerais and the white beaches of Rio, but will remain engraved in our hearts even more thanks to the wonderful welcome from all the people we met along the way.