The road to Rio from Iguassu Falls has taken in so many amazing sights and experiences that have made Brazil one of my favourite countries so far... It's hard to believe that I've crossed a whole continent from the Pacific to the Atlantic and that now I'm leaving South America behind!
From Foz do Iguaçu we headed north to a small town called Bonito which means 'beautiful' in Portuguese - it definitely lived up to its name! Charlotte and I spent the first day there cycling to a local lagoon which is where all the locals go to relax, sunbathe and swim along with the huge fish in the clear lagoon waters. Despite getting heatstroke on the ride there which nearly derailed the day, and after getting over the trepidation of swimming with such large fish, it was a fab relaxing day. We spent that evening in a restaurant where we could try different animals from the nearby Pantanal wetlands region of Brazil, our next stop. I ordered peccary, a type of wild boar which was delicious but also got to try some of other people's capybara and caiman, not menu options you see every day! Our second day in Bonito was even more special with a trip to a nearby river which had crystal clear waters and where we could scuba dive with all the fish! Clad in our wetsuits we trekked through the jungle to the river and then scuba dived along amongst all the huge piranhas and catfish... watching out for any anacondas that might come our way of course!
From Bonito we made our way to the Pantanal, the largest wetlands area on the planet and where we could spend a few days with our attention focused entirely on the incredible wildlife we could see. Our days were filled with ferry boat trips, going fishing for piranhas with reed rods, a night safari by truck, canoeing down the rivers, horseriding, and then finally another safari this time in the day! We were lucky enough to be able to see many animals like Giant Anteaters, Capybara (like super-sized guinea pigs), Caiman (just like a crocodile), Marsh Deer, Howler and Capuchin monkeys, and best of all some Giant Otters playfully splashing in the water (all the better spot as they are endangered now and there's only 4000 of them left in the wild). That's not even including the vast array of birds we came across from kingfishers to hawks, to Pantanal storks, to macaws, toucan, and other parrots! An incredible few days.
We had a few long drive days then as we turned eastwards and towards the coast. By the time we reached Paraty, a small colonial town in a bay surrounded by jungly hills and with lots of idyllic islands, we were all crying out for some sunshine and fun! Day 1 here duly obliged; we cruised round the islands on a boat in the baking hot sun, jumping off to swim in the sea, and all with never ending supplies of caiprinhas! Our second day we weren't so lucky with the weather but we were still able to explore the picturesque town, wander the cobbled streets which flood at high tide, and take pictures of the boats in the harbour and white washed buildings with their brightly coloured doors.
And then there was Rio... where to even start with this city of contrasts, beauty, life, and ups and downs. Our tour ended here but so many of us stayed on for extra days that I didn't find myself alone at all and certainly not at a loose end! Over the next week here I managed to see all the sights I wanted to see and still have time to take in some optional extras like shopping and beach days! Highlights included the cable car and views from Sugar Loaf mountain over Rio, Christ the Redeemer statue, the Lapa Steps and bohemian district of Santa Theresa, Copacabana beach, a tour round one of the city's favelas, and of course my daredevil exploits hand gliding over Rio which I still can't quite believe I did! Rio is so full of life and you can go from seeing the beauty of the beaches and hills to the fascinating but sad sights of the favelas. Everywhere you go though, the people are happy and the Rio spirit definitely rubs off on you!
South America has been a crazy whirlwind from start to finish and I'm so sad to leave it behind. I will be back for sure! For now it's goodbye as I fly across the world to the second half my trip, Oz and my Eastern Adventure!