The bus was hot. The station was hot. Everything was hot! Brazil is a challenging location for us Northern folk, we are used to stiff breezes, chilling blizzards and wispy trails of breath that weave between our fingers as we desperately attempt to avoid frostbite. To make matters worse, we stood out like mime artists in a debate. Taxi drivers of South American descent have an uncanny ability to smell the money in the pockets of a gringo. Like a pack of wolves chasing prey, they circle their targets, often howling out ludicrous offers and even making a few preliminary snaps at the bags of their potential victims. However, should the wild gringo remember that they maintain position of power in this situation they should be able to find an escape. After throwing a few warning elbows, we battled our way through the wolves and were welcomed to the open pastures of the ticket offices. Whilst in the bus station, we considered our best option was to purchase our bus tickets for the next journey as soon as we could. With tickets purchased, we asked our sales lady if she could tell us how far our apartment was from the bus station. The response of raised eyebrows and a slightly lowered jaw were not what we were hoping for. Our apartment was miles out of town and in a considerably dangerous area, something the booking information had failed to mention. We ventured back out into the hunting zone as wolves snapped and spat over who deserved the coveted prize of a gringo. We finally found one taxi driver who seemed to have forgotten he needed to get a fare, we felt we had a better chance of a fair rate if the man wasn't so desperate to get us on board.
After an uninspiring cruise through Fortaleza, we arrived at our accommodation. For this stop off we had decided to get our own private apartment, equipped with kitchen, en-suite and pool. We thought we had hit the jackpot but we reserved judgement and held our breath after the rather disturbing reaction the saleswoman had given us. Upon arrival, the taxi driver asked us for 40 Brazilian Reales, a rather steep fare considering the country we were in but we apparently had to account for luggage carried and the long journey we had to take to reach our 'out of town' location. As we bumbled through the heavy duty door at our apartment complex, we were immediately asked by the owner how much we had paid for the taxi. Upon telling her we paid 40, she hurried out the door and yelled a few words of abuse at the driver. Apparently the fare was meant to be 35 Reales but we weren't prepared to squabble over 50p each, if only we could tell her of the Buenos Aires taxi journey. As we settled in it was time to put some newly acquired Portuguese to the test. Having improved our Spanish and spent time with some Portuguese speaking amigos, we had some idea of how to decipher the Brazilian code. From what I could pick up I learnt the following; there was no breakfast, the pool closed at 10, we had to pay the full amount up front (no questions asked) and to never turn left at the end of our road. The woman calmly informed us that it wasn't a favela to the left of our apartment, it was a recycling area where the homeless of Fortaleza could bring any tins, scrap or rubbish they could salvage from the streets.
With warnings heeded, we headed for the room and were more or less satisfied we had received what we paid for. There was a double bed, a bunk bed, an oven almost directly next to the bed and a toilet apt for small children. With stomachs ever churning we decided to quickly pop out and grab some food to cook. After raiding the closest mini market (to the right of the apartment), we threw what we could together and tucked into our lacklustre dinner. Bellies full, we rewarded ourselves with a DVD night and quickly settled into one of the films we had brought with us. 20 minutes into the film however, disaster struck. The problem didn't begin when we saw the cockroach, the problem began when it disappeared into my bag. Panic set in quickly, I tipped my bag and all its contents onto the floor, unrolling every single item of clothing and checking every possible crevice. Whilst tentatively exploring every nook and cranny of my bag, expecting an explosion of mutant cockroach babies from any of my 25000 socks, Tamara highlighted our next exoskeletal problem. From one of the cracks next to the door emerged an army of what I originally thought to be Brazilian fire ants. My pulse rose dramatically, believing these ants possessed the ability to kill a grown man if their numbers were great enough. Suddenly, the infamous Warren tantrum bubbled through my veins. "I'm not doing this, we're leaving! I'm not sleeping here. I want to go, now." Tamara quickly twigged onto what was happening and put her foot down. "Stop being such a baby, we'll kill as many as we can and then you can sleep on the side nearest to them to protect me." The deal sounded a bit one sided but after a few looks of cold steel being thrown my way, I proceeded to crush through as many ants as I could and resigned myself to my outpost for the night. After a few moments settling into bed the next problem presented itself. It appeared that the nest of ants had realised their brethren had been culled and had sent out their Air Force. Winged ants swooped and dove through our sheets as we frantically swatted those that we could. With only cunning up our sleeves, we decided to divert their attention by leaving the kitchen light on, our hope was to distract them to a more favourable destination than our bed. I finally shut my eyes but my brain would not leave me alone, only one thing was on my mind... Where did that cockroach go?
Suffering from an anxiety filled, patchy sleep, I informed Tamara that I thought it would be best if we just enjoy a pool day. With extra time to catch up on the blog, we both wasted the day away. We occasionally dipped ourselves into the pool when our bodies demanded that we no longer bare the beating rays of the sun. With nought to do but stuff our faces that evening, we headed out early to avoid the army of recycling agents that would soon descend upon the area. Whilst Brazil may be home to a lot of great food, it is also home to a certain type of restaurant that may make the lighthearted squirm. These buffet-by-kilo diners can be found all over Brazil and would send a hygiene freak running for their life. The concept is simple, pile what you want on your plate and have it weighed, you are given the price of your meal at the end and the service runs smoothly. However, hassle free service doesn't mean hassle free food as you can often not be sure if the food has been out since this morning or two days ago. In this fun game of lucky dip you have to pick your foodstuff wisely, don't go for white meats if possible, veg is usually a good shout and whatever you do, don't get the seafood. We locked ourselves in our room, for better or for worse, and hurried to sleep for our big day tomorrow. We were going to Fortaleza's world famous water park. With nothing less than the world's tallest kamikaze slide!
We awoke after a relatively easy sleep that night, whether the owners had invested in local geckos to help keep our night time bugs at bay or the lizards were just particularly hungry that night, we were grateful for their presence in our room as they hoovered up the murderous ants for their evening tea. We were both ecstatic, we had booked our transport to the park the previous day and eagerly anticipated its arrival on our doorstop, presenting ourselves to the world half an hour so we sure not to miss it! On the bus we excitedly reminisced on times past in water parks, which slides were your favourite? Did you go on the kamikaze? Did you get a verruca after? Oh, just me. As the bus pulled in, the driver stopped us all as a group to begin explaining the procedure we needed to follow in order to buy our tickets. However, with our selective hearing being effectively utilised we heard where he wanted us all to meet at the end of the day and quickly sprinted past, we had so many rides to go on, we couldn't waste time on this nonsense. We joined the queue, jostling for pole position with equally as restless Brazilians and finally made it to the front. Tamara presented her travel credit card to the cashier who in unsympathetically asked to see Tamara's passport. What kind of water park was this? Were we under investigation? We asked in our best combination of Portuguese and Spanish if we could pay in cash instead and skip the whole passport business instead. With an affirmative answer we ran to the cash point only to be told it was out of money. With hearts slowly breaking our dream of riding 'the big one' was ebbing away. We went back to the cashier in desperation, we weren't sure what we would do when we got back to them, maybe cry? Fortunately, we spotted our bus driver. Cursing ourselves for not listening to what he had to say, we dragged him over to our cashier desk and pleaded to him that he change the evil witches mind. After a few minutes discussion between the two of them the witch reluctantly prompted Tamara for her card. After giving each other a goofy high five in front of the impatient Brazilians, we snatched our tickets and ran to the entrance. The park had one last obstacle to throw at us, a 45 minute queue to get a locker key and a theme park spending card. The idea was that since there were no cash transactions in the park, maybe to avoid soggy notes, you were forced to top up your card and purchase the extortionately priced food and drink in this manner. Initially believing we could last the whole day without eating to avoid being ripped off in yet another ingenious way, we hastily stuffed our belongings into the cramped locker space and headed towards the nearest slide.
I can honestly say we made it to nearly every slide in the park, or at least the ones that I deemed were worth going on. Tamara hopefully suggested we go on the kids splash and play slide but was quickly shot down as I beckoned her towards the Inferno Tower. The park had every type of slide imaginable, from kamikazes to toboggans, races to rubber ring chutes. It had everything and after warming up a few times on the 'regular' kamikaze, we decided to try the biggun. Towering 41m above the ground the view from the top was spectacular, the Brazilian coast stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction whilst the busy water park enthusiasts scurried from attraction to attraction, all seeking that good time feeling. The queue was surprisingly short for the largest water slide in the world but it made sense when experiencing the nauseating feeling of looking down from the top. After a short wait, quietly listening to people's screams as they plummeted over the edge, we accepted the fact that our numbers were up. I took my place in the holding pool, a stream of jets behind my back threatened to thrust me on my way if it were not for a metal barrier operated by the slides attendant. After seeing the pool had been cleared below (the last person had been helped out by a lifeguard...), the attendant lifted the barrier and ushered me on my way. I tentatively pushed myself off, desperately trying to remember if he had told me to put my hands behind my head or over my chest, my pride would not allow me to be scheduled by a life guard. The slide was divided into 3 sections; a ten metre entry point at a 10° decline (designed only to increase the nerves and build the tension), the 40m kamikaze drop at a 70° decline (designed to produce involuntary bowel movements) and a 15m speed lane (designed to bring you and your insides to a halt). As I slowly cruised down the first ten metres, the sudden drop began to loom, I felt as if I was inevitably making my way to the edge of the world. Within moments, I arrived at the lip of the drop and my body was swallowed by the gushing water as it cascaded over the man made edge. The next part was not described by the parks flyers or posters, I suddenly experienced a weightless feeling akin to no other. I made a quick check of my kinaesthetic senses and suddenly deduced that I was in free fall, the slide had disappeared from my back and I plummeted down the 40m only to be rejoined with the unforgiving plastic as the slide slowly curved from its 70° decline. The thrill was like no other, I was pumped and could only think about doing it again and again. Tamara and I regrouped, hugged each other in relief that we were both still alive and continued to run around the park in search of the next thrill.
Fortunately for us, there was one more unique attraction waiting for us at the park; a type of slide that neither of us had ever seen before. The concept was a closed chute slide, the type that bend and twist whilst you have no idea whether you've just begun or are nearly at the end. However, the novel idea was the entry into the enclosed chute. After climbing countless stairs, we reached the platform and took in a gasp as we saw what was in store for us. Two futuristic pods awaited us, both looking like time travel capsules or a new age cloning facility. People were beckoned into the pods and were told to stand upright with their backs firmly pressed against the door. Water showered down from taps above them as the heavy glass doors automatically shut, trapping them inside. Suddenly an automated voice began to speak in Portuguese, it was a woman's voice but it was far from comforting. The robotic tones only added to the futuristic theme as a menacing countdown began, 5, 4, 3, 2... 1! Before we could register what had happened the people inside the pods had vanished, their screams were the only evidence they were still with us. With a crushing realisation, we slowly put two and two together. The pods contained a trap door which, on the count of one, plunged their victims down a vertical chute. I couldn't help but imagine the sadistic designers of this ride, especially when I personally discovered that the slide shoots a jet of water straight up your nose as the trap door falls. After all the dramatic, adrenaline inducing rides, I finally caved in and accepted we should take the lazy river together. The journey along the river was smooth and peaceful as the park began to quieten down and I couldn't help thinking that the park had placed us in our element, it was the perfect location for a 22 and a 24 year old who will never stop being kids together.
Jolting and bouncing over uneven sand dunes, I prayed that we wouldn't be thrown off the side of our 30 seater 4x4. The journey to Jericoacoara had begun 5 hours earlier in Fortaleza where we had embarked on a luxury, premium, executive, elite, executive bus that was supposed to be equipped with avant-garde features such as wifi and wait for it... a toilet. Fortunately for all of us, the toilet worked however, the wifi was an intermittent drivel of data that could just about load a page, providing you had the patience of a Saint. Upon arrival at a small town before the sand dunes, we were asked to disembark our super elite, premium, luxury, executive bus and hop on a dilapidated that had enough seats to transport a small, primary school. Acting as both a blessing and a curse, the 4x4 ground to a halt in the middle of the dunes. The break down provided all passengers a brief moment of respite as, for a short moment, the din of grinding gears sounded sweeter than a symphony. However, this euphoric moment was short lived as realisation swiftly caught up with us, we were in the middle of a dune desert with no one but the driver to lift the hood of his Jeep and shake his head. Like a call to duty, the alpha males were up. Each of them teeming with 'knowledge and insight' into the fine mechanics of a motor engine. As they prodded and poked the engine, a few kicking the tyres for good measure, we patiently waited for one of them to have a eureka moment. It appeared one of them had some clue of what he was doing and with a few twists of the key, the engine spluttered back to life. With the driver taking a more cautious approach to the journey, we safely arrived in the town of Jericoacoara (which soon became known as Jeri...Coa-Coa-Coa-Coa-Coa-Coa-Coara).
Disembarking the 4x4, bones slightly rattled but still intact, we stopped for a moment to take in our surroundings. The first noticeable feature of Jeri was that all the roads were made of up of loose sand, giving the impression that the dunes were desperate to reclaim the land they had lost to the Jericoacoarians. The town was made up of no more than 20 roads, all complete with connecting side alleys that gave the place a quaint feel. Being situated at the start of a long, crescent stretch of coast line it offers fantastic views of the ocean and an incredible viewpoint atop a towering sand dune. We later found out that this lookout post was where the masses of Jeri congregated each night to witness the mythical 'emerald sunset', a feat that only occurs in a scarce few destinations on the planet. For those not in the know, an emerald sunset is a phenomena that causes the last dying rays of the Suns farewell to turn luminous green as it says goodbye to the world for the close of another day. Unfortunately in our 7 days at Jeri, we were teased each evening as the sun slowly slipped away behind thin layers of cloud on the edge of the horizon. To further complete the bohemian vibe of the village, it came equipped with new age hippies. They could usually be found lining the main walkway, each equipped with tassels, chains and of course, dreadlocks. On the surface, it seemed their only income was to sell indigenous jewellery however, should you step too close or engage in any eye contact, they were quick to offer their 'under the counter' goods. Despite the hippies, the town was beautiful. Buggies ran daily to distant paradise destinations and the beach was brimming with opportunities to surf and paddle board. We looked at each other and smugly grinned, we had made a great choice.
As was expected, our hostel followed Jeri's lead. The floor in the communal area and kitchen was entirely made up of sand which made it extremely pleasant to wander round the hostel in bare feet. Furthermore, the hostel followed the recommended guidelines for all 'hippie chill' hostels and continued to play reggae music on an eternal loop, urging the professional travellers to lean back and 'go with the flow'. We sat ourselves down and slipped into the ragga beats, throwing a few peace signs to one another whenever we deemed it necessary to blend in with the crowd. We were eventually shown to our 4 bedroom dorm and were a little concerned at the cramped conditions, the door barely opened enough to fit our bags through before it hit one of the bunk beds and storage space was at a minimum due to an unnecessary cabinet that also could not open its doors. Believing we would have the dorm to ourselves that night, we made ourselves at home, spreading our things around the room wherever we could find space to put them. Unfortunately, that night as we lay in bed after a full day of swimming in the sea and enduring multiple jellyfish stings, we were rudely intruded upon by two Italian party animals. Though nothing in comparison to rowdy Brits, this Mediterranean duo knew exactly what they were here for. After reluctantly exchanging greetings to our new dorm buddies, they invited us to join them for a night on the town. The look from Tamara I received across the bunk beds was exactly what I was hoping for, the look of absolute terror at the thought of having to leave the safety of bed. We politely declined the Italians and allowed them to explore the Jeri nightlife. If we hear their stories in the morning that counts as going out, right? The following days passed with not much more than cooking ourselves food and heading down to the beach. It seemed the Italians were undeterred by our boring nature each night as the offer to join them on the town was renewed each night and politely refuted in return. They must have thought we were boring old farts.
It was time to bid farewell to our sand hostel and continue our Jeri journey in a second hostel 'America do Sol'. As we walked a total of five minutes to the other side of the town we wished every change of location was this simple as before we knew it we were unpacked and settled in a new dorm - a little cramped but pleasant enough for a further two nights stay. Within moments of entering the hostel, a chirpy, flamboyant character, a French-Brazilian guy named Luan had insisted we participate in the evenings activity, a meal kindly cooked by himself. As a member of the volunteers at the hostel, Luan had felt it his role to act as an activities coordinator, ensuring every evening hosted some kind of group event so the guests could bond and enjoy their stay in Jeri. As George and I had continued to enforce the traveller's cliche of 'the couple' at the previous hostel (romantic meal for two - tick, bed by 9pm - tick) we felt it our duty to prove that couples can be, and are fun and agreed to dinner that evening. Our dorm room had a fresh turnover of guests and we instantly bonded with a gheeza from London whose postcode unfortunately for his persona, in fact located him in Gatwick. As Jeri was our third visited island that didn't have an ATM we decided to save a little of our cash and accompanied Luan to the supermarket so we could pay our way by card. As we headed into the direction of town, we were quickly diverted in the opposite direction, to the part of Jeri that fails to be displayed on the perfect postcard image. We were heading towards the local area and immediately were in a familiar Brazilian environment, as half naked infants filled the streets and couples sluggishly lined their doorways, emersed in conversation but always keeping a chameleon eye on their nearby children. As we watched Luan load his trolley with a feast of Brazilian produce, we soon kicked ourselves as we saw the rock bottom prices, cursing the inescapable 'tourist tax' us Westerners are obliged to pay.
As we returned to the hostel, showered and dressed for dinner we selected a couple of chairs out in the courtyard eager for some home cooked grub (us traveller's do miss our mothers!) Looking up at the notice board we soon spotted an additional activity had been scribbled under the itinerary for that evening. As the boys glanced over it nonplussed, I couldn't help but be drawn in to the two words that tauntingly danced before me - 'samba party'. With this being exactly what I was in the mood for, yet everything George wasn't in the mood for, meant I had to play a tactical game for the next few hours if I had any chance of getting him on that dance floor. As we were served a buffet spread of tender breadcrumbed chicken, fresh vegetables followed by a citrus mousse, the boys were completely oblivious to their beers being continuously topped up throughout the meal. When the suggestion was made to head the party, George gave me a goofy, carefree grin and bingo - we would definitely samba that night.
As we joined forces with the Israelis and Argentinians from our hostel, we made our way to the beach awaiting the drum beats we were certain were awaiting us around the corner. Yet as we made our entrance we disappointedly looked ahead as a few underage clusters sporadically positioned themselves on the sand, talking without any presence of music. To pass some time we made use of the caipirinha vendors and George was presented with a chilli concoction which certainly pleased his tastebuds. Impatient, the Israelis led us to the second potential location for the evening's party, a short walk from the beach down foreign passageways until we soon reached an outdoor barn area with loud music booming from the stage. Sure enough this was the party, and the party that apparently our previous Italian roommates had been going to every night we had stayed with them, by the way they familiarly paid their entry and headed in before us. As we shortly followed, they turned to us and although appearing slightly offended that we had finally surfaced, yet with another group of traveller's, greeted us with open arms, showing us the way to the dance floor. After a night of boogying to the live band, we called it a day and returned to our hostel, transferring half the beach into our beds and somehow sleeping soundly through the night.
The next morning, equipped with what would thankfully be our last Brazilian cairpiniha headaches, we dragged ourselves to enjoy an ultimate beach day. I can imagine you are all feeling extreme sorrow that we were finally leaving the beautiful beaches of Brazil, but even though we were sad, despite sounding ungrateful, we were both looking forward to a change of scenery and a new set of adventures. As we packed our bags, Luan tried to convince us that his activities were a nightly commitment, but quickly dodging the clock hand turn of his happy hour, headed for bed ready for our 7am return journey to Fortaleza airport.
After a pleasant, brief flight we landed in the largest Amazonian city of Manaus, a major port which lies 1500km from the sea. Arranged as a quick stopover before we made our way across the jungle to the Columbian border, we checked in late in the evening to our hostel that we would stay the next two evenings in. With the thick humidity embracing our reunion, we were more than happy to hear the blissful beep of the air con machine when we entered our room. The check-in member of staff was very helpful and seemed keen to use our stay as a way of practicing his English as one day he dreamed of visiting Europe. As he saw us head for the door to grab some much awaited food he quickly shouted after us, telling us it wasn't safe to leave the hostel at night. Despairingly we explained our predicament - we hadn't eaten in a little while and by now you readers back home understand the severity of our situation. The man smiled and suggested he could order us a burger from a nearby place. Usually we liked to see the 'place' and the state of the kitchen before eating anything but as our options were to eat him or the burger, we had no choice but to let him make the phone call. As he began to speak down the phone, alarm bells began to ring, a solo burger wouldn't suffice for the entire evening. George bolted forward shouting "and some chips", then - baton handed to Tamara who screamed "and two diet cokes..um and ketchup". The man raised his eyebrows as if to insinuate we were now taking the you - know - what but eventually nodded that our order was placed and he would knock when it had arrived. As the clock ticked and ticked we soon realised our English perception of 'fast food' would be anything but fast in the jungle and as we started to nod off a loud knock at the door suddenly shook us and we were handed two plastic bags full of dripping greasy goodies.
The food was disgusting... Cold, questionable 'meat' burgers accompanied by soggy, half-fried chips which annoyingly didn't have the ordered cokes which were needed to try and wash down each mouthful. It goes to show that a burger joint to soak up the alcohol after a night out tastes like heaven, but when sober and tired can almost taste as bad as hell. 4.30am, gurgling noises accompanied my lucid dream as I lay in a hammock and assigned the sounds to the crashing blue waves at my feet. Unfortunately these noises began to sound more ferociously and all of a sudden, shook from my dream I bolted forward, not needing a second guess as to the real location they were coming from. Looking around the room I realised George had beat me to it, and without further thought sprinted down the corridor to the bathroom. I won't go into detail but I am sure you can guess how uuthe next two days in the jungle went. Needless to say there were no more burgers and the final flight to Tabatinga was one that we never wish to experience again (even more so the poor cabin crew). Our final stop in the border town of Tabatinga was as bleak and dodgy as our initial in Corumba, as it seems the beauty and vibrancy of inland Brazil is juxtaposed against the rougher and readier edges. With only a few hours in our Amazonian hotel (that was filled with a clutter of tacky statues of animals), we set our clocks for an early morning alarm and prepared ourselves for the next border crossing, of those which we always dreaded. It was hard to imagine that our initial route didn't even consider a trip to Brazil, with our naive perceptions that considered it too dangerous and expensive a detour. Despite the country proving to be a costly investment on our travels, it was the best costly investment we ever made. From the utopian beaches, the wetlands of the Pantanal, to the smiles and rhythm of the locals, Brazil has a heart and soul like no other and without a doubt it truly captured ours.
A famous Brazilian proverb sums up the country's ethic and even more so the entirety of our magical two months experience - "Soltar a franga" - "To let the chicken loose"...
...or in simple terms - have fun and let go!