Iguazu Falls, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo: the final chapter in South America

I am now writing this post nearly a month after concluding my journey in South America. How I have managed to get so far behind is a mixture of being extremely busy and extremely lazy. I apologise to anyone who has been waiting to hear the conclusion of my adventures. Writing this post has been on my mind nearly everyday and perhaps I have been putting it off because I didn’t want to believe that chapter of my story is over. But now that I have been in Canada for nearly a month, I am starting to come to terms with my changing circumstances and lifestyle. While my adventures are not so varied, they are still exciting. I have been very fortunate to have experienced so much in such a short space of time and I’ll look back over this record in the future with happiness and nostalgia.

And so, now it is time to conclude the final chapter of my South American backpacking trip with a 10 day highlights of my time in Brazil. I had intended to spend two weeks in Brazil at least, but as is always the way, you never have enough time to do everything. Brazil is a huge country and I knew that there would be no way to get a flavour of the whole place in such a short space of time, so I limited myself to three popular southern highlights: Iguazu Falls, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Iguazu Falls

This spectacular natural beauty really does deserve a post of it’s own. I remember saying before I arrived in Iguazu that I’m sure the falls would be beautiful but I doubted they could compare to the awesomeness of Angel Falls in Venezuela – the first stop on my trip. This proud assertion couldn’t be more mistaken.

The falls sit on the border between Argentina and Brazil – luckily I had enough time to see them from both sides. Most travellers only see one side but I’m so glad I got to see both. I couldn’t pick a favourite side though. In Argentina you are above and below the falls, and the main attraction is the platform that comes out onto the top of the Devil’s Throat. From there you can see the huge mass of water come over the top of the falls and crash down into a foamy expanse at the foot of the cliff. This part of the national park is supposed to be the busiest but I think I must have chosen the perfect time to reach the end of the platform because there was plenty of space to enjoy the view. There is an opportunity to take a boat trip into the falls on the Argentinean side but I decided it was too expensive and I had been on a lot of boats recently.

The next day I crossed into Brazil, finally leaving Argentina, with some friends I had met in Peru and Bolivia. It wasn’t the smoothest of crossings as the bus driver forgot to stop at border control so we could get passport stamps. Instead, he left us 200 metres into Brazil on the side of the road with our bags. We walked back to the border, got our stamps and waited for the next bus. Luckily we were staying at the same hostel – a very cool Tetris container hostel – so we travelled together the whole way and went to the Brazil side of Iguazu together as well.

The Brazil side of the falls is just as spectacular. From there you get a panoramic view of the falls on all sides, ending with a platform that takes you into the middle of the base of the Devil’s Throat and covers you in spray. The weather was perfect on both sides but because of the spray, the Brazil side was covered in rainbows. I haven’t seen such intense rainbows before and they really added to the magic of the scene. We were very glad that we had gone when we did because it rained all the next day.

I can’t recommend one side more that the other, they were both amazing and equally priced. You don’t need to book a group tour to see either, the public buses are regular and inexpensive and the beauty of the falls speak for themselves. This was really one of my favourite parts of my whole South American experience. It’s definitely a must-see for any travel enthusiast.

Rio de Janeiro

From Foz de Iguassu (the closest town to the falls in Brazil) I flew to Rio de Janeiro – pronounced by Brazilians as “Hieo” instead of Rio. Annoyingly for the four days I was there, the weather wasn’t great. It was hot and humid and cloudy. I didn’t get to enjoy the famous crystalline beaches like I’d planned but I did get to know more of the culture than I had expected. I started out with a walking tour, as always, to get my bearings of the city and learn about the history. This was a pretty good walking tour by comparison to some of the others and so I decided to also pay for the food tour the same company offered. It was good value and something I hadn’t done up to this point in the three and a half months I had been travelling. Although I couldn’t name any of the dishes it was delicious food and interesting to see the Caribbean influence. I also tried a lot of coxinha’s while I was in Rio, which are shredded chicken and cream cheese, covered in a dough and then fried. They’re made in the shape of a tear drop but it’s supposed to resemble a chicken thigh, apparently. They are extremely unhealthy, but also extremely delicious.

Later I took the cable cart up to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain just in time for the sunset. Unfortunately the clouds got in the way for most of it and I was taken off guard by the strong winds but it was still a beautiful place to see panoramic views of the city.

The next day I decided to take an early morning stroll along the famous Copacabana beach, despite the bad weather. I was very nervous of being robbed but I decided to take my phone anyway as I really wanted to take pictures. In the end I had no problems and there were others with their phones. I could almost imagine how busy that beach is in the summer but I don’t think I could have stood the heat anyway.

My final highlight of Rio was visiting the huge botanical gardens. They weren’t disturbed by the weather at all and, again, I could just imagine how lush and green they would be in summer. There is a sensory garden with lot of different smells for those with disabilities, a huge number of cacti, a large orchid greenhouse, a rose garden planted in a spiral formation, a palm tree lined path, beautiful and ornate water fountains and a Japanese garden which I’m sure is beautiful too when the lilies are in bloom. I’m not interested in gardening but I do love the colours and shapes of these kinds of botanical gardens, and this was probably my favourite part of Rio de Janeiro.

São Paulo

I left Rio on a rainy morning and arrived in São Paulo, the final stop on my destination, just as it was starting to get dark. It was a surreal feeling knowing that I wouldn’t be visiting anywhere else in South America. This would be my last hostel on the continent after staying in more than 30 in just four months. But I had something to look forward to in São Paulo, I would be visiting two friends who lived there that I had met trekking in Venezuela. So in a way, it would feel like ending at the beginning.

First I had a day to myself to explore the city and see some culture so I started with a walking tour – of course. The guide for the tour was one of the best I’ve had, although the route did seem to be based around areas where we could get discounts from their tour at rather than sights to see. It did, however, take us down the famous Batman Alley where you can see São Paulo’s most famous graffiti art. If you’ve followed along, you’ll know that I am a big fan of graffiti and murals so this was right up my street. We even got to meet one of the artists who was riding by on a bicycle!

I also went to the São Paulo Museum of Art on Paulista Avenue, one of the city’s most famous streets. Although the main exhibition on sexuality wasn’t to my taste, there was another interesting exhibition on the top floor that displayed the artwork on clear pieces on acrylic so it looked like it was floating, suspended in mid air. All the information about the artwork and artist was on the back of the piece of work so you would make judgements about the art itself before finding out more. The work ranged from 16th century to 21st century as you moved your way through the exhibition.

The next day, my friends Wyllyan and Aline met me at my hostel and whisked me away on a locals adventure to a food market in the centre of the city where I tasted lots of unusual, exotic fruit and then we had lunch in a restaurant upstairs in the market. The building was built like a London train station with a big, arched ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows. It had far more sophistication than any market I’ve seen in London.

After lunch we walked around the city centre, visited an amazing cathedral, went to the Japanese part of town (like chinatown in London), watched a weird 3D commercial film at the São Paulo Stock Exchange building and admired the architecture which resembled Gringotts Bank from Harry Potter, in my eyes.

The park we had planned to see on my final day in South America was closed because of a Yellow Fever outbreak so we steered clear of that. Instead, we went to Ibirapuera Park in the city which has a stunning lake, ducks and swans, lots of trees with brightly coloured flowers and people running or riding bikes. It reminded me of a tropical version of Victoria Park in London. It was very peaceful in the daytime but apparently at weekends it’s very busy.

Then we went to another art gallery which we browsed around and Wyllyan’s cousin, who worked there, took us up to the rooftop to see the amazing panoramic view of the city. São Paulo has more skyscrapers and cars than I’ve ever seen and from that viewpoint you could really get a sense of how immense in was.

For my final meal in South America, a place where I’ve tried a lot of new and delicious food, Wyllyan offered to cook spaghetti bolognese for me, as he knew it was my favourite meal and his family are Italian. So to pick up ingredients we went to a place called Eataly – well, I could have lived there forever. They had everything Italian you could eat: fresh pasta, fresh mozzarella, gelato, wine, pizza. I tried at least five types of mozzarella and watched them make fresh pasta by hand. This might not sound very Brazilian but São Paulo is said to have the biggest Italian population outside of Italy so this food has very much become part of Brazilian culture.

The meal was very delicious and before I knew it we were all in the car on the way to the airport and my time in South America was up. I was a mix of nerves and excitement as I sat on the plane waiting to take off – probably a lot more of the former than the latter. I had no concrete plans made for Canada beyond the first few days; I’ve never lived abroad before and I had used quite a bit more of my funds in South America than I had planned. I would no longer be moving place to place, meeting new people everyday but settling down in a town I’d never been to, where I knew no one and finding a job after five months without working. Yes, I was scared. But I also knew I was too scared to go back to London yet, without a plan or a purpose. In the four months I had spent in South America I had hoped some kind of divine idea would strike me about where I saw my life and my career going – but instead I think I buried the problem at the back of my head and enjoyed the time I had.

As you can tell, I’ve made it to Canada and I’ve been living in Whistler for nearly a month – so I haven’t completely messed up yet. But I’m far from what I’d call settled in. I’ll just have to patient and see how it goes. Who knows, I might love it here and never come back to the UK – but it’s far too early to make those kind of decisions yet.

3 comments

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  1. Karen J Stokes

    Thank you very much Sam for sharing your adventures. I’ve been to a few venues which brought back wonderful memories (Argentina,Brazil,Peru,Ecuador) and I’ve loved hearing about all the other places (Chile is definitely on my bucket list). You’re descriptions have been insightful and your insights enlightening, you clearly made good use of your reflection time. I wish you great fun and adventure in Canada and do hope to make an opportunity to visit 🤞. Good luck with this next stage of your life long adventure (I’m sure for you it will be life long 😉) and relish every moment. Huge hugs Karen (skiweekender buddy)

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    • Samantha Blundell

      Thank you for your really kind comment Karen. I’m glad I’ve reminded you of the good time you had in those places. It would be really nice to see you if you do manage a visit! 🤞 Have a lovely Christmas and New Year!

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  2. Phil Clark

    As usual a wonderful piece! I too would love that Italian food shop.
    Far from “messing up” Sammy you have had a fantastic time, learnt lots and entertained us all back here. Plus there is more to come… Don’t think of the future live for the day!
    Aunty Anne xx

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