Welcome to my next edition of my newsletter. My last two weeks have been jam-packed with enjoyable things including my trip to Bonito & Pantanal. This blog will have a day-by-day recount of what happened plus the normal things after.
Sunday 24th October
The trip got off to an amazing start with huge amounts of confusion. We were all sent two documents that had two different pickup times from Maringa (one being 1pm and the other time being 2pm). We were also told to get to the Bus Terminal up to 30 minutes before the departure time, so some people we are the Terminal at 12:30. I was one of the last ones to arrive at 2pm so I spent the least amount of time sitting around and waiting. In all there were 12 of us sitting and waiting for the bus to arrive, but after a few phone calls the bus eventually arrived at 4pm.
(Photo: Amazing lake in Pantanal)
We then got to meet most of the rest of the group who had already been travelling by bus for 8 hours by then! As some of you may know there were originally 3 trips which the tour company combined into 1 because they did not reach the minimum number of people for each trip. So my trip had two buses: One that started from the south and went to Bonito (my bus) and one that started in Sao Paulo and went to Pantanal (then swapping half way through).
After another 8 hours of travelling we arrived at our overnight stopover in Dourados. We were all given our rooms and most people went to sleep straight away considering we had to leave early the next day.
Monday 25th October
Today was effectively a travelling day as we left the hotel at 8am and arrived at the hotel in Bonito at 5pm. There was a lot of sleeping and relaxing on the bus. Also on the way we picked up AFS exchange students who would be the last people to join our group.
(Photo: Me on Toucanaphone in Bonito)
Once we arrived at the hotel in Bonito, we were split up into groups and told that we were going to the city after dinner but until then we were free. Most people took this as an opportunity to explore the hotel campus and go swimming in the pool. I went down to the pool with a couple of friends that I had already made, talking in English. When we arrived at the pool there was a man looking very hippy with dreadlocks in his beard and hair. We were making stupid comments about him and then came the realisation: “How funny would it be if he spoke English…?”. Before we got into the pool someone asked if it was cold and the “pirate guy” (as he became to be known by) replied “Nah, it’s not that bad” in a thick British accent. Turns out that he was in town for his brother-in-law’s wedding (which now thinking about it doesn’t make any sense considering that his brother-in-law would have married his sister…).
Anyway, later that night we went into the city to have a look around. Due to Bonito being a tourist town, most stores were still open at 10pm and pretty much had the same overpriced tourist things. We returned to the hotel and sat around the pool talking, which turned out to be what we did every night after our activities.
Tuesday 26th October
Today we went to a nature reserve which also has a waterfall park as a part of it. We were split up into 3 groups and proceeded to put on our little water shoes. Finding shoes in my size at these tourist places became a common problem as the biggest size that they had was 45 European. For those who don’t know I wear size 50 European, so I had to squeeze into some of the smallest shoes that I have ever worn.
After suiting up we commenced our walk through the forest to each waterfall. There were 6 points where we were allowed to swim and everyone took each opportunity. The water was quite cold, but refreshing. There were some amazing locations and photo opportunities, but after a while it became the same scenery: waterfalls and trees. We ended up walking and swimming for about 4 hours before returning to the main reception for lunch and some well earned relaxation.
In the late afternoon we once again had free time to relax and most of that time ended up being spent at the pool. After dinner we were taken to a snake conservation lecture which was actually fairly interesting. The guy that gave the lecture went on exchange to Australia about 30 years ago. When he mentioned that he lived in Parkes, I laughed a little too loud and then I had to explain why Parkes is probably not the best place to do an exchange. After our little discussion he continued on with the lecture and at the end nearly everyone got to take a photo with a snake around their neck. I got to see some of the funniest facial expressions in my entire life (mostly from girls holding the snake).
(Photo: Me and my snake friend)
Wednesday 27th October
Today we went snorkelling, but not any normal type of snorkelling. We got to float down the clearest river in the world where you can see down to a depth of 35m. The water is that clear and the light just cuts through it. We were split up into 4 groups this time and I got to go first. We were given neoprene suits and some funky sandals that were once again too small. The scenery was amazing and the water really is that clear. However, once again, it became the same things over and over again and was a little too long. After we got back to where everyone else was eagerly waiting, we got to relax and tried not to get burnt. We stayed at the place for a while playing in the pools and spent the majority of the day there.
(Photo: Clarity of the water)
As part of our tour we have to do a “community project” and we got to go to a day care centre where we took little gifts (most of them bought at the Bonito supermarket) and we played with them for a good hour. The kids ranged from a few months old to 5 and there was someone for everyone to play with. When the time to go arrived, not that many people wanted to leave. Running around with the little kids appealed to us, but most people were exhausted by the end, so we returned to the hotel.
(Photo: Playing with the kids)
After dinner we had the opportunity to go back to the city to have a look around. This time was pretty ordinary as the city itself is effectively only one street and we covered all of it on Monday night. However I did buy some little touristy things to take back.
Thursday 28th October
This morning we were told we had to wake up early to go to the “Blue Lagoon Cave”. Once we arrived were we split into 2 groups and group 1 was sent out straight away. We were all given helmets which confused a lot of people of what we were going to do, but it turned out that it was just a safety precaution for those “special” people who would fall over. We walked for about 500m to arrive at the entrance to the cave and we were greeted by an apparently endless set of stairs, so the use of the helmet became justified. The cave itself was fairly amazing but when we saw why the cave was named “Blue Lagoon” most people’s jaws dropped.
The lagoon at the bottom of the cave is a royal blue due to how the light refracts off the stalactites. The guide told us that in the month of January from about 8-9am when the sun shines directly into the cave, the water turns to a richer, darker blue colour. The hardest part of the expedition was getting out of this cave. It was a lot of stairs and considering that it was about 35OC, most people were dying by the time we made it out.
(Photo: Lagoon in the cave)
In the afternoon we went rafting. We were told beforehand that it was introductory-level rafting and it was very mild to what I have done before. There we only 5 little waterfalls that we went down. Other than that there was just paddling for 2 hours hoping to get to the next waterfall. The most exciting part of rafting was trying to tip the photographer’s kayak into the water (which we finally succeeded in doing).
(Photo: First waterfall)
Tonight was a free relaxing night which most people took to catch up on sleep that they may have missed over the trip.
Friday 29th October
Today we had to wake up early to go do a high ropes course. We left the hotel at 6:30am, which for us exchangers is really early (especially on trips). We were given the full safety gear of harnesses, helmets and gloves. Stupidly I volunteered to go first and I found out pretty quickly that, as I was the first person to do the course for the day, I was designated as the spider web cleaner. The course itself was 7 metres above the ground and most of the time you are stepping on moving bits of wood with only one wire on either side to hold on to. At the end of the course there were two flying foxes with the second one leading into the water. I regret doing the second flying fox without a shirt because the harness ripped into me.
(Photo: Toucan on a chair)
In the afternoon there was nothing planned on the program so we went to a community water park where we relaxed and went swimming in the river. We played a little volleyball tournament within our group and my team won.
At night we had our “fantasy” party next to the pool. Originally we were going to have it at a restaurant in the city, but plans changed. The DJ was terrible and ended up getting replaced by one of our iPods. However it was the girl from Germany’s birthday so we had birthday cake as the highlight of the party. The party finished at about 2am so we were given two options: either sleep now and wake up at 5:30am or stay awake and sleep on the bus. I was one of the select few who chose to stay awake next to the pool so I could actually sleep well on the bus the next day.
Saturday 30th October
I started off the day not sleeping so I wasn’t really looking forward to an 8 hour bus trip to Pantanal. We left at 6:30 to try and arrive at the farm hotel in Pantanal before 3pm and we managed to do it. However, I didn’t sleep that much on the bus trip. Somehow I can’t seem to sleep properly while sitting up unless I’m totally dead tired. We were once again split up into 4 groups for the 4 different activities that we would end up doing over the next day. My activity for the afternoon was to go horseback riding around the hotel property. The entire farm is 5000 hectares so it covers a huge amount of ground. The horse riding was a great opportunity to get a first glance of Pantanal. It is effectively a huge river system which once was one gigantic lake. The animal diversity is said to be the biggest in the world.
(Photo: Horseback riding)
Once we got back to the hotel we had a presentation about Pantanal, including its history and the animals that we might see. Nearly everyone fell asleep at one point or another. Everyone went to bed fairly early because we were all exhausted.
Sunday 31st October
Today was another 6:30am start, which really is TOO early. This morning my group went piranha fishing in which I caught 5 in 30 minutes. I then had the bright idea of trying to catch a crocodile with a fish as bait. So after catching a fish we proceeded to put it near one of the crocodiles and finally it started to come after it. I have a hilarious video of watching the crocodile catching the fish. In the end the crocodile caught it twice: the first time the crocodile didn’t get the whole fish so we ripped it back out, but the second time he ate the fish and the hook as well. It took some serious effort to get the fishing line out of the crocodiles mouth, so we let the fishing guru battle with it.
(Photo: Me with my first Piranha)
Afterwards we went on a mosquito-infested walk through the property where we were looking for animals and strange things. According to the guide we saw one bird that people come especially to the region to see but it’s very rare especially in the lower branches and we also managed to see an owl sitting out during the daytime, which the guide had never seen in her life.
In the afternoon we relaxed and generally lazed around because everyone was still really tired. In the late afternoon my group went on a safari which was actually amazing luck because it began to rain down very hard. However the safari we saw nothing due to the rain and the driver had apparently never driven a manual car.
Much later that night we left to go camping. After a very long ride in the jeep we arrived at the camping ground which was already set up for us. We proceeded to sit around the fire playing silly games and cooking banana and sweet potato in the camp fire. I made friends with the guys who were preparing everything and somehow I got the name “playboy”. I have no idea where it came from but it stuck. We were told that we had to pack up the tents at 4:30am to get back to the hotel in time to leave so we had the option not to sleep again. Once again I took that option and decided to try and sleep on the bus.
Monday 1st November
We started to wake people up at 4am to start taking down the tents. We ended up leaving the camping grounds at 4:30 on time to head back to the hotel for breakfast. We left the hotel at 7am to commence our day long bus trip back to Maringa. When we arrived on the outskirts of Maringa I started to realise where we were. The bus drivers had no idea where the hotel was, so I ended up being the tour guide of Maringa directing the bus to the hotel. We arrived at the hotel at 2am and I felt relieved that I was finally back at “home”. Luckily for me, Tuesday was a public holiday.
Overall the trip was amazing and certainly jam-packed. I have so many new friends from the trip and it was great to see most of the Australians again.
Ok, back to normal life. This week was fairly relaxed and more about catching up on sleep and reorganising all my stuff. When I arrived back in Maringa I had received about 10 text messages from friends and Rotarians wondering if I was ok and what was happening because I had been off the grid for a week after having chickenpox.
On the weekend of the 30-31 October, Rotary held Mostra das Profissões (display of professional courses) at Cesumar University so when I got back to uni there were banners everywhere for each course. During interval on Wednesday I was walking around with my friends when we saw the banner for Mecatronic Engineering including a photo with some of my friends in it. One of my friends suggested, “It would be funny if someone took it”, so I proceeded to take it off the wall. Luckily, I got away with it! In the next class I passed the banner around so that people could sign it. Considering that I only have 2 weeks left of university it was a great opportunity to get a memory from my classmates.
At Rotary on Wednesday the Rotarians were wondering where I had been and what was happening. After a little bit of explaining they understood that I wasn’t dying from chickenpox for 3 weeks but that I had been travelling as well.
This past weekend was the XV Rotaryada of Maringa (or the Rotary Club Olympics). I was put on the list for 5 sports: Volleyball, Tennis, Table Tennis, Swiss Football and Peteca. Now for some explaining: Swiss Football is 8-a-side soccer and is the general form of football played in Brasil. Peteca is a traditional Brasilian sport that I had never heard of or seen anything about until his weekend. The easiest way to explain it is that it’s badminton but you hit it with your hand not a racquet. So the ‘peteca’ is like a shuttlecock but has a big rubber puck on the end of the feathers.
My club ended up being champion overall winning 4 events. We won the volleyball, tennis, table tennis and football and we would have won peteca but I didn’t get to play in the final because I was playing tennis. I now have more trophies to take back home of my sporting prowess.
(Photo: Tennis trophy and Champion medals)
I hope that this edition has made up for the last short one, but having more to write about certainly helps. I have another 2 weeks in Maringa and then I am off on my Northeast trip for 29 days. Unfortunately, I will miss my last university exams, but I have done pretty well so far. I will get back to Maringa just before Christmas and then I will have less than one month left in Brasil!