Pre-Carnival jitters

5th March 2011

I spent the next 24 pre-carnival hours boasting and gloating to all of my friends through all the social networking media’s.

I felt this behavior was justified, after all, how many people can say they were actually in the Rio carnival parade??! And wasn’t this the very essence of what Rio Carnival was all about??!

At 3.30pm, I met Kylie, Orla, Pip, Joe, and about 12 other tourists, who had paid handsomely for this amazing experience, at the apartment of our carnival orchestrator.

From 3.30pm to 5.30pm, each participant had been given a ‘We were in the Rio Carnival 2011’ T-shirt.

From 5.30 to 7pm we were shifted to a street parallel to the Sambadrome (where the parade is held), and there we sat on the street curb, in the heavy rains, with nothing but plastic bags over our heads wondering what the hell our 265USD had paid for?! ‘Bloody Karma! Serves me right for gloating to everyone on Facebook!’

Finally in the fourth hour, when spirits had reached the deliriously skeptical, someone yells out ‘The costumes are here!’

Seeing our costumes for the first time made me realise how ridiculous it was to worry about being made to wear too little, when in reality the costumes covered the body from head to toe in baggy whites, complete with a bulky gladiator style gold chest plate with green leafy scarf’s flowing from the shoulders, and a large yellow head-piece with tall bright yellow, orange and green feathers sticking out of it.

Yes, I represented a pineapple.

I’m going to be in the Carnival Parade baby, CARNIVAL!!

4th March 2011.

Austrian Joe – ‘I can get us into the parade for $265USD each.. are you in?’

T, super excited – ‘Hell yeah!’

Pushing aside the immediate frightening images of my white, tan-lined arse hanging out of a glittery sequined thong, and the fact that my samba moves were still in it’s very pre-natal stages, this was Rio baby and I was going to be fake samba-shaking my very un-brazilian booty all over the parade!!!

T, suspicious – ‘Are you sure this is the REAL parade? Not some touristy Village Peoples parade ??’

Wall of hair – Impressions of Rio

In our Copacabana apartment, covering one of the feature walls in the main lounge/dining room, was what I can only describe as a wall of hair.

It was very un-Brazilian, or perhaps the remnants of a thousand Brazilians.

At first the wall of hair disturbed me. I felt the room would be cleaner, tidier, and somehow more hygienic without all the fluff… I wondered how much wax it would take to get rid of the stuff?

Guest – ‘So… how’s the new apartment?’

T – ‘Great! Fantastic!! .. it could do with a good shearing, but couldn’t we all?’

It was only after much joking, brushing, poking and laughter while posing in front of this arty prop, did we realise that this giant wall wig gave the apartment a priceless imperfection, a retro characteristic that wasn’t to be shunned or ashamed of, but embraced and displayed proudly.

Just like past infatuations that can never be explained (due to wrongness!), the wall of hair was a unique anomaly to be thought of fondly with a disgusted smile and a shrug.

Impressions of Rio – mugging FAIL!

Running into Rusty’s friend Daniel (a fellow tourist), he tells us about his near theft experience in the park.

Daniel – ‘ I was walking through the park ( in Central Rio) near the hotel when a man walks up to me with a knife and says ‘Deniro’ (which means money). I just ignored him and kept on walking’

T – ‘ And what happened? Did he come after you?’

Daniel, laughing – ‘Nope’

Avoid booking through TravelRio – Accommodation scam in Rio de Janeiro

5 of my girlfriends had flown over from Sydney/London to meet me in Rio – Julie, Sara, Sam (from India travels), Angelique, and Sophie – and this is what they had to put up with on their first day in Brazil.

The stink – When a ‘plumbing incident’ occurs the night before you’re meant to move into your pre-advanced (by 12 months!) booking of an apartment in Rio, you know something filthy is going on..

The shit – Could it be that the original amazing apartment right on Copacabana beach that we had booked was never (ever!) available to be rented out? And the Travel Rio agent preyed on dumb-arse tourists, showing them (through website and emails of pretty pictures and fake testimonials) the internal décor of a beautiful apartment that doesn’t even exist? And then books out this same apartment to 12 different groups, charging them top dollar and greedily taking their deposits only to shove them off to an apartment of a much lower standard at the very last-minute due to a ‘plumbing incident’??

These were the thoughts that were racing through my mind when I received the email from the TravelRio agent informing me of this ‘plumbing incident’ and the ‘last-minute change of address’ at 11pm the night before we were meant to move into the original apartment.

The reason – Why would they do such a horrible thing? MONEY!! Travel Rio still wanted us to pay top dollar for an apartment with fewer features, and were relying on the fact that because this was all very last minute, and 5 of the girls had just gotten off a plane, we would all agree as we had 1) nowhere else to go, and 2) It was crazy Carnival time and everything good was booked out! (allegedly)

The battle – Well, more like a Brazilian stand-off. We tried to negotiate a lower price and refused to hand over the rest of the cash. The TravelRio agent, who was based in the U.S, had apparently explained our reasoning and concerns over the phone to the landlords. The agent then informed us that the owners still refused to discount on price.

This back and forth negotiations took up our whole day. We were at a stand still – unable to unpack our luggage, unable to leave the apartment, unable to enjoy our first impressions of Rio.

The Climax – Eventually after a full day of the Brazilian stand-off, the owners charged into the apartment and everyone started talking at once in a loud and angry manner.

Owner, angry – ‘You need to pay the rest of the money or you can’t stay here’

Girls, angry and jet-lagged – ‘Why should we pay the same amount for this apartment (of lesser value) as we would for the apartment that we had agreed on and signed up for? It is not an equal trade!’

Owner threatens – ‘If you don’t pay then you have to get out or I’ll call the federal police . You have been booked and confirmed for this apartment for months!’.

T, imagining us 6 girls in the Brazilian version of the television prison series ‘Oz’ instantly tells girls to ‘shush’ and takes a less offensive tone – ‘Listen, it’s not that we don’t want to pay, but you have to understand that we have ALL been scammed here’ explains situation calmly, and offers the amount in cash that we were willing to pay for this type of apartment.

After much persuasion and some realisation, the owners take a new tone to the offered amount, which was obviously much higher than the cut the agent was prepared to give them.

The conclusion – We strike a deal, and threaten to call the Federal Policia (the owners cousin) on the Travel Rio agent if she refused to agree. One happy discussion about Italian pasta later and we are all good.

The recommendation – Unless you’re up for the challenge and this kind of ‘Brazilian experience’, DON’T EVER USE TRAVEL RIO TO BOOK YOUR OVERSEAS ACCOMMODATION!!

ALWAYS CHOOSE THE TOP BUNK… if you want to live.

“The ADVENTURE HOSTEL PARATY brings the concept of pleasurable accommodation during your stay in Paraty with all comfort and simplicity that a modern life may offer…” Description from Hostel World.

There were 6 of us staying in the Adventure Hostel in Paraty, Brasil, (Pip, Kylie, Orla, Darran, Joe and myself). We stayed in an eight person dorm which consisted of a tiny room that tightly fit in 4 bunk beds (head to head) and some lockers. As usual, as I am lazy and the top bunk to me means extra work, I rushed for a bottom bunk.

What did I learn? TO ALWAYS CHOOSE THE TOP BUNK… if you want to live.

At around 3am in the morning, we had all been sleeping for a good few hours when the room awoke to a loud CRACK, followed by a high-pitched ‘Aaaah!’

In the next seconds the lights were switched on and what I saw before me I’m going to call as the FUNNIEST scene throughout my whole trip.

Scene – A frozen scared Kylie sitting on her top bunk bed which had broken and fallen on top of… Darran?

Yup! Under Kylie and her bed was Darran’s head, the sound of Darren’s muffled voice swearing, and his legs sticking out kicking.

He wriggles out from under the bed.

Kylie, concerned – ‘Darran! Are you ok?!’

Darran, irritated with a raised controlled voice – ‘Your BED fell on my HEAD. It’s FUCKING SORE!’

It was a miracle! Darran had survived a bunk bed crashing on his head, with Kylie on it, with only a few scratches and a head-ache to show for it!! If that had been me, or anyone else, my head would have exploded and there would be blood splatter all over the room! HE was the most lucky, unlucky, person in this world!!

We all try to settle back in bed, laughing hard at Darran’s fortunate misfortune for at least the next five minutes.

Joe, on my top bunk looks down at me and asks with a grin on his face – ‘Are you scared?’

As the room settles down to silence and almost sleep, Darran’s disgruntled voice erupts more tears and laughter as he concludes in a serious tone ‘This really IS the Adventure Hostel..’

When the owner of the Adventure Hostel was informed of the incident the next morning, he did what any responsible operator of a professional establishment scared of an impending lawsuit would do in Brasil – He laughed.

Paraty Beach Party

After an amazing 3 days in Ilha Grande, we catch a crazy bus ride through the mountains to Paraty, which is located on the coast between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Tourists love this town for it’s historical colonial buildings, cobbled streets, and for the parties and events that are held there on the build up towards Carnival.

Paraty Beach Party.

Firstly, this beach party was full of drunk tourists. But there’s something about being a tourist in Brasil, or maybe something about being an old drunk hippy tourist in Brazil high on acid, that made this peculiar man stand out in front of the flaming bonfire, raise his hands as if he were about to do something spectacular, only to whip out his flute and pretend to play meaningful unheard notes that were accompanied by failed tribal dance moves (squatting, standing, lifting arms, big eyes with a theatrical look of wonder.)

It was bitterly disappointing, yet satisfying to watch. He was a man on the edge, and through him it was nice to know where that edge was.

Funny shit.
As I looked through the series of photo’s of this flute playing fire dancing man, English Adam was in the background of each photo… indicating that he thought the old man sucked.

On the way to Ilha Grande!

This would be the second time I went rogue on the Tucan tour, but the opportunity to travel with some amazing people – Orla, Kylie, Pip, Joe, Darran and Mel – was too good to miss!

Destination – An island off Angra dos Reis, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, called Ilha Grande

After the Pantanal, Ilha Grande become a symbol of Greatness, like the island in the television series LOST. EVERYTHING was going to be GREAT once we reached the island.

It didn’t disappoint – It was like stepping onto a movie set. Not only was Ihla Grande beautiful with amazing snorkeling and beaches that would rival the most famous beaches in Australia, this island was full of charm and bursting with character, with food and a cake man to die for!! (crepes, pizza, seafood, deserts, you name it!)

And miracles did happen.

– Both Darren and Kylie’s Pantanal victim, bite ridden, bodies healed after their first swim in the ocean at the gorgeous Lopez Mendes

– Pip woke up one morning and found that she could see! Before realising that she still had her contacts in her eyes.

– Joe found that he could sun-bake until lobster red, without blistering.

– And I found the most amazing Mohito’s in the world at a beachfront café called Café do Mar – It was delicious!!

Oh, and Orla found that she could walk! … Kidding, her legs were always perfectly functional 😉

It was everything I had envisioned, and more, with my favourite travelling partners adding the cream to this delightful experience.

The Pantanal day 2 – Horse play

In day 2 of the Pantanal, the group moved onto a farm and into a barnyard where about 27 of us would be sleeping in hammocks.

Activity – Horse-riding through marshlands.

My dad had been a jockey for 12 years of his life before he became a professional gambler, so I grew up loving horses and horse racing until I was about 10 when I realised how high up I sat on a horse and how hard a fall might be.

But seeing as I was already on this ‘adventure of a lifetime’, back on the horse I got.. And after riding a moody camel in India, a horse didn’t seem so bad. In fact, she was very professional.

Onwards through forest and wet lands we cantered, slapping mosquito’s with a couple of girls getting stung by horse flies.

Apart from my arms looking like an alien infestation from the thousands of mosquito bites, I was enjoying riding through the fields, spotting colourful parrots and tucans. Even when my lips started itching, like really itching, and I started to use my teeth to continuously scrape over my lips in an attempt to relieve the intense itch, I was still having a good time!

I returned to the barn feeling exhausted and fell tired into my hammock.

Kylie and Orla standing over my hammock – ‘Tiara! What happened to your face?!’

T, alarmed with itching lips – ‘What is it???’

Orla, with an unappetising look – ‘Your face doesn’t look right.’

Kylie – ‘You’ve got red marks like rashes all over your face and your eyes look funny.’

T, panting and looking around for a mirror – ‘Well, I don’t feel right, and I’m having trouble breathing’

I look in the mirror to see a blotchy red face, with a swollen red mouth and watery red eyes looking back at me.

Diagnosis – It turns out that I am allergic to horses. Any longer on the horse and my head would have exploded.

Remedy – A high prescription dosage of antihistamine which cleared up the itchy swollen rashiness within 15 minutes. (Thanks Kylie!)

What did I learn? Joe, the Austrian doctor in the group, informed me – ‘You’re allergic to animals, and if you keep on living with dogs eventually you will end up with asthma (but I’ve been living with animals for years!) EVENTUALLY you will end up with Asthma… And that beer your drinking is a histamine’ (oh…)

The Pantanal – Death to the mosquitos!

I was absolutely dreading the Pantanal. The thought of being in one of the largest wetlands in the world where you can go piranha fishing while surrounded by hundreds of caimans while being attacked by thousands of hundreds of millions of mosquito’s did not get my blood pumping, and to me sounded more like a case of ‘I would rather watch my nail polish dry’…

T, to the local guide in Bonito – ‘So how does the Pantanal compare to Bonito?’

Local guide – ‘The Pantanal is very different from Bonito, it’s a different kind of beauty, but I wouldn’t go there now. (chuckles) It’s mosquito breeding season.’

Just a couple of hours drive from Bonito, we arrived into the Pantanal (which mean’s swamp), where you could slap your arm and end up with 6 massacred mosquito’s splayed across your hand.

Defence? Spray 96% DEET Insect repellent all over your body until you are shining. Wear long sleeved light clothing, and on top of that wear your waterproof rain jacket with hood and long pants, with thick socks and shoes, in this sunny 40 degree heat.

Imagine, 96% DEET is severe enough to melt your clothes away, melt through your nail varnish, and eat away at any plastic you touch (there were many sticky camera buttons), but was it strong enough to stop a Brazilian mosquito’s from penetrating your skin? Fuck no!

As we went on a river tour, scaring away all the wildlife with the echoing sounds of aggressive slapping and involuntary cheers whenever there was one less mosquito in the world, I wondered ‘What was the PURPOSE of these trillions of mosquito’s in the circle of life? Was it quantity control through the spread of disease?’

At that moment, as if in direct response to my silent question, an ant found the dead body of a bloodied mosquito that I had killed against the wooded frame of the boat. In seconds it had rallied all of it’s friends and family from deep within the cracks of the boat and barbarically carried the remains, piece by piece, back to their queen (I suspect).

And this was the most exciting thing that I saw at the Pantanal.

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