28.07.2012 - 11.08.2012
We are currently partway through travelling around Brazil. Do me a favour, look Brazil up on google maps. It is seriously HUGE. I have spent more of the time in Brazil on buses than off it so far, well that's how it feels anyway. We're conscious that we've only got until the end of Sept in South America so are trying to hurry ourselves up a bit without missing out on the gorgeous landscape you get to see on the buses. To date - we spent 16 hours on the Bolivia 'Death Train' to get to the Brazilian border, then once there, the border crossing process took 2 hours due to long queues at Corumba. We then waited around another 5 hours at Corumba bus station for a 3 hour bus to Campo Grande, stayed overnight and then got another 3 hour bus to Bonito in the morning. Very long day, but it was worth it.
Bonito is a gorgeous little town on the edge of the Pantanal region (swamp region in Brazil and Bolivia, famous for its wildlife), which has lots of touristy things to do. It's famous for rivers with no algae, making it incredibly clear to see everything in it, so much so that's it's called Nature's Aquarium. We also took a trip to see Gruta de Lago Azul, a turquoise lake inside an underground cave which was beautiful. The colour's caused by the presence of cobalt, and even in the dark of the cave, it was bright blue.
We then travelled another few hours by bus to Cuiaba, apparently the best place to get on a tour to the Northern Pantanal, which after a bit of dithering about costs and budget, we booked ourselves on. We spent 4 days in the Pantanal, on a boat, walking around, driving in night safari and horse-riding. We saw anteaters, capybaras, coatis, caiman, emus, macaws, hummingbirds, monkeys, snakes and toucans. The tapir was unfortunately too elusive, as was the jaguar, but the setting itself was gorgeous enough to enjoy being there.
We returned to Cuiaba with minutes to spare to get on our 22 hour bus to the nation's capital, Brasilia. We're dab hands at this long distance travel now, so the tiredness of being on the road for so long only really hits once we're off the bus. We were unsure about going to Brasilia at first. Hotels there are incredibly expensive, the city was built in the late '60s so we were expecting something akin to Milton Keynes, plus everything is so spread out there that it's tough to see much without a car. We were pleasantly surprised.
The hotel was expensive but also really nice. We managed to find a pretty nice pizzeria within walking distance, which was a relief of 1 week of eating rice and beans for every meal, as that was pretty much the only vegetarian option in the Pantanal region. Then what blew us away was the architecture and structure of the city. It's logically set up in numerological order, so bus travel is easy as you just count down the numbers to the block you require. The Santuario de Dom Bosco doesn't look much from the outside, but inside it's covered in blue and turquoise glass, which with the sun coming through, really looks like a starry sky. The concrete museum looks like a small planet crashed into the ground, and from the inside, the domed roof really messes around with the acoustics.
It's the Cathedral de Brasilia which really was the icing on the cake. It's Brasilia's most iconic building, from outside, it looks almost like a crown. From inside, it looks like an upside down daisy opening up, and the space between the 'petals', or concrete columns, are filled with huge stained glass. An underground ramp leads the way in, with a decadent red carpet running all the way to the altar. Simply phenomenal. We really enjoyed Brasilia and were glad we didn't leave it off our travels.
So now, we're in the colonial town of Ouro Preto. Temperature's cooler in the hills of this former goldmining district, but there's not a single 20th century building in sight. Big contrast from Brasilia. Rumbling around the town, it's full of pleasant delis, cafes and more, to the point that it reminds us of pottering around the Cotswold villages to some degree. We're here for another couple of days, and then we're heading off to Rio de Janeiro in yet another 7 hour bus journey. I can't wait though, Rio's been on my wishlist of places to go for a very long time so the next entry will definitely be talking about that in more detail...