A Travellerspoint blog

March 2017

Chapter 11-Brazil 2 - The Amazon, Deforestation, & Climate

By Neil

rain 32 °C
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I reckon that, if you want to get a real perspective on a country or continent, then it is best to travel by land. This is absolutely true when considering the mighty Amazon and the Amazon basin.

The statistics beggar belief.

It is 80% of the size of Australia – 6 million square km’s


The size of the Amazon basin compared with the size of the USA.

Of which only 60% is in Brazil.

The rainfall is about 2,700 mm per year (Melbourne is 670 mm/ year, London is 590 mm/ year)

It’s incredibly flat. The Amazon only rises 80 metres from the coast at Belem to Tabatinga, 2,500 km’s to the west.

The width of the river is between 200 and 300 km’s at the mouth of the river, 2 km’s at Manaus, and about 1 km at Tabatinga.

It contains 20 % of the worlds fresh water.


Because Nik and I wanted to catch the launch of the Sentinel 2B satellite from French Guiana, we had to fly from Cayenne in French Guiana to Manaus, 1,500 km’s west of Belem in Brazil.

Manaus is known as the gateway to the Amazon. It is also where the Rio Amazonia (River Amazon, 22 degrees C, a speed of 5 km/h, and a pH of 7.1), meets up with Rio Negro (Black River, 28 degrees C, speed of 2 km/h, and pH of 4.4). Here there is one of the worlds greatest visual phenomena; the Amazon is brown and the Black River is, funnily enough, black. Due to the difference in temperature, speed, and pH, the rivers take several km’s to mix, causing this:


Joining of the Rio Amazonia and the Rio Negro at Manaus, Brazil

When we were first researching the Amazon, we were expecting Manaus to be a small town, but actually its population is 1.7 million; the size of Perth, Australia. In the late 1800’s Manaus was a very wealthy town due to rubber and a massive opera house was built where world famous artists like Enrico Caruso, Jose Carreras, and Sarah Bernhardt have came to perform.



Inside and outside of the Manaus Opera House in Brazil.

We had arranged to spend 3 days at the Amazon Turtle Lodge. This involved getting down the Amazon,


Fish market at Manaus port, Brazil

Getting on a boat across the Amazon,

Leaving Manaus port

Getting a people carrier taxi (an old VW Combi) to another river, via a look at the giant lily pads,

Giant Lily pads on the way to the Amazon Jungle stay

Then onto another boat taking us up a tributary to the Amazon Turtle Lodge.

Boat up the resort to the jungle resort.

The most striking things about the trip to the Lodge were firstly, just the enormous quantity of water. The river at Manaus is 2 km wide. The high water mark on the trees was 5 metres above the water level when we were on the river. Most transport is via boat. If there are roads, and they are to be all-season, they’ve got to be very high. Our last boat into the Lodge was a one hour trip. In the dry season, it’s half an hour because you can drive closer to the Lodge. The wet season last from January to June and the Dry Season is July to December. Hence the river was rising during our stay.

The Lodge consisted of numerous cabins spread out from the access to the river and a great restaurant bar.


The first day consisted of getting to the Lodge and then a boat trip out to see the wildlife.

A couple of Caipirinhas and beers in the evening followed by a morning walk through the very hot, very mosquito infested rainforest. We went a bit native….

Moses, our jungle guide, weaving.

It was 18 months ago following a trip to Bhutan that I was hospitalised for a week with a, to this day, unidentified tropical infection. During the hospitalisation, I was tested for just about everything and it was found that at some point in the past (Cameroon ?), I’d caught malaria and dengue fever. The malaria is not that much of an issue; I’m taking malaria pills and if it flares up, I get to hospital and it’s all ok. Dengue, however, is a bit trickier. There are 5 strains, of which I’ve caught one. If I catch the same strain again, it’s not such a big deal, but if I catch a different strain, it can lead to “Dengue Haemorrhagic fever” which is bad. Definitely hospital bad. Possibly intensive care bad. So the tropical diseases doctor at Medical One in Melbourne’s advice was firstly, don’t get bitten. So lots of mosquito repellent and cover up. The next thing is know the symptoms of Dengue, and if I get them, don’t muck about. Get to a hospital.

So, whilst we enjoyed the Jungle Walk, the concept of a night time walk or, as some people were doing, a 3 day, or even an 8 day walk in the jungle ? Yeah, No.

Also there is how Nikki feels about “butterflies”. The 8 legged variety. Sometimes called spiders. Nikki really doesn’t like them at all. She was living in an apartment once and there was a spider in the kitchen. Nikki closed the door to the kitchen, taped it closed, and ate take out for 3 days until a friend came over.

Suffice to say that, whilst I told Nikki that there were no “butterflies” in the Amazon, that might have been a bit of a fib. Whilst on the jungle walk, the guide, Moses, asked Nikki to go 10 feet away and showed me a 6 inch hole in the ground and poked a stick into it to get the spider, that I reckon was 7 inches across and very hairy, and Moses said was very poisonous. (By the way Nikki reads these blogs before they are posted and all of this paragraph was blacked out when Nikki read it….. )

In the afternoon, we went piranha fishing. Well, Moses and I did. Nikki, being a vegetarian, didn’t want to hurt defenceless animals. It absolutely threw the rain down.

Piranha teth.

On the way back to Manaus, Moses was incredibly sharp eyed and spotted a Sloth !

It’s a sloth in the wild !

We were back in Manaus overnight before jumping on the express boat for a short 1,100 km, 36 hour express boat ride up the Amazon to Tabatinga on the Tri-State border; Brazil, Peru, and Colombia.

Map showing our little boat trip from Manuas (a) to Leticia (b). 1,100 km’s. 36 hours.

Amazonian sunset. Yes, that’s a river, not a lake.

Our Brazilian odyssey drew to a close. Brazil is amazing. An incredible country. Great people. Beautiful. Awesome nature !


Deforestation of the Amazon.

As I wrote earlier, the Amazon is huge. Imagine Australia not as a land of many deserts but as a land where 80% of the country was covered by thick forest. Travelling 1,100 km’s up the Amazon, it all looked green. There were trees. But we’ve heard a lot about deforestation of the Amazon and how it’s really bad. So I thought “Is it bad ? How Bad ? What does it mean for the climate?”.

When we look at the deforestation of the Amazon, this is what it looks like:


It doesn’t look that bad. Until you look at the rate of deforestation. If 1970 is taken as a baseline then Brazil has lost 19% of it’s forest in 45 years. However 10% of that loss has been in the 25 years since 1991.




Why did it increase significantly in the 1970’s ? The Trans Amazon Highway.


It opened up high swathes of the Amazon to development. Fortunately, it is yet to be finished.

What does this mean in terms of climate? Exactly what you’d expect:
- The Amazon acts as a massive moderator of heat. When the forest isn’t there (or is replaced with pasture), the daytime heat increases and the night time temperatures decrease.
- The Evapotranspiration, or recycling of the rainfall in the Amazon decreases resulting in massive decrease rainfall, runoff and health of the local climate (eg the massive drought in the Sao Paulo area in 2013, 2014, and 2015).
- The Amazon absorbs billions of tonnes of Carbon each year. If the forest is destroyed, not only is this not absorbed, but the carbon held in the vegetation is lost. And because most of the land is used for cattle, and cattle produce a lot of methane that is 21 times worse for the environment than CO2, you can see this is an incredibly serious problem.

Just thought you’d like to know…..


However, now on to Columbia !


Posted by capetocape2017 17:45 Archived in Brazil Tagged the change amazon climate deforestation Comments (1)

Chapter 10 - French Guiana - Prison Camps and Rocket Launch

By Neil

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I reckon I must have been about 15 years old when this book first entered my life.


It is a heart in mouth, jaw dropping tale of Henri Charriere who, according to his book, was erroneously convicted of the murder of a pimp in Paris in 1931. At that time France had a penal colony in French Guiana. Papillon is Charriere’s story of his life, escapes and eventual freedom from the prison in French Guiana and his return to Paris.

Whilst the book was fabulous, the 1973 film, also called Papillon, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, was, is, absolutely, one of my favourite movies of all time.



It was 1763, after The Seven Year War with Britain, in which they had lost Canada, the land east of the Mississippi and Louisiana, that the French said “Merde! We’ve got to get us a bit of South America or we’ll be left with nuthin!”. So they sent 12,000 people out to colonise the small province north of Brazil that we now known as French Guiana.


After 75% of the 12,000 people died of malaria, yellow fever, and lots of other nasty things within the first year, the remaining colonists sailed off the coast to the Iles de Salut (Salvation Islands), in order to, er, get salvation from the nasty bugs.

Later, this bloke...


My, that is a rather fetching waxing of the moustache….

…presumably after seeing that less bread was being stolen in the UK after the bread thieves were expelled to Australia, decided to set up a prison colony in French Guiana for baguette thieves. In 1852, the first prisoners were sent to the Iles de Salut.


The Iles de Salut

Between then and 1952 when the prison colony closed, 80,000 prisoners were sent to these now infamous islands. Most died of disease, brutality and overwork.

The sentence for trying to escape was solitary confinement in these cells:

Cellules des Reclusionnaires – Entrance to the cells for solitary confinement.

Doorway to the Solitary cells. The only light into the cells was the barred “window” above the door.

A Solitary confinement cell. Note the metal frame for the bed.

Confinement in the cells was for 23 hours a day. The prisoners were allowed out for 13 minutes exercise per day.

Henri Charriere tried to escape at least 3 or 4 times and after each escape was sentenced to solitary. One of the most amazing parts of the film was Steve McQueen’s physical degradation after being confined to long periods of solitary confinement.

From the film Papillon, showing Steve McQueen’s degradation from the start of the film to the end

Those who’ve seen the film (or see the film) will note the “head through the door scenes”.

Steve McQueen, playing Papillon, in solitary.

Neil, playing the fool, in solitary.

The Iles de Salut are made up of three islands; the Ile Royale (Royal Island), Ile de Saint Joseph (St Joseph Island), and Isle de Diablo (the infamous Devil’s Island). It was from here that Henri Charriere made his final escape. He made a raft of coconuts in sacks tied together. He threw it in the water. It was smashed against the rocks. Then he saw that every 7th wave was bigger. He threw another raft in after the 7th wave. It was taken out to sea……. So he jumped into the shark infested water on the 7th wave and escaped.



So of course, as part of the Big Trip, French Guiana was top of my list.

Then, when we were reading the Lonely Planet guide book, we found that French Guiana is the location of the launch site for the rockets for the European Space Agency. A bit of googling revealed that there was a launch on 6th March! But there was a bit of a technical hitch. To get from Fortaleza to Cayenne in French Guiana was just going to take too long by land. Nik took a look and, by taking to the air, we could make it on the morning of the 6th! Piece of cake.

It was back in 1992 (Good Lord! Is that a quarter of a century ago?) that Dave and I were stationed by Guinness to their brewery in Cameroon in West Africa. Like French Guiana, Cameroon is just north of the equator and, whilst French Guiana is still part of France (and the currency is the Euro), Cameroon is independent. But, when Dave and I were there, there was still a very large French influence.

Getting into French Guiana was great from so many perspectives. Firstly, it felt safe! We had had to be paranoid about safety in Brazil, but in French Guiana it’s just not the case. Secondly, but perhaps most importantly, the food is just fabulous. The cuisine is French, with many ingredients imported from France. It made it more expensive, but completely worth it! On our first day, we went out for lunch. Snails for me. Real French goats cheese for Nik. The happiest of happy days. And then there was the language. My French is pretty good and, after two and a half months of Spanglish and Spangugese it was so nice to be able to understand what’s being said. In short, we loved the place. We even felt safe enough to rent a car for the 3 days we were there. Well we had to, there were no buses…..

Nikki’s lunch. Real French goats cheese !

Half a dozen snails for lunch !


I’m incredibly excited about space. The advances being made into rocket technology by Ariane, Space X, the Chinese, Soyouz, NASA, is amazing.

In 1890, Melbourne Australia was the fastest growing and richest city in the world. Primarily due to the gold rush and sheep.

We are on the cusp of a “Space mining boom”.

If you want to get stuff into space more easily, it’s best to use the Earth’s centrifugal force to “throw” stuff into space. The centrifugal force is highest at the Equator. Whilst there are launch pads in Cape Carnaval, Russia (Kazakhstan), and China, they are nowhere near the equator as French Guiana. That’s why, since 1992, 80% of the satellite’s launched into space have been from Kourou in French Guiana. To get a satellite into space from French Guiana uses up to 17% less fuel.

So at 10.49 pm on Monday 6th March, this got launched:

The Vega satellite launch vehicle with the Sentinel 2B satellite. This was a remote view from the Carapa viewing site.[/I

[i]We have ignition!

We were about 7 km’s away and it was beautiful. Nikki teared up. And so fast! 88 tonnes of fuel burnt in 2 minutes. Awesome.

The launch was for the European Space Agencies Sentinel 2B earth monitoring satellite whose aim is to improve environmental monitoring.

Very, very cool. I’ll put a link into Facebook and into the email.


Having seen the rocket launch, Nik and I jumped on a boat to the Iles de Salut the following day.

We were not the only ones who wanted to take a look and the catamaran was almost full, despite the very inclement weather….


In the tropical climes, the buildings on the islands are slipping into decay. It felt appropriate to be there in the rain, seeing firsthand the extraordinarily difficult conditions that the prisoners experienced every day.

The hospital on Ile Royale


The Childrens cemetery. Only the children of the guards were buried on the island. The prisoners were fed to the sharks. Well, only when they’d died….

The infamous Ile de Diablo, Devils Island.

It was great to finally, after 40 years, get to see it. Even if, it has to be said, that Henri Charriere used a little poetic licence when writing the book. It was a hybrid of not only his escapes, but also those of others!



The following day we tried to visit a Sloth sanctuary.


But there had been a death. Not of a sloth but the President of the French Guianan sloth society. So the sanctuary was closed and we beat a path to the nearest pub.

But more on sloths in the next instalment….

Posted by capetocape2017 14:44 Archived in French Guiana Tagged de rocket vega sentinel iles launch papillon salut 2b Comments (1)

Chapter 9 - Brazil - Part One - Its Party Time !

By Neil

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Brazil. Wow ! Home to the Biggest Street Party in the World ! In Salvador. 2 million people. That is a lot of people. And the party goes on for days.


Part of the 4 kilometre route of one of the three street festivals happening on 26th February 2017.

There are three areas to enjoy this spectacle; on the Blocos, ie one of the buses/ floats that drives the festival route, as part of the crowd (which is just wild. You end up jumping up and down (in Brazil they call it “popcorn”)), or at a “side venue” which is much more sane. We chose the latter. Or were lucky enough to meet up with expatriate French woman Sara whose friend Emilie managed to get us into an area on the edge of the parade. Very cool and just an amazing spectacle.

We got into the groove…


Looking out at the parade at Barra in Salvador.


We didn’t get as dressed up as Sara (in the blue), or Emilie, or Andre….

But I’m getting ahead of myself, we started off in Uruguay hearing all of the horror stories about the police going on strike in Espiritu Santo State in Brazil and 137 people being murdered in an 8 day killing spree, and the police in 27 of the 100 police “wards” in Rio also going on strike. Evidently the government stopped paying wages and so the wives of the police officers blocked the entrances of the police stations to stop the police from entering and exiting the police station.

So, whilst we had been cautious in Argentina, and, to a lesser degree in Uruguay and Chile, we were very cautious in Brazil, and were prepared to use Nikki’s Maxim of “If we’re gonna die, we fly”.

However, what we didn’t understand was the saying “It’s Brazil”. And yes, whilst the corruption level is higher, the crime levels are higher, this enormous country of 8.5 million square kilometres (10% bigger than Oz), of 210 million people, is a world leader. In partying, at least.


Our view before we left was, and is, that if you want to get a real appreciation of a country, the travel must be by land. We have now travelled from Montevideo in Uruguay to Olinda in northern Brazil by bus. A lazy 6,000 kilometres or so (in 14 days….).


Map of Brazil showing our stops in Barra de Lagoa, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Seguro, Salvador, and Olinda

Our first impression was of the Porto Alegre bus station was favourable. We felt safe and whilst, of course we are very careful with our bags etc, it was all good.

We eventually ended up at the fantastic Barra Beach Club in Barra de Lagoa close to Floreanopolis. It was quite simply a world class quality beach. Our hostel was that rare breed of a great hostel; a great vibe, friendly people, good food, good bar area, mixed with being quiet at night.


View from our hostel, the Barra Beach Club.


Barra de Lagoa


The Beach


Went for a hike out to Praia Mole


“That’s not a stubby holder, This is a stubby holder !”


Then a little jaunt of 1,140 km from Barra de Lagoa to the outstanding Rio de Janeiro. Rio is the most beautiful city in the world that I’ve been to. From the awesome Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) Statue.


At Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), Rio de Janeiro.

To the fantastic people that we met (thanks to Ann Marie, Eric, Natalie, Flo, Francis, Rachel, Mark, Cesar, …..)


Natalie, Eric, Ann-Marie, me and Nik…

Then on to Sugar Loaf


For my friend, Mr Simon Youl (who has a PhD in Bond films). Moonraker – Roger Moore as James Bond fighting with Jaws on the cable car to Sugar Loaf mountain.

And here’s a couple of photos of the sunset view at Sugar Loaf.


View from Sugar Loaf towards Christo Redentor.


Looking up towards Sugar Loaf

To Copocabana and Ipanema beaches. Time to go off on a tangent……


So, two blokes were in a bar. The Veloso Bar a block from Ipanema Beach. In 1962. Composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinicius de Moraes. They were just working on a musical comedy about a Martian who landed in Rio during the carnaval (yes, really) and had half written a song that they’d called “the Girl passes by”.

They sat in the bar for a few days and an 18 year old young woman who had a way of walking that de Moraes called “sheer poetry” kept walking by. She, the fabulously called “Heloisa Eneida Menezes Pais Pinto”, inspired them to finish the song, change its name to “The Girl from Ipanema” and have a massive worldwide hit with Stan Getz and Astrid Gilberto. Google it. It’s a blast !


Heloisa Eneida Menezes Pais Pinto – The Real Girl from Ipanema.


The Girl from Ipanema won the Song of the Year Grammy in 1965.


I have to mention the favela that where we were staying. It is a “pacified” favela. A favela is traditionally a slum, but in the build up to the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, some of the slums were “pacified” and the favela at Leme, at the end of Copocabana beach was one of them.

Our hostel, recently built by Tibo and Marielle was just beautiful, with a great view and great rooms and a fabulous rooftop bar.


View from the Rooftop of our hostel


Jamming with Eric on the hostel rooftop


Downstairs in the hostel

Whilst it is a “pacified” favela, when Marielle mentioned that there was a really nice restaurant up the road, about a 15 minute walk but that she thought that she should mention that the drug cartel that was in the area would probably be there and carrying big guns, but that we shouldn’t be concerned, they were only interested in ensuring other drug cartels didn’t move in, and wouldn’t hurt us, we decided to go to one in the other direction. By the way, to Bar do David. The food was very good. I got the meat sweats…..


Bar do David, Leme, Rio de Janeiro


The fabulous, and award winning, ribs with a pineapple relish from Bar do David, Leme, Rio de Janeiro.


So, of course, Rio is famous for the Carnaval. Carnaval is held between the Friday (51 days before Easter), and Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent (40 days before Easter). On certain days during Lent, Catholics and some other Christians abstained from meat and poultry, hence the term “carnival”, literally carnelevare “to remove (literally, “raise”) meat.

We were there for only the run up to the main carnaval and so the Bloco (ie a party where there is a truck/ float driving down the street) in Copocabana “only” attracted 200,000 people. It was a thoroughly good natured affair, although, because this is Brazil you do not carry bags, money belts, cameras, and, well, the best place to keep money, we figured, was Nikki’s bra…..


Bloco party on Copocabana Beach in the run up to Carnaval – Sunday 19th February 2017. Note the Bloco truck with the band on top in the middle.

The bottom line is that we loved Rio. It is the most beautiful, vibrant, astoundingly scenic, larger than life city we’ve ever been to.

Street art in Rio




So then it was another 18 hour, 1,100 km bus ride to Porto Seguro. Blimey, what a picturesque little town this was. We picked it because we didn’t want to do the whole haul up to Salvador in one hit, but, after the craziness of Rio, it was such a great place to take a breather.


Looking out over Porto Seguro


Porto Seguro Original House


The Carnaval was on in Porto too, but it was much more laid back and smaller. We stayed in a great hotel. And then it was another overnight bus ride to Salvador, but only 700 km’s this time.


Salvador ! Wow ! I started this Blog with a description of the Carnaval in Barra, but it was so much more.

Nik and I have during our “Gap Year”, stayed predominantly in hostels. Our view is that it is much more difficult to meet people in hotels than it is in hostels. And the people that we’ve met ! Fantastic, caring, lovely, interesting, smart, funny people.

Galleria 13, our hostel in Salvador, was no exception. Sara, Andre, and Emilie. What a blast !


Me with Sara’s Dad Andre. Yes there was a bit of glitter



The Carnaval in Pelourinho was amazing and Emilie was drumming in a community band. Great job ! (I’ve attached that as a link in the facebook post/ email)

Here are some photos


Dancing in Pelourinho


Pelourinho Carnaval



Nikki’s brain unfortunately fell into a cup of Caipirinha, a cocktail of lime and sugar cane brandy during the evening. And Nikki jumped into the pool. Fully clothed. As did Sara. It took two Alcohol Free Days to recover !




Nikki and Sara in the pool


Olinda. So have you ever seen someone (or been yourself ?) on a 4 day bender ? The best description I’ve heard is from Gaby in the Barra Beach Club in Barra de Lagoa, of her (Ex) boyfriend, who took the drinking of alcohol a tad to the extreme and was a little, er, unwell. She looked after him but shaved off one of his eyebrows as payback….

So we arrived in Olinda, and let me talk about toilets around the world. I’ve been in some that smell pretty bad. Olinda, yes, the whole town, smelt like that. Really harsh. The Carnaval was staggering on, like a drunk about an hour before they pass out. All of the restaurants were shut. All of the churches boarded up. Armageddon had come. The room in the hostel (Passada Alto Astral) was, however, brilliant. Nikki had come up trumps. Again.

We were tucked up in bed at 8 pm.

The next day, however, was better. The boards came off the churches, the restaurants opened, the streets had been scrubbed clean, and all was well with the world. We had a great lunch looking out onto Olinda and the high rises of Recife.


View from the hostel




View in one of the many 400 year old churches in Olinda


On to the next part of the adventure.

Part of the reason for scooting through Brazil faster than we’d have liked was that we want to get to French Guiana in order to see a rocket launch on 6th March. In order to make it in time there will have to be a bit of flying…….

Posted by capetocape2017 12:42 Archived in Brazil Tagged carnaval party Comments (0)

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