Sunday, 24 February 2013


The week running up to Lent is when Brazil really lets its hair down – this is “Carnaval” week.  The most internationally famous carnival celebration in Brazil is in Rio de Janeiro, and footage of the incredible costumes and parades makes it onto TV the world around.  But carnival is definitely not just celebrated in Rio.  It is a country-wide celebration of music, dance and life itself.

Having done several carnivals in Rio previously, Pete was keen to show everyone a different type of carnival, so we headed to Salvador de Bahia where carnival is definitely a participatory event!  Every day from around 2pm, the crowds wandering down to the parade routes started at a trickle which soon became a sea of people, many dressed in “abadas”, t-shirts that identify them as part of a “bloco”.  A bloco is effectively a roped-off area around a 3-storey semi-trailer / articulated truck with impossibly large speakers blasting out the music from the singers and drummers performing on the top level.  The truck then moves at a snails pace along the parade route for about 3-5 hours while those inside the bloco as well as those outside the bloco (who are called “pipoca” meaning popcorn) sing and dance and generally make merry.  Along the way there is a constant supply of water, beer and other drinks available from an endless number of vendors – seemingly everyone in Salvador goes out and buys a polystyrene esky / cool box and sets up a stall along the parade route or in the surrounding streets.  It is a crazy, noisy, busy, hot, sweaty, incredible experience and we had a blast!

Bob Sinclar Bloco – the international DJ was a popular option on Friday night!
Francois, Angela & Lisa
Vanessa & Sue
Vanessa, Duncan & Angela
Francois, Heather, Lesley & Geoff
Geoff, a very brave Francois with Kirsten on his shoulders and Heather 
Being part of the bloco
Oludum Drums Bloco – the most famous of Salvador’s drumming bands, Oludum has performed with Michael Jackson and Paul Simon.
Ken, Anthony, Heather, Tony, Steve, Kirsten, Lisa, Karen, Vanessa, Jeanne, Francois, Robin and Geoff 
Tony & Geoff
Karen & Steve
Sue, Heather & Lisa
Pete & Kirsten
Heather & Vanessa
Anthony & Duncan
Lisa, Tony & Francois
Jeanne & Francois
Steve & Karen
Tony, Robin, Jeanne & Francois
Vanessa & Francois
Heather, Jeanne & Robin
Capoeira, a dance / martial art demonstration in the middle of the bloco 
For those who just want to watch, there are balconies like these all along the parade route 

Life on the streets around Pelourinho during Carnaval

Drums, drums and more drums
Vibrant colours to accompany the music

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Life’s a Beach!

Goodbye rain, hello sunshine!  And just in time, as we reached Porto Seguro, our first stop on the Atlantic coast.  We stayed in a great campsite, located just across the road from the beach with a lovely pool, funky bar, great BBQ area and plenty of space for all of us.  A quick swim and an early night beckoned for most of us, others choosing to head into town to wander the night market.

Blue skies and bright sunshine greeted us the next morning and it didn’t take long before the beach became Odyssey central.  Swimming in the perfect-temperature-water, sitting in a cafe on the sand, sipping beers or caiprinhas, buying barbequed cheese or empanadas from the many beach sellers, flying a kite, or just watching the families and friends enjoying themselves on the beach; for many of us it was a pretty perfect day!



Jeanne flying her newly acquired kite
Cheese seller
Grilling the cheese
Heather relaxing in the pool
Lesley relaxing
Dragging ourselves away from Porto Seguro we continued north up the coast towards our next stop, Olivenca.  En route we made a brief stop off at Volvo to pick up a spare part, Ithaca definitely caused a bit of a stir amongst the mechanics, not sure they have seen the likes of a fully kitted out overland truck before!
Our personal Volvo mechanic with Pete
Where Porto Seguro was a reasonably big town with resort-style accommodations along the beachfront road and a fancy campsite with all the amenities, Olivenca was a tiny village and our campsite was a simple grassy pitch right on the edge of the sand.  The beach was stunning, quieter and more relaxing than the beach at Porto Seguro, with bigger waves but the same lovely water temperature.  Most of the group chose to chill out around camp, while others spent the morning exploring the nearby town of Ilheus.

Mine's bigger than yours - Steve vs Tony
Geoff, Steve & Tony

The city of Ilheus
What better way to celebrate our time on the coast than with a beach BBQ?  Sausages, salad and potatoes were eagerly devoured before most of the group headed back to the beach to sit around the fire talking rubbish while sipping on a fruit punch and admiring the stars.  A short downpour sent many scurrying back to close their tents, but some weren’t deterred, the thrill of enjoying the beach at night was just too good to waste, and is hopefully something that we will get to do again on the coasts of Venezuela and Colombia as we continue our journey around South America. 

Anyone want an umbrella?

Leaving Rio behind after a relaxed morning and another amazing buffet breakfast, we headed up into the hills.  Our destination was Petropolis, a colonial town to which the wealthy used to escape to during the height of the Rio summers.  The drizzle and rain that had dogged us in Rio continued, and so the best option for many was to head indoors and visit the Imperial Museum, while others helped out with the food shopping – when you are shopping for 24 people, extra hands are always welcome as there are plenty of bags to carry.  Sadly no cameras are allowed in the Museum, so you will have to take our word for the fact that it was worth a visit!

Winding further up into the hills we reached our destination, the small town of Teresopolis where we stayed at a campsite for the night and enjoyed a meat feast and a couple of bottles of sparkling wine to toast the newly engaged couple!

Returning along the same road for about 30km the next morning we were rewarded with some spectacular views which we had known were there, but hadn’t been able to see courtesy of low cloud the day before!  Lush forested hills, blue skies and cloud trapped in the valleys, it was a beautiful sight.
Our destination for the following two nights was the colonial town of Ouro Preto (translates as “black gold").  The town rose to glory during the Portuguese rule in the mid 1700s when gold was discovered in the area, and its cobbled streets and 23 churches are well-preserved.  And very beautiful.  But again you will have to take our word for it as no one was too keen to get their cameras out as our stay in Ouro Preto coincided with some of the heaviest rain we have seen on the trip so far!  Steep cobbled streets became rivers, and umbrellas were the hottest item in town, but it didn’t stop anyone exploring the town.  The sun did make a brief appearance – but only to farewell us as we continued our journey towards Brazil’s Atlantic coast.

Ouro Preto standing in the rain - Lisa
Karen, Steve, Tony & Geoff preparing to wander the soggy streets of Ouro Preto 
Ouro Preto river road - Lisa
Is that a river running down the street?
Vanessa Sue & Lisa - Lisa
Exploring the town in the rain with a bit of style - Lisa, Heather & Vanessa 

The Girl (on) Ipanema

Welcome to “the Marvellous City”, Rio de Janeiro. We arrived before lunchtime, and most of the group headed off to the famous Copacabana or Ipanema beaches where there are plenty of sights to see, even on a slightly drizzly afternoon.  The beaches are informally divided into sections where people with different interests can get together – whether it be to play volleyball, body-build, sunbathe or similar – the promenade along the beach provides a great vantage point!  Surrounded by the stunning jungle-clad peaks and striking rock formations, Rio’s beachfront can definitely lay claim to being one of the most beautiful in the world.
photo 9
A rather dramatic photo (again thanks to the special setting on Tony's camera) of the beach 

Every country has their national sport, but perhaps few countries rival the passion for their sport that Brazil does for football – so the opportunity to attend a game in Rio was not to be missed by some of the group.  Drums, singing, banners, flags, shirts – an audio and visual feast!  In the end Botafogo, the team our guys were supporting for the evening drew with Fluminensce, 1-all, but regardless of the result, it was a great night out.
Odyssey's football supporters - Pete, Duncan, Francois, Geoff, Karen, Steve, Anthony & Angela 



Although the low cloud had lifted briefly during the evening, it had sadly returned by morning, putting paid to hopes of seeing the city from the air on a hang glider.  So instead the group all headed off together on a guided tour of one of Rio's favelas (informal settlements or slums).  For many, the tour was the highlight of their time in Rio, and for some it has been rated as a trip highlight so far (against some pretty stiff competition)! 

The favela that the group visited was home to over 70,000 people, with houses densely packed together separated by narrow alleyways. 

Group on favela tour better one - Lisa
On the favela tour - Anthony, Angela, Robin, Jeanne, Geoff, Mikkel, Lesley, Ken, Vanessa, Lisa, Sue, Heather, Jane, Tony & Colin 

Favelas - Lisa



Tony & Heather with the wiring in the background (fish-eye effect thanks to Geoff!) 
Local drummers
Rio lays claim to one of the most iconic city sights in the world – that of the 38-metre tall sculpture of Christo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) standing high above the city on the hill known as Corcovado (hunchback).  Low cloud made photography somewhat challenging, but it still remains an impressive sight!
The views from the base of the statue are equally impressive, with Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf) mountain rising sharply out of the bay.

Visiting the top of Sugarloaf as well involved two cable car rides – but not a lot of views at the top, so everyone needed to use their imagination to see the view!

photo 5
The Escadaria Selaron (Selaron Stairs) in the Lapa area of Rio is an ongoing project as the 215 stairs are continuing to be covered by colourful mosaics.

Located just near our hotel, the Catedral Metropolitana de Sao Sebastiao is a huge and unusually shaped cathedral which was constructed over a period of 12 years finishing in 1976.  Resembling a concrete Mayan temple (at best) or some form of military building or bunker (at worst), the vault-like inside is decorated with impressive stained glass panels, culminating in a glass cross at the apex, 60m above the ground.
Outside the cathedral
Despite the slightly inclement weather, Rio worked its charms on many of the group, with some talking about returning for the 2014 football World Cup or even the summer Olympics in 2016!

PS – exciting times when Pete asked Kirsten to marry him on Ipanema Beach.  Suffice it to say, the answer was a resounding YES!