But first, getting from Iguaçu Falls to Paraty via Sao Paulo and 24 hours of bus travel.
On the national park bus we left the park, outside we waited for the sunday bus into town. In town, at the bus station we worked through the portugese-english language barrier to determine when the next bus to the ‘rodoviaria’ was, i.e. the large out of town bus stop for long distance travel.
Many conversations with Brazilians followed this pattern,
“Do you speak English?”
At which point they lift their hands in the air and look exasperated. But then they always seemed to go out of their way to find someone that spoke English, or to help us as best they could. In this case we gestured with hand signals to work out the time and used fingers for numbers, before eventually an English speaker materialised and explained everything. Our bus arrived, we were starving but didn’t want to miss our coach.
Three buses down and we were ready for our 16 hour long sleeper bus to São Paulo; but not before some greasy spoon fast food from the only food outlet in the bus station. Bus stations are universally horrible. I had the weirdest pizza, I thought it was olives, peppers and sweetcorn, but it was processed chicken, peas and sweetcorn, no tomato.
We waited an hour or so for our bus, and passed the time with a bit of live football. We met an Australian biochemist travelling alone and on the same bus as us. She was half way through a year long world trip and had even booked a trip out to Antarctica.
Boarding time at last! We locked up our bags, weighed them, tagged them and threw them in the hold. We showed our passports and tickets and boarded our ‘leito’ sleeper bus. The seats were like armchairs; wide and comfortable with a handy fold-down leg rest. On an old CRT screen at the front were movies in Portuguese; ‘I am Legend’, Harry Potter and ‘Night at the Museum 2’.
We set off slowly, heading out of Foz do Iguaçu onto the two lane highway and eastwards. The sun began to set and we had a roadside view of Brazil, through rolling green hills with rich red soils, through small towns and passing full to the brim churches, overflowing with people praising God. We stopped at Londrina for another pick-up and the bus filled up. The sun disappeared and the road beckoned.
Every four hours we stopped for a walkabout, food and a toilet break, with the occasional stop in-between where we couldn’t work out what was going on. The service stations give you a slip with menu items when you enter. You tick off the things you buy, and pay on exit. From a large roadside canteen we ate breadcrumbed fried chicken and lamb koftas, avoiding the strange looking per kilo buffet.
Don the eye masks, the ear plugs and the headphones and we’re set for some uncomfortable travel sleeping. We managed to get about four hours each, perhaps more, it’s hard to tell. Apparently in the night we stopped for a ‘police search’, our Australian friend had her bags searched and was asked if she was carrying cocaine.
At 6am we were woken from our slumber for another food stop. In the thick early morning fog we tried some breakfast. This place looked nicer, so we ordered some coffee, what a terrible mistake. A weird chocolaty sludge came with a centimetre thick encrusted milk topping. I tried to scrape it off, but it just left huge chunks of yuck in the drink. Just thinking about it I’m turning pale. That coffee made the last four hours that little bit more queasy.
The journey into São Paulo took an age, the huge concrete city surrounded us as we chugged through early morning Monday rush hour. The city seemed more affluent than Rio, at least from the small slice we saw. On the pillars of huge overhead highways were intricate graffiti, not unlike what you might see in Brighton. Artful and vibrant.
90 minutes late we reached the rodoviaria. We picked up our next bus ticket and waited for the fifth and final bus in a bus station café, reclining on a leather sofa next to a piano and our large blue and red backpacks. Happy to be off the bus, we shared a ciabatta and freshly made fruit juice. The guy at the bar was excited to try out his English, and Sam had a conversation with him, as she loves to do.
Before we knew it we were boarding a regular Costa Verde coach towards Paraty; this journey would only take six hours. It was much the same; road after road, cars overtaking us, a service station stop (with some goats and baby chicks), reclining seats and leg rests. I listened to Joni Mitchell and Sam tried to sleep.
As we neared the coast the route grew hilly, with gorgeous sea views. The bus accelerated around U-turn corners, down towards the sea, through coastal villages, over their belly-in-mouth speed bumps, and back up the hill, over to the next village with more of the same. We endured three hours of stuffy queasiness travelling through Caraguátuba and Ubatuba. It was almost too much for Sam, and she tried to ignore it, but the rocking and swaying was ceaseless. In the meantime my appetite returned and I gobbled up all the snacks we’d been lugging around with us since Rio.
Fortunately we had a service station stop, a break from the movement and a chance to recover. Afterwards the bus wasn’t so bad, and I slept the last two hours.
At 6pm on Monday, about 27 hours after setting off, we arrived in Paraty, thoroughly exhausted and needing a shower. We grabbed a fixed rate 20 reais taxi with a one armed driver to our hotel, Eliconial, a short walk outside of town and on Praia do Jabaquara.
All we wanted to do was check-in, but the welcoming French man, Yvan, complicated matters by pushing us towards staying more than one night at a better rate in a better chalet, along with a story about the standard rooms being unavailable the following night. Our intention was to stay longer, but we wanted to scope the place out first. Whatever, let’s do the good one, it was only a few reais more.
Inside we had a living room, a kitchen and a bedroom, all packed into a small space. The room felt dark, but then we had the shutters closed to stop the mosquitos getting in. There was a pleasant swimming pool and jacuzzi, and Heliconia plants are everywhere. By the pool is a green parrot with clipped wings, under the seats cats lie in the shade, and there’s a dalmatian puppy running around too, looking cute for all the guests. It’s a fairly small place, with only about eight rooms.
“It’s safe here, you can go anywhere at night, even walk along the beach”, were welcomed words. Having spent so much time in Rio (and on the buses) stressing about safety and valuables this came as a great relief.
A quick snooze on the firm beds, a wash, and we were out looking for a decent cooked meal. The guys recommended a pizzeria down the road, Sereia do Mar hostel. Amongst the wooden beams, the nearby beach and the blasting 90s music, we sat down and ordered all you can eat pizza.
This place was vibrant and filled with young interesting people, even if it felt a bit like a surfers paradise. Two caipirinhas for ten reais was the cheapest we’d seen, and the pizza was cheap and very tasty too. Perfect, let’s have another two cocktails.
Then we stumbled home, a couple of dogs following us around, back passed the football pitch where kids had been playing, some empty looking pousadas and a couple of beach side huts, to the end of the road and our hidden hotel.