Sao Paulo is the world's fourth largest city, which is apparent by the endless streams of traffic. It is so bad that locals are not allowed to drive during rush hours one day a week. It is made up of several different neighborhoods, some very ritzy, others rundown. It is also a major international and domestic business hub for Brazil.
Ah, peace from cars! While Dave did some business in the city, I took a public bus to Ibirapuera Park, which is home to a contemporary art museum and Afro-Brazilian history and art museum.
The best part about SP was having several local, personal tour guides.
My friend Alessadra, whom I cycled with at the gym in Brighton, moved back to SP to work. She took us to the chic Unique Hotel with an incredible roof top view of the city. Alessandra and her friend treated us to Sao Paulo contemporary pizzas (thin crust pizzas with interesting combos of veggies, fruits and meats on top) and caipirinhas, our favorite Brazilian drink made with cashaca. We owe them!
My friend Karin, who did an abroad year in Brazil several years ago, set us up with the niece of her host family. Roberta and her husband Erik gave us a driving tour of SP and treated us to a fabulous traditional meat dinner at a local churrascaria. We owe them too!
The friendly staff gave us a tour of the oven facilities. Beef and pork are slow cooked in these brick ovens for four days before serving to guests.
Presentation isn't the best asset of the churrascaria, but the food was yummy! We didn't order anything, the wait staff just brings endless meat and side dishes to the table until you ask them to stop!
Although there are some good low fair air carriers, traveling through South America is often easiest and cheapest by bus. Plus, most locals travel this way. We like it because it allows us to see the country side. We've taken several long distance buses (10-24 hour journeys) to get to our destination. Dave gets comfy on an overnight bus to the Pantanal!
The Pantanal region of Brazil is the largest wetlands in the world, home to hundreds of species of tropical birds, caiman (small crocodiles), piranhas and anacondas to name just a few of the animals.
The Pantanal covers 54,000 sq. miles of Brazil to the south of the Amazon rain forest. The wetlands are submerged in water for most of the year, but we visited during the dry season in November so were able to drive around the territory.
We took a four day 'Ecological Expedition' tour which was good, but a bit gimmicky and run by knife wielding cowboys out to make a quick penny from budget travelers.
There are more caiman than people in the Pantanal. During the dry season there are piles of them lounging around pockets of water. Thankfully they are not aggressive towards humans like the crocodiles in Australia.
A little too close for comfort!
Although we saw an array of birds, the best time to view them is in March during migratory season.
And there were other creatures ...
The swamp rat or capybara is the largest rodent in the world.
Howler monkeys make a loud and spooky scream during sunrise and sunset.
We went horseback riding through the bush - an activity my ass and back rejected.
Three amigos, rather three inexperienced horse riders, including Sjoerd from the Netherlands. Sjoerd's horse did a spin every ten steps and our horses led us right into prickly trees. We have war wounds on our legs and arms to prove it : - )
We took an all-but-relaxing boat tour along the waterways of the Pantanal.
The river is lined with caiman and filled with flying fish. I got pummeled several times in the back and head by these powerful, little fish that landed in our boat. Not fun!
Pantanal women use the river to cook and clean.
Most of the men in the Pantanal are cowboys, ranchers and fishermen.
We went fishing for pirhanas. They are native to this area, living in fresh water bodies in South America.
Check out these teeth. Piranha have quite a bite.
After two hours of trying, Dave finally caught one! (For the record, I caught one in about two minutes, but got so excited that I flung it off my fishing pole and hit the poor Dutch boy traveling with us. Then the fish returned to the water.)
Dave gave the onlooking caiman his prize for lunch.
Accommodations were grim during this expedition, sleeping in a tent with no ventilation in 110 degree temps and high humidity. Playing futbol with the locals was the only way to bring a little bit of life back in us.
Iguazu Falls is impressive from both the Brazil and Argentinian sides. With more than 275 falls, spanning 1.7 miles in length, and heights of 200-269 feet, we were in awe!
We visited the Brazilian side first on a rainy day. This area is called Devil's Throat which marks the border between the two countries. It was more intense, powerful and bigger than Niagara and Victoria Falls.
We didn't think the Argentinian side would be much better, but it was. From this side you could see the variety of falls along the river.
The falls are surrounded by a forest filled with colorful, exotic butterflies and birds.
Dave makes a friend. This butterfly sat on his hat for hours as we toured the falls.
The tucans were pretty cool!
I give most South American attractions credit for putting signage in English, but PLEASE have a native speaker check out the grammar and spelling before printing and posting one hundred signs like this....
This absolutely happens everywhere around the world, giving us a good laugh.
After nearly a month, we were sad to leave Brazil, but excited to enter Argentina. With a five year visa in place we know we will return to Brazil. The country is so large there are endless opportunities to see more and meet new incredibly warm and friendly people.
And a random note, which our hygienist Joe who is Brazilian would be proud, unlike any other country we have visited, the Brazilians are noticeably into dental hygiene. Many people have perfect teeth, with people in their 20-30s wearing braces, and people brushing their teeth frequently in cafe bathrooms at bus stations, etc.
We've actually been in Argentina for almost two weeks now. Email has been slow at best, so we are rapidly working to keep you up to date on our adventures through Salta, Cafayate, Cordoba and Mendoza.