Friday, January 30, 2015

Eco Tourism Part 1

So, we wake up in Seabra, have breakfast at the little hotel,  and we are on the road by 8:00.  Down the same tree lines road with pot holes and oversize trucks to maneuver.  As we drive along we get our first views of Chapada Diamantina National Park which our destination Lencious sit on the edge of.  A beautiful park approximately 15,000 square miles in size filled with natural beauty just waiting to explore.. OK... time to learn... Chapada means "a region of steep cliffs" in Brazilian Portuguese and soon we begin to see these cliffs  with plateaus above as we drive down into the valleys. Unfortunately on our journey we did not encounter any Diamantina which refers to diamonds found here in the mid 19th century.  
Around 8:30 we stop at an abandoned gas station next to Pai Inácio Hill.  1150 meters above sea level this massive rock structure protrudes high above the  forest-covered valley.  Folklore says it is named for Inacio,  a slave who fell in love with a might colonel's wife.  When the colonel found out about this love,  he contracted hit men to dispose of Inacio and they ended up chasing him through the forest until he was trapped on top of this rock formation.  Instead of coming down and being killed,  Inacio decided to jump using his lovers umbrella to pass by the hit men.  People say he was seen running through the valley after his great leap but he never came back for his love.  Well,  on today's journey we do not see Inacio, but we do see a peace bus parked at the
abandoned gas station and its inhabitants walking around enjoying the day.  They are traveling through Brazil and invite us to take photos,  We ask them about hiking up the Pai Inacio Hill and they inform us we just missed the driveway leading to the path going to top.  After a few photos of the landscape with and without the bus.  We hop back into the car and retrace our journey the 1/3 mile to the dirt path with a local vendor setting up shop at the point where it connects with the asphalt.  We don't get far up the little dirt road and we come to a closed gate.  The sign states the path is closed until 9:00 which is actually just right around the corner.  Do we wait or do we head out.  I guess the view above is simply spectacular, but
when we ask the vendor about details,  he states that you never know when they will come to unlock the gates.. It could be 9 or it could be 11,  you just never know.  We decide there are other things to see so we move on passing the idle bus once again.  In hind site, I wish we would have waited around a while.  I have seen photos of the view from the top and I think the day would have been perfect for a climb.  It is however, one of those things that cannot be changed now and I have added it to my must do next time list for this area.     

We arrive in Lencois (with an accent under the c and above the o . Len-soys..) and lodging is our first venture of the day, but before I write about this I will learn a little about this city of approximately 10,000 residence.  Referred to as the gateway to the Chapada Diamantina because of its location it was once known as the Capital of Diamonds.  As you can guess, this region was settled after the discovery of diamonds in the area.  People flocked to this small mining town in search of fortune.  Once a wealthy area,  the economy was stagnant for many years as the diamond boom ended and the soil around was not very rich.  Fortunately over the last several years,  eco-tourism has brought this area alive again as many visitors from all over the world come to explore the amazing waterfalls,  long winding trails, deep canyons, crystal blue water pools and complex of limestone caves.  Well,  back to our journey.  It seems when we travel we do not make advanced reservations and end up sleeping where we can find room. In Lencois we travel up the cobblestone streets where it dead ends into the Hotel de Lencois  We stop to take a look and
although we think it is not in our budget we decide to ask anyway.  As we wait for assistance I have to admit that I am hopeful it is something we can manage.  A beautiful pool, courtyard and dining area seem to complete the hotel overlooking the town.  To our surprise we hear about a wonderful eco room (ceiling fan - no air conditioning) which would fit the budget, but before we are able to book, they needs to see if the current guest who is supposed to check out today will be staying additional time or not.  It may be a while so we take the opportunity to look at a couple more hotels and then venture back as we find nothing else to our liking.   Excited about the possible room we make our way back only to be disappointed as the current guest has decided to stay.  Back on our quest,  we travel back down to the main market area where we saw a guide post for tours early and decide to stop.  Luiz inquires about cost and ends up booking a guide for the day.   His name is Sergio and he will join us for the day. Although we are still searching for our hotel he squeezes into the car and informs us he knows a good hotel.  Down the bumpy streets we drive and soon we turn onto a narrow car lined street.  Ok, the hotel is not quite as nice as the one we had found but the price is good and we are anxious to get the rest of our day going so we unload our bags and set out for an adventure under the direction of Sergio...
Tour Guide Sergio
Peace bus - Brazil
Ants made of rocks.. Hotel of our dream!
Old City Hall - Lencois Bahia
Inside the dream hotel..

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Off .. Off.. and Away.. Where to?

Wow,  5:00 A.M. comes quickly.. Everyone else is already showered and they let me sleep until the
last-minute but it is time to get moving.  Feels like 2:00 A.M. to me but hey let's go explore.  I understand it will be a long drive today for our first destination but I learn that we are heading to Salvador Bahia with a stop on the way for a day or two of eco-tourism. We have a quick breakfast, load the car and down the empty streets still lit by the street lamps we head.  I barely get out of Goiania city limits my eyes slip shut in slumber.  I had intended to stay awake and see the land but this part of the drive I have seen before.  Past Anapolis and onto Brasilia,  Somewhere along the way I wake allowing me to assist Junior (the driver) maneuver his way through the capital city.  It is drive.. drive.. drive for us.  With occasional stops for gas, restroom, food and for me more sleep then what I had planned.  I cannot say the IMG_2343food along the way leaves anything to desire.  No fast food restaurants here. Just dirty gas stations with restaurants attached.  A couple we stop at for restroom breaks I wonder how they can get past any health inspection but then again we are in Brazil. The terrain is a mix of farmland and rolling hills with an occasional river to cross.  The roadsIMG_2352 are two lane with lots of traffic coming from the other direction.  Brazilians are coming back from Salvador and the beaches along the coast to Brasilia and Goiania.  It sure requires more patience when attempting to pass the large number of trucks moving slowly along the path.  Not to mention the trucks are extra long. Junior decides to turn and take a less traveled route and soon he regrets this decision.  The driving becomes more intense as potholes are added to the stress of passing the trucks as we maneuver the roads. These are not small pot holes either,  they are ones that require missing or you may end up ruining your vehicle.  Around five or six in the evening we decide to stop and find a hotel in Seabra (only 936 kilometers from Goiania).   A small town in the state of Bahia,  Seabra has around 40,000 residents and is a stopping point for many travelers making their way to and from the coast and the beaches. IMG_2353 Tonight the streets are lined with buses all waiting for the morning and the next leg of their journey.  We find a nice hotel and snag their last room with 4 beds, air, and internet.  Not sure how good the internet will be as that is always the issue in Brazil,  but we don't plan to spend too much time online and if we must head to the reception area to get a signal,  we may just do that.  Although I slept a large part of the way,  I am still feeling tired and ready for a quick bite to eat and then some good dream time.  We find a Chinese restaurant down the street (which really means Brazilian food) and enjoy a quick meal.  At least it is different then the truck stop food we ate all day. This day saw lots of countryside with little exploring but I hope tomorrow will be a little different.  We have made good time and are only an hour from our first destination Lencois.  We should get an early start and be there quickly tomorrow.  Time to do a little internet surfing and then get some sleep.  I am still adjusting to the time change and the night of no sleep.

Monday, January 19, 2015

2015.. skipping time..

OK.. I am not getting the trip to Europe edited and now it is 2015.  I am heading to Brazil again for a few months and wanted to make sure to do some writing while I am there.  I will randomly go back and finish some of the posts I have written about Europe.  They just require some editing and photo selection but that process does take some time.
For today, I write as January 1, 2015 comes and it is time to head south leaving behind what has been a cold fall/winter thus far in the states.  My travel takes me directly from Atlanta to Brasilia and then onward to Goiania. A lift from my neighbor and I arrive at the airport early enough to grab a bite to eat.  It includes a diet coke as I will not find those in Brazil.   When I get to the gate I am called to the desk to confirm my passport and visa and the agent at the gate recognizes me.  She knows my partner's sister and we exchange pleasantries. The world is truly quite small. Soon the boarding process begins,  the airplane doors are closed, and we

are speeding down the runway.  I fall asleep quickly which is unusual for me on these overnight flights but I am definitely tired from being up late New Years Eve.  A short time into the flight I am awoken by the crew passing out the evening meal.  Pretty usual meal and nothing exciting happens on the flight.  I struggle to get a little more sleep but I am sure it is less then 3 hours total.  6:30 A.M. comes and once again we are on a runway scurrying around the tarmac in Brasilia.  As we land I realize the last time I flew through was early 2014 and  I was apprehensive as to whether this airport would be ready for the world cup. The two new concourses were still under heavy construction with what looked like lots of work left to be done.  I remember being doubtful it would be finished in time but to my understanding it was primarily ready for the first games played here.  I open the sash and see the glass structure which is the new concourse.  The plane settles at the gate and soon it is time for customs,  luggage retrieval and then wait for my domestic flight.   My flight is
not for almost 7 hours and I am not looking forward to hauling around my three checked bags for 4 hours.  In Brazil, passengers cannot check luggage unless it is less then 3 hours prior to their flight. I collect those bags and leave customs and to my surprise there is a new baggage check area right outside the door where international flights can recheck their bags right away.  No hauling them around with you, which is definitely a nice surprise and an upgrade.  I get in line behind the couple first in line waiting for an agent and soon a line forms behind me.  I am fortunately one of the first people to make it through customs so my wait is short.  The last time I was in Brasilia they had just introduced free wi-fi so I purchase credit for my Brazilian cell phone and make my way to the upper level where all the restaurants are located and there is plenty of places to sit.  To my surprise all the restaurants are boarded up.  Well, there are still some local restaurants located there like Giraffe's and a Brazilian Italian one,  but those that came right before the world cup last year (-McDonald's, Subway, etc) are no longer there.  I guess
they got in, made their money and are gone.  I find a nice quiet place to wait and browse the internet. After about four hours and some lunch from Giraffe's (Brazilian version of fast food) I decide to make my way to my gate, not sure if they will let me.  Just like waiting to recheck your luggage you had to wait until 45 minutes before your departure time to head through security.  This however, was no longer the case. Oh and on my way to security I noticed a brand new McDonald's on the main floor where passengers check in.  I guess they moved to a more prominent location.  I pass through security with no issues and head down the long hallway into the vast glass enclosed airport.  It is sure more
luxurious than the previous gates for domestic departures. The old concourse had people practically sitting on each other and was always so hot.  The new concourse is spacious and air conditioned with a great view of the planes departing and arriving.  If I had known I could come here earlier I would have but I will know next time.   Filled with people waiting for their flights,  I slowly walk down the aisle taking it all in.   There are more restaurants here as well and I am sure that is one reason they let people into the gate area earlier.  It is much more functional and less crowded then the circular gates of the old domestic terminal.    As I take my seat and wait, I realize that the Brasilia airport is truly more advanced than it was prior to the world cup and has an international feel now.  One last upgrade,  gone are the days of loading onto a bus which takes you to the stairs at the door of the plane.  A modern gate that loads people directly into the plane has replaced this.  The boarding process is quick and I am soon in my assigned seat.  There is a little confusion in the seat next to me as two guys with the same name have been assigned the seat but it is quickly resolved.    The flight is quick (35 minutes quick) and soon I am in Goiania,  get my luggage, am greeted by Luiz, and soon we arrive at my home south of the boarder.  A few hours later Luiz's brother Junior and friend Eda arrive.  The plan is to see more of this vast country with a quick trip as it is summer break here for most and upon their arrival I am informed we are leaving at 4:00 am which to my body is 1:00 with little sleep the night before. But let the adventure being,  I am game as I can sleep in the car.  Ok.. not very exciting writing but will save the trip for my next post in a few days.