Brazil is a big country. And you really realise this when having to drive between destinations. After Brasilia the next place we wanted to visit was Salvador which was 1,500kms away on the Atlantic coast. Fortunately there was a National Park that looked interesting along the way but that was still 1000kms from Brasilia. This meant we had 2 days of pretty solid driving and we spent the night between the two days parked up at a fuel station. We arrived at Parque Nacional da Chapada Dimentina late on the second day and as it was getting dark we did not really have time to find the right spot to camp for the night so we just camped on the side of the dirt road leading into the park.
The parks name comes from the fact that it is in an area where diamonds were originally found. Alisha and Lucy were very excited about this and were certain that they would find some diamonds on the walk the following morning. At least this meant they were willing walkers on what was a fairly difficult 12 km hike in the heat to see Brazil's highest waterfall. The waterfall is over 400m high but when we got there it did not exist. With it been the dry season the river was not running so there was no waterfall. Just a little pool 400m down at the bottom.
However the views were magnificent. And the drop was not for those who suffer from vertigo. The girls did not get to find any diamonds but they did find some crystals and they seemed to think they were diamonds so they were pretty happy and enjoyed the hike.
That afternoon we found a lovely spot to park up for the night, less than one km from where we had parked the previous evening. We had great views from where we were camped. It was also lovely and cool with the breeze blowing across the ridge. The girls were so happy to get their duvets out again.
The next morning we drove into the small picturesque town of Lencois which was the centre of activity during the diamond mining years. It was a pretty little town but did not take too long to walk around.
We wanted to do a walk up the river past some swimming holes to some waterfalls but after 30 minutes realised it was too hot. In any event there was hardly any water in the river so I doubt the waterfalls would have amounted to much.
On the way to Lencois we had seen a dirt road that went up one of the hills and we thought that it could be a great place to camp. Unfortunately when we got there we were told we were not allowed to camp. We still climbed up to the top for some great views.
While we were up there we could see a small dirt road way below and decided to investigate that to see if we could find a quiet spot to spend the night. On driving down the road we came to a house that had a small botanical garden. We decided to ask if we could park up outside and were warmly welcomed. If we had fit they said we could park in the house grounds. As they were so kind we felt obliged to take a tour of the gardens and were glad we did. The groundsman was really enthusiastic and although we could not understand hardly any of his Portuguese he showed us around explaining all about the plants. Especially impressive were the orchids.
The next day was another long drive to just outside Salvador where we camped in a campground that was mainly full of long term residents. On arriving we immediately went to the beach to dip our toes in the sea. We may not yet have completed South America from North to South but we have now done it from West to East. We spent a relaxing day at the campsite including taking the girls to the beach. The sea was too rough to swim in but it was still good for a paddle. Next up Salvador.
We were awoken on Saturday by the distinctive rasp of a toucan just outside the truck's window. What a lovely way to wake up on another hot sunny morning. Another, was the full buffet breakfast provided by the hotel whose car park we were parked up in. We never quite understood why parking and breakfast combined in that way, but we enjoyed it anyway. Heading almost due east again towards Pirenopolis we traversed the Brazilian National road: BR-070. Our sat nav (always a temperamental lady) insists on calling all National Roads in Brazil "British Rail", like some sort of crazed,ex-colonial, Anglophile type. Anyway this section of the national road wasn't quite up to the moniker, although tar some of the way, they hadn't extended it to any of the difficult bits. So all the hills, valley and bridges were rough, single track, red dirt and the flat bits in between were smooth as silk asphalt. About 20km short of town we stopped at a working cattle farm and historic sugar mill: Fazenda Babilonia. It was declared a national monument in the 60's as an example of a slave built, Portuguese colonial farmhouse. However cruelly it was built, the house was a real rustic beauty. With two large verandas running on either side, massive tree trunk sized wooden floorboards and white adobe walls contrasting nicely with its gently faded greeny blue shutters. Although a museum piece at the weekend it was obvious that during the week it was still used as the family's living quarters. Our main reason for coming to the farm was that they have resurrected the traditional Tropeiros recipes, Portuguese muleteers who came deep inland to find land to farm. With no methods of refrigeration and with food scarce. They had to get ingenious with their preservation techniques and recipes. Served and cooked on one of the huge verandas on a table big enough for several families of farm workers we were presented with dish after dish of delicious foods. From breads made of manioc flour, pork preserved in its own fat, sausages, several types of home made cheeses and a whole variety of tasty morsels wrapped in either maize or banana leaves. In the end we counted 25 separate dishes, excluding home-made jams and sauces. Each had a history and story behind them and all were served up with an explanation from the ladies from the farm. Our favourite was the unusual combination of hot Requeijeo cheese and sugarcane molasses recommended by the farm owner, whilst the girls loved the hot chocolate made with milk fresh from the farm. We positively waddled around the farm yard admiring the cows with the huge horns and the antique farm equipment. Pirenopolis is another Portuguese colonial town. The architecture is very different from spanish colonial, the houses are usually single story, less grand but far cuter looking with their brightly painted shutters. Their churches are also less imposing looking, far more in tune with their tropical surroundings. The town was thronged with people visiting for the weekend as it is just a few hours from the cities of Brasilia and Goias. After looking around for a while for a place to stay we eventually found a small campsite/posada that had space for us and a pool to cool down in. On Sunday morning we set out to explore the town, it was very beautiful but the huge numbers of people, traffic and heat (39°C) made it feel less impressive than sleepy Cidade de Goias, which we'd loved just two days before. I am sure it is a different story the rest of the week though as we were the only people in the Posada that night. In the forested hills surrounding Pirenopolis are several reserves with waterfalls. Although baking hot walking to the two falls in Ecologica Vargem Grande Reserve the water was refreshingly icy. As we lounged on the postcard perfect sandy beach next to the pool at the bottom of Cachoerira do Lazaro falls, the sky darkened and the heavens opened. In a natural bowl with jungle all around and above, we watched the thunderstorm flash overhead. We enjoyed the sensation of goose-bumps after so many weeks of ridiculously high temperatures, as we sheltered under a tree. Unfortunately the reserves don't allow camping, so we headed a little way back along the dirt road to a view point over town and the forest to sleep up for the night. Brasilia, Brazil's capital was created in the 60's to take the government's power more into the centre of the country and away from the coast. Famed for its Modernist architecture and urban planning it is the only modern City with UNESCO world heritage status. Planned and developed by Lacio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, Often mocked for its utopian and soul less urban planning, we really liked the city. Laid out in the shape of an aeroplane, the parts we wanted to see where mostly in the "fuselage" section with the highest concentration in the "cockpit" area. The ease of getting around also made a nice change, constantly having to navigate through new cities gets wearing. We took the bus in from the youth hostel we were camping in, in the "tail" section towards the centre. We were amazed to see the buses had "best before" labels on them, they should last 7 years and have a date at the front when they should be retired from service. Also that alongside the usual invalid seat categories at the front, the number one criteria of who should get a seat was obese people! The white painted Niemeyer designed buildings were certainly very different from what we'd seen before and in such profusion, scattered throughout the central axis of the city. The cathedral and Don Bosco sanctuary were two of the most peaceful and spiritual churches we've been to on this trip. Both with stained glass, suffusing the sanctum with light. Many of the buildings including the National Congress used convex and concave bowls as well as other modernist shapes as part of their design. Our progress around town was also aided by the thunderstorm the preceding evening which had broken the unseasonably hot spell we've been having. The ambient day time temperature was now 10 degrees lower, a far more manageable 28°C. One of my favourite little features that the truck has is the concertina mosquito net that is part of the door. We've never seen another truck with it and its brilliant at keeping bugs out. Just how good it is I didn't really appreciate until last night, just as the girls were trying to get to sleep, a huge, and I mean HUGE! cockroach type insect landed on it. The beast was more than 10cm from head to tail and then its antenna were another 10cm on top of that. It was about the same size as a small bird. Of course much hilarity (especially from the girls and I, safely inside the truck) ensued while we tried to get Steve to take a photo of it and then as we flicked it away. Lucy, our little entomologist, of course wanted to put it in her bug catcher but even she had to admit defeat when she realised it was about twice as big as her little plastic pot. Looking it up later we think it was a titan beetle, the worlds second biggest beetle, it has a powerful jaw that can even snap a pencil in half! Our last day in Brasilia was spent shopping for clothes that the girls had grown out of and replacing broken stuff. The highlight of the day was lunch at a fancy Churrascoria, a restaurant where different types of meats are brought round by waiters with barbecue on swords. They only stop when you turn over a slip of paper to red, it was fabulous! Maybe that's an unusual statement from someone who was vegetarian for 17 years but it was excellent.
After over a week in the Pantanal we reluctantly left. We had all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves there and don't believe we could have been luckier with the wildlife we saw. We reluctantly headed back into Cuiaba to resupply the truck. Along our journey many people have recommended we should visit Bonito an area of outstanding beauty with crystal clear waters where you could snorkel with fish. Unfortunately Bonito was too far off our route but we had heard there was a similar place near Cuiaba that was only just becoming known. So off we headed to Bom Jardin. Unfortunately we could not find it on our maps but the guide book said it was near the town of Nobres which we could find on our map. When we got to Nonres we discovered Bom Jardin was still another 65km away. Undeterred we headed out that way. It was starting to get dark as we approached and we had no idea where to stay so we thought the best bet would be to turn up at the farm where you took the tour, book the tour and ask where we could stay. Well, with it being a large farm it all turned out really easy. Of course we could just park up in the car park, so as it was now dark and we had just come down a dirt road this was an ideal solution. Sometimes things just really turn out for the best. After a quiet night the next morning we headed out to the crystal clear pools and river. First stop was a beautiful pool where the water came out of the ground. Here we could snorkel in the amazingly clear waters with lots of fish all around. After that we were taken to an equally clear river where we gently floated down. The fish here were much bigger and it was a really pleasant hour just drifting in the water under the trees and watching the fish. Also as it is still really hot here it was nice been in the cool water. After lunch we headed out and found a lovely spot by a lake to camp up for the night. There was a lovely breeze, although it was still 38°C, and plenty of freshwater so it was time to take care of the week's washing again. The next day we headed to a National Park, Park Chapada dos Guimaraes. The park has lots of waterfalls and sandstone cliffs and is quite spectacular. However it is quite hard to visit as to access most of it you need a guide. Also it was still so hot so doing much walking was out of the question. We were though able to visit the largest waterfall in the park and to admire the views back down to the Pantanal. The park is also meant to be the centre of South America been equidistant from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and from the Northern and Southern tips of South America. The spot is probably not the exact spot and the mark is not exactly a major monument but the girls enjoyed standing on it. As we could not find anywhere suitable to camp we decided to push on. With it been as hot as it is at the moment it is difficult to just park up somewhere for the day as you either need a pool to cool off in or some air conditioning. Baking in the sun is just not an option so we decided to hit the road. As we did a small rainstorm started. This had the effect of the temperature dropping from 37 degrees to 19 degrees and we loved driving with the windows open having all the cool air rush into the truck. However when we pulled in for the night the temperature was back over 30 degrees. That night was spent parked up with the truckers again at a fuel station. We have not been able to buy a SIM card in Brazil as to buy one you need a Brazilian identity number, not something we have. This was introduced to make criminals more traceable. I wonder how successful this has been! This has meant we need to use wifi. Most fuel stations have wifi but the one we stopped in that night didn't. It was also not the nicest so the next morning we set off early. As the girls needed to do school we pulled in shortly after at another fuel station. This one was much nicer, in the countryside and as it was 8am all the trucks were on the road. It also had wifi so I was happy. It also had a couple of toucans in a tree so it was a bit different from the service stations on the M1 in England. The rest of the day was a long drive to get to the colonial town of Cidade de Goias. As we were driving we hit a new temperature high on the trip as it registered 42 degrees in the shade. We are told that this is unseasonably hot for this time of the year. Unfortunately when we arrived in Cidade de Goias it was already dark. We do not like driving in the dark especially when we are looking for somewhere to stay. From the internet we understood there was a Pousada that allowed camping. After finally finding it, it was more of a day time pool place and the owner said he charged by the day so if we wanted to stay the night we would have to pay for 2 days. As it was already late and we would not be using any of the facilities that evening it was clearly ridiculous so we declined. Heading back into town we found a hotel with a small car park and thought we could see if we could park there. The owner could not have been more friendly. He said he thought we were too big for his car park but suggested we just park on front of his hotel as it was very safe so that's what we did. The next morning whilst the girls were doing school I set out to see if I could find somewhere else we could stay where we would also be able to relax during the hottest part of the day. I found a 1970s Soviet tropical style hotel (for those of you who know Prague, think a smaller version of Hotel Praha with palm trees), a big shaded car park and a lovely pool. Then I encountered my next problem. Gilly and my Spanish may not be the best but throughout Spanish speaking South America we have generally made ourselves understood. Brazil speaks Portuguese and we do not speak a word of it. So far very few people speak any English so been understood is pretty difficult. Some people say they speak a bit of Spanish but in all honesty when we have spoken in Spanish they make my Spanish speaking skills look pretty good. So picture this. I turn up on foot at a hotel reception not wanting a room but wanting to ask if we can park our truck in their car park not speaking any Portuguese. Anyway it took a while and still we were no further along in understanding each other so I whipped out my ipad and just showed them photos. Off they went to get the manager and the end result was we could park up, use their internet and a pool so a great result. After paying him the manager said it also included breakfast, or at least I think that is what he said, maybe it is just coffee, we will see. Cidade de Goias is our first Portuguese colonial town. We have visited lots of Spanish colonial towns but this was slightly different. The buildings were lower and it was very beautiful. We had a lovely walk around before stopping for lunch to sample the regional speciality Empedano a special pie. We also bought some of the local sweets which are crystallised fruits. After lunch it was too hot so we spent the afternoon around the pool. Now the beer in Brazil is nothing special to write home about but when it is this hot that first ice cold beer is just delicious. We headed out that evening for some more beers on the pretty square before having a nice dinner. Now I wonder whether we will get breakfast in the hotel tomorrow, coffee or perhaps nothing! It is certainly more of a challenge not understanding anything.