Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Another big Jesus

Stairway to heaven
After our interesting experience with a large Jesus Christ at Tierra Santa in Buenos Aires, we had to go and see the even bigger, and rather more famous,  Cristo Redentor, or Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio.

At around 38 metres high, and 28 metres across the outstretched arms, it is a huge statue that towers above the city from its perch on Corcovado mountain.  Clouds permitting, you can see the Christ from all around, looking down on you and supposedly protecting the cariocas (people from Rio).

Having seen that the forecast was for rain throughout our time here, we decided to visit the Christ statue on our first full day, when the rain was supposed to stop for a while.  After a false start waiting on the wrong street, we hopped on a bus to the little rack railway that takes you up Corcovado to the base of the statue.

The train up Corcovado was engineered by Francisco Pereira Passos and Joao Texeira Soares as a result of the enthusiasm of father and son emporers Pedro I and Pedro II, for the view from the top. The first section was completed in 1884. It now covers the full 3824 metres and takes twenty minutes at a speed of around fifteen kilometers per hour.

The Christ statue came along some time later, being inaugurated on 12 October 1931, having taken ten years to complete and been paid for by donations from parishioners. Hector da Silva oversaw the construction of the Carlos Oswald design.

The statue is made from reinforced concrete, but is entirely covered in small triangular pieces of soapstone, giving it a softer and slightly reflective effect. The head was the work of Paul Landowski, and sculptor Margarida Lopes modelled the hands on her own.
Sugarloaf Mountain
The statue has had many visitors over the years since then, but I guess the most fitting was probably Pope John Paul II in 1980, when he blessed the city of Rio from up here.

The statue does look impressive. And I was pleasantly surprised at the relatively small amount of stuff for sale there. There was some of course, as well as the official photographers - we discovered why they were there later - but generally it was fairly unspoiled by the usual hoards of souvenir sellers.

Copacabana beach
We spent a while admiring the views. The weather wasn't great, and made for a slightly misty effect, but the clouds stayed high enough that we could at least see the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, Sugarloaf Mountain and the Maracana Stadium, as well as the hills and favelas that make Rio what it is.

We took some photos, including a few of each other, and were about to leave when we decided that we really should get a photo of the two of us with the statue. So we asked a guy to take one, which he did, but he cut off Jesus' head. Undeterred, we asked a woman, who carefully angled herself to take two pictures - and cut off one of Jesus' hands in both of them.

Despairing slightly now, I found a guy from the USA, figuring that if I could speak to him in English, then I could explain that I wanted the whole of Christ in the photo. He obligingly took a couple and he did get the whole of the Christ in both - but there was a drop of rain on the lens and it obliterated my face entirely.
Us at the statue - or not!
Almost at the stage of giving in, we decided to have one more go, and asked an older guy who had seemed to be taking a lot of care over his own photos. He agreed, and spent a while moving around to get the right position for the photo. And he did indeed get in the whole of Jesus Christ. But....we aren't in the picture at all! Not even the tops of our heads. Now why on earth would we ask someone else to take a photo of the statue without us in it when we can quite easily do that for ourselves?

At that stage we decided that it wasn't meant to be, and it would almost be a shame to actually get a proper complete photo of the three of us, so we gave up. But now we could see why they had official photographers.

On the way back down on the train, we were treated to some extra entertainment as a band got on and performed.  This seems to be a regular occurrence, so perhaps they think people will be bored on the way down otherwise.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


From Paraty we set off for Rio de Janeiro on a five hour bus journey.  This was OK except for the fact that we were at the back near to the toilet.  Half way through the trip, we noticed a bad smell.  A very bad smell.  Some time later, we heard repeated flushing of the toilet.  Some time after that some guy emerged, avoiding an eye contact.  I don't know what he'd eaten, but clearly he shouldn't have.  The smell took a long time to go away and was only partly masked by the eating of mints.

We got to Rio, with our noses just about surviving, and the sun was shining brightly as you would expect it to be.  Little did we know then that this was the only real sun we could expect during our six days here.

Our hostel was nice, although I think calling the room a deluxe double would be considered a breach of the trades descriptions act.  The first room we were offered was a good size, but had no windows and had three sets of bunk beds in it.  We changed it for a room that had a window and a double bed, but was so small that you couldn't open the door fully as the bed was in the way.  The communal areas were decent though, which is just as well as we ended up spending rather more time there than we had anticipated.

As well as the normal hostel facilities, there was the added bonus of a dog to help keep us amused.  Charlie, the very large two year old golden retriever, was friendly but could be a little overpowering.  Nic was held captive by him for a while when Charlie got hold of his arm or his trouser leg and wouldn't let him go.

A couple of days into our stay, the owners brought along a friend for Charlie, a two month old golden retriever puppy called Chanel, which made for some amusing interaction between the two of them as well as some very cute mishaps by her.

We went out the first evening, looking for somewhere to eat.  With the reputation that Rio has, I was a bit dubious about wandering around at night until we had got a better feel for the area we were in, but in fact it seems the area directly around us in Botafogo was reasonably OK.  We didn't find anywhere very exciting though, so after a quick bite we went back to the hostel.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Checking out the Cachaca

I have mentioned cachaca ( pronounced Ka-shassa) a few times in my blogs so far, so most of you will already know that it is a spirit made from sugar cane.  Those of you who like a few cocktails may also know that when added to lime and sugar it forms that most Brazilian of cocktails, the caipirinha.

It is similar to rum, but differs in that it is made from fermented and distilled fresh sugar cane juice, rather than from the molasses that are left after the sugar cane has been boiled. Paraty is one of the traditional and most important cachaca producing areas of Brazil, so much so that at one stage it was apparently known as Paraty.  These days cachaca goes by various pseudonyms including pinga and aguardente - not to be confused with the aguardiente from Colombia.

As we have sampled a few cachacas and caipirinhas we obviously couldn't be in Paraty without visiting a cachaca distillery.  We got on a bus to Penha, and went to Engenho D'Ouro, which is a small distillery making a number of different cachacas.

After a quick explanation of the process, and a look at the model of the equipment used, we got on to the important business of tasting them.

There were three simple cachacas, one that was the basic distilled version, one that had been aged in Brazilian wood casks, and our preferred one that had been aged in French oak.

Then there were flavored ones.  We weren't so keen on the bluey coloured one that was infused with tangerine leaves, but we liked the one with cloves and the caramelised one.  Needless to say we bought a few.

With our bottles safely packaged up, we were a bit early for the bus back, so we took a quick look around the outside of the church that was perched atop a big lump of rock, and peeked down the start of the gold trail.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jazz in Paraty

Unwittingly, we managed to visit Paraty when something was happening, which we think explains why the original hostel was so keen to put its prices up.

The Bourbon Jazz Festival is an annual event here, and attracts artists from Brazil and elsewhere.  All of the performances are on outside stages in main squares and are free.

Not being especially familiar with jazz, and knowing that we like one and dislike other styles, but not necessarily which is which, we figured we'd just try a few.

On the Friday we had planned to see a gospel/soul performer, but it was raining hard, so we skipped that and just went out at about midnight to catch the tail end of a quintet called Delfeayo Marsalis.
The main band that we saw that evening was a seven piece called Reverendo Franklin.  They did a lot of Motown classics and a really interesting uptempo soul version of The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby.
On Saturday we caught Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings, who we both thought that we might actually have heard of, but could be wrong, and an eight piece band called Sao Paulo Ska Jazz.

On the Sunday we watched a couple of guys called Duofel doing a lot of Beatles covers.

I can't say that any of it is likely to rank amongst my favourite music performances, but some of it was pretty good, and for a free and unexpected event, it was quite enjoyable.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Churches, cafes, carts and confectionery

Although the old town of Paraty is small, it has four significant churches.  The largest is the Igreja Matriz Nossa Señora do Remedios which was built over the period 1646 to 1873 to fulfill a promise to Maria Jacome de Melo, a wealthy lady who provided the land to build the town.

Her gift was given with two provisions, firstly that they build this church dedicated to Our Lady, and secondly that no harm was done to any of indigenous people who lived in the area.

The Capela de Nossa Señora das Dores was built in 1800 for Paraty's white colonial elite, while the Ingreja Nossa Señora do Rosario e Sao Benedito dos Homens Pretos was built in 1725 by and for the black slaves of the town.

The Igreja de Santa Rita dos Pardos Libertos was built in 1722 for the freed mulatos, former slaves of mixed black and white ancestry.

But if the town has plenty of churches, it has even more cafes and restaurants.  With many of them obviously aimed at tourists, they are not cheap, and the quality can be dubious, but a few were nicer.

We ate at one on our first evening which was a bit more expensive, but had live music, which is always nice.  One of the waiters appeared to be a wannabe entertainer, as he was continually dancing around the room, trying to get the customers to join in.
There was also a nice cafe with good hot chocolates where we were sat playing cards when a young Israeli guy came up and asked if he and his partner could join us.  We chatted for a while and swapped a few travel stories and tips.

The other thing that we saw plenty of were the carts.  There were two types of carts going around the town.  The first was the horse and carts, both of the practical variety and the tourist sightseeing ones.

The other type of cart was the handdrawn sweet cart.  You could find one of these being wheeled on most of the main streets in the old town.  They all had broadly the same things, including a kind of soft coconut ice which was very tasty.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cobbles and reflections in Paraty

Paraty is one of those laid back places that just makes you want to chill out and  relax.  The newer part of town is fairly standard, but being low rise and with wide roads it feels easy to walk around.

But the main draw here is the old town, with its pretty colonial style buildings and cobbles.  And what cobbles they are!  These aren't your average cobbles, they are killer cobbles.  Big, chunky and very uneven, they look fabulous; but like many things that look good, they aren't very comfortable.

If you know me, then you'll probably know that I do like my high heeled shoes, but there is no way that I would try wearing them here.  Ladies, many of you, and maybe even a few of the guys, will have experienced how tricky it can be walking on normal cobbles in heels but these are much worse.

It is hard enough walking in boots.  You always have to be looking down at where your feet are going especially when, as it was during the whole of stay, it is wet and the cobbles are slippery.

Ah yes, it was certainly wet.  It rained most days that we were in Paraty, and in the old town than meant that the roads flooded.

Some of them just had big puddles that you had to negotiate around.  Others had one long continuous puddle running down the middle or all one side of the road.  And some were just completely underwater.

This obviously is a frequent occurrence, as some of the roads actually have permanent little wooden plank 'bridges' across them.  We also noticed that the official tourist image for the town is one of their churches, complete with reflection in the flooded road. In fact, although the flooded roads could be a problem when you turn a corner and find there is nowhere that you can go without walking through a few inches of water, they did make for some lovely images of the buildings reflected in the water.

Of course the flooded roads do cause some difficulties for the traffic, and we saw a number of cyclists having to alter course or get wet, and a few cars deciding against braving it, or taking it very slowly.

No such issue for the Skol beer van though.  It came ploughing through one of the deeper parts, sending a small tidal wave in its wake, as if the drinking happiness of the people of Paraty depended in it.  Of course it could have just taken the long way around, but where would be the fun in that?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


From the station, we soon arrived at our hostel, which happily was somewhat nicer than we had anticipated it might be.  It was also about the only place that we saw that was open for lunch, so we availed ourselves of that too before setting off to look around.

Paranagua is only small, so there wasn't a great deal to look around, but we checked out a few churches, the old market building and the square with an old animal drinking fountain.

Walking along the beachfront we saw lots of people flying kites, and we came across the rather impressive aquarium building.  Unfortunately the aquarium itself was closed.

A lot of the buildings here are quite tatty, with a number that are verging on decrepid, often with plants - sometimes whole trees - growing out of them, despite still being fully in use.

One was particularly bad, and looked as if the top of the facade might at any point fall off onto anyone below; it was a church building, so we figured they were trusting to God to keep them safe.

Underneath the tattiness though, many of the buildings were actually quite attractive, so those few that had been properly restored looked very good.

We considered getting one of the boats around the shore and nearby islands, but as it was by now pretty hot, and the smaller boats had no shade on them at all, we contented ourselves with staying on dry land.

One thing that I have found strange in a number of places in South America, but noticed a lot here, is that while they may be helpful in putting up some information about a place, they often put that information on a huge great sign which they position directly in the way of getting a good view of whatever it is you are looking at.  Between these signs and all of the messy tangles of electric and phone cables, getting an unobstructed picture can be something of a challenge at times.

In the evening we discovered that being a Sunday, all of the local young people gather along the beachfront and listen to the music blaring out of a number of cars kitted out with huge great speakers.  Some were enthusiastically dancing in the back of a pickup, and I don't hold out much hope for the future state of its suspension as a result.

As well as the gathering along the front, a number of people were driving around with their huge speaker systems too.  We were more amused though to see those who had not yet progressed to cars cycling around instead, some of them with trikes kitted out with the big speakers.

Of course this was all fine while we were up ourselves, and we're not early to bed people, but eventually we did turn in and we found that the party went on for a while and the music as some of the cars went past was so loud that the windows vibrated massively.  Nic donned his earplugs and we both did our best to sleep through it.

Having pretty much 'done' Parangaua the afternoon before, we wandered around some more and then just relaxed in the sun for the rest of the day before starting our long journey to Paraty.

As it turned out it was just as well that we had some time to spare and were sat somewhere with wifi, because in the afternoon we got an email from the hostel that we were due to stay at in Paraty saying that the reduced rate that we had booked with them over a month ago was in fact an error and we would have to pay considerably more. This was doubtless some kind of ploy as they had realised they could sell our room for more as there was an event in town, but there wasn't a lot we could do about it from Paranagua.

So we cancelled our booking there and booked somewhere else that in fact turned out to be in a better location. Happily we have still had the review form for the Che Lagarto hostel, so we will be slating it accordingly!

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Serra Verde train

The point of coming to Curitiba was to take the Serra Verde train to Paranagua, which is billed as one of the most beautiful train journeys, through one of the remaining southerly sections of rainforest.

It was an early start, so I was only just about awake enough to take note of the big train set in the vestibule and the fact that it appears to be someone's actual job to play with the train set and talk to people about it.

On the platform, they had a number of huge bronze tablets with images relating to the train and its journey.  They looked pretty impressive.  I particularly liked the one with the trees and wildlife on it.

The train itself is nothing special, or at least our standard 'litorino' coach wasn't.  The information referred to a bilingual tour guide, which we had reasonably, but as it turned out foolishly, assumed would mean that we would get the tour in English as well as Portuguese.

In fact although she spoke enough English to welcome us, give us a few small facts, tell us that while the first drink was free we would have to buy others, and to try to sell us a DVD (that was in Portuguese), she could not do any of the tour itself in English, so we sat in blissful ignorance of any interesting details.
For those of you who like a few facts though, I do know that the railway line was built between 1880 and 1885, is around 110km, has 13 tunnels and thirty bridges.
The largest is the Sao Joao Bridge which is 55 metres high, and two of the bridges are linked by the Carvalho Viaduct which spans the gap between.
In the main, the journey is spent passing through the forests, and so really all that you are seeing are a lot of trees, banana plants and so forth.  It does look nice, but is pretty much all the same.  The area where is gets most interesting is where you pass along the very edge of a valley and can see across the valley to the steep rock faces above and forest below.

Most of the time there was only the one track, so we had to make stops every so often at a section where there were two, to enable an oncoming train to pass us.  These other trains are the real life of the track as they are goods trains, with huge carriages full of goodness knows what passing back and forth from the port of Paranagua.
At one point we passed a derailed train on its side next to the track.  While this would obviously have been a very unfortunate incident, I guess the train crew, and the owner of any cargo that was on it, would have been fairly relieved that it happened here, rather than in a section where there was nothing at the side of the track for the train to fall onto.  I wouldn't rate the chances of anything or anyone plunging over those rock faces.

Overall, the train journey isn't spectacular.  Most of it is nothing special, but the key section through the forest and around the cliffs is good to see if you are around the area.  Honestly though, we weren't really convinced that it was worth the detour that we made.
There was a short stop at a little chapel.  Again, we didn't get any translated explanation, but we gather this is a little Jesuit chapel built so that they could stop to pray before beginning their walk.  It was interesting as it was decorated with keys and keyholes.  Don't know why though.

What did add to the interest in the journey though was something that happened as a result of the broken air conditioning in our carriage.  As the day got hotter, the temperature in the carriage became uncomfortable and a number of our fellow travellers started complaining about it.  A little later, the guide told us that as the luxury carriages were now empty, we could all move into those instead.

These carriages were designed by Paulo Peruzzo to represent the colonial days when train travel was very popular, and they are impressively decorated and fitted out.  So we went from a basic carriage to the luxury one with proper leather armchairs.  I even decided to try out the toilet and it was all fancy too, with a lamp and everything.
On arriving into Paranagua the town's history as a shipping port was immediately evident as we passed huge areas of shipping containers.  We did wonder why we got a police motorcycle escort as we arrived, but we worked out that this was just how they controlled the road crossings.