From August 26th to September 3rd I had to privilege of being hosted by the ABETA and the Brazilian tourism ministry on adventures in the Cerrado (pronounced Sehado) of Brazil. After this I attended the 4th installment of the Adventure Travel Trade Summit, which this time was actually the Adventure Travel Trade Summit of the Americas. Dam, I'm lucky!!! ;-)
After a long overnight flight through Panama and Sao Paulo I got to Brasilia, which was created in the 60s to be a unique city and Brazil's capital. I was beat, weary and tired! I stayed at the Comfort Inn, where I tried to order dinner but no-one spoke English and my Spanish was not getting through. So I resorted to my packs of instant oats; I took bottled water out of the fridge, put it in "hot" water from the tap in the sink and got it to just better than warm and put the oats in that. After a 2 minute soak, gulp down - yum; and I mean that both in reality and sarcastically. A kettle would have been nice but communications blocked that.
Fortunately next morning breakfast and a 30 minute workout required no communication and by lunchtime I was met by Tattoo (our Guide), Anne Murphy from Hike New Zealand, Dee Edwards from tell Tale Travel of the UK, Antonio Santos who is Brazilian but lives with his wife in France who he met in Mexico. Then we drove through Brasilia on a tour to meet the last of our group, Don and Kathryn Mankin who are from Venice Beach, California and the only couple in our eclectic bunch. The first thing became clear was that while we all spoke "English" the accents and slangs were so varied we were forced to translate from Kiwi to British, to Trini, to Yankee to Spanish/French/Portuguese/Brazilian for everyone to understand! This brought forth our characters and conversations. Dee is very London in sound and style, sharp in intellect and understated in wit. She got me several times with her verbal jabs and probably took me a couple minutes to catch on. Anne is a ragamuffin/bohemian Kiwi who is now very happily a mommy and successful businesswoman. "Yees". Antonio (Banderas) is Brazilian and strangely understated compared to his countrymen. Don is an author of a variety of books, a hippie, psychologist of note, professor, adventurer and friend of many intriguing people like John Holmes who liked to converse with Don to prove he had more than one large organ. Katherine is a past hollywood starlet and current lawyer who moves between both roles with ease. She is very secretive about her past, even to Don, but it seems her biggest role was in an early 70s tv show where she was the "Tart with a heart" - Dee's words. Tatoo is our fearless leader whose past is as colourfull and varied as any of us. I feel a lot in common with Tattoo as we are both self taught experts on natural history and adventure and have had our families choose us rather than the other way around. The common thread through all of us is undoubtedly love; we all love generously everything from nature to humanity.
A 3 hour drive took us out to Alto Paraisio; at over 3000 feet above sea level it is supposed to be Brazil's highest town. Its known as a vacation spot and for its crystals. The crystals have an interesting history from attracting German, British and American adventurers seeking a fortune during WWII to housing hippies, communes and even a couple UFOs! Its seems during WWII while their fellow countrymen slaughtered each other Brits, Yanks, and Germans worked together to mine crystals which they sold to their mother countries to be used in communication systems to radio where to slaughter each other. Doesn't war make sense??!!!
Next morning we hiked to a couple waterfalls and pools that are both fun and gorgeous. Tatoo introduces us to the Cerrado. This is the worlds most biodiverse savanna (the Serengeti is the largest) with thousands of species of plants and insects, many of which are endemic to the Cerrado. The savanna is created by having a layer of quartz and gravel on top of iron and very hard metamorphic rocks. Hence when it rains the water washes away soil, leaf litter and their nutrients held within. This makes the Cerrado very nutrient poor as is common to savannas; in turn the flora and fauna of the Cerrado adapt to finding innovative ways of getting the required nutrients. The Mained Wolf is omnivorous, so it not only eats meat like rodents or deer but also eats fruits!! Its favourite fruit is that of the fruit of a palm commonly found in the Cerrado. The Sun Dew (pictured) is a unique plant which has sticky dew looking droplets on its leaves which it uses to capture and digest small insects. This is a plant common to savannas world wide. We were there at the end of the dry season so it was very dry and sunny with most the grasses and sedges being quite brown. The Cerrado is cut up by a labyrinth of rivers, which create ribbons and valleys of green in a brown world. The river beds were fashionably coloured with golden browns and reds from iron oxide and other minerals, with steely rocks set against reflections of green and brown hills, blue skies conspiring with dramatic waterfalls and deep green and black pools made for an other worldly landscape. I often mused that a green alien with big black eyes may seem more natural than us human invaders.
Day two and rhythms started to set in: In Brazil breakfast always had choclate cake on offer, though I never indulged, I got lots of eggs and made strange sandwiches, lunch was augmented with snacks and an extra litre and a half of water. Antonio and I would explore and take photos while the girls chatted about everything as Don and I stuck to the best topics - sex, politics and glorious nature. The girls would draw a line in the conversation and I would blindly stumble over it. Dee would make me into some fitness god - yeah right. I would update everyone on how CJ was trying to destroy home, while trying to show everyone the fantastic birds of the Cerrado. Anne was the worst at this as she inevitably looked the wrong direction until I nearly boxed her while trying to get her to see the very loudly squawking Blue and Gold Macaws flying past. By now I had see a hummingbird with a long forked tail several time but never getting more than a flash. Todays hike took us to Tatoo's house, which is on the top of the beautiful hill with a gorgeous view and a stream flowing past it that has several waterfalls; to say I was both impressed and jealous would be an understatement. After the most excellent mandatory daily drill of swim in and chill by the beautiful waterfall we had lunch and continued on the easier but longer hike to Auntie Leonia's Farm. Lively conversation kept minds off weary legs as Antonio and I sped on to photograph anything that caught our eyes.
The first thing I noticed about Leonia's farm were the chickens, which I first thought were some sort of Savanna Hawk or Caracara as they had extremely long legs. Now when it comes to chicken I am a leg and thigh guy and undoubtedly these chickens provided the longest, most succulent and tender legs and thighs I have ever had. Added to this were some delicious sausages that I was looking forward to having with breakfast. Needless to say dinner was delicious; it is often the case when I travel the best food that I have is by some country folk cooking up a storm with live food out their back yard.
A lively campfire conversation centered around the pending night in tents; obviously Dee was not accustomed but was willing (actually she had no choice), while the rest of us were old hands though not fully prepared. I had my most important ingredient - a fleece and enough clothes to be made into a pillow! Dawn birding was great with Macaws, Parakeets, Euphonias, Tanagers and my nemesis hummingbird. Breakfast was agian cake and other things I did not want to start the day with so I asked for the sausages, which were all gone so some eggs were negotiated.
Our toughest and my favourite hike ensued with stretching and steep climbs up a very panoramic mountain that got steeper as we ascended further. The view also improved as we ascended and the group got expectedly slower. Its remarkable that Dee is one of the fastest hikers on flat land and one of the slowest on climbs. While enjoying the view at the summit we were chatting about hawks and the local favourite hawk is the White tailed Hawk and right on cue one glided effortlessly right past us. The summit was a massive flat table op of a mountain with its own ecosystems of mostly savanna and Gallery Forests; which are evergreen forests that survive no more than about 1 to 10 meters either side of a river and can be stacked with birds, monkeys, deer, wolves, jaguars and a variety of things hiding from daytime heat and prying eyes. After a solid hike we had the tough decision of: to swim or not to swim in the beautiful natural pool; of course I swam.
The hike out was just as chatty, beautiful, inspiring and fun, highlighted for me by sighting a King Vulture, which is my favourite vulture. The fact that I have a favourite vulture say a lot about me but it is a magnificent bird. Finally Alto Parisio is in view and I see Tatoo use his cell, so I decide to check in with my wife at home via text. WELL, my phone started beeping like R2D2 with the clones invading: I get about 15 texts that start with an easy "where are you" then get angrier and angrier. So Antonio, Tatoo and I speed hiked back to the hotel where I can call her. The situation was that while I was not in contact with my lovely wife she had gotten very very sick with a first time attack of Asthma on top of a very bad flu and I had info she needed to help the doctor. A phone call and thankfully all was sorted out. The night got even stranger as we got a fantastic gift of a free massage. Dee and I were the last two and maybe the masseuse thought we were a couple since she put us in a room together. Dee is in front of me and as we walk in Dee's masseuse tell her very directly "Get Naked": What!!! My first thought is "Well Dee gets the short end of that stick!!" We disrobe to our draws as discreetly as possible both with eyes tightly closed. I don't know about the others but my masseuse also got quite a bit more "friendly" with her hands than I am accustomed to but I roll with it since the massage was both very good and needed. Later Dee tells us that in Malaysia when men recieve a massage there is often an offer of a "happy ending". I don't think my wife would appreciate that ;-)
The next day we hit the adventure circuit, which starts with an easy hike to the canopy walkway during which we stalk and find the Helmeted Manakin, which is both beautiful and the largest Manakin I have ever seen. The canopy walk way is not the "stroll along while looking at wildlife, plants and birds" at the canopy type. Its is the "strap in and try not to miss the very narrow pole below you adventure" type. Katherine looks less than impressed but we all go for it. I find its fun and challenging, though I would have liked to have been able to stop and watch the plants and birds at the canopy.
Next adventure is my favourite; Rappelling!! We practice a bit and do safety checks before taking the plunge down a 150 foot waterfall. Understandably Don and Katherine say "no thanks", Dee takes her time while Anne, Antonio and I have a blast. If I could have I would of climbed back up and dwon faster and faster until I was bone weary. The "Eagle's Flight" Zip line was next and this was a seriously LONG one, its about 200 feet high and about half mile long. The added dimension is that we start it at sunset. I go first and it really is something like flying in that you're up there so long you start to forget that you are tethered; well except for effort it takes to keep going straight and not spinning like a top. Then as you near the landing pad you realize; SHIT I am going fast!!! Don, a past American Football and Rugby player, is the biggest of us nearly takes out the lovely Brazilian girl catching us. Katheirne is the most excited of us and like me earlier definitely wants to do that again.
That night the weather gives us a fakie with lots of thunder and threats of heavy rain and very disapointing for me; the next days canyoneering is cancelled!! I am crushed!!! Then I go into a bit of a funk. I do not want to drag down the rest of the group so I bite my lip and determine to make the best of it. Of course the next day its beautiful and I am more disapointed, but what the hey, the Chapadas is gorgeous, I get to slide over a waterfall and see a Chestnut-eared Aracari (a Toucan like bird). So my spirits lift, even though there is still a bit of "DAM".
Our last day is bitter sweet as the adventure ends tend to be. The hike is great and I get great looks at Campo Flicker, Horned Sungem and Curl-crested Jay and we go to yet another drop dead gorgeous waterfall. Of course I am now looking for rappelling lines!
The next day we spend far too much time in traffic getting to the hotel, so our intro to Sao Paulo is about the worst I have ever seen, and we are all sure the driver was lost for a bit. The drag of the traffic induced lethargy is unveiled by meeting lots of fantastic friends, most specially is Chris Doyle; my "brother of another mother"! I harass him even though I know he is scary busy, I figure he needed a 1 minute break from the freak out he must have been going through since everyone was very late and the conference schedule had not arrived among a myriad of other issues; its Brazil Baby!!!
I hit conference mode and started to look for business opportunities, so I won't bore you with that. For me the highlight of the conference came when Frank Huglemeyer who is the head of the Outdoor Industry Association gave his keynote speech. He certainly opened my eyes that adventure travel generates far more income than I thought, he also spoke about it from the perspective of the bonding he has created with his son and I swear I saw some tears starting to form there!! On Saturday night Frank, Bryan Kinkade, Fran Farrell and I are chatting when Frank gets the adress of this hot restaurant that "everyone" is going to, and its just 15 minutes away! So we pile into a cab and drive for 30 minutes with no clue where we are or where we're going, the craziness goes on a roller coaster ride as pass through very expensive and very seedy parts of the city and we feed off each other anxiety. We decide THIS IS ADVENTURE! Somewhere in this madness "VIVA LA TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO!!" becomes our warrior cry; go figure! Faith in Frank's resouces are restored as we emerge on this fun and chique restaurant district. We hop out and get our restaurant, which looks fun, but its decided that the corner restaurant looks better. Its JAM packed, so we are given a sidewalk table on the corner. So this is the skinny: 3 Gringos, 1 Trini (who looks like a gringo), who do not speak a word of Portuguese other than "Obrigado", have no clue where they are other than some where in Sao Paulo, Brazil are out having fun; let the madness ensue! It starts with ordering drink, which turns out to be Caipirinha; the 2nd Brazilian word Frank learnt!! It is a citrus falvoured Brazilian answer to Rum that is sweet so it is deceptively evil. Noteably that the name has a strong resmblence to Piranha!! Suitably so. So with alcohol in our collective consciousness we ordered food using Spanish - Carne & Pollo, Italian - Bolognaise, that interspersed a lot of mooing, clucking, fingers making horns on heads and other injections of no, si, hand waving, obrigados, big smiles and raucous laughter at shouts of Viva La Trinidad. The proof is in the eating and the food was great, we rightly felt proud, though it looked that every dish served at this restaurant would be delicious.
The night took an even better stance when a mini buss passed with passengers squooshed to the windows screaming in Kiwi, Canadian and Yankee at us to rescue them. To this we belted our mating cry of Viva La Trinidad, and it was successfull as a bunch of beautiful ladies from all over the planet piled out and joined our motley crew. Emerging were Christiner Heyniger the tallest, funnest blond I know, Natasha Martin, the happiest person I know, awesome adventure gals Trish Sare and Karen Kefauver, enigmatic Paige Stringer and Daniela Papi who does amazing work in Cambodia and goes into a joke competition with Frank. The caipirinha won though!! The night merged into a laugh fest, more food being ordered for the ladies and dancing ensued. Just as I sweated out the evil drink we headed for our respective hotels and about 3 hours sleep. The next night is partying with Chris Doyle and the ATTA team and being served lots of the evil drink, which I respectively take, have a tiny sip and hide.
The final bit of fun is the Day of Adventure; here Chris and I join up a bunch of South Americans, a Kiwi - Geoff, and our Venezuelan guide Fernando. Of course the bus is over an hour late but we head off for a 3 hour drive to the coast for Ocean Kayaking, well so we thought. It was rough on the coast and the tour operator did not realize that the internationals we all descent to very good kayakers. The river kayak was very pretty and I added a bunch of birds including Orange breasted Falcon, Green Billed Toucan, Red rumped Cacique, a Chacalaca along with lots of cool plants. The only down of the kayak is some dog found its way to the river and barked at us for about 30 minutes. It was cool to chill with Chris again. After the paddle I was no done and I took am 18 foot single out into the ocean while other played in the surf with a whitewater kayak (Play-yak). Eventually I got a turn in the play-yak and rode some cool waves. The afternoon was topped with Paradise tanager, my new favourite tanager.