At our Big Ball of Courage in 2019 Jeanette and Phil won an incredible trip to Brazil with the very generous Kids Village supporter Steppes Travel in our live auction. This was one of our top prizes, so we were very excited for them to take the trip!
We all know what happened in 2020 and 2021, so Jeanette and Phil’s trip was delayed until May this year. I asked them to take a Kids Village t-shirt and take lots of pictures and maybe even write a diary… which they did!
Please enjoy this blog post which captures snippets of their journal all about this incredible trip to Brazil:
ARRIVING IN BRAZIL
We arrived in Sao Paolo after a great flight on Sunday 8th May 2022. We were met in Brasilia by Delfino who spoke excellent English (unlike a lot of Brazilians we discovered! Thank goodness for google translate!) He told us about visiting London and how he was introduced to the ‘Queen’ at Madame Tussaud’s. He came to Brasilia in 1959 to help build what was to become the capital city of Brazil and he never left. We arranged for him to take us on a tour of Brasilia the following day and tipped him for the transfer – too generously judging by the way his eyes lit up. He might be disappointed after the tour tomorrow!
In the morning, Delfino arrived to take us on our tour of Brasilia. Brasilia has been the capital of Brazil since it was built 62 years ago, replacing Rio de Janeiro at that time. It took only 41 months to build and is characterised by modern architecture and a road system that dominates the city and relies on the assumption that everyone drives a car.
After a couple of days In Brasilia, we set off on a 6-hour road trip to the Cerrado (the Brazilian Savannah). After a long and bumpy journey, we were warmly welcomed at the Pousada Trijunção Lodge by Joao and his lovely team and shown to our room with the warnings about winnie pigs (guinea pigs) mice and rattlesnakes ringing in our ears!!
We did see a tarantula sneaking across the path as we drove to the lagoon and our guide Vinicius cheerfully told us that anacondas live in the lagoon! We climbed aboard a pretty flimsy motorboat and started creeping across the lagoon. We did eventually find a Dwarf Caiman in the plants in the warm shallows. While we took photos and whispered nearby, she remained completely still, not even blinking no doubt thinking we hadn’t seen her.
The following morning, we were up early for coffee and a muffin before heading to the observation tower for some bird watching with Vinicius at 6 am. It was very cold but as the sun inched over the horizon the bird world began to stir. In all, this morning we saw and heard over 40 varieties of birds. These included toucans, macaws, parakeets, and a crimson crested woodpecker. We headed over to the dry lagoon and as we walked, I spotted a ferruginous pygmy owl sitting in a tree. This owl has a face in feathers on the back of its head to trick and deter predators. Owls were quickly becoming my favourite bird. When we got to the dry lagoon we saw some tapir tracks though sadly no tapirs. We saw hummingbirds, parrots, blue jays, lapwings and a puff bird. On another evening, on our way back to our lodge we saw the most amazing sight – Cormorants and Cattle Egrets in huge numbers all gathered for the night on a single tree. As we headed back we saw countless more Egrets heading for the tree flying close to the surface in a V formation.
One really memorable evening was when we went to watch the sunset at the point at which the 3 states of Goiás, Bahia and Minas Gerais meet. The sunset was around 5.30 and it was already getting cold on the back of the jeep. When we got to the frontier, I was relieved to see a building resembling a toilet block as I was in need of the loo and hoping to avoid using the bush toilet. Imagine my embarrassment when Vinicius told us that actually, this was a church! In the times when people were travelling this way (to help with the building of Brasilia for example), they would stop to pray here. It was the smallest church I’d ever seen but it felt like a very special place. Just beyond it was the place where we would watch the sunset. High above an area of dense vegetation that is apparently home to cougars, we had an excellent view of the horizon and the setting sun. On a log nearby the fairies from the lodge had laid out açai juice, champagne, fresh fruit and crisps together with a couple of chairs. The two of us sat and watched the sky changing colour from blue to yellow to a fiery orangey-red while we enjoyed what had been provided for us. Right on cue and just as predicted, we were joined by 2 parrots who came to perch on a nearby tree. We were sad to leave and conscious that this was our last trip with Vinicius.
MOST MEMORABLE PART OF THE TRIP
Now in Alta Floresta at the Cristalino Lodge, we met our new guides and climbed on board the little motor boat to begin the next adventure! This boat trip (and others that we would make later) was among our most memorable parts of the trip. When we arrived at the Lodge it was like being a guest on ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ complete with a wooden walkway. At the observation tower, It was amazing watching and hearing the animal world come to life. On the day we were due to leave Cristalino, we even decided to squeeze in a quick boat trip first thing and we were so glad we did because we got a brilliant photo opportunity with an Amazon Woodpecker. Our guide Mauricio said it was his best sighting of this bird and he took some great pictures which he later shared with me.
One morning, we went upriver to the Brazil Nut Trail where we walked through the forest until we arrived at a huge Brazil Nut tree. The nuts (several of them) are contained within a very hard shell like a coconut shell. They are so heavy and have such a long way to fall that it is not recommended to stand underneath the branches when they are in fruit! When we got back to the boat, our guide Aldo opened a nut for us with a very big sharp knife, something the Agouti (a bit like a large guinea pig) is astonishingly able to do with its teeth. We were then able to see the nuts inside and to taste them. We got back to the Lodge in time for a huge lunch! The food is plentiful here and really excellent.
Despite the heat and humidity, we enjoyed walking upriver to a viewing point (Serra) high above the rainforest. On the way back down we saw a troop of Capuchin monkeys. They were hard to photograph because they move so fast. We also then enjoyed kayaking back downstream. It was great fun and not at all difficult because of the current.
A bit later that day we stopped to watch red-nosed Saki monkeys playing in the trees. These monkeys were originally named white-nosed because when they were hunted, killed and stuffed, their noses would appear white.
When we arrived at Caiman we were met by Thiago, Jo and Bruna. This place certainly has the WOW factor! The bedroom, lounge, restaurant and outside spaces are just fabulous. On our first safari, we saw countless Crab-eating Foxes, Capybara, Ibis, Egrets, Jaburu Storks, Hyacinth Macaws and even, briefly, a couple of Anteaters. We also stopped to walk into the forest slightly in search of Howler Monkeys. We found a male and female with a youngster but didn’t hang around because someone started freaking out about the mosquitoes – it wasn’t Phil!! We stopped for hot chocolate and Coshé, our driver, showed us the Jenipapo fruit, the juice of which leaves a blue stain on the skin and is used by indigenous people for temporary tattoos. Of course, I agreed to Coshé rubbing some of the juice on my hand and the next morning I had a stain on my hand (and also my legs) that looked like bruising.
TUPA THE JAGUAR
One morning we got a close-up picture of a Jaburu Stork, dozens of Caimans around a watering hole and some Jaguar tracks. However, the stand-out moment of the morning was when Tupa the huge 8-year-old male Jaguar just walked out in front of our vehicle. He then settled down in the grass and showed no sign of moving until we were joined by other guests who wanted a piece of the action. Then he yawned a few times before ambling away from us. We were very excited about this sighting and we did see him again as we tracked his movements over the next 10 minutes or so.
That wasn’t the last time we saw Tupa either! The next day guide Bruno used the aerial to track Tupa. When we found him he was just lying down and, in fact, he didn’t do much at all while we were observing him. He’d get up and walk a bit, then lie down again. He is so fat that he ambles rather than walks but he is a very impressive animal. We’d been joined by no less than 4 other vehicles so we decided to withdraw to give others a chance. We then found Fera, the first jaguar to be born at Caiman as a result of Onçafari’s rewilding project. Fera is currently heavily pregnant and is thought to be carrying more than one cub, possibly as many as 3. She is close to giving birth so was resting quite a bit.
After being out on safari, we arrived at a ‘secret location’, we found ourselves at a place we’d driven past every day. What I had thought was the stables or equestrian centre had been transformed into an outdoor eating space complete with Brazilian style barbecued meats and Pantaneiro country music. It was a magical evening, although it was bloody cold. We chatted to a Brazilian family, Giselle, George and their daughter Valentina. Giselle is learning English and I think she wanted to practice with us. It was their joint birthday and they kindly shared some birthday cake with us.
The flight into Rio was stunning, with so many lights twinkling up at us and the statue of Christ clearly visible. We saw so many places on our city tour with Gus that it will be difficult to do them justice. We visited the Christ the Redeemer, the Maracana stadium, the Selaron Steps and Sugar Loaf Mountain just to name a few. Gus had shown us many sights and his commentary was interesting and informative. More than anything, his energy and love for the city rubbed off on me and I forgot that I had been so fearful for my safety before I came.
What a trip.
We are so grateful to both Steppes Travel and to Jeanette and Phil who helped us raise an amazing amount of money for Kids Village.
What kind of trip would tempt you at our Big Ball of Courage auction this year?