Every night we go on a night walk. And every night we would find another creepy crawlie. One night I found a millipede. I named her Squiggley. She was very tickly when she crawled from my hand to hand.
The next dark night we found a cricket. It was as big as a ruler and related to the lobster family.
The scariest night animal I saw was a big and hairy tarantula. It had made itself a nest on a type of tree.
The best camauflaged creature was a wonderful and surprisingly strong stick insect.
There were social spiders. They were yellow which was surprising and they were as small as a pencil lead. They live in colonies of thousands and hunt together and share their food.
Getting to the jungle involved the usual tedium of a dodgy government-run flight, a few hours bouncing around on the back seat of a poorly suspensioned bus, and then several more on a ‘motorised canoe’. We met a lovely German family with 12 year old twins so then passed a very happy evening in Nikki Lodge (which lived up to its billing of being ‘comfortable not luxury’ aka cold showers) with great conversation and a lot of games of jenga, all washed down by warm beer.
Our first early morning walk featured mud and many legged creatures. We snacked on live lemon ants, trudged in the sludge (losing various wellies on the way), spotted squirrel monkeys, capuchins, titi monkeys, toucans and macaws, but without question the star of the show was Squiggley the millipede. He was about 12cm long, by 2cm wide (excl limbs!), with an ‘armoured’ back, and uncountable sets of quadruple legs. He was initially the cause of much squealing (to be fair he was a bit ‘tickly’ and had a penchant for finding his way up sleeves). Suffice to say that he quickly became such a hit that he came back and joined us for breakfast and the 4 kids had to be entreated to release the poor insect back to the wild after he had sat through empanadas and scrambled eggs!
After a pack and a wash, we left the relative security of Nicky lodge for a 4-day private camping trip. Our wonderful entourage included Theodoro the boat driver (skilled and warm hearted), Yasmana the ‘helper’ (short-legged and good humoured purveyor of radioactive bubble gum lollipops), Rita the cook (surefooted and masterful with a yucca root), and Jefferson our non-local guide (newly ‘qualified’, and sufficiently proficient at translating what the others nudged him to say!).
We stopped on the way to our first camping spot to swim in a lagoon. For the second time that say much screeching ensued about the prospective proximity of various piranhas and other life-endangering water-life. My own heebie-jeebies subsided marginally when I established from Jefferson that anacondas are not ‘water-going’ and the 4m black caymans tend to hang out in the forest during the day. Apparently the rule-of-thumb is that if the pink freshwater dolphins are around, then its safe to swim. We saw sufficient fins and bottle-noses to take the plunge, and it was high-adrenalin, but refreshing.
Our first campsite was a lovely island with lush grass and a welcoming shelter. We spent a happy few hours putting up tents, locating night-time essentials, and painting our faces with the red ink from a spiky seedpod that Jefferson (or was it Yasmana….) identified. Theodoro later dropped us at a 93 step viewing tower where we watched pairs of macaws flying to their night-time roost, and a gentle sunset. A fairly hairy night walk was next on the days’ adventure, and Em has ‘baggsied’ that as the topic for her own blog post – coming soon!
The big mission was to reach and pass the Peruvian border, so our days involved a lot of time on the canoe. Mostly that was a chilled affair, taking in the green details of all the trees and foliage around us, spotting wildlife, reading books and making friendship bracelets. James even got some wood and did some whittling with the girls (we nowhave a rather dubious butter knife to add to our lean travel kit!). But, apparently it also rains in the rainforest – duh!!! And when the rain came it was the kind that drenches you before you even get the chance to zip up your back pack, and pull the packaway hood out of your dodgy mac. We hunkered down in pairs using mildewed life vests for insulation (and yes, if you look closely at the picture you I AM wearing a binbag!). It usually only lasted for 30 – 40 minutes, but it was the uncertainty of the duration which was probably the toughest feature of each downpour. The girls were amazing. We never even got a whimper out of them, rather beaming smiles when the sun re-appeared (along with a radioactive bubble gum lollipop from Jasmana).
On night two, just on the Ecuador/Peruvian border our ‘best laid plan’ had to be put aside as the planned campsite was flooded. After a lot chat and chin-tugging, we were eventually offered by the local Ecuadorian border military to camp on one of their plots. On first sight James and I had a bit of a panic. Said site seemed to be a sandfly infested swamp with a half-built building on it. The half built building was jammed with golden silk spiders (amazing creatures but not ones you’d care to share your bed with), and the only way to get up to it was balance your way up a rather unsteady plank to the 10 foot platform. As we adults floundered with the prospect of this habitation option, Bella basically kicked us into play and pulled out her growth mindset. In fact she was absolutely right. The location was spectacular. It was at the intersection of 2 rivers, with Peru one side, and Ecuador the other. The platform we slept on was dry and afforded incredible views of the river and jungle, and we all found different ways to pee off the side of it (so as to avoid tight-rope walking down the slippery plank to pee in the swamp).
Our last night will stick in my memory forever. We fought our way down an increasingly narrow and overgrown tributary to get to Lake Zancudo Cocha. As we burst out of the undergrowth this view of a HUGE lake, surrounded by uninterrupted forrest, and one small camping hut the far side (which is where we got to spend the night) blew our minds. We spent hours swimming in the lake, and canoeing around the border finding wildlife and (after dark), caymans. Rita cooked up a feast (including poached tree tomatoes for pudding!), and we shared a bottle of rum and a bar of chocolate with the crew which made for very jolly times and lots of impassioned toasts to each other in fumbling Spanish.
‘Getting out’ gave us some fun for a final fling. Bella and I hiked the first few hours, following our local guide Bolivar who machetied his way through creepers and branches to create a path. It was a proper sweat fest, but felt really unique and special vs following regular paths. Emily and James took the boat, and had a snake encounter at the side of the lake. It was a colourful chap, swimming proudly at >2M long. Thank goodness they only found it on the last day, and it never found us!
JUNGLE HIGHS AND LOWS
HIGHLIGHTS: mind-blowing daily sunsets, all the incredible wildlife, baby caymans, when Bella entreated us all to ‘be positive’ (about the prospect of camping in the sandfly infested swamp), when Emily did her countdown to diving off the boat (which involved a lot of funky dance moves), going to sleep to the sounds of the jungle, coming round the corner to see the huge lake and our final camping spot.
LOW MOMENTS: when I had to swap tents with Emily, only to discover that the kids tent was about a foot shorter than ours (that was a BAD night), when one of my wellies sprung a leak, sand flies, mosquitoes, and when we found out that anacondas actually DO swim!
Brazil has been a revelation. For a destination that is often portrayed as “a bit muggie”, we started our journey with some trepidation. The stress of exiting our London lives was washed away in the warm water and formidable wind of the coast of three Brazilian states: Ceará, Maranhão and Piauí, all part of the Northeast Region.
Starting our trip in Brazil was an accident, brought on through an encounter with sabbatical planning experts, Lateral Life. Steve mentioned that it is just the right time of year to go, as the key attraction; the Lençóis Maranhenses sand dunes fill with fresh water in June-July, creating perfectly Instagrammable paddling pools.
If anyone needs a max-strength antidote to the stresses of modern life AND you are outdoorsy/sporty type, then we could not recommend a 2 week trip along this coast more. The people we met were extraordinarily friendly, and went out of their way to help out, and the hammock to person density is literally the highest in the world. Even government buildings have hammocks, and you steer your boat from one, and rig one up in the back of your truck, put 6 of them out in front of your house … you get the picture. In our hop along the coast we did not meet ANY other Brits. That is remarkable. The tourists are Brazilians, Portuguese, Argentinian, German and as Charlotte noted, French. For a Brit this adds to the sense you are off the beaten track, and a journey along this coast is one seeped in adventure.
I had a strange experience as we departed from Brazil. My last kiting lesson was with a guy from Argentina called Juan. He’s is the person that most looks like my sadly departed brother that I have met since Christian’s accident in 2006. Juan did not normally teach kids, but Bella had such good control of the kite that he agreed, and they had a great lesson. He also taught me, and with much joy I finished my Brazilian kiting journey with two good cross wind runs. He pressed the point that kite surfing is an “extreme sport” and that you should be careful about who you learn with and how busy the space is (tangling your kite with another can have the effect of putting your foot full on the gas). He really stressed the care you need to take when teaching children. Almost all of his lesson was about safety, and I listened intently as given everything about Juan it seemed like a lesson I should listen to.
So it is bye bye to Brazil. You have charmed us with your warmth, spirit and beauty and we very much hope to return to you one day.
We have been horse riding in lots of places in Brazil. It has been so fun and exciting to explore the sand dunes and national park on horseback. When we got to the tops of the dunes you had a beautiful view of the lagoons and wild animals 🐂🐄🐃 down below. We all had so much fun cantering up dunes and across different beaches. 😀😁🙂
Here in beautiful Brazil we have seen some exotic and amazing animals. First we saw a cool lizard 🐊 camouflaged in a tall palm tree. I also saw some adorable puppies🐶🐾 playing about with each other. When we got to Jericoacoara we all took a horse 🐎and cart to a river estuary. All of us took a boat to an island called Vassouras and there were there most adorable monkeys 🐵🐒 in the the world.
We spent the last few days in what is likely to be our remotest spot until we head deep into the Amazon. Atins is nestled in between the dunes of the Lencois Maranhenses and the delta of the Rio Preguicas. It was ‘discovered’ only 15 years ago by oil speculators, and luckily the government sniped fast and designated the whole area a national park.
Atins is basically one mega windy sandpit. The roads are sand, the beds are full of sand, your mouth is constantly full of sand, but despite the relentless literal grittiness of the place, its raw beauty and the inescapable chilled vibe makes it hard to gripe. Even better there is no mobile coverage and pointlessly patchy wifi, so phones are generally only used for photos.
When I say Atins is remote, this place not easy to get to, which keeps out the chavs in Jeri. Travellers here are 90% French which has had a great influence on the gastronomic standards maintained! So, getting here involved another 3 hour drive down the beach/over dunes in a ute, a ‘ferry’ (aka 6-seater boat where you balance precariously on top of your luggage), and then a schlep up the beach. It was worth though it to arrive and find our new home…. which hasn’t quite yet fallen into the sea.
As ever we gravitated towards active days. Bella and Jimbob both ‘got up’ on their kite surfs which was cause for celebration. We all went on a (barefoot!) 3 hour sunset ride in the dunes which were spectacular, and we got our first sitings of the famous lagoons here (in the rainy season the recesses in the dunes fill with fresh water, and exist for 3ish months of the year until they dry out again). Today we took a tourist truck out to Paradise Lagoon which was sparkling blue, and had some amazing swims and an all out family sandcastle showdown. One other feature of note was my lovely yoga discovery. Some amazing classes on an open air platform under a gorgeous tree. All very spiritual/hatha until the instructor introduced the ‘vibrating bonda (butt) downward dog’. I tried marginally harder to crack the move than the rather po-faced French lady next to me, but my bonda no really shakey shakey.
Atins has brought its share of hardships alongside its amazingness. Our hut was over the water and going to sleep required blocking out relentless ant invasions as well as hurricane level wind noise. Its one of those places where you never feel fresh-skinned – there is always a lingering stickiness of badly-washed-off suncream, sand and general dampness. Also the toilets don’t really flush, but I won’t dwell there….living through it was enough. There are some incredible restaurants, but all of them are very spread out, and walking there (and home!) in the deeply sandy roads at the end of long days in the sun sometimes tested our resilience.
BUT Atins is so festooned with hammocks that you are never more than 10 feet away from one, so I would ultimately find it hard to justify any complaints!