Brazilian Adventures: Expedition Cruising on the Amazon and a Tall Ship Experience off the Coast of Rio

I am sucker for travel pictures and travel stories.And Latin America is one of the places I have always wanted to go,and have never been.So I decided to come out to a presentation about Brazilian Adventures at Toronto’s G.A.P Store in the Annex neighbourhood.

Sean Benner and Jeff Russill both work for G.A.P Adventures and have literally travelled the world,independently and in small group adventure trips.Tonight they showed pictures of some of their recent Brazil trips.

Sean Benner starts off the Amazon presentation

Before we even got started,a little surprise was waiting for us: the crew at the G.A.P Store wanted to give us a really authentic start to this Brazilian adventure,and they served us some authentic Brazilian caipirinhas,a mixed drink consisting of Cachaça (a Brazilian liquor made from sugarcane),sugar and lime.The mood was now set for an authentic travel experience.

Sean,a former Latin American tour leader for G.A.P and a Brazil specialist,told us the story of his 15-day trip called the “Wonders of Brazil” exploration.The 15-day trip starts and ends in Rio de Janeiro.Rio is an interesting metropolis,it is a narrow city that stretches far up and down the Atlantic coastline and sprawls up into the coastal mountains where most of the favelas (Rio’s shantytowns) are located.You can actually tour these areas with experienced tour companies,but it is highly recommended that you not ever venture into the favelas on your own.

Christ the Redeemer blesses Rio

Rio de Janeiro is one of the most fascinating cities in the world,and while there a trip up to Sugarloaf Mountain to see the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue on Corcovado Mountain is a must.Throw in the gorgeous beaches and the beautiful people in famous places like the Copacabana and Ipanema Beach and you have yourself a couple of happening days.

Sean then mentioned Paraty,a beautiful colonial town,now designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site.The highly unusual thing about Paraty is that tide waters regularly flood the streets of the city during certain times of the year.Fortunately for the locals,the houses are elevated so they are not affected by the flooding.

Iguassu Falls – a natural wonder

Iguassu Falls is a world famous destination and one of the great Wonders of Brazil,wedged at the border of Brazil,Argentina and Paraguay.There are actually 275 separate waterfalls that spread out over a 3 km area,some of them over 80 m (260 feet) high.Sean mentioned that from the Brazilian side you have a wonderful panoramic view of the falls,while on the Argentinian side there are hundreds of little trails and walkways that let you get up close to the falls.You can even take a boat trip (reminiscent of the “Maid of the Mist” in Niagara Falls) that brings you face to face with the masses of water thundering down the precipice.The fauna in this area is also unique,Sean told us about a mischievous animal called “Coati” that looks a bit like a raccoon and has a similar penchant for steeling food and playing other tricks on the visitors.

The Pantanal is an extensive wetland area full of interesting wildlife.Tour travellers ride on big trucks over dirt roads and sleep in hammocks.The local fauna includes caymans (an alligator species),giant armadillos,anteaters and a variety of rare birds.Sean even showed us a photo of a travel group fishing for piranhas,he said that’s okay “as long as you are not bleeding”.I guess once piranhas taste blood they go into attack mode.

Northern Brazil is a different place altogether: we saw photos of huge sand dunes and Sean mentioned that the culture is very different from Rio de Janeiro’s.The major city in the area is Salvador,and its culture,music and cuisine have a strong East African influence.

Local residents check out the Explorer

From there you can head west along the Amazon River on the Explorer Cruise Ship.What makes the Explorer unique is its shallow draft,so it is able to navigate the Amazon and can even pull up to some local piers.We saw pictures of tiny fishing villages and on many photos the natives come right up to the cruise ship and interact with the travellers.Sean mentioned that the local residents love connecting with the foreigners,and usually they will approach the travellers and invite them to a game of soccer.Zodiacs take you off the cruise ship and right into the Amazon tributaries where you have to use a machete to hack your way through the jungle.These are places where no one else can go.And while the travellers are exploring the local villages,the zodiac driver takes the local kids for a ride on the boat.(To win a trip on this famous expedition ship,check out our Travel Story Contest section…).

Near Manaus,a major port city,the black waters of the Amazon tributaries meets the brown waters of the Amazon, and this area is called the “Wedding of the Waters.Manaus itself has a beautiful opera house which was built by rubber barons.Manaus was one of the richest cities when rubber was one of the main export products from Latin America.

Jeff Russell told us about the tall ship adventure off the Brazilian Coast

Then Jeff took over and filled us in on his Tall Ship Sailing Adventure,which took him from Rio de Janeiro to the port city of Paraty.The actual distance is covered is only a couple of hundred kilometers,which stretches into a beautiful 7 day adventure on board of the Tocorimé Tall Ship.

G.A.P travellers often say that the transportation element of the trip is an important experience in itself and this is definitely the case here.The Tocorimé is the brainchild of a young man name Marcus who’s originally from Calgary.He had gone sailing on a French ship,loved the experience and decided to build his own boat.He’s an interesting individual himself in that he now lives in Rio de Janeiro and donates his time to the community to work with local street kids.He also teaches street children how to sail for free.

Marcus spent 4 years raising funds,researching old Portuguese galleons and decided he would build one of these historic ships with hand tools,without electricity and using wood that was hand selected from Brazilian forests with the least amount of ecological impact.He did not use any old growth trees,and the logging itself that would otherwise have taken a few days actually ended up taking almost a year.

The Tocorimé

Although the Tocorimé was built according to historic plans,it is a thoroughly modern ship and is equipped with state-of-the-art radar and GPS systems.The crew will even show you how to plot the course.The accommodation for travellers are berths on two levels which are quite comfortable.Sleeping bags are not needed since the weather is quite warm.Sometimes passengers even choose to sleep in hammocks on deck,right under the stars.

Jeff also gave us some advice on how to prevent seasickness.He uses anti-nausea medicated patches that get placed behind the ear and said that they work like a charm for him.He usually only uses one third of the full size of the patch which gives him enough anti-nausea protection without putting him to sleep.Nausea is generally not a large problem since the ship does not sail on open water.

The ship has two shared bathrooms with built in showers.Much of the personal cleaning actually happens when travellers swim in the local waters.G.A.P provides biodegradable soap,so you can even save time by combining your snorkelling adventure with your personal hygiene routine.

Originally the Torocimé was anchored in Rio Harbour and hosted a number of corporate functions and evening sunset cruises.Mercedes Benz threw one of those parties,and they loved the ship so much that they donated a Mercedes engine to the Tocorimé.On any of the tall sailing adventures,the Tocorimé spends about 50% sailing with the motor,and 50% of the time it is propelled by the sails alone.Some of the passengers love to climb up the 100 foot mast and dive into the waters of the Atlantic right from there.

Can you find a better place for a sunset than Rio de Janeiro?

Jeff’s adventure on the Tocorimé began in Marina del Gloria,one of the urban districts within Rio de Janeiro that is just minutes away from the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.Sugarloaf Mountain and Corcovado are just five minutes away.After a day of frolicking on the beautiful beaches of Rio,Jeff started his sailing adventure the next day with a safety briefing and instructions on how sailing works.

The Tocorimé passengers are actually invited to participate in the running of the ship.Now this is optional,they don’t have to,but most do because it’s such a special experience to help out on a tall ship.Jeff himself was on watch during one of the nights between 2 and 6 am and he even helped steer the steer the ship with the oversize steering wheel (I’m not sure if that’s proper sailing terminology..).

The first day is spent sailing along the coastline in front of Rio de Janeiro.Jeff referred to it as the “Chile of Cities” because the city is so long and narrow.Rio has a wonderful coastline and the photos illustrated how beautiful it must be to see this world-renowned panorama from a tall ship.

The next morning Jeff woke up in an area called the Mamangua Fjord that is actually a nature reserve,a total contrast to the urban panorama of Rio the day before.This area is not serviced by any roads,there is no electricity,there are no telephones.The Mamangua Fjord is one of only a few tropical fjords in the world.It is surrounded by Atlantic Rainforest and its waters are crystal clear and emerald green.

After the hike,a beautiful view overlooking Mamangua Fjord

Jeff mentioned a story where at the end of Mamangua Fjord he went on shore,picked a bunch of fresh bananas,swam back with them to the boat and cooked up a fabulous breakfast with the freshly picked fruit.A little dinghy will get you out into the surrounding fishing villages where you can hang out with the locals.Or you can hop into the crystal clear water and just relax supported by a pool noodle in 85 degree waters.

Paraty is another stop on the trip and as mentioned earlier,it’s a beautiful colonial city with white sandy beaches.It was founded in the 1500s and celebrated its heyday during the 1700s when Brazil experienced its “Golden Century”.Gold was mined in the surrounding areas and Paraty was the main port town through which this precious metal was transported back to Portugal.At some point Paraty had 16,000 inhabitants,but it fell into decline and by 1954 only 500 people were living there.During the 1970s roads were finally built to Paraty and tourist started to arrive to visit this well-preserved city.It has now also been designated as a UNESO World Heritage Site and today remains a major port for exporting sugar.Paraty also hosts several Cachaça refineries where sugar cane is refined into liquor.

Street scene in Paraty

Then,the next day you wake up and find yourself in a totally different environment around Ilha Grande.Snorkelling is quite good in this area and although there is no coral you see lots of tropical fish in the clear coastal waters.This picturesque area offers hiking,snorkelling,waterfalls or simply some relaxing lounging in beautiful surroundings.Many of the dinners on this Tall Ship Adventure are actually held outside on deserted beaches,where a simple barbecue is built and the travellers enjoy a freshly-cooked meal,followed by some live bossanova sounds with drums and guitars.

One of the special experiences on Ilha Grande is that dolphins come right up to the ship and some travellers climb down the anchor and touch them.Porpoises can also be seen swimming in the distance,doing backflips,and the more noise you make,the better performance they will give you.

The food on the Tocorimé is an experience itself,the cook,a Brazilian lady who doesn’t speak a word of English whips up delicious meals with fresh fish,chicken,steaks,lots of vegetables,salads made of exotic vegetables like palm hearts and tasty fresh fruits.Some of the specialties include fish and seafood curries,but even vegetarians will always have a great variety of delicacies to choose from.

Jeff and Sean wrapped up their colourful presentation and made themselves available to questions from the crowd.The audience members asked about other Latin American trips,other G.A.P sailing adventures and trips that offer a high level of physical activity.Three G.A.P staff were on hand to answer all their questions.

My main question remains – with all these wonderful trips to choose from,which one do you pick?


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