A Better Understanding

Picture: Bradley Slocum

WHAT made Colombia famous?

You could answer something about eccentric goalkeepers, extravagantly-coiffed midfielders, Shakira’s hips not lying, cyclists who go uphill fast and the dubious distinction of losing to England in a World Cup penalty shootout.

Wikipedia tells us Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, is a ‘perennial powerhouse at the World Roller Speed Skating Championships’ (which explains a track in the centre of Cartagena) and the Piloto public library has Latin America’s largest archive of negatives.

And, as one former colleague and various tourist T-shirts repeat, it is Colombia, not Columbia. 

But chances are you answered something about cocaine, Pablo Escobar or the war on drugs (the ongoing fight against narcotics, not the band).

According to The Wire’s Ellis Carver, it cannot be a war because wars end.

But if our all too brief stay in what proved the final country of our South America circuit is anything to go by, there is at least a pretty solid ceasefire in play.

Our last drinks in Brazil

The drug trade which almost brought the country to its knees is still alive, but this is not life in a war zone anymore. 

Even with armed soldiers patrolling the streets – or queuing at the food carts – in Leticia, our first port of call which boasts a healthy number of casinos in case you found yourself with large amounts of illicit cash for some reason.

Colombia, somehow, has managed to turn itself into one of the more stable stops on our itinerary – in comparison with the tear gas which greeted us in Chile, the domestic upheaval which followed us through Ecuador and Peru or the problems which forced us to make a rapid run through Bolivia.

Never mind the issues afflicting neighbouring Venezuela which had us skirting around it and tackling an extended itinerary in Colombia before the need to get home to avoid getting trapped abroad by anti-coronavirus measures.

The border. On the side of the street

Pretty much everyone picked Colombia as a highlight before the trip and if first impressions were anything to go by, that extra time would have been very well spent.

Which is why almost the first (and second) thing we did on arrival was leave.

The border into our final country differed from all the previous ones in that it existed merely as a small sign on a wall, our taxi driver from our slow boat up the Amazon to our hostel pointing it out as he drove along the main road.

Welcome to Colombia. For the third time that day

By the time we realised what he was saying, we had crossed from Tabatinga in Brazil to Leticia in Colombia. From Portuguese back to Spanish.

There are border controls which had us walking the way we had come – in punishing heat given how early it was – to be stamped out of Brazil. 

And straight back again and further to officially enter Colombia.

That all produced the first signs of what was to come, a masked nurse asking health questions as we queued for Brazilian immigration and queries over our well-being and my French Guiana stamp (given France’s status on the danger list) at its Colombia equivalent, tucked away on a raft at the edge of town.

There was a reason for this. Just have no idea what it was

Having officially got ourselves across the border and settled into Colombia, we left again.

This time via a boat across the river with no sign of a border into an island belonging to Peru for a group challenge of three cocktails in three countries in three hours.

Pay attention, this does get tricky. Certainly too tricky for us.

Relaxing with a new friend

We managed the three countries, we just took rather longer than three hours and had to substitute beer at our Peruvian stop because they did not sell cocktails – unless you count pouring Inka Cola into your beer.

Which you really should not do. Count it or pour it into your beer.

Another boat ride ferried us back to Tabatinga and another walk up to the border and a final chance to grab a Brazilian caipirinha. Which some of us grabbed more than once.

A few photo opportunities – another change to normal border protocol – and we crossed into Colombia for one final time and a rather lengthier assault on a bar’s happy hour supplies of Cuba libres, pink dolphins and what they translated as caipirinha milk shakes.

Some subjects are easier to get looking at the camera than others

Thankfully, given the number of cocktails consumed, we had plenty of time to emerge the next morning, pack for a couple of days, explore the town or lounge in a hammock with the hostel cat before heading up the river again for a couple of nights of quiet at a guesthouse in the small riverside village of Macedonia.

Basic but comfortable, much of our food was fresh out of the river.

Some explored the village, some headed out on a muddy nature walk, some fished, some spent plenty of time relaxing, but the highlight for many of us was another river trip to Isla De Los Micos – Monkey Island.

Ready for their close-up

To be honest, it was not the expected day out (and it took a big chunk of the day, given the slow boat which carried us there and back).

Had thought we would be wandering around the island, trying to spot the monkeys in the trees.

What we got was a short walk to a clearing into a posse of little squirrel monkeys who descended around and on us, prompted occasionally by a tactically placed piece of fruit.

Shamelessly touristy and guaranteed to get the camera clicking – if you could click your camera with monkeys crawling all over it.

One of these little buggers disgraced itself all over me

A quiet evening was followed by a much quicker morning boat ride back to Leticia where our final evening produced more spectacular crowds of animals.

As we settled down for a couple of caipirinhas, thousands of parakeets flocked into the park around us to roost at dusk.

While they took up residence for the night, we headed for more cocktails. And a few more.

There were more to come, just not as many as we would have liked.

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Amazon Primed

Danny gets beaten up by a dolphin. Think the look on my face is because one has just swum between my legs

IT is around 6am. In front of me, the first grey light of dawn is silhouetting the trees which have lined the Amazon for the last few days.

To my left, what was once welcome space has been filled by hammocks containing locals who hopped on board for the final couple of stops on our slow ride up the world’s longest river.

To my right you can sense the first stirrings from our fellow passengers with a few early-rising crew taking up their positions in front of the TVs by the little shop which makes up the centre of life on board – sometimes a little too loudly for those who took up residence on the roomier, breezier upper deck.

And nearing halfway down on the port side, you will find me, lounging at an angle which rises with my confidence in hammock dwelling.

Waiting for the breakfast bell to ring and spark the charge to find out what we have to fill the bread roll which makes up the bulk of the most important meal of the day.

Treating the local sights with the respect they deserve

Or the one you can definitely skip in favour of a bit longer in your hammock.

And so begins another day on board the O Rei Davi, our home for six nights up the Amazon – or, to be more accurate, the Rio Solimoes – from Manaus to Tabatinga and across the border (basically a line in the road) into Colombia.

This is the part of the trip we were scheduled to be without the truck.

But instead of bidding farewell to Will and Spongebob in Manaus and rejoining them around Cartagena, we last saw them failing to get on a ferry in Suriname 12 days before boarding.

The splendour of the opera house in Manaus, outside…

While we have wandered our way back to the Amazon, Will’s attempts to cross the river into Guyana have been scuppered by red tape and false rumours about a return to action for a larger ferry, leaving him facing more bureaucracy and a longer race to catch us up somewhere in Colombia.

More details as rumours, speculation and wishful thinking turn into reality.

What we do know is that without our scheduled transport, we arrived in Manaus in the early hours after an overnight bus trip.

… and in

Very comfortable it was, but sleep was at a premium which is perhaps behind my decision to join others in booking a night at the ballet at the Amazonian capital’s rather grand opera house, a relic from its days at the heart of the rubber industry.

It is certainly, as a morning walk around the city confirmed, the prettiest spot in town – Manaus is built for function rather than finesse, a sprawling, growing hub where two major tributaries meet to form what the locals deem the Amazon proper.

Quick snack of ants

Assuming the boxes in the opera house were meant only for two people, given that is how many people can actually see most of the stage given the pillars which separate them – prompting angry words from one Australian at a photographer cutting out even the prime view.

Not that it was too big a blow – the performance of Aladdin appeared, given the cast and thrilled family audience, to be a local production full of youngsters given their role regardless of ability and what Danny (that acclaimed cultural critic) described as “five per cent ballet, 95 per cent running around in circles”.

Up close to the wildlife

It was mercifully short, in contrast to our hugely enjoyable boat trip exploring the local countryside which filled most of the next day.

It certainly started on a high as we plunged into the warm waters of the Rio Negro and swam with pink dolphins.

Well, they swam, under, around and, at one point, pretty much on top of us. We just sort of floated and splashed around with huge grins on our faces as another one emerged from the black water alongside one of us.

Probably the star of the show

Our full day saw us head to a local village to watch traditional dances, fight in vain with huge arapaima fish in a tank (not physically fought, there would only be one winner, just badly on the end of a line), devour a huge buffet and meander through side channels spotting caiman, osprey, iguana and, high in a tree, the sloth we had waited to see.

And we capped it all off with a trip to the confluence of the black, warm Rio Negro and the brown, cooler Rio Solimoes where they run side by side for several kilometres as they form the Amazon.

A day to savour.

The one that got away was huge

The Solimoes became our home as, having spent the final day in Manaus shopping for essential supplies, doing laundry and steeling ourselves for what lay ahead, we made our way down for an experience we had been anticipating and dreading in equal measure since the need to take this detour around Venezuela became inevitable.

The meeting of the waters as the Amazon proper forms

And for the bulk of the six days on board, it was fun – a relaxing, enjoyable change of pace. 

So much so, Lisa and myself largely ignored the bijou cabin we had arranged to alternate with Izzy and Brad, opting to spend all of our nights in our hammocks, only using the facilities to shower, charge gear and for storage.

Only in the last 24-36 hours did the novelty wear off, two night stops seeing the space eaten up by new passengers and we had to be sharp to stop someone slinging their hammock between ours, which had already been moved to the point they were touching.

Then we did retreat to the cabin for some peace until it was time to hit the hammock.

But that was the final stretch, until then the top deck had been largely limited to the foreigners and crew, leaving enough space for us to sit around, read, watch movies, play cards, catch up on photo organisation, reach for whatever drink you had to hand or make return visits to the bar for a cold beer.

Or just lounge around a few feet off the floor – the higher the better for a comfortable night’s sleep,  although not for ease of entry.

Flying free

We fell into a routine, largely based around three meals served downstairs – breakfast sometime around 6am (bread with egg or mystery meat to go inside it, a cup of porridge if you were lucky and some crackers), lunch around 11am and dinner before dark at 5pm.

The meals also fell into a pattern, giving rise to the game of guessing which mystery meat or fish would be served with the ubiquitous spaghetti, rice and beans – not that we were always able to work it out once we had eaten it.

All served up with a drink in your commemorative cup handed out on arrival. Unless you lost it.

By that final night, space was at a premium for any card games or the evening gatherings at the rear of the boat (at one point it was impossible to walk down the side of the boat from the bar to my hammock) and the countdown was on to the final destination at the port of Tabatinga – complicated by various reports of our scheduled arrival time and bouncing back and forth across time zones as the river meandered along the borders of Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

Farewell to the O Rei Davi

But early on that final morning, we took down our hammocks, did our best to shove them back in bags and returned to dry land and taxis for the short journey (not that short when we had to retrace our steps on foot in blazing heat for immigration) across the border to Leticia, Colombia.

And 84 days after first entering Brazil, we bade farewell for the final time.

Or for the first of three final times that day, but we will get to that next time.

Sunset on the Amazon
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Rum, Manatee & the Mash

THE rising sun found its way through the canopy of trees along the riverbank before filtering into the mosquito nets which surrounded our hammocks.

Not a bad way to be woken early from a comfortable night’s sleep, swinging on the porch of the huts which made up our jungle lodge home.

Home for the night

And, considering some of the options we experienced in terms of transport and sleeping during our crossing of Guyana, waking up early in the jungle to the sound of howler monkeys and the local birds – think chickens crossed with vultures – hopping about us was pretty normal.

Or as normal as things get at the moment.

We have, via delays, illnesses, change of plans, sleeping on the move and a spot of carnival, made it to the sweltering Brazilian city of Manaus – capital of the Amazon – pretty much on schedule.

We are here for three nights (complete with trip to the ballet) before heading off on a boat to Colombia for five or six days and catching a flight to Cartagena which, hopefully, will bring us a reunion with the truck.

That last bit was always part of the plan – Will and Spongebob heading overland while we drifted down the Amazon to catch us up somewhere in northern Colombia.

What was not part of the plan is them being an entire country and several days behind us before we even board the boat.

Spongebob tries to hitch a lift
Picture: Will Dreyer

The latest news, following the truck being a touch too tall to fit on a replacement ferry, is they should finally break the magnetic pull of Suriname and start catching up tomorrow.

Fingers crossed. Touching wood. Stroking any good luck charm you may have to hand.

While we were enjoying the delights of Georgetown (and the comforts of an extended stay in relatively luxurious hotel rooms) and finding our own, idiosyncratic way back into Brazil, Will and Spongebob have been going nowhere fast.

Finding a barge to cross was sorted relatively quickly, raising hopes of a swift reunion.

But with paperwork and immigration issues over arriving at an unofficial crossing port, complicated by a national holiday and a looming election, things dragged on.

On the road to Georgetown – genuine village name

And on. And on.

When we finally thought everything was in order and the green light was given, all of a sudden it turned to red, permission was withdrawn and Will was heading back to Paramaribo to await the proposed return to action of the original ferry which was tied up, out of action as we boarded its replacement.

Complete with troublesome arch.

Which is where you left us, the remaining 18 of us crammed into a minibus alongside all the luggage we had grabbed to last us until a reunion with the truck – or everything for the four leaving us in Georgetown and two who depart in Manaus.

We did our best to lighten the load by breaking into the duty free supplies, helped by the driver buying us beer due to the total absence of local currency between us.

The effects of Guyanese rum come to the fore

We had managed to load up on Guyanese dollars at the hotel before the first of several trips to the Red Bar down the road – via a hole in the wall cheesy chips place – with one of Danny’s contacts.

Buying the round is simple – one bottle of local rum (very nice it is too), one bottle of Coke, a bucket of ice and cups for everyone. Repeat to fade.

It all made Lisa and myself grateful our flight to Kaieteur Falls (cancelled, then moved to another operator after a terse email exchange – remind me not to get on Lisa’s wrong side) had been shunted back a couple of hours.

Kaieteur Falls
Cute but apparently deadly

It would have been a shame to have too foggy a head for such a natural wonder, well worth the hour flight each way over dense jungle.

The Falls may not be in full flow – dry season is something we would come to appreciate – but the 226m single drop is still spectacular, however close to the edge you choose not to stand.

Or sit for that oh so daring Instagram pose.

Cock of the rock. Honestly

Throw in sightings of the small but deadly golden frog and the colourful cock of the rock bird and it made for a great day out, rounded off by a trip across town to a T20 cricket match to kick off the holiday weekend which was more notable for the antics of the colourful, if sparse, crowd than the actual contest.

Georgetown itself is very much part of the Caribbean – rum, cricket and speaking English may have given that away – and comes with a different, if slightly rundown, feel to its continental neighbours.

A group of us spent much of the next day exploring some of its delights – the chaos of Stabroek Market, the cathedral with touches of Olde England, drinks on the seawall and an afternoon feeding the charming, huge manatees who live in a lake in one of the city parks.

A manatee in search of an easy meal

Punctuated by a trip to hospital for a few tests on one of our number. Not the last test for dengue fever in the group over the past few days, although only one back in Europe has come back positive.

Just one drink we said. Trouble is, the drink is a bottle. No conversations had that night are legally binding

The night could have ended relatively early but popping into the bar for just one drink when that one drink is a bottle is unlikely to end quietly.

Which made for a slow start to Mashramani – the annual Guyanese celebration to mark becoming a republic in 1970, four years after independence from the UK.

Thankfully, things did not kick into gear until the afternoon, by which time things were very hot, very colourful and very, very loud if you got anywhere near the competing sound systems.

Rare picture of Mashramani without Danny in it

It is, essentially, one long carnival – measure it in hours – with every suburb, town, village and organisation in and around Georgetown out to make the biggest impression.

Those who were not taking part seemed to be lining the sides of the road and, if some members of our group were anything to go by, joining in at every opportunity.

For those still nursing the after effects of a few rums, it was all a bit much after a few hours and we sloped off for a quiet night.

Normal service resumed

Which turned into a quiet extra day, night, morning and most of an afternoon as things gradually eased back into life after the holiday, plans were redrawn and we finally headed out of Georgetown around 5pm in two small minibuses heading for the jungle.

There was a reason we did not see any roads when we flew over the jungle – they do not really exist.

There is one rough, unpaved road which would eventually carry us all the way to the border town of Lethem.

Our transport and our home for the night. Thankfully not all of us

Thankfully it is dry and we made good progress, often at fairly rapid pace, to reach our overnight stop near a ferry around 1am.

We were woken from what sleep you can grab in a minibus four hours later to catch the first ferry and make the short journey to our rendezvous with the boats from the Rewa Eco Lodge, which carried us the two and a half hours back up the river, spotting caiman, otters and assorted bird life, to our home for the night.

And the waiting hammocks which we seized on gratefully to catch up on lost sleep.

Most of did make it up for one venture out of camp – four of us spending a very pleasant sunset hour or so at a secluded lake filled with giant lily pads and bird life.

There was little delay in heading back to the hammocks in the evening and, having pulled ourselves out for breakfast, we were shuttled back up the river for another cramped minibus journey on rough roads.

Thankfully, Lethem was just a couple of hours away.

A slightly more comfortable home for the evening

Wish there were tales of exploring what it had to offer, but even the guy at the hotel – who defied his local accent by claiming to come from Hull – admitted we would be lucky as we headed out in search of a meal.

He was wrong, we did find one.

Whether that was really lucky is another matter.

Our stay in Lethem and Guyana was ended just after lunchtime as we rolled over the border and back into Brazil, waving goodbye to cramped minibuses and welcoming more roomy, comfortable coaches.

If the one which whisked us from Bonfim to Boa Vista was pretty standard coach fare back home, the one which carried us through the night to Manaus was on a different level – double decker, reclining seats, WiFi, power sockets.

Who needs Spongebob?

We do. 

Settling in for a night of luxury on a bus
Picture: Danny Taylor
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The First 400 Pictures of You

Practising my Instagram pose – photographer needs to work on getting the feet in frame

BRAZIL provided a range of wonderful sights over our lengthy first stay in the country – almost as many as the plastic bags they insist on giving you for every item in shops.

Will end this trip with several thousand pictures, taken on my phone, camera on the occasions it is worth digging it out of my locker and the growing piles shared on the What’sApp group.

And that is before trawling through my travelling companions’ Facebook posts to plug any holes in my trip archives.

My collection would have been even larger were it not for several views being obscured by rain as we rolled north through Brazil.

It would have got totally out of control if my photo habits mirrored those who insist on running through the full range of approved Instagram poses.

Find something worth taking a picture of (and many things which are not) and you will see them lining up, getting their hair and clothes just right before chasing the perfect pose – heel raised, side on, hair flicked, peer over shoulder… you know the drill.

Then somebody else has a go, adding another pose which the initial model has to ape.

All while battling the growing queue – something Brazilians are not good at – and the others taking selfies around them, seemingly oblivious to other people and the scenery we are all there to see.

Rare shot of large statue without the taker in the way

Chances are, once they have taken enough pictures, they will turn around and head off without taking too much, if any, time enjoying the view.

And when they look back at the pictures, they will have a shot of their face and maybe, just maybe, a small section of some stunning background in a corner of the screen. Next to a lot of sky.

The crowd at the foot of Christ the Redeemer in Rio was the most extreme case of seeking the perfect pose (followed closely by the walkway on the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls), regardless of how many people were trying to get past and savour what they paid to experience.

Which is why we took great delight in ruining any number of Instagram pictures rather than wait for them to run through the full checklist of poses.

Two Israeli girls joined us on a trip around the natural wonders near Lencois and barely cracked a smile all day, one doing the perfect imitation of a sulky teenager dragged out for the day by her parents.

Judging my facial expressions, they haven’t spotted the camera

That is until a camera appeared and all of a sudden they were all smiles, heels up, hair flicked and arms thrown out into whichever of the approved poses was appropriate for the occasion.

But they come a distant second to the Brazilian couple in front of us in the queue for the lazy river at the water park near Porto Seguro.

She started taking selfies as we joined the queue, all of which filled the screen from cleavage to the top of her head. It could just as easily have been taken at home.

Then he joined in, using the phone as a mirror before both clicked away the entire time we were in the very long queue – first individually and then a few shots as a couple.

Several of which may have Lisa and myself in the background, rather ruining any Instagram post potential.

It wasn’t just us blocking ruining pictures – welcome to Brazil

But if we thought that was it, we were sorely mistaken.

Having grabbed a figure of eight tube to drift down the ride, they sat side by side, phones in hand and proceeded to click away, right up to the point where we got fed up with them blocking the way, lost interest in ruining their pictures and basically shoved them out of the way.

Think they were too engrossed in their phones to notice.

Blocking the way is another Brazilian habit.

More civilised tubing selfie

Not through any malice or intent, they just don’t seem to have any sense of self doubt or self awareness.

It is the same traits which have seemingly eradicated any form of body image issues, allowing them to wander around in the skimpiest of costumes – male, female, young, old, slim and not so slim – without a second thought.

My favourite is the middle-aged man rolling up the front of his T-shirt to walk around displaying his lovely paunch.

And they are the same qualities which make them oblivious to the fact the entire surrounding area does not want to listen to their pounding music all night.

We were able to tell the time at our campsite in Lencois by the 5am fireworks (although, in typical South America fashion, they were often a few minutes late) which marked the start of the morning procession through the streets by a marching band.

It took us ages to get this shot without someone taking a selfie or posing all over it. We managed to get the sign in it as well

All that, after a full evening of religious services in which the Lord is praised at ever-rising volume before handing over to some more hedonistic musical performances, just in case you were getting a bit bored lying in bed.

Somehow we have got used to it.

Some of the time.

But you will see those traits most often in the lack of awareness of anyone around them.

Brazilians don’t seem to do single file. Why let somehow walk past you or come the other way on a narrow street when you can occupy the full width and stop every few yards for a chat?

And don’t even think about an orderly queue, they just do not exist.

The only things Brazilians appear happy to wait for is a meal. Whatever they order, whenever they order it, at least one person will wait until everyone else has almost finished before their food appears.

If it appears at all.

What happens if you ask someone else to take the picture

The only exception is a buffet when waiting is not on the agenda. Particularly on our day trip on a boat from Caravelas.

Breakfast had been a free for all, lunch even more so, the poor chef having to make more pasta for the late arrivals who had been snorkelling after several people had gone back for multiple piles.

Food – breakfast, lunch and an afternoon tea – were served on a table at one end of the boat with a bench down each side.

But afternoon tea, quite literally, took the biscuit.

Having spent much of the boat ride back sat on one of the benches, our stuff was all over it by the time the food arrived.

Briefly unattended to spread the word for those elsewhere on the boat, returned to find two Brazilian girls – one who really exemplified the lack of body image concerns when picking a swimsuit – had moved in next to (or on top of) our stuff and were intent on not moving and not letting anyone pass until they had had their fill.

Amazing the skimpy bikini bottoms survived the extra strain they were showing as she shoved past us through the queue to get off the boat.

Yet somehow, the Brazilian way has become more of an entertainment than a frustration and when in Brazil…

Well, maybe apart from the skimpy swimwear.

Not Brazilian but what happens if you are not totally aware of what is in the background of your Instagram shot (a sight we became all too familiar with)
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We Got The Beat

AMID stunning wilderness scenery, pretty towns and everything else South America has to offer, we have spent time in some of the continent’s major cities.

Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Lima and Quito all left their mark in various ways.

Welcome to Salvador

But after our 11-day beach week jaunt along the Bahian coast, Salvador came as something of a shock to the system.

Mind you, Salvador is likely to come as a shock to anyone’s system.

It is a heady mix of colour, rhythm, cobbled streets, church, music, tourist traps, history and the clash of South American and African cultures.

The top of the lift in the old town, looking out over the bay

Brazil’s third biggest city – after Sao Paulo and Rio – made its name (and money) through the slave trade and attendant commercial opportunities and is billed as the biggest African city outside the continent itself.

Perched on the huge Baia de Todos os Santos (All Saints’ Bay), it is split in two by the cliff which initially made it so attractive as a natural defence – the Cidade Alta reached from the lower Cidade Baixa by the Elevator Lacerda lift and funicular railway.

It comes with a reputation for a unique culture and as a dangerous place for anyone wandering in to the wrong place or touting anything worth taking.

Which, even after one of our party found out the perils first hand on an early-morning solo explore, provides a difficult conundrum.

Very hard to explain, even now

Leaving all but essential items behind and with as little money as necessary, particularly after dark, it leaves you with a difficult decision – leave or take your camera or phone when there is so much to capture as you wander around the upper old town.

All this had been drummed into us as we arrived, a bit frazzled in the heat after a wait to cross the bay from the ferry, and bade farewell to the truck for a few days.

But our life was made easier by a lift ride up to the higher level and a mercifully short walk to our digs in the cobbled Pelourinho district – most of us in an annexe (named the Dog House) round the corner from our hostel with its associated bar and restaurant across the road.

And life became even easier as we regrouped moments later for the hostel’s nightly happy hour of free caipirinhas.

Guaranteed to give you nightmares – the sculpture, not us. Something to do with carnival apparently

Which we took full advantage of each night. Some almost by accident while doing laundry.

Refreshed by the caipirinhas, piles of food served up on the street pretty much outside our room, a live music show complete with extraordinary drummers and a mysterious Bez-style figure in a gimp suit, air con, a first bed for almost two weeks and an absence of sand, we were ready to explore at a fairly civilised hour the next morning.

By the time we regrouped for more free caipirinhas that evening, it was clear most of us had fallen for the charms of Salvador and, in many cases, had rather less room in our luggage with new purchases.

And that was before we took to the narrow cobbled streets and got swept up in the hypnotic drumming which took over the entire district.

The plan was simple. Find a group of drummers and follow them and the rhythm until you stumbled across another one.

Ridiculously over the top

Utterly joyous and captivating as the smiles when we again regrouped outside Zulu Bar would attest.

And quite tiring apparently, considering how quiet much of the next day was, although a lot of that was down to the heavy rain which had us sheltering back in the bar to do our Suriname visa applications before a sedate evening.

After a few more free caipirinhas.

Refreshed, much of the group headed out on a morning walking tour but by the time we jumped ship after the ridiculously gold Sao Francisco church there were just a couple left.

The nightly gathering of the clan

More rain provided an excuse for a quiet afternoon while others attended a class in cooking a moqueca – a Bahian form of fish stew/curry (which they are currently trying to put into action around me) – before a final assault on the free caipirinhas and an evening at a dance show telling the story of slaves and Salvador.

Surprisingly enjoyable and athletic, even if we had no idea what was going on half of the time.

And with that, we bade farewell to Salvador and turned away from the coast which has been our companion for much of the time since leaving Ushuaia at the far south of the continent.

Lencois

Our next stop in Lencois was much quieter, to the point it was easy to find which street stall people were drinking outside because there was not many streets to search.

What the well-dressed cave explorer is wearing this season

When we found them, certainly did not expect to have our pina coladas topped up liberally by a waiter brandishing a bottle of vodka which may have been older than him.

Much of our time in Lencois was spent sheltering from the downpours, listening to the music which booms out regardless of the time and heading out on day trips around the local natural attractions.

Not going any nearer that edge

Which, over the course of a couple of trips in differing conditions, dependent on who was feeling well enough for the first one, we headed out to explore caves, snorkel with turtles (just Lisa got lucky on that one), shelter from the rain, climb a cliff for some stunning views, ruin some Instagram pictures and swim in a river. Before it got too deep after the rain.

Rain ensured a soggy end to our next bush camp on the banks of the Rio Palmeiras – where even in the middle of nowhere, somebody was having a party until the early hours within earshot.

But after Salvador, we are up for anything.

Not your standard waiter

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