The Unravelling

Cartagena’s old town at night

EVERYONE who expressed an opinion – or knew where it was – assured us Cartagena would be a trip highlight, a jewel in the Colombian crown they were confident would shine brightly among South America’s other treasures.

And they may be right, what we saw was fun, striking, memorable… it’s just that Cartagena will always come with an asterisk. A what if. An if only.

Memories of Cartagena will always be clouded by the fact it is where our trip came to an abrupt, premature end as the real world reached out and dragged us back in from our six-month suspension of normal life.

Not that what we returned to can be classed as normal.

No idea this was going to be one of the final days exploring

Hopefully, as time draws by, the memories of iguanas and sloths in a city park, colourful adornments to narrow streets lined with art, old city walls and a bustling nightlife we met head on will take prominence.

But two weeks since being forced to return from Colombia by the looming spectre of coronavirus, the abiding memories of our time in the historic city remains a trip cut short, hurried goodbyes and a homecoming to a life which is not as familiar and comfortable as it should be.

Only two weeks, but it seems somehow longer, lengthened by forced confinement which contrasts so markedly with the sense of freedom and steady flow of memories and experiences which have characterised the last six months.

The sense of disconnect – both from the life we left behind in South America and the one we expected to be returning to – is palpable.

Umbrella street

Wrote before about “having landed back in a familiar world which all seems a bit out of focus” and that remains true.

Recognise what is around me, it is all just a bit fuzzy round the edges. Like trying to function when ill, everything just seems a bit muted, slightly distant, a touch out of sync.

All a far contrast from the vibrant colour and life of Cartagena which deserves better than being remembered merely as the place it all came to an end. It is too good for that.

What is not to like about a city where you can spot sloths in the park near our hotel, wander down lanes under canopies of multi-coloured umbrellas, flags or plants, watch the sun set over the Caribbean Sea while raising an overpriced cocktail on the city walls or watch a man in ridiculously tight yellow trousers salsa on the street while you eat a pizza?

It does not, apparently, have an escape room, unlike its namesake in Spain. Just in case you are browsing the web and booking things to do in either city.

Not that we had any thoughts of escaping when we flew in from Leticia via a quick layover at Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport – a place where most of would spend too much time just a few days later.

Having made it to the hotel via an adrenaline-fuelled taxi ride, my first meaningful act was to climb in another taxi. And out again when it became apparent he was going nowhere in a hurry, opting for one that was – especially when the driver took the blue lights behind him as the signal to start racing the emergency vehicle.

Our destination was a bit of pampering, once we had found an alternative for the closed initial barbers, for what was always intended to be my last haircut and full shave of the trip.

Got that one right.

Freshly trimmed, headed out for a first outing into the lanes of the Getsemani and an alfresco pizza while entertained – or otherwise – by our colourfully dressed salsa dancer and assorted musicians.

The hat looks better on Lisa. Just wish we had got some more use out of it

All a pleasant, quiet enough prelude for a long, busy, fun day and night that has taken on extra significance with what happened in the following 24 hours – told you it was impossible to distance Cartagena with what it came to represent.

First stop on our day of exploring was the nearby Parque del Centenario spotting the iguanas which call it home. Not that difficult, they are huge.

Next up was the old town where the task was simple, wander the narrow streets, squares and city walls while trying to retain some sense of where we were – a handy trick when we headed back in the late afternoon for cocktails watching the sun go down.

The first signs of what was to follow kept us from our planned destination, new local rules limiting capacity in bars forcing us to find a less congested, slightly cheaper (only slightly and still overpriced) option further along the wall.

After that it is a bit hazy. There was street food, happy hour drinks which lasted rather longer than an hour and a club which involved dancing, trying to track down the drinks we were due with our entrance fee and painting on the wall.

A fitting final blowout if we had any idea that was what it would become.

But by the time the sun rose on Sunday in Cartagena, it was to news of border closures in neighbouring Ecuador (our final destination) and cancelled onward trips, but with our trip to the beach the following day booked, it was another morning exploring the considerable charms of the old town and Getsamani.

First on foot, via a return to the park and more iguanas (this time up trees), monkeys and the sloths we had not fully believed were actually there, then by bike – my first time on two wheels for several years.

Thankfully, it is just like riding a bike and the guided tour provided a fun, informative look at the areas we had been wandering around.

We were all smiles when we returned to our hotel – at least those who made it back.

It cost enough, taking a picture of it

A couple only got as far as the nearby hostel bar which became the breaking news centre throughout the evening as the rest of us dropped in as we passed to discover the latest restrictions, courtesy of Danny and his chats with the hostel owner.

As we headed out for food, restrictions were being tightened and our Playa Blanca trip was off. By the time we headed back, those restrictions were being ramped up, travel was about to become much tougher and the hostel owner was warning of closure.

There was just one option – get home as soon as possible. The frustration many of us felt trying to secure one of the diminishing, increasingly expensive flights proved how right we were not to leave it any longer.

Which means our last view of Cartagena was another taxi ride, this time to the airport and as hurried as the packing and goodbyes which proceeded it.

And from there… not Santa Marta, Taronga, San Gil, Medellin and beyond, but a third visit to Bogota and first time out of the airport. At least as far as a hotel for 24 hours or so before one final goodbye, a last, longer than planned, visit to the airport, an unscheduled night in Paris and home.

To make some sort of sense of what has happened, both in the hasty retreat and the previous six months.

We will work our way through what sense does appear in a few more posts, but that’s it. Journey’s end.

Until next time…

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Imperfect Circle

THIS is not what was planned. This post is not even in the right order. But after the events of the last week, plans and order have gone out of the window.

Last Sunday, we were cycling around the old town of Cartagena, looking forward to a day at the beach before heading to a mud volcano and more of the delights of Colombia.

There would have been a post outlining the delights of our first few days in Colombia (we will get to that), the start of the final stretch of this circuit around South America.

Instead, this is being written back in England. Far away from Colombia and, seemingly, what we had become accustomed to as normal life.

It has been a pretty fraught, frantic, fast-moving seven days (apart from the lengthy bits when there was no actual forward movement) as we found ourselves immersed in the escalating health crisis which had been only on the edges of our radar in the previous few weeks.

We were aware of COVID-19. Aware it was starting to impact well beyond its source point of China.

But South America seemed an outpost away from the hotspots we were seeing on the news, back in the real life we put on hold when we climbed aboard the big yellow truck six months ago.

Maybe our welcome to Cartagena airport was trying to tell us something

Right up until the point real life grabbed us by the shoulder and pulled us back in.

The first inkling things were about to change came last Saturday when news filtered through that neighbouring Ecuador was closing its borders in a bid to protect itself from the rising threat.

South America remains well behind Europe in terms of numbers – at the time of writing, Colombia has 158 confirmed cases and no deaths – but as we were about to discover, nobody was hanging around before acting.

We knew Ecuador’s decision would have an impact. It was, after all, our intended final destination for the final few days, a return to Otavalo and back to Quito to complete the perfect circle.

And a reunion with the truck which, after abandoning attempts to cross via ferry or barge from Suriname to Guyana, had made it back to Brazil ahead of a long drive to rejoin us – reuniting us with the stuff left behind as we hurriedly packed for an unspecified leave of absence.

There was a further hint of what lay ahead when local precautions decreed bars and restaurants operate at reduced capacity, forcing us to buy slightly less overpriced sundowner cocktails on the city wall than planned.

Little did those of us drinking, dancing and painting the night away (more to come on that) realise it would serve as a final evening out.

There is a corner of a foreign bar which will be forever The Shed

Sore heads were not helped by the news the next day.

Lisa’s post-trip adventure to the Galapagos Islands had been cancelled amid the first hints that getting home would become harder the longer we waited.

But by the time we headed out for more exploration of the considerable charms of Cartagena, by foot and on bike, the plan was to bide our time and wait for developments. Maybe flying from Bogota further down the road to meet the truck, collect our stuff and head home from there.

The plan for our last few weeks in Colombia and Ecuador – we managed the first three days

That was our thinking as we headed for pizza in the evening – right up until we ran into tour leader Danny and some of the others in a bar.

Peru had shut its borders (ending an idea to head to Cusco) and our planned trip to the beach at Playa Blanca and phosphorescent seaweed the next day had been cancelled amid growing restrictions being imposed across Colombia.

It was a quiet meal as the looming prospect of what lay ahead of us became impossible to ignore.

And by the time we rejoined those left in the same hostel bar an hour later, things had moved on apace – restrictions were being ramped up, limiting travel around the country, threatening the closure of hotels and making the final outcome inevitable.

Little more than 24 hours after the first inkling it could happen, we were going home.

Or at least trying to.

What was supposed to be a fairly relaxed evening became increasingly fraught amid the search for flights.

With connections in the USA not an option for those of us blocked from getting an ESTA by past travels and without a valid visa, the choices were slim – direct flights from Bogota to Heathrow having jumped from around £250 to more than £1,300 in economy. If you could find one.

Spongebob in Brazil, where he has been holed up for the last few months

And when you did find an alternative, affordable route, by the time you clicked on the deal it had been withdrawn. Or, for others, banking issues delayed payment and added to the difficulties.

But eventually, nearly all of us had flights over the coming days (the stragglers having arrived back in the last few hours).

Lisa and myself flew from Cartagena to Bogota the next day to hole up in a hotel before our flights home, her via Atlanta, Los Angeles and on to Sydney, mine on a simpler route to Paris and on to Heathrow.

At least it was supposed to be simpler. A delayed flight out of Bogota ensured a missed connection in Paris and an unscheduled night in a hotel before a morning flight back to Blighty.

Even then the adventure was not over, my bag enjoying a longer stay in France before we were finally reunited more than 48 hours later.

The last goodbye

We should have been in Santa Marta in northern Colombia today at the end of our detour north to a mud volcano and two more nights in a hammock at Parque Tayrona.

Instead, my hammock has been consigned to the things which will not be needed for a while bag and my bed for the night – after a few days in a hotel yards from my old flat – is my sister’s sofa. Sharing the room with a snoring Labrador.

All while largely with our warm clothing back where we stashed it on the truck heading out of Patagonia – flip flops, shorts and T-shirts are not much use at this time of the year at home.

It is not the way we wanted it to end.

Without the planned closing stretch and final night out, final bush camp, final travel day, final meal, there has been little sense of closure.

And then there were two – farewell from Bogota

Little time to get our heads around what is happening, that what has become our life came to an end very quickly. That further travel plans needed to be ripped up.

Farewells, if said at all, were hurried. At least the two of us had some time in Bogota to come to terms with what was happening before our goodbyes.

Not sure that process has been completed, especially having landed back in a familiar world which all seems a bit out of focus.

Real life means finding a job, finding somewhere to live but that can wait – it means, above all, doing everything we can to stay healthy and help those closest to us do the same.

Some have flown into an automatic 14-day self isolation, some are imposing it on ourselves, one in a tent in his parents’ garden in Sussex. Slightly colder than Colombia.

But most importantly, we are all home safe and apparently healthy.

And that is far more important than what we have missed out on.

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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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Evening of Swing

Home sweet home for the night. That’s my black and white hammock front left.

HAVE been forced to acquire or relearn a range of skills during my overlanding adventures.

My cooking skills were put to the test in Africa and on the less frequent cook groups around South America, while camping – once avoided at all costs – has become second nature. Even something worth savouring.

My linguistic skills, never fluent despite an A-Level pass which is being dragged out with differing results in French Guiana, have been put to the test in a range of languages. Normally mangled.

Waiting to claim our spots

Must stop replying to people in the language from the previous country.

To that list of talents you can add one more – sleeping in a hammock.

Albeit with plenty of work to be done to reach anything approaching expert level

My previous approach of keeping well away was never going to work with hammocks forming our main source of accommodation on two different Amazon boat trips – one of 24 hours and another, still to come, over six nights.

Having taken my first tentative steps into hammock lounging during various opportunities to laze around campsites, the first real exam came on the overnight ferry from Belem to Macapa as our journey north out of Brazil towards the Guianas crossed its biggest hurdle.

Learning to sleep in a hammock

The Amazon river delta.

There was no hiding place for the novice hammock user as the test was taken in the midst of a crowded deck with little room between the person on each side of you – some of whom may be even less adept at this new skill.

Lying in the hammock is not that hard – get comfortable and lie there. Been a master of that for many years.

It is the getting in and getting out which is the biggest problem, particularly given the lack of space on either side.

The first step is to decide on the height of your hammock – the higher it is, the flatter you will lie but with increased jeopardy climbing aboard or disembarking.

Greater height comes with the added advantage that any stray elbows, feet or shoulders from anyone next to you have the opportunity to pass underneath. 

How a stray foot made it into my hammock at one point is far from clear.

Having jacked up the height of my hammock – originally slung by a ruthless advance party we managed to get in the priority boarding queue to secure a prime spot for us all – the question switches to how you climb on and off.

Barely enough room to swing an overlander

You have two choices, the more traditional sit on the middle of the hammock approach (not always easy to line up and avoid being perilously close to one side) and the more ungainly straddle technique – one leg either side and sit back or pull yourself up by the ropes.

Opted for a combination of the two, one to get in and the other to get out – mainly as getting my leg across after increasing the height was not an option, either for my health or those in range of a stray foot.

And so we whiled away 24 hours sleeping, listening to music, reading, drinking, playing cards, exploring the rest of the boat (which did not take long), watching the Amazon go by or just relaxing in our hammocks.

The on-board entertainment was blaring, awful music controlled by a bloke whose main contribution was playing everything at the wrong speed, ensuring Gloria Gaynor managed to sound like both Barry White and The Chipmunks. Think he thought he was mixing.

Sunset over the Amazon

Most of us ventured into the boat’s restaurant, several of us later having to explore its other facilities more often than we would have liked.

Sleeping in a hammock needs a bit more work but it was a more comfortable evening than expected, especially in such tight confines and with many of the lights left on all night.

Not that it was the only unusual sleeping arrangement as we ended our lengthy stay in Brazil by eating up the miles heading north.

After our first day’s driving on leaving Lencois deposited us on the banks of the Rio Palmeiras for the night – which left its mark on Lisa after a slip down the truck steps – the next was interrupted by a walk to a waterfall and a swim in the bracing pool at its base with the added bonus of watching a group of monkeys feasting on fruit on the way back up the hill.

Cold running water

That night’s accommodation bordered on luxurious, an Air BnB in the small settlement of Taquarucu which came complete with dorms – although not enough, a few of us opting to stay under canvas on the lawn.

Told you camping had become the norm.

Alongside a pool and the standard facilities it came with a sauna, which we could not get to work, and a kitchen which we certainly did – the cookery pupils from Salvador putting their lesson to the test and serving up moquecas.

That set us up nicely for a long, hot day on the truck until the search for a suitable bush camp.

Which is where the plan started to unravel.

Unable to reach the hoped-for spot or find something suitable nearby, we headed off on a detour to a place marked on an overlanding map.

Company on the walk back from the waterfall

The isolated Refugio do Raiz was a lovely spot, complete with refreshing showers, a kitchen, seating area and some shelter for those of us who grabbed a prime spot before the late-night downpour.

It was just getting there and away which proved problematic.

Turning down a wrong path in the dark needed a multiple-point turn to return to the main road which merely ground us into the sand, leading to a hot, sweaty session of digging and manoeuvring sand mats.

Refreshed by the facilities and a good night’s sleep, we started the next day in similar fashion, stuck and needing to turn in limited room – more digging, a touch of tree surgery and shifting a big pile of sand making way for the truck’s exit.

Restyling our host’s driveway

Which left the guy from the refuge scratching his head at what his unexpected visitors had done to his entrance.

There was no problem with room the next night as we pitched our tents – thankfully under cover again – in the vast empty area at the back of one of the truck stops which dot Brazil.

So good we are there every lunchtime in Belem

Surprisingly comfortable and handy, albeit limited in facilities shared with a lot of truck drivers. There was probably more scope to look after the trucks.

It was back on the road early as we headed off with a deadline to meet – arriving in Belem in time for Will and the truck to catch his slow vehicle ferry across the Amazon.

While they headed off to 36 hours afloat, we settled into our air-conditioned hotel and set about exploring the city, which mainly revolved around daily trips to a wonderful burger place in a mall and the banks of the world’s longest river as it nears the end of its journey.

It is practical rather than pretty although much of the waterfront has been turned into bars and restaurants while the old markets remain a fascinating place, although still not sure why anyone would want a bottle of spirits with a crab inside.

Nice, cooling drink in eco-cups

We jumped at the chance for beers priced around 20p at a club overlooking the river. Once we had paid a lot more to get in.

But our exploration of Belem was merely delaying the inevitable, our own ordeal by hammock.

Our destination of Macapa was hardly the most salubrious – think closed, wet, run-down English seaside resort – but at least it came with a hotel bed.

And the final chance, for now, to sample a Brazilian caipirinha at the city’s birthday celebrations.

They always help with a good night’s sleep, hammock or no hammock.

Seemed quite apt on the night we left
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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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