Buenos Aires, Argentina
In a battle between one small rodent and two reasonably intelligent human beings, you’d like to think the superior species would easily prevail.
What chance has one teeny mouse got of evading all the ingenious, dastardly plots we can conjure up to ensure its demise?
As it happens, quite a good one.
Not only did our new visitor, Señor Mouse (aka The Little Bastard), run rings around us for a full week, he also did a pretty good job of unravelling the mental stability of two otherwise quite balanced grown ups.
As previously mentioned, we’d just arrived at the idyllic coastal village of Caraiva, in Brazil’s Bahia state, and that night I’d been woken up by something biting me on the finger.
The following day we discovered a chewed up bag of couscous in the cupboard. We spent a short while trying to convince ourselves it was ‘probably just an insect’, despite the inevitable conclusion staring us in the face. Teeth marks on my hand + teeth marks on the couscous = our first rodent incursion.
That night TLB launched his psychological warfare phase – squeaking, scratching and running around in the wee hours. He was somewhere between the cupboards and the structure of the van, and seemed able to skitter all around us, including behind the panel above our heads.
In times of crisis there are some obvious first moves – consult Google and Facebook. Turns out it’s really common to get meeces and other undesirables nesting in your campervan. In fact the more we read online, the more amazed we were that it hadn’t happened before now.
We’d promised our hosts we’d be no trouble but by day two we were casually asking them “where we could buy a mousetrap”. Caraiva is a tiny village, and the best we could do was find a shop selling rat poison, which wasn’t really our ideal method. We started to dismantle parts of the van and sprinkled the pellets around, feeling hopeful.
But after another sleepless night we started ripping everything out, spreading it all over the garden and ceasing to be tidy or inconspicuous in any way. Our hosts took pity and gave us a key to a spare room in their B&B so we could store our food and other chewables.
When we took off a rear air vent we found that TLB had shredded up some of the rat poison pellets to construct a little pink nest. Now that’s just spiteful.
What was really concerning us was giving TLB enough time to start chewing through the electrical cables that ran all through the area it was scampering about in. We got so desperate we spent an evening crushing poison into little bowls of honey and trying to recreate a mousetrap people had recommended online – a (with hindsight) hilarious contraption involving a honey-slathered platform dangled over a bucket of water, that’s supposed to send TLB hurtling to a watery grave. We went to bed, feeling hopeful. Was he floating belly up the next morning? Was he hell.
Anyone who’s lived with a rodent will know how head-bangingly frustrating it is. We’d dismantled every possible part of the van, but couldn’t find exactly where TLB was living. Short of smashing the car to pieces (believe me, we considered it) we were out of DIY options.
When not giving the van the spring clean of its life we took as much time as possible to enjoy this special place. We’d made a big effort to get there and didn’t want to leave early just because of a stupid mouse. We swam in deliciously warm calm water, drank from fresh coconuts, and took a canoe to the main village where we tried our first moqueca – a spicy seafood and coconut milk stew that arrives bubbling away in a clay pot. So, not so bad then.
When we did head off we decided we’d have to drive to a big town to seek out some professional help. After a frustrating two-hour search through the streets of Teixeira Freitas, involving fictional addresses, wrong directions and temperatures of 40C, we found Mr Rat Catcher. Relief! We were feeling hopeful.
It’s normally a service for people’s homes and businesses, so it took a lot of explaining and pointing to let him know that we had a mouse in our car, which was also our home. After about 10 minutes we thought we’d finally got somewhere, when he said “okay, so where do you live?”
“IN THERE!“, we almost yelled, pointing for the 20th time to the van parked right next to where we stood. “We live in the car, with the bloody mouse!”
He peered inside, taking in our bijou home with its million nooks and crannies.
“You’ll never find it in there,” he said.
“We know that. That’s why we’re here, asking you to do it,” we tried to say.
The only solution he offered his clients was poison pellets…. argh! He was extremely nice, giving us several bags of poison for free and insisting we all had our photo taken together, but we were no further forward.
We headed to a campsite on the coast at Prado and decided to re-commence battle the next day. But that night was free of eeks, squeaks and scratches. Was TLB just messing with our heads?
Before long a tell-tale smell began to drift upwards from behind the cupboards. We tentatively began to hope that TLB had finally ingested one of the original pellets – either that or it had succumbed to the heat! After a few days we finally declared victory, the mouse had ceased to be, it had shuffled off its mortal coil, it was an ex-mouse. RIP TLB.
Prado was popular with the small but significant community of Brazilian RV travellers, many of whom own massive US-style motorhomes that are bigger than some apartments we’ve lived in. Three couples who were holidaying together showed us some typical Brazilian hospitality by inviting us in to their RV for an evening of coffee, homemade pão de queijo and other tasty snacks. Although one of the group spoke some Spanish and could translate for us, the conversation was still chaotic. On a couple of occasions we resorted to good old fashioned visual aids, including me drawing a picture of a kilt and sporran, and a universally-appreciated discussion about a phallic-shaped vegetable.
We found ourselves back in Teixeira Freitas to get some repairs done on the van, and weren’t too upset to hear we’d need to wait a couple of days for some new CV joints and would have to check into an air-conditioned hotel nights. Damn!
While there we really started to get into the popular Brazilian style of lunching at ‘per kilo’ restaurants – a brilliant and affordable system where you choose anything you want from a really tasty and varied buffet of fish, grilled and roasted meats, pasta dishes, rice, beans, veggies and salads and have the plate weighed to determine the cost.
Jobs done, we were now on a southwards route along the coast, with a plan to get to Rio de Janeiro in time for Jeremy’s birthday.
In lovely Itaunas we scrambled up its gigantic sand dunes to the wind-whipped beach, and ate the best fresh fish we’d encountered in the country so far.
Summer is also rainy season in that part of Brazil and we’d had a fair bit of it. During a short stay in Setiba the weather was starting to deteriorate more and the forecast wasn’t looking great for Rio.
But it was mixed and there were still plenty of great days. We had a corker when we visited Praia do Forno at Arraial de Cabo – another classic, impossibly perfect Brazilian beach that’s all about the cold beers, cocktails and ample buttocks. In the posh resort of Buzios the posing ratcheted up yet another gear.
By the time we got to Cabo Frio it was lashing. We drove to Niteroi, just over the water from Rio, where we hoped we could camp and then store the van while we stayed in a hostel in the city for a few nights. We found a waterlogged B&B garden with camping, but it was empty and closed. The kind owner – who lived nearby – opened it up for us, gave us a key, went home and let us have the run of the whole property as well as charging us very little to store the van while we went away. Bonus. Niteroi has a fabulous surfing beach, from which – on a clear day – you can see across to Sugarloaf mountain. We could make it out pretty well in the haze.
We took the ferry to the city and headed to our hostel, a lovely old colonial house in a district that was brilliantly located for our few days of exploration. With its many coves, beaches, mountains, forest backdrop and neighbourhoods clinging to steep cobbled streets, Rio is ALL about the views. While there’s plenty to amuse yourself with at street level, to see the city you really want to be looking up and looking down. Often the weather doesn’t play ball though, and clouds shroud the mountains, making visibility a problem. We were just excited to be there though. For our first few days the weather sucked but we wandered to cafes, museums and various neighbourhoods, plus did a tour of the renowned Maracana football stadium. While we were at it we bought tickets for a match on Jeremy’s birthday – happy boy!
We had a night out at an excellent live Samba club in Lapa, which resulted in one of our worst hangovers for a long time. Visiting a cachaça bar beforehand, then following up with several caipirinhas was a poorly thought-out plan.
We tried to walk it off the next day at a cloudy Ipanema beach. Even the sight of the guy serving caipirinhas on the beach was making my stomach heave.
The forecasts said Saturday was going to be a sunny day. We’d saved all the main look-up-look-down sightseeing and got up with the lark, ready to do battle with the other squillion tourists who had the same plan.
We had a busy, superb day seeing Rio in all its glory. Not only were the views from Christ the Redeemer unforgettable, but we had a lot of fun watching all the crazy people at the top – doing hippie sun worships, belting out religious songs, taking endless selfies and almost hurling themselves over the edge in their quest to get the best view.
But we did also remember to take some photos of the views….
Jeremy took his vertigo for a walk around the base of Sugarloaf mountain while I joined the throngs on the cable car for another incredible vista from the peak.
When we met up again we enjoyed a refreshing beer with a view of the Christ from the bay. We returned to the beaches, which were packed with people playing sports, flirting, drinking and getting horrific sunburn.
That night we had another birthday blow-out at a restaurant where the chef specialises in Amazonian dishes, serving up incredible fish in imaginative ways – including a starter of tambaqui ribs (just how big does a fish have to be before you can serve its ribs as finger food?!) and a dish of ‘fresh water tucunaré with heart of palm stuffing, served in steamed collard leaves with cream of banana scented with Amazonian ginger, accompanied with rice and fried banana’. Yeah, sounds pretentious, but everything we had walked the walk. Deeelicious.
We loved the uninhibited energy of Rio. The next day we sat in the Sunday market in Lapa, having some beer and fried sardines and doing our favourite thing, people watching. Every now and again the group at the table next to us – probably drama students or street artists – would stand up and do a little performance, then sit down and carry on with their beers as if nothing had happened.
Across the way an old man sold junk from a suitcase – everything from single shoes to framed jigsaws and old football trophies – while the couple next door got slowly, solidly drunk. People walked through the market in all manner of outfits, flesh often spilling from every possible escape route. A homeless man asked us for a spare sardine and we obliged. As he turned to walk away with it, he paused, came back to take a wedge of lime from our plate, squeezed it on the fish and ambled off. If I ever have the misfortune to become homeless, I’m damn well going to have lime on my fish too.
“I will only complete this crazy original dream on the last day of my life”
We spent the late afternoon watching the football match at the Maracana, between Rio team Flamengo and Sao Paulo team Palmeiras. It was a bit of a lacklustre game but a great experience to be in that massive, loud, iconic stadium. Afterwards the losing home team’s fans rounded on the manager, surging to the barriers and shouting all manner of insults, presumably aimed at his mother.
With a steak and cheese sandwich at the pub to finish off his day, I think it was pretty much an ideal birthday for the boy.
We finished off our time with a visit to the wonderful, colourfully-tiled Escadaria Selarón (the Selarón steps) – an intriguing art project that’s helped enliven a fairly ropey part of Lapa. Chilean artist Jorge Selarón has turned a standard set of Rio steps into an ongoing, collaborative, ever-evolving work – adding all kinds of tiles, including ones now sent to him by people from all over the world. The selection ranges from salvaged tiles, to ones specially designed by the artist, to tiles brandishing football colours, place names, flags, national emblems, messages from tourists, and tacky tributes to the late Princess Diana. Having started it in 1990 as a tribute to the Brazilian people, the artist says: “I will only complete this crazy original dream on the last day of my life”. It’s fun to look for the most familiar, obscure, profound or simply beautiful tiles.
But please, we needed a little rest from stairs. We left the city, spent, leg-weary, impressed and happy and returned to the van which was feeling a bit sorry for itself with all the rain and humidity.
Further south along Rio’s coast, we did some less frenetic wandering through the mercifully flat cobbled streets at another UNESCO gem, Paraty, before heading for another dose of beach. Despite arriving in foul weather, the skies cleared and we spent three glorious days at a little campground next to the white sands of Trindade.
As we set off to drive along the Sao Paulo coast it was clear we were in for another scorcher. By lunchtime we could take it no more, and pulled off on to Santiago beach, to throw ourselves into the water for a while.
After that long stop-off we ended up driving late into the evening. We were still using a lot of petrol station truck stops to sleep in – to break long journeys and to save money. Most of them are pretty good, with showers, WIFI and great breakfast joints, albeit with quite a lot of noise from the trucks and road traffic. This night we picked a stinker – a mega truck stop that combined as a bus station.
Zero sleep later we headed south again, and a couple of nights later landed at what we thought would be our stop for Christmas – the island of Santa Catarina, connected to the mainland by a bridge at Florianopolis. Everywhere was getting busy as high season got in full swing. Driving through the city was like being in downtown LA! But when we finally arrived at a lovely forested campground near a beach and lake, it was a fabulous tranquil place.
Nevertheless we were feeling restless. During our Brazil trip we’d been in the process of deciding to end the trip and return to Europe in the new year and trying to sell the van. We’d had a fairly solid offer from a buyer back in the Argentina, and our feet were suddenly itching to get back there. The Christmas weather forecast for the southern Brazil coast wasn’t great, but really we just used that as an excuse to move on. Brazil was an exhilarating, fun, beautiful and exciting add-on to our journey. We packed in a lot of miles in a short period and at times we were knackered with all the driving, but we loved it and were so glad we’d gone. So it was nothing personal, dear Brazil, but we had an urge to get going again.
We decided to spend a couple of weeks by the river beaches in Argentina before heading back to Buenos Aires. The weather forecasts looked pretty good, so all in all a good decision… right? Except that within a couple of days the weather had taken a drastic about-turn. As we traversed Brazil again, in pouring rain, we looked at the news to find reports of major flooding in the exactly the area we were heading towards. We’d driven too far to turn back, so we kept going for the border anyway.
It was getting close to the end of the trip, so why change our habits now? Yes, it looked like it was time for yet another random change of plan.
Things we now know to be true: Brazilians really do rather love getting their bottoms out at the beach.
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