James and I had had quite a long discussion about exactly how to end our trip. I mean, there have been so many amazing, incredible highlights: how can you possibly find something to cap it all off?

Then we had a brainwave. Easter falling unseasonably early this year, as it did, mean that the Lent period also started strangely early. And of course that means only one thing: Carnaval. Perfectly timed to fit in with our planned South American trip and a fairly big, blowout ending to the trip.


Of course, being us, we came to the rapid conclusion that just being in Rio, the mother of all Carnaval cities, at the time to enjoy the Carnaval festivities, wasn’t enough. Sure, we could get tickets to watch the Samba parades and maybe take part in some general all round town partying, but we needed something more. I mean, you’ve seen our trip, and it’s been pretty world class. We wanted something extra special, just for us. That’s right, we wanted to PERFORM in Carnaval. Which, a short internet browse and a hefty download of cash later (ouch) we realized was perfectly possible. So we booked it all up, sometime back in December or so, and carried merrily on with our trip.

So we were kind of excited to arrive in Rio. We started off quietly enough, with a nice dinner (and a couple of caipirinhas) and a lovely day down on Copacabana beach, with some more caipirinhas to get us in the party spirit. Plus some good espresso, of course, I mean it was only 11 in the morning after all…… And we started to practice our Samba song (four verses, all in Portuguese, insanely dull) in earnest (once getting a standing ovation from our audience in the bar. OK, it was just the barman, but it still counts!).

Then we went to pick up our costumes. Reader, they were BIG. And GOLDEN. And very very very GLITTERY. It was love at first sight. (They were also extremely large, unwieldly and heavy so we were cursing a little by the time we got them back to the hotel, but hey, I’m a lover of insanely high heels as well. A little inconvenience does not in any way diminish the love).

We were really excited by now, but as yet still had little idea of what we’d actually be doing in said costumes. So we headed to the Sambadrome that night to see our first Samba parade and find out what it was all about.

The Samba parades are actually very carefully structured, rhythmed, and rehearsed events, with thousands of people participating and maybe another hundred thousand watching. In essence, though, it’s basically about one thing: glitz’n’glamour. I was in heaven. Oh, and bottoms. Lots of big wibbling bottoms. James was in heaven. For those interested in the technicalities, each school (they’re called schools rather than clubs because it means they don’t get taxed!) has a strict format to follow, with 2-3 flag bearers (ladies in ENORMOUS skirts accompanied by their “prince”), a set number of floats supported by wings of samba-ing performers, 2-3 sets of whirling ladies (more enormous skirts), the drummers and, of course, the drum queens. They’ll be the ones you instinctively associate with Carnaval, the ladies clad in nothing other than enormous amounts of body glitter, a bejeweled pair of knickers and several ostriches worth of feathers. They of the enormous wibbly bottoms. They’re absolutely gorgeous and more than a little terrifying.

It’s an incredible sight to see and I can’t recommend it enough. We watched until our eyes started to glaze and heads explode from the sensory overload of hypnotic samba drums combined with the whirling, glittering colourful onslaught that is a parading school. We left at three in the morning.

Exhausted, but very very excited. We’d just watched one of the greatest shows on earth. Next night, we’d be part of it.

Critterwatch! Iguazu

Of course the Iguazu falls are absolutely spectacular. But strangely, half the reason we ended up having such a happy time in the national parks surrounding the falls was as much about the surrounding jungly stuff as it was about the falls themselves. This is the closest we really got in South America to full on Amazon style jungle intrepidness, and we were lucky enough to see all kinds of cool stuff. No, unfortunately no jaguars (though I did do my finest jaguar attracting call several times a day) and not even any tapirs. But we did see pretty much all the other very typically Amazonian forest dwellers: a caiman hanging about conveniently just underneath the bridge we were standing on; a toucan posing nicely in a tree just above us. Also a very Iguazu only sight – an enormous big predatory fish whose name I can’t recall, bit like a catfish but bigger, which only dwell in the river beneath the falls – the falls act as such a massive segregator that essentially there are two entirely different ecosystems above and below.

Then of course there were the park’s resident menaces: monkeys and coatis. Or as I call them, attack coatis. Yep, that branch of animalhood that is sufficiently cute that all the park goers feed them junk food and them wonder why the animals turn vicious and try to bite anyone with food. Or anyone who doesn’t try to feed them. Or basically anyone who comes a bit close and looks at them funny. It’s one of my major pet hates in life (not just because of the time in Gibraltar when the monkey stole my ice cream although that does still rankle. I mean, I was 25!!) and poor old James got treated to extensive discourses on the subject. In between having to protect me from the sharp teeth and ravening claws of the attack coatis, of course. Just because they’re only 12 inches high doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be scared of them.

I think what I’ll remember most about the park though is wandering through the forest’s dappled shade surrounded by butterflies. There were THOUSANDS of butterflies. Butterflies EVERYWHERE, on our clothes, our shoes, our hands…..

Absolutely incredible.

Paradise Falls

We were getting to the end of our trip. But there were still a few things that we just had to do.

The more curious / bored of you may have clicked on the about link at the top of the page. No, it says almost nothing about us or our trip. Yes, it just contains a link to a video of what is ostensibly a children’s film. Yes, this is a little odd. And yet, the cartoon of Carl & Ellie, who had a wonderful life together only to come to a crashing realization when it was just too late that there was a personality-defining life ambition that they had somehow never got around to fulfilling… Well, let’s just say it resonated rather.

We have met dozens, and seen literally hundreds of retirees traveling around the world. Mostly sat in large groups on tour buses and in tour hotels, they are each living out their life’s dreams to travel the world. These tour groups actually make it further than many individual travelers – Uzbekistan, Papua New Guinea, Antarctica and other far-flung places are littered with them. But large tour groups are a deeply drab way to travel, and if I had a cliché for every time I heard someone complain about how their aged knees couldn’t take them to the local viewpoints and how they wished they had traveled when they were younger then, erm, I would write for the Daily Mail.

And this brings us to Paradise Falls. For Carl & Ellie this was the mystical destination that defeated them (cruelly, it is shown in the movie as being in Venezuela, just a few hours flight away). For Lucy and me, I decided that our analogue was Iguazu Falls.

On the border of Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls is a spectacular series of waterfalls set in a national park in the deep jungle. Caimans, Coatis, Pelicans, butterflies and other wildlife abound. There is a long series of paths winding around both sides of the falls – we spent three lazy and wonderful days exploring, getting happily soaked in the spray, oohing, aahing and generally wandering in the jungle. We also drank more than our fair share of good coffee and did more than our fair share of reflecting on the trip.

And what a trip.