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São Paulo - London - Home

The long journey home


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

No alarm this morning as we are not leaving until lunchtime – Yay! The breakfast buffet has some very nice dishes, including a chocolate mousse! Yum.

After completing the packing, we wander down to reception, and sit in the bar, waiting for the restaurant to open, when our transfer driver turns up one hour and ten minutes early. The porter hasn't even had the time to bring our luggage down yet! It makes no difference to us, we can spend some extra time in the LATAM VIP Lounge instead of paying for lunch here in the hotel.

The driver goes well beyond his duty and rushes around trying to find us a wheelchair when we arrive at the airport. We tip him well. The porter, Gulmar, is very talkative, but neither of us speaks the other one's language. I can make out that his claim to fame is that he once pushed Pelé around in a wheelchair.

LATAM VIP Lounge
This lounge is considerably nicer than the BA lounge in Heathrow, so we make ourselves comfortable, grab a few snacks and a drink from the bar and wait.

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Is it ever OK to place your feet on the table where people might want to put their food and drinks? Not in my book, for sure!

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The toilets are like nothing I have ever seen before. They are not cubicles, they are proper rooms, with a floor-to-ceiling door. Each stall is sterilised between every use, with a paper ribbon across the toilet seat and the toilet paper folded to a point at the end to indicate it has been cleaned. One wall has a marble shelf with a basin set in it, and mirrors above. The opposite wall has floor-to-ceiling mirrors. It's like a “House of Mirrors” at a fairground, and I can see dozens of me at the same time. Should I want to, that is.

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British Airways Business Class

Gulmar returns and takes me straight to the gate, where I am first to board. Barry, the purser greets me by name and shows me to my seat without me having to show my ticket. As we are getting settled, Barry returns: “Mrs Howard, when we are airborne, would you like me to bring you an aperitif before dinner?” “Will you be dining with us this evening?” “What would you like for your main course?” “Would you like still or sparkling water with that?” “And how about some wine...”

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Cranberry Blush cocktail: vodka, orange, cranberry, and ginger ale

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The Quinoa Tabbouleh starter with feta cheese, roasted aubergine, and pesto sauce is surprisingly creamy and very good.

The fabulous Tenderloin of beef has a sundried tomato and herb crust and is served with a bacon demi-glace, potato au gratin, roasted tomato, sautéed mushrooms, and spinach.

There are three different types of bread that are baked together, although the butter is disappointingly hard.

The passion fruit and mango mousse with a chocolate brownie is delicious, and the cheese is lovely.

As a result of waiting for connecting passengers, we are 40 minutes late leaving.

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I struggle to sleep as my knee seems to hurt whichever position I am in, so I play “Who wants to be a Millionaire on the games console, over and over again until I finally win the $1,000,000. If only it was real money!

Breakfast is pretty awful – the bacon is so tough I can't cut it, the eggs are stewed, and the so-called sausage is totally tasteless. I eat the yogurt and pastries. When I mention it to 'my friend' Barry, he agrees that it does not look as good as it normally does.

Coming in to land at Heathrow, we fly over the centre of London – I always enjoy this approach route.

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Once we have landed, I am told to wait in my seat until everyone has got off. Oh, the difference between how they treat Special Assistance passengers in the UK to Brazil!

I am eventually pushed in a wheelchair to the end of the corridor, where we are squashed into a sardine-like vehicle at least two inches shorter than my legs. My knees are pushed right up against a glass partition, and we have to wait until the driver has collected three other passengers.

We travel in the underbelly of Heathrow, a part of the airport I have never seen before and have no wish to experience again. Long, bleak tunnels, devoid of life, like something out of a horror movie.

The vehicle takes us through passport control, where the mother and daughter behind in the truck are questioned at length about the fact that they have both Italian and Argentine passports.

When we arrive at the luggage carousels, I am unceremoniously dropped at the Special Assistance holding area with the words: “you might prefer to walk from here if you can as there are a dozen or more people in front of you waiting for a wheelchair”.

Welcome to Britain!

Posted by Grete Howard 11:33 Archived in Brazil Tagged vip south_america sao_paulo heathrow marriott ba wheelchair cocktail british_airways business_class undiscovered_destinations special_assistance latam vip_lounge posh_toilets Comments (0)

Itatiaia - São Paulo

The beginning of the end


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I was finally warm enough in bed overnight last night, and wake up this morning feeling quite refreshed.

Brown Capuchin
After breakfast I hang around the feeders, watching the monkeys gather in increasing numbers.

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Drinking from the hummingbird feeder

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This is what they are all waiting for.

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They are trying to work out how to get from the roof to that feeder.

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Made it!

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I wonder how they are going to climb back onto the roof now?

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No problem!

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Waterfalls
I think Roberto can get the vibe that we are beginning to get a little birded-out, so he suggests we do something different and take a look at some nearby waterfalls, right at the very end of the road. There are three waterfalls here, one that basically goes under the bridge and two that are accessed by a series of steps.

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I am obviously not going to be climbing any steps, so stay on the road photographing the very underwhelming smaller cascades at the lower level.

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David, on the other hand, decides that he wants some exercise and climbs to the top, where the falls are much more impressive, even with the low water level at the moment.

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We go back to the lodge to finish packing - we are leaving Itatiaia today, going back to São Paulo for overnight before travelling home.

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The feeders beckon again, with their brightly coloured tanagers and those fast, fast hummingbirds.

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Female Blue Dacnis

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Male Blue Dacnis

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Golden Chevroned Tanager

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Green Headed Tanager

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Chestnut Bellied Euphonia

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Saffron Finch

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Female Brazilian Ruby

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Planalto Hermit

The sugar water spilled from the hummingbird feeders attracts wasps and ants.

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The lodge has a resident artist, Leonardo, who is gradually filling up a white wall on the terrace with murals of local birds and squirrels.

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Ricardo chilling on the terrace

Brazilian Squirrel
No local wildlife is forgotten here, and the squirrels have their own little feeding box in reception.

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David wants to try and hand feed him, but as he already has a nut, he is not the least bit interested.

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He has noticed the nut

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And now that he has finished his previous one, he is thinking about it.

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Going for it...

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And both of them are happy!

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As we are sitting around chatting with Leonardo and Ricardo, there is a flutter of excitement: one of the other guides has seen a rare bird. All his guests come running, and I want to get in on the action too, but being very slow to get up because of my bad knee, I end up right at the back of the crowd.

Frilled Coquette
The beautiful hummingbird makes a very brief appearance of just a few seconds, and everyone sighs as they don't even have time to raise their cameras to their eyes.

“Did you see him?” asks Ricardo. “I saw him, and I got him!” I reply.

Everyone is amazed and wants to see the results, as despite shooting with my long lens through the gaps between the crowd, I was the only one quick enough to capture him.

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In fact, I manage several shots, but this is the best one.

“You're incredible!” says a very impressed Ricardo, "such fast reactions".

São Paulo
The drive to São Paulo from here seems a lot longer than it did coming the other way, despite the fact that I sleep a lot in the car. We see an accident, which could account for the amount of traffic.

Marriott Hotel
Ricardo drops us off at the hotel – he is off to pick up another couple of tourists tonight.

I ask the lovely young chap on reception – Gustavo – if I can have a room with a walk-in shower rather than a bath, as I struggle to get out of a bath with my bad knee. He finds a suitable room for us, but as it is not ready yet, he offers us a free drink in the bar while we wait.

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After a lovely shower and change, we wander down to the reception, to find that dinner tonight is served buffet-style. Ugh. When we discover the large American group (with the irritating, loud, whiny woman) from the last three nights in Itatiaia are here too, we decide to eat in the bar instead. The menu is available via a QR code on the table, and we place our order.

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My king prawns with a caper mayo

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David orders a huge mixed grill

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I have chocolate mousse for dessert

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Whereas David chooses a trio of ice cream with chocolate sauce

Would you believe it, the Whiny American Woman comes to the bar and stops to talk to us. And there we were, thinking we'd managed to avoid her!

And so ends our holiday in Brazil.

Goodnight from São Paulo, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 11:06 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls brazil birding brasil mural street_art squirrel south_america sao_paulo ants tanager ice_cream cocktail prawns hermit capuchin wasps hummingbirds bird_watching artis ruby shrimps itatiaia undiscovered_destinations euphonia dacnis brown_capuchin monkets brazilian_squirrel coquette chocolate_mousse mixed_grill Comments (0)

São Paulo - Iguaçu

Stage two of the journey to Brazil


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I managed to get some sleep, despite the seat adjustment buttons having a mind of their own, and either not working when I pressed them or continuing to recline when I took my finger off them. When I mention it to the steward this morning, he is quite surprised, as apparently it is a new plane.

Breakfast
The scrambled eggs with pork sausage, mushrooms, and tomato were surprisingly good.

São Paulo Airport
I really should have pre-requested assistance here at Sãp Paulo, as the walk is incredibly long – David estimates almost two miles. We have to clear immigration, collect our luggage, go through customs and walk to the domestic terminal. An official lets me cut in the line for immigration, and I do so myself for customs.

There is a long queue for check-in at the domestic terminal, but a kindly lady sends me to the Special Assistance counter. The young guy there speaks no English and my Portuguese is no better, but we get by using Google Translate.

Opposite the check-in counter is the wheelchair hub, and someone took me straight to a dedicated Special Assistance holding area. As we wait for a porter to collect us when the flight is ready to board, I receive an email from British Airways about our missing bag. Missing bag? What missing bag? We have just collected both bags and checked them in again. I decide to ignore the email.

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São Paulo – Iguaçu flight
The GOL flight is full and I am right at the back of the plane. The steward who helps me cannot understand why they didn't give me a seat at the front of the plane, where there are dedicated seats for the disabled. There is a screaming child two rows in front of me, plus his spoilt brat brother who jumps up and down in the seat throughout the entire flight, including for landing.

As soon as we land in Iguaçu, I attempt to stand up as my knees are hurting, and cannot understand why everyone remains seated. It later transpires that Brazilian flights disembark by row, and only when invited to do so by the crew. How very civilised!

A wheelchair is waiting for me, whisking me straight through in front of everyone else, right to the place where Carini, our local guide, is waiting for us.

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Iguaçu
Our hotel is inside the national park, so we stop at the entrance gate to pay for the park fees. A few hundred yards later is another gate – the first check-in for the hotel. Carini's company is one of very few agencies that are allowed to drive right up to the hotel; everyone else must stop at this post, park their car here and take the hotel shuttle the rest of the way. I am very grateful we don't have to deal with that hassle.

We first visited Iguaçu back in 1990 as part of a big South America trip, and totally fell in love with this place; so much so, that it has remained my all-time favourite spot ever since.

At the time I wrote in my journal:

“Around each corner is a new spectacle, each better than the previous, it is all so magnificent.... It is so overwhelming standing here at the edge of such a mighty waterfall that I am in tears at so much natural beauty. It is all too much for me.”

I do wonder if reality will live up to my memory and expectations 32 years later, with some two hundred more trips abroad and almost one hundred more countries visited since then.

I needn't have worried. As soon as we get the first glimpse of the magnificent falls from the road, my eyes well up, and again I feel extremely emotional.

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Belmond Hotel das Cataratas
This is the only hotel inside the Iguaçu National Park, and classes itself as five star luxury. Way back in 1990 when we last visited Brazil, we did not find it all that luxurious, with a fairly scruffy room where the AC did not work, and disinterested staff.

This time it is very different.

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As soon as we pull up outside the beautiful pink façade, a small army of porters arrive. One of them leads us to the reception while the rest take our luggage out of the car. Gabriel, the receptionist, hands us a welcome drink and a small traditional coconut sweet, and asks if I would prefer a bath or a walk-in shower. Most definitely the latter, as I struggle to get in and out of a bathtub with this poorly knee. He apologises that the room is not quite ready yet (not surprising as it is not even midday at this stage), so he walks us onto the lawn next to the pool, carrying our hand luggage, where he introduces us to Melissa “who will look after you while you wait for your room to be ready”. Melissa leads us to a table, and insists on finding a chair for my camera bag. “We are a five-star hotel, we will not let you put your bag on the ground” she maintains.

Lunch
Today the hotel are hosting a BBQ on the lawns, where all food and drinks are included in the one price. I have no idea how much that 'one price' is, as the saying goes: “if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it”. This is a popular event for the local 'In Crowd', and it is easy to see who has just arrived for the BBQ to see and be seen (dressed to the nines), versus those who are staying in the hotel.

We are assigned a waiter, called Claudiana. He explains that he was named partly after his mother, who was called Ariana, and he hates his name but loves his mother, so he puts up with it. He is very sweet, and ensures we have everything we can possibly want, and more. Each table has a small bottle of hand sanitiser as well as a natural insect repellent.

I start with a classic Caipirinha, Brazil's national drink made with cachaça, sugar, and lime. Cachaça is a bit of an institution here in Brazil, and is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice.

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I have another couple, just to make sure I like them.

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There is an impressive buffet with salads and side dishes, and two large tables with meats carved on demand.

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I am intrigued by the grilled banana to go with the meat, and as I am rather partial to fruit with savoury dishes, I find it most enjoyable. The cracking is probably the best I have ever had!

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David picks up a potato stuffed with cheese, which he claims is delicious.

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The dessert buffet looks extraordinarily temping, and I feel obliged to try one of each dish!

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Oh yes!!!!

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David is not quite so greedy.

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There is a live group entertaining us, playing some very nice music, but a little too loud for me, as we struggle to hold a normal conversation at the table.

We go back to Gabriel on reception, who confirms that our room is now indeed ready for us, and that he has not only upgraded us to a deluxe room, but in fact a deluxe room with a view of the falls! Sounds good!

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The view from the room

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David in our room waving at me when I am down at the falls

The room is unremarkable, while the bathroom has pretty tiles and a built-in seat in the shower, which is rather nice.

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We take a much-needed nap, followed by a refreshing shower. Neither of us feels particularly hungry after the massive BBQ lunch, so we just go down to the bar for drinks and snacks.

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Cold cuts and cheeses to share

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Panga cocktail: Cachaça M'Boy, Cointreau, Sicilian lemon juice, basil, and raspberry syrup.

When we return to the room, housekeeping have been, leaving a mat on the floor beside the bed and a chocolate on the pillow. I do like some old-fashioned turn-back service.

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Goodnight from Iguaçu.

Posted by Grete Howard 18:39 Archived in Brazil Tagged park hotel flight airport breakfast waterfall national bar brazil brasil bbq aircraft south_america sao_paulo dessert disabled iguacu wheelchair cocktail luxury_travel gol live_music caipirinha hotel_room housekeeping british_airways business_class cachaca insect_repellent check-in belmond dessert_buffet turnback_service luxury_hotel ba_club_world disabled_traveller club_world gol_airlines hotel_das_cataratas belmond_hotel_das_cataratas five_star_hotel lunch_on_the_lawn hand_sanitiser grilled_banana room_upgrade cold_cuts Comments (3)

Sunset Cruise from Mandina Lodges

What an amazing amount of birds!


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This afternoon we are taking another boat trip, this one with two added bonuses: a bottle of wine and the sunset! Hopefully. The sunset, that is, the bottle is most definitely present!

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My plan of action this evening is to take photos of birds just as they take off. I always like a challenge and to step outside my comfort zone. I start with this Long Tailed Cormorant.

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Fishing centre

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I have a soft spot for baobab trees

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Whimbrel

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Wattled Plover

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Black Kite taking off

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Great White Egret

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Preening

I think she's going to fly...

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Here she goes!

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It looks like she is having a blast!

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We see a tree full of Pink Backed Pelicans.

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Yellow Billed Stork

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African Spoonbill

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Goliath Heron

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Black Kite

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Blue Cheeked Bee Eater

The sun is getting low now, and depending which direction I point my camera, the sky glows a warm yellow, glistening in the ripples on the water surface.

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Great White Egret

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Common Sandpiper

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Sacred Ibis

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Sacred Ibis

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Whimbrels

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And they're gone

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African Darter

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Cattle Egret

The sun is only just above the horizon now, as we have entered an area enclosed on three sides by mangroves and an island in the middle.

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Max, the captain, explains we will wait here for the sun to go down and the birds to come back to roost.

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We see a few single birds flying around in the sunset, then coming in to the island to settle down for the night.

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The sun has painted the sky a deep orange now.

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Beautiful reflections on the water

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Where there were initially just one or two, they are now coming in thick and fast, it seems to be never ending, and they seem to appear from nowhere.

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More and more egrets are gathering in the trees, and when you think there is no room for any more birds, a whole lot of others arrive.

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It is hard to know where to look, the birds are coming from three out of four directions, and seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere from behind us with a whoosh. It is an air traffic control nightmare!

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When there is no more room at the inn and the light is fading rapidly, we start to make our way back to the lodge, stopping from time to time to take photos of the sunset. To say this evening's performance has been spectacular is an understatement!

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By the time we reach the hotel, darkness has all but enveloped Makasutu Forest and the twinkling lights of Mandina Lodge welcome us back.

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Dinner

As time is getting on, we go straight to dinner from the sunset cruise; the boat conveniently lands at the jetty right by the restaurant anyway.

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Pre-dinner drink of Pina Colada

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Prawn Cocktail

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Butter fish with Lyonnaise potatoes and a delicious home made tartare sauce

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David's Samosas

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Gambian Rice Pudding with ground peanuts - a very delicate flavour

We decline the offer of an early morning coffee in the room tomorrow, in favour of a lie in, and sneak off to bed after a magical day in Makasutu Forest.

Posted by Grete Howard 15:16 Archived in Gambia Tagged trees birds fishing reflections sunset pelicans kite africa dinner forest birding captain baobab stork vulture ibis egrets spoonbill birdwatching mangroves cocktail west_africa samosas cormorant gambia boat_trip fores sunset_cruise piña_colada darter roost plover bee_eater sandpiper the_gambia butter_fish mandina_lodges makasutu makasutu_forest whinbrel flying_birds birds_flying air_traffic_control prawn_cocktail rice_pudding Comments (5)

Montrouis - Moulin sur Mer beach resort

More chill time

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View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I am up early this morning for some bird watching in and around the hotel grounds.

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Yellow Faced Grassquit

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Hispaniolan Woodpecker

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Palmchat

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Hispaniolan Woodpecker

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White Necked Crow

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Bananaquit

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American Kestrel

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Grey Kingbird

The hotel also has domestic ducks and geese on its ponds; as well as a pigeon loft.

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Breakfast

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Lots of lovely fresh mango, and French toast with bacon - one of my favourite breakfasts!

Montrouis Beach

Apart from a conch shell salesman, and a sunbed stacker, we have the beach to ourselves this morning.

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It is blisteringly hot and suddenly my tummy doesn't feel good at all. In fact, it is so sudden that I don't make it back to the bathroom on time – a most unpleasant experience.

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You'll be glad to know that there are no photos of my little "accident".

Lunch

Today is Sunday, so lunch is a buffet.

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Chicken curry, national rice, fried plantains, creamed corn and tomato salad

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A delightfully tart passionfruit mousse

Rain? What rain?

The forecast for this weekend (and beyond) has consistently showed rain, rain and more rain, plus the odd thunder shower. There is certainly no sign of that this afternoon, the sea is sparkling in the sunshine.

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We sit for a while just gazing out to sea and those mesmerizing sparkles of sunshine dancing across the water like little luminous fairies. Life is good, until my tummy tells me that the lunch is an unwelcome guest and is about to be evicted, so we retire to the cool room. Next door is a lovely local family who are here for the weekend with their small child. I am unconcerned when I hear hear the key being turned in the connecting door as it is surely locked from both sides; but before I have had the chance to say “I'd better put some clothes on”, the girl and her father are in our room. I don't know who is most shocked: the kid or her dad! For the rest of their stay he avoids all eye contact with me.

I guess that is my cue to get dressed and head out to wait for the sunset.

There are a few more people down at the beach this afternoon; both in and out of the water.

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Tonight's sunset is not a patch on yesterday's, but the 'Bushwacker' cocktail more than makes up for it: Khalua, Amaretto, Baileys, cream and ice cream. Heaven in a glass!

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What the evening sky lacks in terms of colour, intensity and clouds, it more than makes up for in a passing lightning storm.

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Dinner

On the menu tonight is langoustine thermador – one of my favourite dishes. It certainly lives up to expectations.

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Thank you to Jacqui of Voyages Lumiere for yet another day here in Haiti.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:05 Archived in Haiti Tagged birds sea water sunset ocean beach storm caribbean sleep drinking birding photography lightning thunder woodpecker cocktail haiti lightning_storm langoustine bird_watching kestrel american_kestrel moulin_sur_mer montrouis voyages_lumier twitcher hispaniolan_woodpecker grassquit yellow_faced_grassquit bananaquit kingbird grey_kingbird waterskiing bushwalker_cocktail langoustine_thermador Comments (0)

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