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Entries about special assistance

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)

Cuiabá - São Paulo - Itatiaia

Up into the hills


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

We have our earliest start yet this morning, with the alarm on for 04:30. After a room picnic of some snacks we bought on the way here yesterday, we are picked up at 05:40 for the transfer to Cuiabá Airport.

When we arrive, we ask the first worker we see inside the door – who turns out to be someone who works for a company that shrink-wraps cases – about special assistance. After previous experiences of very few people speaking English in the airports here in Brazil, David shows him a piece of paper with “I need a wheelchair for my wife” written in Portuguese (courtesy of Google Translate). Expecting him to point us in the right direction, I am very surprised when he jumps into action, runs to the other side of the building to collect a wheelchair, and commandeers a fellow worker to push me to the check-in desk. Such amazing service, but to be honest, everywhere we have been, the service has been exemplary on this trip.

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Waiting in the Special Assistance area to be collected for the flight.

The flight is just over two hours, which goes quickly by the time they have served a drink and some little snacks. Before we land in São Paulo, I am asked if I can walk down stairs (as there is no tunnel up to the plane here), and despite confirming that I am perfectly capable of managing stairs, a porter arrives in the provisions lift, to the door on the opposite side of the plane to the usual exit and takes us down to the ground in the industrial lift that doubles as a disabled carriage and food delivery port. Cool!

The luggage is there by the time we arrive at the carousel, and Ricardo, our new driver-guide, is just outside. He speaks excellent English, is very knowledgable, and we hit it off straight away.

For the first couple of hours, we travel along the most important road in Brazil: the connection between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It is a smooth, fast road, the best we've seen in Brazil so far.

Lunch
We stop at a service station along the road, where we have to enter through a turnstile and collect a token in the process. We can order anything we like in the food court, and it is charged against this token. At the end of the meal, we then pay for everything at the tills on the way out. An interesting concept, but it seems to work.

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We order a burger each, while Ricardo chooses from the buffet, where everything is charged by weight.

Itatiaia National Park
The smooth road ends at the entrance to the park. Our luck is in, the park is free to anyone over 60. The girl at the ticket office doesn't believe us, however, so we have to show our passports. I guess that is a compliment.

Welcoming Committee
The first thing we see when we enter the park is a couple of Brown Capuchin monkeys.

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Viewpoint
Ricardo claims that the top of the viewing area is a great place for observing different birds, so I struggle up the uneven stony steps. At least there is a handrail on one side to help me.

The view from the top is great, but the birds are hiding from us.

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Going down the steps is much worse than going up, and by the time I get to the bottom, my knee is very sore.

The rough track – way worse than the Transpantaneira – climbs ever upwards through the forest, until we reach the hotel.

Hotel do Ypé
Built on the side of a hill, the hotel has a very steep and winding incline to reach the parking area and reception.

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We asked Undiscovered Destinations to request a room on the level, and the message certainly got through, as we are staying in what is the closest room to the restaurant and reception.

The rooms are wooden swiss-chalet style, reminiscent of a European ski resort, and feature an open fire rather than AC.

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Our room with the main building behind

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Reception and the shady patio

Once we have checked in and taken the luggage to the room, Ricardo shows us the most important part of the hotel: the bird-watching balcony.

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I settle down with my camera for the rest of the afternoon.

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Female Ruby Crowned Tanager

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Red Rumped Cacique

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Violet Capped Woodnymph

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Chestnut Bellied Euphonia

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Short Crested Flycatcher

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Mr & Mrs Blue Dacnis

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The male is bright blue

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While the female is green

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Golden Chevroned Tanager

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Golden Winged Cacique

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Brazilian Tanager

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Magpie Tanager

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Green Headed Tanager

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Juvenile Ruby Crowned Tanager

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Black Goggled Tanager

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Velvety Black Tyrant

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Red Breasted Toucan

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Dusky Legged Guan

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White Throated Hummingbird

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Planalto Hermit

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Brazilian Ruby

I reluctantly tear myself away when the light gets too low to take photos.

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David wanders around the grounds and photographs me from the upper level

Dinner
We go up to the dining room early in order to use the internet (there is no wifi in the room) so that David can check out all his birthday messages.

This hotel is mostly used by large birding groups, and there is a table for twelve Americans next to ours. Their guide is going through what they have seen today, and there is a very loud and irritating woman who asks questions and makes inane comments on everything the guide says.

We are rather surprised to find one of their party sitting at our table (each table has the room number or name of the group on it. We have a table for four as Ricardo was hoping to join us). It later transpires that she has tested positive for Covid and has been banished from their table. She does eventually move on to the far end of their table, but I have no idea why anyone thought it was acceptable for her to sit with us!

Dinner is yet again buffet style, with very similar dishes to what we have been served previously. We eat and then retire to our room.

Goodnight from Itatiaia and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 22:50 Archived in Brazil Tagged monkey brazil lunch birding brasil national_park south_america buffet sao_paulo tanager flycatcher wheelchair guan hermit capuchin cuiabá ski_resort bird_watching hummingbird viewpoint itatiaia undiscovered_destinations coronavirus covid covid_19 special_assistance tyrant cacique service_station dirt_track hotel_do_ype steep_hill swiss_chalet euphonia dacnis Comments (0)

Cristalino - Alta Floresta - Cuiabá

Today is just a travel day


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

We have a leisurely start to the day, up at 06:30, breakfast at 07:30, and leave at 09:30. We are moving on today, to pastures new.

Cake
At breakfast David is served a birthday cake – it is one day early, but we are not complaining!

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There is far too much cake for us to eat, and it won't travel well, so we suggest the staff eat the rest.

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Gui points out a Scarlet Macaw in the trees above the lodge. It's the first bird we have spotted in or around the grounds since we got very excited about seeing the curassow on the day we arrived. The management does not approve of feeding the birds, which I totally respect, hence why they are not congregating around the lodge.

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As part of our private tour, we travel half an hour from the lodge to the departure point in a boat with Gui, and our luggage while all the other passengers who are leaving today travel separately in another boat.

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The welcoming committee at the end of the boat trip

From this point onwards we share a minibus with a delightful young couple from Chicago. She has an ear infection, so we stop at a pharmacy in Alta Floresta, the nearest big town and where the airport is.

Alta Floresta Airport
At the tiny airport in Alta Floresta, we yet again get special assistance, and seats 2A and B on the flight – the first three rows are reserved for people with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women and anyone else who needs a little extra assistance for whatever reason.

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The waiting room at Alta Floresta Airport

Cuiabá Airport
I know from previous experience when we came out to the Amazon that the walk from the plane to the terminal building is quite some distance along the runway apron, so I am grateful to have a wheelchair waiting for me, even if it means staying onboard until all the other passengers have disembarked.

By the time we get inside the building, the luggage and our driver is waiting for us.

Hotel Deville Cuiabá
The drive to the hotel is short, and check-in smooth, so by the time we have sorted ourselves out and want some dinner (we missed lunch as we were travelling, although we did get some small snacks on the plane), it is 17:45. We spotted a small restaurant on our way in, and I really hope they have pizza, as I have had a craving for one for a couple of days.

What I had forgotten, is how late the South Americans eat dinner – the restaurant doesn't open until 19:00. Groan. We wander over to the Sports Bar to have a drink meanwhile and discover that not only do they serve some small meals, but one of the handfuls of so items on the menu is pizza. Result!

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We retire to the room as soon as we have finished the meal, as we have a very early start tomorrow morning.

Goodnight from Cuiabá, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 21:53 Archived in Brazil Tagged flight airport cake brazil birthday brasil destinations amazon pizza south_america minibus wheelchair macaw cuiabá undiscovered special_assistance cristalino biirthday_cake boat_transfer alta_florest hotel_deville_prime Comments (0)

Araras - Alta Floresta - Cristalino

Transfer Day


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

We are leaving Araras at 07:30 this morning, but I am awake from 03:45. As soon as it is light, I do some last-minute bird watching.

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Plumbeous Ibis

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Chaco Chachalaca

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Packed and ready to go

Our new-found German friends, Tina, Kristian, and their four children are moving on to the same lodge as us today, too, and we joke at breakfast about who will get to the airport first to put the towels down to reserve the seats.

We win.

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Cuiabá Airport
We do have a couple of advantages, however, one being that we are on a private tour so that we can don't have to wait for other people, and not travel in a 12-seater minibus, which means we spend less time loading and unloading luggage as there is only us.

The other advantage is that Roberto arranges special assistance for me once we arrive at the airport, which includes priority check-in as well as boarding, and special seats on the plane (the first three rows are dedicated 'disabled' seats, with extra legroom)

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The city of Cuiabá from the air

Alta Floresta
At the small airport (which only gets two flights a day, apparently) there are two vehicles waiting to take guests to Cristalino Lodge: a small truck for us and the luggage, and a minibus for all the others.

The first part of the road is on tarmac, but that soon turns into a gravel track, as we pass farms and logging stations. If we thought the Transpantaneira road was bad, that is nothing compared to this. We bounce all over the place each time the truck hits a pothole – which is often – and the driver seems to spend his time apologising. He doesn't speak much English but has a great sense of humour, and we laugh a lot on the one-hour journey.

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Cashews
At a gate across the road, he stops to poach some cashew fruits from a tree by the side of the road. He justifies it by explaining that the farm and land belong to Cristalino Lodge. Cashews always fascinate me the way the nut hangs at the bottom of the fruit.

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The fruit itself is also very pleasant to eat, so we take a couple of them with us.

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Boat Trip
When we arrive at the docking area (a fancy name for where the end of the road goes into the river), there is an army of helpers on hand to get the luggage from the truck into the waiting boats.

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Here we meet our guide, Gui, for the first time. He is to be with us for the next four days.

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The journey along the river to Cristalino Lodge takes around half an hour, and we do some bird watching along the way.

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Amazon Kingfisher

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Green Ibis

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Swallow Wing Puffbird

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Amazon Taricaya Turtle and Dyas Julia Butterflies

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White Winged Swallows

Gui explains that the dark colour of the water comes from minerals washed out of the forest, and contains decomposing leaves and other vegetable matter. The good news is that the mosquitoes do not like this water, so they stay away.

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Cristalino Lodge
This eco-lodge gets rave reviews on every site I have looked at on the internet, with National Geographic Traveller selecting it as one of the 25 best eco-lodges in the world; and another sire describing it as “the best lodge in the Brazilian Amazon for wildlife enthusiasts”. I have high hopes for this place!

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The landing stage also features a sunbathing and swimming platform, with loungers and umbrellas (and apparently a cozy firepit in the evening).

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To get to the lodge there are 30 wooden steps, but before that, I have to get out of the boat.

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I try to step up onto the raised part at the front, but my knee will not let me. I attempt to swing my leg over the side and straight onto the boardwalk. I fail again. Finally, I sit down on the front, but I am still not able to get my legs up.
The aforementioned army of helpers step in and literally lift me up and out of the boat. I am impressed they manage it, but by this stage, I am feeling pretty stressed and panicky.

I manage the steps, and the trail through the jungle to the restaurant, which is up a few more wooden steps. The public areas of the hotel are all on a raised platform: the inside and outside dining areas, the bar, the lounge, the shop, toilets, conference room, and patio. It oozes luxury.

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Gui

We are given a welcome drink, made from a fruit called cocoazu. I have not heard of it before, and I have to admit it is a little too bitter for me.

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As we missed lunch while travelling (it is now mid-afternoon), they serve us a small wrap, some fruit salad, and a delicious cake.

Gui is very laid back and nothing seems to be a rush here. We saunter back down the wooden steps along the path from the restaurant to the crossroads of paths where we came up from the jetty.

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As we turn into the jungle and the track that leads to our room, we come across Mr and Mrs Bare Faced Curassow, reinforcing my high expectations of seeing a lot of birds here.

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Our Room
Having upgraded to a Junior Suite, we find that our room is almost the furthest away from the restaurant and the jetty. But at least it is private, set in its own clearing in the forest.

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The inside is large, bright, and airy. There is an overhead fan, but no air conditioning.

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The welcome pack contains two complimentary metal water bottles that can be refilled at the bar for free, a box of chocolate-covered Brazil nuts, and some postcards.

There is a separate dressing room, toilet, and shower, with an additional shower outside.

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Once we have settled in, we try out the outdoor shower. To say it is refreshing would be a gross understatement – the water is absolutely freezing.

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Dinner
We joke that walking to the restaurant for dinner is about as far as it is to walk to our local Tesco supermarket. “Fancy Tesco for dinner this evening?”

As everything is cooked to order here at Cristalino, they brought us the menus when we arrived for us to choose what we would like to have for dinner this evening. After seven nights of buffet food, it is such a pleasant change to be served at the table.

We are greeted on arrival at the restaurant by the customer relations manager, Gabriel, who is very pleasant, very knowledgable, and has a great memory, but he does talk too much, lingering at the table while we are eating.

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Sun-dried meat croquettes with pepper aioli and a hot sauce. Crunchy outside, with a soft centre. Very nice.

The main course is extremely slow to arrive, but when it finally turns up after around 40 minutes or so, it is worth the wait.

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Grilled tenderloin medallion steak

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The caramel nut pie is only just OK. It has a slightly unpleasant gritty texture and definitely needs more caramel!

With no AC, the room feels very hot as we go to bed, so I lay on top of the sheets without anything on and put the ceiling fan on full.

Goodnight from the Amazon. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 18:44 Archived in Brazil Tagged postcards flight airport river jungle dinner brazil birding brasil luxury amazon turtle butterflies ibis steak kingfisher cuiabá boat_trip cashew bird_watching swallows eco_lodge undiscovered_destinations outdoor_shower water_bottles special_assistance araras curassow chachalaca alta_floresta puffbird cristalino cocoazu caramel_pie Comments (2)

Bristol - Heathrow - BA Club Class Flight

Brazil here we come! After two cancellations, our much-anticipated Brazil adventure is finally here.


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

Pre-word

2020
To cut a long story short, back in early 2020, we booked a trip to Brazil in September that year, to replace a much more complicated multi-country tour of South East Asia, which was deemed too complicated to pull off during the Pandemic. Of course, Covid didn't disappear as hoped, so the Brazil trip was cancelled.

In 2021, Brazil was closed to foreign visitors as a result of the pandemic, so again the trip was cancelled – or rather postponed.

This year (2022), with vaccines and boosters in place, things seemed so much more positive, so we re-resuscitated the plans to visit Brazil. Follow along with us to see how this panned out.

April 2022
So far so good. The only snag is that we need to show negative Covid tests on entry to Brazil. That shouldn't be too much of a problem.

May 2022
The negative test requirement has now been lifted, so that is one less thing to worry about.

We do, however, have to show our proof of vaccination. British Airways suggest that we use an app called Verifly, where we can upload our certificates and it should link directly to the BA site. I love it! So easy! I do, however, pack a paper copy, just in case.

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June 11th 2022
Checking the British Airways website, it transpires that our flight leaves from Terminal Three, not Terminal Five as stated on our tickets.

No problem, we'll just amend our parking arrangements. Purple Parking claim that it is a busy period, and they need extra payment to move it to T3. £180. That is not so much of a problem, the original cost was £163. No, they want an EXTRA £180, in ADDITION TO the amount already paid. Sod that!

We look at our options. We could continue to park at T5 and take the 20-minute underground train from T5 to T3, although that doesn't seem like much fun when we have tried to minimise hassle by booking the 'meet and greet' service.

Looking around online, we find some alternative arrangements, using a company called Airside Meet and Greet. And they are cheaper than the original company, at £146

Shame on you Purple Parking! We have used them a number of times previously, and have mostly received good service. To their credit, they did refund the T5 parking.

Checking out the review for Airside Meet and Greet on Trust Pilot (AFTER booking, not the wisest move, but we were so excited to find something at a good price) we discover a host of bad reviews. Oh dear. Oh well, time will tell.

24th June 2022 Bristol - Heathrow

During our trip to Scotland last month, I injured myself while trekking through the forest at midnight on my way back from a pine marten hide, tearing a ligament in my left knee, and damaging the ligament in the other too. This has resulted in me struggling to walk – or rather hobble – using a stick for support.

Heathrow
We look for wheelchair assistance on the long walk from the car park to the correct area at the airport, but find nothing. The lady at the Special Assistance Check In Desk, tries to phone for wheelchair assistance, but no-one answers the phone. She keeps trying periodically as she checks us in.

After much typing and frowning, she tells me that my Norwegian passport has flagged up the need for a visa to visit Brazil. Groan. Having checked the Brazilian Embassy website earlier this morning, I know this to be untrue. Eventually, and reluctantly, she takes my word for it and checks us in.

After one last attempt at contacting the wheelchair special assistance counter, she suggests we walk to the desk upstairs. It's another long walk and my knee is really struggling now. The queue at the desk snakes around the corner and down the wall, so we decide to head for the Fast Track security line.

Another long queue. After 45 minutes (if that is FAST track, I dread to think what the regular security queue is like!), we finally reach the conveyor belts. The American girl in front of me has been so busy chatting, that she hasn't even put her liquids in a clear plastic bag at this stage, and holds up the queue as she scrambles through her hand luggage to find various bottles and potions to go in the one bag provided. Groan. Has the pandemic caused people to completely forget airport etiquette?

We head for the Special Assistance counter, where there is another long queue, of course. They suggest I walk up to the BA Lounge. Another long walk. I work out that I have probably walked the best part of a mile by now, and doesn't my knee know it!

The girl on the desk at the lounge sorts out a wheelchair to be delivered for me. Finally!

BA Club Class Lounge
Not having been abroad for the last two years (something that has not happened since we married in 1977), we decided to treat ourselves to Business Class on the transatlantic flights, which means we have the use of BA's Club Lounge at Heathrow.

My first impression is a little disappointing, with the dining area resembling more of a school canteen than a VIP lounge. We have some snacks and a couple of drinks while waiting for the wheelchair to turn up.

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Special Assistance
Finally, a very nice young man arrives with a wheelchair for me and pushes me to a waiting buggy which takes me to the gate, where I am left to find my own way down to the plane.

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In the buggy

Thankfully I am able to bypass the long queue at the gate for priority boarding.

British Airways Club World
The arrival on board the plane makes up for the lack of service at the airport: they couldn't be more welcoming and service-minded as I am shown to my seat and my luggage stowed for me.

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The seats are nice and wide, very comfortable and the way they are positioned, offer great privacy.

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From the BA website

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As soon as we are seated, we are offered a glass of champagne.

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Apart from when eating and drinking, masks are compulsory on board the plane; it is dependent on the rules at the destination, and Brazil still has a mask mandate on flights.

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As soon as we are airborne, the steward approaches me and asks: “Mrs Howard, would you like a drink from the bar this evening?” What a difference from the service in economy – I could get used to this!

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Bacardi and Coke served in proper cut glass, with complimentary nuts

It is so nice to be able to remove the mask to drink, that I have another Bacardi and Coke for that very reason! We have become quite used to being mask-free in the UK, and I feel rather claustrophobic wearing one.

Dinner
Once again the steward arrives asking what I would like to order for dinner. It's a difficult choice, with the options being Braised beef cheeks, sweetcorn gnocchi and vegetables, or chicken, leek, and mushroom pie. I opt for the pie.

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Starter of roasted cauliflower with red pepper dip and chimmichurri. The dish is very tasty, but I do not like my food icy cold straight out of the fridge, which this is.

The pie is absolutely delicious (David tells me the beef cheeks were wonderful too), and the trio of different breads baked together makes a great accompaniment (despite the rock-hard butter). Chocolate mousse and a cheese board containing Mature Cheddar, Red Leicester, and a fig relish complete the meal. I love the way the food is brought to you on individual trays complete with white cloth and proper metal cutlery.

The lights are dimmed and we settle down to sleep. While obviously not as good as a proper bed, the flat-bed seats sure beat the (non) comfort of economy class.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:41 Archived in Brazil Tagged flight heathrow wheelchair business_class special_assistance ba_club_world clubworld turn_left storn_ligament Comments (2)

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