When I was 16, I travelled to Brazil as part of a World Challenge Expedition through school with 13 other pupils and 2 of our teachers. I found my diary I wrote at the time recently, so have decided to edit it, remove some of the 16-year old me random thoughts, and write it up. To travel there, we had to fundraise the £2770 per person in the 2 years leading up to the trip and then plan and organise everything ourselves while we were there, supervised by our 2 teachers.
The nearest town to Itatiaia National Park, where our main trek was starting, was Resende. We’d persuaded a bus driver from The Pantanal to let us off here rather than Campo Grande, but he wasn’t happy about it. Karen and I went to the Tourist Information to see if we could get a hotel. We managed to, but the woman spoke no English and seemed to talk as fast as she physically could, which made it tricky. We got taxis to the hotel and then sorted out rooms. The rest of the day was spent shopping and making sure we had enough supplies for our trek.
For dinner, we went out to a pizza place and then were allowed to split up. I went with the other girls, but some older lads kept following us about, which we didn’t like. It turned out their English teacher had seen us earlier and had told them to try to practise their English with us. We said we didn’t think that meant stalking us… so they brought their teacher to meet us and she apologised. She showed us their school. When it got dark we went back to the hotel and they still hung around for ages outside.
We got up at an almost normal time in comparison to in The Pantanal- 8.15! We had breakfast and I was sent with some others to talk to the Tourist Information about getting transport to the National Park. After an hour and a half of trying to get our point across and get all of the millions of bits of information sorted, a tour guide company came to talk to us in English and tried to sell us their tour. Which we didn’t want. So we went back to the hotel.
We had lunch in a burger bar (not actually fast food), which had really nice burgers and ice cream. Then the lads from the night before appeared and handed us a note. We ignored them because it felt weird and they left us alone.
Jane and Mike (teachers) decided we should actually go to the start of the National Park to check it out. So Johnny, Jen and I went. Once we’d got back, we went to a really posh (for us anyway) restaurant where the most expensive thing they had was R$25, which is about £5. After tea we went to a karaoke bar. They loved us because of our English accents and kept making us sing Elton John. They had a playback device so whenever we finished, they’d play parts of what we’d sung back and clap and cheer. Was a bit strange!
Today was not a normal get up time. Very early. But we were doing a day walk today, which was exciting. We got the bus to close to the National Park and got to the right place pretty quickly. Then we had to get the bus to the actual park entrance. Except we still didn’t really know where we were going, so a couple of us got on a bus to ask questions. After about half an hour of asking questions, we got some bus times and eventually the right bus came.
We were doing a 5km walk today up a road to the visitors’ centre, except when we got there it was just a building with no windows and no information. Very useful. Katie told us a story about Beckalina and Andrelina, two fairies, to try and keep us occupied and from getting grumpy.
Photo: Day Walk
We decided to keep walking and we eventually came to a waterfall and river, which was the most gorgeous blue colour. Ruth and I set up the trangiers (we were cooks that day) and made lunch, which was pretty good for mine and Ruth’s usual standards! We carried on walking further round to see more of the waterfall, which was the same colour but really cold.
Photo: Lunch by the waterfall
We were able to catch a bus from a hotel near the waterfall back to Resende, where me and a few others went back to see our friend in the tourist info about minibuses to where we wanted our main trek to start- this seemed like the best option since public buses don’t seem to go very far into the park, if at all. She wasn’t very useful, but we got there. We decided to make the most of the MacDonalds over the road.
Me and Ruth had stayed up late chatting about stuff (I think we were worried about the main trek) and only went to bed because Mike had basically made us. But we hadn’t had time to sort our kit out, so we decided to get up at 5am to repack. Argh!
We got on a bus at 6.30 and were at the start of the National Park for 7.30. Except the service bus we needed to catch left at 7.20 and the next bus didn’t leave until 1.30- not good! We asked a fat man sat on a bench at the bus stop and he happened to be the owner of a minibus company. We were a bit dubious so Mike and Jane checked it out. So in the end we were able to get a minibus to the starting point of our main trek rather than walking, which was so much better!
It was cold at our base so we got all our warm clothes out for the first time and set up our tents. We had to improvise with Katie’s tent because she had the wrong poles. I’m not sure how she managed on the acclimatisation trek when we camped, but we made it work with a stick and some gaffe tape! We had tuna and mayo sandwiches for lunch.
We decided to explore the site a bit, even though it was cloudy and gloomy. We wanted to do some walking! We went to the next entrance to the bit of the park which didn’t have campsites and hotels in, but they were going to charge R$3 per person, so we found a different path and had to hide when rangers came down the road! I think they were worried about us getting lost, but Jane is actually a mountain guide so it would have been ok. We did some steep walks up grassy bits of the mountain. Later we met our guides for the main trek.
Edit: the problem I’ve realised with it being 2003 and raining, is that the cameras/films we had with us really couldn’t cope with any kind of rain, so we locked them away in the ranger’s lodge to stop them from getting damaged. We wouldn’t have that problem in 2016!
It was really sunny! So our guides took us up a huge peak. We had to walk through grass which kept getting taller and eventually was taller than us, and then we started scrambling on rock. There was one bit where Pedro and Milton (our tour guides) had to get ropes and harnesses out because it was a bit dangerous without. David slipped and grazed his arm. It was really dangerous near the top but quite fun. If you slipped off the rope, you’d had it and would die basically. But the view at the top was good- we were above the clouds. Coming down was a bit scary- you could see how high you were for one thing, but also because it’s harder to control your speed, or to grab onto things with your hands. You have to kind of sit back on your heels, but not too much because otherwise the weight from your pack would topple you over. It also was made more difficult by the fact that it was starting to get dark, so all the shadows made the rocks look different sizes to what they were. We were told we had to be careful but do it reasonably quickly so that we could make it back before it properly got dark. Obviously the bits where we needed to have harnesses and rope took longer because we had to go one by one.
Photo: Main Trek
When we got back, we made dinner on the trangiers. We tried to make curry (from the dry packets) and rice, but something weird happened to the rice so we had curry by itself (argh) and rice pudding. The rice pudding was good though. It was dark and rainy which didn’t help!
We woke up to rain, so Pedro and Milton said it was too dangerous to go up the second peak, which was a bit disappointing. Instead we went on a circular route on the lower down bits like we did on the first day here. Except we got soaked and wet and cold and it was really misty – you could barely see in front of you. Becky started feeling really sick from the altitude after an hour, so Jane took her back with Ruth, because Ruth’s foot was still hurting. I kind of wanted to go back too, but I didn’t at the same time because I wanted to do the walk. It was so tiring and wet- I should have worn shorts because even though it would be colder to start off with, it would have made my legs less wet and cold in the long run. At one point, I stopped to change my water in my bag so I could keep using my platypus, and I’d lost where everyone else went because of the mist. Pedro found me though.
When we got back everything we had was wet. There were showers at the campsite, but because we were so high and the showers were in a hut, you had to decide if you wanted to put up with the cold of taking your clothes off to get in the shower and wait for the water to heat up or just be muddy. We got in our sleeping bags to try to warm up because it was so cold. The campsite owners said it hadn’t been this bad weather for a long time, even though the weather changes quite a lot because it is so high up.
Jane and Mike decided we should arrange for transport back to Resende tonight rather than in the morning. I was so cold I put my sleeping bag liner over my head while we were waiting in the owner’s cabin, which he found funny. Eventually the bus came so we headed back down to Resende at about midnight.
Realising that we had another minibus booked from our base camp in the National Park (which we’d left early), Karen and I went to cancel it. Which meant that we left at 8.30 to try and find the fat minibus man, while everyone else was having a lie-in. Maybe it was because it was Sunday, or because it was raining, but he wasn’t there, so we turned around and came back. As soon as we got back, we had to help with sorting out our wet, grassy kit. Ergh.
We ended up in Bob’s Burgers for lunch again (because it’s Sunday), which most people were fine with. It’s just not very filling so most people had 2 meals. There was a woman in the queue who heard us talking English so asked us where we were from. We said she probably hadn’t heard of it, but she kept pushing. Turns out her son emigrated from Brazil to UK and happened to work in the factory that’s in our town- she knew its name! People in the UK don’t even know where we live, but a random Brazilian woman did! We went for a short walk around Resende before going back and finishing packing. Whoever was on accounts the last few days did a terrible job and they were all ‘out’ so we had to sort them too.
A few of us were watching the Curitiba v Flamengo match on TV in our room, when the bus driver we’d tried to find earlier appeared at our door. He looked really upset so we asked him if he wanted paying anyway and he agreed on R$150. Jen tried to bargain him down but we stopped her because it was totally our fault he hadn’t got payment, because we’d left a day early.
We didn’t want Bob’s Burgers for tea again, so we had sushi as there was nothing else open! We were looking forward to heading to Rio de Janeiro the next day for the final stage of our trip.
Banner Photo: thousandwonders.net