Holiday Report: Darwin’s Rainforest, Brazil | Far and Ride

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Holiday Report: Darwin’s Rainforest, Brazil

Darwin’s Rainforest, Brazil

Natalie Garner, 2018.

When we are asked to consider what springs to mind upon the mention of Brazil I would hazard that the vast majority of us will instantly conjure images of white sand beaches, rainforests, year round sunshine, samba music, carnival and perhaps the towering form of “Christo” – Christ the Redeemer – sitting loftily above the sprawling metropolis of Rio de Janeiro. Certainly its with these images in mind that I begin my own journey to this vibrant and often misinterpreted country that has divided views and attention for many years. My aim for this trip is to find more than just sandy beaches and fierce Amazons – a true venture of discovery into the world that inspired Charles Darwin himself. And what better way to do this than from the back of a horse?

It is with pity that the popularisation of this “white-sand-beach-and-carnival-atmosphere” often leads outsiders to forget that Brazil is in fact a huge country bursting with diverse nature, cultures and lifestyles. Being the largest single country in Latin speaking America it has, over the years, benefitted from a beautiful mix of ethnic influences; a strong impact from European, Afro-Carribean and indigenous Indian values, society and way of life. Its this enormous contradiction of lifestyles that first strikes me upon landing at Rio de Janeiro’s international airport – even with its predominant core of Portuguese language, the proverbial “melting pot” truly feels as if its about to boil over. Amongst the throng in the arrivals hall, I locate my co-riders and translator, Massae, before we hit road, winding our way out into the countryside to the north of the city. Our destination is the equestrian centre where our journey will commence. Passing by alien landscapes and curious towns, the overriding feeling I experience is at once excellently strange and yet wonderfully familiar – the tension and anticipation of the journey is exciting!

My host, Andrea, and his dedicated team have been working to promote and develop the art of equestrian sport in this lesser known rural region of Brazil, for many years now. He and his fellow instructors have kindled the fires of horse riding passion for many a young person, with great consequential results on the competitive circuit. Although his excellent guidance and student’s successes are commendable, Andrea’s true interest for the past few years has been to devise and pioneer adventurous trails to be discovered on horseback. It is the extensive knowledge he has now built up that we will be tapping into in order to navigate our way from the jungle covered volcanic mountains surrounding the home farm, to the wild Atlantic Coastline of Rio de Janeiro state over the coming five days. From the very first day it’s apparent that this is no easy task; along the way we endure near expedition-like conditions, windining our way through thick tropical jungle and forest, up astonishingly steep ascents and then back down near vertical descents, along narrow cliff-side trails, ducking below fallen trees and following near invisible tracks through the dense jungle growth. A sense of adventure is paramount on this journey but at no point do I ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable as our admirably able guide, Josan, delivers back concise instruction on how to handle each obstacle we face whilst seemingly following a GPS navigator locked somewhere in his head.

Our horses are yet more praiseworthy – a mixed herd of Peruvian Paso and local Mangalarga horses, they are each steadfast and skillfully pick their way over the toughest of terrain without once stumbling or slipping. With an ease comparable to that of a mountain goat, they ferry us safely along the sheer edged trails, rock strewn forest tracks, up and down the steepest climbs, through fast flowing rivers, across vast open farmland and finally out to the sparkling beaches of Buzios. Their stamina, enthusiasm and unadulterated endurance is contagious, not once do they tire of keeping up a brisk trot or march throughout the five days, only slowing a few moments to regain their breath before we are off once again. Each of the horses has an individual and unique character and we are ably matched to our steeds by Andrea and his team on the afternoon of our arrival. Our tack comprises simple, practical bridles with plain snaffle bits and trekking saddles designed with the optimal comfort of both horse and rider in mind – something I think we are all thankful for as we traverse the 130 kilometers of the trail route.

Staying with local people along the way, we are able to sample a wide range of the typical cuisine of this area. Brazilian tastes take a huge influence from both Portuguese and Afro-Carribean diets, comprising hearty dishes based around the main ingredients of rice, beans and meat. As a vegetarian, venturing to south America can always be a daunting undertaking, however I am pleasantly surprised by how well my diet is catered for. Fresh cooked feijoada com arroz (stewed black beans served with rice) becomes a staple of many meals, often accompanied by a variety of fresh salads including ripe tomatoes, green avocado, cripsy cucumber and lettuce, as well as steamed Manioc (Cassava) tubers – a comforting delicacy amongst the farming community of this region. For the meat eaters, there is a variety of dishes served each evening, comprising mostly pork and beef whilst we are in thejungles, but steadily replaced by fresh seafood as we draw closer to the coast. Breakfast each morning is plentiful and filling; sometimes consiting of fresh cooked eggs alongside muesli, yogurt, toast and fresh tropical fruit, but more often a buffet selection of cheese, meats, local savoury pastries, breads, cakes, fresh fruit and juice as well. All necessary calories to take on board in order to tackle the days riding. Lunches are light, usually comprising high energy snacks, such as crackers, nuts, fruit nd sweets, taken “on-the-hoof” through the riding day.

 

The intrepid sensation of our trip is wonderfully complemented by the selection of quirky guesthouses and cosy rural hotels we call home each night. These vary over the week from a remote and basic mountain refuge with no electricty, just two dormitory-style sleeping rooms and an outdoor cooking and eating area on the first night; a charming rural posada producing award winning artisinal Cachaça – the sugarcane based national spirit of the region and primary ingredient in Caipirinha; a remote holiday complex offering the luxury of electrically heated showers; a charismatic and eccentric hotel built on the side of an long extinct volcano and finally, a comfortable beach-side residence in the stunnignly beautiful resort town of Buzios for our final night. It seems that as we venture further from the jungle wilderness and out towards the coast, the comfort rating of our accommodation improves – unsurprising given the welcome lack of noticeable civilisation and infrastructure for, at least, the first three days of our ride.

Curiously, my personal favourite of this eclectic bunch is quite certainly our secluded little refuge home in the forest from the first night, which is arguably the most basic of the places we stay. When, on arrival at the equestrian center, we are instruced to pack an overnight bag for this evening – “oh! And there won’t be electricity, so ensure all electricals are charged beofre we go!” pipes Massae – the feeling of trepidation begins to grow. But, following our instructions, we quickly select the bare essentials that will be transported up to the refuge for us by mule as there is no road access. The question arises – What on earth have we gotten oursleves into here? After a beautiful afternoon of riding through banana plantions and thick jungle, we arrive to the refuge just as the darkness begins to close in and are instantly comforted by the sight of the cosy rooms, a laid table, dinner already bubbling on the outdoor stove and the incredible wild setting. The fact that this place is only accessible by horse or mule is tremendous and even the wood-fire heated shower unit offers a satisfyingly primal joy – a realization of the simple pleasures of life; good food, drink and company, surrounded by endless foreign mountains and wildlife, still to be explored.

By happy chance, this is the very sort of expedition that I had hoped to realise during my time in Brazil, without really appreciating how much I had needed it.

Read more about the ride here: Darwin’s Rainforest, Brazil.

 

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