Saudade is one of those words that appears on every list of ‘x number of foreign words that cannot be translated into English’. It comes from the days when strapping Portuguese young men took to the high seas for years on end and no one was quite sure if they would ever come back. Saudade, therefore, can vaguely be summed up (because why say one word when you can say ten) as the pain of missing someone that is far away.
The word does seem to have been trivialised a bit since the glory days of the Portuguese empire, as if I don’t see one of my lovely Brazilian friends few a few days I get a whatsapp saying saudades de voce (solved by a trip to the local bar), but I have been experiencing some full on saudade recently. The first half of anything always goes so much faster than the second, and here I am on the verge of the 6 month mark of my year away from home, and the homesickness has set in.
This isn’t being helped by the fact that Facebook seems to have decided it’s Christmas already. Next time you go to share the John Lewis advert or post a photo of a Christmas tree (IT IS NOVEMBER) please spare a thought for those of us on the other side of the world! I am the luckiest girl in the world to be here I know, and I don’t spare a thought for you in the grey of England when I post photos of me under a waterfall enjoying the Brazilian sun, but I will be missing everyone I love even more than usual over the mulled wine season.
However, 2 weeks ago I was treated to a visit from my wonderful parents. They braved a 30-hour-each-way journey to be here with me for 10 precious days. It was perfect timing, dead in the middle of my internship and over my 22nd birthday. I got 6 whole days off (unheard of!) to spend with them. I could go on for ever about all the fun we had, but I thought I’d restrict my account to the two most memorable parts, and attempt to do them justice.
I celebrated my birthday with a meal and drinks with my parents and local friends. It was wonderful introducing my parents to everyone, because it made me realize just how many people I have met and am privileged enough to be able to call friends within just 5 months of living here, with precisely no effort on my part. Everyone is so warm and open to meeting new people, and I know this is what I’ll have suadades for when I’m back in the Mother Country. Love you guys!
Anyway, the night was sweet but short as I was up extremely early the next day for the biggest birthday treat ever. We arrived at Abismo Anhumas at 7.30am the next morning, where Mum and I were kitted up for our descent into the Abyss, Dad remaining on the surface. Trying not to look down at the 72m drop, we starting to make our way down through a fissure in the rock. Suddenly, the fissure opened out and there we were suspended in space surrounded by the most jaw dropping sight I have ever had the privilege to see. To give you an idea of the scale, it is 72m from the surface to the lake, which is 40m deep in places and the size of a football pitch.
I was able to enjoy the view at my leisure as we were accompanied by my friend Israel who works there, and immediately took over the lever for me when I complained of an aching arm. I kept pointing things out to Mum but she wasn’t very interested as she was focusing on the burning pain in her arm. Sorry Mum!
Once we touched down on the floating platform, the first stop was a boat trip around the lake to see. Above our heads huge stalagmites stretched down towards the water. The site of fallen stalagmites around the edge of the lake made us feel that the plastic helmets we had on wouldn’t be all that much help if we were in the wrong place at the wrong time!
Next up was the snorkeling trip. With full body wet suits on we floated around over the cones sprouting up from the depths of the lake. Mum got it just right when she said they looked like something from Wallace and Gromit’s Moon. If you don’t get that reference, go and youtube ‘A Grand Day Out’ right now. Our movements through the crystal clear blue water sent light rippling over the rocks like a kaleidoscope and I felt more like I was flying than floating, completely weightless and oh so peaceful.
After getting back into dry clothes, Mother and I sat back to wait our turn to ascend the 72m. The only way of getting out is the way you came in, pulling yourself up the rope. You go up 2 at a time and I was very thankful to the 4 people that went before us for not rushing it, as I lay back on a bench and gazed up at the soaring roof, listening to the sound of dripping water and watching the sun’s rays that gradually make their way down to the water’s surface, lighting up a tiny patch of blue water just as it was our turn to leave. I would have quite happily stayed. I think I’d make a good hermit.
Israel harnessed us up with the standard jokes of ‘do you remember where this rope goes?’ and ‘does this look right to you?’, which were mostly funny because in Portuguese they went right over Mum’s head! Then it was time to make the climb. I was attached to Mum for safety, so she would climb a few metres then wait for me to fSoollow. This meant that you always had time to rest and look around you in ever increasing wonder. I was repeatedly asked afterwards how long it took me to climb up the 72m, as if it’s some kind of competition, but I have no idea how long it took, and purposefully went a lot slower than I could have, because why on earth would I want to get out of there any faster than I had to?! People are strange
The feeling for the rest of the afternoon was the same as I always had after karate or showing jumping competitions as a child, so much adrenaline and excitement crammed into one morning, and then the longest afternoon where everything you do seems pointless. I solved this problem by doing precisely nothing but work on my tan by the hotel pool.
So, here we go, incredible experience #2. Dad was an absolute hero and drove us down to Foz de Iguazu, about 11 hours each way, where we stayed the first and last night in the city and the middle night in paradise. We don’t normally splash out on accomodation, quite the opposite, but Dad had done the research and decided that it was more than worth it. And it was. If you’re ever going through with more than a backpacker budget, you will not regret a night in the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas. We arrived super early but they didn’t bat an eyelid and showed us straight to our up-graded room, complete with private garden and dressing room!
The afternoon was whiled away by the pool being presented with fruit kebabs on an hourly basis, waiting for everyone to go home so we could go and see the falls.
The front of the hotel looks directly out onto the falls, and it is a 2m walk to the first viewpoint. As you go from viewpoint to viewpoint, you cannot process the scale of the thing. Surrounded by insane amounts of monkeys and quatis (like racoons and super cute but often vicious), we went on and on until we reached the Devil’s Throat. A walkway takes you out into the middle of the action and you get absolutely soaked with spray from the waterfall above you whilst looking down over the next.
We didn’t hang around too long as we realised that the sun was going to set directly behind the falls. We rushed back, mixed up a bottle of gin and lemonade (standard) and went down to a viewpoint. Strangely, no one else had had the same idea, and so it was exclusively ours. Our only company were the Toucans flying home for the night and the Quatis finding a comfy tree to rest in.
We got steadily tipsier and giggled like children for a while, until we couldn’t compete with the roar of the falls and the sounds of the forest any more and fell silent as the sun lit up the spray before setting and turning the entire sky bright pink. Having that sunset all to ourselves was absolutely mind blowing. Normally an incredible sun set is seen from a viewpoint or a bar where you can’t move for all the tourists you’re sharing the moment with, but this was exclusively ours.
Strolling back to the hotel we popped back to the pool for a dusk swim before making full use of our incredible bathroom and dressing room to scrub up for dinner. I used a hairdryer for the first time in four months, luxury! (There isn’t room in a 12kg backpack for such things). Dinner at the poolside buffet restaurant was indescribable, especially after a diet of almost exclusively rice and beans. We topped the night off with another quick trip to the viewpoint to see the falls in the moonlight, glowing silver, and to contemplate the stars.
Before the hordes descended again, we headed back down the the Devil’s Throat. We timed it perfectly, after the super keen hotel guests and before the first tourists arrived, meaning we had it all to ourselves. On our way there we were greeted by a very enthusiastic Australian who cried ‘Go for the rainbow!!’, and she wasn’t wrong. A perfect 270 rainbow (who knew that existed?!) rose from the base of the waterfall below us. There are no words. As we headed back, the first tour bus arrived.
Buffet breakfast was incredible and as it involved champagne was necessarily followed by a nap by the pool. We had booked a boat trip under the falls and as we were waiting the heavens opened. As we made our way there it abated, but just as we got on the boat it started again. Normally the point of this trip is that you are so hot that the dousing under the falls is a delicious relief, but after having been battered by the freezing rain we weren’t really looking forward to going under. It was like a very expensive mild form of torture. We are probably just whining Brits as there were a bunch of American’s behind us having the time of their lives. Where do they get their energy?
On the plus side, despite having checked out we were able to use the hotel spa to change and there was a steam room, so we quickly went from ice cold to toasty warm. The last few hours before having to leave paradise on earth were spent on the veranda looking out at the falls and the tropical downpour.
Then it was back to the city, and the next day back to reality, although reality isn’t so bad. After the drive through the plains of cowboy country, the sight of the gentle green hills that surround Bonito was extremely welcoming. I love this place and I will make the most of the next 4 months, but at the same time I can’t wait to see Brazil on my travels and matar (kill) a saudade when I get home at the end of next May. Sometimes it takes a year spent on the other side of the world to make you realise what you have and just how much you take it for granted!