We have progressed to Curitiba, pronounced Curchiba for some reason. It is regarded as one of Brazil’s model cities for quality of life and has something of a European feel, with leafy squares and a street that is open 24 hours (except Sunday). It is also the start of one of the world’s most spectacular railway journeys.
The outskirts of the city are much like any other large urbanization; sprawling buildings of variable quality, the concrete and brick ones mostly behind walls and railings, the wooden ones diseased with rot. Graffiti covers most walls but, in contrast, the streets are clean and safe. The centre of the city is comprised of slim, high-rise buildings that rise like soldiers from the concrete and are not very attractive. This place is well away from the tourist trail and we felt that we were the only Europeans in town. The upside being that we were not constantly bothered by street sellers, or people begging for money, but the downside was that there was little of interest for us to explore.
I am sorry to have to report that we stayed in the Radisson because both of our usual sources of information on accommodation (Trip Advisor and Footprint South America) failed to give us any moderately priced rooms that had aircon and Wi-Fi. The internet did not help either, so we gave up and opted for the formulaic but predictable delights of a business hotel. However, it was rather pleasant to be back in the luxury of hot water and plasma screen TVs.
Our Sunday was something of a write off both because it rained, which dampened our instincts to explore the city and because everything, including restaurants were closed. So, thinking of you, we shut ourselves away and wrote the travel blog for the previous two weeks.
The following morning we were up and at it early to go on the train ride, the only reason we came here in the first place, and we were rewarded with a lovely sunny day but one dripping with humidity. The price of the train tickets are enough to make the eyes water, over £100 for a hard seat in Tourist class (marginally preferable to the cattle truck but smells much the same). The British railway companies would love to charge these prices and must be most jealous.
The train was laughingly called the Pantanal Express, a name that must have been dreamt up by a hot-shot marketer because it moved at a pedestrian plodding pace. As evidence of this, we were overtaken by a chap on one of those old World War II push bikes. Despite its slow crawl, the engine pulling was enormous and let out a bellow like some great beast of the plains every time it crossed a road, slowed down or moved off. At these times, talking was impossible and anyone nearby held their hands over their ears and had a pained look on their face. The whole offering was rather like a Hornby Railway set for adults.
The railroad runs through rainforest that reaches up to the railway carriages so much of the journey is curtained by rich, green vegetation that entirely blocks the view. Here and there are large blue hydrangeas growing wild that bring a relief of colour to an otherwise monotone jungle. Things improve spectacularly when we reach the Marumbi National Park and we are in the hills that divide the Pantanal plains and the sea. There are numerous tunnels (hugging and kissing in the tunnels is strictly forbidden) with sudden views of deep gorges, high peaks and waterfalls as the train rumbles over dizzy bridges and viaducts. Some sights come and go so quickly that it is almost impossible to get a decent photograph and we had to set up the camera for point and shoot photography. The track runs along the steep hillsides and the views stretch away for as far as the eye can see. Looking down at the sheer drop below us, it is hard to decide whether to be exhilarated or scared. Imagining what would happen should we topple downwards is a brown trouser job and I doubt there would be anything left to be identified of any passenger. But it was fun and hugely enjoyable and playing the railway anorak for a day provided a complete contrast to any other experience we have had in South America.
The railway grinds to a halt at a little town called Morretes. Although it is a pretty colonial town with whitewashed walls and painted window frames, it has little to offer other than local artisan shops aimed at the tourist. So we took a taxi 14km to the seaside town of Antonina and had lunch looking out at the sea. The rainforest reaches right down to the waters edge so there was no beach to sit on so we sat and sweated in the humidity replacing lost body fluid with local beer that tasted like it had been had been brewed by the abstinent society.