We left the cities of eastern Brazil to explore the remote Pantanal region in the west. The area is known for its accessibility to wildlife, which is easier to view in the open swampy areas than in the jungles of the Amazon. Plus, it was on the way to Bolivia, our next stop.
After a short flight (one of our few in South America!), we reached Campo Grande and signed on for a 3 day tour into the Pantanal. Against our best instincts, we went with the cheapest option for the tour company (Ecological Expeditions). After a cramped van and then a bumpy dirt road we reached our campsite late and were pointed to two hammocks. We were promised the luxury of our own private tent! So I argued for a tent and got one for us... thankfully we did as the next morning the hammock sleepers complained of freezing in the cold night air. The guide book described the accommodations and food to be "orphanage levels¨ and unfortunately the guide book was right between the sleeping arrangements and mad rush for the slop at meal times.
After a super long bus ride from Iguazu Falls to Sao Paulo, we were met by our friend Ricardo. Luckily he was in between jobs because he had to wait at the bus terminal for three hours since our bus ran late. His temporary unemployment also afforded him time to give us the best Brazilian experience we could have ever dreamed of. He opened up his apartment for us to stay, developed an action packed itinerary, spoke Portuguese with the locals, and truly gave us a taste of what life is like in Brazil - nothing we could have experienced on our own.
Sao Paulo is a HUGE cosmopolitan city that helped us confirm that we were definitely not in Patagonia any more. The vibe and bustle of the city made it feel more city-like than Buenos Aires. Ricardo, who lived in San Francisco for 7 years, knew exactly what we needed when he told us where the closest Starbucks was to his apartment. Amber and I quickly made a beeline there and felt like we found Shangri-La:
Ricardo showed us some sights including an old bank tower with a view of the city. We have never seen so many high-rise buildings in one place before.