I've been to Brazil twice, once was during an overly ambitious six week tour of south america, so I didn't get enough time to absorb the place. The second time I got a better sense for the country as I was one of millions of tourists there for the football world-cup in 2014.
Our first stop was Sao Paulo, we had arrived after the first few group games had been played, so it's almost true, though very sad, that we arrived as the England team boarded the plane home. Nevertheless my memories are of happy people celebrating the beautiful game.
It was always very exciting flying into new towns in regions all across this huge country where we had tickets to see a game. Once in Rio de Janeiro for a knock-out stage match, we cycled the coastal paths around town, taking in all of the famous sites of the bay, beaches and improbably steep sided mountains for a city. There was a spectacular section clinging to the cliff face, even closer to the ocean than the road. We learned a few months after passing through that it had collapsed, killing two. It just goes to show that you never know. Enjoy the ride of life whilst it lasts.
Another stop was the city of Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, near the wild wetlands of the Pantanal. I travelled here with my dad and stayed in ranches or haciendas, fished, and dodged thousands of snapping Caiman on the paths and roads. We got to know the worlds biggest rodents, the Capybara and searched the riverbanks for other animals. The place is teeming with life, the clouds of bugs would actually slow you down, but it was worth it. I have always been fortunate when looking for wildlife, and sure enough, out of season we witnessed the mighty Jaguar fishing. It was a special thing to see a cat jumping into water to get its food. I was silent for ages after seeing it.
On a match day, we went to a roadside bar. A rusty one next to a gravel road, but it had cold beer and a TV. Germany vs USA was just starting, and we were the only people there, until we noticed some rustling from behind the beer bottle bins, and two sweaty americans wandered out from the bush with stars and stripes T-Shirts. It's a funny old game, but it brings us together. We enjoyed the match more than they did as they deserved a point from it, but at least we could empathise with them as we know very well what losing to Germany feels like.
One of the days spent in the Pantanal was on a bicycle. We had borrowed them from the hacienda and had a plan to cycle the farmland surrounding it. So on another beautiful day we rode through small forests with purple Parrots, crossed small pools and rested at a river. It was whilst we were sat that we noticed a paw print next to us, bigger in area that my footprint. The ride back was nowhere near as relaxing as the ride there, we felt eyes on us all the time. We were tiring and yet when an animal moved making a sudden noise from the darkness of a clump of trees, we yelped and pedalled hard. Looking back, fearing for my life, there it was glistening in the setting sun, a lolloping old, lost looking mule.