About Robert Schrader
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.
Latest Posts by Robert Schrader
I was trepidatious when I left Rio Monday – and not just because I got into a taxi at 5:30 in the morning. My experience getting pickpocketed on the second day of my trip had put a serious dent in my confidence, the fact that I had only a vague idea of the trajectory I’d be taking to my next destination notwithstanding.
Actually, that’s a lie. I knew very specifically how I was going to reach the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, a strange, dreamy wonderland located along Brazil’s northern coast. After flying from Rio de Janeiro to the city of São Luis, I would immediately board a bus bound for the city of Barreirinhas, then disembark an hour before the terminus at the town of Sangue, where I would catch a 4×4 to the town Santo Amaro. It was just one sentence, which required only four actions, but something in my gut told me it would be easier said than done.
The first three steps were relatively simple, even if my flight departed nearly an hour late and it took longer to reach Sangue than it should’ve taken to go all the way to Barreirinhas. There was even an empty 4×4 waiting in across the street from where the bus dropped me off. I guess all that worry was for nothing, I thought smugly.
“Amanhã,” the weathered-looking driver shouted at me immediately as I walked toward his vehicle, as if he knew the only thing a gringo like me could be doing on his turf was looking for a ride to Santo Amaro. The word, so far as I could tell given my anemic Portuguese skills, meant “tomorrow.”
No problem, I thought, and attempted to tell the man as much in my broken Português. I walked toward the witchy-looking older gal who’d been watching me from the nearby shop, which seemed to be the main or even only business in the town. “Pousada?” I asked, hoping she had a small row of rooms behind her convenience store.
No such luck. “Não tenho,” she said, without even a hint of empathy in her gaze, which seemed deliberately mean once she elaborated. “Eu não tenho – e Sangue não tem.”
I was speechless. Granted, this stemmed largely from the fact that I’d already exhausted my Portuguese-language vocabulary several times over by this point, but she had given me basically the worst news I could’ve gotten that point. The sun was setting on the shithole of a town I’d been dropped off in (and it was the last bus of the day) and I had neither an official place to sleep, nor the linguistic prowess to ask if I might kindly use her concrete floor, to say nothing of my fear that deadly creatures might eat me as I slumbered.
And so, I did what any deaf mute would do when faced with the prospect of being totally and completely fucked: I sat still, said nothing, heard nothing and got completely lost inside my own paranoia.
Brazil has really done it this time, I said, thinking back on how angry and out-of-control I felt upon realizing my phone had been stolen a few nights earlier and struggling, in spite of my cerebral knowledge that doing so would be inaccurate, not to attribute either (or both) incidents to the fact that I was in Brazil, more than any other country. Yeah, fuck you Brazil.
Likewise, I did my best not to extrapolate the indifference I observed among every single person I’d met in Sangue (there were, for the record, two) to Brazilian people in general, toward a conclusion – that Brazilian people are not really very friendly – I already once held as truth and had swiftly disproven.
Left, so it seemed, without any action to take, there were few other avenues for resolution – at least in my mind – than blaming my circumstances and the people who were currently part of them.
But the fact is that I was at least partially to blame. I mean, I could’ve just continued on to Barreirinhas instead of attempting to make it all the way to Santo Amaro, in spite of the fact that everything I read said that Barreirinhas was a toilet (and Santo Amaro wasn’t), and in spite of knowing for a fact I could only see the dunes of the Lençóis by Jeep in the former and preferring the prospect of trekking, which was apparently possible in the latter.
I was fated to end up there anywhere, it seemed. After she took some kind of delivery from the man who’d parked in front of her shop about an hour after I arrived, the old witch had informed me that he was headed to Barreirinhas – and that I had essentially no choice but to go with him.
There was no point in feeling disappointed. Next time, I thought as I threw my bags into the back of his pickup, I’ll take the path of least resistance to begin with.
I giggled when I found out the parrot, whose colors matched the Brazilian flag exactly, was named Lauro – the only other living creature I’d ever met with that name was a recent one night stand.
Lauro was the second living thing (the first was a scruffy, black dog) I met upon arriving at the home of Gilson, the man who’d driven me to Barreirinhas, early the morning after my dramatic exit from Sangue. Gilson had dropped me off at a pousada just outside the city limits on his way to his house the night before, and had surprised me by explaining that he would be taking me back to Sangue the following afternoon to catch that day’s 4×4.
Or at least, that’s how it had sounded: Gilson would pick me up at 9 a.m. and take me back to Sangue – and that would be the end of that. I had a feeling something was up when we started driving in the wrong direction; I strongly suspected it when we went to the local market and he asked me whether I would prefer bisteca or peixe; and I knew it for a fact when I walked into his home and he introduced me to his pet parrot and pet dog (And, shortly thereafter, all four of his children).
Realistically, I knew this man had no incentive to hold me hostage and would eventually make good on his promise to get me back to Sangue. So, I leveraged all the sensibility and optimism within my being and focused only on how thankful I was to him for saving my ass. There were a few moments, as we walked on the banks of the beautiful Preguiças River, where I hallucinated that he might be trying to swindle me into booking one of the expensive resorts on its shores, but those thoughts swiftly dissipated once we headed back to his place for lunch.
Indeed, from the time I met him in Sangue to the time we said goodbye less than a day later, I felt genuinely humbled by the kindness of Gilson and his family, from the delicious food they fed me, to the extent to which they attempted to make conversation with me, in spite of the language barrier between us, to the constant reassurances Gilson would give me when I’d forget important details he told me on account of them not being in my own language.
Here was a person who had absolutely no reason to be kind to me, let alone to treat me like his own child for the better part of a day, and he single-handedly restored all the faith I’d lost in humankind.
And yet, I couldn’t shake the same paranoia that had overtaken me while sitting in the Rio airport 24 hours before: That things simply weren’t going to go smoothly for me.
The old witch was smiling when I returned to Sangue, which was a very good sign – I had never so much as seen her teeth during our previous interaction. Initially, I’d been scared that I missed the 4×4 (Gilson had not, in fact, driven me back to Sangue but rather, to the rodoviária, from which the bus departed quite late) but this alone calmed my anxious heart.
“Santo Amaro?” The handsome man who got off the bus at the same time I did asked.
I nodded. “Sim.”
“Quatro horas,” he said, and walked inside to watch the football match with the local men. “O ônibus sai a quatro horas.”
It’s been a while since I traveled independently in Latin America, you see, so it makes sense that I’ve partially forgotten how time works here. When Gilson said I’d leave Barreirinhas at 2 to arrive in Sangue by 3 to catch the 4×4, what he meant is that I would arrive sometime in the 3 o’clock hour, then leave at 4 p.m., which I now imagined would be closer to 5 (which, interestingly enough, would have been almost late enough for me to have caught the day before). But I digress.
A 4×4 vehicle did indeed show up just after 4 p.m., only a curious thing happened: Everyone disembarked, but nobody went anywhere. The old witch (I feel bad calling her that at this point, because she was being so friendly toward me) told me to put my bags by the others’ bags, I assume to hold my place on the vehicle.
But 15 minutes passed, then 30, then 45 and place held or not, nobody was getting onto the empty vehicle. And unfortunately, I lacked the faculty with Portuguese to inquire on a deeper level, so I decided to do what would’ve served me in every other trying situation I encountered up to that point and just wait.
Eventually, a van bearing the “Denilson Viagens” (the same brand as the 4×4) arrived, carrying a full load of passengers – and an even fuller load of cargo. The scene initially perplexed me, but it soon became clear what was happening: The van was coming from São Luis (edit: Why hadn’t information about this van’s existence been available on the English-language Internet?) and all of its passengers were boarding the now-empty 4×4.
Only it wouldn’t be empty anymore. Quite full, in fact. Actually, completely full.
Slightly panicked, I handed my bag up to the handsome man who’d ridden the bus in with me, who was packing other bags on top of the vehicle.
He laughed and shooed it away, and whispered something in Portuguese under his breath. I handed it up to him again and he once again disregarded it, motioning to the older lady standing next to me to explain what was going on.
“Ele disse que não há espaço,” she said, confirming my worst fear. “Você tem que esperar até amanhã.”
But I already fucking waited until “tomorrow!” I thought, shouting inside my head but powerless to say anything that wouldn’t make me sound stupid. So again I waited, until the vehicle was literally so full it looked like nothing else could fit on it. In the distance the witch was looking on, with an impossibly sad gaze – her eyes looked to be ready to burst with tears. Likely on my behalf. I knew what that meant.
I had emotionally thrown in the towel of getting to Santo Amaro that day (and, thus, ever – I wasn’t going to that rodeo again), when a linguistic fountain bubbled up in me. “Eu voei do Rio ontem e eu já esperei 24 horas!” I shouted in the general direction of the 4×4. “Não mais de uma vez!”
I was afraid all the other passengers, who’d up to that point had remained silent, would start laughing at me. But instead, one immediately voiced her support.
“Temos espaço aqui,” she said softly, and moved the bags that were taking up the seat next to her to the floor. “Por favor, sente-se aqui.”
Not wanting to receive a “no” vote from the driver, who already seemed stressed due to the load the van would be carrying, I got on the vehicle without asking, and began attempting to the thank the woman, whom I soon discovered had also come from Rio de Janeiro, and her husband, whom in addition to moving bags had also relocated their son to another part of the vehicle to accommodate me.
I doubted after all I’d been through that the 4×4 would actually be able to leave but sure enough, after more than a day of only sort-of-patiently waiting, I was on my way down the rough, sandy road to the Lençóis Maranhenses.
How to Get to Lençóis Maranhenses
KEY POINTS: That was long, huh? Imaging living through it! In any case, if you navigate to this article simply for the purpose of discovering how to reach Lençóis Maranhenses, here is the information you need.
1. Fly to São Luis airport, code SLZ
2. Take a taxi to the bus station (“rodoviária” in Portuguese), then a bus to Barreirinhas
or, if you want to take a road less traveled and see better dunes…
2. Contact Denilson Viagens before your flight arrives in SLZ and book one of their transfers to Santo Amaro
or, if you want to risk several heart attacks like I did…
2. Get off your Barreirinhas-bound bus at Sangue and pray to God the 4×4 is still there
Regardless of how you want to spend your own Thailand honeymoon, here are some of Thailand’s best honeymoon hotels.
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
Times change, but the dedication of the Four Seasons brand to perfecting the travel experience never will. When you stay at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, you enjoy highly personalized 24-hour service, combined with authentic, elegant surroundings of the highest quality – a home away from home for those who know and appreciate the best.
As the company has grown from a single hotel to 92 in 38 countries, its deeply instilled culture, personified by its employees, continues to get stronger. Over more than 50 years, Four Seasons built an unrivalled depth of reliability, trust and connection with our guests – a connection the brand will steadfastly uphold, now and always.
Sheraton Hua Hin
Sheraton Hua Hin Resort & Spa is a unique destination where memories are made at every turn. From the natural atmosphere that helps to relax, and stay connected with what’s important to you. Whether you choose to simply bask in the sunshine, be surrounded by our tropical landscaped gardens or enjoy refreshing dip into our unique lagoon shaped pool, our team is on hand to ensure the finest services and a complete getaway.
All 240 guest rooms and suites offer an immediate sense of comfort. Enjoy the Sheraton Sweet Sleeper™ bed in spacious modern décor rooms, with a fully-equipped bathroom featuring conservatory windows facing a private balcony, ample amenities and sustainability features.
Radisson Blu Plaza Phuket Panwa Beach
Set on Phuket Island’s picturesque turquoise blue bay in a white sand paradise, Radisson Blu Plaza Resort Phuket Panwa Beach offers all the pleasures of a private beachfront resort combined with gracious and friendly Thai hospitality. Away from the crowds in a serene and relaxed environment yet only 15 minutes to Phuket Town, markets and nightlife, this Phuket resort offers guests the best of both worlds. A five-star beach resort, Radisson Blu boasts amazing panoramic ocean views, three extra large free-form swimming pools, an award winning spa, modern gym, versatile kid’s club with water slides and a variety of restaurants that cater to families and couples.
Spend the day basking on the secluded white sand beach or catch a boat directly from the Panwa Beach resort’s beach to explore destinations for deep sea fishing, scuba diving and the surrounding small islands. Spread across acres of pristine property on the beach, this resort in Phuket is perfect for a relaxing getaway, family holiday, wedding or business meeting.
All stylish rooms feature private balconies and a unique blend of distinctive Thai culture while villas boast a spacious interior with beamed ceilings and a large terrace area leading to a private infinity pool. While in Phuket, enjoy a variety of international cuisines in the on-site restaurants, including upscale, casual or private romantic tables on the beach.
Featuring one of the largest lagoon swimming pools in Phuket, complete with a swim-up bar and infinity edge, as well as an activity swimming pool with water slides, this accommodation in Phuket keeps everyone entertained and relaxed while on holiday.
Host an event or wedding by the beach, on the Seaside Pool’s lounging deck or in the vast tropical gardens that can be transformed into an unforgettable outdoor venue.
A selection of indoor meeting rooms with natural light, including a ballroom that can cater up to 250 people for a reception, are also available for conventions, meetings, incentives, brand launches or executive retreats. The resort is only a five-minute walk to Cape Panwa Esplanade, featuring a variety of shops, tailors, restaurants and Phuket Aquarium. World-class golf courses, day tours to Phuket attractions, local markets, Phi Phi Island and many more activities can be arranged through the 24-hour concierge.
Click here to learn more about Radisson Blu Plaza Phuket Panwa Beach’s Honeyteering package.
Banyan Tree Koh Samui
Escape to a secluded haven on one of Thailand’s most beautiful islands Koh Samui, the paradise island famous for its inviting sapphire waters and white beaches offers a destination that combines pampering with tranquillity – at Banyan Tree Samui. Overlooking the scenic Lamai Bay, the resort is nestled in a series of cascading terraces on a private hill cove in the south-eastern coast of Koh Samui.
Banyan Tree Samui combines the best elements of a tropical getaway with seclusion and privacy synonymous with Banyan Tree. Retreat from the bustle of the outside world into a secluded haven where your days pass in a gentle flow of relaxation. Be serenaded to sleep by the deep blue swells of the Gulf of Thailand and cool sea breezes.
The Cape Verde Islands often get a bad rap in the media, due to the fact that many of the most devastating hurricanes in history have originated as tropical disturbances over them. But in fact, Cape Verde is one of the most alluring holiday destinations you can choose.
Whether you’re already planning to head to Cape Verde, or are just getting inspiration for your next trip, here are some fun things to do in the Cape Verde Islands.
Cape Verde Beaches
Being that that it’s an island nation, Cape Verde is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, whether you enjoy a daytime stroll under swaying palm trees, to take in a picture-perfect sunset with a drink in hand. The real difficulty is choosing just one island to see during your holiday.
For example, head to Sal island if you want not only to enjoy the idyllic beauty of the beach, but also to take part in water sports and cultural activities. In Boa Vista, on the other hand, the beaches themselves take center stage, with very few tourists venturing here. They’re the very picture of “unspoiled.”
Hiking in Cape Verde
The Cape Verde Islands are also mountainous, which makes them a great destination for hikers. You’ll hike through pristine forests on some islands, while others allow you to explore – and even go inside – active volcanoes. It doesn’t get much more adventurous than this.
The volcano on Fogo island, for instance, erupted as recently as 1995. Sulfur fumes still steep through its vents, in fact, which creates a somewhat unpleasant aroma as you hike up it. But don’t worry: The view from the top is more than worth it!
Culture of Cape Verde
Another interesting aspect of the Cape Verde islands, their incredible nature notwithstanding, is their rich cultural fabric. A former colony of Portugal, the official language of the island is Portuguese, a culture which also seeps into the identity of the island in terms of its architecture and cuisine.
As for the people themselves, they are a bit of a mix. Comprising both African and Portuguese heritages, they are somewhat similar in their ethnic makeup to the people of the Brazilian coast, which is especially unsurprising when you consider the islands’ role in the Slave Trade, for which Brazil was often the final destination. Many of the cultural attractions in Cape Verde, particularly in the city of Mindelo, center on educating visitors about this period of history.
Image courtesy of noraincorp, via Creative Commons.
Welcome to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the vainest city in the world – I imagine even models feel self-conscious there. Unfortunately, I didn’t fit the part when I first arrived in Rio back in 2011. A freak haircut in Buenos Aires the week before had left me nearly bald, which says nothing of how exhausted and out-of-shape nearly two months in South America had left me. And pale – most of said trip had been in the Andes.
Still, I proudly marched down to Ipanema Beach my first day in Rio, resolved not only to enjoy myself, but to feel as sexy as the Gods and Goddesses who turned their noses up at me. Except, no one was really turning their noses up at me.
In fact, in spite of how disgusting I felt (and, according to all the mirrors I’d made the mistake of gazing into, looked), people were being extremely friendly to me. By the time the sun set that evening, in fact, I felt so comfortable – and I was so drunk on caipirinhas – that I didn’t look in a single mirror on the way back to my hotel.
(This is a very good thing.)
You see, the sunscreen I’d bought on my way down to the beach that morning had apparently not agreed with my skin, and so in addition to my pale body being scorched the color of the umbrellas that run the length of Copacabana, my face was dotted with no less than 100 blemishes, each of which would’ve been insignificant on its own, but had the combined effect of completely unraveling the confidence I’d built up since my arrival in Rio.
As the next few days passed, I found myself once again surprised at how friendly and even flirtatious locals acted toward me, in spite of me feeling even more unattractive than I’d even felt before. Their company and words (and, occasionally, hands and other body parts) were so warm that I occasionally forgot about my leper-like appearance long enough to enjoy myself.
But as I waited for my flight back to the U.S. at Galeão International Airport one week later, I felt run down like the facilities, not triumphant like the gate agent, who yelled out the boarding announcements because her intercom had stopped working.
With my return to Brazil looming just 48 hours in the future, I can’t deny how happy the thought of walking on the sands of Ipanema tan, in-shape and with a luscious head of hair makes me feel. I’m righting a wrong that has irked me every time I think back on my first trip to Brazil. The real issue, to be sure, is not whether Rio de Janeiro is the vainest city in the world, but the extent of my own vanity.
Only it’s not an issue – at least not this time around, thankfully.
Welcome to one of the most stunning and remarkable countries – Ecuador, the land of sea turtles.
Did I say sea turtles? There are a lot of them and they’re protected.
I vividly remember swimming with sharks around the Kicker Rock, off San Cristóbal Island in the Galapagos. The great news is that there were so many sharks all around me that I lost count. The even better news? Getting up-close and personal with these incredible creatures instantly dispelled many of the unfair myths and rumors humanity has propagated about them. Sharks are not vicious, deadly predators, but gentle, graceful, beautiful animals – the sea would be a sad place without them, and so would the world at large.
Initially, I hatched the idea to take a trip to Australia back in 1992, thanks to one of my eccentric teachers Mrs. Fraley, who designed our entire school year around her love of The Land Down under, from science units on the life cycles of marsupials, to traditional folklore myths and songs, to geography lessons about the Outback and what was known, at the time, as Ayer’s Rock. (She even took us to Outback Steakhouse, although I now know that place is anything but Australian!)
On account of being young (and very middle-class) at the time, it took me exactly 20 years to take my first trip to Australia, where I saw koalas and kangaroos up-close, traipsed through the red sands of the Outback, ate real Australian food and hummed along to “Waltzing Matilda” the first time I heard it. I’m eager to return to Australia to cover the vast amounts of the country I missed during the six weeks I spent there, but for now, use my pictures are inspiration to plan your own trip to Australia.
Believe it or not, there were more than 26 million tourists who visited Thailand last year, so it’s clear that I don’t have much work to do in the area of encouraging people to go there. The below photos showcases my favorites across six trips I’ve made to Thailand over the last couple of years.
My fourth trip to Thailand, in the fall of 2012, hosted the proudest moment of my life (flying my little sister to Thailand, her first transpacific journey). My fifth was a testament to my resilience after a brutal breakup and my sixth saw me once again invited to the Kingdom in an official capacity. I’m not sure exactly when my seventh trip to Thailand will occur, but I hope you’ll join me in savoring these photos, and the freedom they convey, until then.
Even if you’ve been to Paris, you could spend a lifetime there and still never see everything it has to offer. Case in point: I’ve been to the City of Lights four times and I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. You shouldn’t stress out about how many days to spend in Paris, because let’s honest – no matter how many days you spend in Paris, you’re always going to want to spend more!
With this being said, you can get an amazing overview of Paris in a very short while – one week to be specific. If you’re looking to spend seven (or more) days in Paris, continue on to read my sample one-week Paris itinerary.
Bienvenue à Paris!
Unless you’re coming from within Europe, you’ll have a long journey to Paris, so spend your first morning relaxing and indulging in the delights of this delicious city. If you arrive in the morning, head to a local boulangerie and have a fresh French croissant, paired with café au lait, bien sûr. Opinions about the best bakery in Paris vary, but I recommend finding one nearby where you’re staying, to get quickly acquainted with your neighborhood.
On day two, drop your stuff off and take the Paris Metro to “Charles de Gaulle – Étoile” station. You’ll emerge from the underground to see L’Arc de Triomphe, one of Paris’ most iconic monuments, in front of you.
After you marvel at the triumphal arch, erected by Napoleon in 1806 after an important victory, take a stroll down the Champs-Elysées, where a bevy of dining, shopping and drinking options await you.
If you get bored of retail and restaurants, take a walk all the way down Avenue Foche to enjoy the end of the afternoon at Bois de Boulogne, a huge park that often gets overlooked by tourists. This isn’t without reason – it’s quite far from the places in the city most tourists visit – but it’s one of the largest urban green spaces in Europe and the lack of tourists simply enhances its charm.
The Seine and Sunset at Sacre Couer
I hope you didn’t stay out too late on the Champs-Elysées – the third day of your week in Paris is a long one! Get to Notre Dame Cathedral early in the morning to avoid the lines and also, to enjoy the Seine River before it gets too full of tourists. After exploring the nooks, crannies and gargoyles you only dreamed about when reading Victor Hugo, head to the north bank of the Seine and say bonjour to “Mona Lisa,” or head south and discover the charming Quartier Latin.
On day four, stop at a sandwicherie and pick up a picnic lunch, then enjoy it in one of Paris’ many parks. If you’re south of The Seine, try Jardin de Luxembourg or if you’re north, try the more petit Square Emile Chautemps in North Marais.
Have a rest until the sun starts to set in the sky, then take the Metro to “Blanche” station, which will take you right to the heart of Montmartre and the famous Moulin Rouge. Walk on by – you’ll be right back!
For now, follow the signs to the Basilica de Sacre Couer, which in spite of how old it looks is just over a century in age. In spite of its relative newness, it – or, more specifically, the high hill on top of which it sits – makes it a perfect spot to watch the sunset over the French capital. Speaking of which, head back to Moulin Rouge. It looks much better at night!
On Top of the World
You’ve worked very hard so far, so for your fifth day, I’m giving you a choice. If you didn’t go out on night four, wake up early and take a train to Versaille, the former French royal residence. Regardless of how late or early you rise, however, you’ll still get to feel like a king (or queen). Head to the Eiffel Tower just after sunset and ascend to the top level to understand how the City of Lights got its name.
On day six check out La Défense, Paris’ skyscraper-filled central business district, then, for your last night in Paris, I recommend going all out on food and drink. Enjoy an aperitif at Café Etienne Marcel, just off Rue du Louvre, the spot where I had my very first flute of real French champagne, then head around the to swanky Le Tambour, where you can try French specialties like escargot, entrecôte and even os à moelle – bone marrow – if you dare. To end your week in Paris in true royal fashion, head back to the Champs-Elysées and dance the night away at Queen, my personal favorite discothèque in Paris.