The sight of a clapped-out minibus coming into view through the sunset brings temporary relief…
…The view of it whizzing past, without so much as a feathering tease of the brakes, brings frustration.
“I think we are waiting on the wrong side,” says Sophie helpfully, as it disappears over the brow of the hill into the desert scrubland.
A short, stocky, man wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘eco’ and ‘tours’ heads our way.
“Need a lift? I can show you a big rock on the way. Only £30 each,” he says, pupils bulging with $ signs.
The bus that didn’t stop costs 50p. We can see plenty of big rocks from the road so reluctantly decline his offer and continue our wait.
Eventually we are on our way. A pile of pebbles on the dusty floor, from our 33 games of stone boules, provide the only clue that two pastey-faced gringos once killed two hours at this middle-of-nowhere spot.
Overall the bus network in Brazil is up there with the Japanese rail system in terms of coverage and comfort (although not punctuality), but here, deep within the northern state of Maranhão, cars rule.
We have journeyed to the comparatively remote outpost of Carolina, in search of idyllic, isolated waterfalls.
At Pedra Caída, where the buses rarely stop, we found our first. The location wasn’t quite what we had been hoping for – a pricey, touristic resort in which you have to pay to take a guided tour, but after wading along a river we did get to see a waterfall of some 75-metres.
A few days later our hunt for cascading H20 takes us to the even more remote outpost of Riachão, where we manage to get a lift into the bush with one of the town’s only restaurateurs and his sister-in-law – who is keen to improve her English.
Ducking overhanging branches we bump over a dirt road in the open top back of a pickup truck, gorging on Brazil nuts, which apparently contain 150 calories a pop.
Sophie and I are on Havaiana (flip flop) wearing autopilot – trainers safely tucked away in our backpacks at Elson’s £5 a night motel – which makes the trek to the Encanto Azul (Enchanted blue) waterfall slightly taxing – especially when we have to do a short abseil down a steep section of rock.
After 40 minutes a narrow chasm dramatically opens up to reveal a shimmering aquamarine-coloured pool.
Tiny translucent fish dart about below, stopping only to tickle the dirt off our feet, to create a surprisingly pleasant natural pedicure.
A look above reveals the reason for the slight odour in the air – bats. I thought they were nocturnal but hundreds of them are flapping around in a darkened cave to my right.
At another equally beautiful natural pool and waterfall, Posso Azul, I take a ‘jacuzzi’ in a narrow, two-metre deep waterhole formed by gallons of water cascading over the glistening rocks above.
Content with our little wander to the waterfalls, the following day we find ourselves once again waiting for a ride – this time it’s for an 18-hour journey to Belem.
Our bus station boredom is broken by the cries of a farmer. He is comically waddling over the tarmac trying to catch a lone bull who is making a brave bid for freedom.
Some locals are laughing, others look concerned. Eventually, a rapidly-mustered crack team of ten corner the beast and the puffing, red-faced gaucho grabs the rope around the animal’s neck.
Show over, we go back to the long wait for yet another bus.
“Care for a game of pebble boules, Senhora Cross?”