Soccer-World Cup fans get extra kick from far-flung Brazil wilderness

CHAPADA DOS GUIMARAES, Brazil, June 19 Thu Jun 19, 2014 12:33pm EDT

CHAPADA DOS GUIMARAES, Brazil, June 19 (Reuters) - A pair of scarlet macaws swooped around the 86-metre (282-foot)waterfall, crossed the deep green gorge and soared right over the heads of visitors, who might have witnessed a more impressive spectacle than the World Cup match the night before.

As if on cue, the playful pair, with their red, blue and yellow plumage and long tails, preened for tourists who had made their way to the Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park the day after the Russia-South Korea match on Tuesday in Cuiaba which ended in a 1-1 draw.

The postcard-perfect scene fitted perfectly into the master plan of Brazil's government. Officials had insisted on making the far-flung western hub of Cuiaba and the Amazonian city of Manaus World Cup host cities for the group stage in the hope of showcasing the natural beauty of their environs.

When Brazilians Luis Fernando Piotto and Talita Oliveira went to buy World Cup tickets online in November, they were only given the options of Cuiaba and Manaus.

They chose two matches in Cuiaba, knowing they could also visit the Chapada and the Pantanal wetlands, one of the world's best bird-watching sites.

"We combined two wishes: to get to know the central region of our country and participate in the World Cup, which probably won't happen here again for decades," said Piotto, who came to the Chapada from Sao Paulo state, 1,300 km (800 miles) away.

The Chapada is a plateau that rises dramatically from the valley floor, riven by a series of deep gorges of red rock and lush green foliage.

An hour from Cuiaba, the Bridal Veil waterfall is its signature attraction and the macaws make their nests in the red cliff faces, around the long stream of water.

The park has seen an increase in visitors around the World Cup, with thousands coming in on match and post-game days rather than the hundreds of an average day. On Wednesday, buses ferried Russian fans in their national team colours to the waterfall.

But as spectacular as the waterfall and its macaws are, they are just a teaser for the rest of the park which can only be visited with a guide.

Roman Saranchuk, a Russian who went to his first of 12 World Cup matches in Cuiaba on Tuesday, hired local guide Silvio Souza to penetrate the park.

"A very beautiful place and a very good guide," said Saranchuk, still wet from his adventure. "We saw some very interesting places and swam in beautiful water."

Souza, 68, took the 36-year-old Saranchuk to the Jumping Waterfall and they both leapt into the water from four metres (13 feet).

"It's forbidden a little bit because some people don't know how to jump and they can hurt themselves," said Souza.

Saranchuk, about to leave for Rio de Janeiro for Russia's next match in the Maracana stadium, felt lucky to have happened upon the Chapada while in Cuiaba.

"Around Cuiaba, it is more interesting than inside Cuiaba," he said. (Additional reporting by Rex Gowar and Reuters Television, editing by Ed Osmond)

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