Ok, so an update is much needed! I been very slack, so here is an update of the last few weeks in Brazil:
Salvador Carinval - we decided against going to the Rio Carnival and am very glad we went to Salvador! I met up with 6 other friends and we hired an apartment for the week. Carinval was insane!! So much fun - I would definitely recommend this to anyone. The difference here is that it is more of a music festival. Each day, and well into the night, they have massive music trucks that follow a route alond the beach. You buy special t-shirts to follow the "blocco"......it takes about 6-8 hours from start to finish, hence you are stuffed by the end. The number of people is crazy! There are thousands of people innside the bloccos (ropes are held around each truck), not to mention the thousands lining the street along the way. Everyone is dancing, drinking, singing, talking etc all the way along. And I have to say that we didn´t see too many tourists which was great as you got hang out with the locals. I took one for the team and decided to take my camera to one of them (see the photos) and so glad I did. Yes, it is pretty dangerous on the streets, and can say that I was thoroughly sick of keeping money in my underwear (you cannot carry anything in your pockets or you get robbed), but all of us came out relatively unscathed from the week....just very tired from partying everything night till the wee hours.
Lencios - so from the sins of Salvador, we decided to get back to nature for a few days. Lencois is 6hrs drive west of Salvador and beautiful little town where we travelled from, out to caves, waterfalls, rock pools etc. A very nice break.
Rio de Janeiro - next it was onto the big smoke of Rio! I really liked Rio - most of it is very beautiful and it had a great vibe. We stayed at Ipanema, one beach around from Copacabana, more of a posh area but definitely safer. Went and saw the big guy on the hill (see photos), went to the beach etc. Also, we decided to do a "tour" to one of the favelas (slums). I was unsure about doing this, but in the end I went and am glad I did. It was pretty interesting to walk around and see everyone living there and hear some of the statistics......but these places get a bad name due to only a very few (about 10% of the population) people there who are invloved in drugs, gang wars etc. Unfortunately I got a bad bout of food poisoning on our last day here (along with 3 more of our group) which wasn´t good so didn´t get to see everything I wanted......BUT had to move on!
Iguasu Falls - located on the Brazilian, Argentinian and Paraguay borders, these falls are so impressive. A lot bigger than Niagra (can´t remember the statistics). We went to the bird park there (see photos) - which was fun, but with my fear of birds wasn´t exactly relaxing either?! The first day was the Argentinian side which is definitely the best and a lot of fun. We went on a jet boat right underneath the falls - you get absolutely drenched!! more than if you stood under a shower (mum you would have hated the water in your face!). The Brazilian side was still nice but more of an overall view rather than right in the thick of things. I still can´t get over the amount of water at the place!
Florianopolis - Susie, Liz and I then headed here (an island off the south coast of Brazil) for a much deserved beach break. A great place with lots of lovely beaches.....and no, didn´t (too) burnt either. Was great to stop for 4 days and do nothing. And the hostel where we stayed was great where we met lots of lovely people.
Montevideo, Uraguay - from the biggest to the smallest country in South America, I decided to stop here for a couple of days before heading to Argentina. A lovely city that is pretty quiet, plus I got to catch up with James, a friend from home that is living and working there at the moment.
An overview of Brazil - its about the "boody" in Brazil!! While the fashions are very worrying (lots of lycra, jumpsuits and bad denim) everyone certainly gets it out there.....and they can dance! Some very funny times were had getting dancing lessons from the locals - am definitely a white girl who just can´t get it! Also some scary times at the beach with every women (young and WAY too old) sporting either a brief brazilian-cut or g-string bikini! Can´t say the food was crash hot (apart from these tradtional deep fried parcels of goodness after a night out) but on the whole a very fun and beautiful country....and I saw a lot of it - 90 hours on buses with a lot more to come......
Location: Cusco, Peru
Inca Trek, Machu Picchu and the last of Cusco
With more school, spanish lessons and trying to finish off our projects for the month, time certainly flew in the last couple of weeks. But was very excited about doing the trek to Machu Picchu!
Day 1 was pretty easy going - a bus to the starting point and then only about 4 hours walking. It was a lovely, clear day which was pretty hot (not to be for the rest of the time though!). Although I had to re-think the amount of water I was carrying....my pack that I carried the entire time weighed about 9-10kgs but about 2kg was water I think, so I only carried what I drank straight away from then on. The first camping spot was so beautiful, and even though there are about 400-500 people on the trail at any one time, you really felt like you were the only ones at this spot.
Day 2 - the hardest of the trek as its the longest and highest. Have to brag here and say that I made it to Dead Womens Pass (the highest point) a full 10mins before anyone else in the group and it was hard!! But had the mind-set of "the quicker you get up there, the quicker it will be over"! Can say that I was not loving my short "Davis" legs on this day (lots of high stairs and hills!) however, then again, if I had inherited the long, skiny Moulton ones they would have broken in half within a couple of hours?! So made it to camp early in the afternoon to recover.
Day 3 - have to say this was the hardest day for me as it was mostly down hill with lots of stairs the whole way. I could hardly walk when I got into camp with both knees and ankles killing me (my right knee now has a permanent click when I walk up stairs - not good!). But then again, I was stupid enough to try and keep up with the porters at various times during the trek. I do have to say at this point that these local guys are uncredible!! They carry between 20-30kgs and RUN along this very rocky, uneven trail, in sandles, in record time! Hence I rolled my ankle a bit when I tried to follow a couple of them on a downhill stretch - not smart. The food that they prepared for us (breakfast, lunch and dinner) was sensational as well!! It really was, we didn´t think this just because we were starving at the end of the day. Anyway, as I got into camp pretty early that day, I managed to get a shower (the first in 3 days) and a much deserved beer in that night.
Day 4 - it was up at 4am to walk the last of the trail (about 1-2hrs) to Machu Picchu. We made it to the Sun Gate where you are supposed to get your first view - the last 3 days it had rained pretty constantly and was very foggy, so when we got there, more of the same and we couldn´t see a thing! But good things come to those who wait and after about 15mins the clouds parted and I have to say it was breathtaking! I wondered if I would love seeing it as you see so many photos of it all the time - BUT yes, it really was amazing and a "moment" was had. The rest of the day was spent walking around the ruins and learning all about it. At the end Ali and I decided to then climb Wanapicchu (the mountain on the other side that overlooks the site) and glad we did. Apart from being stuck to the side of a wall at the top for about 10mins as I was overcome by my fear of heights (very embarassing) it was spectacular and am very glad we went up there! So....can say that the whole experience was one of the (if not THE) best things I have every done. All of us were very smelly and exhausted by the end but it was such a great thing to do. And have to admit that I did look down my nose at all those day tripers who caught the train to the site - doing the trek was so much better!
The last of Cusco - after the trek there was only a few days left in Cusco. The school held a lovely farewell for us with lots of gifts and flowers.....and a farewell (hugs, kisses and lots of "mucho gracias´s") line that stretched forever with every child and teacher at the place! I was very sad to leave - it has been such a great experience and I take away so many good memories and friends from there. I will definitely be staying touch with Jane and Selvy to see if I can help them in the future in any way.
But, its onto Brazil now which I am really looking forward to!!
Location: Cusco, Peru
Sacred Valley, teaching, home visits and more drinks!
This week started off with a 2 day tour of the Sacred Valley....whatever I write here does not do the area justice - won´t give you a history lesson apart from saying that the Incas were amazing in everything they did! Construction, astrology, metal work, architecture....you name it. Anyway, Selvy (one of the program´s founders) took us on this overnight tour around the mountains. We stopped into a tiny local bar where they still brew corn beer - Chicha - quite yummy actually! Shopped at the famous Pisac markets (soooo much to buy but was very good as still have 2 months of travel to go) and had some amazing food....yes it had to come.....the food here is amazing!! Have tried most dishes (not guinea pig yet, that is next week´s job!) and the flavours and everything here is so good, so am not fading away!
More classes (Art and Music this time....again 2 things I do NOT excel at!) at school and getting to know the kids more. While I have 4 hours of Spanish lessons a week, I do find it frustrating I can´t communicate more easily with the kids. The older ones do have a bit more English, but there is a lot of sign language going on as well as repeating the same Spanish words - they must think I am mad. Again, I have to say that all the kids are so affectionate - always hugging you, holding hands and wanting to play. Considering the very basic living conditions and tough family conditions they come from, it is incredible. I had my first Home Visit (where a few of us go with the local social worker to families in trouble) this week and it was very confronting - just like anywhere around the world there are the same problems in the community - alcoholism, violence, abuse, affairs, broken families and living conditions that are so upsetting (living in animal pens with their animals. And most homes in the town do not have electricity or running water). But this is why we are all here - to help (physically and financially), and educate, most importantly.
Onto more positive things......it was out to dinner (and too many drinks) on Thurs night to farewell a couple who have been volunteering for 3 months which was good fun (but not the next day - art and then teaching PE for 2 hours in the sun was a massive struggle!). We went to a local bar on Sat night - the band was absolutely great....and then 3 of us went quad-biking in the hills around Cusco on Sunday afternoon - made even more fun due to the huge downpour (although it does rain here everyday I do have to say) just before, so lots of water and mud to race through! Its the Machu Picchu trek next weekend, so looking forward to that.....adios for now!
Location: Cusco, Peru
A Full Week down...
Ok, so a much needed updates is required. I have to say that I am absolutely loving being here!! The volunteer program is just brilliant - what we do, the people in my group and of course the founders, Jane (Aussie) and Selvy (Peruvian).
My typical (and this week) is school most mornings from 9.30-1.30pm, Spanish, home visits or other projects in the afternoons - so not a lot of spare time. This week, it was into the classroom - Music with the year 3 & 4´s. Yes, very funny.... as most of you know, music is not my forte (Julian, really needed you there!).....but after some clapping and rythym games it was onto teaching them the "Hokey Pokey" - hilarious! There was also a bit of cleaning and constructions work to be done as well, so it was good to be outside doing some manual labour as well.
On Thursday we had a day off for a day of horseriding to the different historical sites around Cusco. The highlight for me was Saquiwaman (in gringo talk, "Sexywoman")....amazing Inca site that was the centre for all ceremonies back in the day. Althougt it is about 500-600years old most of the structure still stands today....and has also withstood the numerous earthquakes that occur in the area. The size of the stones that were taken from miles away and somehow (again, one of those "unknowns" that historians argue over) transported to this site at the top of the hill defies belief - no mortor or concrete, each stone lays on the other perfectly.
Ok, so enought history.....living out of town (about 30mins drive) is great. We are among the locals all the time and have made friends with lots of shop owners easily. Everyone is so friendly, it is great. Although one downside are the dogs! I kid you not, there would thousands of dogs just in our area, roaming the streets (Nanette you would hate it)....they aren´t too bad, and don´t bother me, but the dog fights that happen at night are scary. But good to go for walks in the mornings before school and pass cows, pigs, sheep, donkeys, you name it around the streets (ie dirt tracks) and say good morning to people.
Scottie and Dave were in town for the weekend as well, and good to catch up with them...they survived the Inca Trek and so it has made me even more excited about it. A night out at Mama Africas (for those who have been there, you know what it is like?!) and lots of drinks and fun was had - did not feel that great the next day I have to say.......
Location: Cusco, Peru
Well, my South American adventure has finally begun - I never thought it would arrive! I flew into Santiago, Chile on 2nd Jan but this was just a quick overnight pit-stop on my way to Lima, Peru. Here I had a day or so to myself before meeting up with some of the others in the volunteer program that i am involved in for a month. I had heard pretty bad reports of Lima, but I didn´t find it too bad - its a pretty busy city and has some nice parks and other areas that were good to check out. But only a couple of days here and then I flew to Cusco in central Peru where I am spending a month living here.
I´ll try not to bore you too much (and sorry, these lot of photos are a bit boring, but wanted to give you an idea on where I am living). Cusco is a great town!! I am living about 20mins drive out of the town centre in an area that is supposed to be "up and coming"?! (ie mud brick houses next to pretty nice, western type places). We take "collectivos" into town when needed - these are banged up mini-vans that randomly stop on the side of the road to drop and pick people up. Crazy drivers but good fun and get to hang with the locals as well.
As I mentioned, I am involved in a volunteer program for the month of Jan. There are 17 in our group this month, which is quite a lot, and everyone is really nice....all aussies except for one Canadian women, just can´t get away from us!! We went up to the school yesterday for the first time, but will explain more about that in my next entry once I have been working there for a full week. The school is another 20 mins drive up the mountain from our house and is at 3,800m above sea level, (Cusco is 3,200m asl) so not exactly running around all afternoon with the kids yet as at that altitude its pretty tiring doing anything......but I have coped pretty well compared to some of the others here.
Ok, so that´s it in a nutshell for the moment, and all the boring stuff out of the way....the next entries will be more interesting I am sure!! The kids here in the rural areas are just gorgeous and don´t stop hugging and playing with whenever they can....but it is also upsetting seeing the poverty they live in, and so I think a month here will be really rewarding to see the small differences we can make to their lives.