Since my last update I have climbed the snow covered Villarrica Volcano, been horseback riding through fields of golden wildflowers, white water rafted, said goodbye to my very lovely GAP tour group and met some great people in Santiago.
I'm loving my last few days relaxing and Santiago has a great feel to it, plus an awesome graffiti art scene, interesting politics, free museums, amazing history and a clean, cheap and efficient metro system - what more could you want?
Have been keeping a paper diary as it's hard to get onto the internet too much, and I don't want to spend my whole time here online. Really looking forward to seeing everyone at home. I'm back on Sunday Nov 21.
Location: Buenos Aries, Argentina
For breakfast... bread of many kinds. I didn't think I'd tire of croissants and cheese but I have reached my limit. We have fun trying to get out of Uruguay - their border police don't want to let us go becuase we are missing a piece of paper that we weren't given on entry. The ferry across the brown harbour is fairly dull, but most of the group are so hyped about getting to Buenos Aires that it doesn't matter. I'm not quite so excited, it's just another city in my eyes.
Vegetarian buffet for lunch. I know this entry is becoming all about food but I went crazy with excitement at the sight of vegetables and salads and healthy foods and gorge until my tummy hurts.
Our hotel is super fancy, with multiple chandeliers and big floral arrangements in the lobby. The room is small but very decorated - it's the kind with patterned carpet, bedspreads and wallpaper all crammed into a tiny space.
Monday night was awesome, we went to a drum party in some industrial block turned into a gig space. There were perhaps 15 musicians with various drums and percussion instruments and they got the whole place dancing. It was really impressive, with a very bohemian vibe, many dreadlocks and a lot of pot smoke in the air (it's legal to have a small amount of marijuana for personal use in Argentina and Uruguay apparently). We then wen't to our guide Maru's house for a party - her family and friends were so warm and welcoming and we entered the house to "hola" (hello) and hugs and kisses from all. It was so lovely. There are some really great parts to the South American culture.
A sleep in and lazy day visiting Palermo is very welcome on Tuesday. This is a fairly rich neighbourhood with lots of parks, bars and nice shops. It feels safe and expensive, not at all like the overcrowded central area of the city.
On Tuesday we headed out the a tango show, which starts with a tango lesson. It's actually a lot of fun (especially laughing at the uncoordinated guys trying to learn the steps) and I'm not as terrible as I expected. The show itself was spectacular, it showcased the progression of the tango through the decades and the dancers are super fit.
We all head out to a club for our final farewell party together. It turns out to be a really good night. I don't drink and feel great for it.
Most people look pretty shabby at the early morning meeting in the lobby to farwell Sam, my only fellow Aussie in the group. He starts work on Friday. I feel blessed that when I head back home I won't be straight back into work. So many of the people in the tour group are doing some soul searching, running away from work they find unfulfilling or trying to find something extra in their lives. I can understand when so many of them work in corporate jobs.
We tour the city on one of those open roofed buses. This has been such a wealthy country at times, beautiful buildings are everywhere, they are huge and ornate. We stop at La Boca to see the football stadium, and have a BBQ lunch in Caminito (super colourful neighbourhood with painted houses).
The remaining 11 of the group are too tired to party on our last night in BA. Many are staying longer. We are about to head south, and I am personally looking forward to it. I'm so glad about the smaller group of 4 (Kyla, Sarah, Kevin and I) plus Maru our guide. We all get along and things will be easier in a smaller group for sure.
Can't wait for mountains and small towns!!! There's only a 20 hour bus ride standing in my way.
The bus to Colonia is gladly a short 3 hours. A few of the group are really hungover this morning - I skipped the night out to get some sleep and fight off a cold.
Colonia is charming with cobbled, tree lined streets, great retro cars and cute cafes. There are dozens of amazing old buildings, some beautifully restored and some crumbling. The town sits east of Buenos Aires, across the harbour, and I watch the sun set directly over the tiny silhoutted buildings of the city of BA. Swallows play in the wind and the clouds light up to make it a perfect sunset.
I relish the opportunity to walk alone and enjoy this safe and sleepy little town. It's a great break from the constant chatter and I can do what I most enjoy about travelling, stop and soak up the place, rather than jump from one thing to the next.
I'm a little sad we'll be leaving tomorrow morning. The hotel is so cute - the rooms are name after flowers and we have an awesome "apartment" for 4, with a loft bedroom upstairs and two bathrooms. Luxury!
Location: Salto + Montevideo, Uruguay
The nightbus to Salto was 14 hours of suffering. It's amazing how they can think up various ways of torturing you - bad music played loudly, movies in English with Spanish subtitles played just quietly that you can't quite watch, slippery seats that ensure every time you drift off you slide into the footrest, AND ham and cheese fest.
Ham and cheese have become a bit of a joke this trip in our tour group as it is impossible to escape them in any meal. The meal on the nightbus consisted of a stale ham and cheese sandwich, cake scroll with ham, cheese and lettuce, ham and cheese on a skewer with an olive, and the piece de resistance - ham flavoured cheese spread!
We are dropped off by the bus in the Argentinian countryside just outside of the border, to be driven across by taxis. It's 6.30am and freezing. Sunrise was stunning, burning red, but it provides no warmth.
We cross into Uruguay and arrive in Salto (apparently a resort town for retirees to relax in the hot springs). Our visit to the ATM is fun filled - 15 of us need to withdraw money and in between withdrawals the ATM claims to be "out of service" for 5 minutes or so before becoming available again. There are no other ATMs and we have no Uruguayan pesos.
For breakfast, we avoid ham and cheese, and go with the other staple option of bread. In Salto people wander the streets in bathrobes. They walk around the hotel in them, go to breakfast in them and visit the thermal baths in them. It's quite comical.
We spend a day at the spa, I get a body massage (always dangerous when you don't speak the language) and end up with a slightly bruised shoulder. All of the pools are hot - 33', 35', 39' - and the sun is blazing. There is no cold pools. I felt like a roast chicken by the end of the day, but it was fun with volleyball in the swimming pool and relaxing on deck chairs in the shade.
In the morning we take a bus to Montevideo. It's 6 hours and Uruguay is flat. It's pretty though, all rural with chequerboard fields and tiny flat roofed houses which just look like a concrete box.
Montevideo is somewhat depressing and run down, with lots of shops boarded up and occasional beautiful buildings interspersed amongst others. We walk through a dodgy neighbourhood to the very brown harbour. Gladly dinner is lovely.
There is a fountain here with hundreds upon hundreds of locks on the metal surrounds. The legend is that lovers who write their initials on the lock and lock it onto the fountain will secure their everlasting love ( http://uruguay-top-spots.com/wp-content/uploads...)
On Saturday we visited the markets in Montevideo. It's cheap and crafty. I bought about 6 things and spent less than $25 (500 pesos). I enjoyed my time here but won't be sad to leave, and am finding it tiring to always be in a group of 15 as everything takes forever (especially in South American time).
Location: IGUASSU FALLS!!!, Brazil
AMAZING!! There is no way I can describe how beautiful and inspiring Iguassu was.
On our first day we visited the Brazilian side of the falls, from which you get the panoramic overview of the whole thing. The walk is designed so that each lookout is more spectacular than the last and finally you get to walk out above the river and be sprayed by the falls.
A group of us visited the bird park which was an awesome experience - having huge tropical parrots squawking around your ears is deafening but really wonderful. They had tropical birds from around the world, even a cassowary, but the highlight for me was the toucans and parrots. Toby was terrified but kept trying to get photos near the parrots, Dario was trying to catch the birds, Maru (our tour leader) was characteristically awestruck with the whole thing.
The following day we crossed the border into Argentina to experience the other side of the falls. We caught a speedboat up the river right into the base of some of the smaller falls - exhilarating, very loud and wet. I really can´t approach an explanation of how beautiful the whole thing was, but each lookout seemed more wonderful and each set of falls larger. We had perfect blue skies and most people spent their time trying to capture the perfect picture of the falls (impossible). With the spring weather there were butterflies everywhere, and nesting swallows darting in and around the falls and the mudbanks (death defying place to nest!).
We ended at the Devil´s Throat (Garganta del Diablo) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Iguacufromair... which was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Seriously. Even the more superficial members of the group shut up and stared. It is a place to make you reflect, and certainly has an amazing energy. I wish I had a photographic memory.
That night we had a party at our hotel, mixed capirinhas and relaxed. I ended up with a hell of a hangover the next day - cachaça is the key ingredient and isn´t known for it´s purity. I wasn´t in the best condition to visit Paraguay the next morning (Brazil, Argentina and Paraguary only a few kilometres from the falls). We went shopping at the markets to stay busy until the nightbus to Uruguay that afternoon. Four countries in less than 24 hours.
Location: Paraty, Brazil
I had an amazing few days in Paraty which is a pretty, typically touristy but tasteful beachside town. The whole of the old town is beautiful buildings painted in white with coloured doorways. Apparently all of those building were built by, and housed, slaves. Today they are a money making machine with lots of crafty shops. There is lots of competition - all of the boat owners have painted their boats in bright colours to try and attract the tourist dollar.
The highlight of the few days here was the jeep tour. Rob (from England) was highly excited that we were using LandRovers, though we didn´t actually to any 4WDing. I was the only woman from our group who went, which was actually quite a nice change (a few of the people in our tour group are quite certain that the ´girls´and ´guys´should socialise separately and do gender appropriate activities only). We started with a visit to a waterfall where there were rock jumps and swimming in the freezing water. Next was a rope swing waterhole, then to the cachaça distillery to try fig, pineapple and chocolate cachaça. We had an awesome banquet lunch of local foods, and I finally got to try fejoida - the local Saturday dish of rice, beans and pork. The day finished at an awesome natural waterslide where those locals with no regard for their personal safety jumped and slid on their feet (I went down on my bum and still managed to get a little bit of air).
Sunday night is the 14 hour nightbus trip to Iguassu Falls...
Location: Paraty, Brazil
Ola from Paraty! After three nights on idyllic Ilha Grande we finally have reliable web access (I didn't miss it). This will be a brief entry as we are just about to head off for a group dinner.
Ilha Grande ("island big") was spectacular, with impressive mountains and beautiful beaches. We had two full days on the island. The first day we went on a caparinha cruise - caparinhas are the national drink of Brazil made from cachaça, lime, lots of sugar and ice. Gladly there was lots of swimming, snorkelling and a delicious lunch to keep us busy between drinks and I finished the day reasonably sober (unlike some others).
On our second day at Ilha Grande we walked 2.5 hours to Lopes Mendez, which has often won competitions as the most beautiful beach in the world. The weather conspired against us, it was boiling hot for the walk and then came over cloudy and cold when we arrived at the beach. I can see that it would be beautiful on a sunny day, but in those conditions didn't rival Australian beaches.
Today we travelled to Paraty by catamaran and bus. We've arrived at the hotel where there are two other groups with the same tour company GAP. Apparently we are organising a beach party together tomorrow.
I'm having a great time, enjoying the company of the group and getting along with pretty much everyone (though I'm not so much of a party animal as most). Our tour guide Maru is great and very helpful.
More later... love to all...
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
My time in Rio is quickly coming to an end. Tomorrow I check into the hotel and my tour begins. We leave Rio on Tuesday and head for the tropical beaches of Paraty and Ilha Grande.
Today my cousin Peter took us two hours north of Rio, forthe stunning beaches of laid-back Saquarema. It has an entirely different feel to it. I think I'm starting to understand when people describe Rio as having tension in the air, some kind of underlying hostility which isn't immediately obvious. I could feel the difference when we left the city.
It was a fantastic day, despite howling winds we jumped in for a swim. The water was clean and beautiful, and it was so relaxing not having to be constantly conscious of your belongings (it was a much safer beach than those in Rio). We enjoyed a really delicious fish lunch at a little local place, and visited a quaint church built in the 1600s.
It has been very nice having Peter here to show us around today, and allowed all of us to relax more. Last night we had a beautiful home cooked meal, and quite a few drinks, on the balcony.
We spent yesterday with a swim at Ipanema Beach in the morning, and a visit to Santa Teresa in the afternoon. The water is just divine, but too cold for Cariocas (Rio locals) at this time of year.
Santa Teresa is a neighbourhood of Rio, with some very beautiful old mansions, surrounded by two favelas. The walls of the bigger houses often have DIY razor wire - broken glass stuck in the concrete. You catch a bright yellow tram known as the Bonde up from Centro (the CBD area of Rio) which at R$0.60 is the best value thing I've done in Rio. On Saturday afternoons you hear African influenced music through the streets (I don't know the name of it).
Jean, Phil & I wandered the cobblestone streets, which are winding and labyrinthine. There were lots of overpriced touristy shops and cafes, but it was a likeable spot. We found a coffee and a hilltop seat with a band, and watched a Brazilian family teaching their daughter how to pose for photos. Young Brazilian women tend to go for over the top sexy and seriously fake poses, but there's something endearing about their boldness.
I think I'll relax more once I'm away from Rio and the ever present, in your face poverty of the favelas, which are interspersed with the other neighbourhoods. It really is criminal that people can be used almost as slave labour, and a huge proportion kept unemployed, so that a few companies can bring in over R$140 billion (about AU$ 90 billion) every year. According to Peter, the richest 5% of people hold about 50% of the wealth here, the bottom 85% of people less than 10%. The social problems that poverty combined with no welfare safety net causes are just appalling. I think this is the reason that Rio has that air of tension. Despite all this I really have taken a liking to the place.
I'm looking forward to starting my tour, but not really looking forward to leaving Rio. The beach lifestyle is quite addictive and the landscape still takes my breath away.
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The graffiti artists in Rio are seriously dedicated. They somehow manage to get to the middle of featureless walls, and they tag over and over on the same building along in a line. I guess they use ropes and abseil... I don't know. Unfortunately I couldn't get any photos from the bus today.
We headed up in to the hills about an hour out of Rio, to Petropolis. Apparently the Portuguese royalty spent their holidays here, and the buildings are extremely ornate. We visited the President's holiday home - apparently President Lula only used it once, so now it is open for tourists. The photos will tell the story.
Yesterday I relaxed in Rio, wandering along Ipanema Beach watching ridiculously lithe volleyballers training. I managed to find the botanic gardens after wandering the streets for a while. It was kind of disappointing despite being quite beautiful, just because it was so much like the rainforest I'd already seen. Lush, green, not many flowers but really beautiful foliage.
The wildlife in Rio is fun, though the vultures are slightly creepy. We've been stalked by monkeys seeking bananas on the way up Corcovado, and I watched a squirrel hording nuts in the botanic gardens.
I'm now looking out the window watching the favelas twinkle on the hillside. They actually look really beautiful at night, because the housing is so dense they are like fairy lights.