A Travellerspoint blog

Party Time at Rio Carnival and the Mighty Iguazu Falls

We arrived in Z.Bra Hostel in Rio de Janiero a few days ahead of the official starting date of Carnival as we knew we wouldn´t get much of a chance to see the sights once it got under way and also so we could be in Rio for Scott´s birthday. Our mood was initially quite dampened as our first afternoon poured with rain nonstop and the same was forecast all week. So much for kicking back on the famous Rio beaches and partying in the streets. Luckily the weather turned out to be quite good while we were there and barely rained after the first day.

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The next day was Scott´s birthday and we set off early to go and see Rio´s iconic Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue that overlooks the City. We had to wait a while for a train to take us up the hill and of course when we reached the top there were swarms of people trying to get the touristy shot with arms out with the big guy. The panoramic view from the top was very impressive even though the weather wasn´t perfect for an ideal outlook over the City. The afternoon was spent having a nice lunch in Ipanema and having a wander around. Most people who were staying at the hostel for Carnival hadn´t checked in yet but we met a Gold Coast guy, Craig, who we had a few quiet celebratory drink withs in a local bar.

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The rest of our time before Carnival started was mainly spent on Leblon and Ipanema beach sipping on $2 big green coconuts and drinking copious amounts of acai drinks which is a super fruit found only in the Amazon rainforest. We think it´s a berry and is available in Australia but only mixed into cereals and breakfast bars. Anyway it is so tasty - we both had them daily. The Rio beaches are lined with sports and activities away from the shore. We were fascinated with the locals playing a form of Brasilan volleyball with soccer rules where they use any part of their bodies other than their arms and hands the hit the ball. The choice of activity for most of the women is group fitness beach sessions. It was quite funny to watch as they only seem to ever do glute exercises. We also did a trip out to the suburb of Santa Teresa with Craig one day and checked out the famous lapa steps which consist of 250 steps covered with around 2000 tiles collected from 60 countries. The artist who had single handedly worked on the steps, Selaron, had claimed "This crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death". 3 weeks ago from when we were there, Selaron was found dead on the steps with burn marks. No one seems to know why he was murdered.

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We thought Rio was lively when we arrived but when Carnival started it was pandemonium. Going down the road to buy a bottle of water turned into a mission as the streets were so packed. Bloco (street) parties were everywhere for 5 days and they were often right outside our hostel. Unfortunately throughout most of Carnival we were too worried to take out our cameras and phones so we didn´t get many photos. On the first night of Carnival we bought tickets to Brasil´s first ever Circo Loco party which is a club brand originating in Ibiza. We managed to recruit a few people from our hostel and bumped into some others at the club we´d met back in Floripa. We had a really great night and as one of the best blocos was on first thing the next morning, we caught a cab straight from the club to the bloco in Santa Teresa. It was crazy - the streets were packed with revellers almost all dressed up in every costume imaginable. Street vendors were selling cheap beers and the street bands were pumping out the music. We bumped into a few of the staff members from the hostel and paraded the streets for a couple of hours with them before catching the bus back, absolutely knackered. We slept most of that afternoon and into the next morning, recharging the batteries for the next bloco.

On the morning of day 3 of Carnival we were still tired from the opening night so we skipped the bloco we had planned to go to in Centro and went to Copacabana instead. Despite it being the most famous and iconic beach of Brasil, we were pretty disppointed. The fact that it was the peak of peak season didn´t help but it just seemed like an overcrowded unappealing beach and the water was filthy and full of rubbish. The beach where we were staying in Leblon was the nicest but none of Rio´s beaches came close to the quality of any we had visited in the south of Brasil. That afternoon we ventured over to nearby Ipanema where a massive bloco was making its way along the coast towards Leblon. We started off watching it all go past us before finding a good spot to join in close to one of the music floats.

Next up was the much talked about Sgt. Pepper bloco in Flamengo which is a Beatles themed bloco. By this stage we had made quite a few friends at the hostel so it was good to go out with a big crew but it meant we got there late and it made it hard to catch up with the proceedings with someone stopping at a beer vendor every five minutes. As a result we didn´t get close enough to really hear the music but was still a great atmosphere and we ended up giving up on getting into the middle and spent most of the afternoon sitting on the grass. That night we had tickets to Rio´s marquee Carnival event - the finals of the samba parade at the 90,000 capacity sambodromo. The parade consists of 6 samba schools parading for about an hour and a half each. We got there just as the second school was starting and watched until about half way through the fifth school which was still parading at 4am. We were up in the bleachers but still had a great view and the floats, costumes, dancing and colours were phenomenal. The crowd were right into it too with everyone standing up out of their seats the whole time, dancing, waving flags and chanting to their favourite schools.

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The last day of Carnival was spent lazing around and sleeping as most of the good blocos had finished and we were wrecked. We did manage to find another 2nd wind and went out to a club in Copacabana for one final outing with our new Rio friends.

We were in some ways relieved to get out of Rio as although we did have a blast, it was very hectic and we saw some of the dodgiest neighbourhoods so far on the trip (probably ever actually). Rio suffers terribly from social divides. Some of the population live very well but the majority live in high poverty and we saw many families on the streets. We never went into the favelas (slums) as they are considered extremely dangerous but we could see down into some of them on our way to the airport and looked horrible. We left Rio with quite a different view on it compared to what we were expecting. It was certainly full of life and energy but not what we would call a glamourous City.

Our next stop was Foz do Iguazu and we thankfully had a flight pre booked as we knew when we would be finishing up in Carnival in advance. This saved us taking a 24 bus trip. Foz is a small border town neighbouring with Argentina and Paraguay and we were there (as were all travellers) for one reason, to see arguably the world´s most spectacual falls. The Iguazu Falls consist of 285 seperate waterfalls, 2.5 kms wide and up to 270 feet high, which need to be viewed from both the Brasilian and Argentinian side to be fully appreciated.

We had planned to visit the Brasilian side on our first day but as the rain had set in and Scott had come done with a nasty post-Carnival flu we decided to stay and extra day and hope the weather improved the following day even though the forecast was for more of the same all week. Luckily the next day was much better weather-wise. Still quite overcast but it barely rained. The Brasilan side of Iguaçu (as it is spelt in Portuguese) only requires half a day to see and gives a more distant panoramic view of the falls. Once we were in the park, we took the bus to the first viewing point and had about a 1km with views of different parts of the falls along the entire trail. Before we had even set of on the trail, a couti (a racoon-like animal) sprung out of nowhere and snatched Scott´s plastic bag of snacks. We attempted to get the food back as it is harmful to the animals but we had heard their bites and scratches can be quite bad and we had opted against the $300 rabies shot back home. The cheeky couti ended up getting away with just 1 cookie and we got away unscathed. A fair trade. We seemed to stop for photos about every 20m along the trail. Everytime we saw what we thought was the largest part of the falls, we would set our eyes on a larger one. At the end of the trail we climbed up to the uppermost platform which provided the best view from the Brasilian side, being right up close to one of the larger falls while looking out to about 25 other falls in the distance. We had heard about a bird park directly across the road from the entrance to the falls which we debated about going to. In the end we decided to have a quick squiz inside and it turned out to be a real surprise. There were countless exotic tropical birds and we were able to walk into many of the averies get right up close to them. We were most excited to see toucans and also saw flamingos, macaws, cranes, and many species we were unfamiliar with including these bright red birds. That evening we crossed the border back into Argentina for the third time and checked into a hostel in Puerto Iguazu eager to check out the other side of the falls.

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True to what most people had told us, the Argentinian side was more impressive and it required a full day of exploring. This side offered three trails - the lower circuit, the upper circuit and the devils throat. We did the lower circuit first where we booked in a speedboat ride which takes you right under the falls. The speedboat isn´t for good views of the falls, more so to feel the power of the falls and get completely drenched while trying to open your eyes enough to see something. It was good fun and we were happy we had brought a change of clothes. The upper trail provided amazing views of the falls but we had saved the truely breathtaking part for last - the devils throat. This lookout stationed us just atop of the falls mightiest section where around half of the entire falls´flows drops into a narrow section, letting out an enourmous roar and a huge amount of mist. The power of the water was just incredible and was a real ´wow´experience.

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Although, in terms of time, we are about a third of the way into the trip, it feels like we have now finished the end of the first half of our adventure in the four more developed, expensive and easier to travel counties. This second stage of the trip will be much cheaper, more culturally different and adventurous. On the downside, bus connections, bus comfort, food quality and safety standards will probably be lacking. The real adventure now begins!

We have now ventured into Bolivia by means of a 36 hour marathon bus trip which was not a great experience. Yes, we could have broken up the trip but we decided to bite the bullet and go non-stop. We had, up until a few days prior, planned to enter Bolivia´s east side by travelling north through the Brasilian Pantanal wetlands region. However, we decided to change our plans and journey back through Argentina´s north to enter in the south of Bolivia as it worked out to be a cheaper and quicker route. We booked with one of the better bus companies and had heard the food was quite decent so we only packed a little fruit and a few sugary snacks for the journey. We left at 9:45am bound for Guemes in Northern Argentina. We were served what we assumed was supposed to be lunch at 6pm which consisted of a biscuit and some crackers before getting dinner, served at midnight. Breakfast the next morning was exactly the same as the ´lunch´we had received the day before. We arrived at Guemes around 9:30am and luckily found a bus leaving in an hour to the border town of La Quiaca. That bus took about 6 hours and when we got off we had to ask around for where to go. It was quite funny asking locals ´donde esta Boliva?´(where is Bolivia?). It was a short walk to immigration once we got directions and we crossed the border pretty quickly but that was where the problems started. We had stupidly spent all our Argentinian money thinking we would get out Bolivian Bolivianos in the border town of Villazon. Unfortunately one ATM was out of action and the other two didn´t accept our cards. When we discovered that none of the bus companies had card facilties, unlike anywhere else we have been, we felt a little out of options. As we sat on the side of the road pondering what to do, a begger came up to us demanding money more so than asking for it. She was quite elderly, dressed in traditional century old inca wear. We should have just ignored her but we tried to explain that we had absolutely no money and we needed some too. She obviously didn´t believe us and got a bit agressive, trying to grab bags out of our hands. It was actually quite comical, but we thought we should move on and we eventually found a place that did cash advances. We finally got a bit of money, bought our $2 bus tickets to Tupiza, and we were on our way for the last 2 hour leg of the journey. We eventually arrived in our destination of Tupiza at around 9:30pm after 1 meal and some snacks in 2 days. We checked into our first private room in about 6 weeks for about $10 each a night (which is considered expensive for Bolivia).

Tupiza will be our base for Bolivia´s most popular attraction - the 4 day jeep trip through the salt flats. We are also looking at doing a day of horse riding while we are here. We are definately back in ´Wild West´country. Tupiza is famous for being the town where Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid met their demise. From here we will head north with a brief stop in Potosi before settling down in Sucre for 3 or so weeks where we have already contacted a few potential Spanish Schools. That should be where you hear from us next.

Scott & Georgie xxx

Posted by Scott-Georgie 18:44 Comments (0)

Tropical Beach Paradise in Brasil

Florianopolis and Paraty

30 °C

This entry starts at our first stop in Brasil, the island of Florianopolis. Floripa, is one of those places all travellers we have met along the way rave on about and anyone that visits here always ends up extending their stay by a few days. It certainly lived up to the hype! Floripa is an island paradise skirted by 42 beaches within an hours drive - some are very secluded and only accessible by hiking through the rainforest, whilst others are full of beach bars and activity. Whether you are looking for surf or calm waters, this is the place to find it.

At midday on the 23rd of January we checked into one of our favourite hostels we have ever been to, Tucano House. Tucano is a bigger hostel but with a small hostel feel which organised day trips, themed dinners and nights out for guests. There was a small pool and heaps of hammocks and chill out areas and it attracts a very social crowd. We found the hostel to have a very friendly vibe and over the course of the 7 nights we spent here we met some really lovely people. We ate extremely well at Tucano and the food was by far the best we had eaten at any other hostel. Every night the hostel´s chefs cooked up a massive buffet for the theme of that night - Thai, Indian, Brazilian BBQ, Italian and many more with each dish having its own Brazilian tropical twist. Breakfast was far better than in other countries as fruit is in an abundance in Brazil. We spent our first afternoon working on the previous blog and exploring Lagoa da Conceiçao, the area where we were staying.

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On our first full day in Floripa we decided to walk to one of the closest beaches, Praia Mole, taking many pictures along the way of the lagoon. The 45 min humid walk was worth it when we arrived to the beach to find the first place in South America where the water didn't feel like ice and we could actually swim in warm waters. This beach was quite popular, with many people lined across the beach kicking a soccer ball around or sunbathing. Later in the afternoon we walked to the north of the beach then over rocks and through a trail to Praia da Galheta, a beach that is not accessible by car and was surrounded by rainforest. We would have taken photos of this picturesque beach but we were confronted by more than just the skimpy Brazilian bikini bottoms - many men strutting along the sand with their bits hanging free or confidently striking a pose with hips forward. Yes, we had stumbled across upon the nude beach.

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The following day we went on the day trip offered by the hostel which was deemed a must see, Campeche Island. We were so glad the hostel ran these day trips as Floripa is very difficult to get around with public transport and Leo from Tucano House took us to some amazing places we would never have found on our own. This is a small island off Floripa, which we reached after a 45 minute van ride followed by a 45 minute boat trip. We spent our time on the one beach strip on the island with the rest of the island being covered by dense rainforest. Unfortunately you could only access the rainforest by booking a walking tour which was full, although we enjoyed the time we had on the beach anyway and the boys had a good game of beach volleyball with a few of the locals.

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On our third full day it was Australia Day. Unfortunately we had not been able to stream the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown live the previous night as the hostel had a no noise policy after 11PM. In the morning we started the celebrations early from breakfast time with many potent fruit vodkas and podcasted some of the countdown before we headed to a day club, P12 with a big crew from the hostel. P12 is a club designed around outdoor swimming pools and bars, a luxurious club setting nothing like we had seen at home before. We were lucky enough to have meet a lovely Perth couple, Megan and Sheldon, as well as a number of non-aussies who helped us make Australia Day away from home such fun.

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The next morning we awoke feeling rather average but decided to book on another day trip to avoid wasting the day feeling sorry for ourselves in our hungover states. After watching the mens Aussie Open final in the morning (the first tv we have watched in 2 months) we set off to Lagoinha do Leste, a beach down the south of the island and the best beach we visited in Floripa. After the bus dropped us off, the group hiked for an hour through the rainforest to reach this beach paradise. We started off wondering why they had to organise this trip with a challenging hike on a Sunday when everyone was bound to be hungover but Leo assured us it was so we could sweat out the alcohol and he was right. We felt much better by the time we reached the beach. The beach was very secluded with only a few people camping on it. At the other end of the sand stretch, 100 meters from the water was a lagoon at the foot of the mountain with lovely warm water. Late that afternoon we caught a small boat back to the town we had started the hike from. On the the boat trip we captured some beautiful photos of the late afternoon sun on the cliff faces.

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The following two days we visited 2 beaches closer to where we were staying, Joaquina and Barra de Lagoa. The first on our own and the other with the hostel. Both beaches proved to be very popular and were both packed with many food outlets and bars. Joaquina beach had juice stalls, bbqs and people with racks of bikinis and sarongs for sale so close to the shore that the water lapped up over where they were set up and kids on body boards were colliding with them. Joaquina also took out the prize for the beach with the highest proportion of girls with g-string bikinis, but we are expecting the rio beaches to take over that mantle when we get there. Scott borrowed a surfboard from the hostel to take to Barra de Lagoa, having never tried surfing before and was surprised to get up on several occasions and ride some small waves! Scott spent about 4 hours out in the surf with an English guy Harry, while Georgie chatted to the girls on the beach.

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We had booked in extra nights in Floripa to make sure we could take part in the much talked about Pirate Ship day trip. On our last day we jumped on board the pirate ship with an esky of beer (really should have got rum) for 5 hours of dancing to cheesy South American pop and samba music, and island and swim stops. The crew had many terrible choreographed dances that everyone had to participate in otherwise a full bucket of agua (water) was thrown over their head with everyone chanting água´. The first island stop was an old fort that the Portuguese had build to defend themselves against an invasion by the Spanish. Here we did a quick tour and learnt a little about the history thanks to a girl from the hostel translating a little of it to us. The second stop was to a beach for lunch where we had an all you can eat buffet of seafood, meats and salad for only AU$8. We absolutely stuffed ourselves! Scott worked some of it off on the way back after being chosen for the dance comp with a local girl - got through the first round but then got voted off by public applause (or lack of it). When we arrived back at the hostel we had a quick shower and headed straight to the bus station for our next stop, Paraty.

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Our overnight bus ride to Paraty ended up being a marathon taking nearly 24 hours of several buses and much waiting around in between to get there. The first night we were so exhausted we went out for dinner and had an early night. We were meant to visit an undeveloped island, Ilha Grande for a few days after Paraty but decided we would be too rushed with Rio already booked in on the 5th so we booked in for 5 nights here instead. This proved to be a good choice as we adored this little coastal town with its old cobblestone streets full of horse and carts, and historic buildings with many interesting shops to explore. The buildings in the old part of town are almost all white apart from different coloured doors, door frames and window frames. The cobblestone streets are so uneven and bumpy that we have to keep stopping to look up from our feet to take it all in.

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On our first full day in Paraty we explored the town and worked out tour options to visit the surrounding islands and beaches. That night we met up with the Perth couple, Megan and Sheldon, along with 2 other Aussies they had become friends with at another hostel for a drink. We had hoped to get a small group together to hire a private boat to take us to some of the 200 islands in Paraty Bay, but as Dan and Gen had already booked a schooner tour that sounded great we all decided to do that. The following day we all met on a very nice schooner boat positioning ourselves on the top deck sun chairs. The boat stopped at 4 different spots just off the beach of the islands. We made the most of the opportunity to swim to these beaches as it was so hot on board! Considering Brasil is supposed to be the most expensive country we are visiting, it was a pretty good day out on the water for 6 hours that cost us $20 each.

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We had read that one of the best beaches in Brazil was close to Paraty so we had to check it out. Unfortunately we had the problem of needing 4 other people in order to book this tour with the company to get there. As we had been unsuccessful in finding anyone, we read up a bit more about its location and decided to try and reach this beautiful unspoilt beach of Sono ourselves. Setting out in the morning we caught a 30 min bus to a tiny town and hiked for an hour through rainforest at a good pace to the beach. Luckily the bus driver had pointed out the start of the track and it was clearly marked out the whole way. We were rewarded when we arrived as this place as it was as good as we had read about - yet another secluded paradise! Big trees lined the beach close to the water giving shade to the sand unlike all the other beaches we had been to. We discovered another lagoon here and bought Caiprihinas from an empty beach bar to make the most of this place before hiking back to the bus stop.

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Today is our last day in Paraty and luckily we had not planned to do much today is it has barely stopped raining all day, perfect for the long process of another blog entry. We have booked a bus to Rio de Janeiro in the morning, very excited for one of the best festivals in the world, Carnival!!!

Posted by Scott-Georgie 18:20 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

The Heart of Argentina & a Quick Stint in Uruguay

Hello from Florianopolis, Brazil! We have just arrived at Tucano House Hostel on the beach island of Floripa after a 17 hour bus journey and have a bit of a wait until check-in so hopefully we have the energy to make this entry semi-interesting.

We left you last in arguably the continent's most famous and renowned wine region, Mendoza, in central/western Argentina. On first full day in Mendoza, we took a short bus out to the most popular tourist region for wine tasting, Maipu, where the done thing is to hire a push bike and ride around to all the different bodegas. It seemed a slightly strange concept, bikes & wines - one that probably wouldn't be legal back home, but this is what everyone does. Once we decided on our bike hire company (one that had bikes with decent brakes), we were off cycling down the busy street thinking we probably shouldn't have too much to drink (tasting sizes in Argentina are notoriously big). As it turned out, this day was stifling hot and quite humid which wasn't ideal for cycling or drinking Malbec, and certainly not for doing them simultaneously. Due to the heat, we didn't make it to as many bodegas as we had planned and the wines that we did try didn't go down particularly well. Never-the-less it was still an enjoyable day and visiting the bodegas was made easier by the fact that English was much more prevalent that in the Cafayate bodegas.

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Our next day in Mendoza we didn't feel like venturing out to far as it was still very hot but we did go to check out a tiny wine bar in town which proved to be a real winner. We sampled 15 wines in all and had fun trying to understand the descriptions of each from the Spanish speaking lady. Back at the hostel we met a professional wine taster who was staying in Mendoza for work to try the regions finest wines. That day he had tasted 12 wines and the reps had left the opened bottles for him to keep, all minus about 30mls. This worked out perfectly for us as he couldn't possibly travel with them all or drink them all to himself so the hostel turned into an open bar. We managed to try all the wines throughout the night, all of them worth in excess of $100. For dinner we decided to treat ourselves to one of the top steak houses in town and we both ordered the 530g Bife de Chorizo steak. It was amazing! Scott polished off his whole portion and Georgie made a admirable effort of her massive slab of meat.

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With some difficulty we woke early the following morning and decided to catch a local bus 40 minutes out to another region, Chacras de Coria to sample yet more wine, despite the fact we knew the best wines were back at the hostel. Chacras is a less touristic area than Maipu and we had a far more enjoyable day here than Maipu, largely due to the cooler weather and the shadier, quieter streets. Like in Maipu, we hired bikes and took off to check out a couple of Bodegas and a chocolateria which was a massive hit with their selection of tasty spreads, dips, sweets, olives, sauces and liqueurs including a mean shot of absinthe and a homemade spicy pepper spirit. Here we bought a bottle of sweet olives which were delicious. For this night the hostel organised an empanada cooking class which was lots of fun and we got to try our creations at the end which were surprising better than many of the ones that we have bought. We have written the chef's recipe down and are looking forward to introducing everyone to the wonders of the humble empanada once we are back home!

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We left Mendoza bound for the capital, Buenos Aires (BA), on our first cama class overnight bus which was very comfy and served us dinner and wine. Backpacking in style! BA is famous for it's nightlife and as we arrived on a Friday we chose to check into Milhouse hostel for the weekend. This hostel is known around South America as being one of the big party hostels and it lived up to its reputation. At midnight the place resembles a nightclub more than a hostel and you wouldn't want to stay there if you wanted to sleep when a normal person sleeps. On the Friday night we made friends with an Aussie couple, Jen and Corey (we seem to be good at befriending couples) and went out to a club called Crobar. It was a good night but nothing too different to going out back home.

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During the days in BA, we decided to pick a different district each day to explore. On Saturday we went to Recoleta with Jen and Corey which has a huge weekend market which we spent a few hours browsing around. We then checked out the Recoleta cemetery which was very impressive and fascinating with the size and elaborate designs of the tombs. Many of the coffins were not buried properly and clearly visible and broken and up to 10 would be stacked on top of each other. Very eerie despite the hordes of tourists. That night we went out to a club called Terrazas which was huge and had a massive outside area. It was very cool dancing outside as the sun came up and seeing the ocean right next to us which we didn't even realise was there until as started getting light.

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After a few precious hours sleep in the morning we trudged of the the San Telmo district for the Sunday antique markets. This turned out to be a great day and we saw some really unique things in the stalls and shops. San Telmo has so much character and there seemed to be live music and buskers around every corner. After a few hours of wandering around the seemingly never ending markets, we settled down on a street curb to watch a street band which had just started up playing some reggae tunes. We sat there for about 2 hours and watched as the band of about 4 members and a crowd of about 10 people gradually grew to a band of 3 saxophone players, 3 guitarists, a drummer and a guy on keyboard and a crowd of over 100 people of all ages dancing in the street to the music. One of the best experiences in South America so far!

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After a hectic weekend we decided to escape the inner city chaos of BA and take a train 1 hour out to the much slower paced town of Tigre. The town gets it's name from early settlers who mistakenly thought the jaguars roaming around the land were tigers. The town itself is quite pretty but its real beauty lies though the countless sections of canals that house old cottages complete with their own private grassy riverbanks, jettys and hammocks and some with small private stretches of beach. These houses are only accessible by boat and as many of the residents or holiday makers don't have one they have to take a water taxi to the mainland. We hopped on a 1 hour cruise through 5 sections of the canals and passed a couple of supermarket boats which by the look of them provided a bit of fruit and veg and a ton of Quilmes beer to the residents. We got back to the hostel in time to get picked up for our Tango night which we decided to have a bit of a spurge on. The night included a introductory tango class, a 3 course meal, wine and a show. Overall we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. We were both pretty apprehensive about the tango lesson but it turned out that everyone there was in the same boat and we all had a good laugh and learned a few fancy steps. We even got a certificate each which will proudly be displayed on the fridge back home. The food and unlimited wine were surprisingly very good and we enjoyed probably our second best steak of the trip. Finally, the show was equally impressive with a number of different dancers, singers and small orchestra. In all, a top day!

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We booked in one extra night at Milhouse hostel as they were organising a day trip out to La Boca on the Tuesday which we wanted to go on as we had heard that La Boca is quite a dangerous area of town and its recommended to see it as part of a tour. It turned out to be quite a tedious day as there were way too many people on the tour for the one tour guide and the going was very slow. Once we finally got into La Boca, the first stop was the Boca Juniors stadium, the soccer club of Argentina's favourite son, Diego Maradona. We had a brief tour which was pretty good and got to stand out in the bleachers looking over the pitch. We got the obligatory monkey photo which you'll see below which is us replicating the Boca fans every time to home team scores. Apparently the fans completely cover the cage and go mental and act like rampant monkeys. After the stadium we had lunch at one of the many restaurants that had live tango shows before looking around the rundown but colourful and lively district. This area actually reminded us quite a bit of Valparaiso in Chile.

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For our last 2 days in BA we moved into the more upmarket district of Palermo. This district is the area to go to for boutique shopping although this didn't interest us too much with our budget and lack of suitcase space. We did however check out a few funky bars and had some nice strolls around the parks in the area.

We left BA, and Argentina by means of ferry which was a nice change from all the buses we have taken (though we did take an hour bus though BA just to get to the ferry). The ferry took us just an hour away to the town of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. We quickly found our hostel (first one with air-con!) and went out to find something for lunch. We quickly discovered why this place is the most visited in Uruguay. As it's name suggests, it is an old colonial style town with cobblestone streets, old cars and stone houses covered with vines in a beautiful spot right on the water. It was like stepping back 100 years in time, not only because of the look of the town, but because we spent 2 hours traipsing around town to find an ATM. On our pursuit for money we ran into an English couple, Jim and Michelle, who we have met on several occasions since northern Chile who had just been on the route we were taking through Uruguay and convinced us not to bother with the country's capital, Montevideo, and spend the extra few days somewhere on the coast. When we finally found an ATM that worked we found a nice place for lunch and Scott experienced the first joy of seafood on the east coast by getting a bowl of what must have been around 200 mussels. That night Jim and Michelle came round our hostel for a few drinks and the next morning we were back on a bus, 4 hours up the coast to the beach town of Punta del Diablo.

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Diablo is a small beach town which is home to only a few hundred residents in the off season but holds thousands during December and January as holidaying Uruguayans, Argentinians and Brazilians all flock to the beach. We instantly loved this place but our good first impression quickly diminished as the hostel we booked in to was impossible to find with no street signs, no taxis and no English. Once it became dark and started to rain we felt a bit lost as to what to do but luckily a very nice girl at a beach bar offered to drive us there. She spoke no English and didn't know the place and even with directions we struggled to find it but eventually got there. Our 4 night stay in Diablo was great once we found the place. The weather was very up and down but it didn't really matter as we got in plenty of beach time as well as plenty of hammock time at the hostel. The place really wasn't a hostel as such. It was a large beach house that housed an extended family over summer and as they have an excess of beds they rent them out to fund their excessive drinking habits. Although we couldn't really communicate with them, except for one of the kids who spoke quite good English, it was nice to see a Uruguayan family on holiday. They clearly love their summer holidays on the beach. The town of Diablo had a great vibe and all the beach houses are all so individual - all different shapes, sizes and structures, but in true South American style all very colourful. They don't appear to be any planning laws over here as houses are just plonked wherever there is a free space. It' s like a camping ground but with houses instead of tents. After severely exceeding our budget partying in BA, we tried to save some money by cooking every meal here and avoiding eating out. By the beach we found a seafood market selling incredibly cheap produce and we made some tasty mussel and mixed seafood marinara meals costing next to nothing. On our last day we discovered a trailer stall on one of the beaches selling churros filled to the brim with toppings including dulce de leche (caramel), butter creme, cheese and dark berry - all of which we tried. They were incredible, the best sweets we've had over here.

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We left Diablo, happy with our 5 relaxing days in Uruguay, on an over night bus which we nearly didn't make to Florianopolis in Brasil. It turned out that the bus we booked did not stop in Diablo's bus station like all the others and rather, we were supposed to get to the highway and flag it down as it went passed. We were extremely lucky that someone realised we had been sitting there for ages and figured out that we were at the wrong spot. He somehow got the number for our bus driver and although we thought the bus would have been 1 hour away, it was actually only 10 minutes past us and it agreed to stop and wait. The guy dropped us down there for a very hefty $50. As the bus ticket had cost us $130 each (our most pricey yet) we considered ourselves pretty lucky as we would have had to purchase new tickets and there wasn't another bus on that route for 2 days.

So here we are in Floripa, the Ibiza of South America. In Brazil, Portuguese is the common language, the only in South America that isn't Spanish. In our first few hours here we have strangely found that the Brazilians understand our Spanish better that the other Spanish speaking countries.

We have quite a bit coming up including Carnival in Rio so the next edition might not be for a while which will probably be a relief to hear as this one is quite long!

P.S. Sorry it´s taken a while to get this one up. We have actually been in Floripa several days now but we´ve had to duck into an internet cafe as the hostel computer is extremely slow.

Scott & Georgie xxx

Posted by Scott-Georgie 12:14 Comments (0)

Christmas & bringing in the New Year in Chile

La Serena, Vina de Mar, Valparasio, Santiago

semi-overcast 26 °C

Happy New Year!

We left you last in La Serena on Christmas Eve. We spent 3 nights at this coastal town in Chile before departing south on Boxing Day. We found La Serena not to have that much of interest to do which didn't really matter as we were there over the Christmas period. On Christmas Eve the hostel put on a dinner which you could participate in along with Christmas cookie decorating that afternoon where we had some fun with the hostel worker's kids. This was really nice as it was a chance for us to actually get into the Christmas spirit. In South America they have Christmas dinner and the opening of presents on the night of Christmas Eve, therefore on Christmas Day we cooked our own lunch and had drinks to celebrate. We made quite a potent punch which knocked Scott out for half the afternoon before having an early night and him sleeping for about 14 hours into Boxing Day. The only downside of Christmas in La Serena was that the group we had in the hostel had been one of our least favourates so far, as they weren't very social.

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On Boxing Day we caught a 7 hour bus south to Vina del Mar (which stangely means 'vineyard by the sea' as we didn't see any) where we spend the following 4 nights. Vina was a lot bigger than we expected and it was one of the most modernised cities that we have visited up to this point. Vina is a popular holiday destination for Chilean people because of its beautiful beaches. We got lucky with the weather for our first 2 days in Vina, as the weather was cooler and cloudy for the following days here and in Valparasio. We spent those 2 days soaking up the rays at beaches in Vina and the town just north, Renaca. While the beaches were nice, we didn't dare go in the freezing water which surrounds Chile's coast due to currents from Antarctica. We have complained about the cold water to a few locals in Chile and their response is usually 'at least we don't have sharks!'. We are looking forward to heading east to the Brazilian beaches. With the coming of the cooler weather on the third day, we went to the movies and watched "El Hobbit". Luckily there was a session that wasn't dubbed and only had Spanish subtitles. The shopping mall where the cinema was located was massive, being inside it was the first time we had actually felt that we could have been back home.

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The following 4 nights were spent in Valparaiso located just a few kms south of Vina, originally build around the now oldest port in South America. Our trip thus far had been planned around reaching Valpo for New Year's Eve as it had the reputation to have one of the best firework displays in the southern hemisphere with steet parties that went on for several days, although we found this not quite to be the case. The town itself is very arty and bohemian and is built on the slopes of many different hills, from a viewpoint you notice the houses all along are painted in different bright colours, and close-up the windey streets are filled with artistic and unique street art. Many of the hills have an asendor to take people upto the top with ease. Each day we went exploring for hours taking so many photos. Many areas close up were old and quite dirty but that was all part of the charm and character of the town. The nicest area with the most street art, cafes and art gallaries was Cerros Conception, where many of the photos you'll see were taken.

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We had been quite worried about our hostel in Valpo which we had booked about 8 months ago as we had scored a double room for $15 each a night whereas everyone else we had met was paying close to $100 a night for a dorm room. We thought it may have been a scam but it turned out that we had booked so early that the hostel owner hadn't yet bumped up the prices for New Years (which go up at least 500%). We had an amazing group at our hostel for New Year´s Eve which was a relief after the hostel we were in over Christmas. We arranged for everyone to bring meat and something else to prepare and share that evening and we all cooked up a huge asado on the balcony of the hostel. The hostel´s balcony gave us an amazing panoramic viewpoint for watching the fireworks along the water, much better than being crammed along the port among around 1 million people. The fireworks were not as good as we had expected but we should have known as Chile does not have the money to host a display like Sydney. After midnight we went downtown to join in with the 'street parties' which we just found to bemasses of people walking around the streets. The streets were empty late morning the next day - so much for going on for days. Never-the-less we still had a really good time. From speaking to Chilean's in the following few days, the way to do it was to have pre-purchased a ticket to an exclusive section of beach which had music and unlimited drinks.

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On the night of the 1st we went out for dinner with an Australian couple, Stefan and Monica, we had become closest with at the hostel as Stefan and Georgie celebrated the same Birthday. Celebrating Georgie's birthday on the 2nd proved to be a bit of a challenge as half the town was still closed and seemingly still recovering from New Years Eve but we did manage to have a nice champagne breaky at the hostel and went out for lunch in town.

On the 3rd of January we left for Chile's capital, Santiago, where we spent the following 3 nights. On our first morning we went on a 3.5 hour walking tour from the downtown to Bellavista. Bellavisa, which means 'beautiful view', is the area we stayed as in. Bellavista is located next to a mountain and is one of the only suburbs in the city to have a view of the Andes. We decided to skip the 1.5 hour trek up the hill as the Andes have been a fairly standard view for us since we got here. We stayed here because it is a happening suburb with so many restaurants, bars and markets all of which we visited. We had our first proper clubbing experience in South America seeing an international tech house/minimal DJ on the Friday night. By emailing the club with our names beforehand meant that Georgie got in for free but Scott still had to pay 6000 pesos, around $12. Free entry for girls is common practise over here. On our last day in Santiago we checked out heaps of markets around town including a very impressive fish market with plenty of unidentifiable seafood. We had lunch here and sampled Ceviche which we had been meaning to try since we heard about it in San Pedro de Atacama. Can't really describe the fish but it's pretty much mashed raw salmon and prawn with lots of coriander. It tasted a bit questionable but had a good effect on our hangovers. Later in the day we went to a bar which is famous for the 'Earthquake', a drink in a big plastic cup containing wine, fernet and pineapple icecream. We only intended to stay for a drink but got stuck there for hours meeting lots of very odd locals.

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We have now left Chile and are back in Argentina, in the large wine region of Mendoza. We have seen and done a bit here already, though we will wrap this entry up for now as we have just heard there are 15 bottles of free wine on offer in the backyard of the hostel.

Scott and Georgie xxx

Posted by Scott-Georgie 14:13 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Northern Argentina and into Chile

Tilcara, Purmamarca, San Pedro de Atacama & Pisco Elqui

sunny 32 °C

We have covered a fair bit of distance since our last entry, travelling up further north in Argentina before heading west into Chile and making our way south from there. We´ll pick things up in Tilcara where we ventured to from Salta early in the morning.

We only had one day in Tilcara, being a very small town, but we had a pleasant day exploring the markets. Scott tried some proper street food while Georgie stocked up on the local fruit produce which were both very good. There were some really nice Peruvian style ponchos and traditional items which we were tempted to puchase but decided to wait unitil later in the trip as they will be cheaper in Peru and Bolivia. The main attraction in Tilcara is the ´Pucara de Tilcara´ ruins and its contents found in the archeological museum. We wandered out to the outskirts of town where there were inca ruins, heaps of cactii, a pyramid temple and a 360 degree fantastic view! In these northern towns, the locals are much more native and more like what we were expecting in South America.

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The next morning Georgie woke up with bed bugs and a foul mood. She looked a bit like a 15 year old school kid covered in acne. We think she must be alergic as Scott never seems to get them. We took a quick half hour bus in the morning to the neighbouring town Purmamarca. This town was even smaller Tilcara and didn´t have much going on apart from its attraction, Cerro de Siete Colores (Hill of 7 Colours), which really does have 7 colours! The highlight of Purmamarca was going for a stroll and getting adopted by this little street dog, a foxy/jackrussell, who took us on an exciting 1 hour guided tour around town and through the hills. We named him ´Perro´(dog in Spanish) and we were quite sad to leave him when we got back to the hostel. We have been quite surprised at the amount of dogs in Argentina. Not only are there swarms of street dogs roaming the streets, but every Argentinian seems to own a dog as well. It´s good to see that the street dogs are treated quite well here.

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We had a bus booked to San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile, leaving at 9:45am from Purmamarca. This turned out to be a bit of a torrid day. We waited nearly 3 hours for the bus to arrive, it then broke down for around 1.5 hours before being stuck at the border for 2 hours. Just when we thought we were clear we had another hour wait at customs. Our bus, due to arrive at 5:30pm, got in around midnight. We didn´t have anywhere booked but had a few places written down. We decided to give the cheapest place a go which luckily turned out to be a winner. Andreas, the laid back Chilean owner welcomed us as family into his little establishment. We stayed at Sol Atacama Hostel with a great bunch of travellers including a few English couples, a Swiss couple, 2 German girls and a Croatian girl.

The Atacama desert is the dryest desert in the world with extreme temperatures between night and day. The town itself is quite touristy and full of backpackers which we actually found nice for a change as our English was more understood and shops were actually open in the afternoon siesta time. Every second store in town is a tour office making it hard to choose which company to go with. We were very impressed with the quality and choice of food in San Pedro given the location we were in and much preferred the food here to Argentina. The most common comfort food over here is empanadas which is like a rolled over savoury pastry usually filled with a combination of meat, cheese and ham but can have anything in it. Some are extremely tasty while others are terrible. Its always pot luck whether you get a good one.

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While in San Pedro, we decided to do 3 tours: Valle de la Luna, Laguna Cejar and the Geysers del Tatio. We did the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) on our second afternoon. This tour took us to a few different look out points including death valley and some nice walks through the mountains and down steep sand dunes. The tour finshed with a sunset over the mountains. We enjoyed the tour, especially the guide who was quite hungover, but the next two tours would prove to exceed it!

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Next up was the Laguna Cejar, another afternoon tour. This one first took us to swimming hole abundant in salt. As you´ll see in the pictures, it was very cool! An incredible experience being able to float in water with absolutely no effort, much like the dead sea. We were then taken to another swimming hole which was far less exciting as we had to swim in this one to stay afloat. The last stop was at a large salt flat with shallow water covering glistening salt crystals. It was like a mix of the salt flats we will see in Bolivia and glaciars in the Arctic. Probably the most unique landscape we have ever seen. The evening finished up by watching a beautiful sunset over the salty horizon with a Pisco Sour (the national drink) in hand.

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Our last tour was an early one - pick up at 4am. We were quite grumpy that the prevoius morning our bus never showed up so after getting our money back we were a bit reluctant to book in again for another 4am alarm but in the end we were very glad we did. We arrived at the Tatio Geysers just before dawn. It was an incredible sight looking across the landscape steaming out of the ground with different intensities. We were freezing and our guide told us it was -7 degrees but they have the tour so early as the geysers cannot be seen once the sun comes up and the temperature rises. After taking a ton a photos we were treated with a natural thermal bath which was somewhat enjoyable but the inconsistant temperature of the water made it challenging. Once side of the bath was quite cold while one side was scolding hot so about 30 people all grouped in together to try and get the best spot.

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We had one fun night out while in the San Pedro. An Aussie girl, Jessie we met in town told us of a desert rave that was happening one night. We told the guys at our hostel and most people were keen so Andreas took us all out as it was a 30 minute walk away. We were expecting it to actually be out in the desert but it was at an unfinished small house with one small room and a bit outdoor area with a campfire. The party was full of Chileans which was great and they all kept coming up to us to have a chat. They were all super friendly and we found out later that Chileans love to practice their English and gave us a good chance to practice our Spanish with the help of some liquid courage. At the end of the night all we wanted was some water but the guy at the bar said they don´t sell any. We then asked for some coke or sprite but were told we could only have some with alcohol. Wouldn´t happen back home!

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After 5 nights in the desert, we booked an overnight 17 hour bus south to La Serena, then jumping on a bus 3 hours inland through the Elqui Valley to the chilled out town of Pisco Elqui. On arrival, we were pretty knackered but we ran straight into Jessie who was just on her way out to the oldest and most recommended pisco distillery, Los Nichos, so we dumped our bags and off we went on the 3km walk. We were happy we went with Jessie as the tour was in full Spanish and she could translate about half of it to us. We found the pisco way too harsh as the tasting were straight. Pisco is better enjoyed mixed as found our later that night where everyone from the hostel made and drank pisco sours in the backyard. After midnight, Gonzo the hostel worker, took us up a very steep sandy hill to see the stars. Pisco Elqui is renowned as one of the best places in the world for star gazing.

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Most of our 3 days in Pisco Elqui was spend relaxing in the awesome hostel, which had a pool, garden and outdoor kitchen all overlooking the valley. The hostel was really like a little oasis. The fertile valley around Pisco Elqui is stunning in contrast to the surrounding dry mountains. We hitchhiked a ride to Horcon, the next village down the valley which had a small market and nice river before hitching a ride straight back. Hitchhiking is common practice in Chile and we have found evry second or third car will stop for you. It´s quite funny to see a little old lady stop in her hatchback to pick you up on the side of the road. On our last evening we went down to the local ranch and did a one hour trail ride up a mountain. It was good fun and was a good easy initiation to horse riding for Scott as Georgie is keen for some more riding later in the trip. On one of the nights, everyone at the hostel was keen to cook up an asado (bbq). We found things were a little different to the traditional aussie bbq. A huge 1.2kg hunk of juicy meat was purchased, smeared with salt and thrown on the grill for an hour. The cooked steak is then cut up into small slithers and everyone stands around picking at it. Muy rico - Delicious!

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This morning we hopped back on a bus back through the valley and we´ve checked into a hostel in La Serena where we´ll stay for Christmas. Tomorrow (Christmas Eve) is when Chileans celebrate Christmas and the hostel is putting on a big dinner and organising some cookie decorating thing in the arvo so we´re happy something is going on.

Hope everyone has a great Christmas and New Year. Feliz Navidad!! xxx

Posted by Scott-Georgie 08:48 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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