19.02.2013 - 19.02.2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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