Tag Archives: travelling

El Viaje

When Justin and I were in Cordoba we went to the Evita Fine Arts Museum. on our way out our heads turned and our attention was drawn to a rather dark painting of a small bus filled with passengers travelling through the dead of night, traulling through empty land depicted by grey speckles. The only color on the painting was from the two yellow headlights beaming out in front. Somehow, we understood what the painter was trying to communicate. And then we saw the title: El Viaje.

It’s now been a week since we finished our Viaje (‘journey’ in Spanish). Our itineraries have slowed down to a virtual stop, Justin staying in Petaluma, CA and me in Bromsgrove, England. The music that entertained us on the streets, in the corner shops, and in the bars has been replaced with birds tweeting, the rumble of lawn mowers, and the friendly chatter amongst the neighbours (which we can now understand fully!). The views of beaches and small, rather sloppily put together red brick houses are now views of the English or Californian countryside with perfectly put together houses and manicured lawns. The temperature has now dropped so that rather than feeling like your brain is about to boil even at 4:00 in the afternoon, you can leisurely bask in the sun at all hours of the day (surprisingly I’m only talking about England right now since it’s been raining in California). And the ever-changing company of fellow travellers and South American locals is now the solid company of family and old friends.

I posted on Facebook before leaving that I was excited, scared and sad about coming home, and I think that relates to Justin as well. We had been saving for over four years to go on the journey of a lifetime, and the fact that it was coming to an end scared us. We wondered how we would adjust to the Western World after eight months in South America; would it be too quiet, would there be too much order, would we become bored with just being in the same familiar place? On the other hand, we were also excited, dreaming of the foods we would eat first, mine a Cornish pasty, his a deep dish pizza with extra sauce, being able to communicate without any effort, having our own beds and mostly seeing our friends and family.

Over this past week I think we can both say that coming back wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be and have fit back into the more orderly way of life pretty quickly. What does seem surprising is how the last eight months seems more like a dream. It’s crazy to think that last month we were at Sambodromo in Rio, the month before we were sailing around the Galapagos, the month before that we were visiting coffee fincas in Colombia (which makes choosing Colombian coffee a little more fun now), and the month before that we were hiking the Inca Trail. The list of adventures, experiences and journeys we’ve had goes on an on, and will be memories that we will cherish for a lifetime. As well as the adventures, the people we’ve met along the way have added so much to our journey, especially the Buus family, whom we lived with in Bariloche, Carina and Carolina our Spanish teachers in Argentina, Elizabeth our Spanish teacher in Bolivia, Fabiano and Lina who took us in over Christmas so we had a family to spend the holiday season with, and numerous inspiring other travellers. The two that stand out the most we met in Patagonia; one who sailed a small boat from France to Ushuaia with his wife, another is a back country skier who went alone to Glacier National Park and had to cross a treacherous avalanche zone to get to the slope he wanted to ski down. While we thought we were cool travelling around the continent, these guys brought adventure to a whole new level. Then there were the friends we made, some of them we may never see again. And this really is the notion of travelling. One day you could be sat in a hostel chatting away with someone from Israel and the next you could be hiking up a mountain with people from Denmark. Travelling not only provides you with fun memories, but also helps you to cease the day and meet people you may normally just pass on the street.  This is one of the reasons we just couldn’t carry out our original idea of having you help us with our journey, and vote on what we should do next. Our itinerary was too spur of the moment.

Along with the good there is the bad. South America is a third world continent and I feel so privileged to come from England where I can have pretty much whatever I want; clothes, a car, a house. Simple things that we expect, rather than hope for. The governments we have in both the States and the UK are more or less for the people, vs. for themselves. Yes we could argue the other way, but we are so lucky to have education, world class health care, well built houses, roads, and a well organized waste disposal system! I have seen poverty before, but have not had time to absorb it like we did in South America. Yes, there are areas where the standard of living is similar to the UK or the US, but the poor areas are much greater with locals living in tiny brick boxes, most with metal supports sticking out of the top while they save up for a second floor. They don’t just throw their washing in the machines but do it by hand and hang it out to dry by a smoggy road. They throw their rubbish on the floor because they don’t have the education to realize what it does to the environment. Sometimes they don’t use soap, because they don’t have the education to understand about germs. And some still live in fear of guerrillas.  It’s a shame that it is still like this now we are in the 21st century, but unfortunately they were part of the new world that had everything taken from them and left to deal with what was left. Hopefully one day they will be able to find their feet and become competing countries. Brazil is showing signs of change with the upcoming Olympics and World Cup and the fact that it is one of the BRIC countries, however they still have a long way to go.

One of the travellers we met described South America as a wonderland and I couldn’t agree more; from a continent long mountain range, to wide, flat salt lakes; from jungles to deserts; from the world’s largest glacier to tiny hot pools; coffee, wine and cachaca; friendly wildlife and unsure tribal people; South America has so much to offer. I hope that Justin and my journey has educated you, inspired you and one day maybe we shall meet somewhere in the world. We only get one life, and we only take with it memories so go Shadow Travellers and explore!


Beach Bumming in Brazil

As the sun sets in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, the sun also sets on our South American adventure and it is now time to re-enter the real world. Well somewhat.

Our last few weeks were spent bumming around on the Brazilian beaches. After the hype and energy of Carnival in Rio, we headed back out to the house my parents had rented for some relaxation, however Carnival still continued in the little town of Ponta Negra. Cars with huge sound systems (really it should be sound systems with cars) blasted out the latest tunes 24 hours a day. Residents of Rio who came to this little village to escape Carnival took over, storming supermarkets, camping in the fields, sunbathing in thong bikinis and speedos and drinking by the river. As we were up on the hill, we were able to get a comfortable mix of joining in with the locals and relaxing by our private pool. Life wasn´t too bad. My brother and I had a fun night at the local fun fair, although we did feel a little old, so went to the bar and watched some slightly uncomfortable Brazilian karaoke. We also celebrated my Mum´s 60th Birthday, where she enjoyed a relaxing pool day, followed by a BBQ of Filet Mignon and many caiphirinias. One of the highlights of the day was the gift my Dad gave to her. Have you ever heard of wing walking and flight acrobatics? He got her a ride, strapped to the top of the plane where she can do different acrobatics should she choose too, at over 10,000 ft in the air and over 100 miles an hour! That is a sight I can´t wait to see!

After Ponta Negra we headed back down south to Ilha Grande, a mountainous island covered in jungle. The boat journey there was picturesque, sailing by other islands with hidden private beaches, yachts floating in the ocean, and mountainous scenery surrounding us.  After the ride, the island didn´t disappoint. Thank god as it was pricey enough after Carnival. There is one main town on the island, which is a little overdeveloped with pousadas built almost on top of each other. When you get out of the town and away from the tourists you are able to really appreciate the island, hiking through the trails, taking in the wildlife and incredible views, and relaxing on the long beaches. We spent a well deserved three nights relaxing and eating some good grub at Biergarten (yeah I know it´s not very Brazilian but it was nice to move away from the typical rice and beans). We also discovered Acai (ass-sci-ee) and have not looked back. It´s a superfood berry found in the jungle in Brazil that is whisked into a tasty thick smoothie that you eat with banana, guarana, honey and granola. However we were a little sad to discover that it is full of calories. We only found this out after eating 300ml per day per person for a week! No wonder why my shorts were feeling a little tight.

In need of some exercise we headed to Paraty, a colonial town made up of colorful houses and cobblestone streets that are a little hard to walk on. Away from town is the famous Penha waterfall. The waterfall is a little unconventional whereby it flows over a huge rock which is fun to slide down. If you´re a local you´re a little crazy and will run, jump and slide down on your feet! We had to see this so met our friend´s James, Ann, Taq and Meg and biked the 9km gradual uphill in over 30 degree heat to go see it. After the bike ride, the cool water was very refreshing and we spent the afternoon acting like kids sliding down the waterfall, followed by some more acai.

A 40 minute bus ride from Paraty is Trindade, a tiny beach side town with dramatic scenery reminiscent of Parque Tyrona in Colombia. The town offers a few restaurants and some hippy shops, but the beaches are what you come for (but beware there are nudist beaches too, just in case this isn´t your thing), and the waterfalls. We stayed at a hostel owned by a Brit (unfortunately the hostel was a little on the grimy side so wouldn’t really recommend) who is extremely excited about showing the locals the area. He ended up taking us to a waterfall where we could hide in a cave, get swallowed up by a rock, and a slide down a small water slide. I think he likes playing like a big kid every day, and it was fun to join in with him. That night we ended up at a bar on the beach looking up at the clear night sky covered in stars.

Ready for some more city life we headed back to Rio for a couple of nights and back to our favorite hostel in the world, Bossa in Rio. I swear this place could be a boutique hotel. This time Rio was much quieter, both for us and the city. One of the nights we headed up into Santa Teresa and dined at Espirito Santa, a lovely little restaurant overlooking the old mansions. Here we had our favorite meal of the trip yet; heart of palm stuffed fish, wrapped in collard greens, and drizzled with banana cream sauce. It´s a dish from the north of brazil and  was to die for! After that and dessert, we were pretty much in a food coma, so went back to our lovely room and passed out. We had grand plans for the following day, until we ended up bumping into our friend Fran whom we spent New Year’s eve with. She is such a comedian and we spent the day laughing ourselves around Ipanema and Copacobana. The beaches in Rio are a whole other story, with men (all without shirts on) exercising at the workout areas, women walking up and down in thong bikinis (doesn´t matter of the size), and both genders always posing. There are stalls set up along the praia´s selling coconut juices, signs with misters to cool you off, and vendors selling colourful sarongs, just in case you feel like covering up. It was definitely some fun people watching.

Sadly after two days our time in Rio ended and we endured our last long bus trip of 30 hours up to Itacare, a small surfer town. This is a town you can get really comfortable in, if you have the time. You can take surf lessons, there are plenty of restaurants and many beaches to check out. At this point our tans were coming along just nicely! Since we were in Brazil, and doing so much beach time, I decided to get a Brazilian…I´ve only had one in the past and forgot how painful it can be. For about 20 minutes the spa lady ripped and giggled at me, as I screamed. Not sure if I´ll be back too soon! But at least I was ready for the beach now!

Also in Itacare you can learn or watch the famous Brazilian dance called capoeira, created by the African slaves. The dance is made up of moves that are somewhat like karate or jujitsu. One night we went to a show and saw them swing their legs up, do somersaults, and move to the beating music. It was an interesting experience, although it didn´t grab me as much as salsa!

Our last beach stop was on Morro do Sao Paulo, which turned out to be a very touristy island with mainly young Israelis who just finished their term of service and are ready to party! We were able to escape the crowds hiking past the fourth beach on the island and chilling out in the hot pools. When the tide goes out, small pools are created between the coral and the water quickly heats up in the 35 degree plus heat. We also walked to Gamboa and on the way found a clay pit. Now men, I know this is the stereotypical dream that never really happens, but about two minutes after we got there a bunch of Argentinian girls came up, started rolling around in it, wrestled and even started climbing on top of each other! True story. Justin got a picture to share with his male friends out there (although he was too shocked to take it while they were wrestling). Back in town we bumped into a friend we met in Itacare and finished off our last night at a beach party, slurping on a delicious juice and vodka drink.

Final stop of the trip was Salvador, Brazil´s third largest city. We checked into a lovely hotel to treat ourselves and took in what the city had to offer, a  UNESCO world heritage site, more beaches, and some good restaurants. Unfortunately, the beauty of the Pelourinho is contrasted by the beggars that surround Praca de Se. Nothing is hidden here and you can see little kids on crack and prostitutes at 7am in the morning. I guess it´s like the Tenderloin of San Francisco. This shouldn´t put you off coming though, as the people are still friendly and there´s so much to see. The first night we arrived (a Tuesday) there was a concert. Apparently this happens every Tuesday in the Pelourinho. We enjoyed seeing the locals dance, and listening to a mixture of music. Just outside of the Pelourinho is the huge elevator that connects the upper city with the lower city. Originally it was built to transport goods from the port, but now is a part of the people´s commute here. From the lower city you can take a bus out to Bon Fim, a church where the locals started tying ribbons to the gate and making three wishes. The brightly colored ribbons look like a skirt surrounding the church. Since it was the end of our trip, we thought it suitable to make some wishes and took part in this tradition. We also checked out the Barra district where the beaches are located (I think we´re turning into beach lovers), and saw some brilliantly made sand sculptures, and took in our last sunset which incorporated an applause from the locals.

Today has been a day of emotions, being the last day, and the day that Justin and I go our separate ways (well for a little while). He is now on his way back to SF and I, in an hour, to London. So now to England where the story will finish…don´t worry, there will be one more blog!

Back to the East Coast

Yet again it´s been a while since I last wrote, and yet again we´ve been busy with our adventure taking us back to Argentina, and on to Uruguay and Brazil. After having a blast with the wedding in Lima, we headed to Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America. Our first impressions were a little hazed. It was windy and rubbish was getting blown in our faces, we had to dodge piles of dog poo on the streets (a big problem in BA), and navigate ourselves around the sly little lily pads, the tiles that were not fully secured and if stepped on would reward you with little splashes of dirty rain water on the back of your leg. Not only did we have to navigate the pavements, we also had to be mindful of those annoying overhanging air conditioner systems that spit little droplets of dirty water on you from above.

All that aside Buenos Aires was a wonderful experience. Walking around the different little neighbourhoods feels like you have been transported out of South America with the sounds of tango music flowing around the Parisian style architecture. Our first night was stereotypical BA, sat in a plaza in San Telmo watching tango dancers provide entertainment to the locals and the tourists. Loving the dance we headed towards La Boca, a working class port neighbourhood where the dance originates. The buildings there are a palette of reds, yellows and blues, providing a vibrant background for the very sensual dance. Also in the La Boca neighbourhood is the home of the not so sensual Boca Juniors football club, where the massive stadium towers over the town. Later in the week we headed back over to the stadium to experience a game and watch Palermo´s last match. We were told that we would have a separate section for tourists to make sure we wouldn´t be in the middle of any riots, but no, we were in the bleachers! Fortunately it was just a friendly so the mood was more relaxed. There were fireworks, bands and chanting. There were even flares, although I have no idea how they got in as you aren´t alowed to bring in lighters! The noise and mood were incredible and we stomped and sang the night away.

Palermo, another district of Buenos Aires is the artsy, trendy district, filled with small boutiques and a smorgasbord of restaurants. We spent the day wandering round the friendly neighbourhood, tasting some of its cuisine (delicious tacos!) and went to the Evita Museum. The museum is well set up, describing her life and how she contributed to the Argentinians. It´s amazing what she accomplished, fighting for healthcare, orphans, and women, all before she passed away at 33. She is buried at Recolleta Cemetery, another place we visited. The cemetery is saved for the famous dignitaries of Argentina and is almost a town in itself. The tombs range in size, usually from medium to XXXL, and are ornately decorated. Imagine a town only compiling of tiny churches and this is Recolleta Cemetery. It was an interesting visit, but almost a little bit creepy too. Back over in Palermo, Justin and I took part in a tango lesson! It turns out that Justin does have some moves, and after a little direction by our teacher he was swinging me around the dance floor (well that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but he was doing well). After the lesson we watched the locals who had been mastering tango for most of their lives seduce their partners. After the tango, the salsa lesson started and I think Justin had enough of dancing for one night so we left. However there will be more dancing to come!

Avenida de Mayo, in the center of BA is also an interesting road, cutting by different government buildings, famous cafes and ending at Plaza de Mayo where the Pink House (President Cristina Fernandez´s house) is located. Close to here is Puerto Madero, which has recently been regenerated with new buildings and the famous Puente de la Mujer, a bridge straddling River Plata. Over here we thought we would give the Argentinian steak another go since the meat we have been tasting hasn´t been the best we´ve ever had. Going to La Cabana, the top place to go for steak in Buenos Aires it didn´t disapoint, however I still think the steak I have had in San Francisco is better. Sorry Argentina!

Finishing up with Buenos Aires, we headed by boat over to Uruguay. Our first stop was Montevideo, which turned out to really be just another big city. We stayed here a night before moving on. We did get to see a couple of movies being filmed, one a period drama and another for a video game. Next stop was out in the Uruguayan countryside that was reminiscent of California, rolling green fields with Eucalyptus trees. We stayed at an estancia and pretty much lazed around for two days and caught up on some sleep. I did get to do some horse riding, which was a fun experience. I went Guacho style riding with the owner. I know how to ride English style, but Guacho is a whole other ball game. I did however get to gallop and the horse I was on was brilliant, listening to my every move. When you see the photos please excuse my bike helmet. They hadn´t ordered the riding helmets yet!

Our last stop in Uruguay was in Colonia do Sacramento. The name says it all really. A beautiful colonial town with little restaurants and boutiques. The historic center is actually a World Heritage Site. Here we spent the afternoon wandering the streets and enjoying some Freddo´s icecream!

Done with cities and architecture, we headed north to Iguazu Falls, Mother Natures work. After another long bus ride, our 16th over-nighter, we arrived in Puerto Iguazu, a tiny town made for the tourists. After checking in to our hostel, we headed to the Brazilian side of the falls. That was a shock, the first time in 6.5 months that we haven´t been able to communicate a thing! We thought that with Spanish and English we would get by, but it turns out they don´t know much of either! Hey ho, it was a warm up before heading across the border for Carnival. This side gives you an incredible panoramic view of the falls and allows you to take in how enormous they actually are.

The next day we met up with my parents, Liz and Adrian and brother, Andrew, who had flown in for my Mum´s 60th birthday. Even though in mostly good spirits, they´d had an arduous journey from England, being told that they were on standby for their flight, most of their luggage being delayed by three days so my Mum only had a turtle neck sweater to wear, and then their landing being aborted when arriving to Iguazu. As you can imagine, they were ready to just chill. The following day we headed to the Argentinian side, which allows you to get up close and personal with the falls. You can even do a boat ride. If you think the Maid of the Mist at Niagra is a waterfall boat ride, you haven´t done the Iguazu Falls boat ride, which literally takes you right under the falls and gives you a proper soaking. Great at the start of the day to give you a break from the intense heat! Over on this side of the falls, you can spend the whole day hiking the different trails to get various perspectives. The most incredible was Diablo de Garganta, which allows you to pretty much stand on top of the strongest part of the falls. This is where you get a real appreciation of how powerful they are, and how you really don´t want to have a go at falling over the edge!

Finishing up our time in Argentina, we went out for another Parilla (a grill) and found that the chicken was extremely tasty.

Now on to Brazil for Carnival!

The Wedding

We’re back in Lima! The reason….for Catie and JuanCarlos’ big day. And what a celebration it was. We arrived last Sunday to spend some time with the happy couple. Like us, their plans are up in the air, so we figured we’d better catch them while we could. It was also a great opportunity to explore the city and its surroundings, and taste some of the delicious food it has to offer. However I still need to try Cuy (guinea pig) before we leave tonight.

The most popular area of Lima is Miraflores and is very up and coming. It’s full of top class hotels, luxury high rise apartment buildings overlooking the ocean and fitness trails running along the cliff. There are also plenty of fine dining restaurants. One of the most popular groups is owned by Gaston Acurio, a famous chef from Lima who actually owns La Mar in San Francisco. One night we went to Madam Tusan, a Chinese restaurant (OK, so not Peruvian, but so worth it) and enjoyed a bountiful display of noodles, sweet and sour chicken and stir fried vegetables. It was delicious and a refreshing change to our usual diet.

We also ventured outside of Miraflores and headed to Barranco. This little region is full of Peruvian charm with colorful architecture, a plaza and small little streets with cafes. We came over here one night to watch the stunning sunset over the ocean. Unfortunately there weren’t as many cuisine options over unless you went to the main touristy restaurants. Another big attraction in Lima is the Parque de la Reserva which holds the Circuito Magico del Agua, a fountain park. This is extremely popular with the locals who are looking for entertainment for their kids or just to cool off during the hot days. The park is filled with all different types of fountains; you can run through them, walk under them in a water tunnel, or just simply watch them. They even have a lazer show and music. Yes it’s a bit cheesy, but good fun too.

If you want to venture out to some nice beaches (the ones in Lima are a little rocky), then you can go south to Punta Hermosa or Rocas. There’s also good surf in that direction so Justin wanted to check it out. We took the bus, which is more or less easy to do, but we got a little confused as to where to go and ended up paying S45 on the way there and only S15 to get back. Whoops! The beaches south of Lima are long and the towns surrounding them seem pretty dead. It’s almost like you’re walking into a ghost town. I think this is different on the weekends. Fortunately we found a nice little spot in Punta Rocas with deck chairs and ceviche!

The rest of our time in Lima was spent on the wedding, getting nails done, renting suits, rehearsals and of course parties! On the Friday night before the wedding the happy couple had a welcome party on the roof top at the Radisson, where we enjoyed a few glasses of champagne and meeting their international friends and familes. However we couldn’t stay out too late because I was a bridesmaid and I had to get up at 5:00am the next day. Ouch!

Then finally it was Saturday. Their big day! Preparations started early with hair and make up. In Peru the tradition of bridesmaids doesn’t exist, so the three of us (Cynthia, Julianna, and I) were getting a few strange looks all morning as people tried to figure out why we were all wearing the same thing. After we were ready it was time to get Catie into her dress, and after about 20 minutes of pushing, pulling and tying her corseted dress she was looking stunning. It’s so funny to think of the bubbly girl I met 8 years ago in Boston, who is now a sophisticated woman (well some times). After photos we left Catie and her mum, and headed to the church. The church is only five years old and is in an unusual modern cone design, however still has the traditional feel on the inside. Nerves were starting to build between us, hoping that no-one  tripped going down the aisle and the timing. Church’s here are very strict on timing. If you are late then they will start without you. So, as a bride, you could be walking down the aisle to only the priest conducting mass, rather than music. Fortunately Catie arrived on time and the ceremony started without a glitch, however half of the guests didn’t get the memo and still arrived in Peruvian style; 30 minutes late.  After the ceremony there is a greeting line. Sometimes the greetings can go on for 1.5 hours! Fortunately their greeting line only lasted 30 minutes. Well with some help from us and the encouragement of champagne we were able to lure a few gringos away from the line. Then it was off to the party.

Catie and JuanCarlos were whisked away in their black Mercedes Benz off to Mamacona, the location of the wedding. We followed in our bus, which got side swiped by another car on the way. Tally of broken down busses, 4. Fortunately we only had to wait 30 minutes on the side of the road and then we were on our way again. Arriving into Mamacona, you start to wonder where the hell you are going. The road is dusty, there isn´t much surrounding it, and the area just seems a bit industrial. But when we pulled into the ranch, we were welcomed by the beautiful open air tent with flowers in abundance, colorfully decorated tables, a huge bar and a relaxing lounge area. In Peru the weddings don’t include a formal sit down dinner, but rather different food stations throughout the day. This also means that the party starts right away, at 2:30! There was also a bottle of whiskey on each table. I knew this party was going to be fun. With our sensible hats on we started with the food and it was delicious, ceviche, cheese, and passed hors d’oeuvres of asparagus and anticucho (cow heart, wasn’t really for me). Later on we had a buffet of shrimp, pork, tamales, rice, and then later on there were pork sandwiches.

The newly weds kicked off the party with a waltz with each other and then their parents, and then the bridesmaids and groomsmen joined in while they played Home by Edward Sharpe. After that I don’t think I left the dance floor. We all pretty much danced for six hours straight. It was so fun to see the mix of cultures on the dance floor, with a mix of rock ‘n’ roll, salsa, and then dance. At around 6:00pm they had a crazy hour. This is typical in Peru to liven up the party (not that it needed it). They had a guy on stilz, a jester, masks and hats for everyone and balloons. And the crowd went crazy! We danced, we did the limbo and we did the conga. Full of energy, the groomsmen were ready for another Peruvian tradition, to throw the bride and groom in the air. Chatting at the bar I see JuanCarlos high up in the air. That can’t be right….and then Catie! Unfortunately I was too shocked and forgot to get my camera out. The day turned into night, the drink kept flowing, the tunes kept playing and we were sad when 10pm rolled around and we had to go home (however I think everyone’s feet were happy).

What a great experience to be a part of. Congratulations Catie and JuanCarlos Estrella! We wish you a lifetime of joy, happiness and love.

Now off to Buenos Aires.