Tag Archives: waterfalls

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!

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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!


Ruta de Pinguinos, Vino y Artesanos

Ruta de Pinguinos:

Our last stop in Patagonia took us to Puerto Madryn, a seaside town abundant with wildlife, just south of famous Peninsula Valdez. We went in search of penguins!!! Fortunately we arrived at the same time as the male penguins. You can sign on to different tours around either Peninsula Valdez or Punta Tomba, but like with many other things you get charged a rather hefty tourist price which can be 40% more than the locals. Luckily Justin bumped into two girls from Alaska, Jesse and Heather, and a guy from Holland, Ruben who were on the lookout for ways to save cash too. We all rented a car, a Ford Ka, and the next day went on our wildlife adventure. We were told that only 20 penguins had arrived at Peninsula Valdez so we headed for Punta Tomba, about 200 km south of Puerto Madryn. Driving along the dry, desert, highway you would hardly believe that penguins were making their nests 5 km away. Unfortunately too, it is not unfamiliar to see piles and piles of plastic bags and bottles next to the freeway. The locals are starting to become more consious of the fact that this is damaging the environment and have banned plastic bags at the supermarkets. The national parks however, are very well designed and modern. The Punto Tomba park had clearly marked paths and informational signs about the wildlife.

After our long drive and the final 5km of unpaved bumpy road in our little Ford Ka we were ready for some fresh seaside air. Our first wildlife spotting was the quanacas, a type of llama. Justin and I had seen plenty from the bus, but finally I could actually get a photo of them without being behind glass. Then we followed the path to see the penguins. As soon as we entered the park we saw the first little penguin hiding in it´s nest, then we turned a corner and there was another, then following the path a bit further we could see hundreds of them dotted around. It was an amazing sight. Surprisingly they weren´t really close to the beach and preferred to be a little further up on shore. The females were just starting to arrive and we actually saw them swimming in from the ocean. The males were making an incredible sound, trying to find their mates. They would suck in air to blow themselves up like a balloon and then deflate themselves letting out squeeking sounds. They were  not at all scared of humans and freely waddled over the path in front of us without even a care. One even waddled straight up in front of me, took a big stare and then carried on its merry way. Quite an experience for us all, especially Heather from Alaska who is going to do her major in ornithology.

Next we headed north to find the famous Welsh villiage, Gaiman, that apparently Princess Di went to. After yet another 40 minutes along a dirt road we came to a town that did not resemble Wales at all. The ´thing to do´ here is take afternoon tea. We found the gaudy tea house, with its tourist sized tea pot, but they wouldn´t serve us tea and wanted us to eat a full 10 course meal. After a few broken words in Spanish from me telling them that a 10 course meal with Milanesa wasn´t afternoon tea, we headed back up north to Peninsula Valdez to see the other type of whales. The best time to see the ´real´whales is a couple of hours before high tide. We arrived right on time and were delighted to see a Right Whale just off shore. We waited for a while and saw another spraying water. Finally, after all the times I have been whale watching, I have seen a whale. Perfect end to our wildlife tour.

Ruta de Vino:

There are two main places in Argentina to go wine tasting; Mendoza and Cafayate. Now, this may sound a bit dim, but I didn´t realize that Mendoza was a big city and had images of the countryside and vineyards as far as the eye could see. This was not the case. We arrived to a hustling, bustling city which at first was refreshing after all of the little towns. However the hostal we stayed in the first night was kind of gross (when Justin took a shower water poured though the bathroom, through our room and out into the hallway), we got insulted by some clerk in a supermarket, charged the tourist price for a cab, heckled by some kids, and the streets are filled with endless shoebox shops selling the same market quality goods. Our experience did get a little better after we met Eduardo at hostal Trilogia. This guy was so full of energy and enthusiasm and went out of his way to help us get organized for wine tasting. After two nights in Mendoza we headed out to Maipu, where the vineyards are actually located, and stayed in a bodega at the Cecchin Winery. As soon as we arrived we were greated by Senor Cecchin, a ninety year old man who has owned the winery for the last 50 years. He still gets up at five in the morning and helps out in the field. One of his employees told us he still has the energy since he never married! We decided to rent bikes from Mr. Hugo to visit the wineries as we thought this would be relaxing and fun. Ummm well after a few glasses of wine it was, but we definately got off to a shaky start cycling along the small roads with trucks blaring past us. It definately wasn´t Sonoma. We visited four wineries, drank a lot of wine and then headed to Club Tapiz, a schwanky restaurant for some good grub, before heading back to our comfy bodega.

Cafayate up north, is definately more picturesque, a small town in the Quebrada red rock mountains surrounded by vineyards. The grape to drink here is Torrontes, and is a perfectly refreshing drink after a long hike in the mountains. This place is a must see for anyone visiting Argentina. The drive north to the town is spectacular, going from a green valley, to a vast dessert speckled with cacti, and then finishing with red rock mountains and canyons with green vineyards. Our hostal was comfy too, more or less, although the owner seemed to want to party more than the people staying there which was kind of annoying. We met a couple from France and ended up hanging out with them for the three days we were there. Our first night a large festival was taking place, people were all gathered in the plaza, vendors were selling tasty treats, and a procession with fireworks filled the main street. It was so fun to see so much energy and excitement.  The next day we rented bikes with the French and cycled up to the cascades trail. We rented a guide, Franco, who showed us the trail, clambering over the rocks, through caves, and under waterfalls. Franco, a native of the area, was brilliant, telling us facts about the region, the natives and even acted as our photographer. We finished the day with wine tasting, although it was difficult to find bodegas open on a Saturday afternoon (silly really) and the ones we found had big school groups going through them. Still, a glass of Torrontes was perfect after a day of hiking in the sun.

Ruta de Artesanos:

Cordoba, the second biggest city in Argentina, and for once, I think the Lonely Planet got it bang on. The city is full of universities so has a very young hip feel, paired with a rich history stemming from the Jesuits, so amazingly architected churches are pretty much on every corner. There are an abundance of museums, and the main park is full of many artsy sculptures. We stayed in Justin´s friends hostal which is located in the art district, the equivalent of a Soho. We arrived on a Sunday and an Art market was in full swing. The food here is also pretty good offering more of a selection than just Milanesa and Lomitos. This is probably my favorite city I have seen so far. We didn´t do too much while we were there, and pretty much relaxed on the porch of the hostal people watching, and walked around. We did a day trip with Mike, Justin´s friend out to a National Park, went to some creeks and a funky little museum in the middle of nowhere. A French guy had spent his life collecting items from mummies to type writers and decided to build a museum out of it. It was actually really interesting and amazing that this one guy had collected so much stuff.

In contrast to Cordoba, Taffi de Valle, a small town 8 hours north, was our next stop, famous for it´s artesanal beers, cheeses, and potteries. The drive here was stunning winding up through a forest. We were sat right at the front of the bus and could see the 100ft drops right in front of us as the bus was charging up the road. I definately had a few gasps!! The valley is beautiful and we spent our time hiking, renting bikes, and tasting the locals goods.

We said goodbye to Argentina in Salta, a city in the North, and arrived in Bolivia last night. From our experience so far I think we will have some interesting stories to tell. But fow now…Ciao!