And finally….Brazil

After about 8 months of travelling we reached our final country, Brazil. This presented a problem as despite looking very similar in writing, Portuguese is spoken completely differently to Spanish!

Our main reason for visiting Brazil was the lure of Rio de Janeiro and the cheap flight back home however we took in a couple of other places along the way. First a stop in Sao Paulo before stopping in the colonial town of Paraty on the way to Rio.

Our patience for long bus journeys was wearing thin, and the thought of a 16 hour schlep from Foz do Iguacu to Sao Paulo wasn’t attractive so for the first time we booked a one way flight to Sao Paulo. The sun had not even come up as the flight took off, and having spent the night in a tent in the back garden of a hostel to save money we were already wondering if it was such a good idea.

The famed traffic jams of Brazil’s economic capital didn’t help the grogginess as the bus into the city centre crawled along the highway into the centre, I still chuckled upon seeing it was named after Ayrton Senna as we struggled to get over 15 mph at any moment. Several hours after landing we reached our bed for the night, soaked to the skin due to the torrential rain. Despite just 24 hours in the city, a nap was in order!

Fully refreshed and ready to explore we went to check out the city which although not full of sights and attractions is an interesting place to get a feel for modern Brazil. Busy, bustling and fueled by immigrant labour Sao Paulo has a very cosmopolitan feel about it. Our highlight was the Liberdade district, historically the hub of the huge Japanese population in Brazil and now home to many other Asian migrants. A huge Japanese torii or arch marks the entrance to the neighbourhood while street lamps and signs point to a world many miles from Brazil.

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Missing Asia a little bit myself we sought out some amazing food, possibly the best Katsu curry I’ve ever tasted and perused the shops and supermarkets, picking up some pork steamed buns we hadn’t seen since Panama. Perfect to cook in the apartment we had booked in our next destination.

That destination was Paraty, a small colonial town by the sea of which we’d heard many good things. Upon our visit we had found it was a national holiday weekend and every hotel and hostel in the town was booked, thankfully we booked the last two available bus tickets the night before and arranged accommodation through Airbnb.

Paraty was supposed to be our relaxing coastal town where we could relax on the beach, top up our tans and chill out before heading home. Unfortunately the torrential rain that was hitting Sao Paulo was also hitting Paraty and the next 5 days were pretty much a washout.

Even so I’m glad we visited Paraty, the old town is incredibly quaint and attractive to wander around without feeling too overcrowded as most of the tourists are domestic. Despite its colonial past the nature of the town felt very different to many colonial towns we’d visited on the other side of the continent in terms of the architecture, the food, sounds and atmosphere of the place.

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And then we come to the drinks where Brazil is the home of the caipirinha, a concoction of cachaça (a sugar cane spirit similar to white rum), lime and a lot of sugar. Drinking these from street stalls in the town square in the evening when the rain had calmed will bring a smile to anyone’s face.

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Despite the washout, we’d still loved Paraty and made the most of the time to chill out, read, eat (I’ll post my recipe for an incredible chicken parmigiana we had in Paraty on here later), sup cocktails and on our last day we bit the bullet and took a boat trip off the coast on another grey, wet day.

Incredibly we had an awesome trip despite the weather getting to know some Paulistas who were keen on a party whatever the weather! We must have been so out of touch with music while travelling as this was how we were introduced to the infamous Gangnam Style, and I’ll never forget it!

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With a touch a sadness but a lot of excitement we boarded our final bus (hooray!) and headed for Rio.

We were told the weather in Rio is usually pretty similar to Paraty and we could expect more rain so we couldn’t be more surprised to arrive in glorious sunshine! We booked a ticket on the last Corcovado train of the day for the Cristo Redentor statue that watches over the city.

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This left us time to explore the area around our hostel for a few hours as the queues on earlier trains died down but by the time we returned to the station the fog was rolling in. The statue as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog is amazing up close and the view from the top of the mountain is breathtaking, especially when you can see through the breaks in the cloud!

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Thankfully that wasn’t our only chance to take in the views of Rio and does give me the opportunity to bombard by blog with photos of such an amazing city. Just a couple of days later we were heading up Sugar Loaf mountain on the 100 year old cable car to check out the view from there.

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Sugar Loaf mountain is perhaps the most striking of the peaks surrounding Rio for its viewpoint over the beaches as it juts out over the Atlantic. From here you can check out the Botofago area and watch the planes coming in and out of the nearby domestic airport. We took a slightly different flight from the helipad halfway up the mountain.

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Ever since seeing the Idiot Abroad episode in Rio where Karl comes to see ‘the Jesus thing’ I have wanted to go in a helicopter over the city. With some birthday money from Katrina’s parents towards the cost of the flight we took off from Sugar Loaf Mountain, along the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, over the lagoon in the middle of the city and around the Cristo Redentor or ‘Jesus Thing’. I’m lost for words to describe it, but it was incredible and put our flight over the Nazca Lines a few months previously to shame.

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After Rio’s views from above we can get to the sights on the ground and for us that was on the beach. We couldn’t have been more keen to get some sun on our backs at the beach and after all Rio is famous for them. Walking down Copacabana one gets the idea how on days off most of the city comes here packed close together to relax, drink caipirinhas, show off their football skills on beach volleyball courts and generally just be cool. I’ve pretty much decided I have to live there at some point in my life!

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We spent quite a few afternoons chilling out on Ipanema beach and like to think we found the right spot. Different social scenes choose different parts of the beach, many on Copacabana will consider themselves more working class while there are sectors for the cultural crowd, gay community and very pretty girls on Ipanema, I like to think we found the latter. If you love cities with a cafe culture for people watching, well Rio tops that by a long way! Even the vendors on the beach all have their own fun character selling everything from iced tea (mate) to bikinis and inflatable balls.

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Ipanema is also where to congregate to watch one of the great South American sunsets as beachgoers congregate on the rocky headland at the end of the strip to watch the sun go down and even applaud as the last sliver disappears on the horizon.

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On our last day on the beach the sea was incredibly rough, leaving it open to only the strongest/bravest/most stupid swimmers. While cooling off I had the awkward British moment of handing a Brazilian girl her bikini top back after she was knocked over by a wave while moments later a rescue helicopter was summoned to fish out some kids who had been caught by the current.

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One other place in Rio I need to talk about in this blog is the Escadaria Selaron. These stairs are named after a Chilean artist who started decorating them over a period of about 20 years as a labour of love to the city of Rio. The steps constantly changed over time with new tiles sent from all over the world as the work gained popularity while much of the work was funded through sales of one his favourite paintings. Sadly in January 2013, the creator Jorge Selaron was found dead on these steps and it is not entirely clear it was from natural causes. I hope his work will be taken on by somebody else as the Escadaria Selaron really is a great place to visit in Rio.

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So we’ve done the sights and the beaches. Next is the nightlife. We felt we were missing out while we were there despite it not being carnival time as Rio felt a bit quiet at night. To put a stop to this we headed to the Friday night street party in the Lapa District (quite close to the Escadaria Selaron). Around midnight the streets are filled with caipirinha vendors making the biggest, best, strongest and cheapest cocktails you are likely to find in any city – ours were about £1 each for something the size of a pint.

The bars, music, dancers and drink spill onto the streets and gave a great taste of what the city must be like during carnival, a real shame I’m not there as a write my blog!

Shortly after that night and another afternoon on the beach it was time to head to the airport and home with mixed feelings. Great to end to the trip on a high and take some rest from travelling (sounds crazy I know but it is true) but really sad to end what will go down as one of the best experiences of my life.

The (very long) Road to Rio: Part 3 – Paraguay & Iguazu Falls

I last left this blog with us leaving Buenos Aires and heading towards Iguazu Falls on our way to Rio.

First up, a 6 hours bus north to Concordia, a small town close to the border with Uruguay (whom I will always associate with this clip from the Simpsons). I’ve mentioned a few times about our bad luck with Sundays (withdrawing cash and sorting out buses), needless to say we arrived on a Sunday afternoon with no onward service into Uruguay until the following day.

This left us needing a hotel for the night. To save lugging our bags around town I left Katrina at the bus station with them and set off around the 3 ‘budget hotels’ nearby. Finding the first one full, the second trying to charge a rate close to $100 and the third claiming to be full I was concerned. Doubting the last hotel was really full with all the keys hanging behind the reception I sent Katrina back to try again. She was told to come back with her bags as they had rooms, no problem. The lady who had turned me away beforehand didn’t seem pleased to have me back and promptly gave us a room with a broken bed. Cheers luv.

Cheered up by another incredible Argentinian steak and bottle of wine I didn’t moan too much and early the following morning we nipped into Uruguay for a day. Despite the lack of time I wanted to tick another country off my list. We passed the time by wandering around the city of Salto and topping up our tans at one of the nearby water parks fed by hot springs.

In the evening we quickly headed back to Concordia to catch the last overnight bus of our trip to Posadas, I couldn’t have been more delighted having hated pretty much every such journey like that since arriving in South America. Buses and tall people with short attention spans just don’t go together.

Arriving tired we didn’t do much in Posadas. After taking a nap in a hostel owned by an incredibly sprightly and welcoming old lady we ventured into the sapping heat of the day. We hadn’t experienced temperatures this hot since the jungle. Sadly virtually every area of interest in the town appeared to be closed for restoration…..so we watched the new James Bond movie instead.

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Just over the river from Posadas is the town of Encarnación in Paraguay. I knew very little about Paraguay, in fact I probably still do considering the brief amount of time we spent there. However, it felt like we were back in the likes of Ecuador, Peru or maybe somewhere in Central America. It felt less developed, less sterile and full of life. And all importantly for a backpacker whose budget had been stretched over recent weeks, it was cheap again thanks to run down buses, local cafes serving bargain set meals as well as reduced price accommodation. Huzzah!

Close by to Encarnación are sets UNESCO of Jesuit ruins in and around the town of Trinidad. I had never even heard of such sites, believing the Jesuits to be rather primitive. In fact they build impressive settlements such as these before being forced to leave by the Spanish colonisers who did not appreciate their presence and success.

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Left behind are impressive stone structures and sculptures in place of cities where up to 400 families including foreigners and indigenous people would have lived. On the day we visited in 40 degree heat, we had the place entirely to ourselves! Not something you’ll ever have at other sites like Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat!

We headed east from Encarnación to Ciudad de Este, a city which formerly held a gruesome reputation for violence during Paraguay’s former dictatorship, but now a trading hub with Brazil. The city is compared to a giant shopping mall where many Brazilians and Argentinians come to access cheaper goods, many arrange annual coach trips for their neighbours to all visit and buy electronics and clothing with lower taxes.

We stopped here to check it out, only to find prices no cheaper than at home along with the risk of purchasing counterfeit items. Probably best to exercise some caution. Nearby however is a bit of a geeky tourist destination, the Itaipu Dam.

Prior to the completion of the Three Gorges Dam in China, this was the largest Hydroelectric facility in the world and still the 2nd largest today. Split across the border with Brazil and Paraguay, power production is shared between the two nations. Brazil may take 90% of the output but pay Paraguay good rates for the production they do not need. Almost 80% of the entire electricity requirement for all of Paraguay comes from the dam compared to around 20% in Brazil.

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Prior to completion, a set of waterfalls even more impressive than the nearby Iguazu was destroyed to make way for the reservoir required behind the dam. That hasn’t stopped the tourists coming, over 500,000 visited in 2012, a ridiculously impressive number!

But we honestly hadn’t come through this part of the world to see a dam. We’d come this way to visit Iguazu Falls. Having not seen Niagara myself I was rather excited for this. Eleanor Roosevelt did allegedly say upon seeing the falls “Oh, poor Niagara”. So no pressure then.

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You can probably tell from the pictures but they’re amazing! You can choose to see the falls from the Argentinian or Brazilian sides. Popular opinion from many backpackers appeared to favour Argentina, so for a 3rd time we entered a country I had mixed feelings about. That said, I think it was the right decision!

After paying a hefty entrance fee, we entered the park and set off to see as much of the massive area as possible. The falls aren’t in one place, they form an arc that probably goes on for a couple of miles allowing the budding photographer copious angles from which to get the perfect shot.

Despite a cute little train ride to take tourists to a 3 different stops, there’s a lot of walking involved. On a hot day like ours, it’s thirsty work, with the spray from the falls a massive refreshment at various points.

The highlight of the visit, is the walk to the “Devil’s Throat”, the biggest and loudest part of the waterfall. Gangways lead you from the station across calm running water where huge catfish occasionally come for a gulp at the surface of the water. All the while a load rumbling noise grows and grows until you reach the end, where plumes of spray spiral up to the viewing area.

Having rushed to reach here ahead of the many other tourists behind us, we were mesmorised by the scale of this wonder. Across the other sides is Brazil, below is simply white water with no sight of the bottom while a rainbow is forming out of the surge. I spent ages with the camera and probably messed it up with my Instagram attempt below.

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After all this we were waterfall-ed out. We passed on time to see the Brazil side the following day, partly due to sleep (I admit) and partly due to the Brazilian struggle with ATMs (don’t ask).

Shortly after that we were on an early morning flight to Sao Paulo, nearing our return home 😦

Argentina: A Note of Caution

I was going to bring a couple of slightly negative things about Argentina into last post but thought I’d save them for a separate post which might be helpful for visitors.

Bus Station Scam

The first of these is a long running Buenos Aires scam, commonly found near the main Retiro bus station, typically situated in a rather downtrodden area.

Backpackers are often targeted by people who will squirt a foul smelling liquid on them and their belongings. This is rumoured to include sewage, vinegar, chemicals, rotten eggs and other nasty delights. Once hit, people will offer to clean you and your bags and while distracted these will be stolen.

This happened to us but we ignored some shouting outside the bus station only to notice the foul smell inside. This was probably for the best. Though sitting next to Katrina’s hair for the next 6 hours wasn’t pleasant.

Since this happened to us, I’ve heard stories of tourists being mugged and even a rumour of a French tourist being killed. I’m not sure it’s true but given the police aren’t prepared to stop this scam in the area I don’t recommend fighting back.

If it happens to you, just keep walking and clean up later.

Where are you from?

This is more of an irritation to British tourists in Argentina. The Falkland Islands or to the locals, Las Malvinas.

These islands have become a bigger issue in the last year or so due to the 30th anniversary of the conflict and the desire of President Cristina to distract attention away from some of the national economic problems.

Personally, it’s an issue for the islands residents, not centralised governments of whom one has little in common while another is located thousands of miles away. Oh well.

Many curious Argentinians, like most Latin American people, will ask where you are from. Upon saying “Inglaterra” or “Reino Unido” we would be met with the response of “Las Malvinas son de Argentina”. Despite a friendly smile back trying to deflect the issue the conversation would end or be elaborated on the issue.

This happened more than we expected and was a little unfortunate. In the end, we discovered it pretty useful to say we were Scottish. Seemingly Scotland isn’t associated with the conflict!

So there we are, that’s my little warning done. I’ll finish with some nicer stuff about Argentina and Iguazu Falls later.

Happy travels!

The (very long) Road to Rio: Part 2 – Argentina

Following on from my last post about the final weeks of my Latin American journey, I thought I’d quickly follow on from Chile to Argentina.

Many travellers rave about Argentina, they talk about the passion of the place and how much a backpacker can enjoy Argentina on a budget. Well right now, it isn’t. Let’s get that out the way straight away. As you may have seen in the news, Argentina is currently battling the onset of another financial crisis. Recently there have been strikers, protests, the nationalisation of a major oil company and a ban on the withdrawal of US Dollars from ATMs. Throw in some more fuss about the Falklands to try and dilute the bad news and you’re there or thereabouts.

As a backpacker, the main impact on us was the rate to withdraw pesos being artificially high and increasing the cost of everything to us. Anyone reading this before visiting Argentina might like to know that you can get more bang for your buck if you take in cash and exchange it on the black market for a 50% premium.

Like this blog, I didn’t warm immediately to Argentina either following a rather scenic final trip back over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza – the next time I do a trip like this I want a car or a motorbike to take advantage of journeys like that. Alas, upon arriving at the bus station in Mendoza I set about task number one, find cash! With some spare Chilean Pesos, the tourist information kiosk seemed a sensible option to ask about a currency exchange. The result was a grumpy look from the woman behind it, a grunt followed by her returning to staring into space. Ho hum.

Next to search for an ATM which after a very long queue decided not to work with any of my bank cards. Great. Katrina however did manage to elicit some money from it, in huge denominations, which left us wanting some smaller change for the cab journey into town. Attempting to do this by purchasing something of low value like a Coke was utterly useless, one shopkeeper slamming on the counter, shouting something I couldn’t understand and putting the item back in the cooler. By this point I just assumed I’d got out the wrong side of the bed that morning. A feeling only reinforced by almost all the hotels and hostels in town having no vacancies.

Mendoza’s major attraction to backpackers is wine. Having decided to skip a wine tour it would have been rude not to do one in Argentina, especially being a country whose wine I knew virtually nothing about.

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I probably learnt more Spanish than I did about wine on our tour, with it being taken almost exclusively by domestic tourists from Buenos Aires. Any tour was going to have a hard job living up to my last wine tasting experience in South Africa and that’s perhaps why I didn’t get into this one as much. Compared to Chilean reds I found Argentinian Malbecs less appetising, some of them even vinegary. Our final tour stop was situated next to an enormous oil refinery, now I’m not a sommelier but I think that impacts the terrior. Mmm….sulphur.

Moving on from Mendoza to Buenos Aires on board a rather plush yet ludicrously expensive bus. They seriously need to get Megabus out here when bus fares, albeit for 13 hours approach £100 each way. In the UK journeys of that length can be had from £1 up to about £50. Despite the comfy bus I still didn’t sleep thanks to a man who snored like a hippo with a cold. The relief upon reaching Buenos Aires was immeasurable.

Buenos Aires is a soulful city, something that I always talk about loving. There’s a kind of grungy, faded, hipster type scene to much of the city against a backdrop of European style architecture. It’s a port city with rougher, working class suburbs as well as wealthier areas like Palermo that have prospered from the trade. I liked it, another city to wander and take it  all in.

The spirit of Evita still lives on in BA with a large iron cladding on a skyscraper looming over the massive main boulevard through the city, as well as her tomb at the impressive cemetery in leafy Palermo. Much of the time in the city I was whistling “Don’t Cry for me Argentina”.

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This all completely contrasts with the areas of San Telmo and La Boca, more traditionally down to earth and working class neighbourhoods. With a cafe culture (albeit heavily tailored towards tourists), some cool antique markets and an interesting back drop makes for a really interesting place to explore. We took in some tango dancing in a square, some fairly mediocre and some incredible to watch. Despite being a bit of a cop out when it comes to dancing I kind of wanted to have a go, were it not for my ankle.

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Moving into La Boca, a more working class neighbourhood than San Telmo (read rougher round the edges), my first thoughts were to head for La Bombonera – home of Boca Juniors. It really has the feel of an old fashioned football ground in the heartland of its supporters and had me wanting to go to a game but I’ll get to that.

Heading further into La Boca I was taken by the colourfully painted houses and the local pride in their area, something not so common in places like that in the UK. Past that and we came to another touristy area with more cafes, shops and tango before hitting the old harbour and checking out the Transporter Bridge, a bit like the one back home in Middlesbrough.

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There is such a difference between the Palermo area of Buenos Aires compared to La Boca, and hence part of the reason for the big football rivalry. But the next day we felt like going posh again to take in one of Argentina’s most famous sports, Polo. Tally ho!

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Wealthy British expats brought Polo to Buenos Aires in the late 19th Century and the game is still played today by wealthy Argentinians at the same members clubs as set up by the British. We took in a match at the Hurlingham Tournament, one of the big 3 events of the year at the club of the same name. Despite now understanding the rules, it was a fun new sport to watch with a rather different sort of person in attendance in comparison to anything else we’d see on our entire trip. High scoring, fast paced, with regular intervals it seemed something ice hockey or football fans could enjoy, albeit while rather well dressed and soaking in the gorgeous grounds of the club. Catching the commuter train back into BA afterwards did feel like a bit of a come down.

That said, Argentina does have the perfect evening pick me up. Steak. Really, really good steak! Whether it’s the quality of how the cows are raised, how the meat hung to mature or the way it’s cooked, I’m not really sure. What I do know is every time I had steak throughout Argentina it was incredible. Just a little tip for those like me who enjoy a nice bloody steak, you’ll need to emphasise ‘azul’ or ‘con sangre’ to the waiter, Argentinians often like a steak well cooked through. Sadly, I haven’t got a clue for the name of the place we liked best in BA – but it’s in San Telmo and you’ll get an huge steak with some delicious sides to compliment.

After wandering around La Boca a few days earlier and admiring La Bonbonera, the home of Boca Juniors, I wanted to catch a game. Football withdrawal symptoms were kicking in having only seen only match in months, back in Medellin.

There’s lots of stuff out there about watching a Boca Juniors game, which I read before we started our ticket mission. To cut a long story short, football violence in Argentina historically has been shocking and government efforts to curb this require clubs to control who can attend games. In the case of Boca, this has landed with their ‘football mafia’ – a collection of armed, wealthy and aggressive gangs who control ticketing, security and allegedly with threaten their own players and families should they perform poorly while receiving a cut of their salaries.

When it comes to actually purchasing the ticket for Boca, you can’t directly without a membership. This leaves two options as a tourist, pay an eyewateringly high fee of around $100 each to a tourist agency to attend in a group or purchase a ticket from a tout. So many conflicting things are said about these tickets so feeling a bit nervy we set off to the stadium early. A look around showed a few touts circling the stadium and after a little checking and negotiation picked up 2 tickets at a much lower cost than the tour. To confirm their authenticity, we even gave them to one of the mafia stewards to confirm and all seemed well.

Until we started waiting and waiting, to discover kick off to be two hours later than advertised. As the queue started to be allowed through the first security checkpoint, Katrina filtered through the shorter entrance for ladies with no issues. As I reached the front of my queue the steward took my ticket, mumbled ‘No’ and refused to acknowledge my presence no matter what I said. To the confusion of another steward who pointed out Katrina entered, the steward desired her ticket, took that too and no matter what was said I couldn’t get a word out of him. Irritated, we gave in, and can only speculate that the tickets many felt were authentic were fakes or the ‘mafia’ have a preference for tourists to be managed within authorised groups.

At this point, I just wanted to see a game and having bought an Arsenal di Sarandi shirt a few days previously back in Mendoza decided to take in their game at a nearby suburb. Arsenal in fact were the champions for the first half of the local season despite coming from relatively humble backgrounds and taking on title challengers for the second half of the season, Velez Sarsfield, also from Buenos Aires giving us a local derby.

The atmosphere couldn’t have been anymore different to Boca. The suburb of Sarandi is similarly working class but without any feeling of being on edge. Purchasing tickets here proved to be incredibly simple, seating or standing choice and girls go half price. Great idea!

After a quick choripan (sausage sandwich) we entered the stadium where fanaticos were dancing on banners hung upon the standing barriers. From the full to capacity Velez end came a mighty roar giving this a real football feeling. Arsenal fans took a more laid back approach, probably an effect of the intensive odour of marijuana filling the vicinity! That was probably for the best as during the game, despite their team playing the nicer football, suffered catastrophically in defence as they crumbled to a 5-1 home defeat. With the goalkeeping, defending, manager being sent to the stands and louder away support it was much like their more famous namesakes in London!

And that pretty much brought BA to a close for us before heading north towards Iguacu Falls with stops along the way into Uruguay and Paraguay but more on those next time.

The (very long) Road to Rio: Part 1 – Chile

Rio was never part of the plan, but I’m so glad it changed thanks to some extra time, being under budget and a very cheap flight home from there. This gave us time to take in some of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil over the space of the last 4 weeks of the trip.

Exiting Bolivia on the top of the Andes after a 3 day trip across remote salt flats and lagoons we were in need of a warm shower. As we sat in the bus down the mountains from the border into the town of San Pedro de Atacama we realised how much we were going to miss Bolivia. Driving down the Chiliean highway we could have been back in Europe, it all looked too sterile. The desire to return to Bolivia was reinforced further upon discovering the prices of basics like food and accommodation in Chile. A decent room for 2 in Bolivia would typically cost $15, in Chile a rough room approached triple that price! Our budget was in for a kicking over the following weeks.

At this point, I wasn’t too impressed with Chile – I’m northern. Now that doesn’t mean I’m cheap, I just like value for money! We decided not to spend too much time in Chile and hopped on a bus to Antofagasta the following day. After catching a movie and gorging on some fast food, there wasn’t too much more to keep us occupied in this company town and with a big gulp boarded a 21 hour bus to Valparaiso. Yes, 21 hours. I can barely do a 7 hour flight so can you imagine the moaning on a 21 hour budget bus? Feel very sorry for Kat.

Arriving in Valparaiso late the next day felt like an achievement (surprising considering all we’d done was sit on our backsides for nearly a day)! Valpa was one of those cities I’d always wanted to see and it really didn’t disappoint. Built on steep slopes overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the city grew exponentially through shipping and the attractiveness to European immigrants through the 19th Century. Were it not for the Panama Canal I’m sure Valparaiso would have continued to grow and rival places like San Francisco.

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The buildings in Valpa reflect the European history of the place alongside a sizable British influence including a British Arch and handy funiculars to take people up the steep slopes. They’re not actually that tough to walk up but I suppose that was typically British for the time. Add to this some of the best chips I’ve ever eaten as part of local dish, chorrillana, topped with steak, sausage, onions, eggs as well as chilli and ketchup. Ideal for a carbohydrate binge! To top it off, we could also get proper, tasty, dark beer. Just the change we needed.

I’m a bit of a wanderer and can happily kill time getting aimlessly lost in a city, watching the world go by. Valparaiso was the perfect city for that. Away from the colonial architecture, Valparaiso is brightened up by vibrant street art and an edgy side that gives the seaside city a real soul.

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Which is more than can be said for our next and final destination in Chile, Santiago. From the soul and attitude of Valparaiso, Santiago isn’t so fun. Writing this a few weeks after being there I’m actually struggling what to say about the place but for one thing that springs to mind…..coffee.

It’s not the quality, it’s not local sources, it’s about where it’s served. The world over you will see the typical Starbucks sign where you will be served a perfectly adequate cup of coffee (or other tasty beverage) in a homogeneous setting. I say that as a fan of Starbucks. You can do this in Santiago if you like, or you can go to a ‘legs cafe’.

In a legs cafe, found all over the downtown area, your coffee will be served short, black and with a glass of water, by a lady wearing a very short skirt and a rather big smile (enough to make even the British leave a tip)! I don’t know why we don’t haves these in the City of London.

And that was a quick blast through Chile. I’d love to return one day and see more but we had to move on, to Argentina! To be continued….

The Variety of Peru

I’ve been meaning to write this for a long time but call it laziness, having too much of a good time or lack of decent internet connections has deterred me for doing so. That and part writing on an iPad and netbook leads to things getting lost in the ‘cloud’. So I’m going to make this more of a photo blog and talk a little more about a couple of specific things in Peru later.

In short, I expected little of Peru, I’m not sure why but I just couldn’t feel very excited about it compared to other countries on this trip. Wrong. In this massively diverse country I chilled at the beach in Mancora and Huanchaco, got dizzy at dazzling high altitude blue lakes in Huaraz, celebrated my birthday in Lima, saw Penguins in Paracas, sandboarded in Huacachina, rotter my teeth with Inca Cola (an excellent Irn Bru substitute), flew over mystical ancient lines in Nazca, took the lazy route to Machu Picchu and followed in Palin’s footsteps on the floating island of Lake Titicaca. More on the latter two to come later.

I’ve picked some of my favourite photos of Peru and hope they’ll encourage you to visit such an amazing country!

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